Las Vegas & Amsterdam
With recreational cannabis taking off in Las Vegas, will Sin City soon rival Amsterdam, Europe’s cannabis capital? Both have long been considered vice-indulging destinations, and having traveled to each place, it’s clear they offer visitors similarly endless avenues for debauchery. Could Vegas soon dismantle Amsterdam’s claim to fame as the weed and vice capital of the world, or will these cities forever be united in their respective avenues of depravity.
Amsterdam has been synonymous with weed since the 1970s, when the government ceased to officially criminalize the drug. It wasn’t legal, but gedogen, a Dutch term that, as author Russell Shorto explains, means “technically illegal, but officially tolerated.” There are cannabis cafes throughout the city, typically referred to coffee shops. They are so prevalent that most restaurants have signs specifying no indoor smoking—and they’re not referring to cigarettes. Unfortunately, with the rise of gun violence aimed at coffee shops (most incidents occur after the shops are closed, however) and Party for Freedom house leader Geert Wilders’ anti-coffee shop stance, the future of cannabis in Amsterdam is unclear.
In Las Vegas, however, the recreational cannabis industry is just getting started. The medical market has been in operation since 2015, and recreational began in July of 2017. Although it remains unknown if visitors will ever be able to puff away while playing cards at the casino, plans are currently in the works. Public consumption has been an issue in every legalized state, and particularly vexing for tourists who travel specifically to purchase marijuana, yet can’t legally consume in public or their hotel rooms. The Clark County Green Ribbon panel, which consists of leaders in Nevada’s gaming and cannabis industries, respectively, hopes to one day see consumption lounges in casinos and hotels. Tourists could consume in style and comfort, mirroring the Dutch practice that led to its reputation as a cannabis mecca.
Like most European countries, sex isn’t a taboo topic in the Netherlands. In our Westerpark Airbnb, my friend and I found a porno sandwiched between Bridget Jones’s Diary and Love Actually in the DVD library, seemingly at home among the other romcoms. Amsterdam is host to numerous sex shops, sex museums and the Rossebuurt, or Red Light District. Perhaps most well-known in the district are the women behind glass windows—walking through a condensed few square blocks, more than 300 windows, most of them on street-level, reveal scantily-clad women waiting for business. The district was bustling with tourists when I visited, all seemingly hoping to get a peek of the strange sight, including families and a surprising number of young children. The atmosphere was lively, even amiable. My friend and I decided to check out the Casa Rosso, famous for its sex shows and welcoming attitude. For €50 you get a ticket to a show that goes on all night—you can stay as long as you like, although the 90-minute program repeats itself—and drinks pour in unlimited fashion from the bar.
My first-hand knowledge of the Red Light scene in Vegas is less colorful. Nevada’s legal brothels aren’t as accessible as they are in the Red Light District in Amsterdam, which is centrally located. In the state of Nevada, counties with less than 700,000 residents can host brothels, which excludes Las Vegas’ Clark County. Those looking for legal sex work must therefore travel outside the city limits to one of nearly twenty brothels in the state. Escort services and strip clubs are easily accessible on the main Vegas drag, however, and remain a staple of the economy, if not the main reason many travel to the city. A Bachelor and Bachelorette party destination, the Vegas sex industry may be less accessible than that of the Rossebuurt, but is almost synonymous with the city itself.
Will Vegas become the new vice capital of the world? Who knows how Vegas’ transition to recreational cannabis will fare, and if it can match Amsterdam’s status as a ganja paradise. Here’s hoping Vegas rec goes smoothly and safely, and allows tourists yet another level of fun in Sin City. Is it the new Amsterdam? Well, yes and no. Would I prefer to go to Amsterdam rather than Las Vegas? Of course. In Amsterdam, tears welled in my eyes as I stood mere inches from Tree Roots, believed by scholars to be Van Gogh’s last painting before his death. In Las Vegas, I puked in a hotel lobby bathroom while “Cheeseburger in Paradise” blared above me. And yet, as with everything, the experience in either town is what you make of it. You can go to Amsterdam and view fine art, or a sex show; you can go to Vegas to see award-winning performances, or lose your kid’s college fund on a game of Craps. Can one replace the other? You’ll never know until you visit. So get packing!
Read more about Las Vegas: