Hold the tobacco please

The Netherlands, which tolerates the use of "soft" drugs, will banish tobacco smoke from restaurants, cafes and other public places from July 1.

by: AFP | 19 Jun 2008

The notorious Dutch "coffee shop" faces a unique conundrum under a new public smoking ban: its patrons can still light up their cannabis joints but no longer if blended with tobacco.

But as it follows the example of other European Union members in curbing smoking for public health reasons, the country finds itself in a singular position as the only one to allow, since 1976, marijuana use in licensed cafes.

While the new law does not prohibit the smoking of cannabis in coffee shops, owners are coming up new strategies to stay afloat in a country where users traditionally prefer their cannabis joints mixed with tobacco.

The Any Day coffee shop in Amsterdam has introduced a novel gadget that produces a new kind of high to keep his clients' attention.

The machine, like vaporisers sometimes used for medicinal purposes, works like a water pipe but without combustion. It transforms the cannabis into vapour, which is then inhaled.

The pub "Cremers" in The Hague, which allows patrons to smoke cannabis at the bar counter, is planning a segregated smoking section to comply with the law and keep its clients happy.

Many others are likely to follow suit, provided they have the space. But some may have to change to over-the-counter sales.

Former coffee shop "Boerejongens" (young farmers) on the outskirts of Amsterdam, shifted its focus a few months ago in anticipation of the new law, retaining only its sales outlet.

It is transforming its former marijuana smoking area into a coffee house – the original kind.

Owners of some coffee shops said that by going this route, Boerejongens had rid itself of its former bad clients – those who spend a whole day without ordering a single drink or sometimes get aggressive.

And they fear this welcome spinoff would give ammunition to the opponents of Dutch coffee shops – conceivably supporting the argument that there was no need for them anymore. Marijuana users appear unfazed by the changes in the pipeline.

"One will buy it and smoke at home," several enthusiasts shrugged indifferently as they dragged on another joint.

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