Some people are so stubborn! They just don’t accept the reality of marijuana prohibition. They act like it’s legalized already, taking risks most of us are afraid to take.
“The world needs people who are willing to be the first to scale a ladder and jump over the fortress walls to do battle against all odds,” says Wernard Bruining, the Dutchman who founded Holland’s first coffee shop, Mellow Yellow, thirty years ago.
Bruining is talking about pioneers like Dennis Peron, who opened a series of outlets selling medicinal marijuana in San Francisco: his profits helped finance the successful campaign for America’s first voter-approved medical cannabis law.
Or Nol Van Schaik, who rose from humble Dutch origins to become one of Europe’s most influential marijuana businessmen.
Then there’s Colin Davies, Van Schaik’s friend and partner in England’s first official marijuana shop, The Dutch Experience, who publicly handed a bouquet of marijuana flowers to England’s Queen Mother, and later gave Prince Charles a parcel of med-pot to deliver to a hospitalized sufferer.
Folks like Van Schaik, Davies, Marc Emery and Peron are dreamers who create political theater.
Doubters tell dreamers: “It can’t be done.”
Dreamers do it anyway.
Like the time Van Schaik wore a bodybuilder’s bikini while riding a bicycle during Hemp Olympix outside his Willie Wortel coffee shop in his hometown of Haarlem, Holland. Or when he marched from Haarlem to Amsterdam, towing behind him a bright orange replica of the Statue of Liberty. Or when he created the Haarlem Hemp Happening, and the Global Hemp Museum.
Davies is a med-pot patient who convinced British newspapers to publish photographs of his grow room a few years ago. He went to trial twice for cultivating cannabis, had the audacity to admit what he was doing and why, and was twice acquitted by juries.
“You have to get peoples’ attention so you can show how the world would be if marijuana was legal,” Davies told me last summer, when he and Van Schaik were brainstorming about The Dutch Experience. “It’s not meant to make money, it’s meant as an example – this is what it would look like if we had weed shops instead of booze bars. This is what it would be like if we didn’t have to live in fear.”
In the cage
Davies didn’t live in fear, but now he’s living in prison.
The Dutch Experience, its founders, and its allies have been raided, arrested, surveilled, imprisoned, and harassed since opening day last September in Stockport, England (CC#36, England’s Dutch Experience).
Davies, Van Schaik, European Parliament members, and a bevy of activists and patients staged protest rallies, got arrested, demanded jury trials and smoked joints in police stations.
Van Schaik’s life partner, cannagrrl Maruska de Blauuw, led all-night, in-jail sessions singing pro-pot protest hymns written by Van Schaik.
Prosecutors, judges and Stockport-area police went crazy, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to punish patients, activists, and the coffee shop’s founders.
Van Schaik was kidnapped from his Stockport hotel room in the middle of the night and rudely interrogated by ham-handed constables.
Davies was repeatedly arrested. Judges demanded his promise that he would not “re-offend” by continuing to run The Dutch Experience. Davies just said no.
A judge caged him in Strangeways Prison from December last year until May. Davies was released under bail conditions that prohibited him from going home or talking to Van Schaik.
He went home anyway. Where else could he go? Spy cameras (hundreds of thousands of them monitor England’s populace) caught him going in and out.
Police raided his apartment. They found him there with Bart Meekel, a Dutchman who worked behind the bar at Van Schaik’s riverside Willie Wortels Indica coffee shop in Haarlem when I lived above the shop last summer.
Meekel and I used to stand outside the Indica in Rembrandtesque Holland twilight, sampling Van Schaik’s captivating collection of Afghani, Moroccan, Dutch and Indian hashish.
Bart was handsome, reliable, fearless. Working solo in a potshop requires a combination of weed knowledge and people skills. He had ’em.
One summer eve, way after midnight, we took hits off a Vaporizer and then leapt laughing into the Spaarne River. On weekends, we went to Zandvoort beach near Haarlem, kicking sandy soccer balls, toking bodacious buds and watching Ecstasy-shroom girls dance to top Euro DJ’s at weekly BeachBop parties.
Bart was like a brother to me. Now he’s a prisoner of war. Stockport police arrested him and Colin at Colin’s flat, charging them with possession with intent to distribute.
In an unprecedented move, the judge refused bail. Colin has been in prison since July, and may never get out. The disabled father of two young sons is accused of growing, importing, violating bail conditions, and perjuring himself. In England, where police officers and politicians lie about pot all the time, this disabled defendant’s alleged perjury is being taken very seriously.
“They’re trying to kill my son,” Colin’s mother said, just before police arrested Colin’s 71-year-old father, for allegedly lying for his son at a bail hearing.
Even though England’s prisons are so overcrowded that violent criminals are released early or locked in local jails, Dutchman Bart is taking up space in a Liverpool prison.
This article is being written in late August, so there’s no way of knowing if Bart will still be behind bars when you read this.
Van Schaik says one more day for Bart in prison is too many.
“England put him in without trial for 400 grams of weed. In Holland, his job is to work behind a counter with 500 grams,” Van Schaik says. “The British did this because he is Dutch, and because they are trying to destroy The Dutch Experience.”
The more things change…
Everybody in Europe knows that Holland’s approach to marijuana is smarter than theirs, it’s just taking them a while to admit it.
Portugal decriminalized drug possession a year ago. Belgium officials told me two years ago that they would soon legalize growing and possessing cannabis, but so far, they’ve only legalized possession of cannabis in private.
Switzerland is set to decriminalize. Germany and Spain are considering it. France was headed toward decrim, until voters installed a more right-wing government in recent elections.
Representatives of Holland’s new majority ruling party, the CDA, told me after recent elections that they intended to close all coffee shops (CC#39, Dutch coffeeshops under attack). They couldn’t find much support for that, and the number of shops had already been drastically reduced by the previous government. Now CDA says it only intends to close border coffee shops and those near schools.
Van Schaik and Davies based their dreams on the integrity of British Home Secretary David Blunkett and other UK officials, who said early last year that England was tired of spending money and police arresting people for cannabis.
Van Schaik attended a British drug conference where the Brits admitted Holland’s “tolerance” policy was better than British prohibition.
The British Isles has a higher drug “abuse” rate than any other European country. Brits drink oceans of booze. They smoke a rancid perversion of cannabis, called “soapbar.”
Blunkett made welcome noises about adopting a sensible marijuana policy. In the end, his new policy, which won’t go into effect until late next year at the earliest, still allows police to arrest and jail people for a joint, and doubles penalties for cultivation and distribution.
“The British people deserve the right to do what the Dutch people can do,” Davies said last summer. “They can go into a pub and legally buy a man-made drug that can kill you in a few minutes. They want to be able to go into a coffee shop and buy an herb that can heal you in a few minutes. Why not?”
Dreams die hard
As Colin Davies, Bart Meekel, and other Dutch Experience allies and workers rot in jail or endure daily harassment from Stockport police, Van Schaik works to free his comrades.
His UK dreams have become nightmares, with people he cares about being tortured by a British judicial system that was recently reconfigured to severely limit defendant’s rights.
“This is a human rights issue now, not just a cannabis issue,” he says while renovating his lauded hemp museum and coffee shops in Haarlem. “Colin, Bart and all cannabis friends should be free. The Dutch Experience should be supported by the government, not persecuted. And marijuana- quality marijuana- should be readily available to anybody who wants it. That’s my dream.”