Smoke Weed Instead of Drinking Alcohol – The Marijuana Culture in Holland

Gerrit Bloemendal, owner of a coffeeshop in Holland, about the drug culture and policy

Gerrit Jan ten Bloemendal is rolling a joint with marijuana called „Jack Herrer“. It is named after one of the first Americans who came in Holland to grow quality weed. Photos: Bistra Velichkova

Gerrit Jan ten Bloemendal (translated: George John from the flower valley) is one of the six owners in coffeeshop DEOS in the city of Leeuwarden, Holland. He has studied Dutch language and literature in the University of Groningen and his profession is librarian. For more than 10 years he is selling cannabis in a coffeeshop. He was born in Hengelopen, the East part of Holland.When he was 27 years old he moved to Leeuwarden where he worked in the city’s library. After a while one of his friends offer him to start an official business with cannabis and Gerrit agreed.Here is what Gerrit Jan ten Bloemendal said about the history of the coffeshops in Holland and his opinion about the soft drugs:

I am in that business since 1994. I smoke marihuana since I was 18 years old and now I am 47. I smoke weed regularly, 2-3 joints per day and this doesn’t affect my education and graduation. When I was younger in the beginning I was hiding from my parents that I smoke. By that time it was not so popular to smoke. After some years, when I started that business, my parents came to see me. My father was a gardener and when he saw the plants he understood that the cannabis is a plant like the tomatoes or like herbs, like basilica or ourigana. Together with my mother, they accepted my work as something normal. Of course we had some serious talks about my job, but when you explain to the people what it is all about they are more likely to understand you. That’s why I take so much time to talk to journalists, politicians, because I want to explain them what is the cannabis in reality.

Rolling a cigarette with tobacco and marijuana. Photos: Bistra Velichkova

Except coffeeshop DEOS, outside we have a shop where we are selling hemp clothes, pipes, waterpipes, papers for rolling, books. There we also sell all the required stuff for growing a weed plant at home – seeds, soils, lamps. Upstairs we have a grow shop. There we grow and sell little plants. It is much better when you grow the weed that you sell by yourself. Of course it is forbidden by lwa to grow cannabis, but it is known that if you grow 4-5 plants at home for personal needs the policemen will not make you any problems.

The people that work in the coffeeshop are at different age. We have one seller who is 47, another one is 51. The youngest of all ia a guy who is 21. There are also three students who are working part-time job here.The other people have contracts for a full time job.

In DEOS we sell cannabis in grammas and also as pre-rolled joint. The price of the pre-rolled joint is 2.50 euros. In the joint we put half a gram weed and mix it with a tobacco. There is a guy whose job is to roll joints. He works 32 hours per week and during the whole time he is rolling joints with the help of a machine.

From 1st of July this year in Holland will be forbidden to smoke tobacco on public places – in the cafes, bars as well as in coffeeshops. This is an European law which will be a law for all the countries in the European Union. Then in the coffeeshops it will be forbidden to smoke tobacco, but only cannabis. This means that we will not be able to mix tobacco with weed in the joints. The joints will be with pure marihuana. In this way the cigarettes will be very strong, but what can we do, that’ the law. (laughing)

Coffeeshop DEOS from outside. Photos: Bistra Velichkova

All the people who are working in the coffeeshop smoke weed. If you want to be a good seller you have to be able to give advices to the customers. Otherwise it will be like in a butcher shop to work a man who is vegetarian. It will be a bit strange, won’t it?!
The people are allowed to smoke when they are at work, but not so much, because they have to be able to do their job.

Now I will tell you the history of the coffeeshops in Holland and the selling of cannabis. During 1920 there was a law which was called “The opium law”. The purpose of this law was to regulate the use of opium between the Chinese citizens of Amsterdam. This is a law for all the drugs and it shows which drugs are legal and which are not. During 1976 they changed this law and they separated the hard drugs from the soft drugs. By that time we had a v very prosperous government. For the first time the prime-minister was from the social democrats. One of the ministers of the public health was responsible for the change in that law. In most countries for the drug law the responsibility is taken by the Ministry of justice, but in Holland the responsibility is on the Ministry of health.

This separation between the drugs was made in order to decrease the harmful effects on the health. The government said, ok there are drugs like heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, they are very harmful. They are put in “paper 1” as the worst drugs which are forbidden. The cannabis is put in a different “paper” as not so harmful drug, which is tolerated. At least it is not a drug from which you can die. The other drugs are much dangerous. This change in 1976 allowed to smoke cannabis and to have a certain amount for personal use without being chased by the law or caught by the police and pay taxes. In that way we were able to smoke weed freely.

Gerrit Jan ten Bloemendal – one of the owners of coffeeshop DEOS in Leeuwarden. Photos: Bistra Velichkova

Before the appearing of the first coffeeshops during 1980, there were the so called “using centers”, where a lot of young people gather together. There we listen to nice music and we often make interesting discussions on different topics. In these centers usually came the house dealer, as we all call the man who was selling weed. He was usually dressed with long coat and when he opened it, inside you can see from top to the end, all kinds of packages with weed. But in the mid 80s, the government closed these using centers. Then “the man with the coat” started to rent hoses of his own and started to make his own business. So the coffeeshops begin to appear. First the using centers, then the change in the law and here are the coffeeshops which are an absolute legal cafes.
But if you want to open a coffeeshop you have to fill a lot of documents and to keep a lot of rules and laws. Nowadays in every country in the European Union if one want to open a business, one has to follow many rules. Now I will show you the documents of “DEOS” which tells that we have legal business. (Mr. Gerris brings documents with signatures and rules).

A customer is rolling a cigarette with tobacco and marijuana. Photos: Bistra Velichkova

A customer is rolling a cigarette with tobacco and marijuana. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaOn the counter below there are different types of joints with marijuana, above there are rolling papers. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaIn a frame there are different types of cannabis seeds. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaIcons on one of the walls in another coffeeshop in Leeuwarden. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaPictures in Coffeeshop DEOS. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaForeign customers in coffeeshop DEOS. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaOne of the gardeners in coffeeshop DEOS, who takes care for the plants, is bringing pots with small
plants. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaA menu of different types of drugs, including mushrooms, which are sold in another coffeeshop in Leeuwarden. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaCigarettes with marijuana and tobacco rolled by machine. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaMarijuana "Laughing Buddha", 12 euros per gram. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaMarijuana "Euphoria". Photos: Bistra VelichkovaRussian flag with Lenin, from the Communistic regime, is put on the wall in the room where the marijuana plants are grown in DEOS. On the flag it is written: "A team for the communistic labor". Photos: Bistra VelichkovaA customer in the coffeeshop is rolling a cigarette with weed. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaCoffeeshop "Relax" in Leeuwarden. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaOne of the sellers in coffeeshop DEOS. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaHere are sold different fertilizers, appliances and books for growing marijuana. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaMarijuana plant in the beginning of its growing. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaCoffeeshop THE DOORS in Amsterdam. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaDecoration in coffeeshop DEOS. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaCoffeeshop DEOS from outside. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaMarihuana menu in DEOS. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaCustomers in DEOS are smoking weed. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaLominous signboard in coffeeshop "Popeye" in Amsterdam. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaCake with weed in coffeeshop "Popeye" in Amsterdam - 7 euro, a bit expensive because it is in the center of the city. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaCoffeeshop in Leeuwarden. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaAlready rolled joint cigarettes on the counter of a coffeeshop. Photos: Bistra VelichkovaOne of the men who grows the marijuana on the upstairs floor in coffeeshop DEOS. He is growing weed for 10 years. Here is also the shop where are sold a lot of stuff for growing weed at home. Photos: Bistra Velichkova Pots with small marijuana plants called "White widow". Photos: Bistra Velichkova The bar in the coffeeshop DEOS. Photos: Bistra Velichkova

This coffeeshop is accepted like a pub, like a café. If we want to open a coffeeshop we have to have permission from the mayor of the city. First he has to allow us to sell soft drinks and coffee then we has to have a license which is called “document of tolerance” which will allow us to sell cannabis. The Mayor of the city, representatives of the Ministry of justice and the police decide who can acquire permission for opening a coffeeshop. Although we have this permission, there are a lot of rules according to which we can sell cannabis. These rules are written in the permission paper which in Dutch we call it “Hudoufen klave” . If you brake one of the rules in there, you loose the permission and then your right to sell cannabis.

For example, one of the rules is that it is forbidden to sell alcohol in a coffeeshop, because the mixture of these two drugs (for me the alcohol is also a drug) have a very bad effect. Only in Amsterdam exists the “Hash cafes”, where they sell beer and cannabis together. Another rule is that people under 18 years can not enter a coffeeshop. Five or six times per year the police is coming to check if all the customers are above this age. If there is even one customer underage, the café will be closed and all of your weed will be taken by the police. After that it is quite possible to close your shop forever. It is also forbidden to make advertisements about cannabis. We can’t put a sign: “The best Moroccan weed is sold in soffeeshop “DEOS ”. It is forbidden, but the people know it, there is no need of advertisement. If we really sell a good weed, the news will spread as word of mouth and the people will come to buy from us. The cannabis business is the most successful business without any advertisement.

Customers in coffeeshop „Classic Rock cafe 420“ in Amsterdam are rolling joints. Photos: Bistra Velichkova

Another rule for the coffeeshop is that we are not allowed to have marihuana more than 500 grammas. When a cutomer is buying weed he is not allowed to buy more than 5 grammas at one time.
We are also not allowed to grow plants of marihuana. Well, it is a bit of contradictory, because as I told you upstairs we do exactly this.

This rule we call it “the front door and the back door of the law”. Our coffeeshop we can call it “the front door” (the legal side ) from where you can buy a lot of marihuana, because we sell a lot and the “back door” in the law, where we break the rule for growing a plant. It is forbidden, but in the same time everybody knows that if you don’t smuggle and grow it for yourself you can do it.

In this coffeeshop we are allowed to sell only cannabis. We can not sell mushrooms. In the Dutch law it is written that you can sell only fresh mushrooms, not dry. But recently the government is planning to forbid the selling of narcotic fresh mushrooms, because of several incidents in Amsterdam in the last years. A French girl who has eaten mushrooms suicide by jumping from a window of a block. Such bad things happen mainly to foreign tourists who are not well informed about the effects of the drugs. Such thing are not happen to the Dutch people, because they know what I it is about.

It has happened to me, to come some tourists in my coffeeshop and to pass out after smoking a joint. When you smoke weed your blood sugar is decreasing and your blood pressure is getting very low. In order to recover you have to eat something sweet or to drink fruit juice. Then after 15 minutes you will be ok and after 2-4 hours the effect will go away completely. For example, when you are tired or you haven’t eaten for a long time, or if you drink alcohol and then smoke marihuana it “hits” you and you will feel very bad for sure. This is one of the reasons because of which alcohol is forbidden in the coffeeshops. That’s why my advice is – don’t’ drink alcohol along with smoking a joint.

In Holland the marihuana is not legal, it is tolerated. Officially we have a law in which marihuana is forbidden. In this way we don’t have any problems with the other European countries, where all the drugs are illegal. Our minister said: “Well, the cannabis is also forbidden in Holland, but it is tolerated”. In that way we don’t have problems on a political level, but on the street the coffeeshops are existing.
I think it is very good decision, because in that way you can buy cannabis from a save place and you know that you buy a really valuable product. Before this tolerance, if you want to buy weed you should go to the dealer on the street. But this dealer is selling many other hard drugs, not only weed. You never know what you are buying.

Gerrit Jan ten Bloemendal. Photos: Bistra Velichkova

In Holland we have more than 50 cities, but not in every city there is a coffeeshop.
Only in 19 cities there are coffeeshop which mean that in most parts of Holland there are not such cafes.If you go to Dokkum, Franker, Hrau you will not find any coffeeshops, but there are a lot in Leeuwarden, Groningen, Harlingen, Maastricht, Amsterdam.
In Holland there are 730 coffeeshops and 300 of them are in Amsterdam. The coffeeshops in the cities near by the borders on the South are mainly for tourists. There 50% are coming from Belgium, 30% from France and 20% are Dutch. If you go to Maastricht you will see that 50% of the customers are from Germany and the rest are from Belgium.

In 1976 if a police catches you with a little amount of cannabis it will not punish you. The same situation is now in Belgium, but they don’t have coffeeshops. Tehre it is allowed to have cannabis, but it is not allowed to sell it.

Some political parties in Holland are against the coffeeshops, but the majority of the politicians think that it is good to differentiate the hard drugs from the soft ones. The one who are against the free use of marihuana give as an argument The theory of the stepping stone. It means that if you smoke marihuana you are more inclined to start to use hard drugs. Scientifically this theory is not proved. Of course if you buy marihuana from the dealer on the street and he doesn’t have more weed, he will offer you something strong and he will try to make you to buy it.

That’s why the government in Holland decided that it is important to separate the market of the hard and soft drugs. I think that this politic really work, because if you check the statistics on the Internet, you will see that the percentage of people who use marihuana in the USA is much more than the percentage of the Dutch users, although in the USA it is illegal.

One of the gardeners in coffeeshop DEOS, who takes care for the plants, is bringing pots with small
plants. Photos: Bistra Velichkova

Now our government consists of social democrats, Christian democrats and a small part of a Christian party. This is a tradition in the Dutch political life – not to have a party which has 100% power. There is no party which is a boss to the others. It is in our culture to talk a lot between each other and to find solutions to the problems together. We talk about the problems and we can not allow to be separated in our final decision, because we know that we will be more vulnerable as a nation in this way.

Over 60% from the Dutch society are not against the existence of the coffeeshops and the selling of marihuana. May be the more religious people and the more conservative ones are against this, but everyone has the right of his own opinion.

In Holland every year the Ministry of the public health is making a survey how many people are using alcohol, cannabis, cocaine. They look how old are the users and what amount do they use. The most important thing is how many people have died because of the use of one of these drugs. If the statistics show that a lot of people are dying from the use of cannabis, the government will immediately forbid the use of it. But until this moment there are not such facts. Much more people are dying because of the use of alcohol, because it is more toxic. In spite of this they continue to sell alcohol which looks a bit strange to me.

It is not healthy neither to drink, nor to smoke weed, but if you do these things moderately it is ok. It is also not healthy to eat too much sugar or to eat the food from MacDonald’s. The problem is not in the use, but in the misuse. If one doesn’t want to misuse with drugs or food, one has to be informed. MacDonald’s is less harmful than the cannabis. If you eat once per week in MacDonald’s it’s ok for your health, but if you eat there everyday it will be really harmful for you. Everything in excessive amounts is not good.

Customers in DEOS are smoking weed. Photos: Bistra Velichkova

One day, when I have kids I will tell them that smoking tobacco is really harmful. I will explain them all about weed and I will tell them that they can use it, but they should also study and think about their future and life. Nowadays we have to explain to the kids how to use drugs, because in the modern society they are surrounded by drugs. It is not a good idea to start your day with a joint. First you have to do your work and then you can enjoy.

In our coffeeshop we sell 80% cannabis and 20% hashish. The marihuana is grown here as I told you. Only the female plants are producing the narcotic substance that is used for smoking. The male plants have a little balls which shows that they are males. We take the seeds from the male plants in order to produce more. The hashish we imported from other countries. We don’t grow it by ourselves. We buy it from offices in Amsterdam. There are people who smuggle and are in the business for more than 30 years. From these offices one can buy hashish from Morocco, Nepal, and India. You can buy from 10 to 100 kilograms without any problem. The import of these drugs is illegal but it is smuggled. Many things are smuggled in the world. For example in England, the cigarettes are very expensive that’s why there is a lot of smuggled tobacco. In the EU it is forbidden to produce alcohol at home if you are not paying taxes, but many people are doing it.
For selling hashish we also have to pay taxes to the government. For example, if we earn 1000 euros per month, 400 we give for taxes. In Holland the taxes are 30-40% from your income.

I have tried all kinds of drugs. I have tried cocaine, amphetamines, LSD, mushrooms. From all the drugs I enjoy most to drink a beer and smoke a joint. All the other drugs destroy you. When you take LSD everything is very impressing and is like in a real dream. When I took it I saw the streets moving like waves. Everything was very beautiful and colourful. But you can also get into a bad trip and you can be vary scared and everything to look like an endless nightmare. That’s why everyone should be informed before taking any kind of drug. If you have a bad trip you have to take some tranquillizers and the effect of the drug pass away. I like also the drugs that give you energy like the cocaine and the amphetamines. There are not much difference between them. The amphetamines are poor’s man cocaine. The amphetamines can keep you awake for 48 to 72 hours, but it is very harmful for your heart and your blood pressure. When you don’t sleep for so long also some hallucinations start to appear. In the beginning you feel as if you can do everything, but when the effect fade away you feel awful, depressed and tired. That’s way there is a temptation to take once more in order to recover. Then you start to take more and more and then you die because your body can’t endure this.

On the counter below there are different types of joints with marijuana, above there are rolling papers. Photos: Bistra Velichkova

In contrast with the amphetamines, cocaine, tobacco and alcohol, the cannabis is not toxic. The only bad thing about it is that when you smoke it you spoil your lungs. That’s why it is better to eat it, like in space cake. Of course when you eat space cake you have to choose the right environment. It is not good idea when you are very high to go to a disco, because it may looks very dangerous to you and you may get paranoid. You have to be in a calm, save place, with some good friends of yours and to enjoy it.

According to me, all the drugs should be legalized. I don’t se much difference between the alcohol and the cocaine. You think that the cocaine is more addictive?! How much are the people who died because of the use of alcohol and how much are those who died because of cocaine?! Read and you will see. When everything is legal the people will have the opportunity to become more responsible. In this way they will decide for themselves which is good and bad fro them.

Very often the drugs are connected with the youth sub cultures, which rebel like the hippies for example. The hippies in Holland appeared in 1968, by the time of the many revolutions in the world. By that time I was 17 years old. My generation was the next one, the Punk generation. We used to listen to Johny Rotten – “No future” , Sex Pistols “God save the queen and the fascist regime”, Clash. Today I like also black music and the good Rithm&Blues songs. The punk generation was influenced by the many problems in the society. By that time the weapons for mass destruction appeared. When I was young there was the Cold war between USA and Russia. Everyday they invented new and better weapons. We were afraid if the world will be destroyed after several years. That’s why we were listening “No future”. But nowadays the young people are more afraid of the global warming and some nature disasters. But every culture, every generation uses drugs.

The Punks are angry. By that time the capitalistic system gave us a good education, but after that we were not able to find a job, there us unemployment. That’s why we were angry. That’s why maybe the punk is the music of the poor people in the Western Europe. Now we are not so poor and may be that’s why now we don’t listen so much to that music.

A customer in the coffeeshop is rolling a cigarette with weed. Photos: Bistra Velichkova

The idea of democracy is very good. The problem is that we are ruled by liars. If you talk to the Russians you will see that most of them don’t like Putin. Maybe the situation is the same in Bulgaria – you don’t trust your leaders. I like the political system in Holland, but some of the political leaders have their specifics and defects. We are still Monarchy, we have a queen. In spite of this our democracy is one of the oldest in the world. The coffeeshops are an example for its development.

Here in DEOS we sell many types of cannabis with different names. The effect is the same but there are some tiny differences. Do you know how many tulips there are in Holland? May be thousands, thousands are also the types of weed. The cannabis is growing everywhere, you can find it in every continent. There is weed Indica from India, there is Sativa. It is like with the dogs. In the beginning there was only one type of dog. But today we have the small “Chihuahua” and the big “Dog”. Both are dogs, but they are different. When they breed they develop their assortment. It’s the same with the plants. When we mix different types of cannabis we are trying to make a new and better type. It is agriculture, the same as growing tomatoes or tulips. One of the most famous type of cannabis is the Dutch Skunk.

Coffeeshop in Leeuwarden. Photos: Bistra Velichkova

During the 70s we smoke weed only from Africa, Columbia, Thailand, Morocco etc. In the beginning the weed that was grown in Holland was very weak and the taste was awful. In the 80s some Americans came to Holland to grow weed, because in the USA was forbidden. They started to produce stronger weed by growing it in special conditions with special lamps.
There is a special institute in Holland which measures every year the amount of the narcotic substance (THC) in the Dutch weed. The results show that the Dutch weed is very, very strong.

Now I will roll you a joint. It is not easy to roll. It is something that you have to practice almost everyday. The cannabis that I will put is called Jack Herrer. It is named after an American who has invented it. He was one of the firs Americans that came to grow such plants here.

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