There’s two things that grow in Holland that interest most tourists: Tulips and Marijuana. You can find them both in Amsterdam’s Bloemenmarkt floating on the Singel canal.
If you want to bring home a few Dutch tulip bulbs to the garden of your beloved mom, grandma or auntie, follow these tips:
1. Find a vendor who sells tulip bulbs specifically for import back to the US. Don’t let your eyes get too far ahead of you. The choices and variety of tulips at Bloemenmarkt are amazing, but US Customs only allows certain strains of tulips back home. You’ll see a much smaller selection of bulbs accompanied by signs like these.
2. Find bulbs packaged and labeled with a phytosanitary certificate from the government of the Netherlands addressed specifically to the US, and check the date. This certificate shows that the bulbs meet the US customs’ entry requirements. It also shows the date of inspection – you can bring these bulbs into the US within six weeks of the date marked. But if you will not return to the US within than six weeks, ask the vendor if they can ship the bulbs to your home. Be prepared to pay, though; the shipping may cost more than the bulbs themselves.
3. Double-check that the bulbs are bare – meaning they have no visible growth – and that they look healthy and without insects.
4. You can bring back 12 or fewer bulbs that have valid-dated phytosanitary certificates without a permit. If you want a whole suitcase full of bulbs, though, you’ll have to apply for a permit from the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
5. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, declare your tulips and any/all foodstuffs on your customs form! Pack your bulbs in a place you can easily access them while you go through the Agricultural customs line.
Oh, and there’s certain seeds and other plant byproducts that aren’t allowed at all back home, so you’ll have to enjoy it as much as possible while you’re in Amsterdam.
This leads me to another question often on the minds of tourists who come to Amsterdam: Can I buy and smoke weed legally? The answer, for the moment, is yes.
The fate of marijuana, the second most famous – or infamous – currently legally available commodity/service in the Netherlands, will be decided in the next few weeks. In May 2012, the government passed a law that would only allow Dutch citizens with permits to buy marijuana from coffee shops. Since May, three southern provinces have enforced the so-called “weed pass” law. According to Radio Netherlands, the government passed the law to curb problems in southern border towns where Belgian, German and French drug smugglers buy their supplies for illegal resale in their home countries.
The mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, and his administration have opposed the “weed pass” law for several reasons. They argue the law would hurt tourism and local businesses, since, by some estimates, a quarter to 50% of the four to five million tourists who visit Amsterdam also patronize a coffee shop at least once during their visit. Ten percent, reported the Gothamist, visit the Netherlands exclusively to smoke pot. A few people I talked to in Amsterdam said that they thought the weed pass would create more problems by criminalizing marijuana sales. They speculated that visitors would be vulnerable to underground dealers, where the products, their pricing, and conditions of sale would not be standard or regulated. (Travel guru Rick Steves seems to agree with this point of view.) The Chicago Tribune reports yesterday that, “Coffee shops have long been tolerated in the Netherlands because authorities believe they keep dope smokers away from street dealers of more dangerous and outlawed drugs like cocaine and heroin.” Some folks I talked with said that the government would lose a lot of revenues in the form of taxes on pot, and in fact, the Telegraph reported that the government makes an estimated $500 million on the sale of pot.
The “weed pass” law will take effect in Amsterdam and the other northern provinces on January 1, 2013. But this can change in a week.
The conservative coalition government that passed this law, under Prime Minister Mark Rutte from the VVD party, stepped down from office in April. Elections for a new government will take place on September 12, 2012, and depending on who’s in power, the law may be upheld or thrown out. With their livelihoods hanging in the balance, the coffee shops have organized, urging their patrons to get into the voting booths next week to support the six of the 11 Dutch political parties that are in favor of keeping marijuana legal. I saw more than a few posters reminiscent of Uncle Sam – their version features Uncle Dam – outlining which parties support the weed pass law… (And since we’re talking about voting, Americans, can I remind you to please register to vote!) Stay tuned! Or just get a ticket to Amsterdam pronto!
- Can I bring fruits, vegetables, plants or seeds into the U.S. from abroad? (help.cpb.gov) Scroll down to the “Propagative Plant Material” section.
- Buying tulip bulbs in the Netherlands (ricksteves.com) Discussion includes tips on buying tulip bulbs and growing them.
- Birthdays in Holland (sarahlynnpablo.com)
- And just because I want to, here’s my favorite scene from one of my favorite movies, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (youtube.com)