are in Library / Coffeeshops
Dutch Coffeeshop system
years of experience with Hollands Tolerance-policy for cannabis and coffeeshops.
Nol van Schaik.
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
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.
Bruining, Weed and the Weesperzijde.
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.
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.
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 !
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.
: “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.”
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.
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.
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
Wernard, “From lumps of a pound, or so…”
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.
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.
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
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.”
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 each other, his house could be
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
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.
weed was sold in ten gram bags, some people, from the Amsterdam grey area, even
bought ten bags at a time.
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.”
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.
was no competition of other coffeeshops yet, and the police did not seem to bother.
police was fully concentrated on the heroin, that hit the Amsterdam market in
1972, eventhough hash was as forbidden as the opiate.
view on hash was different then”, as former head-prosecutor Hartsuiker remembers,
“The use of hash was not considered a real problem.”
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
up with the slogan : “Invade Russia for a change !”. The police did exactly so,
in the next years.
other remarkable guy started a coffeeshop in Amsterdam in the same year,
Vries, he opened a place called the Bulldog, at present he is the owner of four
Bulldog coffeeshops in Hollands capital, and café’s in Vancouver, Canada, and
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.
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.
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.
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
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 heroin market.
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.
Vries was the first one to come up with houserules, and put those up in his businesses.
harddrugs, No violence and No sales of stolen goods, or we have to call
rules were later included in the Tolerance-policy, expanded with some rules the
government felt they had to add.
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.
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 !”
25 years of cannabisness and fighting all forces against him, Henk de Vries is
still going strong, and an asset to the coffeeshopculture.
Dutch government made a big decision in changing their Opiumwet (Druglaws), by
separating drugs in two major classes, harddrugs and softdrugs.
Cocain, XTC and amfetamins, chemical drugs with unacceptable hazards for national
health, were and are considered “Harddrugs”.
like hash and marihuana, natural products, without chemical addition, were and
are considered “Softdrugs”.
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 hard drug users ( aka: Junkiess) in Holland is the lowest
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.
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.
came out in the open, and started to sell cannabis in former bars and café’s,
some in combination with alcohol, some with only coffee and tea.
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
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
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.
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.
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 rip eachother off, or even intercepted
loads on their arrival, nobody was to be trusted.
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.
1990, Holland counted around 1450 coffeeshops, 400 in Amsterdam, the other 1000+
spread over the 12 provinces, with concentration in the bigger cities, and in
the border area’s with Belgium and Germany.
coffeeshopculture offered a shop for every group of the population or lifestyle,
from hippie-style shops to supermarket like shops, who gave out stamps to keep
the customers coming back, they became rural and urban meetingplaces or even a
second home. Coffeeshops are usually equipped with a lot of games, like pooltables
and tablesoccer in the spacious places, or chess and backgammon in the living
room style shops.
started my first coffeeshop, Willie Wortel Workshop in 1991, in Haarlem, the countycapital
of North-Holland, 12 miles from Amsterdam towards the coast.
was not new to Haarlem, the WWW was the 22nd coffeeshop in town, so it was not
easy to start competing with all these collegues, in a city with 160.000 inhabitants.
was hard to get in the picture, but we managed to get more and more visitors,
mainly because of the big place, equipped with 2 pooltables, tablesoccer, pinballs,
computers and all boardgames, and, of course, a constant quality in cannabisproducts.
Willie Wortel was and is a membership club, with a permision to sell cannabis,
in small quantities. We made membership obligated for the 16 and 17 year olds
from the beginning, to prevent the staff from asking for ID all
a lot of younger kids tried to get in and buy cannabis.
Justice department and the police started a last offensive against coffeeshops
in 1993, when all kinds or criteria were made up and slowly put in effect. The
government wanted to separate cannabis from alcohol, wich caused a major problem
for hundreds of coffeeshops, throughout the country.
coffeeshoppolicy was meant to be national, but it turned out that the Mayor of
each city could apply and change the rules to his liking or situation.
made it possible for the Mayor of Amsterdam, Patijn, to not go along with the
separation rule, so in our capital you can still buy and smoke cannabis in around
90 places that sell alcohol as well as cannabis, the other 100+ coffeeshops only
sell cannabis and coffee.
major cities, like Den Haag and Rotterdam, forced their coffeeshops to separate
the sales, and so did the rest of Holland. It was also up to the Town Mayors to
decide to have coffeeshops or not, the ones opposed to cannabis, could go for
the so-called zero-option, no coffeeshops at all.
escape was used by all Mayors that were member of the CDA, the catholic-democratic
political party, zero-tolerance was their parties official stance. Holland ended
up with several hundreds of coffeeshoppolicies, instead of one, and is still in
that shape today.
1993, as stated earlier, Holland had its highest number of coffeeshops ever, around
1450. That changed after 1994, in 1996 the number of coffeeshops was down to about
1275, caused by the police following up on the new guidelines, and closing coffeeshops
that broke the rules too many times.
was a difficult time for the coffeeshopkeepers in those dark days, they could
only have 30 grams of cannabis in stock, so, many were closed because they had
to much cannabis in the place. Haarlem was the only exception, with
1500 gram rule the police allowed, but still we ended up with 16 coffeeshops in
1996. The coffeeshops that were closed did all break the rules on several occasions,
two of them just quit for having no more business.
started as testmodel, meant to be the example for Holland, in 1994, informing
the coffeeshopkeepers of the unexpected check ups they could have, and about how
much we could have in stock, 1500 grams !
rest was according to the rules as they were already invented by Henk de Vries,
no violence, no harddrugs, no fencing, and, in Haarlem, no alcohol.
city of Haarlem also announced that they wanted to reduce the number of coffeeshops
to 15, from the 22 outlets at that time. That would not be done by a hunt for
coffeeshopkeepers, they would only be closed if they broke the rules, that were
issued a week later.
were called the AHOJG criteria, and became active in October 1994 in Holland.
Breaking either one of these rules, could get you a yellow card, like in soccer,
the police would be able to close you on receiving the third yellow card, no more
Mellow Yellow !
capitals need some further explanation :
: the A means : NO Advertising for the sales of softdrugs. No more weedleafs on
the front of coffeeshops, in some cities it was even forbidden to have your logo
and adres printed on your lighters ! No stickers, no T-shirts, no ads. *In Haarlem
we can have our logo on our products, and even advertise !
: the H stands for : NO Harddrugs on the premises, not for sale and not for personal
use. The shopkeeper and staff have to be real sharp on this, the police is! Coffeeshops
do not allow problematic harddrugusers in, for that reason, their personal stash
could mean a yellow card for the coffeeshop, on a check up.
coffeeshops in Haarlem were closed for that reason !
: the O stands for NO Overlast, wich word actually means: Disturbing of the peace,
like to loud music, customers being to loud on leaving the premises, etc. This
rule goes for all bars, cafes and restaurants too, and are common in Dutch society.
: The J is your Y, for NO Youths, they are not allowed in under 18 years of age.
It used to be 16, until this restriction, wich was not causing any problems to
the young people, they kept on finishing their educations. It was then possible
to smoke a joint after school, in a coffeeshop, after wich they went home for
dinner and schoolwork. *In Haarlem we could still allow 16/17 year olds, most
of them were sent to Willie Wortels, by our collegues, we had around 300 members
in that age group, registered and with consent of their parents.
: The G stands for NO Big Quantities, coffeeshops were not allowed to sell more
than 5 grams, per person, per day. Coffeeshops were allowed to stock a maximum
of 500 grams. The last was a major improvement for all Dutch coffee shops, except
the ones in Haarlem…
coffeeshops in Haarlem received a letter from the city, telling us they understood
this change was a big one for us. We were ordered to build down our stock, from
1500 to 1000 grams in March, 1995, to the intended 500 grams in June, 1995.
became really serious about the age rule as well, we were forced to sent 316 members,
16 and 17 years of age, out on the street… We had been padded on the shoulder
by the police and the city for years, for our system with registration and passes,
but now we were treated as pushers, trying to get young people to smoke cannabis!
was on national TV, for several times, parents of our former members openly showed
their support for our system, it did not matter.
had to let go of them and our system after two yellow cards, we could not afford
the third. The yellow cards were never issued as such, the police and the city
could see my point, and threw them out.
ended up in Cityhall, explaining my situation and motivation about the age issue
to the Chief of the Bar and Coffeeshop Police Dep.(Special Laws), and a representative
of the citycouncil.
made me ask them to invite all coffeeshopkeepers of Haarlem, instead of just accusing
me, they could, I stated my protest in the newspapers. The officials thought that
was a good idea, so all my collegues and me were invited for a meeting, in January
meeting resulted in many a good thing, I asked why we could not be accepted with
16 coffeeshops, since we were all subdue of check-ups for some years now, and
everyone was in line with all rules.
citycouncil did not know the police still used the ‘die-out’ principle, meaning
they wanted one more coffeeshop to close, no matter how long it took. My protest
was against the fact that we all had no future, and that we wanted to have our
promised rights, now, and for all 16.
police promised us to give us permission to move or sell the coffeeshops, in 1994,
with the permit to sell cannabis, once we reached the desired number of 15 coffeeshops.
this was unreasonable, we could be hit by a car, for instance, wich would mean
the coffeeshop would be closed, the permit would not be transferred to the family
or other intended inheritants, I was backed by all my collegues in this plea.
Citycouncil found this situation unreasonable too, and told us they would look
in to it, they would let us know within a month.
suggested to have a meeting like this on an annual basis, wich was awarded by
both the city and the police.
got very positive news on our request for continuity with our businesses, the
city and the police accepted all 16 coffeeshops, and invited us for a next meeting,
a few months later. At that meeting, we all received the new Haarlem coffeeshoppolicy,
including our Right to sell or move the coffeeshop in Haarlem, with the permit
to sell cannabis, according to the rules and regulations. An eventual sale and
purchase of a coffeeshop was only subdue to a small check up, the owner-to-be
needs a transcript of good behaviour from the Justice department.
then, several coffeeshops in Haarlem are relocated, in co-operation with the city
and police, some of them have new owners now.
this rule does not apply to the rest of the country, but it is supposed to be
the model for Holland, the coffeeshopkeepers have to confront their respective
citycouncils with the Haarlem system, I suggest.
AHOJG rules and regulations are still valid today, and are still executed in all
seriousness, two coffeeshops in Zaandam are closed for two weeks, from the 20th
of January, 2002, they had more than 500 grams of cannabis in stock.
Holland has around 900 coffeeshops, due to the appliance of the criteria, but
the numbers are going back up slowly, smaller cities are allowing small numbers
of coffeeshops, out of sense for reality, or because of an other Mayor, who lifts
the zero-tolerance ban on his area.
have slowly taken over the function of the former youth-houses and neighboorhoodcenters,
were people used to come together, and took over a very important social role
in Dutch society in doing so.
a multi-cultural society, as the Dutch, they are the melting pots, the place where
the word integration has a meaning. Coffeeshops are visited and frequented by
people from all walks of life, from all colours, backgrounds, religions
and ages, who smoke their cannabis in peace and tranquility, together.
business in the Dutch coffeeshops has gone trough an evolution, over the last
10-12 years, in what they offer and sell. In 1991, when I opened the Willie Wortel
Workshop, we mainly sold hash and some foreign weeds, all of it imported from
was coming up, but the quantities were small, so the sales were 95% of imported,
or actually smuggled goods, the other 5 % was the available gardenweed and some
in 2002, the sales of most coffeeshops are about 75% Dutch Homegrown, and out
of the hash, wich is still mainly imported, a small part is even produced from
Dutch plants, siffed of the flowers or leafs, gathered with the Pollinator or
Ice-O-Lator, both Dutch hashextractor devices.
homegrown marihuana pushed most of the imported hash of the market, slowly but
surely, therefore, the quality of the offered hash is better than before, to be
able to compete with the quality of the Netherweeds.
times of huge hashtransports is passed for years now, not by strong efforts of
the police or the Justice department, but by thousands of amateurs, who grow the
supplies for Dutch coffeeshops.
they harvest and prosper….
Bruining was Hollands cannabis-pioneer in many fields, he also started Hollands
first ever growshop, Positronics, but he lost the battle against the taxes and
other forces. His other great initiative, Mediweed, is still alive and caring
today. Wernard is presently publishing detailed information about selected coffeeshops
and growshops in Holland.
Nol van Schaik is the founder of three coffeeshops and the Global
in Haarlem, and co-founder of the first coffeeshop in the UK,
Experience in Stockport.
Bruining and Nol van Schaik are planning a celebration party around the 30th anniversary
of the Dutch Coffeeshop Hi(gh)story, after the summer of 2002. More info will
follow on the formentioned URL’s, and through all media.