Highest greetings from Amsterdam, still the world capital of the cannabis culture despite all the efforts of the Dutch government to drive the marijuana industry back to the Stone Age, and notwithstanding the incredible gains being made at last in sections of the United States where citizens may finally buy their weed over the counter, without interference by the drug police.
Before I say anything else I’d like to thank my publisher, Ben Horner, and all the marijuana people in my home town of Flint, Michigan—where I smoked my first joint over 50 years ago—for their brilliant efforts in attracting the High Times Medical Cannabis Cup to the former Vehicle City last month.
We’ve come a long way from the extremely modest beginnings of the Michigan marijuana movement in January of 1965 when a wild surmise called Detroit LEMAR raised its shaggy head to make the improbable proposition that marijuana should be legalized and the weed must be freed.
It’s been a long and bitter struggle against the hard-headed nuts who have designed our legal system to attack and persecute their fellow citizens who don’t get high the same way they do, starting with their vicious twisting of the facts and contortions of reality to suit their puritanical purposes.
When we started fighting against the insane marijuana laws in Michigan, weed was classified by the State as a narcotic drug with penalties for convicted possessors set at ten years in prison and for distributors of the sacrament, a minimum mandatory 20 years to life in the penitentiary.
Now it’s a medicine all over Michigan and a substance that’s legal to possess for recreational and spiritual purposes in city after city across the state. And we’ve celebrated Cannabis Cups in Detroit and Flint, something once very difficult to imagine, so our years and years of fighting to achieve a correct definition of the herb are beginning to pay off big time.
At the end of this process of redefinition I hope we can expect to see general acceptance of the reality of marijuana in our lives—that it’s a gentle, benevolent herb with much to offer all of us in terms of mental and physical health, increased sensitivity both mental and physical, enhanced perceptual ability, inspiration and sustenance for the creative process, the promise of warm fellowship and stimulated conversation when consumed by groups of like-minded smokers in a convivial atmosphere.
But it is these particular qualities that have caused the stone wall of the War On Drugs to be thrown up continually in our faces and our heads to be smashed against it. When you strip all the bullshit of the legal system away, what remains is the insane determination of the people who control our consumer society to keep us from getting high, and to punish us severely if we persist in trying to get to where we want to go mentally and spiritually.
Maybe that sounds too simple-minded, but I’ve examined this issue for more than half a century now and there’s simply no other rational explanation for the legal barricades against marijuana smoking. There’s nothing wrong with marijuana, it’s not dangerous, it doesn’t impair performance, it doesn’t kill anybody—it’s just a benevolent herb that holds no potential for harm for the individual nor for the social order itself.
There’s no better proof than in the experience of Amsterdam with respect to allowing marijuana sales and possession and smoking the herb in public. Since 1972 coffee shops in Amsterdam have been allowed to sell marijuana and hashish over the counter and permit its smoking on their premises.
But in the mid-1990s, with no visible or recorded negative effects from 20 years of this happy policy, and with less than 25% of the populace identified as smokers with no perceptible increase in the smoking rate from year to year, the Dutch government began an ill-founded campaign to shrink the legal cannabis world instead of taking the logical next step and legalizing production and distribution.
The economic boom created by the burgeoning grass-roots marijuana industry, rather than being encouraged and nurtured by the national government, was seen as an embarrassment to the national image as more and more “drug tourists” flocked to Amsterdam to enjoy the unique cannabis culture and spend their money in the coffeeshops to the extent that 25% of visitors were remarked to be here for the weed.
The coffeeshops were the focal point for a truly grass-roots movement that began with the illicit production of marijuana in great bulk with an appropriate workforce, its distribution requiring another workforce of trimmers, packagers and deliverers, its retail dissemination providing work for the hash-tenders, beverage staff, cannabis managers, and the other jobs associated with operating public premises. A lot of people could make a living helping the weed get from the farm to the smoker.
The government began its attempt to turn back the tide by requiring the registration of coffee shops and the annual purchase of a license to operate. The amount of cannabis product allowed on their premises was limited to 500 grams, and the consumer was limited to purchases of five grams or less.
When the registration started in 1994-95 there were an estimated 1200 coffee shops in Holland, with 600-750 located in the many neighborhoods of Amsterdam but concentrated in the city Centrum where they were convenient to the Central Station, the Red Light District, and the heart of the tourist industry. By 2000 the number of shops was down to 750 country-wide, with about 500 still operating in Amsterdam.
Since the turn of the century the screws have tightened without relent, and the number of coffee shops still in operation is now less than 200. Coffee shops that close from failure of business are not allowed to transfer their licenses; some are closed by the authorities for violations of the unwritten coffee shop laws; some like those in the Red Light District are being closed as a result of city redevelopment plans; and some like the 13 just closed in the Centrum for being located within 250 meters of a school building.
In 2007 when smoking was banned in all public premises the anti-marijuana forces tried to get weed included in the ban, but it was pointed out that marijuana isn’t toxic and poses no harm for nearby non-smokers. Then a long-delayed edict banning establishments from selling weed and alcohol on the same premises went into effect, and many coffee shops that also served drinks lost a big piece of their business.
This shrinkage is painful to witness, not only for the inhuman punishment of small businesspeople at the whim of the authorities but for the supreme idiocy of the policies adopted to attack and attempt to conquer the cannabis culture here. It’ll never happen, but that only makes the process more ridiculous and harder to tolerate.
I could go on for hours but I’m out of space for this month. Thanks for listening and FREE THE WEED!
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© 2014 John Sinclair.
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