It seems long ago, now. Yet, I remember it vividly. I was sitting in the early summer sunshine, on a hard bench outside Rick’s coffee shop, just off the ‘Dam’, watching some of the most stunningly beautiful girls on the planet walk by, on their way to – only they knew where.
The ‘Dam’ is in the Centrum District of Amsterdam, a large square with many intersecting routes, hence the abundance of pedestrian traffic. Rick’s place is just off the square, near the Red Light district, and close by a canal with a typically unpronounceable Dutch name.
Two young-ish men, my pal and I, had arrived the day previous after an hour’s flight from Liverpool Airport, one of the smallest in the world, to Amsterdam’s Schiphol, one of the biggest.
We were there for a weekend, to enjoy a delicacy frowned on in most western countries, yet readily tolerated in Holland: cannabis sativa, the marijuana plant. And Rick’s was well known for stocking some of the best bud available.
By midday, after draining the dregs from my Dutch coffee cup, I freely admit to being – to coin a colloquial expression – ‘as high as a kite’. Not that it’s a particularly accurate expression of one’s senses and feelings after smoking a marijuana joint. I was at peace with the world. Everything felt right. The sun’s warmth was unbelievably embracing; all around seemed comfortable and homely; even the pigeons cooed at me with love and affection.
It wasn’t the first time I’d smoked pot, neither was it the last. But, to do so freely in public without disapproving glances, or some officious police person rushing out the woodwork to arrest you for ‘doing drugs’, was a strangely settling experience. It made one feel that Holland was a deal saner than any other nation in the northern hemisphere.
In the evening, we took a walk through the Red Light district. Had it been London, Liverpool, or New York, the very idea of naked females displaying their wares in shop windows would be unthinkable. In Amsterdam, it’s the most natural thing in the world.
I was chased up the street by a big, black, girl with enormous bosoms. Clad only in a tiny, bespangled, bikini bottom, she rushed out her front door after I’d paused momentarily to admire her. She pursued me for a few yards, in a vain attempt to persuade me into her boudoir. There was nothing sinister. She was laughing, I was laughing, my mate almost wet himself with glee.
I graciously refused her invitation. We were both married. It wasn’t why we were there.
In April this year, the Dutch government passed legislation to prevent foreign tourists buying cannabis in the coffee shops. Only Dutch citizens, it seemed, were to be allowed to participate.
It was another blow struck in the name of conservatism; a high-handed, arrogant, moralistic, political narrow-mindedness more usually found in the USA or, to a lesser extent, Britain, than in the liberal corridors of the Dutch parliament.
Thankfully, the regulation only lasted a few months. The coffee house owners created such a fuss – it was, after all, tourists who spent the most money – that, after a change of government in September, it was decided to let local politicians make the decision whether to enforce the law, or not. The Mayor of Amsterdam was adamant. There’d be no restrictions in his city.
I was greatly relieved to read it. Not that it would affect me personally. I never returned to Amsterdam, and when I moved to America gave up any idea of ever smoking a marijuana joint again. I had no desire to end my days languishing in a gulag US prison along with a plethora of other poor souls whose only crime was to partake of something the rich and powerful decreed lawful only for them to enjoy.
No, my relief was for the next generation of young-ish men, or women, who could once again make that trip from Liverpool Airport to Schiphol, for one weekend in a place where the word ‘freedom’ is more than just another marketing tool of corrupt politicians.
 “Dutch cannabis cafe owners fight changes” BBC, April 27th 2012
 “Amsterdam tourist cannabis ban rejected by mayor” BBC, November 1st 2012
NOTE: There is much waffle in the media about the long-term effects of marijuana on cognitive abilities, and its abuse by certain members of society, particularly the young. It has always been my philosophy to never blindly accept so-called ‘facts’ dished out by the media or those with their own dodgy agendas. Most things in life are open to abuse. Alcohol and tobacco, freely on sale throughout the western world, are prime examples. Religion, politics, sex, marketing, are less obvious, but equally pertinent examples of subjects regularly abused for a political or commercial purpose. There’s a world of difference between the meanings of ‘use’ and ‘abuse’. This article is not about persuading anyone to partake of marijuana, or any other recreational drug. It’s about individual freedom, or, more succinctly, the lack of it.