By, Dion Markgraff
One of the proudest moments of my life was taking NUG Magazine to Amsterdam. As a five year resident of this city in Holland and a full-time cannabis activist, I have had many experiences on this island of semi-sanity in this crazy sea of the contemporary cannabis world.
Going back was literally and figuratively a â€œtripâ€, bringing NUG Magazine – San Diegoâ€™s reflection of the cannabis revolution in California – to Amsterdam, where some things had since gotten better but a lot have gotten worse. At the same time, this short stay in Amsterdam more than 10 years after leaving gave me a chance to reflect on the work I had done while living there. Some of the seeds planted many years ago continue to be harvested every year. I thought I would share my impressions of my visit for a few days in March.
In 1992, right after graduating from San Diego State University and writing my senior thesis in Political Science and History using cannabis as the subject, I went to Amsterdam to see and figure out how and why that country was able to resist joining in on the global crusade against cannabis. Little did I know that I would be living there during the height of the golden-green period of the Dutch cannabis renaissance.
The golden-green period of the Dutch cannabis renaissance has gone
Not only were coffeeshops and the growing of cannabis at the apex during the years I lived there, so were certain freedoms. Over the years since I left, rules that would never have been accepted before have become normal. From rules for the many bicycles to random police searches of patrons entering festivals, the free/lawless city I used to know has been invaded by a different culture of accepting rules for the sake of obeying. Even the owner of a Dutch vaporizer company was arrested for 30 grams of pot at the HighLife Cup, a decades old annual cannabis cup party. Since I left at the end of 1996, more than half (750) of the 1450 coffeeshops have closed and cultivating cannabis has become more dangerous.
The town of Amsterdam has thrived from trading since 1350 and is very crowded, so even slight changes to the city are meaningful. After living there for 5 years and being very socially active, I knew Amsterdam very well. So, my quest on this trip was to catch up with old and new cannabis comrades and re-tap into the city that draws so many people together.
The revolution inside the revolution
During my years in Amsterdam, I planted a lot of â€œsocial seedsâ€ all around the town and a few of them are still growing and being harvested every year. As a full-time activist, I became a zealot crusader in the cannabis revolution, bringing the plantâ€™s other uses besides smoking the flowers to Holland. I spent the whole time sowing many seeds, a few of the more infamous ones are opening the first modern hemp store in Europe â€“ the CIA Cannabis In Amsterdam, starting the High Times Cannabis Cup, starting the Cannabis College, helping to get the BCD (Dutch coffeeshop union) going, and bringing vaporization to Europe.
This time period is specifically referenced in the great and soon to be classic book The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan. In the book, Pollan documents Homo sapiensâ€™ co-evolution with the cannabis species. The basic premise is that people interact with cannabis like bees do with flowers. The implosion of cannabis cultivation around the world was at its apex during the period that I lived in Amsterdam. At the same time, emanating from Holland was an explosion of the cannabis seed market. The United Nations and global powers were actively trying to wipe cannabis off the planet, and worldwide cannabis cultivation was almost eradicated. In that same short period of time, many of the worldâ€™s cannabis strains were sent to Holland for preservation and were re-grown and sent back out all over the world.
I met Mr. Pollan in Amsterdam when he came for the High Times Cannabis Cup in 1994, the year after the Cannabis Cup event was held in my shop, which was one years old at the time. His article on the front cover of the New York Times Magazine described my shop as, â€œThe communityâ€™s epicenter — its La Coupole — is the C.I.A.: Cannabis in Amsterdam, a combination shop, gathering place and hemp store located in a large second-story loft a short walk from Central Station.â€
So with history revisited and replayed in my mind, I knew the clock was ticking on my short stay and that I had better get busy spreading NUG around town and meeting with old cannabis colleagues.
Sensi Seeds – Hash Museum – Cannabis Gallery – Cannabis College
The â€œcannabis blockâ€ in Amsterdam, made up of the headquarters and shops of Sensi Seeds along with the Hash Museum, Cannabis Gallery, and the Cannabis College, is located in the heart of Amsterdam and its infamous Red Light district (in a city full of â€œgreen lightsâ€) and was my first destination after visiting a few coffeshops to get some much needed cannabinoid refill.
So, after getting â€œtop of the mountainâ€ high, I raced my bike down to the epicenter, for me, of Amsterdam â€“ the Cannabis College. Being a cannabis scholar, nothing I have done gives me more pride than helping found this awesome institution. It was strange for me, in that, it felt like I had never left.
Today, the â€œcaregiverâ€ of the Cannabis College Foundation is Sensi Seeds which owns two seed shops, the Hash Marijuana Museum, and the Cannabis Gallery, and also runs the College, all on the same block.
As I arrived at the College, the staff was busy explaining to the many tourists what the place was all about – cannabis education. I browsed around the â€œcampusâ€, which is comprised of one large room filled with examples of cannabisâ€™ various uses and a basement with a show grow.
Eventually, when the influx of people slowed down, I introduced myself as the founder of the place and the editor of NUG Magazine. I started showing them NUG and explaining how things are back in San Diego, California, and the USA in general. They responded with tales of tribulations in Holland.
The school staff explained the growing problem in the Netherlands with growing cannabis. Not only has the Dutch government come up with the BS limit of 3 plants per person and 5 total per household, they also started a big terror campaign where privatized â€œpolicingâ€ companies drive the streets and randomly search homes with heat radar before sending in bio-hazard clad cleanup crews that do nothing but takedown grows all over the country, everyday. These regressive policies are the direct cause of the relatively high cannabis prices ($15 -$25 per gram) for the product in a semi-legal environment. Cannabis is not legal in Holland, and only the small scale (5 grams per customer) are allowed.
They had so many bad horror stories, I could not believe we were talking about Amsterdam, the same place I had ridden my bike around the streets with a 6 foot tall cannabis plant in my hands for the Ed Rosenthal documentary, Cannabis Rising, a movie we made together back in 1995; nor the same place that we, the Green Prisoners Release (a political rights group I started to help people in prison for cannabis), brought hundreds of clone sized plants to all the actions we did for a couple on the run from Arkansas, Les and Cheryl Moorings. We brought the plants to the Dutch Parliament and to all the Mooringsâ€™ court hearings, including those at the Supreme Court of Holland.
The people at the school also told me an interesting story about a terrible fire that happen at the Cannabis College in 2002.Â In a real world example of the power and superiority of cannabis building products, the fire destroyed everything in the College except its hemp wall and the cool picture of the Green Prisoners Release group members with the High Times Cannabis Cup we won for our efforts.
The Cannabis Gallery â€“ like nowhere on the planet
The most marvelous cannabis place I have ever seen was the Cannabis Gallery. It was amazing to see the high quality exhibits, which are like nowhere else on the planet. It does not have pictures of historical paintings, it has the original paintings themselves. With huge hemp walls and displays that include hemp BMW car parts and more, this place is truly the pinnacle spot at the moment for cannabis anthology.
I was given a personal tour from the PR guy for Sensi Seeds Company, Youri Boerlage. He explained the displays of cannabis uses, both present and past, as we walked around the space. I was excited to find out some of the biggest industrial happenings with hemp were being grown in Holland, like BMW car parts are getting their cannabis from the Sensi Seeds partner Hemp/Flax Company.
The Hash Museum was the same but different. My first official, 100% legal cannabis job in Holland was at Sensi Seeds Hash Museum. Most of the exhibits were the same, but the biggest difference was the new staff working there, especially the changing of the guard at the permanent vaporization booth.
This vaporization education destination was started by Eagle Bill, one of the many reefer refugees from around the world. He was a regular at my shop, the CIA, when I brought the idea of vaporizing to Amsterdam from a National NORML conference I
attended in Washington DC, where the late great Dr. Tod Mikuriya spoke about the process.
So, of course, we made one with a heat gun. Eagle Bill was inspired, and became the world champion ambassador for spreading the word about this new/old way of ingesting cannabinoids. Sometime soon after discovering his lifeâ€™s mission of spreading vaporization, he ended up starting a permanent vaporization education booth at the Hash Marijuana Museum. He went around Europe to festivals vaping thousands of people, but all the while maintaining the vape booth back at the museum.
Eagle Bill died in 2005 and other people have taken over ever since his passing. Sensi plans to produce a memorial seed variety in his honor.
Mila, the Hemp Hotel, and the Pollinator
The first lady of Holland, Mila Jansen, is the world famous inventor of the Pollinator. Mila came up with the machine that separates the medical trichromes from the flowers and leaves of the plant, allowing them to be collected in kief form. The loose trichromes or â€œkiefâ€ can then be pressed into hash. Her Pollinator machine opened a whole new way of processing cannabis that produces more useable THC by extracting the trichromes from parts of the plant that had often been thrown away.
Mila described how she came up with this concept, â€œOne day I stood in front of the clothes dryer and realized these cloths were tumbling the same way I tumbled my small manicuring leaves. I couldnâ€™t wait. Within 12 hours weâ€™d pulled an old clothes dryer apart and refashioned the drum to our liking and there it was, the first electric machine to produce hash.â€
I sold the first one in my shop, the CIA. As the Pollinator website says, â€œIn 1995, the first Pollinator for public sale was made and unveiled by Robert Clarke at C.I.A., during the annual High Times Cannabis Cup, where it was marveled at by many connoisseurs of hashish.â€
Milaâ€™s next major breakthrough was the creation of the â€œIce-O-Latorâ€ method of making hashish. Her new method was based on years of observation and employs special bags with screens at the bottom to catch the trichromes. The use of ice cold water, agitation, and readymade screens to detach the trichromes was the next step in the evolution of separating the plant material from its THC. Her company has also developed the Bubbleator Machine that does the agitation work for you.
A funny story from long ago was when I made hash using the Pollinator machine at the request of a Dutch childrenâ€™s television show. The TV show filmed us going through the whole process of turning cannabis trash to hash.
Today, Mila has a very cool shop which is where I saw her and showed her NUG Magazine. Not only is her place an epicenter for information about cannabis but also for other magical plants. On the walls are all kinds of informational stuff, including a Hall of Fame of hash. You can also check out the â€œFine samples from all over the worldâ€ on her website http://www.pollinator.nl/.
Mila was impressed with NUG Magazine and happy to hear about the progress being made in California but was still skeptical of real change happening in many states because of Americaâ€™s long and evil history of warring against the cannabis plant. I informed her of my own recent problems in San Diego and explained that, despite all the progress, people like James Stacy, Joe Nunes, Jovan Jackson, and Eugene Davidovich were being prosecuted by the government.
Mila and her family also own and run the Hemp Hotel in Amsterdam. I visited briefly one evening and talked shop with her son Tijmen. He was really cool, telling me about life at the hotel while he maintained the bar and cooked sandwiches and snacks. The hotel has a reception bar that stays open until 3am every night serving all kinds of beer and alcohol made with hemp and, of course, it is smoke friendly.
Wernard – the coolest guy in Holland
Next, I met up with my favorite person in the Netherlands, Wernard Bruining. Many NUG Magazine readers will remember the medical cannabis oil article he wrote for our January issue. The grandfather of cannabis in Holland, Wernard opened the first â€œcoffeeshopâ€, Mellow Yellow, in 1973. He is so original, that Mellow Yellow pre-dated the term â€œcoffeeshopâ€, and was instead called a â€œtea shopâ€. He also started Hollandâ€™s first seed bank, the Lowland Seed Company, in 1980; started Europeâ€™s first grow shop, Positronics, in 1985, and was one of the first people to campaign to help people who needed medical cannabis get their medicine cheaper.
The Dutch based newspaper Soft Secrets wrote about how Wernard started a surreptitious cannabis retail model that the government, over time, began to tolerate. â€œMellow Yellow was a way of organizing things in a polite and civilized manner. The â€˜tea houseâ€™ only allowed one â€˜house-dealerâ€™ who had a variety of cannabis products prebagged in 10 or 25 guilder deals, so there was never any mistake about the price or quantity of hash or grass on offer. This system of just one dealer, who was protected by the coffeeshop, became known as the â€˜Golden Coffeeshop Formulaâ€™. The visitors of the coffeeshop were protected, as was the shop owner, since the police could only arrest the house-dealer. The Golden Coffeeshop Formula Wernard created in turn allowed hundreds of other coffeeshops to open its doors to the public of Amsterdam.â€
When I lived in Amsterdam, Wernard had the ever changing Positronics grow shop that sold all kinds of clones. At one point, he opened a restaurant in his place that the government would not license. So Wernard said, fine â€“ it is not a restaurant â€“ it is a free meal you can pay whatever you want for.
I met with Wernard at Coffeeshop Any Day, a place so small, as he said, you are forced to meet other people. Almost hidden upstairs is a beautiful little area with three built-in Verdampers vaporizers.Â Not just any kind, but the â€œRolls-Royceâ€ of vaporizers, as Wernard called them.
One of the best changes in the Netherlands is the availability of vaporizers in all the coffeeshops. Along with other standard cannabis ingestion tools like the bong and the newly developed grinders, vaporizers are in every establishment.
As Wernard loaded a few grams of some homemade hash into the ready positioned vaporizer, we exchanged stories of the cannabis movement in Holland, Europe, California, America, and around the world. He even took notes when I told him there were over 2,000 medical cannabis dispensaries in California.
Wernard spoke about his continuing efforts to help patients who need medical cannabis and how the oil he had written about in NUG Magazine continues to impress him. He said he was getting a lot of feedback on how effective this form of medicine is for people. He also confirmed what others had said about the decline of the Dutch political scene. He spoke about how the government there was bad and getting worse.
However, Wernard told me the exciting news that our mutual friend, Nol van Schaik was organizing the first coffeeshop strike on their Election Day. On June 6, all the coffeeshops in the Netherlands are going to be closed to encourage patrons to vote for cannabis friendly political parties. The owners want to show everyone what life would be like without coffeeshop services.
To think, the remaining 700 coffeeshops in Holland pay over $600 million a year in direct taxes to the government. The Dutch education, transportation, and health systems are some of the best in the whole world and would be unsustainable without the tax money from the huge cannabis industry. This is without counting the billions of dollars made off the millions of tourists who make the pilgrimage to this Disneyland of adult pleasures. Yet, my cannabis colleagues in Holland are still treated worse by their fellow Dutch citizens than the prostitutes and street drug addicts.
After Wernard left, it still took me over 20 minutes to finish off all the fine hashish in the vaporizer bowl.
Too much to see and do in this town
As I was running out of time, I was glad I stopped at HempShoppers. Owned by two Dutch guys who seemed to think like me, they opened their hemp store in 1999 and have all kinds of hemp stuff for sale. Seeing people from the Netherlands selling the cannabis revolution through non-THC goods was happiness to me. These guys are getting their message out through their two store locations and Radio Free Amsterdam, their weekly radio show with the famous cannabis activist and poet John Sinclair (the person who inspired John Lennonâ€™s song about pot).
Cannabis comrades – going global
For me, seeing Dr. Bronnerâ€™s Magic Soap in Amsterdam supermarkets and hemp stores was one of the best moments on my visit back to the Netherlands. Not only is this one of the coolest companies, Dr. Bronnerâ€™s is also a huge supporter of the cannabis movement (on all fronts â€“ i.e., ASA, HIA, NORML, MPP, HIA, VoteHemp, and more). The Escondido based business has the best selling natural soap in the USA and is entering back into the European market where the family owned company started in Germany in 1858.
Dutch companies, especially those in the cannabis seed business, are now expanding around the world, exporting the decades of experience gained in their well-developed cannabis industry. The countryâ€™s history of trading and their money oriented approach to life has been at the root of their â€œtolerationâ€ of everything from prostitution, Jews, drug use, and cannabis. The best lesson the world can learn from this country is how the Dutch double their savings by not wasting money and energy on trying to prevent human nature while making money at the same time. For centuries, Holland has been dealing with overcrowding and environmental disasters while trying to solve many of the worldâ€™s contemporary problems. I think, in a very profound way â€“ this country has been through history first.
On reflection of my trip back to Amsterdam, I am mostly happy with the legacy of the social seeds I planted many years ago. Ironically, after so many years of experience with a semi-legal cannabis industry, the people of the Netherlands seem to be more and more buying into the dying global jihad against this plant. Many things have gotten worse for the Dutch people in dealing with cannabis, but the bottom line for the rest of the world is, you can still go to this magical city and buy and smoke in almost total freedom. END