Behind the glass window, Priscilla slides the gram of weed to the eager customer who scans his credit card on the opposite side of the glass. Located in the centre of the Hague, Demo’s coffeeshop is a frequent destination for people of all walks of life, all here to get a taste of this Dutch delicacy. But the industry has a dark secret.
In 2017 an experiment was proposed by the Dutch government in hopes of legalising weed in the Netherlands, called the experiment gesloten coffeeshop, in 2021 this experiment began. Such an experiment had hoped to legalise the supply chain, to allow government-approved growers to supply Dutch weed to coffeeshops. The Hague however, refused to join.
Both the municipality and the coffeeshops in the region of The Hague refused to take part in the experiment, making it the only large municipality to do so. Both parties cite the inefficiency of such a system.
In 2019, a motion was filed by Deputy Mayor Arjen Kapteijns to continue the discussion on this experiment, according to municipal records. In the same motion, the municipality reiterates the impossible nature of the experiment. It highlights three key points. Firstly, the necessary inclusion of all coffeeshops in the Hague makes this significantly difficult. Secondly, coffeeshop owners do not want to be included. Thirdly, the experiment was too strict.
Understanding the approach of coffeeshops is rather difficult in this regard. Because of its illegal nature, the discovery of their process currently is difficult. Obtaining pictures, or even understanding the resources they currently use to operate is almost impossible. Almost.
At Dizzy Duck, our team approached one of the employees, who gave us full range to take pictures within the coffeeshop. Further interaction with the owner allowed us to gain access to further sources, all of which allegedly felt abandoned by the municipality’s decision.
According to the owner, the experiment would’ve created a monopoly amongst the large coffeeshop chains, thus excluding the smaller coffeeshops.
Further exploration into other coffeeshops led us to Smokey’s. The bar is fitted with dark-wood panels, large mirrors and gold poles. In the gloomy atmosphere of this rustic-looking coffeeshop, our team was able to interview both the security guard and the owner.
The security guard, who goes by Keufie, countered the statements made by the municipality. For Keufie, one thing is certain: “the current legislation […] is destroying the industry and the family they have built in the coffeeshop”.
He continued by explaining, that there has been very little communication between the municipality, thus leaving the coffeeshops out of the loop.
Keufie is certain, however, that the experiment, as it stands, is not the greatest way of approaching the issue. His biggest issue is with the random assignment of suppliers. Coffeeshops want to retain control over their product, and their Unique Selling Proposition.
Upon further discussion with members of Smokey’s Coffeeshop, we realised that the issue is not independent of the experiment, but rather endemic to a larger, shaky relationship between the Municipality and the coffeeshops.
Ron, the Operations Manager of Smokey’s gave us his view on the experiment:
According to employees of Smokey’s, the fragile relationship between the coffeeshops and the municipality has continuously degraded. There is a clear communication issue between both parties.
At the beginning of this investigation, we held high hopes about the potential for further investigation. Interviews, in the beginning, were more accessible. Many coffeeshops were willing to discuss their struggle in communication with the municipality. However, as the investigation progressed, fewer coffeeshop owners were willing to commit or participate.
Interviews essentially fell through, without the ability to re-engage in conversation.
The municipality itself appeared as inaccessible as the latter conversation with coffeeshops. The systems established to allow discourse between citizens and the municipality were surprisingly ineffective. Even the documents we were able to access led us to the general call center.
When we called them this is what happened:
We were on hold for 45 minutes before the call dropped.
The root of the problem appears to be the lack of communication between the public, the coffeeshops, and the municipality. The root of the failure of participation in the Hague boils down to the lack of discourse between each party.
The dark secrets of the coffeeshops are tightly held, with the owners unsurprisingly keeping their cards close to their chests.
Story by Christopher Ohlsson, Syds Van Der Es and Otto Meinardus