Dutch coffee shops
By RNW.nl – May 2001
Nick deals in soft drugs. He works in The Grasshopper – one of Amsterdam’s most famous ‘coffee shops’. A stone’s throw from Central Station, on the edge of the red light district, it attracts an international crowd. Mostly tourists, looking to sample a little of what the city has to offer, preferably within stumbling distance of their hotel.
He’s nervous about talking to me. This may be Amsterdam, but people in the ‘coffee shop’ industry don’t like to draw too much attention to themselves. After a drink and a cigarette, Nick begins to relax. “Basically I sell the grass and the hash here,” he tells me. He’s been in The Netherlands for 21 years, but his accent gives away that originally he’s from Manchester. How did he end up working in The Grasshopper? “I just walked in and asked the boss if they needed someone for the job.” He gives me a wry smile and adds, “actually, I always wanted to be a lawyer.”
It seems a hedonistic lifestyle doesn’t allow for lying in bed. Nick’s day starts early. The doors open at 8 in the morning. “I had it so bad one time, quarter to eight they were waiting there already, trying to get in.” He’ll sell you nine different types of weed, and nine types of hash. “All the weed we sell are locally grown, all the hash is imported. We’ve got some from Morocco. A couple from India.”
He’s also happy to give you help and advice. “People ask me questions all the time. One of the biggest questions is ‘what’s the difference between weed and hash?’ I tell them, weed is more of a happy kind of high. Hash is more of a stony kind of effect.”
Rules of the House:
I’m curious to know where the supplies of drugs come from. Nick is giving nothing away. “Basically, I arrive in the morning and it’s fully stocked up.” I press him a little more. He changes the subject. So instead we talk about the rules the coffee shop must follow if it wants to remain open and licensed.
The maximum stock allowed on the premises is 500g. “You can’t go over that – not one gram.” No-one under the age of 18 is allowed in the coffee shop, and this is enforced by checking ID. No alcohol is sold. And definitely no hard drugs. Nick tells me they have regular inspections from the police. “At any given moment they could drop in, and at least five times a year.” But he is keen to stress that they have very good relations with the police “because we stick to the rules”.
Not All Bad:
No surprises that Nick is a regular cannabis smoker himself. Perhaps more surprising is that he has asthma. “You’ve heard the expression ‘a joint a day keeps the doctor away?’, well it works for me too. Since I started smoking weed, I’ve been taking less medicine.”
So what does he think about the way he earns a living? “I love my job. For one it’s original. OK, people might think ‘woah – he’s dealing drugs’. But I only see positive things.”
And what about his future? He says he plans to stay in the coffee shop business at least for the next few years. “I’m having a swell time over here.” And what about his dreams of becoming a lawyer? “I’m keeping my hopes up.”