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1 juli 2021

Highlife Magazine: A Future proof sector

 

A future-proof coffeeshop sector

If the cannabis experiment is deemed successful, then legalization of the cannabis chain could, in principle, be rolled out across the entire country. According to Ewout van der Weijden, director of the Amsterdam-based coffeeshop chain Best Friends, this could herald the end of the coffeeshop’s current monopolized position, that is, if the industry does not set up a government-recognized representation with the necessary urgency. He therefore calls on his colleagues to join him in thinking off a future-proof coffeeshop sector.

Van der Weijden is an energetic and progressive figure in the coffeeshop world. In 2002 his friend got hold of a coffeeshop in Amsterdam East on Molukkenstraat in the Indische Buurt, and has been active in the sector ever since. The store – which was created to become a safe haven for cannabis consumers – was aptly named Best Friends. Since then, they have been working hard to improve and expand on that mentality. They now hold three establishments in Amsterdam, and are in the process of moving their Best Friends Amsterdam City Centre branch to Amsterdam-Southeast, where they will be the first to receive a permit from the government for “take-out only”. A novelty.

 

Cannacenters

These “Amsterdammers” have been hard at work from that day onward, professionalizing their business model with transparency as their top priority. They do everything they can to operate their business like a regular company. That means, amongst other things, to make sure their affairs are in order in terms of taxation, integrity and public health. For the same reason, they have also renamed their coffeeshop outlets to Cannacenter Best Friends in 2016. Van der Weijden explains in Het parool that the word coffeeshop has become a loaded term. In the ‘hearts and minds’ of many people it is still a very positive word. But in the last fifteen years the coffeeshop has been demonized and criminalized by certain media reports, lobby groups and political movements: “We wanted to get out of that atmosphere, and therefore decided to use the word ‘cannabis’. Also because it is in line with the global developments in terms of legalization.”

 

Wake-up call

Thinking about the future, Van der Weijden came to the conclusion that the coffeeshop in its current form would not last forever. Therefore, he sent a letter to national coffeeshop associations (BCD and PCN) inquiring for a stage to present his vision for the future. In the letter he writes: “Best Friends is of the opinion that all signs are pointing towards the fact that the current constructions with the tolerance declarations will, in the best case scenario, last (at most) another 5 to 10 years before cannabis is legalised. Legalisation means that we could become superfluous as sales outlets. From that moment on, the government can in fact introduce any other distribution and taxation system it likes. The mainstream industry is probably ready to jump into that hole and wipe us out.”

 

Exciting challenge

The analysis made by Best Friends may sound like a doomsday scenario, but that is not how the pugnacious entrepreneurs see it. “We don’t want to come across as a pessimistic bunch, but we have to move forward.” They see it more as an exciting challenge and have already offered a few key points on how to set up a good sector organization recognized by the government. This means that something has to change structurally in our representation.

We try to think from the sectors perspective, one that should support and maintain the foundation on which we all based our existence.”

The (coffeeshop) sector must take action now, and show a new direction. You could see the letter as a wake-up call: “I hope you are prepared to consider my critical observations and see them in the light of progress. We want to keep every coffee shop, and there is room for a multitude of new establishments. We wish everyone the very best. We try to think from the sectors perspective, one that should support and maintain the foundation on which we all based our existence.”

 

Conclusions

In his letters, Van der Weijden asks the boards of the unions whether they endorse his conclusions about the current situation and want to communicate said conclusions to their fellow colleagues during the general meeting of members. After all, in order to take action, they need to agree on the veracity of his analysis. He would like to know whether these two primary conclusions are supported. 1. The influence by government policy and the protection of the interests of its members by the current branch representation has (always) been nil, or at least, insufficient. 2. The current retail system has had its day. Cannabis will eventually become legal. Taking into account there could very well be different ways of thinking amongst coffeeshop entrepreneurs, Van der Weijden is under the impression that many have yet to look at it this way. After all, legalization has been talked about for a long time, but until now it has never happened. The weed experiment, of course, brings legalization closer and closer, but even that has not really started and may take some time. First see, then believe, seems to be the dominant attitude of many of the coffeeshop entrepreneurs. The fact that legalization could affect the current position of coffeeshops is, in that thought, far from their minds.

 

Unimaginable circumstances

It is an interesting and striking position to be in the coffeeshop world. The special position of coffee shops in the Dutch cannabis market has been able to continue for years, because of the tolerance structure.

There seems little time for thinking about the future.

In order to maintain their position, many entrepreneurs nowadays are mainly occupied with their own business processes, having to comply to the licensing conditions and rules. There seems little time for thinking about the future. That this situation cannot continue forever is a given. But it seems as if most coffee shop entrepreneurs have always taken their position on the cannabis market for granted. The idea that this could simply end and that other parties could replace the market is therefore difficult for many to imagine. For them it is also very emotionally unfair, because the current entrepreneurs had to stand their ground for years under very difficult circumstances, while still making great contributions to social capital, public health, order and safety. Despite this, the coffeeshop sector is still seen and treated as a criminogenic sector by certain institutions and political movements. Entrepreneurs, employees and their families can at times still suffer greatly from this.

New voices

There are many entrepreneurs who are looking forward to a situation in which their sector becomes legal. The fact that this also means that they must now start securing their position in this new legal cannabis market is a new concept. It will be fascinating to follow the extent to which Best Friends’ vision is shared by other industry peers.

There are many entrepreneurs who are looking forward to a situation in which their sector becomes legal.

And if this is recognized as a real future scenario, whether there will also be a joint position and agreement on how the sector will have to regroup. To be continued.

Original article (Dutch) in Highlife Magazine Juni 2021 

Highlife Magazine June 2021

Dutch article Highlife Magzine: Nicole Maalst
Translation: Best Friends Amsterdam

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Highlife Magazine

Written by
Nicole Maalst

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