Category Archives: travel

Spannabis Hemp Expo

WITH ITS warm, sunny climate and relaxed laws, Spain produces some of the world’s best weed and is now the biggest market for legal cannabis seed sales. The world’s largest cannabis and hemp trade fair, known as Spannabis, is held in Barcelona every February.

Spannabis features over 200 stalls and exhibitors of everything to do with cannabis, including hemp products, the latest hydro systems and grow gear, nutrients, marijuana magazines and law reform organisations, a huge number of seed companies, as well as bong merchants, grinder developers and more marijuana-related stuff than you could shake a spliff at. Spannabis is a great place to check out the latest developments, compare heaps of seed strains all in one place with the low down from the company owners and breeders, meet fellow potheads from throughout the world, and generally enjoy the laid back Spanish pot scene. It truly is an extravaganja!

I had arrived after a marathon series of flights and trains via Dubai and Paris. The expo hall was located in the depths of an industrial zone on the outskirts of the city and finding it was quite a mission. Eventually, the freaks began to outnumber the straights and I knew it must be near. A long line twisted out the front door for all of the three days the expo ran – organisers estimated the head count at 18,000 people. The interior had already filled with a sweet marijuana haze, and it was only for the first few hours that a lone security guard kept up the pretence of telling people to stub out their fat euro-style spliffs.

Over at the T.H.Seeds booth Adam had samples of Dark Star, the newest addition to their range. It’s a full indica that tested at 23 per cent THC at the last Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam. It was so strong, he said it sedated the judges too much to vote for it. This required verification of course!

Doug from HempHoodLamb showed off their new artic-canno range of jackets and said they had supplied Paul Watson of the Sea Shepard a custom bullet-proof version to help in their fight against the Japanese whaling in the Southern ocean.

Horticultural lighting company Lumatek ran a super-sweet VIP booth, up high over the crowds. It was a great place to chill out, share a laugh and uh, “network” with booth holders.

SPANNABIS 2010 AWARDS

BEST SEEDS – PYRAMID SEEDS
BEST STAND – LUMATEK GOLD LABEL
BEST PARAPHERNALIA PRODUCT – 00BOX
BEST HYDROPONIC PRODUCT – GENERAL
HYDROPONICS
BEST GROW PRODUCT – HUMBOLDT
NUTRIENTS, LÍNEA ORGÁNIC

The grow scene was heavily represented, with a massive variety of nutrients, grow tents, digital ballasts, infra-red proof wall linings, blade-less fans, as well as dozens of local cannabis seed
companies.

The guys at Humboldt Nutrients had a great range of specialisd products, while Dutch nutrient co Canna didn’t have anything for sale – their massive booth was actually a free bar as well as a THC testing service. Unlike the pee-in-a-cup kind we get here, they tested people’s favourite herb samples for THC and terpene content with a mobile GCMS machine and laboratory, the idea being to build up a database of cannabis strains to assist their development of even better products.

“Curro Knnabinoide” of the popular Spanish cannabis forum cannabiscafe.net told me that over the past twenty years there had been a big change to local home grown over imported Moroccan hash. Most Spanish smokers abide by a “homegrown” ethos meaning they grow their own and they neither buy nor sell it. I had noticed that this means there is plenty of excellent herb to share but comparatively little for sale, and for tourists (like me) scoring is surprisingly difficult. Still, that was not necessary when there were so many kind herby folk about, only too willing to show off their latest homegrown effort, or a seed company promoter trying to tempt you with their latest strain…

GROWING IN SPAIN

Spaniards have the luxury of being able to grow outdoors all year round. The feminised and autoflowering strains that have revolutionised growing around the world have had an even bigger impact on Spain, where seeds are legal. Spanish growers can just pop a feminised auto-flowering seed in the ground any time of the year, and come back in a certain number of days. The most popular local strain is Critical from Dinafem while Eva, Pyramid and Sweet Seeds are also huge. The relaxed legal environment means growing at home is really easy and safe for anyone to do, and it is not unusual to see healthy plants on people’s balconies. Hola!

See spannabis.com

[Originally published in NORML News Winter/Spring 2010]

Note: importing or possessing cannabis seed, or cultivating cannabis, is illegal in New Zealand.

Amsterdam’s THSeeds

T.H.Seeds have given themselves an ambitious target: “to protect genetics and serve mankind”.  They’ve done a good job so far, with their strains winning multiple cannabis cups and grown throughout the world. They also have a successful hemp clothing company. CHRIS FOWLIE caught up with founders Adam Dunn and Doug Mignola in Amsterdam.

Gidday Adam, tell us about your entries for the Cannabis Cup and how it went.

It went exactly as we planned we got really good feedback from people and everyone loved it. We are not really worried about the awards. We had one old variety, MK Ultra, which is a winner from 2003 so we just thought after 5 years bring it back out of retirement. The other one is Rambo which is a Sativa entry that has got some afghan in it [with] two types of Jamaican, called Most Wanted which is the Haze, and the other is 9 Month Skunk, a purple sativa skunk from the original hippy trail vibe.

What are your concerns about feminised seeds?

There is always a big hype for a moment and right now it is feminised. I think Hank was the first company with Dutch Passion to go for it and commercialise the whole process. Not to say the seeds are bad or anything, but over the years I kind of watched to see what the reaction was and I never got the feeling that you were getting the best out of it. I’m sure he made lots of money and sold millions of packs, but when you checked with people on how these things turned out a lot of times it was weak issues: not really the most potent of genetics and a lot of times the hybrid vigor was lost or something seems to be missing. And the reality is if you grow indoors you definitely don’t need feminised because you just need a mom. You also want a plant that is really strong and can be cloned for years on end without any problems.

If you are breeding dogs or birds or fish, anything, you are looking for the best breeders and they are usually the most male of all males or the most female of all females. You don’t want something that is somewhere in between, where it has either hemaphroditic tendencies and/or not robust enough for genetics to follow.

If you take a plant that is feminised it has had stress induced on it at some point, a generation or two ago, so if plants were forced to turn into male then that next generation will all be female – it is true – but the fact that they are all female doesn’t mean that they are all good. It means that they have to be female because there is only female information on top of female information. But it also means that any problems will be amplified just as any good things may be amplified. So if you have a problem with bug resistance or THC production or any of these things, if there is not something to create vigor like what you get with a male and female, you can end up losing in the long run not gaining, which is our whole game.

Also when you are making clones from the same plant over generations if you are starting with stress there is a good chance it will go hermy on you or won’t root as well. I have just seen so many more negative results than positive.

Is there a risk that feminised seeds might contaminate the gene pool and have unintended consequences down the track?

True. It is like what Ruderalis was back in the early 90s when it was a really hot thing and everybody wanted it. I never included it in our program because I felt if this gets in there is a chance that 10% or 5 % or more could come out with these “pretendicas” – duds that don’t have any resin content or the resin is not potent. It much easier to put something into your gene pool than it is to pull something out. Once it is in, it is in, and if you’re working a few generations down the road you can’t reverse it. So for us Ruderalis was never that interesting. It was in my mind back when I was a kid – I thought it was great, these little auto-flowering plants – and some companies have based their entire existence on an auto flowering situation. But it is kind of like making it too easy for the person who is the end user, and that’s not really the goal, it is more the preservation of genetics. Yeah you’re going to get a female, and yeah it’s going to flower automatically, and yeah it’s going to stay under your waist level. It is great for that guy who doesn’t know what he is doing. But for the people who really know what they are doing, the last thing they want is to have no control over a plant where it just automatically flowers and is automatically a female so you have no chance of making any of your own seeds. It would be nicer if you could, say, take a pack of Chocolate Chunk, and a pack of SAGE, cross them together and you’ve got Chocolate SAGE or something like that. You’ve given the option to the person to produce their own, and that’s a lot more interesting

What is the philosophy or point of difference for T.H.Seeds?

We were one of the first to recognise the American gene pool which is now dominating the whole scene around the world with strains like Kush and Sour Diesel.

When we started CIA in 1993 we had already heard about Sour Diesel from our friends New York. I didn’t actually really get to try it until I got it in 1997- 98. It was one of those plants that didn’t even get to the Cup until 2001-2002, and now all of a sudden everyone knows Sour Diesel. The reality is that East Coast of America, that’s like the Don, you know, and the West Coast it is the Kush, and actually both of those strains are interrelated. The Chem Dawg is the plant that produced both of those things. So our thing was to find these isolated strains that had been proven themselves via the local population. And that is what is nice. They are our testers, the people who do that breeding make it that much easier for us -they do all the preselection, although they don’t know what they are doing half the time, that’s the other problem.

What are your favourite strains?

Our top strains are SAGE and Bubble Gum. Bubble Gum was the first plant we introduced into the whole market. That was a situation where we were forced to work with what we had. We had seven different moms that we were working with, and we had a break in at the room, and somebody did all our pre-selection for us by killing everything down to the one plant that had one branch that had been left at the bottom, so that could be re-veged and kept. So the unfortunate part of that was it wasn’t particularly the best of all the Bubblegums, it was the one that made it through. So that was our first introduction into the reality that if you have something good maybe people might like it and might really want it!

Then we did SAGE. That was our friend in California who lived here at the time. He actually did most of the pre-selection here and he did a lot of it outdoors which was cool. Like literally a whole back yard full, and not even the best conditions, but at least you can see in the worst conditions how it can work so you actually learn more than if you did it in the best conditions. That’s the thing about Holland. We live in a shitty horrible country, it’s rainy, miserable and humid. Conditions are never good so that’s why we all grow indoors. But everything that you bring from here and bring into nicer conditions always does so much better, like “oh my god, look at that!”. You go to Spain and take that same seed, all the different flavours pop out, things you didn’t even know were there.

A lot of people grow outdoors in New Zealand. Which strains would you recommend for that?

Medicino Madness is our flagship outdoor strain, that’s seven week flowering – mid September for the northern hemisphere so probably [mid-March] for the southern hemisphere. So that’s the kind of guarantee, the money maker to make sure you can get your product out on time and be the first guy smoking, which helps! Then if you have the good conditions, Sage and Sour work really well, like in Spain and California they really love it. This year I’ve have been getting good results with Zero Gravity in California. SAGE does well if you have the conditions, but not here! I’m sure the North Island and South Island are completely different from each other so it’s probably a northern one.

What about for down the bottom of the South Island which would be equivalent to Scandinavia?

That would be the Mendo. That would be the only one I would guarantee, the rest would be a little bit borderline. That’s why we did the Rambo this year because we were looking for something else outdoor, with a bit more Sativa influence. It’s big outdoor producing and quick. In NoCal if something stands out, it means something because they are growing a lot of different weed there. Usually they just keep going through different varieties, until they find one or two. They’ll go through sixty per year, so that’s a much better testing ground than anywhere, because they have the medical clubs and people testing it.

So what are the future plans for T.H.Seeds?

Well next year it is sweet 16 so big parties probably! No, we’re at a situation where we have new packaging, new energy back in. We had a couple of years with the jackets taking off, it made it hard to concentrate on everything. We’re putting more focus on getting everything tightened up so that people get the best and it’s always guaranteed. Seeds are one of those industries that have expanded so fast. There’s a new company every day, but we’re in the location where people can come to our shop any time. We also want to be available to anyone anywhere, so hopefully open a new shop, why not!

For more info see www.thseeds.com & www.hempworks.nl

[Originally published in NORML News Spring 2009]

Amsterdam Special Report: “It’s just so civilised!”

Norml News editor CHRIS FOWLIE recently went to Amsterdam for the 21st annual High Times Cannabis Cup, where Kiwiseeds won Best Indica for their strain Mt Cook. Hash parties, reggae royalty, medical grows, magic mushrooms, dodgy shit and overblown egos, Cup week had it all. But as the largely American crowd were partying hard, local activists were fighting Government plans to crack down on coffeeshops.

Amsterdam is three flights and 30 hours away, but it is well worth the effort. Stepping off the plane feels like a weight being lifted. Freedom, at last! I was staying with Rob Clarke, legendary breeder and author of books such as Marijuana Botany and Hashish! He lives in a typical Dutch apartment – small yet comfy – conveniently located round the corner from the first Green House coffeeshop and with several others located nearby. But like most locals Rob had never ventured inside. Instead, there is better and cheaper stuff to be found direct from dealers, smugglers and growers, just like back home. He handed me an egg of Maroccan brown hash, “shaped for smuggling”. It soon softened and I set to work rolling my first legal joint since I was last here.

Rob briefed me on what to expect. Strictly speaking, cannabis is not actually legal in the Netherlands, but it is tolerated by authorities. Each local municipality is different, and the rules sometimes change depending on who is elected. Most cities including Amsterdam allow the sale of small amounts of cannabis to adults in coffeeshops. The is intended to break any link with hard drugs and minimise youth access, and has been remarkably successful. And it’s just so civilised to walk into a cannabis cafe selling all sorts of marijuana and hash from all around the world, after coming from New Zealand, the country with the highest cannabis arrest rate in the world. But things were going backward under a new conservative government. “You’ll see,” he warned.

Smoking tobacco in venues, bars and restaurants was banned last June. The Amsterdam city council hired over 100 inspectors to check that joints were pure marijuana, which may still be smoked inside. But many traditional ‘brown’ bars and cafes were rebelling against this and had put their ashtrays back out. Bartenders and coffeeshop dealers often told me it was not their job to check what I put in my joint. There was widespread resentment at the new law, even among people who did not smoke tobacco, but the irony of being allowed to smoke marijuana inside while not allowed tobacco was impossible to ignore.

While I was there the government announced 43 Amsterdam coffeeshops within 250m of a school would have to close by 2011, including the original Bulldog Cafe and the Mellow Yellow. Local police and school principals opposed the plan, arguing the coffeeshops checked for ID and kids could not be served. The coffeeshops would be replaced by street dealers, they said. The issue dominated the media for several days and the coverage was a lot more intelligent and rational than what we would get in New Zealand. After all, Dutch journalists, like the rest of the country, have lived with this policy for thirty years and they know it works better than anything else.

Coffeeshop CRACKDOWN

The sale of marijuana is not actually legal in the Netherlands, but tolerated according to rules set down by local councils. Amsterdam’s coffeeshops follow the “AHOYG” rules: No Alcohol, No Hard drugs, No “Overlast” (nuisance), No Youth (R18), and a Gram limit (5g per sale, 500g allowed on premises). Added to this is a new rule: no tobacco. The Council has employed inspectors to make sure joints have no tobacco in them. During Cannabis Cup week, the Government announced another rule that Amsterdam coffeeshops may not be within 250m of a school. This will cause the closure of 43 of the city’s 220-odd coffeeshops, as the council will not allow them to move. The sale of magic mushrooms was banned on December 1, even though locals noted the only problems are with tourists from oppressive countries. The city council has also been purchasing prostitute’s windows in the red light district and replacing them with artist’s studios and fashion stores in an effort to ‘clean up’ the area, which is actually cleaner and safer than most other cities including here in NZ.

Even though cannabis is legally on sale to adults in over 200 outlets across the city, Dutch teenagers seem to have little interest in it or any other drug. They have some of the lowest use rates in the world. I didn’t see a single one even peek into a coffeeshop, let alone try to be served, and I spent a lot of time in them (for research purposes, of course).

And the timing of this step backwards? It was opening day of the 21st High Times Cannabis Cup. As local marijuana activists were scrambling to conduct media interviews and mobilise whatever support they could get, 2500 excited ganja tourists arrived in town for the cup.

Cup fever

Cup week starts at an expo centre on the outskirts of town called the Powerzone, and from there judges visit the various coffeeshops that have entered strains. I had been loaned a bike by Bret and Jackie of Ganja Tours, who show people around the city in a ganja friendly way. Bret offered to show me the way to the cup. There really is nothing quite like biking around the beautiful streets of Amsterdam while high as a kite, even if it was snowing at the time!

Hundreds of cold but excited judges were huddling in the snow outside the expo hall as they waited for the doors to open. A friend of Rob’s got us some backstage passes and we headed inside.

The hall was filled with stalls run by seed companies, coffeeshops and related businesses. THSeeds had a contest called the Trichome Challenge, which involved a six-foot glass bong, a teaspoon of trichome crystals, a large video screen and a close-up on red boggling eyes. Only a few people kept the lungful of potent vapours down without coughing. Both THSeeds and DNA Genetics had potent cannabis mouth sprays. THSeeds called their spray, made from ice hash of their cup-winning strain MK Ultra dissolved in alcohol, ‘M-Spray Ultra’. The DNA spray, dubbed Pocket Alchemy, was made in California and brought over on the plane. In fact it seemed many people brought weed with them, especially medical users from California, and a lot of people were buying seeds to take back home. THSeeds even entered some outdoor Cali weed called Rambo in the Sativa Cup. The 500 gram entry was sent by regular mail, but was intercepted by Dutch customs, who then let it through anyway. Maybe they were coming to the cup too.

One table at the cup featured a row of 3-foot high quality custom RooR bongs, valued at several hundred euros each. A Volcano Vaporizer filled huge 15-foot balloon which were was passed round. There was even a Canadian guy by the door doing spots! He was promoting a spotting bong that he had produced called the Hooter. Soma held court upstairs, with samples of his Lavender strain while accomplice Wax rolled huge trumpet joints that were wrapped with a snake of fresh ice hash. Seed companies such as Kiwiseeds, Green Life, Dutch Passion, DNA Genetics, Delta-9 Labs, Green House and Barney’s all gave away copious amounts of marijuana to entice the judges to vote for them.

There was certainly a great party atmosphere at the expo. The room quickly filled smoke from many potent and aromatic strains, and the chatter of excited first timers, joyful anticipation from seasoned hands, and reunions of old friends. It was certainly an honour and a privilege for me to meet so many cannabis activists and entrepreneurs, including grow guru Jorge Cervantes, Sadhu Sam the Skunk man, pot photographer Barge, the Kiwiseeds crew, Arjan from the Green House, Simon from Serious Seeds, Mila, Bubbleman, Arthur from Cones, Martin from Roor bongs, as well as their friendly, intelligent staff and all the keen judges from around the world. As more than one remarked, they weren’t really there for the cup but for the other people who come for the cup.

I wandered over to talk to Bubbleman and he asked me to find him some ice so he could make some hash. At the bar they pointed backstage. Here’s my chance, I thought. That’s where the huge piles of weed will be, and my ‘backstage’ pass can get me there! But there was no security, just a curtain and beyond that a dark concrete room with broken stacked chairs and an old ice machine under a pile of junk. After watching Bubbleman’s demonstration, involving weed, ice, a small washing machine and silk screen filters, it was time for the official opening ceremony. This was as you’d expect: a very hippy affair, complete with chakra opening, weird horn blowing and the
lighting of candles.

The theme for this year was reggae, and cup week was filled with great parties. The Green House had Bob Marley’s youngest son Ky-Mani performing in the Melkweg, one of the city’s first coffeeshops. The next night THSeeds held an underground party, while rivals DNA Genetics had the official cup party featuring LA-based hip hop outfit Dilated Peoples. Barney’s sponsored a party at the Melkweg featuring legendary reggae band Steel Pulse, and Peter Tosh was honoured into the High Times Counter Culture Hall of Fame. With his son Andrew performing alongside Ky-Mani Marley and Bunny Wailer’s daughter CenC Love, all the original Wailers were represented.

Winning strains

The award ceremony was held at the cup expo centre, backed up by Andrew Tosh, Bushman and Cannabis Cup regular Rocker T, who one wry observer noted, was “killing reggae one song at a time”. He was so bad you had to be there to believe it. One of the first cups awarded was the Indica Cup. This is a seed company category, which means a blind taste test by a panel of judges, as opposed to the coffeeshop cups which are decided by popular vote. These are thought to be more open to bribery and are dominated by whichever company spends the most money on promoting themselves and giving away the most marijuana. The seed company Indica and Sativa cups are therefore held in higher esteem. It was an honour to be there to witness Kiwiseeds winning the Indica Cup for their strain Mt Cook. While some rivals disputed the result, one of the judging panel later told me it really was a clear winner. It had the best flavour, they came back to it first and they consumed it first. The other cups were dominated by Barney’s and Green House, who were rumoured to spend something like 250,000 euros on their cup campaigns. I think they did have really nice marijuana and hashes, just not the best that I saw that week!

WINNING STRAINS – 2008 CANNABIS CUP RESULTS
Overall Cannabis Cup
1st: The Greenhouse – Super Lemon Haze
2nd: Barney’s – Utopia Haze
3rd: The Green Place – Chocolope
Indica Cup
1st: Kiwiseeds – Mt. Cook
2nd: Homegrown Fantaseeds – Cheese
3rd: Amnesia Seeds – LSD
Sativa Cup
1st: Barney’s Farm – Utopia Haze
2nd: Paradise Seeds – De La Haze
3rd: Resin Seeds – Cannatonic
Import Hash Cup
1st: Barney’s – Triple Zero
2nd: Greenhouse – Super Polm
3rd: Amnesia – Shiraz
Dutch Hash Cup
1st: Barney’s – Royal Jelly
2nd: The Greenhouse – Greenhouse Ice
3rd: Grey Area – Grey Crystal
Product Cup
1st=: Barney’s – BC Chillum / DNA – Pocket Alchemy Spray
2nd: Bubbleman – Bubble Bags
3rd: Herborizer – Glass Vaporizer
Best Booth
Barney’s
Glass Cup
1st: DNA Genetics – AK
2nd: Roor – Mr. Nice
3rd: Green Devil – MOE

Local activism

Cup week also marked the 10th anniversary of the Cannabis College, an educational facility supported by several of the ‘good guys’ of the Amsterdam scene such as Ben Dronkers from Sensi Seeds and Eddie from Flying Dutchmen. They organised a full program of events including a film festival, hemp gallery opening, a parade as well as a symposium at the national parliament in the Hague, but Cup organisers would not let them promote it in their events. I couldn’t quite understand this, as the visiting judges would surely enjoy experiencing this side of Amsterdam, and both sides seemed worse off by not working together. The gallery opening in particular was impressive and interesting. Ben Dronkers has assembled a wonderful collection of cannabis and hemp artefacts, worthy of any museum, including original old masters, old medicine bottles, antique hemp processing equipment, as well as modern plastics and composites made from hemp (I hope to be able to bring you photos and a story in an future issue).

After the hazy crazy times of cup week abated, I headed to Den Hague to visit the Dutch parliament and attend the ‘Cannabis Tribunaal’ organised by local activists. Ben Dronkers had put up 250,000 euros as a prize for anyone who could prove cannabis has more negative effects than positive effects. Needless to say, the prize was not won. Speaker after speaker attested to the harms of cannabis prohibition and the benefits of the Dutch approach. Vaporisers were handily set up in the foyer, with a balcony allocated for smoking joints. It was truly refreshing to openly consume cannabis inside the Dutch Parliament, especially as the Tweed Kamer (upper house) was in session upstairs.

The fun times were short-lived. The following week a ban on the sale of magic mushrooms came into place. Dutch drug policy, like in other countries, is often not based on evidence but can also be political in nature. The advantage of their policy of ‘tolerance’ is that the rules can be altered by authorities in response to changing circumstances; the disadvantage is that policy can be held captive by small extremist coalition partners, as is currently the case. Having said that, the Netherlands is still the best place to see sensible drug policies in action. I can’t imagine anyone visiting Holland with an open mind and return still supporting our insane drug laws.

For the worldwide marijuana culture, Amsterdam is our marijuana Mecca, and every proud consumer – or doubting prohibitionist – should make the pilgrimage at least once in their life.

As for me, I can’t wait to go back.

In upcoming issues I’ll bring you interviews with Kiwiseeds, DNA Genetics, Serious Seeds, THSeeds, Bubble Man, Mila from the Pollinator, Wernard Brunning who pioneered the first coffeeshop, Marco from Treating Yourself magazine, the Cannabis College, and more!

[Originally published in NORML News Autumn 2009]

 

Legends of Hashish

The best party of cup week was not part of the Cup. Legends of Hashish is an invite-only private party held at a Lebanese Restaurant. Everyone there is a cannabis legend in their own right, and everyone brings a piece to show off.

It was astounding.

The worst piece in the room was better than anything at the cup or in any coffeeshop.

Pipes and bongs filled with all sorts of hashes were continually passed around the room and the nice thing about smoking hash is that you don’t get sleepy.

To really set the scene, videos taken in Afghanistan in the 1980’s were playing on a large television screen. They showed mullahs and very traditional looking Afghan dudes crumbling about 50 grams of hash into these huge stand-up water bongs they call Chillums. These are ornately beaded and feature a large sculpted cone called a sarcona. The guys were very serious about the task before them and wanted to talk to god, which they apparently did. Many fell over and started spasming or vomiting then going into a trance dance.

After a while I could tell the whole room was thinking the same thing: “and I thought I was hard. How do these guys do it?”

Then two of these huge waterpipes were wheeled out. Rob handed me a lump of vintage Afghani hash and asked me to break it up. Barge set to work on the Maroccan. The Chairman sat by the chillum, pouring a fresh spoon full of 1988 Hindu Kush ice hash on top for every person. As he explained to me, in the 1980’s they selected the original Hindu Kush and Skunk #1 mother plants from a kilo of seeds they had smuggled out of Afghanistan. They grew the lot out and selected only those two plants, which they have kept alive as mothers ever since.

The sarcona cones were filled with about 25 grams of hash each: Maroccan layered over Nepali layered over Afghan, with that magic 20-year-old Hindu Kush ice hash on top. Several people fell over after taking a hit, and everyone agreed it was the most high they had ever been – me included!

It was such an amazing night that it would be impossible for the cup to compare, no matter what they pulled out of the bag.

World tour: conclusion and links

By Chris Fowlie, President, NORML New Zealand, 2002

Drug policy has little if any impact on whether people choose to use drugs or not, but it does effect how much harm an individual and their community is exposed to.

The Government claims the current policy is one of “harm minimisation”, yet criminalisation does not stop people using cannabis, it fails to prevent harms that may be associated with it’s use, and it creates more problems than it prevents. The Government spends over $50 million per year criminalising more than ten thousand mostly young people for a herb that is normal to use and proven to be less harmful than alcohol or tobacco. Prohibiting such a popular and benign past-time forces cannabis buyers to score from criminals, which fuels organised crime and official corruption, creates disrespect for the law, and in turn undermines drug education and prevention efforts.

The American alcohol prohibition of the 1900s was repealed after a campaign by Mothers Against Prohibition, who said “Save Our Children: End Prohibition”. This “noble experiment” that had attempted to ban alcohol – which is, like cannabis, a socially acceptable and widely used drug – had only created powerful mobsters who engaged in open warfare with police and used children in their distribution chain as well as their customer base. Prohibition failed to reduce alcohol use, but did increase the harm to users who were forced to fraternise with criminals and drink poisonous “moonshine” alcohol.

We can see the same situation in New Zealand today. Cannabis prohibition has created mobsters who will sell cannabis of unknown safety and purity to anyone, regardless of age. Rather than controlling cannabis, prohibition removes all control and places it in the hands of those prepared to break the law. Cannabis prohibition has also failed to reduce use, with half the country prepared to admit they have tried cannabis. Few people today would agree that anyone should be arrested for smoking a joint.

Having now passed the coffeeshop training course and investigated cannabis policies in North America and Europe, it is apparent that in contrast to the lack of control prohibition has given us, society can have the most control over the way cannabis is used by regulating and licensing outlets in a similar way to how we regulate the sale of alcohol and tobacco.

I believe it is only a matter of time before coffeeshops are open in New Zealand. However, every jurisdiction that now has a progressive drug policy, has that as a result of dedicated and principled people putting ideas into action, rather than the pipe dream of governments one day coming to their senses and ending the war on drug users.

I have said I intend to open a coffeeshop when I return to New Zealand later this year, but I am not seeking a confrontation. I would like to work with the authorities and will apply to the government for a license. The Misuse of Drugs Act allows licenses for the consumption of a controlled drug to be issued for the purposes of “research or study”. I agree that researching the effects of our drug policy is absolutely essential. It is a shameful indictment that we have tolerated cannabis prohibition for sixty years and it has never been researched properly, even though it is obvious to all that prohibition has failed. We should at least trial a coffeeshop – using the proven Dutch rules – and study whether such a system of controlled availability is an improvement over attempting to drive cannabis underground.

Having coffeeshops will allow consumers of cannabis to be educated about responsible cannabis use in a non-threatening environment. Coffeeshops will separate hundreds of thousands of cannabis buyers from unscrupulous hard drug sellers, will and make it difficult for teenagers to access cannabis, unlike the current situation. Allowing coffeeshops will improve community respect for the police and the law, and will allow both the harmful and therapeutic effects of cannabis to be discussed openly. Opening coffeeshops could save the taxpayer around NZ$50 million per year in law enforcement costs, and generate significant taxation revenues that could be dedicated to drug education, prevention and rehabilitation efforts. Licensing cannabis cafes will send the message that society can deal with widely used and socially acceptable drugs in a way that is consistent, rational and evidence-based.

I am confident that like in the Netherlands, Canada and the United Kingdom, once the first coffeeshop is open it will become obvious that cannabis prohibition has been a dreadful mistake. Or is that what some people are afraid of?

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Christiania: scandinavian haven

By Chris Fowlie

In the middle of Copenhagen (the “merchants haven”), in a former army barracks, is a 30-year communal squat of more than 1000 people whose most famous feature is an open air marijuana and hash marketplace.

Christiania was first squatted in 1971 and has been the centre of controversy ever since. Successive governments have constantly threatened to close the social experiment, but have never succeeded. The most well-known part of Christiania, and the second most visited tourist destination in Copenhagen after the Little Mermaid, is Pusher Street.

The name “Pusher Street” perhaps gives the impression of a seedy alley with touts trying to drag you off somewhere to stick a needle in your arm, but this could hardly be further from the truth. There are really only two rules: no hard drugs, and no photos. These two rules are emblazoned all over the walls, and are definitely to be followed if you don’t want to be physically removed. That’s why there are no photos for this story.

Pusher Street is lined with about 20 wooden booths which the dealers stand behind to offer their wares. Large bricks of exotic hash and buckets of marijuana from around the world are placed on the tables, and unlike in the Netherlands, the customers are welcome to handle the produce, which is very nice for someone who has never seen one brick of hash before, let alone 20 different kinds all lined up for inspection.

The dealers use gardening shears – or their teeth – to chop the hash, which is weighed in front of you. Most of the hash and grass I saw had come via the Netherlands, so it was more expensive than what you would pay there. They also had some Dansk weed so it was nice to try some of the local produce.

After making my purchases (thanks to The Dominion, once again!), I made my way to the Nemoland garden bar to enjoy a beer and a joint in the sun. Then I went next-door to the Moonfisher coffeeshop to work up an appetite for the wonderful vegetarian restaurant. On my way back to Pusher Street I checked out some of the many weird and wonderful hippie houses, and stopped at the delicious bakery for another munch before buying yet more marijuana just in case I might run out.

Despite appearances, the cannabis market is completely illegal and only barely tolerated. Police raids are not uncommon, and the gate to Christiania has a lookout to spot police entering the area. The week before I visited, police had raided Pusher Street and removed two of the dealer booths, although they left all the rest intact. It is also not uncommon for the police to set traps in the roads around Christiania, hoping to catch people leaving with a few newly-purchased grams of herb in their pockets.

However, it is still very rare to be arrested or charged for possessing small amounts of cannabis in Denmark. Even the Danish police realise there is nothing they can do, and like in Switzerland the irregular raids and occasional arrests are just put on to show that they are doing something. Perhaps the real reason for wanting to close Christiania is that they demonstrate by their very existence that people can live together without government involvement. If the Netherlands shows that we do not need harsh drug laws to have a sensible and respectful attitude to drugs, Christiania shows that we do not need harsh governments to be sensible and respectful to each other.

Germany: Uber Hanf

By Chris Fowlie

Germany was once thought to be on its way to becoming the next Netherlands, but it is now considered one of the harshest countries in Europe, with its citizens living in fear of roadside sweat tests and police sniffer dogs.

Having said that, it is rare to be prosecuted for possession, let alone go to jail for it, and there is a thriving German ganja culture with huge Hanf celebrations and parades all over the country.

In the northern cities of Hamburg and Berlin you can smoke reasonably openly and there are quasi-coffeeshops that keep really quiet in order to stay open. Hamburg police will tolerate up to 30 grams as a personal amount – it will be confiscated but no charges laid. The further south you go in Germany, the less tolerance there is, but even in Bavaria it would still be unusual to be arrested for possessing a small amount.

Pipes and bongs are legal even for cannabis use, and the stores selling them all appear to be doing a brisk trade. The Germans are also on the forefront of developing great vaporisers, with two excellent models, personally tried and tested by myself, called the Aromed and the Volcano. Both use electricity to heat the air which is drawn through the finely chopped herb. The Volcano fills a balloon, which is handy for medical users who may not always be able to use delicate nozzles and buttons.

The hemp industry is also big, but unlike in Switzerland, the German hemp is low-THC. Most of it is grown in the south and used to make nutritious food products. Hemp businesses have invested in processing plant and can now manufacture their own hemp clothing, insulation and building materials as well as hempseed foods and cosmetics.

Cannabis seeds were legal in Germany up to a couple of years ago, but they remain legal almost everywhere else in Europe so they are easy for Germans to get. Grow lights are sold next to bongs with no illusion about what they are for. Hash seems the most common form of cannabis, with the black hashes of India and Nepal preferred to the Moroccan. Marijuana seemed harder to come by, and much of it originates from the Netherlands and Switzerland.

The fact that Germany shares open borders with so many countries with liberal drug policies has a lot to do with their tolerance for possessing small amounts. They have no hope of stemming the flow of cannabis from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Austria, Czech, Poland, Denmark – all countries that have long stopped chasing cannabis smokers, so by tolerating cannabis smokers the police can concentrate on hard drugs.

Germany may be considered harsh by European standards, but it is still more tolerant than New Zealand. As the European Union becomes more of a united state, the German drug laws will move toward the rest of Europe – and even further ahead of New Zealand.

Switzerland: at home on the hemp farm

By Chris Fowlie

Swiss law says that smoking cannabis is illegal, but does not mention growing or selling it. This creates a unique situation where everything is kept hush-hush but right out in the open.

I had the pleasure of visiting a Swiss hemp farm near Bern. Ten thousand plants of Dutch and Swiss origin lay unfenced near a main road. The farmer told me he started by planting cuttings directly into the ground. This had two problems: getting enough cuttings ready all at the same time meant creating a large grow-room, and if you’re going to do that then you may as well continue growing under lights; and secondly the unseeded nature of the crop attracted thieves who stole substantial numbers of plants. He now just throws seeds over the ground and rips out the male plants as they appear. He can’t keep up with all the males, so the buds get seeded but only lightly. This is enough to deter any thieves, but it also means he can’t sell the seeded buds as they are.

Instead, he designed and built a hash-making machine, which is basically a rotating silk-screen drum about 1.5m diameter by 2.5m length. Inside the drum are fins to carry the plant material to the top of the drum as it tumbles. The silk screen is just the right size to let the THC-laden trichomes (or “crystals”) through, leaving the plant material behind. The machine will turn 40kg of cannabis plant into 2-4kg of hash in under an hour. This is completely legal as long as none of it is smoked, so to satisfy the authorities that his hemp is not actually for smoking, he also built a seed cleaning machine and an essential oil extractor.

This year’s European summer has been very wet, and when we visited it was following yet more rain, which had a disastrous effect on the hemp crop. Many of the plants were infected with a mould which was quickly spreading in the damp conditions. The weather was forecast to clear for the next week so a decision was made to wait for the sunshine then harvest the crop early, remove the mouldy parts and make hash from what was available.

I was told that the past three summers have been similar, with conditions too wet for the hemp blossoms to mature without getting mould or fungus. If this weather continues, Swiss hemp farming could be forced indoors and out of the mountains.

Switzerland: hemp and hash

In 2002 Chris Fowlie toured Europe where he researched cannabis policies and cultural practices. This article examines Switzerland, which is set to become the country with the world’s most progressive drug policy.

PUBLISHED IN NORML NEWS SUMMER 2003

While Switzerland leads Europe in reforming its drug laws and rolling back prohibition, back in New Zealand the new government has said it will maintain the same failed policy for at least another three years. Europeans can walk into stores and purchase their cannabis, but New Zealanders are considered by their government to be too stupid or inferior to have this level of freedom.

There are now well over 400 stores selling high-THC cannabis in Switzerland, officially for any reason other than smoking it, plus another 300-odd hemp farmers, processors and hash makers. Their fine produce keeps not only the locals happy, but also thousands of hemp enthusiasts from neighbouring Germany, France and Italy who cross the border in search of the legendary Swiss mountain high.

To get the low-down on how this situation came about, I visited the industry lobby group, Swiss Hemp Coordination (SHK), which also conveniently shares offices with CannaTrade and Swiss Hemp Times in Bern.

Roman of SHK told me there had been a long tradition of growing hemp in the Alps, but by the beginning of the 20th century there was little market for hemp and farming it there had largely stopped. In 1951 the Swiss introduced their first anti-drug laws following substantial post-war pressure from America. Smoking cannabis was forbidden just like in the rest of the world, although it was not made a punishable offence until 1971.

Things stayed much this way until 1993, when a legal advocate examined the drug laws and discovered that the prohibition on cannabis only applied to smoking it, and not to cultivating or possessing it. He advertised in some farmer’s journals seeking people to grow hemp for him. Eighty-five contacted him and in 1994 they grew 0.5-1 hectare each. The police looked at these fields of cannabis with interest, but they did not know what to do with it. Unfortunately, the legal advocate and the farmers also did not know what to do with it, and when harvest time came the advocate left the farmers to deal with it alone. About 60% of the crop rotted in the field, and many farmers lost money.

In 1995 some farmers continued to grow hemp and learnt how to process it. The first hemp stores also opened in this year, selling high-THC hemp flowers (buds) for example in aroma bags to put near your undies to make them smell nice, or to put in the bath, or just to look at. By 1997 there were hundreds of hemp stores all over Switzerland and some were so busy there were queues out the door.

Like everywhere else in the world, there is a huge demand for cannabis in Switzerland, but the difference here is that the government understands that punitive sanctions and harsh laws are pointless. This current trade is not considered problematic by anyone, other than that it is not technically legal, so the government decided to change the drug laws, not to try to get rid of the hemp outlets, but in order to control them.

The current situation is one of virtually no rules other than the prohibition on smoking cannabis. Outlets do not have clear rules and regulations to follow, and could be raided at any time. Shortly before I visited in early August, police had closed six stores in Zürich and another two in Bern. The police raids are more for show than effect, as other stores will soon open to replace them.

Every store I visited was full of customers and doing a brisk trade. The quality of the Swiss hemp was generally very good, with many Dutch strains available as well as lots of exciting local ones to sample. The prices were the cheapest I found in Europe, with a gram retailing for about 3-4 euros or half what you would pay in Amsterdam. In contrast to the Netherlands, most of the Swiss cannabis is grown outdoors, which made a really nice change for me as I prefer soaring outdoor Sativas to the heavy indica stone. A substantial amount is also grown in greenhouses, with the smallest proportion grown under lights.

There are other differences with the Dutch approach. Although there are many outlets to buy your hemp, there are very few places to smoke it, because it is the act of smoking that is the illegal part. Space cakes and cookies are still illegal, and it is also hard to find hash in the stores. Even the stores themselves can be hard to find, with many having no signage or just a hemp leaf sticker in the window.

In Bern I purchased an 8 gram greenhouse-grown Mango Bud that was sold just for sniffing, and then went across the road to buy some White Widow which was labelled that it was only to be put in the bath. I thought that would be a waste of a fine bud and smoked it instead, and it was only at that point that any law was broken.

The Swiss border towns have the busiest stores as many customers are from other countries. For instance, hemp stores in Geneva are frequented by the French, while the southern region of Ticino has many Italian visitors who have absolutely no interest in the mountains. The northern city of Basel straddles the German border and has about 70 stores selling hemp. It would be physically impossible for the German authorities to stop the flow of Swiss cannabis into their borders, as all people have to do is jump on the tram or even walk over the border.

The Swiss Government would like to make cannabis legal but that is against the 1961 international drug control treaty which they had signed, so they have come up with a solution that looks set to take them even further than the Netherlands. The Dutch tolerance policy came from the judicial system who did not want to prosecute people, but in Switzerland the tolerance policy is coming from the government and parliament. If we can say that the Netherlands turns a blind eye to their coffeeshops, the Swiss will be keeping their eyes open.

The new law will comply with international treaties by banning the cultivation, sale and possession of cannabis and cannabis seeds. Certainly on the face of it, this does sound much worse, however the regulations attached to the deliberately vague federal law will allow each canton to not punish people if they follow certain rules, for example, no exporting, no sales to minors and no advertising. This so-called “principle of opportunity” is a core part of the Swiss constitution which allows each local canton to interpret and apply federal regulations as it sees fit. Cantons have their own rights and substantial space to interpret the law. More conservative areas could decide to not allow even low-THC hemp sales, while areas with more liberal attitudes could license high-THC hemp sales subject to their own regulations. For instance, cantons could specify that hemp farms must be below a certain size, or not within 10km of a school, or whatever else they decided. Biel (near Bern) and Basel (near the German border) already have coffeeshops and these will probably be licensed legally.

The government’s bill will be voted on by the National Council, and if approved it will take effect in March 2003. It has already passed the more conservative Canton’s Council so the chances of it passing the bigger chamber are good. However if any changes are made to the draft bill by the National Council in September, the law will have to go back to the other two chambers and will not take effect in March.

This could be a real problem, because even more important for the government than the hemp laws are the heroin laws. The Swiss have a very progressive policy for opiate users which includes pure heroin on prescription, methadone programmes and clean injecting rooms, but this policy is only legal under an emergency temporary law that runs out in 2004. Because of this, there is substantial pressure to not make any changes to the draft law so that it can take effect before the temporary law runs out.

If that does happen the Swiss will be the only country in the world where cannabis sales will be regulated and controlled by law, and from that we could undoubtedly learn a lot.

The Dutch Experience, Manchester UK

By Chris Fowlie, President, NORML New Zealand, 2002

I crossed back over the channel and away from the Spanish sun to visit the Dutch Experience, the UK’s first genuine coffeeshop located in Stockport, near Manchester.

The Dutch Experience opened amidst a huge drugs debate and widely-expected cannabis law reform. Colin Davies and Nol van Schaik opened the Dutch Experience on September 15 last year as a medical marijuana club. They were immediately raided by police, who later threw Colin in jail without trial. Colin suffers from a broken back and takes cannabis for pain relief, but he had spent much of his time in prison chained to a hospital bed and on a morphine drip. Rather than giving up, a band of committed supporters stood firm against the injustice, kept the cafe open and after almost 40 arrests the police backed down and refused to arrest any more supporters even when they smoked cannabis in the police station lobby.

NORML President Chris Fowlie meets Dutch Experience Stockport founder Colin DaviesColin, who has already been acquitted twice on medical necessity grounds, was recently released from Strangeways Prison after the judge suggested the defence make a bail application on the grounds that he would be unlikely to serve any more time than the seven months he had already been behind bars, should he eventually be found guilty. The judge is the same judge who heard Colin’s previous trials and will also preside over his trial later this year. Strict bail conditions prevent Colin from visiting the Dutch Experience or his home town of Stockport, having any contact with his fellow defendants or giving interviews to the media. I briefly met with Colin and then later that week he was again arrested, this time for breaching bail conditions (he was found at his Stockport home by police). Colin was again released by the judge, and then police arrested him again before he even had a chance to leave the court. He was beaten in the courtroom by security guards after his back pain prevented him standing up. It seems the police would like to keep Colin imprisoned until his trial, which is due to start September 9 and run for six weeks at a cost of over one million pounds.

Dutch Experience, StockportMeanwhile the Dutch Experience coffeeshop remains open every day using the tried-and-true Dutch rules: R18, no hard drugs, no alcohol, no advertising, no nuisance and no large deals. The Stockport tourist office happily directs people to the cafe, who have never been cause for a complaint. Like many Dutch coffeeshops, the DE is part of a medi-weed system where social buyers subsidise free or cost-price marijuana for patients. The Dutch Experience has also improved the local cannabis market, with users reporting reduced prices and better quality.

Inside the Dutch Experience, StockportI took in my 5 pounds and passport photograph to become member 1089, signed the form that committed me to following the rules and declared that I am not a cop or an informant, and went out the back to the member’s room. This includes two essential features of a genuine Dutch coffeeshop – a table soccer machine and a dealer’s booth. The booth has been built to look like a machine so no-one can see who the dealer is. Customers put their membership card, money and request in one slot, and what they want drops out the other. The set up appears to conform to what the UK police keep saying about not tolerating “blatant open dealing”. What could be more discreet than whispering your order down a drainpipe in the back room of a cafe in a courtyard down a quiet street in a sleepy town in the north of England?

In early July 2002, after I had returned to London, Home Secretary David Blunkett confirmed that cannabis will be reclassified to Class C, which means possessing and using cannabis will remain an offence but people cannot be arrested or searched for it. This small-but-significant step means millions of British cannabis users no longer have to live in fear of the police. Cannabis seeds have always been legal in the UK and now indoor growing is really taking off as people forget their fears and inhibitions generated by the cannabis prohibition.

It is not all good news, however. When making the announcement, the British government capitulated to a small but vocal number of anti-drugs campaigners and the tabloid press and doubled the maximum sentence for dealing in cannabis from 5 years imprisonment to 14 years, with their only explanation that they wanted to “send a message” that they are not going “soft” on drugs. This contradictory policy shift – reduced penalties for using but increased penalties for dealing – has already confused the public. Unlike the Dutch policy, the new British policy will increase the link between cannabis and hard drugs instead of breaking it.

The so-called “gateway” effect is a result of the procedure of forcing cannabis buyers to shop in an illicit multi-drug market. This gateway effect therefore can only be broken at the point of supply, by separating the vast majority of people who only want to smoke cannabis from those dealers who want to sell them something else. The increased penalties will make friends less likely to want to sell to their mates because cannabis supply will be on a par with aggravated robbery and sexual assault. Cannabis users will therefore be more likely to have to resort to street dealers to score. Those street dealers will be more likely to offer hard drugs like crack as the penalties will be the same but the potential profit is much higher.

It was time to cross the North Sea and visit a Scandanavian haven where the hard and soft drug markets are separated – Christiania in Denmark.

France and Spain

By Chris Fowlie, President, NORML New Zealand, 2002

Leaving the land of the free

After the Amsterdam parade, I travelled through France to Spain, and noticed an instant and dramatic drop in quality. As the law changed from tolerant to intolerant, the hash went from soft and fudgey to hard and black. This cannot be good for the health of millions of cannabis consumers in these countries.

France is often thought of as one of the most prohibitionist countries in Europe, but under recent governments they have in fact been quietly moving toward a more tolerant policy over the past few years. That said, it’s still a real come-down after the Netherlands and about the only highlight for a pot smoking tour of Paris – aside from the opportunity to smoke a joint at Jim Morrison’s grave or up the Eiffel tower, as I did – is the Musee du Fumeur or Smoking Museum. They have a great selection of books (if you can read French) and several live plants in a grow room.

Musee de fumar, Paris Musee de fumar growroom

What got me excited however, was a new French cannabis-orientated CD compilation called Cannabissimo. The beginning of track 7 features a reefer madness quote sampled from John Banks of all people, recorded at the ALCP’s Smoke-out the Beehive parliamentary session that kicked off our 1996 campaign. It was such a bizarre synchronicity I had to buy the CD.

Chris toking in spain I headed to Barcelona in Spain where the sun shines and cannabis is effectively decriminalised. Like many countries, the law still says marijuana is illegal but personal amounts and up to 5 plants are tolerated. The scene is a lot more relaxed and few people are paranoid about smoking or growing. Cannabis seeds are legal and so all the grow stores sell them. The cannabis-related industry in Spain does seem very big, with nationwide chains of grow and pipe stores. There is also helpful graffiti on many walls; black squares warn where police cameras are operating and weed leafs adorn dealing areas.

Moroccan hash in SpainA huge amount of hash comes through Spain but most is not good enough to be sold in the Dutch coffeeshops so it is turned into “soap bars”, which are notorious for being made with anything from engine oil to sand, and then sent to other countries that don’t have coffeeshops.

I bought some nice soft hash from a traditional Maroccan tea shop and went to a place called the Down Beat Reggae Club. The Nyahbingi Sound System played with an ensemble of brass and MCs and it was very irie indeed. On my way back I walked past a cop searching someone and it reminded me of what had happened to me on K Rd exactly a year ago and had eventually brought me here now. “Is this xocolát?” asked the cop, pointing to a small lump in his hand (they call hash chocolate). I didn’t linger to find out what happened, but it reminded me that a tolerance policy is only as good as the individual police who choose to enforce the law or not.

I crossed back over the channel and away from the Spanish sun to visit the Dutch Experience, the UK’s first genuine coffeeshop located in Stockport, near Manchester.

Amsterdam Legalize Parade, Netherlands

By Chris Fowlie, President, NORML New Zealand, 2002

The Dutch do not celebrate J Day with the rest of the world, partly because they have already achieved what the rest of us want, but mostly because the first Saturday in May is also the Dutch independence day. Marijuana festivities were instead held Saturday June 8 with a Legalize! parade through the city to a waterfront party involving about a dozen sound systems on trucks.

Legalize parade Legalize parade

The parade grew to thousands of people from all walks of life dancing their way through the streets in a celebration of all things cannabis. When we finally reached the empty lot by the waterfront the trucks spread out in a circle and the techno, trance, dub and house sound systems competed for the crowd.

Jan and the De Verdamper crew from the Dordrect Weed Cup were there with what is quite possibly the world’s largest vaporiser. It features a heat gun that filled an excessively-large glass water bong with THC vapour and yes, it does deliver a tasty and healthy hit.

Legalize parade portable battery powered vaporiser
Legalize parade Chris Fowlie tries the worlds largest vaporiser

After the Amsterdam parade I traveled through France to Spain.

Dordrect Weed Cup, Netherlands

By Chris Fowlie, President, NORML New Zealand, 2002

I decided to celebrate passing the Haarlem Coffeeshop College course with a trip to Dordrect for the annual Weed Cup.

Dordrect Weed Cup

The 8th Annual Dordrect Weed Cup was held on a large boat that cruised for six hours through more than 100km of ports and waterways from Dordrect to Rotterdam and back. Unlike the High Times Cannabis Cup, this is a grower’s cup so no coffeeshops or seed companies can enter. It is a test of the grower’s skills more than the genetics, and a very laid-back and sociable occasion.

Jan on board the Weed Cup boatThe sun was shining, bands and djs played on the three levels of the boat and there was lots of weed to smoke. The Dutch marijuana community was well represented, with people from Pollinator, Hemperium, Gypsey Nirvana, KC Brains, Sensi Seeds, High Life and Mountain High all relaxing and enjoying the good weather and great ganga.

Judges at the Weed CupThe judging was by a lucky panel who got to examine all the anonymous samples and grade them for smell, taste, appearance, trimming and effect. Rather than smoking all forty entries, samples were vaporised and the air sniffed and snorted so the judges didn’t get incapacitated by cannabinoid overload.

Eagle Bill on board the Weed Cup boatNext to the judge’s table the crew from De Verdamper were offering hits on their vaporisers. On the upper deck chief judge and veteran vaporiser Eagle Bill was using a machine with a heat gun to inflate a large balloon with THC vapour and induce said cannabinoid overload in as many people as possible.

Gypsey Nirvana buds at the Weed CupAt the end of the day, the winner was a Mexican Haze, a sativa grown organically by a non-smoking and heavily pregnant mother who wasn’t even there in case she went into labour on the boat. Congratulations to her, and thanks to Jan from the Dordrect Grow Shop for organising the Weed Cup.

After the cup I stayed with my friend Arjan, who I first met at Auckland University through the Norml club and over many shared joints in the Upper Common Room. Dutch tolerance for personal cultivation extends to five plants, and Arjan had waited until I arrived to harvest his crop of Snow White and Jack Widow. We could see through the loupé that the trichome cells were bursting with resin. After a night stored next to some silica gel it was ready to smoke.

The cuttings had been organised through the local grow store, and if he had grown too much for himself, Arjan could always sell the excess to the local coffeeshop for a little pocket money. It is estimated that around 75% of the Dutch supply is small-scale home growers supplementing their income, but before the coffeeshops there was only the hash smuggled by drug cartels.

Back to Amsterdam for the Legalize Parade.

Haarlem Coffeeshop College, Netherlands

By Chris Fowlie, President, NORML New Zealand, 2002

Just ten minutes by train from Amsterdam, the quiet town of Haarlem is providing a model example to the rest of the world of how coffeeshops can best be run.

Nol van Schaik runs Haarlem’s three Willie Wortel coffeeshops and Maruska der Blaauw the Global Hemp Museum. Together with Wernard Brunning, who opened the very first coffeeshop in 1972, they have started a coffeeshop training course. As soon as I heard, I knew I had to go.

Haarlem Cannabizness

Chris Fowlie with Nol van SchaikThe Coffeeshop College “cannabizness” course aims to export the successful Dutch coffeeshop model around the world. It was started after Nol co-founded the Dutch Experience coffeeshop in Stockport UK with medical marijuana advocate Colin Davies and sparked huge interest all around the world.

Courses are scheduled for the last week of each month, but this time I was the only student to turn up which meant I had personal one-on-one tuition and the opportunity to structure classes to teach me exactly what I needed to know.

First came the theory and the development of the Dutch policy. There is a common perception that the Dutch Government must have thought of the idea but actually the first moves were from brave and principled people acting in defiance of the law.

The Lowland Seed Company started it all in 1969 when they sold and gave away thousands of cannabis seedlings from a barge near the centre of Amsterdam, in order to convince people to grow their own.

Then in 1972, Wernard and his friends opened the Mellow Yellow, with one house dealer sitting in front of the bar like a customer. Less than ten grams in pre-bagged deals was kept in an old jacket hanging on the wall and nearby a sign read “The management is not responsible for people’s belongings left on the premises”. If the jacket was ever found it had nothing to do with the cafe and there was nothing the police could do.

After five attempts the police gave up raiding the Mellow Yellow and it was followed by the Bulldog, the Milkyweg and others. Eventually the government, police and health authorities all agreed that the coffeeshops were a good thing, and formalised the tolerance policy with licenses, regulations and regular inspections. The point is that if the Dutch pot pioneers had waited for coffeeshops to happen, they may still have been waiting.

Dutch cannabis policy was designed primarily to separate the markets for pot and hard drugs and best protect young people. The Mayor sets the rules and so they vary slightly in each municipality. Haarlem’s 16 cannabis cafes have worked closely with the council and the police and their AHOYG rules have since been widely copied by other municipalities: The A is for no Alcohol, H for no Hard drugs, O means no Overlast or nuisance, Y is no Youth, meaning those under 18 (it used to be 16, and now those youth who are potentially the most vulnerable in society go to criminals to get their cannabis), and the G is for the Gram limit. Coffeeshops are supposed to hold no more than 500 grams in total and limit individual sales to less than 5 grams.

Dealer at Willie Wortels Vending machine at Willie Wortels

Amsterdam gives coffeeshops the option of selling alcohol if they want, while Haarlem, like most towns, does not. Amsterdam also has a policy of wanting to reduce the number of coffeeshops over time by revoking their permits for even the tiniest infraction. This certainly keeps the coffeeshops on their toes and following the rules. If the rules are not followed, the coffeeshops are given yellow cards like in football. Finding an underage person on the premises brings one card, and possibly being forced to close for a week, while hard drugs will attract three cards and instant closure.

One of the oddest aspects of the Dutch tolerance policy is that it does not apply to commercial growers. Coffeeshops can sell out the front door, but there is no lawful way for them to get supplies in the back door. Seeds are legal, and so the coffeeshops work with the grow stores to develop ’grow circles’, where home growers share tips and expertise and coordinate their grow cycles and varieties so the coffeeshop is kept in a constant supply. All this must be done in secret just like in New Zealand, although the grow stores are very social places and there’s no pretending that all the gear is for tomatoes.

Chris at the microscope Hash by Nol

After the theory we got on with the practical. Lessons in judging and inspecting cannabis were done with the help of a loupé and digital microscope, and a smoke or two. It was fascinating to compare Nepalese temple balls with Maroccan hash and local keif, and to see the increased trichome density in a sativa haze compared to an indica skunk. I was taught a battery of tests for judging the quality of hash, none of which involved actually smoking it.

Then we covered the practical aspects of running a cafe and bar, with job schedules, storage control, hygiene, and guidelines for staff and management. I did two practical shifts, one behind the coffee bar and the other in the dealer’s booth.

Chris Dealing Chris making coffee

It was a wonderful experience to legally sell the world’s finest marijuana and hash to more than fifty consenting adults. Willie Wortels sells 13 types of grass (most popular: Power Plant and Sage), 10 types of hash and 9 types of machine-rolled joints. The grass is mostly locally grown Nederweit while the hash is mostly imported from the far corners of the world, although locals are increasingly making water hash and compressed “polm” from their crystal-coated bud trimmings.

Dutch coffeeshops have protected the health of their customers by ensuring only quality (mostly organic) produce are sold. All coffeeshops want a good reputation and they cannot get away with selling inferior hash or marijuana because their customers will come back and complain, unlike with an illegal dealer.

Mediweed PotchocWillie Wortel’s participates in the Medi Weit programme that offers half price cannabis to medical users. Growers are also encouraged to donate 10% of their crop or even just the leaves to be pollinated or made into canna-chocolate. About 400 Dutch pharmacies also sell medical marijuana provided by the company Maripharm.

On a field trip to the Interpolm grow store in Haarlem we found a group of growers sharing stories around a Pollinator machine. This Dutch invention is a silk-screen drum that you fill with marijuana and as it spins the THC-containing trichomes fall through the screen to be collected underneath. A thick layer lined the tray and to my delight I was given a big bag to try. It doesn’t get much better – or healthier – than smoking pure trichomes with absolutely no plant matter. They can even be added to your bedtime cocoa or sprinkled on your cornflakes.

Trichome hot chocolate Close up of some trichomes

I had earlier met the inventor of the Pollinator, Mila, in Amsterdam. She showed me a ten foot-long model called the Pollinator Forever (“you shovel, it tumbles”) which some German researchers had ordered. The German government allowed them to work with THC for the medical research they were conducting, but would not let them import it or grow any plants to get it. They had worked out a way of turning CBD, which still occurs in low-THC hemp, into THC. They needed a lot, so they had ordered the biggest Pollinator in order to process a field of hemp into the THC they wanted. Just like the pot smokers, scientists too must find devious ways to get around the absurd prohibition on cannabis.

Our field trip continued to Amsterdam, where I put my new knowledge to use evaluating the coffeeshops. We also happened to meet the inventor of the joint rolling machine, which churns out 120 conical joints in 20 minutes with no saliva, a minimum of paper and the option of your store logo printed on them. It’s just so civilised here.

Chris takes the test Trying out the ROOR bong

Finally the end of the week came and it was time to sit the test. I passed with 93% correct, which was the highest score so far and probably makes me the most suitably qualified person to start a coffeeshop in New Zealand.

I decided to celebrate the occasion with a trip to Dordrect for the annual Weed Cup. >>
More Photos of the Wilie Wortel Coffeeshop in Haarlem

Dealer at Willie Wortels Machine at Willie Wortels
Tony the dealer at Willie Wortels Inside Willie Wortels
Jointjars at Willie Wortels Jointjars at Willie Wortels

Dealer at Willie Wortels

Amsterdam, Netherlands

By Chris Fowlie, President, NORML New Zealand, 2002

The Dutch constitution protects the right to “rush” so the use and possession of cannabis is not punishable, but contrary to appearances, coffeeshops are not actually legal in the Netherlands. They are tolerated, which means as long as they follow the rules the law against supply is not enforced. After thirty years of tolerating this blatant open dealing, the Dutch now have lower rates of using cannabis than the rest of Europe or New Zealand.

The coffeeshop policy has also achieved an excellent separation of the drug markets, with cannabis buyers no longer coming into contact with hard drug sellers, and this has put the Netherlands far ahead of the rest of the world with very low rates of hard drug use.

The Dutch are sensible and pragmatic, and say that society rests upon “pillars” of people and each, although different, supports society in their own way. If any are removed it weakens society as a whole. Dutch people recognise that cannabis consumers do not harm society in any way, so users are accepted and treated normally, although they don’t particularly like obnoxious tourists smoking up a storm in public. There are coffeeshops for that, and the Dutch social code of conduct says you’re supposed to use them. With that advice in mind I set out to visit as many coffeeshops as I could to sample their delectable delights, all in the name of research.

There are around 250 coffeeshops in Amsterdam and they cater to just about every taste. The better ones such as De Dampkring, Abraxas, Greenhouse and the Rockerij put a lot of effort into their decor, creating fantasy environments in which to while away the time. Better coffeeshops sell “over the scales”, meaning they sell exactly how much you want, and weigh it in front of you. This takes more time, so the tourist places that just want your money sell pre-bagged grass in fixed denominations, similar to a regular dealer.

Amsterdam Red Light DistrictMost tourists head for the red light area, which has the highest concentration of coffeeshops and is certainly worth visiting, but most coffeeshops there just want your money. Like McDonalds, the seats are not comfortable enough for you to want to stay long. As well as the tourist-orientated coffeeshops like the Grasshopper and the Bulldog, I would recommend heading to where the locals go, so look for ones named in Dutch instead of English; the prices and selection will be better, and you’ll get to sample some real Dutch culture. The Spui, Leidseplein and Waterloo areas are all nice, but get a map because you will get lost amongst all those canals. Everyone speaks English which makes life a lot easier when you’re really high.

There are also many smart shops and grow shops to check out. As well as advanced lighting and horticultural equipment, grow shops also sell cannabis seeds and you can smoke the end product in the store. Smart shops sell pipes, bongs, cannabis seeds, magic mushrooms and a huge variety of legal herbal highs, which are a much better alternative for someone who wants something other than cannabis than buying hard drugs off the street. The dosage is known and consistent, there is always a lot of information available and the stores are run by people who want to inform and educate their customers rather than rip them off.

Despite the neon signs, blatant open dealing, and freedom to choose your own drug, Amsterdam seemed a lot more civilised to me than Queen Street on a Friday night. There is certainly less public wastedness and much safer streets.

Just ten minutes by train from Amsterdam, the quiet town of Haarlem is providing a model example to the rest of the world of how coffeeshops can best be run.

Nol van Schaik runs Haarlem’s three Willie Wortel coffeeshops and Maruska der Blaauw the Global Hemp Museum. Together with Wernard Brunning, who opened the very first coffeeshop in 1972, they have started a coffeeshop training course. As soon as I heard, I knew I had to go. >>

London, UK

By Chris Fowlie, President, NORML New Zealand, 2002

J Day is now celebrated in over 150 cities around the world, and London is the biggest. The International Cannabis Coalition March and Festival is held in Brixton in the Lambeth police district where public pressure has forced police to stop arresting people for cannabis possession.

J-Day, London

I volunteered for the job of march steward which meant walking along the side of the march with an orange sash on. I caught up with Russell Cronin, pot author and medical marijuana coordinator for NORML when he lived in New Zealand last year. We donned our sashes, put on our happy faces with some herbal help, and set off from Kennington Park towards Brixton.

J Day main field J Day march with Russell Cronin
J Day stall menu J Day Rinky Dink Sound System

By the time we reached Brockley Green the march had grown to ten thousand people and in the end more than fifty thousand potheads filled the park along with ten sound systems in marquees and on stages. Ganja fairies greeted the crowds, most of whom donated a pound as they entered the park, and there was a huge array of market stalls and food on offer. In the hemp tent, in addition to hemp rope, clothing and foods, there were ganga flapjacks, falafels and pot chocolates. Dealers circulated through the crowd offering hash and skunk and pungent smoke clouds hung over the crowds. The police were nothing but smiles and made no arrests.

Lambeth Pilot Decriminalisation Scheme

Lambeth police have saved almost 3000 hours in the six months since they stopped arresting cannabis users – enough for two more officers on the beat to target hard drug dealers – and now the scheme is set to be expanded across the UK.

There have been some complaints about the scheme:

Cannabis users also complain that police have seized more people’s weed than before, even if they are not arresting them for it.

Some locals complain that street dealing appears to have increased as the dealers have came out of the shadows, but police have actually arrested more Class A dealers than ever before, and the number of robberies and muggings in Lambeth has halved since the scheme began.

There were also concerns expressed that outside dealers would move into the area and drug tourists would flock to score there, but on the contrary, an analysis of arrests by the Metropolitan Police has shown that people who live outside the Lambeth area make up a smaller proportion of drug arrests now than before the scheme began.

There have also been the familiar cries that not arresting adults who use cannabis sends a “green light” to children to also use cannabis, but Lambeth police contacted all schools in the area and found no incidents of cannabis use.

A survey of local residents found widespread support for the scheme, and drug treatment agencies in the area are also satisfied as they want to concentrate on hard drugs like crack and heroin.

I attended a community meeting in the Brixton Town Hall about the scheme, and found many locals want to have coffeeshops to get the dealers off the streets and provide safe environments for adults to responsibly use cannabis.

There are actually two coffeeshops already open in Brixton, both little known to the outside world and hard to find unless you know about them. Cafe Cairo is a really nice place with middle-eastern decor and plenty of large hookah pipes. You can smoke openly but not score. Go next door, and you can score at Sweetleaf, a Jamaican outfit that does a poor job of pretending to be a fruit shop. You must buy something from the shop – a banana or anything – and then you can go out the back where in the interests of research I spent some of The Dominion’s settlement money on some average-quality Jamaican weed from a really wasted yardie.

Chris has a session outside the House of Parliament, LondonAt the public meeting, Shane Collins, spokesperson for the Green Party Drugs Group, quizzed new police chief Brian Moore about why they had recently raided Sweetleaf but not Cafe Cairo. Many in the audience said it was racist, and a leaflet was circulating accusing Moore of once being part of a racist police social group, but Moore only said the now-standard police line of not being able to tolerate “blatant open dealing.” Their words are significant, meaning they can choose to tolerate anything that isn’t blatant open dealing, just don’t push it under their noses. Both cafes remain open, and in addition coffeeshops are also open in Stockport and Bornemouth with about a dozen more planned. Coffeeshops are strongly supported in opinion polls and seem inevitable.

The next week and by chance, David Hadorn arrived in town and we paid a visit to Tony’s Herbal Corner in King’s Cross. The shop itself does a good trade selling health foods, with the medical marijuana dispensary tucked away down a side street and upstairs. A video camera on the door means only members can get in. The menu offered a couple of Dutch skunks, outdoor Swiss sativa, Thai, Swazi, plus Afghan and Maroccan hash. There is a great THC balm to soothe your aches and pains away, and a rooftop ganga garden in full view of nearby offices which was truly a delight to behold. It appears this medical marijuana supply operation is being left alone by police. Tony even had six boxes of Swiss marijuana delivered to him after customs had initially stopped it. Again, this is not “blatant open” dealing that the police say they cannot tolerate; it is a medical marijuana dispensary that they can tolerate.

It was about time to investigate some blatant open dealing that is being tolerated, to see if it was better or worse than trying to force cannabis underground. I headed for Amsterdam. >>

Vancouver, Canada

By Chris Fowlie, President, NORML New Zealand, 2002

Chris visits Vancouver on the west coast of Canada. Features the Bubble Bag hash extraction system (pictured), Cannabis Culture publisher/seed mail order businessman Marc Emery, the BC Marijuana Party, cannabis-friendly cafes Blunt Brothers and Cafe Amsterdam, www.pot-tv.net, medical suppliers the Compassion Club, the Senate Special Committee on Drugs discussion paper, Philippe Lucas, founder of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society, David Hadorn, protesting outside the IDEAS conference, and the first annual Toker’s Bowl.

After the annual NORML conferenceheld in the medical marijuana capital of San Francisco, I headed north to Vancouver, home of the B.C. Bud and the city recently voted by High Times readers as the most marijuana-friendly place on earth.

Marc EmeryUpon arrival I called in to see Cannabis Culture publisher Marc Emery, who also owns a large marijuana seed mail-order company and funds most Canadian law reform efforts. I managed to arrive with impeccable timing. A potential supplier had sent over an ounce each of 25 different strains to Marc for his consideration. “Any kind of marijuana you’ve always wanted to try?” he asked, passing me a 3 foot colour-changing glass bong. I got to work immediately.

Hastings StreetThe next day I visited the downtown Hastings Street area which is home to Vancouver’s cannabis community. A couple of pot-friendly cafes and a seed store flank the BC Marijuana Party. It’s effectively a prohibition-free zone in this city where the law still says pot is illegal.

Blunt Brothers and Cafe Amsterdam don’t sell cannabis, but they will happily let adults use their glassed-walled smoking rooms. Vancouver has strict anti-tobacco laws that restrict any smoking indoors and these sort of rooms were first installed in a few bars around town. After several cannabis-related raids, the cannabis cafes argued that if bars could have tobacco smoking rooms then they should have pot smoking rooms, and the local police agreed. They have more important things to get on with, and can keep an eye on the cafes and visit them if necessary.

BC Marijuana PartyActivists at the BC Marijuana Party make sure everyone who visits gets to try their giant bongs. They have a great bookstore and house the studio for www.pot-tv.net, an internet site largely funded by Marc Emery that broadcasts pro-pot programmes over the internet. I caught up with Reverend Damuzi who I had met in New Zealand in 1999 when he covered the last election for Cannabis Culture magazine. Damuzi has a daily show on pot-tv.net and I was happy to be interviewed by him and give an update on what we have been up to in New Zealand.

Vancouver also has a thriving medical marijuana scene. Hillary Black runs the Compassion Club, which aims to provide “access to medical marijuana in an environment conducive to healing”. The Club has a good selection of organic cannabis, both indoor and outdoor, plus some hash and baked delights all at very reasonable prices, but only if you have a letter from your doctor. A registered non-profit society, the Compassion Club also offers naturopaths, massage, reiki and other alternative healing for their patients. They work closely with the health department and have pioneered systems of evaluating and monitoring patient’s med-pot usage and the effects of different strains.

Unlike the Californian medical clubs, the Vancouver Compassion Club does not have the protection of any law, but they do have around 2000 members and makes them almost untouchable by the authorities. They are, after all, only doing what the Canadian government has failed to do.

Two Supreme Courts, in Ontario and Alberta, have ruled that because the law does not distinguish between medical and recreational use of cannabis, it is unconstitutional and will be struck down. The Minister of Health responded by announcing they would provide medical marijuana on prescription. A $6.5 million contract was awarded to Prairie Plant Systems to grow the medical herb underground in an old mine shaft, but instead of using the standardised strains offered by seed companies such as Marc Emery’s, they took an unknown mix-bag of seeds from police seizures. While I was in Vancouver the news emerged that the whole crop will probably be destroyed as they have grown something like 180 different strains, all with varying cannabinoid profiles and therefore different therapeutic effects. Meanwhile, the Compassion Club already has a wealth of data they have collected from their patients about which particular strains work the best for their conditions…

While I was in Canada, the Senate Special Committee on Drugs released a discussion paper supporting marijuana decriminalisation, saying there is no scientific evidence that it leads to harder drugs. After more than a year of studying the issue, Committee chairman Sen. Pierre Claude Nolin said marijuana should be treated “more like alcohol or tobacco than like the harder drugs.”

Their inquiry report noted that “studies show that in the Netherlands, despite a more liberal approach than other countries, the proportion of youth using cannabis is not higher. In fact, it is in the middle of the pack… Public policies have little impact on use levels and patterns… Prohibition and criminalization entail a criminal record for simple cannabis possession, fuel a black market that brings young people into contact with criminal elements and force them to hide to avoid police scrutiny… Public policies also entail other negative effects. Prohibition makes public health approaches, balanced information, prevention and quality control of substances difficult, if not impossible.” The committee will issue their final report in August.

Chris on the Vancouver Island FerryIn the BC capital city of Victoria on near-by Vancouver Island, I paid a visit to Philippe Lucas, founder of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society (VICS). Phil is facing charges of intent to supply his 170 members after he reported a break-in at the club. Instead arresting the burglar and returning VICS’s stolen medi-weed, local police arrested Phil. An almost identical theft occurred at the Vancouver Compassion Club but they have 2000 members so their medical marijuana was returned by the police with no charges laid.

I attended the latest hearing in Phil’s ongoing trial at the Victoria courthouse. The judge seemed sympathetic and the prosecutor reluctant. A 45-minute documentary about Phil and the VICS called Crime of Compassion was played. In it, then-Minister of Health Allan Rock said “Philippe can show [the government] the way in this transition period… In the next round of regulations, we should recognise the clubs who have shown commitment, kindness and involvement at the community level.”

Phil’s lawyer James Conroy, who is also Canadian spokesperson for NORML, argued that Allan Rock was not just turning a blind eye, but “watching, encouraging and thanking Mr Lucas for his work and contribution.” Conroy asked Judge Higgenbottam for an absolute discharge “to send a message to police to stop arresting people with genuine medical need.” The prosecutor opposed, saying that since Phil continued to operate the the club, he was unrepentant. The judge wondered aloud whether remorse was such an appropriate measure with which to decide a discharge. He reserved his decision and we left the courthouse feeling quite confident of a good outcome.

In Victoria I was stayed with David Hadorn, who had initiated the Drug Policy Forum in New Zealand and was the principal author of their seminal 1998 report, Regulate and Tax Cannabis. Much of our conversation revolved around what policy we could make work in New Zealand. After much toking and talking, our ideas started to coalesce around a private club model, where smoking could be allowed inside member’s clubs similar to RSAs or sports clubs. The club would be private, behind closed doors and limited to adults. If you’re not a member you won’t get in without being invited, and if you don’t want to go there you don’t have to. Membership could also involve a test of knowledge of responsible cannabis use and adhering to a set of club rules defining appropriate behaviour.

David pointed out that the home grow model carries a potential risk in that if half a million pot smokers all grow a few plants at home or in the hills, there will be a lot of cannabis plants out there and therefore it could be argued that access by kids could become even easier than now. A private club could avoid this pitfall by doing all the growing on behalf of members in a secure environment. The members would pay their share of expenses and could either tend the plants themselves or have the club’s expert growers do it for them.

It’s a valid point, but after so many years of campaigning for the right to grow your own, I still wasn’t convinced this was the best policy that we would want the law changed to. After all, people can brew their own beer or distill hard liquor or grow tobacco and the only controls are being aged over 18 and not being able to sell the product without a license.

The iDEAs tank at the protestI got the ferry back to Vancouver in time for the IDEAS conference. This was a pro-War On Drugs event organised by an American outfit descended from Straight Inc, a “rehab” outfit that was closed after allegations of beatings and torture became public. The conference did not get much support in liberal ’Vansterdam’ and a bunch of activists mounted a noisy – and smokey – protest outside the plush hotel venue.

Bubble bags set upI had the good fortune while there to meet Mark, manufacturer of the Bubble Bag hash extraction system, and went back to his place for a demonstration. He lined a large bucket with six silk-screen bags, one inside the other, then filled it with water and ice. Mark then took two ounces of heads (leaf can also be used) and to my initial consternation he threw the buds in the water. “Relax,” he said, “just wait, you’ll like the hash better.”Bubble bag hashA hand-held cake mixer was used to agitate the icey water for twenty minutes in order to break the trichomes from the plant material. The trichomes separate more easily at colder temperatures so ice was liberally added. The mixture frothed up and then we let it settle for another twenty minutes or so. The screen of the first bag is wide enough to let only the trichomes and the water go though, so it contained all the plant material which we discarded. The next five bags yielded five different grades of hash, and the final 25 micron bag was mind-blowing! I was instantly sold on the idea: growers of New Zealand, get your bags and get making water hash!

The next day the first annual Toker’s Bowl kicked off. It was a three-day extravaganga hosted by Cannabis Culture and the Marijuana Party, with dozens of strains competing to be crowned the finest of the BC Bud. I caught the smoke-filled opening – Mark was there demonstrating his hash with a heat-gun vaporiser – but I couldn’t stay. I had a plane to catch to get to London in time for J Day.

San Francisco

First stop on my world tour was the NORML conference in San Francisco.

The first person I encountered stepping off the bus from the airport was a crack dealer with an outstretched palm full of rocks. “Want some crack?” he asked. Welcome to America, I thought.

I was staying with the manufacturer of the Eterra vaporiser we sell at The Hempstore. I arrived at a fortuitous time, because he was developing a new prototype called the Tulip. It is a hand-held device containing a coil heated by electricity. When you inhale air is drawn past the coil which heats it to just the right temperature to vaporise those trichomes that we love so much. I got to be guinea pig and test the vaporiser for all it was worth, which was a much better welcome to America than that skanky crack dealer.

I had a day to spare before the Norml conference so I paid a visit to Oakland, home of the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative. The OCBC, led by Jeff Jones, has been at the forefront of efforts to implement Proposition 215, the 1996 State ballot that legalised medical marijuana in California but did not specify how the supply should take place. While some counties and the Federal government continue to harass medical users, the Oakland County deputised Jones and the OCBC as city officials, giving them similar standing to police officers. When I visited, Jones was busy preparing for his latest court battle, this time appealing a US Supremthe Bulldoge Court ruling from last year that third-party clubs such as his could not use “medical necessity” as a defense to a charge under Federal law. That ruling had stopped the OCBC from dispensing marijuana to patients, so instead they act as a first stop for new patients to have their doctor’s recommendation verified and photo-ID card issued. Patients then go two doors down, past the grow shop, and show their card at The Bulldog Cafe or their choice of seven other dispensaries in the SF-Bay area that supply medical marijuana.

From the street the Bulldog, named in honour of the pioneering Amsterdam coffeeshop, looks like any other cafe although you might start to wonder why so many people keep heading out the back. You’ll need an OCBC ID card to get past the doorman to the dispensary, which offers an enticing menu with a half-dozen baggies of top-quality buds and several varieties of hash. This is medical marijuana – guaranteed organic – and a vaporiser is thoughtfully provided for the patients to use.

Norml conferenceMore than five hundred activists from the far pockets of North America attended the Norml conference, held at the 30-storey Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown San Francisco. We had all heard of California’s medical marijuana law and San Francisco’s liberal reputation and were keen to test it with some public displays of affection for our favourite plant. San Francisco District Attorney Terrence Hallinan opened the conference and declared it a sanctuary. “You have nothing to fear here,” he said, which made us all very happy indeed.

Hemp carLater that afternoon at the customary time of 4:20 the footpath outside was crowded with cannabis people of all shapes and sizes celebrating and socialising. Two cars running on hempseed oil were parked nearby, and police literally looked the other way whenever they passed. Among the crowd were patients sporting vials of medical marijuana labelled like you would get from the pharmacy. Irvin Rosenfeld and Elvy Musikka get their medical marijuana from the US Federal Government. There are only 8 left people on this special programme, and Irvin is the longest serving patient. He showed me his prescription medi-weed, and rather than good shit, I have to say it is just shit. The US Government holds on to the marijuana for two years before they give it to patients, so it is old and musty. It comes pre-rolled in 300-joint containers, but Irvin rerolls his to remove all the sticks and seeds. He much preferred the smell and taste of the California bud on offer, although he says no pot gets him stoned as the THC is used for therapeutic effects with none left to create a high.

A TV crew had interviewed Irvin earlier that day so at six o’clock we went to Irvin’s room to catch the news. It was a nice moment seeing him smoke 100% legal medical marijuana on the television and there right in front of me, both at the same time.

Chris with Richard CowanThe next day former NORML director Richard Cowan hosted an international panel and recounted to the conference all the countries around the world that are in the process of ending cannabis prohibition. “Americans need to pay more attention to what is going on around the world. Other countries have moved ahead of the so-called ’leader’ of the free world.”

I then gave a short talk to the conference about what we have been up to in New Zealand with the cannabis inquiry, having our first hemp crop and the world’s only Rastafarian MP. After that it seemed like everyone wanted to share their marijuana with the person who had traveled the furthest. I thought it would be rude to refuse.

HoneybudMy favourite was called Honeybud, and it was apparantly banned from the Cannabis Cup. The buds had been coated in pure THC, giving them the appearance of being dipped in honey. This stuff was so strong that I had not finished one gram by the time I left four days later. Honeybud goes for US$50 per gram and worth every penny.

Debbie Goldsworthy was an inspiration for all as she told us about the Cannabis Action Network and the Cannabis Consumers Union she set up at Berkerly University. The aim was to work within the “green area” to get cannabis users to a place where they are safe and the police are afraid to bust anyone. The Union mandated a sensible use programme, ran a good neighbours programme to keep the locals happy, made sure everyone was enrolled to vote so they would have political power, and collected 6,000 signatures of support to make the police think twice about doing anything. The arrest rate was halved and an open marijuana market allowed to flourish. She brought more good news to the conference: that morning the Cannabis Action Network had unveiled a huge 8m x 8m banner down the side of a building, reading “No war on patients: Californians say YES to medical marijAdvertuana”. It made the news that night too.

Prof. Craig Reinarman gave a presentation about the study he conducted with Peter Cohen comparing drug use rates in Amsterdam, San Francisco and Bremmen (Germany). The research found drug policies have no effect on drug use, other than taking a little longer to score. “The end result of spending US$17 billion on a drug war is to add about 3 hours 15 minutes to the time it takes to get drugs,” he concluded. “In the Netherlands marijuana use stops being demonised and starts to look just like one more cultural practice in a very sane society.”

That night the SF Patients Resource Centre kindly hosted a party for the conference delegates. It is a real hippie place, so we ate space cake, rolled fat joints and sang folk songs. Centre director Wayne Kuffman welcomed us like family and said “If there’s anything I can advise, it’s never give up hope.” His group worked hard to be responsible. They had produced the first patient ID card, got the city council to change the Health and Safety Code, drafted a resolution making SF a sanctuary.

norml conferenceThe next day at the conference, I got talking to Ed Rosenthal, author of many of the best grow books and the Ask Ed grow section in Cannabis Culture magazine. Ed has just been busted by the DEA and charged with being part of a grow circle for a California patients group. Even though State law says this is legal, Federal law still classifies cannabis alongside heroin and cocaine. Despite the risk of jail time looming, Ed was upbeat and even joined NORML New Zealand. I took great pleasure in welcoming him aboard and wished him the very best for his fight with Uncle Sam.

I also caught up with David Hadorn, the driving force behind the New Zealand Drug Policy Forum and current resident of Victoria, Canada. I was pleased to hear he will be spending more time in New Zealand and putting his many skills to work in our law reform movement. David introduced me to Philippe Lucas, director of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society, who is being prosecuted for his activities while the Canadian government has simultaneously given the go-ahead to medical marijuana on prescription. I decided to visit them both in Victoria, Canada, after the conference.

Keith Stroup of NORML USA speaksThe final day at the conference featured crowd-pleasing appearances by US canna-celebrities, and a lifetime achievement award was presented to drug education expert Marsha Rosenbaum of the Drug Policy Alliance (formerly the Lindesmith Centre). It was great to see her many contributions acknowledged. Marsha and DPA director Ethan Nadelmann came to New Zealand last November at the invitation of the Coalition for Cannabis Law Reform and did a great job testifying to the health select committee’s inquiry into cannabis.

Our other overseas experts, Peter Cohen from the University of Amsterdam and Alex Wodak of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation were also at the conference and it was nice to catch up with them as well as many other people from North American drug policy reform groups, such as Drugsense, MAP (who provide the database for norml.org.nz’s news page), DRC Net, Common Sense for Drug Policy, Marijuana Policy Project, Cannabis Action Network, Vote Hemp, and many of the Californian medical marijuana organisations. In between meeting people there were was an array of panels and forums discussing every aspect of cannabis and the law.

The conference closed with a wild party featuring a semi-naked 40-piece marching band and about a ton of marijuana.

Back in ‘Oaksterdam’ and around the corner from the Bulldog, Compassionate Caregivers has no sign and the doorman wouldn’t let me in without a doctor’s note. I returned to the Bulldog and met Jack Herer, who was in town for the Norml conference. The man at Compassionate Caregivers was all smiles for Mr Herer and we headed upstairs to investigate. Several display cases were bursting with dozens of varieties of marijuana, hash, kief, tinctures, brownies, muffins, chocolates, teas and cuttings for patients or their caregivers to grow. I shared a pipe with Jack on the rooftop ganga garden, and thought that San Francisco is a mighty fine place to be, especially if you have a note from your doctor.

I headed north to Vancouver, home of the B.C. Bud and the city recently voted by High Times readers as the most marijuana-friendly place on earth. >>

Links for more information:

NORML USA www.norml.org
Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative www.ocbc.org
Ed Rosenthal www.quickamerican.com
Drug Policy Alliance www.drugpolicy.org
Drugsense www.drugsense.org
Media Awareness Project (MAP) www.mapinc.org
Drug Reform Coordination Network www.drcnet.org
Common Sense for Drug Policy www.csdp.org
Marijuana Policy Project www.mpp.org
Vote Hemp www.votehemp.org
Jack Herer www.jackherer.com

 

NORML president passes Dutch coffeeshop course

NORML president passes Dutch coffeeshop course

Plans to open Cannabis Cafe in New Zealand
Published in NORML News, Winter 2002
(originally posted at http://norml.org.nz/News/chrisfowliecoffeshop.htm)

Chris Fowlie at the counter - student in training - click for more photos New Zealand NORML president Chris Fowlie has legally sold marijuana, been on Irish television, and passed the Coffeeshop College training course held in the Netherlands with the highest score yet.

The week-long Coffeeshop College course aims to teach budding canna-business people everything they need to know to run a cannabis cafe. It is run by Nol van Schaik, co-founder of the UK’s first cannabis café; Maruska de Bleuw, curator of the Global Hemp Museum; and Wernard Bruning who started Amsterdam’s first coffeeshop, the Mellow Yellow. The course includes intensive training on inspecting and evaluating top-quality hash and marijuana, safety and hygiene standards, cannabis harm reduction, the history and features of the Dutch coffeeshop policy, a field trip to some coffeeshops, and work experience in an actual cannabis café.

As part of the Coffeeshop College course, Chris legally weighed and sold about 50 deals of marijuana and hash over the counter of coffeeshop Willie Wortel’s Sativa, as he was interviewed by Irish TV and the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Chris earlier this year was acquitted of a charge of possession of 0.7 grams of cannabis. The ruling set a new precedent that should prevent police searching people based on their opinion that someone smells of cannabis. As part of that case, Chris was allegedly defamed by the Dominion. Their subsequent “donation” enabled him to enrol in the Coffeeshop College course and travel the world researching alternative drug policies on behalf of Green MP Nandor Tanczos.

So far, he has investigated the medical marijuana clubs in San Francisco, the cannabis-friendly cafes in Vancouver, the police practice of not arresting cannabis users in the London borough of Lambeth, the UK’s cannabis-friendly cafes in Brixton and Bornemouth, and coffeeshops in the Netherlands.

“After seeing all the different approaches, there is no doubt in my mind that coffeeshops provide the best model for the controlled availability of cannabis,” Chris said. “Dutch cannabis use rates are barely one third that in New Zealand. The Dutch police, government and healthcare workers are all happy with the coffeeshops.”

“When I return to New Zealand in September, I intend to apply to the Government for a license to open a coffeeshop, which would provide the best quality cannabis to adults in a safe, controlled environment. If they heed the scholarly research and the large majority of submissions presented to the inquiry, they should support having cannabis cafes. If not, I am sure it will happen anyway because it is the right thing to do and people want it.”

The first Dutch coffeeshops opened before decriminalisation took place, and they played a key role in getting the law relaxed.