Covid lifts Dutch ‘coffeeshop’ trade to new highs

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          The Hague, At the No Limit Coffeeshop in The Hague the customers stream in and out endlessly, as the cannabis trade booms despite Covid restrictions.

                  Whether it is to calm their anxiety or ease the boredom of the past two years, many buyers say their consumption has increased during the pandemic.

                  “Covid has been good for us,” smiles Carmelita, the boss of No Limit who asked for her full name not to be published.

                  Before coronavirus, the shop had 300 to 350 customers a day, she says. Now it is 500.

                  “The only profession which is happy with Covid is coffeeshops,” she tells AFP.

                  When the Netherlands first locked down in March 2020 there were scenes of “weed panic”, with long queues outside coffeeshops, the Dutch term for cannabis cafes.

                  But while access to bars, restaurants and nightclubs has been sharply limited, coffeeshops have been able to stay open, mostly for takeaway.

                  Since 1976, the Netherlands has tolerated the smoking of cannabis and hashish, weed and other products which can be bought at coffeeshops. The Hague, the seat of the Dutch government, has around 30.

                  “Before, they were going to the disco. But now everything is closed, so now they stay home, where they smoke more,” says Carmelita, adding that her clientele includes “many housewives, who buy weed to sleep well.”

                  “There’s nothing to do in town, so you just smoke joints” with friends, says Sophia Dokter, 18, who used to smoke two or three times a week, but now says it’s six or seven times.

                  A survey by Trimbos, a research institute on mental health and addictions, found that 90 percent of Dutch cannabis users were smoking as much or more since the start of the pandemic. Three-quarters were smoking every day.

                  “So it is not about people wanting to get high, to escape. It is more a way to cope with the everyday anxiety,” says Stephen Snelders, a historian of drug use.

                  Similar changes in the use of tobacco and opium were seen in historic plague outbreaks in the Netherlands, he said.

                  During the stress of a pandemic, “a little brain holiday is always nice,” agrees Gerard Smit, who runs the Cremers coffeeshop in The Hague. “There’s nothing wrong with having one (a joint) while you watch Netflix.”