Pubdate: Sun, 11 Jun 2000
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2000 The Province
Contact:  200 Granville Street, Ste. #1, Vancouver, BC V6C 3N3 Canada
Fax: (604) 605-2323
Author: Mark Tonner,  Const. Mark Tonner is a Vancouver police officer. His opinions are 
not necessarily those of the city's police department or police board. 
Tonner may be contacted at The Province, or by e-mail at HE VISITED AMSTERDAM JOINT-DISPENSER, BUT DID HE INHALE?

I was halfway around the world, with an afternoon to kill in Amsterdam, and 
simply had to know. Did the Dutch truly smoke marijuana in sidewalk 
cafes?  Did their police really ignore it?

Every herb advocate I know speaks of Holland in reverent tones, as though 
it were the only site of sanity on the globe, but I wasn't so sure. I'd 
heard that a flood of European dopers had been keeping Dutch police hopping.

The police officers I met in the train station directed me to a marijuana 
cafe called "Hill Street Blues" -- right next door to an Amsterdam PD 

The Hill Street setup was more like a pub than a cafe, though the women 
running it were anything but shy about their business routine.

Marijuana and hashish could be ordered from an extensive menu, listing such 
treats as "Northern Light," "Super Kiff" and "Silver Haze." Surprisingly, 
they'd never heard of our critically acclaimed B.C. Bud. With high-grade 
marijuana of every flavour abounding, there was little interest in 
searching out Canadian product.

They were more interested in persuading me to indulge. Indeed, I was 
offered the chance to smoke up on the house. To visit Amsterdam without 
getting high would be a crime, it was said, especially for a visiting 
police officer.

The stuff was legal. A joint-dispensing machine stood next to the bar, with 
enticingly plump reefers starting at six Guilders: about three dollars. 
People nearby were drinking coffee, playing chess and smoking openly, 
clearly indifferent to my presence.

There was never a moment of temptation, but the offer prompted a thought. 
Would it have been wrong to partake, from a police disciplinary point of view?

Citizens are merely expected to obey the laws of the lands they visit. Yet, 
unlike civilians, B.C. police officers are expected to obey the laws of 
Canada everywhere on the planet. That's the deal as it's explained to me, 
under the B.C. Police Act, but the legislation is so new that behaviour 
abroad is largely uncharted territory.

My sense of fair play said I should be able to do what I want, if it's 
legal.  The Amsterdam PD members I met insisted they were allowed to smoke 
pot, so long as they didn't show up for work intoxicated.

Of course, asking only that local laws be obeyed could draw some real 
tangles. What about trolling Europe's nude beaches, or a visit to a Dutch 
red light district? The stubbornly liberal might pause to consider the 
parts of this world where sex with children is legal.

For all my inner wrangling, these Dutch police officers seemed to be at 
peace with the marijuana issue. They brought me up to speed on the finer 

Cafes are limited to 500 grams of product on the premises at any given 
time, and importation is still against the law. Asked where she obtained 
her stock, one cafe operator grinned, saying "That's the question no one asks."

The sentiment was echoed by my police friends, who were pointedly 
uninterested in discovering the answer.

That said, the pot cafes don't have an entirely free run. Licences are few 
and highly prized. Hard drug use or rowdy behaviour leads to closure and 
loss of licence -- which the police don't hesitate to enforce.

As far as questioning home rules, I'm not here to tear into the Police Act, 
but to encourage playful analysis. And though I take pride in mental 
flexibility, I'll admit I found the Amsterdam PD rules for off-duty 
indulgence startling.

Am I ready to declare for Canadian legalization? While I may be less 
adamantly opposed than I was, I'm not ready to be anybody's poster 
boy-in-blue just yet. Stay tuned, as opinions evolve.

Const. Mark Tonner is a Vancouver police officer. His opinions are not 
necessarily those of the city's police department or police board. Tonner 
may be contacted at The Province, or by e-mail at  ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D