I Took My Father to an Amsterdam Coffeeshop

By Jon Young on April 14, 2017

My father and I pause at the door as a troop of swaggering Brits file out of Resin, a coffeeshop near Centraal Station. The brown smoke-filled room is a pool of shaded calm, an eddy from the midday bustle on Spuistraat just outside. Deeper in lie shadowy cloud-breathing forms chatting indistinctly on padded benches lining the shoe-box shaped room. I hand the menu from the bar to my dad, feeling a little strange bringing him here. There’s a mixture of excitement at bridging the cross-generational divide and the need to play it cool, like we’ve done this all before. 

A few years back when I was still in college and just beginning to smoke cannabis, I’d spend the occasional summer weekend at home sharing a bottle of wine or three with my parents around the grill. I knew my parents used to smoke pakalōlō (Hawaiian for cannabis) on Oahu, where my dad is from, but they’d been pretty conservative ever since and hadn’t smoked for decades. Occasionally I’d casually mention cannabis to gauge their reaction in an effort to add another layer to our times together, but they never bit. 

It wasn’t until a family Vegas trip and tickets to the Beatles Cirque du Soleil that my sister-in-law convinced my parents to try a couple tokes of her ceramic pipe. After the show, I walked into their hotel room to find my dad leaning against the foot of the bed in front of the TV eating a football sized pastrami sandwich. My mom was lying on the bed with her eyes closed. 

“It’s a lot stronger than it used to be,” she said. 

She hasn’t tried it since. 

Now, years later, here we are. In Amsterdam, at a coffee shop.

If you’re unfamiliar with coffeeshops in Amsterdam, they resemble a typical cafe in many ways. They’re generally small, smoke-stained and cozy with a bar that serves snacks, juices, sodas and water—but no coffee—as well as hash, marijuana, edibles and other cannabis products. They have cushioned lounge-style seats scattered throughout where tourists (and a few locals) lie about passing around spliffs (half tobacco and half cannabis) whiling the day away. Cannabis, while not technically legal in Amsterdam, is mostly decriminalized and openly sold and consumed in coffee shops and streets around the city. If you’re strolling along the canal smoking a spliff, the police won’t bother to trouble you unless you trouble them. 

“Let’s do the Lemon Haze,” says my dad. “It’s a sativa, I don’t want to fall asleep.”

After a few-decade hiatus, he’s done his research. Lemon Haze it is. 

I get the attention of the man behind the bar and ask for a smell of the Lemon Haze. Its citrusy sweet aroma rivals the smell of coffee beans and bacon as one of the best smells on earth. I buy two grams for 30 euros (top-shelf) and we find a place to sit on a bench further in.

I ask my dad what it was like smoking in Hawaii in the ʼ70s as I grind the herb and sprinkle it into the paper. 

“The stuff we got wasn’t that strong back then,” he says. “But it was good. Maui Wowie, Kona Gold. There were mom and pop farms all over the island.”

I finish rolling the joint and hand it to him. 

“When I was in medical school, your mom and I went camping with some friends,” he says, lighting the joint. “I had been smoking cigarettes for a couple of years and wanted to quit, so we decided to have a cleanse.” 

He coughs a few times, handing the joint back to me.

“We brought a little pakalōlō and tea,” he continues. “Once we got to the top, we got the munchies and all we had to eat were the tea leaves.”

“I didn’t know you were such big hippies,” I say taking a drag. 

“It was the ʼ70s,” he says. “The next morning we woke up and went straight to McDonald's.”

“Sounds cleansing.”

“Well, I quit smoking cigarettes,” he says. 

We continue to talk as we finish the joint and then sit for several moments in silence, watching loud stag parties and nervous first timers going in and out. 

“Why did you guys stop smoking pot?” I ask.

“We had your older brothers right after I got out of school,” he says. “I was starting my practice and raising kids.” 

“Sounds reasonable.” 

“And there were the raids,” he says, gazing out the window. “Big statewide raids on pot farms all over the islands, and it kind of put an end to that chapter of our lives.”

The room is beginning to fill up and the noise is steadily rising as the day drinkers begin to find their way in.

“Well, let’s go see what your mom is up to,” says my dad. “Maybe she wants to eat at Sumo again.”

“Sushi, you sure?” I ask. “There’s gotta be a great tea leaf restaurant around here somewhere.”

He shakes his head as I follow behind. “No McDonald's, either,” he says.  

We exit Resin into the bright light of day and head for the hotel. Another chapter just beginning. 

Main image by Flickr/Darren Johnson, coffee shop image by Flickr/Ricardo Liberato and buds image by Flickr/Cannabis Culture.

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