In the late summer of 1989, Nol van Schaik was hunkered down with a squadron of smugglers near the Spanish-French border. It had been a long, paranoid trip from Morocco, and even though the five men had successfully passed through several border crossings, Nol was feeling uncomfortable. He hadn’t wanted to do the whole journey; he’d been recruited just to do a clandestine modification job on a camper van. The recruiters wanted him to conceal 200 kilos of prime blonde Moroccan pollen hash so cleverly that drug dogs with Spanish, German and even French noses could not smell the potent contraband.
After all, each kilo was worth $2000. Anybody caught with 200 kilos could expect to end up in a cold dark prison for 20 years.
Nol had already done time in prison. That’s where he met the recruiters. They weren’t church boys or geniuses, Nol realized, but they had maps and connections, and they offered 50 kilos for his help. As any enterprising Dutchman would know, 50 kilos was a good down payment on a new life, and Nol needed a new life.
It wasn’t that Nol was a loser. As a boy, he’d run and played across the broad, lyrical landscape near his Dutch hometown of Haarlem. In forests festooned with crumbling castles, in canals edged by sunflowers and tulips, along ancient dunes and lonely beaches, with England sometimes faintly visible across the frigid water, Nol cavorted and explored. Sometimes, he’d ride his bike to Amsterdam, only ten miles east of Haarlem. Or he’d wait near the bakery in late afternoon, when sweet Dutch pastries were available for a discount price.
Nol started earning his own money at age 14, became a skilled construction worker, played soccer, became a bodybuilding champion and coach, founded a gym that eventually had 600 members, and even played fullback for an American-style football team in Europe.
He got married, had a son and daughter, and worked hard. But Holland, with its high tax rates and rat maze population density, is a brutally competitive country.
Nol found himself bankrupt and desperate. He fell in with a fast money scheme that landed him in prison. And in prison, he met the erstwhile smugglers whose own get-rich-quick scheme placed him near the Spanish-French border with a vanload of hashish on September, 13, 1989.
Nol is now 46 years old. He tells of his smuggling ordeal as we motor around Haarlem in his black BMW. Past Haarlem’s gorgeous main square, quiet canals, cathedrals and gourmet restaurants we go. Nol waves at friends and foes, at police officers and weedheads. It seems he is well known to many of Haarlem’s 150,000 residents.
The car’s interior reeks of marijuana and hashish. Rust-colored Thai sticks, sumptuous Nepalese Temple Balls of heavenly hash, and a large plastic bag filled with tightly wound, sticky buds fill the back seat. If we were in America, a pack of drooling drug dogs would have been rabidly chasing the car.
We park illegally in front of one of Nol’s three coffee shops. Music, psychoactive smoke, and laughter pour out of the large front doors, which are painted in psychedelic colors.
The place is called “Willie Wortel Workshop.” Nol wears a gold ring with a pot leaf and the letters “WWW” on it. He plans to throw a tremendous WWW tenth anniversary party in January 2001. It will be a costume party with a cannabis theme. Guests should dress as “weedbuds or hashlumps,” Nol jokes.
Who is Willie Wortel? Nol tells me “Willie Wortel” is the name of a working class cartoon hero well known in Holland.
“If somebody is an especially clever inventor or a rebel with good ideas, we call him a Willie Wortel,” Nol says, as he greets Marcel Dekker, one of his most valued employees.
Marcel is wearing a custom-made WWW bracelet, a sign of faithful service to Nol’s burgeoning hempire. He’s a cool and funny guy with a Cheshire cat smile who can roll a perfect joint, using only one hand, while driving 50 kilometers an hour on Haarlem’s medieval, tiny streets.
Marcel hands me a gooey golf ball-sized chunk of Dutch Cr?me hash, a quarter ounce bag of aptly-named Power Plant bud, an elegant Nol-designed pipe called “The Adjusto,” a WWW lighter, a dozen screens, and a pack of pre-rolled joints.
I prepared the pipe, and put flame to the hash. It bubbled.
“Welcome to Haarlem,” Marcel and Nol said in stereo, as my head hit the roof of the universe.
The great escape
“I was really worried about being in France with that big load of hash,” Nol said, while we ate a delicious meal prepared for us by his lover and business partner, a feisty 26-year-old cannagoddess named Maruska (pronounced Ma-roosh-ka) De Blaauw.
“As everyone in Europe knows,” he continued, “the French can be the biggest assholes in the world. They produce and make all kinds of hemp products, but they want to stop everybody else from being in the business.”
Nol had been given a kilo of hash to smoke in Morocco while he altered the shipment vehicle with silicon, Plexiglas, and fake wood.
“I had dysentery, so the hash kept me sane,” Nol recalls. “The plan was to have one person drive it into France, then the rest of us go across and meet up safely. It got across fine, but one of our gang stupidly went right up to the van where it was parked at a gas station, and the agents must have been watching us, because our guy led them right to it.”
Gendarmes and French Customs agents inspected the van, and found “irregularities.” Out came the handcuffs. Nol remembered it was his son’s birthday, and decided he’d rather be at home with his child than in a French jail.
“The frog came up to me with the cuffs,” Nol said. “Something came over me. I just head butted him and bolted. I had a travel bag around my waist with my identification in it. They grabbed at that and we all fell on the ground. I just kept flailing away. I remembered what my American football coach taught me. Always keep your feet moving, even if you’re surrounded by tacklers. I kept my legs pumping; they had hold of the bag. When the bag’s strap broke, I broke the tackle and sprinted towards a construction site. They fired some shots at me. Then I dived over the fence and into the forest on the other side.”
Haarlem: hemp city
After opening WWW in 1991, Nol embarked on a crusade to make Haarlem into “Hemp City.” He founded the Global Hemp Museum, which is now managed by Maruska.
The museum features large, live marijuana plants, marijuana art, Tibetan hemp and marijuana products, and rare artifacts from Holland’s first coffee shop, Mellow Yellow, which was opened by Dutch pot legend Wernard Bruining in 1973.
Seeing that WWW was a roaring success, Nol founded two more coffee shops ? Frans Hals and Dutch Joint ? making sure they were strategically located in different parts of the city. Relying on construction skills he’d used when he was younger, Nol renovated and decorated his shops, giving each a classy, cosmopolitan, and comfortable ambiance.
He invited loyal customers to become friends, and later, employees. His shops became gathering places for community activists, and provided a place where customers and employees became “family.”
Beginning in 1994, after Amsterdam began to close some coffee shops and other Dutch municipalities banned pot shops completely, Haarlem politicians decided to reduce the number of coffee shops from 24 to a maximum of 15. Haarlem’s mayor wanted to ban people under age 18 from the shops. Nol became the spokesperson for the pro-coffee shop agenda.
“Getting rid of the kids was a stupid idea,” Nol said, “and I refused to go along with it. The whole purpose of Dutch policy was to have kids safely find out about soft drugs while avoiding street dealers and hard drugs. We had several hundred customers who were under 18. My employees always talked to the kids about responsible use and avoiding hard drugs. A lot of kids came to my shops just to hang out with their friends. The proposal to ban them was discrimination.”
Nol pulled out a lighter and handed it to me. It had the WWW “orange carrot” emblem on one side. “Say No to hard drugs” was emblazoned on the other.
“Some of the other coffee shop owners said to me, ‘Hey Nol, just shut up and keep selling to the kids quietly like we do. Don’t make trouble.’ But I had parents telling me and the mayor they were glad their kids came to my shops. I have nothing to be ashamed of. I run safe establishments. I have consistent stocks of the strongest, peak-harvested weed and hash. I have computers in my shops so people can do schoolwork and research. I give back to the community, like when my employees, customers, Maruska, Marcel and I put together the Haarlem Hemp Happening in the sports hall in 1999. We had a hemp fashion show, a banquet, and a hash-pressing demonstration. What do I have to shut up about?”
Coffee shops, coughs and cops
While I visited WWW, teenagers and 20-something guys and girls played pool, chatted about music and politics, flirted, and sat at the well-stocked coffeebar smoking reasonably-priced premium buds and hash purchased from the affable dealer whose sales booth was conveniently located near the front door and the bathrooms.
Like WWW, Dutch Joint and Frans Hals (soon to be renamed “Cannabinol and Company”) each have a unique look and attract different clientele.
At Dutch Joint, I photographed lovely Joanie (a 19-year-old Surinamese beauty who works for Nol making delicious drinks and food), outside in the coffee shop’s patio. Like all of Nol’s female employees, she was heartbreakingly gorgeous and exotic.
“We have an international flavor to our cannabis, and we like to mirror that in our employees,” Nol explained, with a wink.
After the photo session, Nol took me to a building behind the patio, where a roomful of young computer wizards smoked phat blunts while playing interactive netgames, writing computer programs, and exploring cyberspace.
At Frans Hals, which is near Haarlem’s busy central train station, I met a group of Italian tourists who were sucking lattes and rolling hash joints.
“We asked the tourist bureau what were the best coffee shops in Haarlem, and she sent us here,” explained Rinaldi, a 26-year-old computer technician from Milan. “Two years ago, we stayed in Amsterdam and found its shops overcrowded, rude, and very expensive. Haarlem is a nicer city than Amsterdam. It’s beautiful, the prices are better, and it’s easier for us to get around.”
A white-haired American man sitting at a nearby table overheard the conversation and joined in.
“I found out about this shop from your Internet site,” he told Nol, referring to www.wwwshop.nl. “It wasn’t hard to find, considering your shops are the highest rated on every goddamn listing I found.”
Nol beamed with pride as he listened to the compliments, then he effusively told the tourists that his website had a “dealercam” focused on the weighing scale at Willie Wortel, a “growcam” focused on a live marijuana plant, and would soon have a “Cannaquiz” with a grand prize that included an all-expenses paid trip to Haarlem.
After Nol explained to the wide-eyed visitors that Cannaquiz would be an online contest in which contestants use a variety of websites and other references to answer difficult questions about cannabis and the marijuana business, he brought out his prized stash of “Ice-O-Later” hash and sprinkled some dark crystals into the Italians’ joints.
One of the Italians admitted she’d never smoked strong cannabis. Nol explained how to titrate dosage and what effects to expect. The girl courageously took two hits off the hash joint, coughed heartily, then burst out laughing when Nol quipped, “This isn’t only a coffee shop, it’s a cough shop”.
“This is what I love about the marijuana business,” Nol said, waiting for his dealer to tell him if any re-supply was needed. “We never have losers in our shops. My customers are a joy. I couldn’t say the same thing if I was running a bar. The police will tell you they love coffee shops. They don’t have to come here and break up any fights. It’s the alcohol places they’d love to close.”
Gerard Silvis, a 25-year veteran of Haarlem’s police department who specializes in coffee shop regulations, apparently agrees.
In the September, 2000 issue of Travel & Leisure magazine, Silvis is quoted as saying, “With bars we have a lot of problems, but almost none with coffee shops. In the past year, we had only a single complaint from the 16 shops.”
Silvis’s comments were part of a favorable article about the Haarlem coffee shop scene. Much of the article focused on Nol van Schaik.
“It made me feel so good to see this,” Nol said. “Travel & Leisure is one of the world’s best and biggest magazines. It’s owned by American Express Corporation. You’d never expect a positive article about marijuana from American corporate media, but the writer came here, saw the good we are doing, and gave us beautiful coverage.”
Part of that coverage included an astounding admission from Silvis. “I don’t visit the coffee shops privately, just professionally,” the officer said, “but there are policemen who go on their own time. We don’t say they can’t go, but we expect them to be discreet, not wear their uniforms.”
As Nol found out the hard way in 1998, the French government had never forgiven him for escaping the hash smuggling bust. His compatriots had all done hard time and paid their dues, but Nol’s leap over the construction zone fence into the forest landed him in a different kind of trouble.
His tackle-breaking skills had a telling effect on the French agents who tried to handcuff him that day: he head-butted one officer into a concussion, broke another officer’s arm, and broke a third gendarme’s elbow.
Nol’s body took a beating too.
“Well, it wasn’t really a forest on the other side of the fence,” he recalls ruefully. “It was just some trees planted on the side of a ravine! I tumbled down a long way and was cut and bleeding all over, but thank God, no broken bones. I could see and hear them looking for me with dogs, so I hid until night-time, then went back to the construction site and found some clothes, wire, a pair of pliers and a hammer. I used that to cross back over to the Spanish side. I hid in a grape arbor near a truck stop. I tried to bribe a Scottish truck driver into letting me ride with him back to Holland, but he was weird about it, so I broke into the back of a Dutch truck and rode in the thing for 34 hours. The driver took two sleep breaks, and every time he stopped I was scared to death because that’s when the French would be looking in the backs of trucks. I couldn’t even get out to take a piss.”
Nol finally made it back to Holland and became a well-known marijuana entrepreneur and activist, marketing his three coffee shops and hemp museum with panache and zeal, but when Nol and Maruska returned from a trip to Spain at Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport in 1998, authorities detained him for three days.
“They said, ‘There’s a new extradition treaty and you’re a fugitive on the wanted list,'” Nol explains. “Maruska and Marcel went to the media, got some customers together, and started a protest movement. About a hundred of them marched to the DA’s office to protest my extradition. It got national media coverage. Finally, Justice Minister Benk Korthals decided not to extradite me because the French wouldn’t agree to only imprison me briefly and then let me serve the remainder of my sentence in a Dutch jail, which is what they do with most Dutch citizens. My government decided not to send me to that hellhole. The only problem is, now I’m stuck in Holland. I’m afraid that if I leave, some other county may hijack me and extradite me to France.”
Behind every good man are at least two good women ? his mother and his lover ? or at least that’s what an old Dutch proverb says.
But Maruska isn’t just standing behind Nol, guarding his back in the gray world of coffee shop management and cannabis capitalism, she’s also standing next to him, taking her own risks, running a professional, highly-informative museum, becoming an important part of Haarlem’s transformation into a true Hemp City.
Maruska rides a horse in the forest where Nol played as a kid. When she’s done riding, the happy animal rests on hemp bedding while Maruska lovingly applies hemp oil hoof balm to its hoofs.
Maruska started working in the coffee shop trade when she was a teenager. She quickly learned the long hours and unusual dangers of a notorious industry subject to police and public scrutiny. She was one of few female dealers in a business that is largely dominated by men.
“If you think about it, a coffee shop is an act of trust,” she muses. “There’s usually only two or three employees in there. It’s not like we have armed guards. If you have a female dealer, she has to be strong enough to handle any shit that might come down. It’s not something most women want to do.”
Maruska’s precocious mastery of the dealer role fits with her no-nonsense but idealistic persona. She loves marijuana and hemp, and lives boldly, as if the war against them can’t affect her.
In February 1996, the war came home. Maruska was on a train in Germany, ferrying a care package of hashcake to her brothers and sisters in Christiania, the famed progressive community located in Copenhagen, Denmark. She watched in horror as a police officer walked up and found a piece of luggage, too easily identified as hers, with the hash in it.
“The police got all excited and panicky,” she said. “The bricks were so heavy, it almost broke the guy’s back getting it down from the top shelf.”
“In a moment like that, your mind is filled with all kinds of thoughts,” Maruska continued. “Oh-oh, what’s going to happen to me now? Damn, I lost all that good hash and my friends in Denmark are going to be sad that they didn’t get it. Where are they taking me? You know you’re going away for a long time and might not be smoking another joint for a year.”
Maruska’s worries were well justified. A judge decided she might flee back to Holland if he released her prior to trial, so she was remanded to custody. Then, the prison system “lost” her for several days.
“I said to the judge, ‘You’re going to put me in jail for hash?’ They wouldn’t let me phone a lawyer. Nol was calling, my parents were calling. Even the Haarlem police couldn’t get the Germans to admit they had me. They made me strip and put me in horrible clothes. They accused me of being associated with some woman heroin smuggler. They put me in an isolation cell for five weeks. I was alone all the time and only let out one hour per day. I felt like I would go crazy.”
Maruska was eventually released from solitary confinement, but she spent a total of five months in prison.
“Some people say I’m stupid for carrying the hash. OK, maybe I was, but Christiania is a special place, and I thought of it as a service, not as a crime,” she said, “It’s stupid to treat a young girl carrying a bag of compacted resin glands as if she’s a hardened criminal. I had been used to traveling the world ? Switzerland, Spain, Mexico ? and now I was in a cage. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I was deeply depressed. It took me a long time to recover from it.”
The real Willie Wortel
Nol van Schaik is a complex, paradoxical man, a hungry kid from a poor family who now holds three coffee shop licenses worth lots of money, a generous and caring host, but a fierce adversary if the freedom, businesses and people he cares about are threatened.
One night, when I got lost walking home to my hotel, I stopped at a coffee shop and asked for directions, then I asked the shop’s dealer if he knew Nol.
Haarlem has 16 coffee shops, including Nol’s. Many of them are worthwhile establishments. The dealer might have guessed that I had already been in one of Nol’s shops: I was wearing a T-shirt that featured a reprint of a cartoon that had appeared in a newspaper during Nol’s extradition battle. The cartoon showed Nol smoking a joint with a ball and chain around his ankle; the French Prime Minister was portrayed as Nol’s jailer.
“Yeah, van Schaik is a famous guy,” the dealer said, choosing his words carefully. “He put Haarlem’s scene on the map. His ideas are ahead of the times. His shops are a lot of competition. He has been on quite many television programs, debating dope policy with people who are trying to shut us down. He talks good and looks good. He is a powerful guy. If somebody tries to mess with him, he can be very tough, very hard. I know people who are scared of him. He doesn’t back down. He protects his interests.”
I spent a week with Nol, scrutinizing him as only a cynical pot journalist can. I concluded that Nol is a Willie Wortel, innovating the coffee shop trade with ATM machines for cannabis purchases, vending machines stocked with pipes and pre-rolled joints, and sophisticated marketing techniques. He has 40 loyal and intelligent employees, and an international clientele. His shops are also popular with faithful Haarlem regulars who stop in every day to purchase a few guilders worth of evening entertainment. And he’s an artist: he writes, performs and records songs about marijuana, under his stage name, Cannabinol.
Nol is an energetic, confident man who viscerally loves marijuana, who coos over bricks of hash split open to reveal a hash oil filling inside, who maintains a network of reliable growers and sources so he can provide customers with quality buds and hashish that are fresh, chemical-free, and superbly stony.
“Look at this Afghani,” he says, showing me hash that combines molasses and emeralds, green in the middle, dark on the outside. “It’s not being messed with in Russia like other Afghani you get in Holland.”
He presses his own hash, stamping it with the WWW emblem. He’s also into seeds, and is currently growing out and stabilizing classic Dutch varietals that came to him from Wernard Bruining’s pioneering Positronics seed catalog.
“I didn’t start smoking dope on purpose,” he told me. “I was an athlete. I didn’t smoke or drink. My brother smoked it with his friends, and they’d hand me a joint, and I’d pass it on, saying ‘Go make somebody else a junkie.’ My first time getting high was on a bus in Europe with the football team. I was 30 years old. They were all smoking; I was breathing. I got off the bus, and walked right into a pond up to my knees, and didn’t even know I was doing it.”
Along with being a pot-loving businessman and activist, Nol is compassionate and heart-conscious. I met an American exile named Dave who volunteers at the hemp museum. Dave is a medical marijuana patient who fled the USA because it has become too similar to Nazi Germany. Nol helped Dave escape.
These days, as North Sea gales blow through Holland, Nol is training the next generation of family members and trusted business partners like Marcel to take over the arduous task of running his coffee shops.
He talks wearily about a landlord who’s trying to hurt Willie Wortel Workshop, of associates whose stupid decisions have cost him money, of dishonest marijuana industry publications and corrupt coffee shop owners, of anti-pot politicians who “refuse to recognize that marijuana is a billion guilder a year industry for Holland.”
“I’ve been doing this for ten years,” Nol says, as he reaches into a bin to weigh out 500 grams of weed, the maximum that coffee shops are allowed to have on premises at any one time. “It’s seven days a week, day and night, customer service is all-important, how do you find honest employees, very intense work. I look forward to spending more time with my grandson, setting up a canal cruise with a big hookah pipe in the middle of the boat so we can puff along the waterways, traveling with Maruska.”
He pauses as the smell of cannabis rises up and envelops us.
“Maybe I’ll go into politics. I’d bring the message of hemp and marijuana to the highest levels. Holland’s government, even the European Union, needs to have a Minister of Marijuana. I think I might know the right Willie Wortel for the job.”