up in smoke

Many moons ago at High School, some ‘rites of passage’ were discussed as though they were constitutional duties. One of these – “to visit Amsterdam” – euphemistically described getting blotted over a long weekend chasing more dragons than St George. That teenage dream may soon be denied to future youngsters from this year, now that the Dutch have confirmed their decision to restrict access to cannabis cafés to residents only.

My youth had no 18-30 holidays, no RailPass jaunt across the continent or the like. I was most certainly not the kind of person who would wake up on a ferry bobbing its way from Zeebrugge on a Monday morning. As such – and I was not alone with this – talk of the magic world of drugs and electropop seemed beyond tempting. Some of us heard stories about older brothers and friend’s friends who could smuggle half an Oxo cube sized resin block through the usual channels, but a whole city where it could be smoked in public? Through the looking glass  – and on the sofa, giggling, eating cake…

That the Dutch are closing down the tourist trade is probably met by parents of a certain age in this country with as much nostalgia as relief. Thousands of young people – mostly British and American – and as many stag do’s chose the Netherlands for a release from the stifling attitude against drugs in their native lands. Indeed with a regime whose attitude towards drugs is as schizophrenic as the alleged counter-effects of taking substances, Britain has always appeared to be the wrinkled grandfather looking with disdain at the youngster over the water – a grandfather who would, nonetheless, occasionally drink more whisky than he ought to when the missus wasn’t looking.

Proving that I am settling into middle age, I can see the arguments for tightening the restrictions. Alas, it does have something of the “pulling up the ladder” about it, enjoying our days in the sun and now stopping future generations from doing so, but that argument takes us down the route of tuition fees/free education and we don’t want that conversational cul-de-sac quite now…That all said, I am saddened to see another conservative move in a formerly liberal part of the world. This move once again shadows and colours the arguments for decriminalisation of cannabis in this country, the debate shunted away by the Morality Police as though Dutch considerations can be used as a facsimile in a British context. Even if people of a certain age these days no longer partake in naughty cigarettes, denying the argument to be open for future generations seems just as irresponsible as having a drug liberalism free-for-all. Nobody born today has a say in the continued legalisation of alcohol or tobacco, after all.

Each generation bemoans the passing of their youth. Our parents did so, and so do we. Where once “doing” Amsterdam was part of a teenager’s calendar, now sits an empty box into which many things, or none, can be pencilled in its place. Maybe nostalgia is getting in the way as much as the smoke – for every group of lads on the bant in the red light district there are hundreds more skiing, visiting South Asia or risking their lives in New Zealand with….well, Kiwis….The passing into history of the “Dutch experience” may be marked by those unable to try it in the first place, or too old to remember what happened there clearly. Regardless, shutting down the shops for outsiders marks another turn in the long, long, long argument for and against drug policy in the UK. When the UK faces the realities of recreational drug-use amongst its own people will be the next turn. Until then….pass the biscuits, and woah, this keyboard is like so fuzzy….