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Laser F/X On-line Newsletter - Special Reports

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ILDA - 1998 Amsterdam Meetings


Old city skyline graphic

BY L. Michael Roberts

    In any society, there are two things that have always been with us - prostitution and drugs. Prostitution, the "world’s oldest profession", has been with us since the dawn of time. Drugs have been around as long, thought the drug of choice has changed over the years and some are even socially acceptable (alcohol and nicotine).
    Most societies have sought to eliminate these "vices" by criminalising them and even declaring a "war on drugs" or using entrapment to arrest prostitutes and clients. This drives the activities underground and makes essentially victimless crimes into court-clogging felonies.
    The Dutch have adopted a more pragmatic view. They recognise that these things will always be around so rather then attempt to suppress them, they tolerate them, bringing them into the open where they can be controlled, inspected and taxed. Prostitution, while not technically legal in Holland is taxed, and prostitutes have been represented by a union since 1984. Prostitutes are required to have regular medical examinations and always practice safe-sex.
    Sale of marijuana and hashish is permitted at the numerous coffee-shops in Holland. One may partake on the premises or take away a small amount for personal consumption later.
For those who find such things distasteful, the answer is simple - don't go to the red-light district or to the coffeeshops!


Red Light District

Red Light district photo     A walk through Amsterdam's red-light district is a fascinating experience. The cobblestone streets are flanked with charming, narrow, old houses. On the ground floors, red neon or fluorescent tubes can be seen over many windows and glass doors. The lights cast a warm glow onto the streets and the boisterous but well behaved, mostly male crowds.
    Behind the glass, women (called "hoertjes" in Dutch) usually dressed only in skimpy bras and panties, are available to fill the sexual needs of the passers by. Some sit and read while others pose provocatively or "shake their booty" to entice customers. Occasionally one will do a little dance or a mini-strip-tease exposing more flesh then before, which beings the milling crows to a standstill and garners hoots of encouragement.
Rates are negotiated individually and vary between 50 and 300 guilders. Men open the door and stick their heads in to discuss the rate. Once they reach agreement, they disappear inside, the curtains are drawn and they re-emerge 15 to 20 minutes later all smiles.
      There are also "sex clubs" where one may go to see live sex shows or hire a prostitute. There are two types; the low-entry fee type and the flat-rate type. At the low entry fee type, one can enter and watch the show - usually a strip-tease followed by self-stimulation and ending when a male comes on stage for intercourse. If any of the 'girls' take one's fancy, one can negotiate a deal with them and retire upstairs to consummate it. At the flat-rate type clubs, the entry fee is high but after the show, one has one's pick of the 'girls' and usually free drinks during the show.
    Interestingly, I did not find any area devoted to male prostitutes who service women or gay clients - it would appear to be entirely a heterosexual male phenomenon.



    Along the winding streets are many small, smoky coffeeshops - I even saw one located on a barge moored in a canal. Most have small painted signs but some have glaring neon signs that would put major stores to shame.
    Coffeeshops vary from ones with multiple TVs and loud music like typical sports bars, to quieter venues where the conversation of patrons and the clinking of cups provide the soundtrack - all are filled with the fragrance of marijuana smoke.
    Both the Dutch Ministry of Justice and the Amsterdam Police Department proudly point to the coffeeshop scene as a system that has reduced drug-related crime and limited the number of people who abuse hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Toleration is an important word here, because none of this is really legal. 
Twilight Zone card
    Under the current law, the 1976 Opium Act, the importing, trafficking and possession of cannabis are illegal. But possession and selling of amounts less than 30 grams are classified as misdemeanours and given minimal - read zero - police priority. The law remains in place so that police have the power to close down coffeeshops that annoy the neighbours or where problems occur.
    One laserist, who works for the Dutch department of land, agriculture and water, told the author that grass is now the third largest crop in Holland. He told me that the government is concerned that the quality of the crops be as good as possible!

     Depending on the coffeeshop, there is a printed menu or a chalk-board with (sometimes fanciful) names and prices on display. One simply asks for what one wants (or points to the menu) and it is either weighed out on the spot, or handed over in a small baggie. Prices are reasonable, quality high and most places also carry a selection of pipes and papers - some even have 'bongs' available for the clientele's use. Many offer "space cake" and ‘space muffins' - confections baked with grass - for the non-smoker. "Space coffee", a cappuccino laced with powdered hash, is another popular alternative for non-smokers.
    A group of us visited the Twilight Zone coffeeshop - the logo features a flying bird smoking a large joint - they even offer a frequent customer card with a discount on the 11th order! After we had made our selections and purchased coffee and juices, we sat down in the front window to enjoy and watch the passing street scene.
   The most interesting moment occurred when a police car pulled up and parked across the street and two police offers emerged and went about their business. The patron's immediate reaction is to hide the evidence - but this is Amsterdam where tolerance and openness are the order of the day. It is a truly surreal experience to get a friendly smile from a passing policeman as patrons sit in the front window one sits with smouldering joints in hand!

Twilight Zone grass menu

    Holland is to be commended on this bold attitude of tolerating these "vices". In the almost 20 years since they adopted these policies, drug-related crimes and arrests have DROPPED dramatically. Similarly, sexual crimes and rates of sexually transmitted diseases have also DROPPED dramatically while tourism and tax revenues have increased.
    It is to be hoped that all societies will soon come to their senses, stop wasting taxpayer dollars and police resources on essentially victimless crimes, and follow the lead of The Netherlands.

NOTE: The Opinions expressed herein are those of the author and may not represent the views of LaserFX.com



 In order to present as many pictures as possible, we have broken this special report down into a number of pages to speed access:

SPECIAL REPORT - Introduction and Background
7 Nov - ATW (Advanced Technology Workshop)
7 Nov - Canal ride and Dinner (NOTE: Large page long download time)
8 Nov - Meeting, Seminars and Lase-off
9 Nov - Seminars and Awards Banquet
ILDA Trade Show - A (NOTE: Large page long download time)
ILDA Trade Show - B (NOTE: Large page long download time)
Candid Camera (NOTE: Large page long download time)
Essay: Sex and Drugs in Amsterdam


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