After a full day of dodging bicycles, not to mention the occasional motorized vehicle, I was getting sick of Amsterdam.
My jet-lagged body was barely able to respond to the bell-ringing cyclists as they whizzed past.
So when evening arrived, I was more than ready to visit one of the city’s “coffee shops.”
Can we pause here for a quick chuckle? “Coffee shop” in Amsterdam is a euphemism for establishments that have marijuana on the menu. You can get coffee, and sometimes food, as well. But the chief reason people go there is to get high.
Which is what I did. Not terribly so, though. The joint I purchased, which I smoked only half of, provided just the slightest sensation of … calm. And as that calmness came over me, I realized two things.
One, I no longer cared about being run over by a Dutch cyclist, allowing me to enjoy all the city has to offer. Two, this feeling was something I could get accustomed to.
The world is evolving. Holland is not the only country that has relaxed its laws concerning the recreational (and medical) consumption of marijuana. Certain parts of Denmark, Spain, Uruguay and the Czech Republic are just some of the more marijuana-friendly tourist sites.
And while still illegal on the federal level, as of September some 29 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., had legalized marijuana use in some form. Seven states, led by Washington and Colorado, plus Washington, D.C., have approved laws legalizing recreational marijuana use.
So at least for the moment, going on vacation doesn’t mean that you have to forgo enjoying the occasional gentle high – as long as you visit the right places. Check out this website, kushtourism.com to find any number of places that cater to the marijuana vacationer.
Let’s look at a few:
Washington: Pretty much everywhere you go in the Evergreen State you’ll find a pot shop. And based on my experiences in Spokane (which has some 36 different retail locations county-wide), in Seattle, in Vancouver and in Bellingham, you can purchase a wide range of pot products from friendly, informative sales clerks.
A couple of summers ago, I spent a pleasant summer evening on Lummi Island, watching the sun set over the San Juan Islands, after having consumed some edible cannabis I’d purchased in Bellingham. All this, after dining at the Willows Inn Restaurant. (Why edibles? Sometimes I prefer them. Plus, the cabin we stayed in had a strict no-smoking-tobacco rule and so we assumed that pertained to marijuana, too.)
Oregon: They don’t call this state’s biggest city “Portlandia” for nothing. One recent headline trumpeted “There are more marijuana shops in Oregon than Starbucks and McDonald’s.” You’re not allowed to smoke in public, though you’ll occasionally see it (or at least smell it). And as with pretty much every place else, you have to be at least 21 to possess any kind of cannabis.
Colorado: On a recent trip to Denver, I stopped in a retail store just outside Boulder just to see how things compared to Washington. It felt like visiting the Department of Motor Vehicles, where a crowd of buyers stood in line to talk to sales clerks cordoned off behind a wall of glass. Nothing on display, and you couldn’t buy a thing without surrendering your ID.
Still, while maybe not the most convenient place to purchase marijuana, Colorado has made such transactions legal. And just imagine what it’s like, viewing Rocky Mountain National Park while high. (Just make sure you have a designated driver.)
The Netherlands: Yes, this is THE place to visit if you want to find a great marijuana getaway. But it’s not as if you see people toking up on every corner. Holland has laws banning smoking marijuana in public, and you can’t carry the stuff around with you. Amsterdam itself has some 250 “coffee shops,” and they are the only places you can legally smoke, other than private homes.
Denmark: Inside the Danish capital of Copenhagen, you’ll find an area known as Christiania, where cannabis shops are open around the clock. While marijuana remains illegal in the rest of the country, Christiana is a self-proclaimed “freetown” where Danish laws don’t apply. One disclaimer: Some tourist websites advise visiting during the day, not at night.
Spain: Lost amid the headlines involving Catalonian independence attempts, news broke that the region legalized marijuana use last summer. Barcelona already had a number of so-called “cannabis clubs,” private establishments, where members smoked in private. Now, following a region-wide referendum, they can do so legally. And by some estimates, the clubs have risen from 40 in 2010 to some 700 now.
The Czech Republic:No, it’s not legal here. But the country’s liberal attitudes toward marijuana use have resulted in a popular cannabis culture, especially in Prague. While the sale of marijuana is banned, the possession of up to 15 grams is not illegal. The conundrum here is clear: It’s illegal to buy but not possess. And while you may see people smoking in public, it’s probably not a good idea. Maybe take the train to Amsterdam?
Uruguay: I visited Uruguay more than a decade ago, coming over to the charming city of Colonia for a day trip from Buenos Aires. I never dreamed that one day Uruguay would legalize the use and possession of cannabis, which it did in 2014. The resort town of Puenta del Este is one recommended stop in this South American country referred to by one cannabis-tourist website as “a place whose idyllic, mellow charm is best described as off-the-beaten path.”
That’s merely a quick primer of what’s available for marijuana-friendly travel. And here’s the necessary caveat: No matter where you go to enjoy your marijuana getaway, make sure you know the laws and follow them. The world may be changing, but change usually comes slowly – and seldom all at once.
Unlike those damn Dutch bicycles.