As of July 1, The Netherlands becomes the latest European nation to ban smoking in restaurants, cafes and all public places. The difference in Holland, though, is you can still order marijuana and hashish at cafes and coffee shops alongside your coffee, tea or juice. But as Lauren Comiteau reports for VOA from Amsterdam, the new rules for smoking it have left a lot of coffee shop owners and patrons…well, dazed and confused.
The no-smoking advertisements are everywhere, as Holland gears up to create the smoke-free environment it says all workers are entitled to. Under the new rules, smoking tobacco is out. But the ban doesn't extend to marijuana, also called cannabis, which under existing soft drug legislation, is still tolerated if not entirely legal.
Tourists purchase their cannabis at the Bulldog coffee shop - one of the country's first built in an old police station in the heart of the city. Most Europeans smoke their marijuana in cigarettes rolled with tobacco. And that's where the confusion comes in. Long-time smoker Rob says he'll never smoke the pure marijuana joints that will now be the only ones still allowed.
"I don't know, smoke at home, I think. Just buy it and go home, smoke," he said.
Coffee shop owners are also confused. Although they say they will try and stop people from smoking joints that are mixed with marijuana and tobacco, it's often hard to police people as they're rolling. They say they will direct them outside, where smoking's still allowed.
For those who remain inside at the Bulldog, there will be other smoking options - tobacco substitutes on the counters, segregated smoking cabins, water pipes and vaporizers.
Fritz, who's been selling soft drugs at the Bulldog for a decade, says he doesn't think the new rules will hurt business. And they could even have some unforeseen benefits.
"I think it will be good because I smoke a lot but when it's forbidden, I have to go outside. But not possible because I must be in when I'm working. So, it's good for my health," he said.
Many smaller coffee shops, though, are worried they'll be put out of business. They can't afford to create a separate smoking space for tobacco diehards, as the law requires.
Helga, who owns the neighborhood smoke shop Yoyo, says she'll weather the storm, and will maybe even take this opportunity to convert her coffee shop into a community center. But a recent brush with police over kids using her shop's bathroom means she's taking the law seriously.
"They said one thing more you're closed forever, because they'd like to close all coffee shops. We're the most friendly one, the only coffee shop, it's another atmosphere. But they do it because they want less coffee shops. ... So I will follow the rules," she said.
For the owners who don't, fines start at about $475 for a first offense and work their way up to $3,800 for continuing breaches of the law.
But even the 200 inspectors charged with enforcing the new law say it's a bit unclear. With some 60,000 establishments to police, of which about 700 are coffee shops, they say they'll wait and see what happens at the smoke shops before levying fines. Which means for now at least, the traditional Dutch coffee shops will remain firmly rooted in another time-honored Dutch tradition, the legal grey area.