Coffeeshops are establishments in the Netherlands where the sale of cannabis for personal consumption by the public is tolerated by the local authorities.
Under the drug policy of the Netherlands, the sale of cannabis products in small quantities is allowed by 'licensed' coffee shops.
The majority of these "coffeeshops" (in Dutch written as one word) also serve drinks and food.
It is not allowed for a coffeeshop to serve alcohol or other drugs (a policy that is universally adhered to).
The idea of coffeeshops was introduced in the 1970s for the explicit purpose of keeping hard and soft drugs separated.
Many at the borders sell mostly to foreigners (mostly from Belgium, Germany and France), who can also buy marijuana in their own countries, but prefer the legality and higher product quality of Dutch coffeeshops.
Dutch coffeehouses not serving marijuana are called koffiehuis (literally "coffee house"), while a café is the equivalent of a bar.
In the Netherlands, the selling of cannabis is "illegal, but not punishable", so the law is not enforced in establishments following these nationwide rules:
* no advertising
* no hard drug sales on the premises
* no sales to children (under Dutch law that is people under the age of 18)
* no sales transactions exceeding a quantity threshold (5 grams)
* no public disturbances
Coffeeshops and the law
For some offences, a business may be forced to close for three months, for others, completely; all this is detailed in official policies.
The Shops are no longer allowed to sell alcohol. Most coffee shops advertise, and the constraint is more moderating than outright prohibitive.
In a gesture of discretion still technically required, many coffee shops keep the cannabis menu below the counter, even when the cannabis itself is in more-or-less plain view.
Dutch coffee shops often fly red-yellow-green Ethiopian flags, other symbols of the Rastafari movement, or depiction of palm leaves to indicate that they sell cannabis, as a consequence of the official ban on direct advertising.
This aesthetic attracted many public artists who get commissions to create murals in the coffee shops and use the Rastafari and reggae related imagery.
Any shops selling soft drugs to minors, hard drugs or coffee shops selling alcohol without a license, are immediately closed.
These shops provide non-contaminated cannabis products (and hence are as safe as store-bought tobacco, as far as unexpected chemicals are concerned).
Cannabis and any food products containing cannabis are generally clearly identified to prevent accidental consumption.
As of 2009 the sale of THC cookies and brownies known as space cakes in coffee shops is prohibited, although it is not difficult to find shops that sell them.
Smoking joints has been common in cannabis coffee shops.
However, since 1 July 2008 there is a tobacco smoking ban in the Netherlands which allows smoking joints containing tobacco in a separate smoking room only.
Bongs and pure cannabis joints can still be smoked inside the premises and is encouraged.
However, most coffee shops still sell mixed joints/ spliffs, i.e. those with tobacco mixed with marijuana, and have made customers smoke in upstairs or downstairs rooms.
In some shops, however, the separation room rule is only as 'separate' as the smoking/non-smoking 'separation' sections in many restaurants and bars around the world.