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Dutch cannabis cafes see rise in business during COVID-19 pandemic

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By Euronews  with AFP
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The 'No Limit' Coffeeshop in The Hague.
The 'No Limit' Coffeeshop in The Hague.   -   Copyright  AFP

Customers stream in and out of coffee shops in The Hague, as the cannabis trade booms despite the current coronavirus 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.

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

But while access to bars, restaurants, and nightclubs has been sharply limited, coffee shops 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.

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," said 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 added.

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."

However, coronavirus restrictions have emptied many of the coffee shops' famed, fume-filled smoking rooms. "We like each other, but we don't give each other joints anymore," said Smit.

Takeaway sales are booming though.

"For most of the coffee shops, this pandemic is quite beneficial, yes. People stay more at home, they smoke more, enjoy more because there is nothing to do. So yes, the coffee shops went very well," he added.

"COVID has been good for us," smiles Carmelita, owner of No Limit Coffeeshop in The Hague.

"The only profession which is happy with COVID is coffeeshops," she went on.

The No Limit Coffeeshop has also seen the number of its customers increase during the pandemic, going from 300 to 350 customers a day to 500.