Switzerland’s first Cannabis Cup

The judge`s ballot included 5 grams of each entry, each entrant was awarded a cup.The judge`s ballot included 5 grams of each entry, each entrant was awarded a cup.The Cannabis Cup and Amsterdam seem inseparable. My first Cannabis Cup was in 1993, and it was also my first visit to Amsterdam. It was quite a mind-opener. Together with a group equally stoned as I, we wandered from one coffee shop to the next, feeling incredibly free. We followed one shimmering canal after the other, getting happily lost under the drizzle, sampling pedigree marijuanas (grown indoor, alas) that I didn’t even know existed at the time.
Sensi’s Northern Lights #5 x Haze was the sensation of that 1993 Cup, just as the Green House Nevil’s Haze (amazingly clear and filled with visions) was the revelation of the ’98 Cup for the happy few that tried it.

The Cannabis Cup (a proprietary, trademark name, as few people realize), is of course organized by the magazine High Times. It is an American event involving mostly Americans in the only place on Earth that is tolerant enough to allow it, Amsterdam.

So you can imagine what exciting news it was for me to get a call last December, from Switzerland to my Parisian home, informing me that the Swiss were organizing a “Canna Swiss Cup”. This national event, open to the public, would bring together growers from different parts of the country. It was open to outdoor, organically grown, Swiss cannabis.

As a French writer whose last few books have been published by a Swiss publisher, I’ve had the chance to see the Swiss cannabis scene evolve. Over the last 5 years I’ve kept telling my activist friends from all over the world: “You want to hear good news? Talk to the Swiss.”

It had finally come to the point where the Swiss felt secure enough to hold a public harvest festival and contest. I happily agreed to come to the Swiss capital of Bern (chosen for its symbolic value as well as its tolerant outlook), and hand out the awards.

Walliser Queen against the Swiss landscape.Walliser Queen against the Swiss landscape.Journey to Switzerland

The day before the event, I got on the fast train for a four-hour ride to be in Switzerland by January 16, the day the Cup was to take place. What a thrill it was to wake up in my friend’s farm house, where a crop of cannabis was drying in the barn, and discover a chain of snow capped mountains outside, contrasting sharply against a deep blue sky. (The Alps boast the highest summits in Europe.) Snow-laden fruit trees and fields sparkled all around us, but I had a full day’s “work” ahead of me, with a lot of testing to do, for votes had to be handed in that evening.

On arriving the night before I had been given an “entrance ticket” for two: a piece of cardboard with six little bags stapled to it, each containing a 5 gram sample of each of the six different kinds of hemp competing for this first Canna Swiss Cup. These tickets had also been available for 20 dollars in some of the many hempstores in Switzerland:

The Swiss Hemp Cup?

Hemp? But what good is that for smoking? Yet hemp can be many things in Switzerland. A totally unique situation has arisen over the last few years, based on the definition of “hemp” under Swiss law. Any cannabis counts as hemp ? and is therefore technically legal ? provided it is not grown, or sold, with intent to use it “as a narcotic”. The law can be stretched (and it is) to mean that Skunk strong enough to knock you out in two puffs may be grown, as long as it is only to make rope from. Or at least this can be argued in court, creating a large grey area in the law.

Many bona fide farmers have added hemp to other crops, so that about 200 hectares are now being grown outdoors all over the country, more than three quarters of it being varieties that we would definitely call marijuana. The THC content of some of these alpine “hemp flowers” rises well above 20%.

Keeping with the spirit of the law, some of these true buds are distilled into essential oils (that contain no THC) for flavouring hemp beer, ice-cream, chocolate or pop. Others are sold ? stretching the law to its utter limit ? in five gram bags like those sold in Dutch coffeeshops, except that in Switzerland they are not openly marketed for smoking. The buds are sold primarily as “fragrance bags” to hang inside clothes cupboards, just like lavender.

Swiss hempstores sell “global hemp”, meaning anything made out of hemp, from paper to noodles or table oil, as well as equipment for indoor growing and also the “fragrance bags”. Some hempstores have been closed down by the police, but not as fast as new ones have been opening. At the moment their number seems to have stabilized around 250 (for about 10 million inhabitants), with almost half of the stores located in the Italian-speaking part of the country, where cities like Lugano have made a name for themselves with their gambling and banking facilities.

Unofficial judge sampling the outdoor harvest.Unofficial judge sampling the outdoor harvest.No pot smoking?

The “ticket” on which the six samples were stapled, which served as an entrance ticket for two and included two free meals, displayed the following warning: “This card must not be sold to minors, it cannot be exported and the hemp samples must not be used to produce a narcotic!”

So as to stay within the grey area of the law, votes were supposed to rate only appearance and fragrance. Smoke the stuff? Not on your life.

Well of course, on the actual day of the Cup, when people started filing into the actual building (an ex-ammunition factory turned into a cultural center) they were all puffing away, and much more interested in the strength and quality of the high than in looks and aroma alone. But at least the organizers could not be held responsible for such deviant behaviour.

Unbiased judging

I personally hate having to rate different varieties of pot over a short period of time. I am interested in a particular quality of high (the sativa type) rather than sheer potency, and I need to take my time to form a definite opinion. I like to smoke the same pot on several occasions, at different times of day, in different states of mood, before I know for sure what I think of it.

At the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, as dozens of samples must be rated within only a few days, I have usually ended up not handing in any ballot. The 1995 Cup was a noticeable exception, as I was shut up in a small room with the handful of other “celebrity judges”, and we were told that we would not be allowed to leave before we handed in our vote!

In Amsterdam the vote for any variety is coloured by the fact that one knows which company is entering it. Most people vote for a coffeeshop or variety whose name has become familiar, or has at least been identified. To put it plainly, one inevitably tends to vote for the company which advertises the most, or hands out the most free pot.

It is no secret that winning the Cup brings business, and some of the largest companies seem ready to do anything (including hiring girls wearing painted pot leaves instead of clothes) to make sure that votes come their way. So I was extremely impressed to discover that the Swiss were doing things differently, organizing the contest along the same lines as a wine tasting (Switzerland has a long tradition of wine making). Judges could not be influenced by prejudice; they had to vote on quality alone, as the samples bore no name or reference besides a number and a dot of colour. They would know nothing about the origin of their samples until the awards ceremony.

Close-up of the Walliser Queen.Close-up of the Walliser Queen.The vote

Most people had plenty of time to really test the samples, as they had been available for several weeks before the competition. Four hundred entrance cards had been put up for sale, allowing for a maximum of 800 participants. As it turned out, many people were content to just buy their six 5 gram bags of pot for 20 dollars and not make it to the actual awards ceremony in Bern.

About 300 people did make the trip, coming from many different parts of the country. As they came in, they handed in their card already filled in according to the instructions:

1: excellent
2: super
3: good
4: all right
5: too bad…

As ballots were handed in and votes fed into the computer, one could follow the rating of each sample. Some information was beginning to filter out as to the identity of the most likely winners, which helped create great suspense.

The afternoon was dedicated to workshops which outlined legislative proposals from the Swiss Hemp Coordination (the event organizers) for the actual legalization of cannabis. Now, with the evening coming on, the festive part of the event was to take place. Most people sat rolling joints while listening to reggae music, or had a meal of curried hemp noodles, then rolled up some more samples, knowing quite well by then which was their favourite.

Finally the votes were fully tabulated. The time had come to reveal the names of the different varieties and the companies entering them.

? Le Druid, from Andr? F?rst of Chanvre Info.
? XT-S, from Andre Stafforte of Grow-Land.
? Lila B?r, from Hansruedi Allemann of Swiss Hemp.
? Cannabis Sativa, from Armin K?ser of Cannabio-Land.
? Walliser Queen, from Bernard Rappaz of Valchanvre.
? Granflora, from Felix Kautz of Owl’s Samen Produktion.

Walliser Queen and Granflora, both good strong pot, had been clear favourites from the start. Granflora, grown at a height of 1300 meters, had quite a clear high, possibly a side effect of altitude. The fragrant Walliser Queen, was the only Swiss cannabis to have been presented outside of Switzerland, as it took part in the 1997 Amsterdam Cannabis Cup.

There were six cups to be handed out – one for each participant ? a nice idea as they all deserved an award for taking part in this first ever Canna Swiss Cup. Tension mounted as, one by one, I opened the prepared envelope, starting from the bottom prize and going up. Third place went to Le Druid, from Andr? F?rst. Second went to XT-S from Andre Stafforte. And finally, first prize was presented to Bernard Rappaz for the Walliser Queen.

Bernard Rappaz and his first-place Walliser Queen.Bernard Rappaz and his first-place Walliser Queen.Bernard’s activist adventures

I know both Rappaz and F?rst quite well, and was happy to hand Rappaz the large cup, which was later to be filled with champagne. In Amsterdam in 1997, I had helped French-speaking Rappaz to translate his presentation of the Walliser Queen.

I knew how he had gone to Amsterdam in the early seventies, when Dutch travellers were bringing marijuana back from different parts of the world, openly selling it on the Dam. In those days grass came complete with seeds. Being a farmer, Rappaz took the seeds home and grew them. Over the years he had, like any gardener, selected the best plants and kept their seeds for the next crop. Twenty-five years later, this resulted in his own variety of “mountain hemp”, the Walliser Queen, that won the Swiss Cup.

Bernard Rappaz was beaming, and quite moved. The prize was a welcome reward for this true farmer and activist involved in many environmental and non-violent struggles over the last twenty years.

As a youngster Rappaz had gone to the most prestigious wine-making school in Franc. He returned to the Valais, his native region of Switzerland, and started his own organic farm, generating his own wind and solar power and growing pears, nectarines and tomatoes, sold as dried fruit. (The Valais is known for production of many excellent traditional foods, named, in German, “Walliser Wine” or “Walliser sausage” ? hence the name “Walliser Queen”.)

In 1996 Rappaz went to jail for producing pillows stuffed with hemp flowers. From his first day in jail he went on a hunger strike, and fasted for 42 days before being released (he will be tried in May, 1999). His company, Valchanvre, was one of the first in Europe to produce table oil, noodles, essential oils, a hemp balm that can be used like Tiger Balm and, of course, Walliser Queen seeds.

See you next year!

A competition like the Swiss Cannabis Cup certainly has many virtues. Being the first competition for only outdoor marijuana, it brought out varieties particularly suited to local climate and conditions (all competing varieties grew between 600 and 1300 meters).

The police knew about the Cup, but did nothing to interfere with it. Newspapers in the three main official languages of the country (French, German, Italian) covered the story, and many journalists expressed interest in coming to the Second Canna Swiss Cup, which will be even bigger and better than the first, and will take place in December 1999.

See you there!Bernard Rappaz and his first-place Walliser Queen.

? Michka has a new book coming out in France. Le Livre du cannabis is an 800 page compilation of writings on pot from the beginning of time to the year 2000, with more than 150 authors, plus hundreds of excerpts and quotes.
? Bernard Rappaz of Valchanvre: tel 41-27-723-2328; email [email protected]; website www.valchanvre.ch
? Swiss Hemp Coordination: SHK-CSC, Zentralstrasse 15, 1800 Zurich, Switzerland.

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