Well, I have to go back and look at the archives and see how long I’ve been hearing that story. The coffee shop system, I guess first needs to be explained back in the mid 70s, there was a boom in marijuana use in the Netherlands or actually more precisely of hashish use, almost no marijuana and almost all Mongolian hashish from Morocco and Lebanon and Turkey, and in those days from Nepal and Afghanistan. All of these places supplied hashish in various forms to primarily to the European market. Eastern Canada was also a place where hashish was the more common form of cannabis. I believe in the French. In the Netherlands, they were, of course, started arresting young people for possession of marijuana. And the Netherlands was a small, very civilized country. It didn’t take them long to realize they didn’t like arresting their kids. Fortunately, that idea never got to the United States.
What good is a criminal justice system if you can’t arrest your kids? Anyway, the Dutch stopped arresting people for possession of marijuana. Well, where’s the marijuana going to come from and where was it coming from? Well, it’s coming from street dealers, the street dealers who are also happily sell you cocaine or heroin or God knows what. The Dutch didn’t like that either. So which again, in contrast to U.S. law enforcement, the Dutch think, what are we gonna do? Well, meantime, a few Dutchmen took it upon themselves to address this problem that Bernard Browning, a dear friend, a wonderful person, started what was really the first coffee shop, which the Jews called a Mellow Yellow tea room. How different is this than it is today? If everybody said with tea instead of coffee, you could be talking about Amsterdam Tea Rooms… might have different meanings, different circles.
Another guy named Henk de Vries started The Bulldog. And yeah, that was an a perfect place because de Vries had to really be a bulldog. He got busted every day; if it had been in the context of the American criminal justice system, we might know one other than few wardens could do this. He persisted, and then there were others. I think Ruslan, which is actually still there, was the third, and so on the Mellow Yellow, by the way, that may or may not be still there, but not the original Mellow Yellow’s simply too good of a name to waste anyway.
So the Dutch then started tolerating the coffee shop system. Before long, there were hundreds of coffee shops in Amsterdam. At one point, I think there were almost 700 or something like that. Now there’s only about 250. But what the Dutch saw there was the simple term is separation of the markets. That coffee shops can only sell cannabis if (this has happened occasionally), an employee of a coffee shop might think he’d make a few extra bucks by selling cocaine or something else under the counter. The Dutch authorities response to that simply just shut down the coffee shop, period. You didn’t know what your employee was doing? That’s really too bad. You could have. Goodbye. A coffee shop license as it evolved is worth a whole lot of money. So this is a really serious thing. Second, chances are a lot of things with selling hard drugs in the coffee shop is, you know, a closed period. Over the years, the Dutch have tolerated the coffee shops, eventually started taxing them on separate long story. This coffee shop system is not just Amsterdam, by the way.
The coffee shops are all in a red light district. There’s this is in “Amsterdam” and we all know the “Amsterdam”. The fact is that virtually every city of any size in the Netherlands has at least one coffee shop. And there are a few cases where the city and questions have encouraged somebody to open up a coffee shop because you don’t want kids going to the big city so you can get cannabis locally in almost any place. And this is considered to be a social good, not a problem. This is the way the system works. But there is one thing that we haven’t talked about here, and it gets really complicated, but it is where does Cannabis come from? The Dutch are very practical so that they believe in magic when it is practical to do so. Technically a coffee shop can only have a pound or half a kilo of cannabis in all of its form. But some of the big coffee shops do that in a matter of less than an hour. I mean, the turnover, if you see you go to some of the popular coffee shops and to be able to just operate off of a one pound inventory thing, even if you only had one variety and never mind having 20. The same problem: where does this cannabis come from? Well, it used to all be smuggled in when it was starting, but then, believe it or not, the Americans (I’m so proud), brought the media to the Netherlands. So that the Dutch in the early nineties, late eighties market began to shift from imported hashish to cannabis that was grown in the Netherlands.
The quality of locally grown weed was really good, and it got better and better. But as time went by and this shifted, you know, the idea of cultivating cannabis in the Netherlands became both more necessary and more of a problem because it was and still is illegal.