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If you were ever a teenage dirtbag, you’ve probably spent some time thinking about Amsterdam, the city in the Netherlands where all sorts of drug and sex things that are illegal in America are perfectly legal (more or less).

Probably, you’ve been dreaming about its coffeeshops—those places where you can buy and consume marijuana. However, the actual best places to check out are smartshops, tiny boutiques that sell not just grams of pot, but mushrooms, concentrated marijuana product dab, and a whole bunch of questionable stuff that it is probably best to steer clear of (MDAA, EUPHOR-E, and salvia to name just a few).

Smartshops aren’t the place to be just because they’re great (which they are!), but also because it turns out that Amsterdam’s coffeeshops are massively gross and corny.

Before going, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Are they like bars where you can also smoke weed? Ice cream parlors with giant barrels of ganja replacing ice cream? Brushed steel, brass and marble?

They are not like any of this.

Coffeeshops in Amsterdam tend to be more like a vape shop in a strip mall than Blue Bottle with a bong. I went to several, and I encountered: one where you had to buy some weed and then go through a metal turnstile before you could even sit down; another where the music included an acoustic guitar cover of “Ayo Technology” by a Belgian guy; and a third where the tiny faux-wood tables you might find at a takeout wing place sat beneath TVs showing a loop of a shitty cartoon of a weed nug running around. The only edible anyone has are weird dry brownies every place calls “space cakes,” in keeping with the general idea that anyone who’s interested in pot must be a cartoon character with dreadlocks and tiny stars floating around his head.

These places also encourage you to take good weed (and it is good weed!) and put it into a big stinky joint, which everyone knows is the grossest and most wasteful way to smoke pot. We’ve moved well beyond this! There are vaporizers, waxes, oils, and a whole range of edibles which you can get in California or Oregon (or Brooklyn, let’s be honest) which you won’t find anywhere in Amsterdam. I did go into one coffeeshop that had a vaporizer basically welded into the table which you could use, but guess what? It had one long plastic tube coming out of it for you to smoke through, browned from years of resin. There was no detachable mouthpiece or anything—if you wanted to use it, you just had to wrap your lips around it. I never saw anyone clean any of them.

I know this is all a lot to take in. Small rooms where teenage dirtbags have spent decades smoking pot are gross? It makes me as sad as it makes you, but yes.

In contrast, some smartshops are actually nice! Since it’s illegal to smoke pot in public, and you can’t smoke inside a smartshop, they mostly cater to locals, or at least classy people smart enough to plan ahead and have somewhere private to go.

When Nature Calls was a particular favorite, with not just drugs, but a nice selection of vaporizers and other ephemeria, all in nice glass cases. They even have those felt boards with plastic letters that make you feel like you’re about to order brunch upstate. Plus, the weed is much cheaper than in coffeeshops.

Obviously coffeeshops are still worth checking out, but don’t get your expectations up too high. Just dip in, nod at your fellow international degenerates, and then dash over to a smartshop.


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