To do or not to do
Amsterdam is known for its freedom and open nature. Our city’s history of tolerance and acceptance can still be seen today in its overall attitude. But with all rights comes responsibilities. Amsterdam’s coffeeshops are no different.
Coffeeshops must follow many stringent regulations and enforce certain rules to keep afloat and the process smoother. Here, I’m going to show you the ropes and hash out all the answers to your burning questions — from Amsterdam coffeeshop etiquette to the nitty-gritty.
“… The curious Dutch classification gedogen, which means ‘technically illegal but officially tolerated’.”
– Russell Shorto, American author, journalist and historian
Every year, around 1.5 million visitors travel to Amsterdam to enjoy its fine crops. So it’s no surprise that many mistake Amsterdam for a legally green city. But here’s the deal — it’s technically illegal but officially tolerated. You can purchase goods for personal use at establishments we affectionately call coffeeshops.
#1 - Cafés are not coffeeshops
Coffeeshops have a confusing name. Yes, they sell coffee. Sometimes it’s delicious. And yes, they sell some smokeable products. Some sell cookies and cakes, too. Sounds a lot like a café, doesn’t it? Well, in a way, yes. But there’s a clear difference between cafés and coffeeshops. Cafés, like bars and restaurants, sell alcohol and food, but smoking is not allowed.
Coffeeshops are designated spaces for the sale of extracurricular items, and smoking’s permitted at certain locations. At every coffeeshop, you can see a license placed in the front window with the opening hours. Although most premises have clear signage, if in doubt, just ask.
#2 - 18+ only and ID is essential
The Amsterdam coffeeshop legal age is a minimum of 18 years old. Regardless of adult supervision, it’s explicitly forbidden to enter a coffeeshop under the age of 18 — no exceptions. Coffeeshops receive regular checks from regulatory bodies and can incur massive fines or closure.
But just because you’re 18 years old and above, it doesn’t mean you can casually walk in scot-free. Regardless of age, you must carry photo identification at all times. Don’t be disappointed if you are legally allowed to drink for two decades and get carded on your way into the coffeeshop. No offence, it’s just part of the experience.
#3 - No mushrooms or hard drugs
#4 - No alcohol and tobacco
The cigarette smoking ban has been active in the Netherlands since 2008, and it applies to all indoor premises. When sitting in a coffeeshop, you may get asked to remove any tobacco products from your table, even if it’s not open. But we feel that this is a small price to pay for other civil liberties.
#5 - Maximum purchase
A question I get often is how much can I buy in a coffeeshop? The maximum daily purchase per person from a coffeeshop is five grams. This might not seem like a lot, but trust me, it’s enough to keep you keepin’ on. You can mix and match your purchases from plant, resin or edible delights. We recommend starting with a smaller dose, regardless of your perceived experience level, especially with edibles AKA space cake.
Please start slow. Like, a-quarter-to-a-half slow and see how you go. Many people make the mistake of devouring it whole, but the sensation from ingestion is much different. It can take slower to hit (anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours) but it’s much more intense. It’s meant to be enjoyed like a tea cake. In general, most of the green products available for purchase can carry a kick, so be gentle. If you feel a bit woozy, get a sugary drink or some orange juice, and you’ll be alright in no time.
#6 - No cameras
Respect is a key theme in our city. As a temporary Amsterdammer, we appreciate you are on holiday and want to document your stay. However, when you step inside a coffeeshop, cameras and video are not permitted. Dealers tend to be fun-loving guys and gals, but we are doing a job. We do not appreciate being filmed or photographed. If you wish to take a photo of the menu, ask first. Sometimes menus can be situated behind the counter where it can be hard to take a picture without capturing the staff as well.
In addition, please do not take phone/video calls during service. We understand this may be your first time in a coffeeshop. It can be an exciting experience, even slightly daunting. But if you give us your full undivided attention, we promise to help you to the best of our abilities.
#7 - Dress code
We like our clients and hope they like us too. So much so, we like to see your beautiful faces. We always respect religious beliefs and customs, but helmets or headwear that can obscure one’s appearance are never allowed in coffeeshops. So chances, are unless they’re prescription, we’ll ask you to take off those designer sunglasses. I personally hate asking people to remove hats as it can be a sensitive subject, but unfortunately due to the ease of EFTPOS and the rise of card theft and fraud, it can sometimes be mandatory.
#8 - Budtenders are not medical doctors
Bud-tender, Bud-dealer, Bud-server. Whatever you want to call us, we hold very specific positions. Some of us have worked in this industry for a long time, others like myself have recreational levels of experience. However, the one thing we all have in common is we can not offer medical advice. The vast majority of us are well-trained professionals, just not medically trained professionals. We can speak from our past experiences and we’ll always advise you in the best way possible, but we cannot give advice for medical ailments.
#9 - Individual house rules
Coffeeshops are individually owned businesses. The same laws apply to all of them, but there may be other house rules in individual shops that must be adhered to. For example, some coffeeshops allow takeaway only. In others, seating is permitted. There are maximum sitting times, minimum spending required, types of payment accepted, and seating capacity can be different at all premises. Every shop is entitled to set its own house rules so if you’re planning on visiting a couple of different shops, be aware that the rules may be different.
#10 -Where to smoke
Amsterdam is a beautiful city. The stunning architecture, the winding canals, the wonderful parks. There are so many great spots to enjoy a puff. But before you light up, remember that Amsterdam is home to many families, some with small children. Smoking in Amsterdam is tolerated, but we always try to be respectful of others. So we recommend finding a nice spot in a park if the sun is out. If you’re not so lucky with the weather, try a coffeeshop with a smoking room or outdoor terrace.
So there you have it. I hope you feel better informed on your future arrival now that we’ve weeded out the truth about Amsterdam’s coffeeshops. They can be really fun to visit, hang out and meet some cool and interesting characters. And you never know, I could be the one serving you on the other side of the counter. Until then, enjoy Amsterdam responsibly.
Want to know the best places to hit when you get the munchies? You’ll love this self-guided Amsterdam food tour.