Friday, March 10, 2006


One of the reasons I love living where I do is that i can say to amazed folks at home that I have a coffeeshop on the end of my street. That most days I could buy all sorts of things that would cost me jail term at worst and more money at best back in the USA. It seems so strange, (and this is a point I'm reminded of by the new movie Through A Scanner Darkly) that Americans would continue with such a Nixon era strategy towards drug abuse, treating marijuana use as a greater problem than crystal meth. I am in favor of legalization, but if it is only considered legal for medical purposes this is a stopgap solution at best, because considering current restrictions on the sale of tobacco, how is the FDA going to regulate legal marijuana exactly?

The Dutch model does work, but entirely within the context of this society and its place as the crossroads of Western Europe, a loose confederation of liberal democracies. You hear wavering on both sides: soon decriminalization will end here thanks to nativists concerned about ugly tourists; no that's crazy, there's no way they would go paramilitary, things are fine and other countries are considering doing the same; no, they are restricting the places you can smoke and posting signage warning of fines; yes, but the tolerant status hasn't changed and no-knock warrants and search and seizure are concepts so alien and hideous within the Dutch body politic that enforcement of a strict ban is unacceptable. And so on...

In the meantime, most coffeeshops here run very well, with a whole spectrum of options (and a few chains, which aren't looked on as great on the whole):
  • newsstand-size enclosures where in front of you is a bank teller window with sliding drawer and to either side are glass cases where hookahs, bongs and pipes lie on velvet pillows like museum pieces;
  • the converted brown cafe is quite common, some with decent bistro food or homemade juices, or rarely a covered terrace. There is no standard configuration for the pot-buying in these places, one place had a guy in a booth in the back and for some reason the menu was kept in a black box where to read it you press a large red knob under the frame and it lights up with columns listing types of hash and weed. There is usually a counter at front for take-out service and a gate by which you can access the rest of the cafe. Unlke every other restaurant in Holland you cannot buy beer or wine at these places;
  • then there's the first coffeeshop in Holland, the Sarasani, which is stuck into a wharf cellar fronting a canal in the center of Utrecht, its archetypal gezelligheid (coziness) accented by a pool table and a terrarium.
In short they range from multi-level institutions to tiny windows, from those offering only two product lines to supermarkets of weed. The coffeeshop on the end of my street is called the Malabata, and in both style, selection and service is a great place. Inside is the window and a gateway, but the waiting area is decorated in lovely opelescent mosaic and includes a cigarette machine and a vending machine with candy and gatorade. A smaller (think family of six) space lies beyond with a big-screen, usually showing sports. I don;t get how anyone can think this is anything but a benefit to have in the community, in the marketplace. Such institutions should be as legal as Dunkin' Donuts or Panera or Whole Foods.

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