The battle of Belgium
Haarlem, Holland coffeeshop guru Nol Van Schaik (CC#29, Haarlem: hemp city central) found that out the hard way when he decided to help Belgium implement liberalized marijuana policy proposals announced in January.
Belgium's proposals, which will likely be approved by the country's Parliament this summer, legalize possession and cultivation of marijuana. Belgian officials told Cannabis Culture their new policies will not legalize marijuana sales or coffee shops, but Van Schaik set up a Belgian-language website that offered to sell cannabis, pot seeds, and grow equipment to Belgians. In March, he announced plans to open a marijuana education center, hemp museum and grow shop in Belgium.
"My partner Maruska runs the best hemp museum in the world here in Haarlem, and we wanted to export part of it to Belgium," Van Schaik explained. "We designed grow boxes with built-in lights, fans and nutrient systems to make it easy to grow organic weed. We had the Positronics seed catalog ready to provide them with superior genetics. We were not going to sell weed, of course, even though I'm sure the Belgians would have loved to smoke the same superbud I sell in my three coffee shops in Haarlem, but we would provide a place for Belgians to get information and grow supplies, meet cannabis friends, and become politically active."
Belgian officials threatened Van Schaik with arrest if he sold cannabis products to Belgians, even though they admitted that Belgians routinely buy cannabis from Dutch purveyors in the Belgium-Holland border zone. Dutch officials said they'd investigate Van Schaik for possible violation of Holland's drug export ban.
Utilizing Europe-wide media coverage as a platform, Van Schaik said Dutch and Belgian policies were individually flawed, but together could be made into one coherent, intelligent policy.
"The new Belgium policy says you can grow and have cannabis, but not sell it," Van Schaik explained. "Dutch policy says you can have, buy and sell marijuana, but can't grow it. I propose a Europe-wide policy that lets you grow, have, buy and sell marijuana. That makes the most sense."
The Belgian federal government steadfastly rejected Van Schaik's ideas.
"I know the inventivity of such people," the Belgian Justice Minister said when questioned during a parliamentary session about Van Schaik's plans. "First they try to sell it through the Internet, now they mention a museum, but none of this is allowed now and it won't be allowed under the new laws."
Another Belgian official was even more blunt.
"If Van Schaik or any other Dutch marijuana businessman comes here, he will surely be arrested and his operation shut down," the official said. "We will tolerate nothing that promotes the use of drugs."
Just say nol
Van Schaik is a tough guy who once beat up several French customs agents trying to arrest him for hashish smuggling. So instead of backing down in the face of Belgian official opposition, he drove to Belgium with a crew of loyal Nolsters, looking for a building to lease in Brussels or Antwerp.
An Antwerp building owner rented him space for a hemp museum and marijuana information center. European television and newspaper crews showed up to interview him as he began renovating the interior of his new cannaspace.
"Then somebody tells me we're live on television, and I remember that the Belgians and French are extradition allies, so somebody could grab me and ship me to France to face the hashish sentence," Van Schaik said. "I got in my car and drove real fast back to Holland!"
Van Schaik's Belgian marijuana allies continued renovating his planned museum-info center, which was to have opened in May, but he received a phone call from an alarmed compatriot, telling him that members of a Belgian political party, "Vlaams Blok" were telling the media that they would drive "Dutch poison sellers" out of Belgium.
"I know Europe has these Nazi people, but most of the time they yell about immigration, ethnicity, and welfare," Van Schaik said. "I didn't know they had anything against marijuana."
A few days later, 200 Vlaams Blok protesters marched in front of Van Schaik's Antwerp site. Their signs said drugs are poison; their spokespersons said the Blok would not allow Van Schaik or any "foreigner" to open a marijuana-related business in Belgium.
Right wing groups in Austria, Germany, France, and other European countries have sometimes used violence and terrorism to achieve political goals, but Van Schaik says he is unafraid.
"This time they picked the wrong guy to mess with. A lot of marijuana smokers are content to hide in their houses. They won't risk anything for the cause. The same is true for the Dutch coffee shop industry. Very few of my fellow coffee shop owners campaign publicly to protect coffee shops or to help cannabis be more available in other countries. I'd like nothing more than to sit in my shops in peace smoking herb and having fun, but we can't let bullies threaten the marijuana culture," he said.
As Vlaams Blok anti-marijuana rhetoric heated up and its protests continued, Van Schaik contacted Antwerp's mayor and police chief.
"I asked them isn't it obvious that this group is a threat to your country," he said. "They got a lot of the vote in Antwerp, and the police seem to be on their side. That ought to scare the hell out of anybody who favors an open, free, safe society. These Blokheads believe Hitler was right. They said they oppose our museum because it might promote 'the mixing of the races.' I told the reporters that the Vlaams Blok people ought to come smoke some Dutch Cr?me hash with us, instead of drinking all that rancid piss-beer, and they would get mellow and laugh with us. They would forget all about their stupid protests. They might even not be such assholes. They might even become something other than fanatical pensioners."
Van Schaik convinced Haarlem police officials to draft a letter for Antwerp officials.
"The police told them I am a strong-willed guy but not a criminal or a greedy person," Van Schaik said. "They know that I have a lot of pride in cannabis, that I have brought good publicity for Haarlem."
After receiving the letter, Van Schaik says, Antwerp officials told him his hemp museum would not be opposed by the city, but Vlaams Blok continued to stage protests.
Blok politician Filip Dewinter led the street actions and is the Blok's chief spokesperson.
"We are against legalizing drugs, all drugs, soft drugs as well," Dewinter said. "We think that in the end they are all addictive. Every hard drugs addict has once been a pot smoker. We want to maintain the 1921 drug law that prohibits the use of all drugs."
Dewinter accused Van Schaik of being a profiteer and a fraud.
"That hemp museum of Van Schaik is of course a fake museum. Its real goal is to encourage the use of soft drugs. The financial self-interest of Mr Van Schaik is very clear. The man operates coffee shops. He goes for the money only. He wants to have his foot in the door in Belgium in case the government later approves sales of soft drugs. He just wants to be a step ahead of the competition."
According to Dewinter, "Antwerp will be the Mecca for Dutch drug dealers," if Van Schaik is allowed to open a cannabusiness in Belgium.
"All they want to do is make big money by selling drugs to our Flemish people," Dewinter says. "We say to those poison dealers, go back where you came from. Go back to that country where everything is permitted and possible. And Mr Van Schaik, the so-called idealist founder of the Hemp Museum, better watch out."
Dewinter's political party and its allies in the police department are causing problems for other business people and cannabis advocates.
In March, a Belgian woman named Jos Vermeulen tried to open an Antwerp store that sold grow equipment. She threw a party to celebrate the opening, but Dewinter and 100 Blokkers showed up, shouting slogans and throwing eggs at her building. They spent 90 minutes protesting outside her shop, which was to have been called "Flow."
Vermeulen called police, but instead of protecting her from Vlaams Blok, officers forced her to evict everyone from the store. Under armed escort, she was forced to drive to the police station, where she was rudely interrogated for several hours. When she returned to her store the next day, she found that it had been burglarized by police who had removed the front door and seized equipment and supplies as "evidence."
"Things are out of control here," explained Jos Nijsten, a Belgian cannabis researcher and author who recently published a book called Cannaclopedia.
"After closing the growshop in Antwerp, the Vlaams Blok focused on other shops where chillums or t-shirts are sold." Nijsten said. "Then they made official complaint against Fnac, the book and record supermarket chain, because they are selling a book about cannabis. They don't want honest discussion. My book was supposed to debut on April 1. Now they have delayed it."
Filip Dewinter made headlines demanding that Interpol arrest Van Schaik and expedite him to stand trial in France for smuggling hashish. He continues to lead fierce anti-pot street protests, but was pleasant and cooperative when I asked for an interview.
Dewinter denied that Vlaams Blok is racist. He described Belgium as an "artificial country" in which several cultures are forced to live together.
"Sixty percent of them are Dutch-speaking people, the Flemings, and 32% of them are French-speaking people, the Walloons. A small minority speaks German. The welfare of my Flemish people is the most imported thing to me," Dewinter said. "This is not racism or fascism. The Vlaams Blok is the party of Flemish independence. We want Flanders to become an autonomous state. As a nationalist party, we seek to protect the Flemish identity and to defend all Flemish interests. Our political goals are a complete split-up of the Belgian artificial state into an independent Flanders and an independent Wallonia, with Brussels as the capital of Flanders. We want to completely stop immigration of non-European immigrants, and humanely return to their countries those non-European immigrants who are not willing to assimilate. We defend traditional family values and also fight crime and corruption."
According to Dewinter, "There is no need for a cannabis center in Flanders. The only person in favor of this is the Dutch proprietor who wants to earn a lot of money. I want to ventilate my political ideas in a democratic way. We never tried to force our political ideas by violence. Some weeks ago I was invited by the Dutch television for an interview. The interview could not take place because of very violent actions organized by extreme left wing groups and agitators .We insist that the government must continue to forbid use and dealing of any kind of drugs. Use of drugs is dangerous and will lead to enormous problems, not only health problems but an increase in crime."
Born in 1962, Dewinter is an educated father of three children who has been active in Vlaams Blok since 1985. He has served in several elected positions, and is currently a member of the Flemish parliament. A third of Antwerp's voters support Vlaams Blok, he says, and the party is enjoying increasing popularity at the local, state and European levels.
When I told him that some observers speculate that the Blok will lose young voters due to its anti-marijuana stance, he replied, "That assertion doesn't reflect the truth. On the contrary, most Flemish youth are against drugs. We won a lot of votes because of our opposition to legalization of drugs."
Van Schaik acknowledges that Dewinter and his allies are formidable foes.
"He can seem very reasonable talking to journalists," Van Schaik cautioned, "but if you see him yelling through his bullhorn in front of a crowd, he seems fanatical and crazy. His people lit torches and smoke bombs outside our site. They threw rocks and eggs. They say they're against our hemp center because it might promote 'the mixing of the races.' We've been warned that they are going to try to buy some weed from us and turn us in. We're used to being harassed by governments and rip-offs, but this is something new."
While watching his back in Antwerp, Van Schaik was visited by a delegation of Dutch and Israeli detectives in Haarlem at the same time he was literally preparing barricades to defend himself against a landlord who wants to bulldoze Van Schaik's flagship coffee shop, Willie Wortel Workshop.
"What a weird week it was," the exhausted Haarlem hempster said. "The detectives came to the hemp museum so they could find out about marijuana for the Israelis, who want to know if pot seeds contain THC. They are considering lifting their ban on seed imports. I had the pleasure of providing the Israeli detective with the entire Positronics seed line, including the beautiful 'Shalom' variety. In the meantime, my greedy landlord wants to evict Willie Wortel so he can tear the building down and build a lot of little apartments. We hired a bricklayer to help us create a defensive wall, and signed up hundreds of people who will show up at Willie Wortel if they try to evict us."
Van Schaik says that despite current turmoil, European marijuana legalization is inevitable.
The British House of Lords has again recommended liberalized pot policies. The Swiss government just announced a proposal to legalize or tolerate consumption, production and sale of cannabis. The proposal, which must be approved by the Swiss parliament, was based in part on a study showing that 25% of Swiss citizens have used marijuana, with regular consumption widespread among young people.
Swiss officials acknowledge that the proposal has been criticized by the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board, which believes that Switzerland is bound by international narcotics treaties.
"We're ready to help Swiss people grow beautiful organic weed and make fine hash," Van Schaik says. "The only darkness is that the Swiss version of Vlaams Blok is opposing the Swiss change in the marijuana laws. Adolph Hilter died a long time ago, but his children live on. I hope that all marijuana people, including fellow coffee shop owners and all our customers and producers, will unite with anti-racists and anti-fascists to defend our culture from a new Holocaust."