I remember the first time I saw “Pulp Fiction” in the theater. I was 17 years old and I was blown away. It was my first Quentin Tarantino experience. The thing that I took away from it most of all was the conversational dialogue, most notably the “Amsterdam” conversation between John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson. I was floored. “If you get stopped by a cop in Amsterdam, it’s illegal for them to search you… that’s a right the cops in Amsterdam don’t have.” I couldn’t believe it. Was it really true? And hence, my love affair with Amsterdam was born.
Regretfully, 15 years later, I’ve still never been. Now I have a kid and a mortgage so the window of opportunity for me to really experience the city has probably passed. But my need to satisfy my curiosity with city has not. I’ve done a fair bit of research and I’ve tried to differentiate the facts versus the fiction. Most people who travel to Amsterdam want to know about 2 things, prostitution and pot. So I now present to you a breakdown of what you can, and more importantly, what you can’t get away with when you travel to the city of legal sin.
De Wallen is the name of the famous “Red Light District” in the heart of Amsterdam. It is a veritable shopping mall of the sex trade. Visitors there can have a virtually limitless pick of a smorgus borge of willing prostitutes representing nearly any taste in looks, ethnicity and experience. Walking through the streets, it’s impossible to ignore the red-fringed windows where prostitutes attempt to entice and beckon passer-bys.
So is it legal to procure a ‘lady of the night’? Yes. In the late 20th century there is no active pursuit for the legislation or enforcement of prostitution. It wasn’t technically “legal”, but you certainly were not going to be arrested for it. That changed on October 1st, 2000 when legislation was passed that made brothels fully legal and licensed business establishments.
WHERE TO GO IF YOU CAN’T MAKE IT TO AMSTERDAM?
Nevada is the only U.S. state with legalized prostitution. If you turn on HBO late at night, you’re likely to see the show “Cathouse” which is filmed inside of Nevada’s most profitable and famous brothels, The Bunny Ranch. While it’s not a picturesque European seaport, if you’re looking to legally pay for sex, it’s your best bet. If that’s your bag.
2. COFFEE HOUSES
If you’re not into paying for sex, and you’d rather relax the ‘herbal’ way, then you’ll be looking for one of Amsterdam’s many fine Coffee Houses. The term Coffee House refers to an establishment where one can procure either Cannabis or Hashish. In such an establishment, one could purchase cannabis or hashish either by itself, or baked inside of a product (usually a cookie or brownie).
So is it legal? Kind of. The Dutch have a term called “Gedogen”, which roughly translated means “Illegal but not punishable.” That is to say that you are perfectly within your rights to walk into a coffee house and buy whatever you’d like and enjoy it without fear of being arrested. Additionally, you’re welcomed to go ahead and roll a joint or pack a bong and smoke to your heart’s content within the confines of the establishment. The coffee houses themselves are subject to some enforcement, namely limiting their abilities to advertise and the limits placed on the quantity of product sold. But you as the consumer are free and clear to enjoy.
WHERE TO GO IF YOU CAN’T MAKE IT TO AMSTERDAM
Many consider Vancouver in British Columbia on Canada’s west coast to be very much the North American Amsterdam. Don’t be entirely fooled though. While there is a somewhat lenient stance on possession of pot in Vancouver, it is important to note that it is still illegal. There are a number of “420 friendly” establishments some feel you can safely enjoy smoking. However, there is nowhere you can legally purchase your pot.
So there you have it. A quick rundown of what you can and can’t get away with while traveling to Amsterdam. If you’re looking for a nice vacation that isn’t to Disney Land, and Vegas just doesn’t do it for you, then maybe check out Amsterdam.
All pictures are protected under the creative commons license and are credited to the following:
Amsterdam – http://www.flickr.com/photos/amagill/516615830/
Red Light District – http://www.flickr.com/photos/keepwaddling1/3122920097/
Coffee shop – http://www.flickr.com/photos/spaceageboy/3083540517/