On the day that my home near Washington, DC trembled from the shock waves of a hijacked plane hitting the Pentagon three miles away, I was scheduled to fly to Manchester, England to cover the opening of the UK’s first marijuana coffee shop.
Instead, my flight- and every other commerical flight into and out of America- was grounded. I spent the next 72 hours heartsick, shocked and scared, trying desperately to find a way to England for the historic event. It was impossible. America was locked down. I couldn’t even drive to Toronto and fly from there, because the border was closed.
I finally found a flight to Europe, which was canceled three times and then delayed further because police surrounded a plane due to a false tip about an Arab passenger. I had arrived at Dulles Airport near DC the mandatory two hours early, only to find the place virtually empty, with massive flight cancelations from the airlines and their passengers.
Security measures were tight and tense. Uniformed and plainclothes police, federal marshals, sniffer dogs, and Customs agents, always in overabundance at international ports of entry, were everywhere. Travelers furtively scrutinized each other; I observed several incidents when conservative-looking white folks went to security officials to “provide information” about people they deemed “suspicious.”
In one case, two agents and a dog detained a young black man whose Rasta dreads must have triggered a fear reaction in some paranoid tipster. The agents were harshly authoritarian with the man as they rifled through his backpack, finding nothing illegal or dangerous.
When I questioned the detention in earshot of a hip-looking young woman nearby, she said, “I’m glad they’re doing it. I’d be happy to give up a few rights to make sure I don’t get killed by some raghead. It’s not too swift to be wearing dreadlocks right now.”
At the security entrance, the private personnel who run x-ray machines and check baggage looked grim. They wiped some kind of litmus paper over my 40 canisters of color slide film, then told me I was being detained. Several other civilian agents, none of whom were wearing identification, gathered around me, speaking to each other in Arabic and Spanish. I asked what the problem was. They said they couldn’t discuss it. I watched as they put my film canisters in a small, partially-dismantled machine.
“The test will show whether there is bomb or drug residue,” an agent said after I demanded to know what was going on. “The machine isn’t working, but we’re being very thorough.”
I replied that I could understand the new thoroughness regime, since the same airport’s security had allowed hijackers with weapons to enter a plane outbound from Dulles on September 11th. That plane hit the Pentagon. After 45 harrowing minutes, during which civilian agents and uniformed police repeatedly examined my carry on luggage, and looked through my copies of Cannabis Culture, I was allowed to leave. No explanations, no apologies. I didn’t feel singled out, however. A lot of people were being hassled as they passed through security gates, and most of them seemed to accept it as an inevitable price of anti-terrorism. They were mute and compliant.
The events of the past week, unfolding like a science fiction movie, piled in on me. Welcome to the New World Order, I thought.
As the half-full plane sojourned across the Atlantic toward Amsterdam, I spoke with other passengers. Several were Americans or Canadians headed for a cannatourism destination in Holland. The Canadians told of horrendous security procedures at the US-Canada border, with many border stations shut down and others traffic jammed due to 100 percent search ratios and draconian Customs procedures.
“They said it’s going to be a permanent state of war on the border,” a Canadian told me. “The days of easy crossings are over.”
A flight attendant, near tears, told me that her airline had announced tens of thousands of layoffs. I suggested that she come with me to Haarlem, Holland to smoke some healing herb during her two day layover in Holland. She smiled.
I arrived in Amsterdam and contacted friends in the coffee shop industry. Eric, manager of the highly-rated Dampkring coffee shop, reported, “This has been the quietest week anybody can remember. We haven’t seen more than a handful of Americans. Many people are worried about the effects of this situation on marijuana tourism.”
At the Greenhouse coffee shop in the Red Light District, a waitress told me that she had “never seen it so slow.”
“We rely on younger Americans who come here because of High Times,” she said. “My boss told me that a lot of people are canceling their trip to the Cannabis Cup. One guy said, ‘I’m going to stay home and grow my own.'”
However, 420 Tours president Michael Esterson stated “There have been a few cancellations but not many and in fact people continue to sign up all though the numbers are about 15-20% lower than last year at this time, the event will go on as planned!”
And as news reports carried word of worldwide economic meltdown, bankrupt airlines, and the prospect of World War Three, the mood of the usually buoyant city became somber and reflective.
“It was probably like this in the 1930’s when people saw Hilter becoming stronger, and the continent moving toward war,” one lad told me. “You know you have one life, and you want it to be fun, but now something horrible is happening and everything is going to be hard. Even when I smoke a joint, it doesn’t make me completely forget.”
Many pot people here and abroad are wondering how the pending “war against terrorism” will affect the cannabis culture.
In the short term at least, Canadian marijuana exporters will have to reconsider their transit routes very carefully, because border interdiction is intensive and wide-ranging.
Bringing cannabis seeds and other contraband back from Holland is more foolhardy than it ever has been. Best to order seeds by mail from Marc Emery. Even if the privacy-busting suspensions of civil liberties requested by US Attorney General John Ashcroft are enacted by Congress, Emery’s shipments of lifesaving cannagenetics are likely to still safely arrive at your door.
Should you still book air travel for a Dutch treat vacation? The Dutch hope so, but remember that most of the world’s major airlines are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. If you do book flights, be sure to get travel insurance.
Will the New World Order, global military apparatus, and reduction of civil liberties be used to help fight the drug war? In the short term, while the USA concentrates on killing people that it claims are terrorists, the new worldwide police-military axis might not focus much on pot people.
But the massive new governmental powers that are being advocated as anti-terrorism strategies, which include declarations tantamount to martial law, may later be targeted at the marijuana reform movement, cultivators, users, dissidents, and other progressive groups, even though 99.9 percent of the pot people and progressives I have met are non-violent, ethical people.
Yes, I am grateful to be in Europe again, photographing chunks of Moroccan double zero hash and speaking at events like the September 29th pro-marijuana rally in London, but I cannot help but be haunted by the many unique spirits who suddenly left our world on September 11th, and the surreal rush to war that has followed.
I had long believed that environmental crises and overpopulation would be the triggers that brought down technoindustrial “civiliation.” After interviewing top scientists who are documenting the dying oceans, the poisoned atmosphere, the dwindling supply of water, arable land, and biodiversity, I believed we would be seeing global eco-catastrophe around 2010. But to see the world change for the worse overnight in September, 2001, who would’ve dreamed it? Everything I took for granted-economic stability, peace, a long life- are suddenly threatened. The bright future we thought we had just a few years ago now seems a cruel chimera…a mirage.
While I watched Bush’s powerful pro-war address to Congress with Dutch coffee shop activist Nol Van Schaik, he reminded me that Europeans have seen this all before, and that’s one reason they have “a bit more of a relaxed and fun attitude toward life.”
“What are we going to do, Pete, hide and cry?” he asked rhetorically. “No, we are going to grow more marijuana, open coffee shops everywhere, smoke the best weed and hash, share marijuana, sell marijuana, work to end the drug war, and keep on smiling. If everybody had marijuana, I don’t think we’d be facing what we’re facing today.”