A place to belong: what North America can learn from European cannabis culture 

coffeeshop smokey cannabis culture

Community and group consumption are, unfortunately, two of the most crucial aspects missing from the North American cannabis culture. While consumers of the plant have enjoyed legalization in some US states and in Canada for several years now, they have unfortunately missed out on one of the most important and special aspects: the consumption lounge. A centralized place of gathering where potheads, wooks, cannabis enthusiasts, and consumers of all ages can come together over a tea and joint.

Europe’s cannabis culture is supported by the foundation of the Dutch coffeeshops, something that unites all Europeans who imbibe. This notion of a coffeeshop being the center of the cannabis culture is important and something that is missing in North America. As humans, we like to come together and create community around our passions. This is something that is offered by the coffeeshop experience. 

coffeeshop resin dutch cannabis culture
Coffeeshop Resin in Amsterdam, no relation to the author Photo: Pete Karici / Getty

Cannabis culture knows no borders

Europe, post the adoption of the borderless and single currency systems, has largely become like the U.S. Each country is like a state within the larger whole of the continent. Every state is vastly different in its types of people and culture, but they share commonalities within the United States of America. Europe is now very similar, with Amsterdam acting as the Denver or San Francisco of the continent.

This historical aspect of the coffeeshops means that Europeans have long been used to celebrating events or moments of their lives with a trip to Amsterdam to live it up. This was made even easier once the European Union was formed. In fact, this reputation as Europe’s party city has recently led to a campaign in Amsterdam focused on discouraging Brits from coming over for stag weekends and or other celebrations. 

What, then, does this mean for the cannabis culture? Well, for something that largely was illegal, it meant that there was now a clubhouse open for people sharing their love of cannabis. This, of course, extended to the growers and breeders that made up the European cannabis industry and even filtered to North America and places like Thailand once legality spread across the globe. 

RELATED: Six cannabis-friendly European destinations

A community fractured

The coffeshops meant that a cannabis culture had a safe place to congregate and come together, sharing cannabis, strains, and growing innovations. It also meant that people from all walks of life could sit together and share their love of their plant. All other aspects of who they are were put aside in order to share a spliff. This also meant that people from around the world would come together and enjoy a visit to the coffeeshop if they ever made it to Amsterdam. 

This also helped spread the notion that cannabis should be free everywhere. It was the earliest of grassroots campaigns in that it brought people together and demonstrated that cannabis could be consumed safely in an open public space without issue. Sure, the occasional drunk tourist would smoke too much and green out, but because the coffeeshop staff were prepared and trained, they would know exactly how to help them. 

This fundamentally was the biggest issue when American states legalized cannabis, as there were no formal places created where cannabis enthusiasts could come together and share their love of the plant. This was unfortunate as it meant that cannabis lovers had to splinter into their own friend groups or even exist on their own, smoking their joints in privacy. 

The same was true in Canada, where the idea of coffeeshops didn’t really exist until the medical laws loosened the legality around cannabis, and in a few of the bigger cities, people inspired by the coffeeshops opened up similar cafes where people could come together and imbibe. 

The idea of community means sharing what we love with fellow like-minded people. This gives us a sense of belonging and makes us feel part of a whole. This is a notion currently missing for cannabis fans in North America, who are missing out on that sense of community central to Amsterdam, and that is a great shame. 

Thankfully, this is changing slowly but surely. The culture that helped spread the love of cannabis across the globe will soon have a chance to meet and congregate in their own countries as well. This normalizes consumption in the same way that alcohol is accepted and consumed. By providing a space to hang out and share, it will further solidify cannabis’ place as an adult pursuit of leisure with its own clubhouse. 

This article was submitted by a guest contributor to GreenState. The author is solely responsible for the content.

Harry Resin Harry Resin is a long-time cannabis cultivator, breeder, and writer who spent two decades in Amsterdam honing his craft. He has been featured in High Times, GQ, and several other publications.