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Amsterdam's coffeeshop and cannabis culture began during the 1960's when at the time the hippy culture was booming all around the world. This had a big effect on the Netherlands and drug use was on the rise.

Throughout the 1960's many cannabis smokers would meet at various locations around the city to buy their cannabis and the problem back then was that many of the dealers were also selling hard drugs. These were the dealers that the authorities started targeting and those who only sold cannabis were mostly left alone. Vondel Park was one of the main spots where hippies used to meet up and smoke in those days. 

During the late 1960s, a very well known lady in the cannabis industry called Mila Jansen started a tea house in the city called Kink 22 (later Cleo de Merode) and people used to go there to drink tea and have a smoke, they also used to trade their supplies with each other. Cannabis wasn't sold from here, in fact joints were handed out for free when customers purchased tea. There was no weed in the city at the time and most people smoked hash from places like Turkey, Lebanon and Afghanistan.

hippies vondel park 1960s.jpg

In 1972 the first unofficial coffeeshop 'Mellow Yellow' was founded by Wernard Bruining which originally opened up on Weesperzijde, and was known at the time as a tea house. There were no big signs or advertisements that this place sold cannabis and from outside it looked like any other tea house. Eventually though it was impossible not to know what was going on as the many of the smokers in the city used to flock there to buy their products. 

Wernard recalled those times in a VPRO documentary and said "We were often visited by friends who came to pick up some soft drugs, smoke a little, drink a cup of tea. At a certain moment we said to each other: let's start a coffee shop or a tea house. We called it Mellow Yellow, after a Donovan song about baked bananas. The song said that if you didn't have anything to smoke, you could still smoke the banana skin and get high from that.”

Wernard continued “We wanted to take the weed trade in our own hands, we didn't want all kinds of situations with dealers, we wanted to do it ourselves. We went to a dealer named Cesar, we would buy a pound or a kilo there, cut it into pieces of 10 or 25 guilders, and sold it. That turned out to be the golden coffee shop formula and we were flooded by customers. There were 100-feet rows outside our shop."

The original coffeeshop on Weesperzijde (pictured above) stayed open for numerous years and set a benchmark for the coffeeshop culture that would soon begin to follow. Unfortunately the original Mellow Yellow building was destroyed in a fire in 1978, but the coffeeshop soon reopened at a new location on Vijzelstraat. The original owner later left for America and when I asked him about those times he said "I went to the states in 1979 and came back with the idea to promote home growing in the Netherlands in order to supply the coffeeshop system. In 1985 I opened Positronics, the first grow shop in Europe."

In December 1975 The Bulldog Coffeeshop was opened by Henk De Vries, who at the time was only 24 years old. He had inherited one of his fathers sex shops and after some thinking he decided to transform it into a coffeeshop. Although he did originally sell cannabis from the sex shop, it didn't officially become a coffeeshop until 17th December 1975. As of July 2022 "The Bulldog The First" has become the oldest currently operating coffeeshop in Amsterdam after Rusland was taken over by The Plug. Rusland had originally opened on 30th April 1975 and was the oldest operating coffeeshop in the city since 2017, after Mellow Yellow was officially closed for good. 

Things didn't all run smoothly for Henk as he had numerous run ins with the police and they paid him a visit on multiple occasions. He kept coming back stronger and today has multiple locations around the city.

It wasn't until 1976 when the first steps were taken to decriminalise cannabis. The government had to act fast to distinguish the difference between soft and hard drugs, so they began to focus their attention on the harder drugs such as Heroin. At the time this was becoming a big problem in the city and the police mainly targeted the smuggling and trading of hard drugs. The law was changed and the possession of upto 30 grams of cannabis was no longer an offence. 


The coffeeshops at this time were still illegal, but nevertheless they continued to grow and there were many of them continuing to open up around the city. It wasn't until 1980 that the tolerance policy existed, which meant coffeeshops could operate without any interference from the authorities. So long as there was no hard drugs on the premises. 


By the 1990's there were over 500 coffeeshops in Amsterdam and the scene was flourishing. Organised crime and money laundering had been a problem with some of them and to help combat this the government began closing down the coffeeshops responsible. In 1995 the laws were tightened slightly and coffeeshops didn't have the same freedoms as before. The Dutch government began giving out licenses to the remaining 350 or so coffeeshops that still remained in the city. The first official license was given to Coffeeshop Rusland which was also one of the first coffeeshops in the city. If any of the coffeeshops broke any of the rules they would lose their license and they could not apply for another. Nor could anybody else apply for a new license. This has caused a big drop in the number of coffeeshops over the years.

In 2007 there were new rules introduced and the coffeeshops could up until this point sell alcohol as well as cannabis. This was no longer the case and they had to choose between selling either cannabis or alcohol. This meant that any coffeeshop that decided they would prefer to sell alcohol, could no longer operate as a coffeeshop.

To add further problems for coffeeshops, another new rules was created which meant that any coffeeshop within 250 metres of a school must close down. This affected 28 coffeeshops, including Mellow Yellow which eventually closed its doors for good on 31st December 2016. Some of the coffeeshops on the original list of closures have been allowed to stay open because the school nearby will be moving. These coffeeshops are not allowed to be open during school hours and can only be open for business from 6pm during the week.

Project 1012 (named after the postcode of the Red Light District) was also introduced which meant that the government planned to 'clean up' the De Wallen area and this meant they were closing many of the coffeeshops and a large proportion of the windows in the Red Light District. 

These days there are no more coffeeshops on Warmoesstraat, a street which used to house many of the coffeeshops in the area. Baba, Hunters, Hill Street Blues, Stones, Sheeba, 136 are just a few of the names gone from the area. Some of them were fortunately allowed to move to other locations in the city. 

Another problem that the coffeeshops have faced was the Weedpass 'Wietpas'. which  was introduced to try stop tourists from buying cannabis in the Netherlands.

The government stated that these rules could be implemented by each city council, many of which didn't follow up this rule and still continued to sell to tourists.

This rule wasn't likely to be implemented in Amsterdam. It was however mainly introduced to the border city's of the Netherlands, to stop tourists from bordering countries such as Belgium and Germany solely crossing the border to purchase weed. 


The latest issue that coffeeshops have endured is that Mayor Femke Halsema is promoting the idea of banning tourists from entering the Coffeeshops of Amsterdam. The coffeeshops argue that this has already failed in other parts of the country, when they introduced the so called weed pass. Those cities and towns were dealt with a huge rise in street dealers, who don't just offer you cannabis, but also hard drugs.

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