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Monday, December 7, 2015

Free the Weed 57 - by John Sinclair

Highest greetings from Amsterdam at the beginning of the traditional Cannabis Cup week, where for the first time since 1988 there will be no High Times Cannabis Cup in the marijuana capitol of the world and no Thanksgiving Day awards for the best weed grown in Holland.

     I first came to Amsterdam for the 11th Cannabis Cup in 1998, where I served as High Priest and performed at the Melkweg club nightly with my band of Blues Scholars from New Orleans. I had such a good time that I begged High Times to bring me back the next year, and that’s when I fell in with Michael Veling of the 420 Café. He sponsored my visits to the Cannabis Cup for the next three years and convinced me to relocate from New Orleans to Amsterdam after the 16th Cup in 2003, offering me a more or less permanent base of operations at his coffeeshop ever since.



     So I’ve been on hand for the past 16 Cannabis Cups in Amsterdam, long before the legalization of medical marijuana in America and the establishment of what are now several Medical Cannabis Cups in the U.S., plus full-scale Cannabis Cups celebrating legalized marijuana in the states of Colorado, Washington and Oregon. They even have a Medical Cannabis Cup in Clio, Michigan that has caused quite a bit of excitement for smokers in the Flint area for the past two years

     But there’s no more Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, the home of its origin. The International Cannabis Cup was moved to Jamaica this year, where weed has finally found official acceptance, and was held in conjunction with the local ganja community as “Rastafari Rootzfest” last month at a space, the magazine says, “just a few yards from Negril’s gorgeous Seven Mile Beach where warm sunshine and spliffs ruled the day.”

     High Times reports that “several thousand” persons attended the “Rastafari Rootzfest” last month, certainly netting the sponsors a tidy sum in admission (or “judges”) fees. And the money-making aspects of the original Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam have been shifted to the ever-growing number of medical and recreational Cups in the U.S.A., where the costs don’t involve shipping a staff of people across the ocean every November and dealing with the transportation arrangements of 1200 or more so-called “judges” in a foreign country each fall.

     So it’s very interesting to be in the coffeeshops of Amsterdam this week in the absence of the Cannabis Cup and the hundreds of eager marijuana tourists it has brought from the U.S.A. and around the world every Thanksgiving week for the past 27 years. Business in the shops doesn’t seem to be suffering per se, but it’s quite a different vibe from that generated by the smokers on a mission who’ve been attracted by the High Times event every year since I’ve been coming here.

     But now it seems to be back to normal, which is pretty hip to begin with, and several local coffeeshops have banded together to initiate their own festivities this year under the name of the Amsterdam Unity Cup, held at the Melkweg the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I attended the Tuesday event last night but there wasn’t anything happening at all except for a deejay in the Oude Zaal playing a lot of corny records at high volume to an audience of none.

My friend William, long-time cannabis manager at the 420 Café and its Dutch Flowers annex, explained that the group of coffeeshop people were taking an exploratory approach this year to see if they could make it happen in the absence of the traditional organizers, the High Times collective from New York City.

     If all went well logistically, William surmised, the local cofffeeshop veterans would make a better publicized effort next year at this time to deliver on their promise to “bring you the people’s choice of the finest strains from the best coffee shops Amsterdam has to offer” while claiming that “the traditional dates have been taken over for the new annual Cup event in & around Amsterdam.” You can get more information at amsterdam-unity-cup.com.

     The evacuation of Amsterdam by High Times represents an ugly victory for the city and the federal government in their lengthening campaign to shrink the cannabis business community in the Netherlands and try to shed the image of the world’s hot spot for drug tourism in the hope of attracting the more lucrative family-oriented tourist trade enjoyed by most western destinations.

     Unlike the western United States, where the newly legalized cannabis industry is beginning a concerted effort to introduce normal Americans to the pleasures and benefits if marijuana in an effort to increase sales, the Dutch authorities want to drive the cannabis tourists away and shun their voluminous business which is said to amount to 25% of all tourism dollars spent here.

     The present government seems to feel that the Netherlands have suffered for more than 40 years under the stigma of being the number one destination for marijuana smokers all over the world. The unique Dutch tolerance of the marijuana smoker as a full citizen is regarded with scorn and apprehension by virtually every western nation save Spain and Portugal. The highly civilized approach to marijuana smoking adopted by the Dutch hasn’t even begun to penetrate the thick skulls of the American authorities, who remain loath to allow smoking the sacrament on the premises where it may be traded.

     I’ve related these facts before in this space, but the Dutch system allows the purchase and consumption of cannabis products on the premises of specialized cafes called coffeeshops, which are allowed to stock 500 grams of marijuana and hashish for sale over the counter. Consumers may purchase up to 5 grams of cannabis in a coffeeshop and take it with them—as in a Michigan dispensary—or enjoy the great local custom of taking a seat, sipping a coffee or juice drink, rolling up joints and smoking them alone or with friends, reveling in the companionship of fellow smokers in a warm and relaxed atmosphere.

     This system has worked without fail for the marijuana smoker in the Netherlands since 1972 or so. Free-style marijuana coffeeshops were established and proliferated throughout Amsterdam without restraint (numbering 750 at the highest point) until the government decided the cannabis explosion had gone too far without the guiding hand of the authorities and began the process of registering and regulating the coffeeshpp industry about 20 years ago.

     They’ve tightened things up considerably ever since, as I’ve reported in this column, until now there are probably less than 200 coffeeshops in Amsterdam itself. Tourists have been barred from frequenting coffeeshops and buying weed in quite a few smaller towns along the eastern border, and there’s even been an attempt to force Dutch smokers to register with the government.

     When I left Detroit last month they were talking a lot of crazy shit about registering and regulating the 150 to 200 marijuana dispensaries that have sprung up in the city. What they need to do is convert the dispensaries to coffeeshops where people may gather peacefully and enjoy their weed and each other in peace. The City should enable as many shops to operate as possible, establish a modest licensing fee and tax the sales of products in the shops.

     Otherwise, let us alone and let us have our smoke. FREE THE WEED!

—Amsterdam
November 23-24, 2015

© 2015 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.

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