THE HAGUE – Just down the road from my hotel was a large-windowed store with people going in and out all day long. Sometimes there was a long queue of people waiting to get inside. “What on earth are they selling?” I said to myself. Then I learned that it was a store selling hashish, marijuana and other cannabis products. I was intrigued. In this small permissive country, you can legally buy pot. Rather than skulking in dark alleys, trading is carried out in broad daylight. Even on Sunday mornings!
Every day I passed this shop, and every day I became “curioser and curioser”, to quote Lewis Carroll. One warm, sunny evening – my last evening in Holland – I strolled past the shop. My curiosity piqued, I stepped inside.
Here’s how the conversation went –
“So how does it work here?”
“Are you looking to buy hash or grass?”
“Errr … grass, I guess.” There was a really strong, funky, fuggy smell in the shop.
“Do you want to try just a single joint for starters?”
“Loose or pre-rolled?”
“With or without tobacco?”
I wimped out. “With tobacco.”
“And what effect are you looking for?”
“Oh, definitely mellow.”
“OK, well I recommend one of our best-sellers. It’s called Strawberry Kush and if you smoke half of it, the effect is the equivalent to drinking two glasses of really good wine.”
“Sounds good. But say, can I travel with this? Because I’m leaving Holland tomorrow.”
“Where are you going, back to the States? In that case, the answer is no.”
“I’m not American.”
“You sure sound American. Where are you from?”
“Oh, well,” he said, shrugging his shoulders, “Same thing.”
Bristling, I replied – “Is Holland the same thing as Belgium or Germany?”
“No, but Canada and the States is the same land mass …”
“The U.S.A. and Canada are two distinctly different countries.” I said decisively.
Changing the subject, I asked, “I’m leaving tomorrow for Belgium and then back to France where I live. Can I travel with this?”
“To Belgium, yes. You can legally carry 3 grams in that country, in Holland 5 grams. But in France, I don’t know.”
So I bought a spliff of Strawberry Kush. It cost six euros, 50 cents and came in its own little carrying case.
Packing in my hotel room the next morning, I must have put that spliff in five different places – first in my cosmetic bag, then in the inside pocket of my travel bag, then in my knapsack, then in my eyeglasses case. I didn’t know what to do with it, other than smoke the damn thing, but it was 10 am on a Wednesday morning.
My concern was that my bags would pass through a scanner on my way back to France, and it would show up on the X-ray machine. I imagined sniffer dogs, an alarm going off, border police frogmarching me into a little room where I’d be strip-searched and humiliated. And the worst, I’d end up with a casier judiciaire (criminal record.) You can’t be employed with one. I’d lose my job, be forced to go on welfare, I’d end up on the streets, all my worldly possessions in a storage unit …
Stop! For god’s sake, Juliet, get a grip! I pulled myself together. I think I’ve seen too many movies. We’re talking about a single joint mixed with tobacco and two grams … two grams of marijuana! Surely the police have more important things to look for … like, er, terrorists???
But down in the lobby of the hotel, I googled “Legality of cannabis in France” and what came up was ILLEGAL ILLEGAL ILLEGAL. I was surprised. Wow. Chill out, France, what’s the problem?
Here’s what I learned – Possession of cannabis is illegal in France and can lead to severe punishments. In French law, there is no difference between cannabis and any other drug. Drug-related offences are taken very seriously and France is known for having one of the harshest drug policies in Europe.
Depending on the amount and the circumstances, you could be lucky to get away with just a slap on the wrist. But chances are, you’ll end up receiving a substantial fine, or even a prison sentence.
This was becoming far too sturm und drang. I could either go into the garden of the hotel and smoke the thing right then and there, or flush it down the toilet. Coz the thing was this: I had purchased the joint to smoke with my friend back in France, not on my own, alone in Holland. I headed for the lavatory.