Stash Box: Is Little Amsterdam in Seattle a Pipe Dream?

Why can’t we just allow public cannabis consumption in the way we allow alcohol consumption—namely, being able to imbibe at cafes, clubs, and restaurants?

Illustration by James the Stanton

So I have this vision. It’s around 11 a.m. I’m headed to my local coffee shop to get some work done and maybe cross paths with some friends. I grab my bag and head out into the drizzle, smiling at my neighbor, stretching my legs, catching a whiff of the dewy white flowers of the snowdrift vine on the corner of a busy intersection.

When I reach the busy cafe, I’m suffused with the convergence of aromas I’ve come to love: cannabis, espresso, and pastries.

I order my usual—a doppio with a half-gram of Tangerine and an almond crescent. The barista quickly grinds up my half-gram and expertly pulls my shot, blending the two with a hit of cream. She sets the ceramic demitasse cup on a dish with a small spoon and a twist of orange peel.

I settle in next to a wide window (probably overlooking Broadway or Fifth Avenue) and set up my work area, taking a sip, the velvet liquid momentarily filling my world. I’ll be honest: Sometimes in this vision it’s not a weed-infused shot, it’s a weed-infused slice of quiche.

Currently my fantasy is an illegal one, but there are plenty of reasons why it shouldn’t be. The city known for its cafe culture should embrace both the bean and the green, and allow these two amazing forces to unite.

We have all these incredible aspirations as a city—we want this amazing, expansive, public transportation system; we want to lead the way in ecologically sound city management; we want to solve our growing homelessness crisis, just to name a few.

We have an incredible opportunity to embrace our region’s cannabis culture and offer people an amazing experience, like wine lovers who visit France or beer lovers who visit Germany. We have such a rich heritage of cannabis cultivation and celebration, and we should be spotlighting all its wonderful cultural aspects. From exploring beautiful outdoor grow operations that still seek the perfect terroir to sampling tasty delicacies from some of the city’s finest cannabis-oriented chefs to heading down to gorgeous Myrtle Edwards Park on the sparkling waterfront for the world-famous Hempfest, we offer so much in a cannabis visit. But visitors, and most residents, don’t actually have a legal place to smoke, vape, or dab unless they own a residence or property.

The money-making possibilities for Washington are staggering. In 2011, Amsterdam raked in almost $200 million from cannabis tourism. That doesn’t even account for domestic spending. The tax revenue would be a vital shot in the arm for the state budget—not to mention the jobs that would be created if we would allow public cannabis consumption in the way we allow alcohol consumption: namely, being able to imbibe at cafes, clubs, and restaurants.

Right now, it’s not legal to smoke or vape anywhere in Washington in public, including parks, sidewalks, businesses, residential areas, and public lands. House Bill 2136, passed last summer, made private cannabis clubs illegal. (In the words of pro-cannabis Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, who helped pen I-502, “Frankly, it’s a stupid provision and I think that it’s overkill.”) Nearly all our medical dispensaries had lounges for their patients, but after the sweeping changes that rolled through the state a few months ago, nearly all of them closed, and those few that exist are in a nebulous state. There are very few options for people to gather and partake.

Cannabis has proven itself—literally for millennia—as a plant that brings people together. Coffeehouses have been a nexus point for the great minds of civilizations for hundreds of years, and I want Seattle to take advantage of this unique opportunity to cultivate a smart, weird, creative, open atmosphere where people and ideas from around the world can thrive. It’s time to cross-pollinate.

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