A British man smokes marijuana in an Amsterdam coffee shop. (Jasper Juinen, Getty)

Activist: Marijuana tourism should be welcomed in Colorado, not feared

After reading Erik Raschke’s guest column in The Cannabist on July 23, I found myself feeling unsettled and almost angry.

Former Denverite Raschke has lived in Amsterdam for eight years, and in his column he gleaned from his experiences in the Netherlands and dreamed up a Denver overrun with pot tourists who “do not care about Denver if they litter or curse or make fools of themselves, because they are on vacation and they have paid for the right to act any way they want.”

Is there anyone out there (other than Raschke) who thinks pot tourists are more obnoxious or disrespectful than the thousands of out-of-towners who come to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival, Oktoberfest or other such alcohol-focused events?


Read Erik Raschke’s column: Lessons from Amsterdam: Beware the aftermath of pot tourists, Colorado

Before we get too deep in this counterpoint to Raschke’s piece, a little about me: I’m a 56-year-old cannabis activist who has lived in Denver off and on for 15 years. I lived in Amsterdam for four years, and I continue to split my time between Denver and Amsterdam, where my Dutch partner is from and where we’ve owned and run a pot tourism company together since 2006. I’ve used cannabis daily for 42 years, and I’ve never been sick or seen the inside of a hospital, something I attribute directly to cannabis use.

So yeah, cannabis is my thing.

I have seen a lot of pot tourism in Denver. I’ve led a few cannabis and culture tours here, and we’ve been doing those kinds of tours in Amsterdam for years. But perhaps the biggest difference between pot tourists in the Netherlands and their equivalents in Colorado is the coffee shops.

In Colorado, public smoking is outlawed, and only a few cannabis clubs have been licensed to allow on-site consumption. Ask a public official where you can legally get high and they’ll likely tell you: “A private home.” It’s very limited.

Meanwhile pot tourists in Holland can smoke in the same coffee shops where they purchased their cannabis. The shops offer comfortable places to partake, some with outside terraces on public streets, and they have beverages on sale to boot. Some of these coffee shops open at 6 a.m. and stay open until at least 11 p.m., so there are plenty of places to partake (besides in front of Raschke’s house).

We should actually thank the pot tourists in Amsterdam. The smell of cannabis in the air is part of the city’s spirit.

One of my greatest joys is riding through town with my girl on back smoking a fat joint. It’s Amsterdam. If it bothers you, there are many more European cities without such freedoms. The cannabis culture was likely there before you were born. Cannabis is of course still illegal in Amsterdam, and if police want to be tough they can. I believe it is because of people like Raschke and the Burgermeester moving into Amsterdam, bringing their morals and values with them, it’s not the great and tolerant city it once was.

Take our poll: Are pot tourists good or bad news for Colorado?

Raschke mentioned the pot tourists who “purchased cheap tickets on low-cost airlines with the distinct mission to get as stoned as possible. These are not the Europeans who fly into Vail and wear mink stoles while they ski. These are the Europeans who consider vomiting then passing out on a park bench climactic.”

Airline tickets and a place to stay are not cheap in anyone’s book. Some plan their Amsterdam trips for years and write detailed online diaries for all to read. Check out the Amsterdam Coffeeshop Directory forum for trip reports and questions from those pot tourists about to make the trip for the first time or for the tenth time. Most focus on being good guests.

The ACD is a good place to learn about Amsterdam cannabis culture from a tourist’s standpoint. It is the drinkers who cause problems in Amsterdam, not the smokers. It wasn’t that long ago the drinking age was 16 — though now it’s 18.

To me, this is getting high in Amsterdam: I enjoy sitting canalside and smoking a joint. I keep my eyes open and am always respectful of those with children nearby. I see the same with the vast majority of cannabis tourists. Again, enjoy the smell of freedom. Be tolerant. Act like a local, not an ex-pat.

The smell of crap barbecue in Vondelpark is much more offensive, I might add.

The new Mayor of Amsterdam is not from Amsterdam. He’s from Leiden, a very strict protestant area. Many of the council members have the same background, and they want to bring their conservative morals and values along with them. There is nothing forward-thinking about the mayor. De Wallen (the city’s famed Red Light District) was a huge tourist draw, and because of the sanitizing of the area (known as Project 1012), it is now just a pseudo-Euro Disney.

Speaking of De Wallen: Less pot for Amsterdam’s Red Light District?

That area of town used to be seedy, but that was the draw. If you don’t like it, don’t go there. To have such a place in a safe environment was priceless, but alas it’s gone and over. The city leaders with their willful ignorance will not be happy until every coffee shop has been turned into a bar. One of Amsterdam’s biggest philanthropist is a Heineken, and she finances most of the art and culture projects in the area.

The only reason border police have increased (as Raschke writes about) is because they now restrict visitors (read: discriminate) and do not allow them into the coffee shops — so street dealing has burgeoned as the consumers still come, but the local economy gets no benefit. In fact, many restaurants, hotels and snack shops have closed along the border for that exact reason. Those “kids” coming across the border are adults in the eyes of the law, and if their countries would lighten up and provide them coffeeshops of their own, it would solve your perceived problem.

As for Raschke’s “pot package deals” and the extra police presence in Amsterdam because of the cannabis tourists, I’ve never heard of any such thing. There is no burden, only calm and peaceful visitors spending money. And again, my partner and I have a cannabis and culture tour service there, so I speak with authority.

If you need to “escape” one of the most beautiful cultural cites in the world during the high season (and yes, that pun was intended), then you really don’t belong there at all. Cannabis tourists come year-round, and they come from all walks of life — including the affluent. The High Times Cannabis Cup is held over Thanksgiving weekend, for example. And these out-of-towners are now coming to Denver. I know of two people who just purchased homes in Colorado. Neither have mink stoles or even ski for that matter.

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I am sorry to say that the cannabis culture is under attack in the Netherlands, and this puritanical attitude is to blame. The powers that be are fighting with lies and deceit, and they’re re-writing history to suit themselves and their agenda.

Colorado, take note. Make these visitors feel welcome, and invite them back — even take a look at resolving this public smoking issue. Tourists can buy cannabis in Colorado, but where are they going to legally smoke it? The single greatest thing about the coffeeshop culture in Amsterdam is the way it brings people together, people who in a million years you might not have a conversation with otherwise.

Cannabis tourism could be a gigantic boon for Colorado. And if you welcome them warmly, you will find them respectful, peaceful and all too willing to part with their hard-earned money.

Bret Kantola is a marijuana activist and tourism veteran who splits his residence between Colorado and the Netherlands.