It was also the year I began working in a popular city centre Hostel and, as it transpired, that is what has actually shaped my hitherto short life; but more on that some other time. It was at the tail end of my seventeenth year that I first visited Amsterdam, the day before my eighteenth birthday in fact, and there I met with a small group of Canadian friends I had made the previous summer at the hostel.They were from BC and if there was one thing British Colombia and Amsterdam had in common it was good weed.
This little piece isn't about that trip though. As a curious chap turned 18 in a quiet wonderfully liberal city. I did of course, embrace the local coffee-shop culture, when in Rome and all that jazz. On our last day we made a final coffee-shop visit before my friends made their way to Germany and I made my way to the airport to return to Dublin. On the train to the airport (which was a double decker and super fast....wow, we had nothing like this at home) I popped in my earphones and began reflecting with a slightly stoned fondness on Amsterdam and I remember thinking how their marijuana tolerance was a fascinating local model and wondered how well it might translate to other cities. At this point I noticed some giggling between Nick Cave's vocals as some people a few seats ahead were turned around and smiling at me. I realised I had been singing at a level only my shower curtain and a few unfortunate neighbours had heard before and was blissfully unaware of my audience.
Oh White Widow you sneaky Dame, you lulled me into a sense of carefree happiness and that was just fine by me. One could grow accustomed to being able to indulge in this kind of lifestyle as they see fit without the realities of legalities and bureaucracy interfering...in much the same way as one might go to enjoy a drink for example. And then I began thinking about the local Amsterdam dwellers who use marijuana recreationally, or indeed 'stoners' in general from anywhere, and how they might feel about not having the option, legally anyway, to puff the peace pipe while travelling. I hadn't thought to ask any of those I had met but I did do some research and here are some places in Europe where one can dance with Mary-Jane in compliance with local law.
Ok, an obvious and well-known one, Amsterdam offers a plethora of coffee shops to smoke up in with extensive menus of different strains as well as some of the best coffees and fresh juices in the city. No alcohol sold here but probably best to stick to one mind-altering substance at a time.
Pre-rolled joints can also be purchased for those who haven't mastered rolling and there's spacecakes for those who prefer to chomp rather than smoke.
Due to a provision in Spain's drug laws allowing cannabis to be grown and consumed for private use Barcelona is home to more than 700 cannabis clubs. These clubs often feature luxuries such as LED TVs, games consoles, full bars, snack bars and it's perfectly legal for members to spark up a spliff and purchase marijuana. Becoming a member is quite easy; many clubs require new members to be sponsored by existing ones – a policy which is skirted by prospective members being allowed to register online or via telephone. Some clubs even hand out promotional flyers in the street which eases the registration process.
Catalonia's Public Health agency is currently proposing new regulatory measures for these clubs and something similar is underway in the Basque country where cannabis clubs have become popular in recent years too so it might not be so easy for much longer.
In 1971, a group of young squatters and artists established the “free zone” of Christiania inside an old abandoned military base, a city within the capital city of Denmark, which they declared to be beyond the reach of Danish Law. From of Danish Law. From it's inception during the youth movement Christiania prospered and now has over 900 residents, many third generations, fly their own flag and use their own currency, there are cafés and bars, shops, a building-supply store, art galleries and museum, a concert hall, a skate park, recycling center, a recording studio, satellite dishes and it has even become the second most popular tourist site in Copenhagen. The main street is 'Pusher Street', which has around 40 shops selling up to 40 strains of hashish, making it the biggest hash market on earth. Cannabis is illegal in Denmark but has been tolerated and sold openly in Christiania since its inception.
That's really about it though guys & gals. There are other cities where it isn't technically legal but is 'tolerated' to a very large extent, for example in Prague “small amounts” (15 grams) is considered a misdemeanor crime comparable to a parking ticket and even at that tends not to be enforced. In Berlin possession of up to 15 grams for personal use is tolerated or in Lisbon possession for personal use is decriminalised but we're not here to condone nor recommend the illegal use of any substance anywhere but merely to have a little look at where it is possible to indulge should one wish to without worrying about breaking the law ;)
By Mike Wrach