Category Archives: Worldwide weed

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,, 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, 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 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’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:

Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative
Ed Rosenthal
Drug Policy Alliance
Media Awareness Project (MAP)
Drug Reform Coordination Network
Common Sense for Drug Policy
Marijuana Policy Project
Vote Hemp
Jack Herer


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

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.