Images from our archives look back at the Dutch style cannabis café that came to Greater Manchester before police raids shut the venue for good. The Dutch Experience, in Stockport, opened to a blaze of publicity in September, 2001. Modelled on Amsterdam’s coffee shops, it inspired other copycat venues to open in other parts of the UK.
With an over-18s, members only policy, the café was tucked away in a small parade of shops within a two minute walk of Stockport town centre. Press and photographers were invited inside the venue on a number of occasions and one reporter described the air inside the cafe as “heavy with pungent aroma of cannabis” while people openly smoked joints and sipped coffee.
Photographs taken of the venue show that at first glance there was little to distinguish from any other independent café of the era – apart from the prominent ‘legalize’ sign on the wall and cannabis leaf motif decorations. There was also a bust of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair on the service counter with a joint in his mouth.
People ordered food and drinks and sat around playing cards, playing board games and chatting. The big difference was that weed was openly smoked at the venue. It took about ten minutes before it was raided by Greater Manchester Police. Officers stormed in, searched customers and arrested the cafe’s owner, however, the business was later allowed to reopen and continued to operate for several months.
The café attracted attention from media across the region and all over the country. We reported how ‘even on a rainy weekday afternoon there are more than 100 people inside’. The M.E.N also quoted a staff member who said: “This isn’t even busy – usually they are squashed in back to back. We don’t seem to have quiet spells. From 10am until 10pm it is packed.”
The visitors’ book included tributes such as ‘the most mellow place on Earth,” “the safe place 2 chill and get stoned all the time,” and “what we’ve all been waiting for”.
But, despite customers extolling the virtues of cannabis, not everyone was happy. One conventional Stockport café owner said: “It’s a nonsense the police allowed it to open in the first place, it’s having an adverse effect on Stockport’s reputation.
“People who sell drugs will start hanging around places like this – without the owners’ knowledge maybe – and you’ll get harder things than cannabis being sold.” He added: “And who is there to keep an eye on it all?”
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It wasn’t destined to last. In 2002, the cafe’s owner was jailed for three years after being found guilty of importing and supplying drugs.
In court, prosecutors said the café was an elaborate smokescreen for the trafficking of drugs from Holland. The Dutch Experience subsequently closed its doors for good.