By Steven Voser

Dutch coffeeshops have been attracting cannabis lovers to Holland since the 70s. Dispensaries, on the other hand, only started popping up around Canada and the US over the last couple of years. But their modernity isn’t the only thing that sets these two apart. IOn this article, we’ll show you the difference between dispensaries and coffeeshop and what you can expect in either.


The infamous coffeeshops of Holland were born in the 1970s after the Dutch government realized that creating a completely drug-free society was impossible. So, it took a more open approach to drug use that focused on harm-reduction rather than criminalizing drug users and creating an unsafe black market for soft drugs like cannabis and hash.

Under this new tolerance policy (or "gedoogbeleid"), the Dutch government legalized the sale of cannabis and hash through licensed coffeeshops. Today, these shops lie at the heart of Holland’s tourism industry, attracting millions of tourists to Amsterdam and other major Dutch cities every year.

Coffeeshops vary from small, hole-in-the-wall locales to big, attention-grabbing establishments, like the Bulldog in Amsterdam’s Red Light District. The coffeeshops in the center of Amsterdam obviously tend to attract more tourists, while those outside the more touristic areas attract more locals. Some stores, like Boerejongens, offer a real upmarket setting and sell exclusive products (like a complete line of Amsterdam Genetics). But at the core, the principles behind each coffeeshop are always the same; anyone can waltz in and buy a small amount of cannabis.

The quality of weed at coffeeshops varies. As always, there are some stores that prey on tourists, offering lower quality weed at inflated prices. Hence, it’s always a good idea to ask a local for recommendations on what shops to visit. In general, however, Dutch coffeeshops carry a nice variety of good-quality cannabis, pre-rolled joints, hash, and edibles. It’s also worth noting that Dutch weed is very potent, so it's a good idea to take it easy on your visit.

By law, coffeeshops cannot sell alcohol or cigarettes. They also can’t sell a single customer more than 5g of cannabis per day, advertise the sale of drugs, or sell to anybody under the age of 18. However, a good Dutch coffeeshop will usually sell a nice selection of fresh juices, snacks or baked goods, coffee and tea, and more. Some coffeeshops will have more of a party atmosphere, while others will offer a more relaxing space, perfect for reading a book, listening to music, or having a chat with friends.

If you’re not from Europe, this is important; Europeans tend to smoke cannabis together with tobacco. Hence, most of the pre-rolled joints you’ll find at Dutch coffeeshops will contain some tobacco. Make sure to keep that in mind, and ask your local coffeeshop if you prefer smoking cannabis on its own.

For more info, make sure to check out this list of our favorite coffeeshops in Amsterdam.

Dispensary vs. Coffee shop  


Cannabis dispensaries are a new invention that came about as a result of the legalization of cannabis by US states like California, Colorado, Washington, Nevada, and others. These stores are subject to very different regulations and stock very different products than Dutch coffeeshops.

Most dispensaries work much like a pharmacy; a customer comes in, gets served by a budtender, and takes whatever they’ve bought home in a bag. And while a few dispensaries in California can allow their patrons to consume cannabis on-site, this isn’t the norm. In most US states with legal weed (like Colorado, Nevada, and Washington), the consumption of cannabis is illegal in most public or open spaces.

Like coffeeshops, dispensaries vary greatly in the atmosphere and service they provide, pricing, and the quality of their products. Some dispensaries also specifically cater to medical cannabis patients and therefore offer a different kind of service than dispensaries that cater only to recreational users. Some dispensaries may cater to both and use different points of sales for their medicinal and recreational products.

Unlike Dutch coffeeshops, dispensaries don't always sell weed to any adult. Some dispensaries are legally only allowed to sell cannabis to residents of the state, while some may only sell to registered patients or recreational users. Sometimes, you'll be able to fill out these registrations on the spot, or sometimes you'll have to complete them before making your purchase. This all depends on the laws of the state you're in.

A good dispensary will offer you personalized service to help you find the best cannabis products based on your needs and preferences. Dispensaries should be clean, and their budtenders should be really professional both in how they treat their customers and how they handle their products. The exact range of products a dispensary stocks changes, but most will carry a solid selection of flower, concentrates, vape pens, and edibles. Some may also sell clones, grow equipment, and seeds.

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