Tag Archives: law reform

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The American alcohol prohibition of the 1900s was repealed after a campaign by Mothers Against Prohibition, who said “Save Our Children: End Prohibition”.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.

Germany: Uber Hanf

By Chris Fowlie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Switzerland: 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.

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.