Tag Archives: cannabis

Getting seedy

ALL ABOUT CANNABIS SEEDS

Many cannabis growers these days use cuttings (or ‘clones’), where one grower gives a cutting to another. As they are a part of the original ‘Mother’ plant, cuttings have the exact same genetics – but what if you want something new? MR FANTASTICO investigates.

There are a myriad of cannabis strains from all over the world, and ultimately it is the seeds of these plants that determine what is grown, smoked, consumed and shared. Getting new seeds means growers can select new plants to breed, cross with old favourites, or select new mother plants.

Seeds are sometimes found in bags of weed, or swapped between growers, but in both cases the recipient is unlikely to know for sure the heritage of the seeds. If growers want to be certain, the only way is by heading offshore to places of enlightened tolerance where seeds are legal and sold openly, like Holland, the UK or Canada.

Cannabis seeds are, however, completely illegal in New Zealand, and tucked away downunder in the far-flung corner of the globe, you might think it would be hard to get new cannabis genetics here. But like prohibition in general, authorities have proven ineffective at keeping cannabis seeds out of Aotearoa. After all, they are rather small, shipped by regular mail, and it is easy to order online from home, or an internet cafe across town.

Buying seeds

Cannabis seeds are a Class C controlled drug and being caught importing them could be serious. There are also plenty of stories online about dodgy seed merchants who sell any old seed labeled as the big names, or who don’t take care to package steathily, or who just take your money and send nothing. I’ve talked with many people over the years who have ordered seeds online, and they often tell me it’s better to go with seed company names they know and trust, like Sensi Seeds, Kiwiseeds, THSeeds, DNA Genetics, Serious Seeds, Dutch Passion, or their authorised distributors such as Nirvana, the Vancouver Seed Bank, and so on.

To reduce risk they often order from an internet cafe and pay using a pressie card or blank money order. They never order using their own name and never have it sent to where they are growing. One seed buyer told me about getting a friendly visit from Customs but he denied all knowledge of the seeds, and since it wasn’t his name there was nothing they could do. Other regular seed buyers told me Customs tend to find about 25% of their orders, but all they usually get is a letter (addressed to the fake name) saying not to do it again. Another said to think about mail volumes and how Customs works.

“There isn’t a lot of mail going between NZ and Holland,” she said, “but there is between NZ and the UK, and seeds are completely legal in the UK, so there are plenty of companies over there. There is also a fair amount of mail from Canada that tends to come straight to NZ or doesn’t go through a dozen countries on the way. My advice is to order from UK or Canadian companies, just make sure they sell in original packaging.”

What you get

Cannabis seeds are usually sold in branded packs of 5, 10 or 15 seeds of a particular variety. Cannabis has both male and female plants, and seeds could grow into either sex. Usually, growers only want female plants as these are higher in THC. However males are of interest to breeders or growers who want to produce seed for future crops.

When you order seeds of a strain called ‘X’, usually only the mother will have been ‘X’ and the father will be something different – often a Haze or G13. This is because if the seed company sold you female ‘X’ crossed with male ‘X’, your seeds would be 100% ‘X’ genetics, and this would mean not only would you have no reason to ever go back to them, you could also go into seed production in competition with the seed company who sold them to you. They actually cross the female you are buying with another male, so in a pack of seeds you will get some variation. Some seeds will have more of the mother’s genetics, some will have more of the father’s genetics, and some will be in between. This difference in displayed characteristics is known as the phenotype. Usually you will notice one or two main phenotypes, with possibly several more. However there is also a good side: hydrid vigour.

Seeds produced by a cross of different plants will grow faster and stronger than clones or seed produced from parents that are genetically identical. The exception to this is strains labelled ‘true breeding stock’. These will usually be classic old strains like Northern Lights, Mexican Sativa or Blueberry.

Storing seeds
Cannabis seeds should be kept in a dry, cool, dark place. The lower the humidity, the longer seeds will remain viable. Ensure seeds are kept in an airtight container. Film canisters are great – just put some silica gel in there to remove moisture.

Feminised seeds

For the past decade seed companies have been selling so-called “feminised” seeds, which contain only female genetics so only produce female plants. For growers who don’t want to breed they are a tempting option as they eliminate the risk of missing a male which could seed their entire crop.

The first company to develop and market feminised seeds was Dutch Passion, in 1998. Since then the steadily increasing demand has forced almost every other company to follow suit.

Feminised seeds are the result of marijuana’s remarkable survival mechanism – stress the plant enough and it will pollinate itself rather than die. Breeders stress out a female plant to the point where it turns hermaphrodite, using harsh conditions and most commonly a diluted solution of Silver Nitrate (AgNO3) or alternatively a hormone spray called Stamen-It. This is sprayed on the female plant early in the growing cycle, forcing it to start growing male flowers within the female buds. The pollen from those (genetically female) male flowers is then used to pollinate another healthy female plant, that has not been adulterated by the chemicals. The seeds from that plant will then be feminised.

Most customers get 100% female plants, but sometimes a few seeds do grow into hermies. This is because environmental factors have such a huge influence, that in stressful circumstances even feminised seeds may not grow into female plants.

Some breeders take it a step further, by growing out their first round of feminised seed under harsh conditions, then selecting plants that resist the tendency to turn hermaphrodite, then using those to produce seed, and repeat the cycle again as necessary.

So what’s the big deal? Feminised seeds are great for outdoor growers who don’t want to produce seed. They are also good for mother plant selection – buy a pack of seeds, knowing all will be female, and pick one or two to keep as mothers.

Feminised seeds are NOT intended for breeding, and it seems no one is quite sure what will happen when people do. Seed company owners I have spoken to were quietly worried about what they had unleashed on the world, but said the market demanded it, and if they didn’t they would lose market share to other companies that do. I got the impression they were worried a tendency for hermaphrodism could be put out into the wild where it could pop up in people’s outdoor drops, or float into indoor rooms through the air intake. So there is a responsibility that comes with planting feminised seed: grow it, consume it, but do not breed with it!

Feminised packs are marked with the female logo, and can be more than twice the price of regular seeds.

The other big innovation of recent years has been auto-flowering strains, and this year has seen the release of – you guessed it! – feminised anto-flowering strains.

Auto-Flowering seeds

Auto-flowering strains start flowering shortly after germination, regardless of the light cycle. Even under lights on 18 hours a day, they completely mature from seed to bud in only 60 days. Outdoors, yields will be low but the plant will flower automatically after a certain number of weeks, not just at the end of Autumn. Auto-flowerers are a new option for growers plagued by bud rot and mould caused by humid Autumn weather. Everyone has heard of sativa and indica being the two sub-species of cannabis, but there is also a third type called ruderalis. It is thought to predate the others, and evolved to reproduce year round, regardless of the daylight hours. These days cannabis ruderalis survives in Russia and East Europe, but early attempts at marketing it produced stunted, weak plants with varying potency. Some could barely be called drug varieties. Now breeders from Holland and Canada have crossed ruderalis with potent indicas and sativas, and using huge breeding programmes have managed to eliminate the weak genetics while keeping the auto-flowering trait.

The first true auto-flowerer to hit the market was Lowryder from the Joint Doctor, but this year has seen several new potent auto-flowering strains released, including Taiga and Tundra by Dutch Passion, Smurfberry from Sagamartha, and Roadrunner from Spain’s Dinafem Seeds.

Germinating seeds

Seeds need water, a little heat, and air to germinate (not light – it’s dark underground!). Some growers sew directly into the soil where they are planning to grow.

To increase the rate of germination, cannabis seeds can be first soaked overnight in a cup of water (rain or distilled water is best – some growers add 1% bleach to the water so they know it is sterile). Don’t soak seeds for more than 24 hours or they may rot.

Soaked seeds are placed between damp paper towels, or put directly into a rockwool cube, or a pot of fine, soilless mix.

Some growers use a plastic baggie or glad wrap to construct a ‘tent’ over their seeds, which keeps the humidity and temperature elevated. The cover is removed as soon as the first sprout appears.

Seeds usually germinate in 2-7 days, at temperatures around 20 deg C (higher temperatures can inhibit germination). When the seed germinates a white tap root is visible.

The tender sprouts are planted with the root facing down, under 1cm of fine soilless mix or seed raising medium. The planting medium is kept evenly moist, and watered with a dilute fertiliser solution.

Experiments have shown these factors can increase the ratio of female plants:

  • higher nitrogen in the seed bed and lower potassium levels
  • lower temperatures
  • higher humidity
  • more blue light in the spectrum
  • fewer daylight hours (eg 14 hours on, rather than 18)

Males are increased if the grow medium is not moist, as any environmental stress tends to produce more males.

Seed companies in Holland say Spain is up to 90% of their sales, so what they want has a huge influence on what is made available – and the Big Thing at the moment is feminised auto-flowering strains. Cannabis seeds are legal in Spain, and they have the good climate and tolerant laws to be able to grow openly outdoors. In towns and cities plants on terraces or balconies are a common sight. Now with the autoflowering feminised strains they can plant anywhere, any time of the year. They only have to mark their calendar and come back at that time, knowing the plant is female and is genetically programmed to flower at a certain time, regardless of daylight hours. Hola!

Auto-flowering feminised seeds will revolutionise growing for the smalltime personal grower, making guerilla ganja gardening even easier. They are particularly suited to people who just want a couple of easy plants on the deck, or growers who want to go into the bush or countryside, chuck some seeds into the ground, and just come back a certain time later. It should not be overlooked that the ability to plant year-round could put a massive spanner in the works of our constabulary’s annual helicopter recovery programme.

Auto-flowering strains are also good for indoor growers who want to have plants at different stages of growth under the same lamp. Normally mothers are kept under 24 hours lighting, vegetative plants might be under 18 hours light, and budding plants will be under 12 hours light, but an auto-flowerering plant could be matured in the same room as a regular mother receiving 24hr light.

However auto-flowering strains are not suited for growers seeking mother plants to take cuttings. They won’t get a stable mother, because the plant will start to bud regardless of what light cycle it is kept in. In balance, they are probably not much good for indoor growers at all. The whole point about growing indoors is they can control everything about the environment. A key part of this is using the light cycle to induce flowering at the time of their choice. A strain that flowers automatically takes away that choice.

Also, unless they keep mother plants, people who buy feminised strains will need to go back to the seed company for new seeds every time – which gives you some idea why many of the seed companies love them!

Ultimately whether people choose to use auto-flowering and/or feminised seeds will depend to a large extent on what value they place on being easy compared to having more control. I tend to think a couple of auto-flowerers in the back yard will probably fit a lot of people’s lifestyles and we’ll probably see more of them around New Zealand in the not too distant future.

Note: Although legal in many countries, the acquisition, purchase or possession of cannabis seeds is illegal in New Zealand. It is also illegal to cultivate cannabis here and in much of the world. Consult your local laws.

[Originally published in NORML News Spring 2009 under the pseudonym “Mr Fantastico”]

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]

 

Answering objections to natural medicinal cannabis

OPPONENTS of patients being able to medicate with natural herbal cannabis, including our own Ministry of Health, can no longer ignore its medical effectiveness. Instead, they deny relief to seriously ill people by hiding behind smokescreens and circular arguments. CHRIS FOWLIE explains.

The Ministry of Health supports allowing the cannabis-extract Sativex. This in itself is not a bad thing. Sativex is, after all, a natural extract made from whole cannabis. Its genetics are based on quality Sensi Seed Bank stock. But it’s not yet available in New Zealand – and it’s not for everyone. Sativex has a fixed ratio of just two cannabinoids, whereas the variety of cannabis strains allow patients to pick and choose to match strains to symptoms. And Sativex is expensive – an estimated cost of $150-$300 per week, with no sign Pharmac will offer any funding.

Smoking

Objectors to herbal cannabis say smoking anything must be bad. That assumes all smoke is smoke, but cannabis smoke is different: for a start, it contains THC, a powerful antioxidant with tumour-fighting abilities. THC kick-starts the lung’s immune response, and clears the lungs. Several large-scale studies have thus found cannabis-only smokers to be more healthy than even non-smokers!

Next they talk about cannabis smokers taking deep breaths and holding it in longer. But it is the vastly-inflated value caused by its illegal status that forces tokers to maximise the bang for their buck. If cannabis cost the same as tobacco ($20 per ounce including taxes), we’d see a more relaxed smoking style.

Even if we accept anti-smoking arguments, herbal cannabis does not have to be smoked. Patients can avoid smoke entirely by growing cannabis and turning it into foods, drinks or tinctures, or even skin creams or massage oils. They can use a vaporiser to get the instant effect and dose control of inhalation without any smoke at all.

Standard dosages

The next objection that is usually raised is that there can be no standardisation or dosage control with herbal cannabis. But smoking actually provides patients with very precise dosage control, due to the instant onset of effects. Furthermore, baked foods, drinks, candies, chocolates, elixirs and tinctures can all be easily made to a standard recipe that delivers a product of known strength. Anyone who can follow a recipe can do it. For larger-scale production, places overseas have
met patient need by licensing community groups, pharmacies or local companies to produce natural extracts or tinctures of known strength. The Dutch licensed several companies to provide standardised natural cannabis to pharmacies there. The varieties all have fixed and known quantities of active ingredients and are sterilised to be free of mould or fungus. It is that not hard to do, and could easily be done here.

Home invasions

Finally, those who object to herbal medicinal cannabis eventually say that allowing patients to grow their own would expose them to risk of robbery or home invasion, acknowledging that the current drug law creates crime and violence. Regardless, many patients are already growing their own, but are denied any protection. If their medicine is stolen they can’t go to the police. Patients are forced to engage with the illicit market and the risks that go with that. Places overseas that allow patients to grow their own or nominate someone else to do it for them have not noted increased violence of thefts from patients. To the contrary, allowing patients to grow their own is the best way to safely meet their needs.

(NORML News Autumn 2008)

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.

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.

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