Tobacco ban wafts into Amsterdam pot shops — but joints still legal
By Jeffrey Stinson
AMSTERDAM — Starting next week, you'll still be able to legally smoke a joint in the famously relaxed coffee shops of Amsterdam — but for a cigarette, you'll have to step outside.
A tobacco ban that goes into effect Tuesday in the Netherlands has both tourists and shop owners, like, totally confused, man.
"It's crazy," says Jon Foster, 36, an American who owns the popular Grey Area coffee shop in the gentrified Jordaan area of central Amsterdam. "It seems totally illogical to have a business that specializes in smoking and you ban tobacco."
The new law prohibits smoking in bars, cafes, restaurants and clubs to protect people from secondhand tobacco smoke. It is similar to bans that have swept across Europe since Ireland made pubs smoke-free in 2004, as well as restrictions across the USA.
The contradiction here is that the ban extends to coffee shops in the Netherlands that are renowned since 1976 for letting people buy and smoke marijuana or hashish without being arrested.
Starting Tuesday, customers can still legally buy up to 5 grams of cannabis a day at a coffee shop and smoke it on the premises. But they cannot smoke a regular cigarette — or mix the pot with tobacco, as many Europeans prefer — without the risk of being cited by Dutch health inspectors.
"I will have to ask, 'What's in that joint?' " says Ludo Bossaert, 49, owner of the Paradox, another well-known shop. "What's the difference if there's a little bit of tobacco in there? It's going to make it pretty difficult to enforce."
Saskia Hommes, a spokeswoman for the Dutch health ministry, acknowledges that banning tobacco smoking and allowing dope smoking may seem "a bit odd."
"Under our system, these are two different things," she says.
Amsterdam has 236 of the country's 720 coffee shops, says Mark Jacobsen, chairman of the Amsterdam Union of Coffee Shops.
Foster, from North Kingstown, R.I., who has lived here since 1996, predicts more people will take the cannabis home or outside to smoke it mixed with tobacco.
He worries that will ruin the "excellent social atmosphere" of his coffee shop, where neighbors, students and tourists come to drink coffee, smoke, chat and read.
The cozy place is decorated with street signs, bumper stickers and signed photos of singer Willie Nelson and actor Woody Harrelson, both marijuana advocates. Customers drop in to the Grey Area for a quick purchase from a menu of more than a dozen varieties of cannabis that range in price from $13a gram to $95 for 5 grams.
Michael Veling of the Cannabis Retailers Association says there's a risk that more people could end up smoking cannabis on the streets if they don't want to smoke at home. In the long run, he predicts, the coffee shops will continue just fine.
"We get hundreds of thousands of Americans who come to our coffee house, and I've never seen an American smoke tobacco in my 30 years in the business," he says.
Pat Doherty, 54, a tourist from Wales, says he hopes the shops survive the ban: "It's all cool."
This article is from 1/23/09 so this happened already. What do other swimmers think? Should the government be able to tell private businesses whether they should allow smoking inside them or not? Swim thinks that its ridiculous to tell someone that they cannot make the rules in their own establishment. Some coffee shops would allow tobacco and some won't, and patrons will decide which one they want to go to. It pisses swim off that his state enacted the same sort of legislation where it is illegal to smoke in any establishment that serves food. This being in the Netherlands where people can smoke pot but not tobacco makes it even more ridiculous.