England’s first coffeeshop

Colin Davies was a skilled carpenter and shop foreman, happily living a working-class life in Northern England in 1995, when he, his father, and some other blokes went to a pub to hoist some pints of fine British beer.
Davies left the pub that cold December night, intending to smoke a cigarette and take a pee on the side of a dark road before returning to the party, but one of Colin’s friends, his mind muddied by alcohol, decided to scare the lad. He playfully grabbed Colin and shoved him. Colin fell down a 30 foot embankment. He woke up paralyzed at the bottom of the hill, his spine fractured in three places, unable to move. His “friend” went back into the pub, unaware that Colin lay dying outside.

Finally, somebody realized that something had gone terribly wrong. Davies was found by an emergency crew that had to resuscitate him ? bring him back from the land of the dead ? two times.

The unlucky Davies woke up in the paralysis unit of a Manchester hospital, unable to walk. Doctors didn’t believe he’d ever walk again. His skeleton was so severely injured, and the resultant pain so severe, that he was fed morphine intravenously.

“The morphine made me sick, but it didn’t get rid of the pain,” Davies told me recently. “The doctors told me that even in the best of cases I’d be injured and in pain the rest of my life. I felt it was time to die.”

Marijuana miracle

After Davies was moved into a hospital ward for severely disabled patients, he met a woman patient who offered him a marijuana cigarette, telling him that it helped her medically. He smoked with her, and felt a profound sense of relief.

“It was such a strange feeling, to feel good again instead of miserable, and to be able to sleep like a baby,” the 44-year-old Davies recalls. “I hadn’t been able to sleep well, even with all that morphine in me.”

Davies did some research, and found marijuana had been used for centuries as an analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and muscle relaxer. It couldn’t fix his broken skeleton, however, and Davies sometimes still had to resort to prescription narcotics for pain relief. Marijuana helped him drastically decrease his use of narcotics. It also enabled him to participate in physical therapy that defeated his paralysis and got him out of the hospital.

Believing that marijuana was “a miracle,” Davies procured his medicine “on the street,” an arduous, expensive task that usually gained him only a few days’ supply of mediocre herb.

In 1997, Colin used his paltry disability payments to purchase high quality Dutch canna-genetics and an indoor grow light system. He was growing 27 plants in November, 1997 when he went into the hospital for another operation. He returned home with a huge incision on his right clavicle and a renewed dose of debilitating pain. He was lying on the floor one day, dizzy and nauseated by a shot of morphine administered by his physician, when constables kicked his door down.

“They were screaming ‘Where are the plants?'” Davies recalls. “They dragged me off the floor and took me away. I was charged with cultivating cannabis. The maximum penalty was 14 years. I told my lawyer I wanted to use a medical necessity defense. He said, ‘You’re an idiot. I’m not going to help you with that kind of tactic. If you want to do that, you’re on your own.’ I had my jury trial in June, 1998. I told the jury the truth, and they acquitted me.”

Emboldened by the jury’s compassion, Davies planted a bigger indoor marijuana garden after other UK medical marijuana patients begged him to provide them medicine. He set up a loosely-organized grow and distribution operation called the “Medical Marijuana Cooperative” after seeking advice from American medical marijuana clubs. Sick and dying patients helped Davies with expenses in return for high quality soil-grown cannabis.

A year to the day from his 1997 arrest, on November 17, 1998, the police squad returned to kick the door down. Davies was again arrested, this time charged with cultivation of 47 plants. During his July, 1999 trial, Davies defended himself by putting patients on the witness stand.

“They explained their conditions, and how I helped them,” Davies said. “The prosecutor attacked me, saying, ‘Why do you send cannabis to this man in Scotland? You don’t know this man. You can’t possibly care about him. He’s nothing to you. Why do you care? It’s all for the money.’ I responded that the Scottish patient and all patients were something to me ? they’re human beings and they’re in pain like I am, and they need help and I’m going to help them because the plant helped me. The prosecutor laughed at me, but they jury acquitted me, and the court erupted into a big celebration.”

Cannabis royale

After his 1999 court victory, Davies continued to grow and provide cannabis for medical patients. Last year, he learned that medical patients had written to England’s top royal, the venerable, white-haired Queen Elizabeth II, begging her and Prince Charles to help them legalize medical cannabis. When the Queen visited a nearby arts center, Davies cut a hefty cola of homegrown “Big Bud” marijuana, wrapped it in pretty paper with a green ribbon, traveled to the arts center, and handed the “posy” to the Queen.

A picture of England’s sweet little Queen, wearing a hat, pearls, and clutching a visible bouquet of marijuana flowers, was shown on television and the front page of many newspapers, with accompanying stories describing Colin’s views on medical marijuana.

“The Queen already knew about medical marijuana from the letters she had received,” Colin says. “I got her attention and she came up to me with a lovely smile. I told her I who I was, and I said, ‘Here’s a sample of what helps people.’ She took my hand and said, ‘I know what you are doing, deary, and you must carry on with your good work.’ It brought tears to my eyes. The Queen’s people later said that flowers given to the Queen were usually distributed to people in hospital or retirement homes. I saw them put it in her limo along with some other flowers. The media went crazy, asking all the royals if they had smoked pot. Then they got some government ministers, including Yvette Cooper, the Public Health Minister, to admit that they had used marijuana. One senior Tory official admitted that he had eaten ‘space cake’ and had enjoyed it very much!”

The head of Manchester’s police drugs unit threatened to “interview” Davies about his royal gift, and about the med-pot grow room that Davies claimed had produced the herb. Undaunted, Davies allowed himself to be photographed in his grow room ? the picture appeared on the front page of local newspapers.

Two weeks after his meeting with the Queen, Davies went to a Manchester hospital during a visit by Prince Charles.

“I had been contacted by a husband who had been begging the hospital and doctors to allow his wife to use cannabis butter brownies during her chemotherapy,” Davies said. “The doctors wouldn’t help, so I went up to the Prince, showed him a letter from the patient, and gave him two canisters of marijuana, of about three grams each, along with a recipe for cannabis butter. I told him the medical staff were not being compassionate, and asked that he help get the cannabis to the patient. He gave it to one of his aides.”

Nol Von Schaik(l) and Colin Davies: `a constant force`Nol Von Schaik(l) and Colin Davies: `a constant force`Dutch Treat

Basking in the glow of his successful encounters with royalty, Davies watched happily as Cumbrian Chief Constable David Phillips stated he would not arrest a person just for smoking a joint. Then, the commander of police in London’s Brixton suburb announced that his officers would stop arresting people in possession of small amounts of cannabis. The Brixton policy met with approval from Home Secretary David Blunkett. Politicians from all parts of the political spectrum began calling for cannabis legalization and for England to consider adopting Holland’s soft drugs/marijuana coffee shop policy.

Davies decided it was high time to open a marijuana dispensary. He contacted Netherlands coffee shop magnate and weed campaigner Nol Van Schaik. The men met in Haarlem, near Amsterdam, where Van Schaik has three coffee shops. Van Schaik showed Colin the prototype for a new board game that Van Schaik created, called The Coffee Shop Game. The game explains the trials and tribulations of running a marijuana shop.

Davies told Van Schaik that he wanted to play the game ? in real life.

Are you experienced?

Late summer found Van Schaik and Marcel “WonderWortel” Dekker, a long-time ally who manages Van Schaik’s Willie Wortel Workshop pot club in Haarlem, team up with Davies and other volunteers, transforming a leased building into something that very closely resembled a Dutch coffeeshop. Van Schaik documented the process electronically, posting pictures of renovations and marijuana being packaged. Davies and Van Schaik publicly proclaimed their intent to sell high quality cannabis to medical and recreational users, with sales to recreational users subsidizing reduced prices and even “free medicine” for medically needy people.

Sympathetic observers marveled at the team’s energy and vision, even as they worried that the band of idealists were, as one put it, “walking off a cliff.” Davies negotiated privately with Manchester Police Superintendent Ian McLoughlin and other government officials, while newspaper reports carried warnings from police that Davies was going to be arrested if he tried to open a Dutch-style pot cafe in England.

On Friday, September 14, with the grand opening of The Dutch Experience scheduled the next day, Van Schaik was exhilarated but pensive. Terrorist attacks on the US earlier that week, and rumors that police intended to bust the shop, worried the activists. Davies questioned police, who assured him that they intended only to “monitor” the fledgling venture.

On Saturday morning, patients in wheelchairs joined Davies, Van Schaik, the media, and marijuana advocates in the sparklingly-refurbished building, awaiting the official noontime opening festivities, which was to feature the singing of a song penned by Van Schaik, along with a ceremonial ribbon cutting by Wernard Bruining, who created the first Dutch coffee shop 25 years ago.

At 10:10 am, Manchester police crashed the party. They detained everyone in The Dutch Experience, but then began selectively arresting people. Davies was rudely shoved into the back of a police van. Maruska De Blauuw, Van Schaik’s life partner and curator of the highly-lauded Global Hemp Museum in Haarlem, was jacked up by a female constable when De Blauuw attempted to rescue a wheelchair-bound patient who was panicking during the arrest.

Dekker was also hauled off, as was Van Schaik’s website manager, DJ Maarten Goedman, even though he had no marijuana and was running the satellite uplink that was to have broadcast the historic event on the worldwide web.

While the activists languished in jail for 17 hours, police searched their hotel rooms and Colin’s house, and mistakenly arrested several journalists who were later released. Patients pried their way into the boarded-up coffee shop, smoking joints, guarding the premises, and lamenting the sudden closure of what they had hoped would be a permanent med-pot dispensary.

On Sunday, after Davies and his companions were released from jail under orders to appear in court in November; two people who had been assisting Davies were arrested, then later released on bail.

Double talk

Cannabis Culture spoke to several Manchester police officers about The Dutch Experience bust. All of them requested anonymity when discussing the most interesting and politically-sensitive aspects of the raid. Police spokespersons insisted that “only four or five officers” carried out a “peaceful, low-key, discreet investigation at the scene.” They said that no manhandling or other physical abuse occurred. They denied giving Davies implicit or explicit permission to open the UK pot shop, but admitted that “we knew everything they were doing, of course.”

According to police, “Nobody has been charged with any crime in connection with the Stockport marijuana store, and we won’t know until we get forensic tests on seized items and consult with prosecutors whether they will be charged.” If charges are proffered, one officer speculated, they would consist of “possession of cannabis with intent to supply, or being concerned with providing cannabis to persons who had intent to supply.”

One officer said that police had “no choice but to enforce existing British law which makes cannabis illegal.” The same officer said The Dutch Experience had been busted because, “The grand opening was an ill-advised publicity stunt and the crowd created a nuisance.” Another reason: “We’re British and we don’t like people from the Netherlands coming over here to muck things up.”
Another officer admitted, however, that the arrests themselves might have been “ill-advised.”

“We had three gun-related homicides in Manchester this weekend, and they may well be related to the drugs trade,” she said. “There could be a case made that legalizing drugs might reduce this violence. I know people who use cannabis and go over to Holland to enjoy it. I personally don’t have a problem with it, but the politicians have to change the laws, don’t they, or we are bound to go on enforcing against it. I certainly think we could find better ways to be spending our time than arresting Mr Davies and his friends.”

Van Schaik, Davies and other witnesses disputed the police version of events. Van Schaik said police had deliberately misled Davies, assuring him that the shop would not be busted while secretly pressuring Davies’ landlord to kick the activist and his Dutch-style establishment out of the landlord’s building.

“There were at least 25 police there,” Van Schaik said. “They created a lot of mayhem, and they injured Colin. He cried out in pain and you could see them cracking on his head when they shoved him in the police van. They told the rest of us they were arresting us because we were Dutch. We didn’t have any marijuana on us. They used excessive force, they were ignorant and rude, and they are liars.”

Davies returned to The Dutch Experience after leaving jail, where he was greeted by tears and applause from patients and other supporters. He vowed to continue supplying cannabis in the UK’s first pot shop, “No matter how many times they arrest me.”

The Haarlem hempster also remained defiant.

“I invited the police over to Holland to see how an intelligent marijuana policy works,” Van Schaik said. “Colin Davies is a hero. Everybody who helped us is a hero. We will be a constant force in England and throughout Europe until cannabis is easily available from quality coffee shops for anybody who wants it.”Nol Von Schaik(l) and Colin Davies: `a constant force`

? UK Medical Marijuana Cooperative: PO Box 209, Stockport, SK5 8FB, England; email [email protected]; web www.mmco.org.uk
? The Dutch Experience: www.thedutchexperience.org
? Willie Wortel Workshop: www.wwwshop.nl

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