Amsterdam’s pot smokers cast a keen, if somewhat hazy eye on Wednesday’s election, hoping for a government that would reverse plans to register them in a database and ban sales to foreigners.
“You have to go out and vote, vote for any left-wing party, it doesn’t matter who, because they are against the weed-pass,” a woman, who asked not to be named, said as she measured out a bag of crumbly brown hash to a client at the Tweede Kamer coffee shop.
Situated in the heart of Amsterdam’s central business district, the Tweede Kamer ironically has the same name as the parliament’s lower house, for which more than 12 million voters were eligible to cast their votes on Wednesday.
Apart from its usual decor of heavy wooden paneling, dope paraphernalia, a biscuit tin with the faces of Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and his wife, Maxima, the shop had taken on a decidedly political tone for the day.
A large poster that said: “I vote cannabis-friendly” with a list of the Dutch parties that oppose the weed-pass law shared the wall with an orange poster of an enlarged stamp showing the late Dutch queen Wilhelmina blowing smoke rings.
As mainstream politicians canvassed vigorously for votes in the tight vote, an equally intense alternative campaign has been waged the last few weeks to get Dutch smokers to go out and make their mark for pot-friendly parties.
Since mid-August, Dutch pro-pot supporters have been driving around the country in an old US school bus, calling for votes in an aptly-named “cannabus campaign.”
Leftist parties, including the front-running Labor Party, have said they would replace the current legislation with more marijuana-friendly policies should they be voted into power.
The so-called “cannabis card” law came into effect on May 1, effectively transforming coffee shops in the country’s south into private clubs, requiring them to sell cannabis only to registered members who are Netherlands’ residents and to stop selling to foreigners.
The law’s coverage widens nationwide to include about 670 coffee shops across the Netherlands by January next year.
The law is aimed at curbing drug-tourism related phenomena like late-night revelry, traffic jams and hard drug dealing, but detractors say it has simply pushed drug peddling onto the streets and led to a rise in criminality.
While cannabis is technically illegal in the Netherlands, the country in 1976 decriminalized possession of less than 5g of the substance.
“I’m not saying for whom, but I voted strategically,” a 50-year-old man, who identified himself as “Mr X,” said at the Dutch Flowers cannabis cafe across the road from the Tweede Kamer.
“I think if Labor wins, government will reverse the law,” he added, as he exhaled a steady stream of blue-tinted smoke.
“I think a lot of young voters will cast ballots on the cannabis issue,” added 35-year-old “Anna,” sitting underneath an iconic “Uncle Sam” poster adorned with psychedelic dope leaves and a message that read: “Vote against the weed-pass, and for your joint.”
“It has certainly influenced the way I voted,” said 40-year-old Rijn, who runs the Oerwoud (Jungle) coffee shop in Amsterdam’s famed red-light district.
Many coffee shop patrons said they were concerned that if the cannabis-card were introduced in the capital — a move also frowned upon by Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan — locals would be forced to give their personal details, while a large number of the about 12.2 million tourists who visit Amsterdam every year would be scared away.