Haze, Northern Lights and Nepal Delux

March 24, 1996|By PETER HERMANN

THE SENSI CAFE sits on a seedy corner near strip joints and massage parlors and hypes itself as "the highest place in the jungle of Rotterdam."

The promotion refers not to the cafe's elevation but to the effects of its major products - marijuana and hashish. About $15 will get you a few grams of Haze or Northern Lights. Or maybe a little Nepal Delux or Morocco High.

It's all ready for sale, neatly packaged in small plastic bags and tolerated by Dutch police who license 1,500 such establishments in the Netherlands. Customers are allowed to buy up to 30 grams at a time.

"It's just a bar," said Tico Bouwman, 32, a manager who has smoked reefer since he was 14. "You have a beer. You smoke a joint. We have nothing to hide."

The Sensi Cafe tests the ban against advertising by coffee houses with its wooden cutouts of marijuana leaves placed around the outside glass of large bay windows.

Displayed in a front window are a variety of drug products, from smoking pipes to "Hempbody shampoo" to books titled "Hemp: Lifeline to the future." Referring to heroin and cocaine, a sign on the front door warns: "Everything involved in the dealing and use of hard drugs is strictly forbidden."

Inside is an oval bar with mostly young men and women scattered about, drinking beer or soda and smoking dope. It is bright and spotless, though a smoky haze dominates the atmosphere.

Dutch officials have had an open drug policy since the 1970s, arguing that separating soft drugs like marijuana and hashish from hard drugs like cocaine provide an outlet for youthful experimentation while keeping people away from the dangerous addictive substances of heroin and cocaine.

In a nation of 15 million people, health officials estimate that 700,000 people either have tried or regularly smoke marijuana or hashish.

Mr. Bouwman has a wife and 3-month-old son and admits to dabbling in cocaine when it is available to him. But he insists the Sensi Cafe is a clean, safe place that attracts business people, tourists and even a visiting group of police officers from New York City.

"Get a cab, ask for a place to get high, and this is the place they will take you to," Mr. Bouwman said.

Most drug shops in Rotterdam are discreet, unlike Sensi. Others give themselves away only by name, such as Sky High. They are much more open in Amsterdam, about 60 miles to the north, where the Green Horse, The Doors and Dutch Flowers are located.

Those shops get around the advertising ban by appearing in a guide to the Cannabis Museum, which puts out a map, with 32 shop locations, called a "Cultural tour of Amsterdam: a selection of the best shops in town."

In Rotterdam, on a side street near the Sensi Cafe, is a smaller coffee shop called Massive, which offers hashish from Thailand, and run by a Suriname immigrant named Jazz. The lone customer is 26-year-old Steve Milton, who plunked down about $4, enough for Dutch-processed hashish called Skunk.

"In America, you do what I'm doing now and you go to jail for six months," said Mr. Milton, who is unemployed. "This is nice. I don't have to worry about any problems. If you get worried, you smoke and lose your mind."

Pub Date: 3/24/96

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