Tag Archives: coffeeshop

Dutch Coffeeshop Pioneer – Interview with Wernard Bruining

The Dutch policy of tolerating the sale of cannabis to adults is well known. Their separation of cannabis consumers from those who sell other drugs led to one of the lowest rates of hard drug use in the world. Still controversial and subject to constant tweaking, the lowland nation remains resolutely determined their policy is the best in the world. It all began with one man in 1973.

Chris: You opened the first coffee shop in Amsterdam, the Mellow Yellow. How did it all start?

Wernard: In the old days in Holland, everybody who was smoking was a bit of a dealer. So when you had ten smokers there was always a couple of guys that knew where to get the dope from and who were the guys that were buying it and sold part of it to their friends. The whole trick was to have at the end of the day a piece for yourself that was free to smoke. Like everywhere is even today, we have the same kind of situation.

In those days there were places where there were a lot of smokers, vegetarian restaurants, foodstores, coffeeshops, cafes, things like that and that meant that were also a lot of dealers – sometimes in the coffee shops there were like twenty dealers at various stages and prices. Our idea was to end that all and to have a coffee shop with just one dealer, who is one of us of course, who is sitting in front of the bar pretending to be just a customer. In those days police couldn’t shut a shop down just because somebody was found in there dealing. So that was the big lie let’s say.

The other thing that we did was we treated hash and grass the same like you treat Bountys or Mars Bars. You go to a big store and you buy a big box and then you sell them one by one. So we brought a kilo of this, a kilo that, and then cut it up into pieces of ten and 25 gilders, put it in plastic bags and then thought that the problem was solved, and that that was the golden coffee shop formula because that made it accessible to everybody.

Now suddenly everybody could go to a coffee shop and buy hash and grass and you did not need to know a lot about hash and grass itself. You could just go to the one guy who is sitting at the bar and ask what have you got, and he mentions all these words “I’ve got Nepalese and afghan and this and that” and so on. Then you just reply just give me ten gilders of that Nepalese and then you got ten gilders of the Nepalese. Before that you needed to know what it was, what the variety was, what the price was what a good price was, you had to bargain the price, things like that – that was all over. Now suddenly everyone could come and score.

So within a couple of months we had a lot of customers. Sometimes customers lined up outside on the pavement and of course that attracted attention from a lot of our visitors and friends who saw us doing that and thought this is a good trick that these guys found we can do it also and we can do it better. So that is when coffee shops like Restaurant and The Bulldog started and they did it better, you know, because they were much more efficient than we were. We were just interesting in having a free smoke for ourselves.

Like a social club. What was the authorities reaction when you first started?

Well, in the beginning we kept a low profile.

Even with the line of customers out the door?

Yes. Because tolerance only functions when you voluntarily restrict yourselves. That is why we called our shop not a coffee shop but a tea house, so that the outside world knew that is was not just a regular shop, but that there was something fishy going on in there. Better not know! That worked fine. It was about four or five years before we had our first bust. I opened up the shop in 1973 and the first bust we had in 1976 or so.

We were prepared. We had our stash hidden and we had certain systems to prevent them from finding the stash or the motherload and things like that, and that worked. We had about 3 or 4 busts and they never found our stash. The dealer they just arrested him and kept him for a couple of hours but then he had to appear in court or whatever 6 months or a year later and we didn’t care about that.

Were you ever the dealer?

Yes sometimes. I didn’t like it that much! It always had somebody who was doing it for me. I preferred to be the bar man so I had lots more communication possibilities and more time to play football – I like table football! Whenever it was quiet, I would rush downstairs and play table football and table football is one of the things that go better when you smoke! Because you need to focus completely on the game and forget about everyone else. When you’re high it goes very well, it increases your pleasure.

What was it about the time or place that allowed the tolerance to occur?

First because nobody knew we existed, and the place was named Mellow Yellow and Mellow Yellow was the title of a song by Donavon. It was about when you had nothing to smoke you could fry banana peel and smoke those and only the insiders know what the title meant. So we figured that when we called our shop Mellow Yellow outsiders would think “its just that Donavon song” and insiders would know “oh that’s something to do with smoking”. So we kept a low profile for the first couple of years – nobody knew we existed. The phenomena of police busting coffee shops started after they busted us a couple of times. After that [busting people] became an industry.

How long did that continue and what made them stop?

Well, they busted us three of four times and then in 1978 we had a fire in our shop and I was looking for other things to do because I was getting bored. I had a friend in America who said come and see me and after the fire I suddenly had a lot of time. I booked a flight and went to the States and saw my American friend and I noticed something totally new. I saw Americans who were smoking and dealing marijuana that was grown in America. Then we realised that the marijuana the Americans were growing was better than the third world country grass. They were getting like $10,000 per kilo. If you would get maybe a dollar a gram for Dutch grass that was fantastic, and nobody was even willing to even pay that and imported grass wasn’t much better.

Our hippy idea was that marijuana growing would be successful and cannabis would never go away.

So in the beginning we just brought a couple of kilos in our bags to Holland. Nobody suspected anybody to take drugs from America to Holland so there was not chance for anybody to check. In the beginning we would smoke that and sell whatever excess we had. Now we had this huge group of expanding coffee shops now and the product needs to be smuggled in to Holland and it would be a good idea if we teach the Dutch to grow their own. So we asked an old man who was 65 at that time [“Old Ed”] who was a grower just busted in America – why don’t you come over to Holland and help us grow this marijuana? We will do two things – we will sell it to the coffee shops and then I’ll talk to the Dutch and say you can grow it yourself and if you don’t believe it you can go to the coffee shop and pay a lot of money. So that is how I convinced the Dutch that it was worthwhile to grow marijuana in Holland using the special seeds we have. We call ourselves the green team and it took us five years to convince the Dutch people – from 1980 to 1985.

In 1985 my green team was expanding constantly with foreigners who also wanted to try this successful thing that we were doing. In ‘85 we were growing 200 kilos per year and I was selling it in the coffee shops.

If the police had caught you what would have happened?

Our first bust was in 1983 – that was a policeman that came up with his bike. We had a farm in Freisland and in the front of the farm we had small fake vegetable gardens, and in the back we had a lot of tall trees, and behind the tress there was huge plants growing. We had 1000 kilo of plants that year and this policeman came up in his bicycle while we were doing our fake vegetable garden, and says “Hi guys what are you doing here?” and we said “we are just growing vegetables and enjoying the outside country life”. And he said “well, I don’t know what you are doing here and I don’t want to know it either. But I want to tell you one thing – whatever you did last year you shouldn’t try to do it again this year”. And we were like “oh what are you taking about?” and then he left. It took him maybe ten minutes, this whole conversations, but in a way he busted us because we moved maybe 1000 females that we had in the back – that weren’t that big maybe fifty centimetres – but we could never harvest at this place. So we had to find other locations and we found 10, 20, 30 different locations. We put our plants over there, we made deals with the local growers: You take care of the plants, harvest them and sell them and we’ll give them a cut of the profit. That is how we really started to expand.

Then in 1985, when we were 200 kilos a year, the green team was joined by other Americans who said we need to grow in greenhouses and the greenhouse need to be at least 5000 square metres and another voice said we need to grow in 5 greenhouse, and I thought well it’s not my cup of tea – I’m not into making money and I’m also not into becoming a criminal. It’s better these guys go out on their own and I go onto something else – I want to build the perfect football table and in order to that I needed to make money, so I started to make lights.

I was already importing lights from America. Then I got so much I decided to make my own reflectors and light systems. I had to employ a friend of mine to install these light systems, and that really was the beginning of Positronics, the first grow shop in Europe. Within seven years I had 60 people working for me, a newspaper, a restaurant. A big demand and lots of money but I wasn’t interested in money, I was interested in selling the idea of enriching your life by selling a few plants.

People came to our shop from all over Holland and all over Europe. Journalists came to our shop and it was fine for me, because I knew if I talked to a journalist for an hour they would go home and broadcast this thing and people would read about what I wanted to tell them. My record was one session with 60 minutes and it was 30 million viewers. Successful. And that is how the idea of growing your own marijuana spread really fast all around the world. Nederweit is now Euro weed. And our idea – our hippy idea – was that marijuana growing would be successful and cannabis would never go away. And that cannabis was an improvement of modern lifestyle.

I will say that cannabis is a entheogen drug which means it is a drug that enables people to sense god in themselves and in others, so instead of old fashioned religion it is a new religious kind of lifestyle in a way, and such a product should never be commercialised. It should always be accessible to society, only accessible for 10 15 percent of the population who is interested and able to confront themselves with themselves, because that is what cannabis does: it confronts you with yourself.

What are the key changes that have happened since then?

Look at me, a mature man, I don’t wear a suit and tie. When I started growing marijuana and when I started coffeeshops it was impossible for old males to go around without a suit and tie, all males have the same leather shoe. Now days everyone is clothed differently and that is one of the achievements of marijuana because marijuana was smoked by a lot of people who functioned as a role model like filmmakers, artists, famous people were all into smoking marijuana. Marijuana changed the world without most of the world knowing about it. It is much more free, liberal, much more fantasy, colour than ever before and that is due to marijuana.

Speaking of changes, the Dutch government has said it will close a lot of coffee shops in Amsterdam. Are the coffee shops a scapegoat or are there really problems?

A lot of coffee shop owners are not pioneers anymore, so they don’t know how to present their case in such a way so the public laughs and thinks “oh well let those guys go along with their thing as long as they don’t bother me”. Modern coffeeshop does bother everybody because it is a public place. Anybody can just walk into a coffee shop. That’s a scary thing for people who don’t like change, and the thing is that coffee shop owners don’t understand that they can only be tolerated when they present their business in such fashion that it is acceptable for the non smoker. That’s what they neglected to do. Because tolerance only works when you voluntarily limit yourself in presenting yourself.

Thanks Wernard! More information is at www.wernard.nl & www.cannabisconnections.nl

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]

 

World tour: conclusion and links

By Chris Fowlie, President, NORML New Zealand, 2002

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check these links for more information:

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.

Switzerland: hemp and hash

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

PUBLISHED IN NORML NEWS SUMMER 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dutch Experience, Manchester UK

By Chris Fowlie, President, NORML New Zealand, 2002

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NORML president passes Dutch coffeeshop course

NORML president passes Dutch coffeeshop course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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