Tag Archives: Netherlands

Worldwide Weed

I’m fortunate enough to regularly travel the world researching the latest trends in cannabis use and cultivation. This lets me keep up with the latest research and trends so I can better assist New Zealand courts.

In 2013 I visited California and Colorado to witness the development of regulations for the world’s first legal cannabis market, tour grow gardens and dispensaries as part of the World Cannabis Week tour, sit a cannabis cultivation course approved by the state Department of Education, attend the first Cannabis Cup on US soil, and in the process I became the world’s first legal pot tourist.

In 2010 I traveled to Spain, Germany, Morocco and India.

In 2008 I attended the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam and traveled through Asia:

I visited the Mardi Grass in Nimbin, Australia, and was a guest judge in their cannabis cup in 2006.

In 2002 I toured the cannabis law reform hot-spots of the world, a result of being busted for a tiny spec of weed. In June of 2001 I had been searched unlawfully by a group of police officers who claimed to smell cannabis. I was arrested and charged with possession of 0.7 grams of cannabis, but I contested the charge in court. In dismissing the charge, Judge Gittos set a precedent that will protect other people from being searched in similar circumstances. The Dominion, arguably at the time the most anti-cannabis newspaper in the country, wrongly published that I had been jailed. I settled for enough money to take me around the world to research alternatives to cannabis prohibition. Ironic, huh. My first stop would be the NORML conference in San Francisco.

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]

 

Haarlem Coffeeshop College, Netherlands

By Chris Fowlie, President, NORML New Zealand, 2002

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

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

Haarlem Cannabizness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dealer at Willie Wortels Vending machine at Willie Wortels

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

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

Chris at the microscope Hash by Nol

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

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

Chris Dealing Chris making coffee

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

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

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

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

Trichome hot chocolate Close up of some trichomes

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

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

Chris takes the test Trying out the ROOR bong

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

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

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

Dealer at Willie Wortels

Amsterdam, Netherlands

By Chris Fowlie, President, NORML New Zealand, 2002

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.