People perceive the Netherlands as a place where tall hippies cycle around with a permanent joint hanging from their mouths. After all, if you ever mention to anyone overseas that you live in the Netherlands, it will produce a knowing smile in the other person closely followed by “you smoke a lot of weed then!?”
A stereotype, like always, lacks nuance. In reality, although the national law for the Netherlands allows drug use, more than 200 municipalities prohibit drug use in public spaces.
Stepping across different municipal boundaries within the Netherlands could in fact mean the difference between being fined or not.
Booked your first trip to the Netherlands and want to smoke a spliff in Amsterdam?
Out of the four big cities in the Netherlands, Rotterdam is the only one to have enacted law (and let’s be honest, you probably wouldn’t venture outside Amsterdam if you came here to smoke)
In the other small municipalities, the purpose of having the law is to allow authorities to intervene in cases of excess drug use so consistent enforcement of the law is rare.
How many municipalities ban drug use in public spaces?
There is a total of 355 municipalities in the Netherlands and 218 ban drug use in a public space. That equates to 60% of the Netherlands. The law is also applied to specific places within a municipality such as Mercatorplein in Amsterdam and the boulevard of Scheveningen.
Is legal inconsistency within a country a good thing?
Jon Schilder, professor of Constitutional and Administrative Law at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, stated “It is absolutely not desirable that ‘lower governments’ make something punishable which the higher law does not want to make punishable.”
However, if challenged in the legal system, the law will likely prevail as it limits inconvenience and allows a stop-gap for situations needing urgent attention.
Jan Brouwer, an expert on Dutch drug policy queries “Does smoking a joint in the public space now cause more nuisance than smoking a cigarette?”
What do you think?
Feat pic: Amsterdam Coffee Shop / Source: Pexels /Alexandra G.