Posts Tagged ‘Marijuana’

IDamsterdam: The Long Walk to Freedom


The last thing I intend to do with this post is to mock Nelson Mandela’s autobiography of the same title, but forgive me, I just couldn’t come up with any words that capture the moment better.  This is a little story of a night out in Amsterdam.

Now, let me preface by admitting that I’m as guilty as the next man when it comes to skirting by for free every now and then.  Nothing major, but little things, like hopping the train, for instance.  I mean, does anybody pay for the Metro in Rome, or the trams in Melbourne?  Maybe things have changed since my last visit, but as a struggling 22-year-old, my 150 cents was going to some kind of bread or a bottle of water instead.

That said, the Netherlands is not the kind of place where I was going to test the honor system—intentionally anyway.  For whatever reason, maybe through my dealings with the Dutch in the workplace, I just had a feeling that this is a very serious society whose consequences I’d want no part of.  As I walked out of my hotel in Den Haag and caught Tram 9 down to Hollands Spoor station for the 45-minute trip into Amsterdam, the thought of trying to cheat Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Rail, or “NS”) out of their 8-some Euros never even crossed my mind.

Fast forward about 6 hours.  After my couple of hours meandering away from Centraal Station, after my dinner at De Peper, and probably most significantly to this story, after my visit to Hunter’s Coffeeshop.  Now, I’m sure you’ve been to a coffee shop before that allows smoking.  And I’m sure you’ve been to one that doesn’t allow tobacco.  But…both?

Go figure.

So, naturally in the mood for dessert after a scrumptious meal, I elected the chocolate brownie, so creatively called a “space cake”.  Feeling satisfied that my hand-sized brownie was 4 Euros well spent, I ever-so-coherently continued my exploration of Amsterdam’s back alleys, until I decided to pack it in and retreat to Centraal three hours later, around midnight.  Disappointed that I still didn’t feel any of that Amsterdam “charm”, I concluded that I was either: a) immune to the effects of marijuana, not being much of a smoker to begin with; b) a master of maintaining composure even under adverse chemical effects; or c) a sucker for buying a really, really weak brownie, thinking I should have realized that four Euros doesn’t go very far…and proceeded to buy my ticket back to Den Haag.

Or so I thought.

About halfway through the 45-minute journey home, somewhere amidst the distant, rolling lights peering out of the dark night, I was awoken by an NS conductor, asking to see my ticket.  Startled, I wiped the grog out of my eyes and began searching every pocket on me…only to find my wallet (which I craftily avoided revealing) and some lint.  After watching me struggle for a good 45 seconds, and me signaling to him that I ‘surely’ have it…he continued down the car inspecting tickets and said he’d return shortly.  At the exact moment I realized that I didn’t have the ticket I had sworn I purchased anywhere on me, I was able to decipher two solid facts out of the otherwise blurry world Hunter had introduced me to: 1) the stoic conductor was making his way back towards my section of the car, and 2) we were just reaching a complete stop at Den Haag HS (station).  Somehow thinking quickly, I lowered my knit cap over my head, looked straight at the ground, stood up, and took the most direct route possible to the exit—of course the opposite exit from which he was coming.  Straining with everything in me to walk fast and straight, I stepped onto the platform, snuck down the first bank of stairs, hung a right and continued my brisk walk straight out of the station’s main gate and onto the awaiting Tram 9 (which I ironically enough didn’t pay for this time).

I still don’t know if that conductor even noticed me sneak out or tried to stop me, and I don’t care.  I just remember time slowing down as I made my way out of HS Station, hearing crowds coming from the clouds cheering me on like it was a slow motion replay of the 15th round of Rocky vs. Apollo Creed.  I walked briskly and purposefully into the first tram waiting, and when I saw that it was No. 9, I probably would have thrown my arms up in jubilation as the doors closed with me inside had it not been for discerning glare of a bald elderly man and the jolt of the tram’s movement shoving me down into a seat, as if to tell me to get a grip and stop looking like an idiot….

Den Haag Tram

I should have just paid the fare…

Nighttime reflections off the window of the train...

Nighttime reflections off the window of the train…


Den Haag Centraal

I finally made it home…

Smoke Keeps Rising in Amsterdam’s Coffeeshops


If some of the Netherlands’ more conservative civic leaders had their say, marijuana would no longer be available to visitors in this country. Tired of Amsterdam’s longstanding brand association with marijuana since it was decriminalized in the 1970s, last year, the government introduced a mandatory membership card which would be required to purchase the drug—a card that would only be available to Dutch citizens.

Fortunately for those of you saddened by this news, cooler heads have prevailed, as the law was repealed just before its scheduled introduction on January 1st. Instead, each city in the Netherlands will be able to regulate marijuana as they choose.

Credit people like Amsterdam mayor Eberhard van der Laan for letting common sense and foresight trump conservative politics:

“It’s not like tourists are going to say ‘OK, there’s no cannabis here anymore,” and accept it, van der Laan said. “Instead, they’re just goingt o try to find it on the streets, leading to a larger black market, more disputes with dealers, no control over its quality and all of the other problems we used to have.”

Of course there is an economic play as well. According to Amsterdam’s Bureau for Tourism, about 25 percent of the city’s 6 million annual foreign visitors visit one of the country’s 750 coffeeshops (220 in Amsterdam alone) to experiment. They estimated that the law would have deterred about 1 million of these from even including Amsterdam in their travel plans.

Whatever the ultimate motivation behind the repeal—be it common sense or euro stacks—it is great to see Amsterdam’s cannabis tradition remain alive and well.

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MyID, Part II: 01 April 2011; State Route 543 into British Columbia


This wasn’t my initial descent, and wasn’t even a descent, but instead a land crossing. I had been to Vancouver several times prior to this visit, but I had to share this experience, as it was my first time to encounter any trouble whatsoever with Canadian border authorities.

Driving from Seattle (which can often be the cheapest way of getting to and around in Vancouver if you’re counting), I usually cross the border at Peace Arch along US Interstate 5. Today, however, I listened to the wait times, and heard that it was backed up. So I tried the alternate crossing along State Route 543, just a few miles from Peach Arch. While I’m often heading into Vancouver solo, this time I had company in the form of my friend and snowboarding buddy, Shaun.

USA Canada Border

The line of cars wasn’t long, but when we got to the front, we were asked to pull aside and step out of the car. For a moment I thought it may have been a race thing, given Shaun’s long, dangling dreadlocks and the dearth of black people in this part of the world. But then I considered how truly diverse Vancouver is (for races other than black—though this is changing), and figured that couldn’t be the case. We were taken into a waiting room, and left for what felt like hours without being given any information. Then Shaun was called into a back room, taken for questioning, only to come out 15 minutes later with a clearance for us to proceed along our way.

Wondering what the hell had just happened during a routine border crossing I had made countless times before, Shaun explained that about 6 years ago, he had a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge on his record in the U.S. That basically means he was found carrying marijuana without any intent to distribute, and only in a quantity that one person could use. And it was 6 years ago!! Further, he was issued a warning that if something like that happened again, he wouldn’t be allowed to return.

Apparently, this was enough to trip Canada’s border authorities, which I found incredibly hypocritical given the fact that individual marijuana possession is legal in the state we had just physically crossed over from (Washington), and given my awareness of Vancouver’s relaxed attitude towards the drug. While it is not technically legal, most Vancouverites I know engage in some healthy smoking from time to time, and there are even cafes that allow it in public. As long as there isn’t distribution involved or some widespread disturbance, law enforcement tends to bat a blind eye.

Steve & Shaun in Vancouver

Myself & Shaun celebrating our admittance into BC

So regardless of what your transgression is, just be aware that you may have some issues crossing the border into Canada if this applies to you! And it may be completely shocking and surprising to you as well, all the more so once you understand how generally tolerant the average Canadian is!


Marijuana Flowing on Vancouver Streets

These people obviously didn’t have to cross the border in Blaine