There is a scene in Pulp Fiction that you may remember. John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson are rolling through the streets of LA discussing the former’s recent trip to Amsterdam. With schoolboy glee, Travolta’s character enumerates the freedoms of the hash bars there. “I’m going, that’s all there is to it,” Jackson grins. These are experienced murderers, remember. They have large quantities of first-rate heroin conveniently at hand. And yet they gasp at the very idea of a place where you can smoke a joint unpunished.
This neatly summarises the appeal of the Netherlands’ cannabis cafes, which, if new laws come into force as planned, will soon be closed to tourists. Following a challenge by cafe owners, a judge in The Hague has now decided that such legislation does not break EU rules. This means that, from next Tuesday, it will take effect in three southern provinces before being extended nationally at the end of the year.
Setting aside the domestic consequences, which are debatable, this will be no great loss to foreigners. In truth, Britain and much of the developed world is already one large cannabis cafe. If you doubt this, take some money to the nearest place where you might imagine finding dealers, ask anybody you see who looks as though they know a few, and within minutes you will find you own some cannabis, to do with as you wish.
The chances of anybody stopping you are almost negligible, as are the chances of being punished if they do. A “cannabis warning”, with no fine or criminal record, is the most likely outcome for a first offence. This involves a policeman taking away your cannabis and telling you not to do it again. Or, should such mild peril still alarm you, you can always grow your own. Guidance and equipment are easily available. There are 58 hydroponics shops in Birmingham alone.
Add all this up, and it is hard to believe that many people visit the Netherlands because they can’t get weed at home. Rather, as with Jules and Vincent in Pulp Fiction, it is not the actual freedoms of Dutch hash bars that excite the tourists, so much as the spectacle of them. And the experience itself is seldom wonderful. Typically – from the many stories I have heard – you arrive excited, giggle over the “menu” and then almost immediately, no matter which variety you choose, get so splatted that you can barely speak for hours. Remembering these warnings on my only visit about a decade ago, I ordered the tamest thing I could find (which still wasn’t very tame) in spite of the proprietor’s derision.
Beyond just sanctioning a fairly harmless practice, in other words, cannabis liberalisation has also established the Netherlands as a novelty to gawp at. The country’s laws are not unique – Portugal, for example, has abolished criminal penalties in all drug possession cases, with great success – but the reputation sticks. (It is often said that a third of visitors to Amsterdam come for the weed.) Those who make an ideology of cannabis-smoking, or consider it a branch of connoisseurship, will be sad to lose this place of pilgrimage. The rest of us have nothing but our anecdotes to lose.
via : guardian
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