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Drugs Abroad

by Anjali Balakrishna

Photography courtesy of Diego Portela on Creative Commons on Flickr

The United States has only just started legalizing marijuana. Several states have now legalized recreational or medical marijuana. However, this is old news for Amsterdam as a 1976 law permits possession of marijuana in small quantities. This has increased tourism in the Dutch city.

Amsterdam is renowned for its museums, restaurants and tulips. Although Brittany Chang (COM ’19) did not see the tulips when she visited, she and her friends were still able to make the most of their trip.

“We had an itinerary all planned out,” said Chang. “It was basically just exploring the streets, all divided with beautiful canals, trying the food and going to the Van Gogh Museum.”

Like any city, there is more to Amsterdam than just its drug culture, but it is definitely a large part of what makes it unique.

“I’m from Southern California where recreational marijuana was recently legalized,” said Chang. “I was shocked at how casual the marijuana culture is [in Amsterdam].”

It appears that the legalization of soft drugs has attracted tourists. Therefore, it is safe to say that Amsterdam is thriving off of this unusual aid to their tourism industry, so much so that they cater directly and publicly to the consumer.

“Wherever you go there are plenty of cafes where people can purchase different kinds of weed. There are also plenty of other drugs that were everywhere; I noticed it the most around the red-light district—the area full of bars, clubs and prostitutes,” said an anonymous source.

“I was told the further you leave city center, the cheaper and less touristy it is,” said Chang. “This means that means the [shops] in the city center have to be for tourists and so all of the other tourists were basically just roaming around high.”

Many American travelers remain skeptical of the use of drugs overseas. Especially when it is one of the primary sources of tourism income. This often stems from growing up in the United States, where drug use is shamed and a general fear or sensitivity exists with the free use of marijuana. Understandably, many visitors are concerned about the safety of these cities.

Caitlin Stavish (CAS ’18) visited Amsterdam while studying abroad in London last year.

“[Coffee shops] had a professional and relaxed atmosphere,” said Stavish. “I can definitely see how buying drugs in this way is safer; they asked what type of experience you were looking for and explained the dosage as well as how to smoke or consume the product in a way to have the most positive experience.”

As far as tourism is concerned, the freedom with drug use serves as a beacon to some travelers.

“I can definitely see how younger tourists, especially from places that are not so open-minded about drugs, would gravitate towards a city like Amsterdam,” said an anonymous source.

Many travelers hold preconceived notions before traveling to Amsterdam

“Thinking back to the trip, the beauty of the city comes to mind before anything else,” said Stavish. “I think people definitely come to Amsterdam to see the red-light district and because of the novelty of drug legalization, but once there they find the city has so much more to offer.”

One could take a cue or two from Amsterdam, a city that seems to keep dispelling misconceptions about legal marijuana use. It is not some shady transaction in a back alley, but rather an educational customer service experience. It has truly transformed their tourism industry, adding yet another point on Amsterdam’s list of experiences.

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