The Dutch Coffeeshop system. 30 years of experience with Hollands Tolerance-policy for cannabis and coffeeshops. By: Nol van Schaik. At this moment, early in 2002, with the focus of many countries on our coffeeshopsystem, it’s time to explain how it begun and evolved. The Dutch Model has proven to be the best possible way of approaching a world wide problem, the control of drug use and -abuse. 2002 is also the year of the 30th anniversary of the birth of a Dutch phenomena, the Hash-coffeeshop, where people can ‘score’ and smoke cannabis-resin and marihuana. 1972. Wernard Bruining, Weed and the Weesperzijde. The first ‘official’ teahouse or coffeeshop in Holland was opened by Wernard Bruining and some friends, at the Weesperzijde 53 in Amsterdam, in a squatted bakeryshop, in 1972. It was actually a logical follow-up of the friend to friend service that was going on in the place before that, but the group of friends extended rapidly, smoking hash, drinking tea and relaxing together. “That gave us the idea to open a teahouse or a coffeeshop, that was easy, since there was no permit required. The name was inspired by the Donovan hit in those days : Mellow Yellow. “If you do not have anything to smoke, you can always get a little high of a baked bananapeel !” as Wernard explains it. There were other adresses to get hash or weed, like Paradiso and Kashba, both youth-centers, and in the Melkweg and Famos, for instance. Besides these public places the city had some housedealers, two of them above the former policestations at the Overtoom and Stadionweg, where the customers were informed not to throw their roaches out of the window, on the doorstep of the Police, do not wake up a sleeping cop ! It was a perfect time to open an establishment where Amsterdams hash-smokers could get their cannabis without much hassle.Wernard left the sales of the goods to an English neighbour, who sat in the former bakeryshop for two-three hours a day, as a ‘housedealer’. Wernard and Co did not want more dealers in the place. Wernard : “We called the place a teahouse, thinking that would indicate the sales of stuff, as we called cannabis those days. Everybody knew it as coffeeshop however, and they all knew what was offered there.” “The atmosphere in the beginning was superb and enlightning, friends who all gathered, to smoke, talk and play a game of tablesoccer.” Towards the end of 1972, after the housedealer left for Greece on a new adventure, Wernard and his friends, Peter van Schie, Herman and Wernards girlfriend Marian, had to adjust to a more professional way of exploiting the business. Herman was the thriving force, ‘organising’ all material to give the Mellow Yellow a new look in 1973, with wooden benches and tables, and a fresh and white interior, in total contrast with the dark, shimmery look of the youth-centers, that were decorated with wallcarpets and poorly lit. Peter became the dealer, behind the bar this time. Peter became famous for carrying around a big, brown leather bag, wich he had especially designed, and from wich he sold all sizes and weights in pre-packed ‘stuff’. It began with 25 guilder bags, initiated by Herman, with slices of hash, cut by Wernard, “From lumps of a pound, or so…” The pre-packed bags were ‘stashed’ in a bookstore nearby, to be able to supply the dealer on short notice. The customers did not have to bargain about the price any longer, this method became common in the hash-business, and is still maintained in Hollands present Cannabisbranche. The Mellow Yellow was open from wake-up time until 3 o’clock in the morning, serving cannabis, coffee and cosy compagny to a growing crowd. Initially, the softdrugs were purchased from a small dealer on a houseboat, 50 or 100 grams at a time, the major part being Lebanese hash, weed was not available in large quantities yet. As business grew, the demand grew, more people started to come in and offer merchandise, including someone from Marocco. Wernard started to do business with Caesar, “He was a big man in the business, and he just liked us”, said Wernard, “ Known as the main man those days.” The transactions were being made in Caesars home at the Hoofddorpsquare. Wernard explained how he learned a lot from the way Caesar did hid business : “He always kept all his contacts away from eachother, his house could be full of people, in the kitchen and even in the bedroom, but they would never see one and other. Caesar kept his suppliers and customers separated, a good lesson to be learnt.” The purchases became bigger, the ‘menu’, as the variation of cannabis was mentioned, was expanded with Maroccan and Afghani hashes, even some Indonesian weed, wich Wernard bought for about 900 guilders per kilo. The weed was sold in ten gram bags, some people, from the Amsterdam grey area, even bought ten bags at a time. The Mellow Yellow was thriving, too well, according to Wernard, in 1974 the openinghours were adjusted. “We opened from 6 o’clock from then, we could not handle the overwhelming day time rush anymore.” Peter and Marian took turns as dealers, and moved to being in front of the bar, enabling them to pay more attention to the smoking clientele. There was no competition of other coffeeshops yet, and the police did not seem to bother. The police was fully concentrated on the heroin, that hit the Amsterdam market in 1972, eventhough hash was as forbidden as the opiate. “The view on hash was different then”, as former head-prosecutor Hartsuiker remembers, “The use of hash was not considered a real problem.” 1975 The Mellow Yellow was unique in its kind, until 1975, when more hashcoffeeshops started to open up. Maarten, a regular at Mellow Yellow’s, who saw an example to be followed, opened coffeeshop Rusland (Russia), and came up with the slogan : “Invade Russia for a change !”. The police did exactly so, in the next years. An other remarkable guy started a coffeeshop in Amsterdam in the same year, Henk de Vries, he opened a place called the Bulldog, at present he is the owner of four Bulldog coffeeshops in Hollands capital, and cafÃ©’s in Vancouver, Canada, and Ibiza, Spain. Henk de Vries had his share of difficulties with the police, he even spent several years in prison in Germany, after a deal with an undercover policeman. Wernard knew Henk already back then, as a guy that did some hashdeals for fun. Eventually, it went so good for him, he decided to start his own business. With Henk de Vries and his Bulldog, a new kind of cannabusinessmen started to emerge, more commercial than the hippie-styled Mellow Yellow and Paradiso scene, consisting of a student and intellectual crowd. De Vries had several collissions with the Law, and was even the subject of an expensive investigation, with telephonetaps and all, but it was called off, for unknown reasons. The police was to occupied to keep busting coffeeshops, the Chinese heroin-triades were in conflict with big time smugglers and dealers from Turkey, over power on the Amsterdam heroinmarket. His second aggressor was the Taxman, he was haunted by the tax authorities for years, but managed to stay in business and prosper, against all odds. De Vries was the first one to come up with houserules, and put those up in his businesses. No harddrugs, No violence and No sales of stolen goods, or we have to call the police ! These rules were later included in the Tolerance-policy, expanded with some rules the government felt they had to add. Henk de Vries and other steady coffeeshopkeepers kept on re-opening their raided coffeeshops, time after time, forcing the police to give up on the hard line, after finding out that coffeeshops and their visitors caused no real problems. Henk was not appreciated for all that back then, and that did not become any better when he had a promotion-plane flying over Amsterdam, in 1985, with the text : “The Bulldog, the first, the best, the biggest !” After 25 years of cannabisness and fighting all forces against him, Henk de Vries is still going strong, and an asset to the coffeeshopculture. 1976 The Dutch government made a big decision in changing their Opiumwet (Druglaws), by separating drugs in two major classes, harddrugs and softdrugs. Heroin, Cocain, XTC and amfetamins, chemical drugs with unacceptable hazards for national health, were and are considered “Harddrugs”. Cannabisproducts like hash and marihuana, natural products, without chemical addition, were and are considered “Softdrugs”. This step was taken to keep the users of cannabis away from harddrugsusers, by allowing the sales of small quantities of cannabis from regulated outlets. By not allowing the sales and use of any other drugs in those outlets, this system succesfully stood firm against those who accuse cannabis of being a gateway drug. By having cannabis available, the step to harddrugs could be prevented, and it did, the number of problematic harddrugusers ( aka: Junks) in Holland is the lowest throughout Europe. The minimum age for admittance was 16 years, until 1994, when the government changed that minimum to 18 years of age. That was very counterproductive, and should be changed back, to ensure the 16-17 year olds of a safe enviroment to purchase and use softdrugs, the streetdealers that supply these youth’s with cannabis from then, might also be involved in the dealing of harddrugs. 1980 The coffeeshops in Amsterdam were an inspiration for smokers from the whole of Holland, and they started to open coffeeshops and teahouses all over the country. Local housedealers came out in the open, and started to sell cannabis in former bars and cafÃ©’s, some in combination with alcohol, some with only coffee and tea. It caused some trouble in the border area’s, when Germany started to complain about a youth-center in Enschede, that sold hash, that might attract German smokers ! The Germans had it their way, the sales were forbidden. In other border area cities, like Arnhem and Nijmegen, coffeeshops started as well, but kept the sales low profile. The police left them alone, no trouble, no attention, no police enforcement. All this drove up the prices of the hash, the buildings and staff in the strongly commercialising cannabusiness had to be paid, but still remained affordable for those interested. It was the Wild West era of coffeeshopping, nobody minded selling larger quantities, because there were no legal limits to the tolerated sales of softdrugs, only the 30 gram for personal use restriction, but that was never held in account during that period. The police was still to occupied with the heroin and cocainsmuggling organisations, they did catch and confiscate big hashtransports, but the involved suspects were usually released after six hours. Thusway, it was made easy for criminals, involved in major drugtransports, to get their operations going, wich led to huge conflicts in the ‘underworld’. Hash had become big business. People and organisations started to ripp eachother off, or even intercepted loads on their arrival, nobody was to be trusted. The police was always two steps behind, as they found out in 1987, when they realised they allowed the creation of a humungous monster, consisting of a couple of multi-billion hash-organisations, smuggling huge quantities to Europe and other parts of the world. It gave Holland a bad reputation, and lead to an isolated position in Europe and the rest of the world, who were calling the Netherlands a Drugnation.