Pot smokers will be happy to hear that Rotterdam has the same lenient drug laws as that other famous city in the Netherlands. The culture of marijuana tourism, however, is not as widespread and there is not the same pro-pot attitude from authorities as found in Amsterdam.
Birthplace of famed scholar Erasmus, Rotterdam overcame the destruction of Nazi bombs to become a thriving industrial port and the most modern city in the Netherlands. Marked by museums, inventive architecture and the 184-meter (605-foot) Euromast Space Tower, this city of 600,000 residents also boasts the same kind of weed-selling “coffee shops” that have made Amsterdam a Nirvana for stoners. But Rotterdam is no Amsterdam. “Compared to Amsterdam, our capital, Rotterdam doesn’t appeal to foreign tourists coming to the Netherlands,” said Dutch magazine editor Erwin van der Zande.
He said Amsterdam is popular for its Red Light District, marijuana cafes and incredibly tolerant attitude among the local population. “Rotterdam on the other hand, doesn’t have much to offer, so it seems. It’s just a big city, the economic engine of the Netherlands,” he said. “All work and no play.” Van der Zande called Rotterdam “rough but honest” and said the residents are not as keen on opening up their city to outsiders. “We have a T-shirt saying here in Holland: ‘Amsterdam has it, but Rotterdam doesn’t need it,'” he said.
That’s not to say that Rotterdam doesn’t share some of Amsterdam’s more appealing qualities. The city is home to a large number of coffee shops where, like in Amsterdam, various types of marijuana and hashish can be bought and smoked openly. Some of Rotterdam’s better known shops include Contrabande located at Van Speykstraat 194, Greenhouse at Nieuwe Binnenweg 154, De Poel at Eendrachtsweg 29, The Reefer at Oppert 1, De Kleine Ondeugd at Oostzeedijk 348 and De Nieuwe Wet at Nieuw Binnenweg 154a. There are plenty of others with names such as Bambu High Tea, Spoenk, La Poule and Parade. The hash reportedly comes from Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, primarily Morocco. The marijuana originates in Colombia but also includes a large amount of Dutch home grown, called “Nederweed.”
Prices are comparable to those in Amsterdam. A gram of marijuana starts around four dollars American, the cost rising with potency. Hash prices bottom out at $6 for a gram. There are also plenty of dance clubs and pubs in which visitors can heat up or cool out after a smoking session.
Popular discos include Now and Wow, sister techno establishments located at Lloydstraat 30, and the largest club in the Netherlands, Hollywood Music Club at Delftsestraat 15. For classic rock and sushi to accompany your dancing, try Crazy Pianos at Maasboulevard 300. After a joint of powerful Nederweed you may enjoy contemplating the aquarium at Blauwe Vis. The club located at Weena 33 has a special race of fish that can endure the blasting sound system.
The city hall or theatre square areas are best for bar hopping, with lots of drinking establishments packed close together. For a more mellow time, check out the old harbour area. There are numerous pubs, but Locus Publicus at Oostzeedijk 364 boasts two hundred different types of beer while Quasimodo at Schiedamsevesthof 21 is a student bar with cheap brew.
Visitors should be warned that, while the Netherlands is known as one of the world’s weed capitals, marijuana and hash are not legal. Soft drug use is merely tolerated by authorities as a means of curbing the proliferation of dangerous narcotics and “protecting the health” of the general public. Dutch Health Minister Els Borst said the country’s policy of tolerance toward smokers has resulted in 675,000 regular soft drug users nationwide, but only 25,000 hard drug addicts.
“These figures confirm our view that if one keeps the two markets separate it becomes possible that people use soft drugs, sometimes experimenting with them for years – and then stop,” she said. “Stopping (soft drug use) is also easier because no physical dependency is created. (Soft drug users) may do this without stepping up to hard drugs.”
With this in mind, the government allows designated coffee shops to sell pot and hash and allow smoking on their premises under strict regulations. “The ‘coffee shop rules’ (enacted in 1991) allow individual municipalities to decide its level of tolerance to cannabis use,” reports pro-marijuana organization NORML. “Provisions of the rules forbid advertising, sale to minors, and limit the amount of cannabis permitted to be sold at one time.” A statement from the Dutch government said the system is working. “Bona fide coffee shops have proved their worth,” it said.
That does not mean visitors can take to Rotterdam’s streets to smoke or look for better deals. Drug use and purchase for personal use is not illegal. Possession, however, is still considered a criminal offence in the Netherlands. Anything under five grams is acceptable in the eyes of Dutch courts, but Rotterdam police have expressed far less good will than Amsterdam officials toward public soft drug use. Jaap de Vleiger, head of Rotterdam drug squad, said that the government should “stop the tolerance policy.”