Hendrik Duppe and Emil Reichman stood with me on the balcony of the Europahalle in rural Germany last September, enjoying the view of their eighth annual “Cannabusiness” trade show.
“Hendrik and I started this trade show in 1996 because we wanted to legitimize and publicize the cannabis plant and all its many uses,” Emil said proudly. “We have had many difficulties in organizing Cannabusiness and keeping it alive. But every year we are surrounded by evidence that our efforts have been successful.”
Behind us was an outdoor patio where DJ’s and trance dancers shimmied amongst vendors like hashmaster Mila, seedmeister Gypsy Nirvana, and dozens of bong vendors. Below us was the spacious Sensi Seeds booth, where seed-breeding legend Ben Dronkers and his sons Alan and Ravi handed out small bales of hemp grown by the family’s Hempflax farm business. Across from Dronkers was the Cannabis Kultur booth, manned by editor Peter Golembe, who was promoting the German-language edition of Cannabis Culture.
Wandering the aisles, followed by a gaggle of excited voyeurs and photographers, was a nearly-naked, body-painted blonde babe who wore only panties and a ganjariffic paint job. GrowBox, and other concealable pot-growing chambermakers, competed for the attention of hundreds of visitors. Bong salespeople, vapoheads, urine cleansers, nutrients companies, hemp food/hemp cosmetics manufacturers, and joint-rolling contraption promoters hawked their wares while a hemp fashion show entertained the masses.
By the time the weekend event was over, I’d sampled tasty Swiss waterBargehash, taken 200 photographs, and heard the latest European cannabis news from the people who make the news, such as…
the son of Ben
Ravi Dronkers is a well-mannered co-heir to Ben Dronkers’ famous Sensi Seeds business. Ravi looks more like his dad than does his brother Alan; the brothers hope to extend Sensi Seeds’ 19-year tradition of breeding superlative strains of marijuana such as Jack Herer, Northern Lights, Hashplant and Skunk #1.
However, the Dronkers told me Holland’s newly-installed right-wing Christian Democrat government, along with the Amsterdam municipal government, were making it harder to produce seeds. Further, ominous cooperative changes in Holland’s relationship with prohibitionist neighbors and the US are making many feel that Holland will not always be safe for the marijuana industry.
“Who can believe this anti-cannabis government is in power in our country?” asked Ravi. “It is frightening. Who would have ever thought we would see our Prime Minister getting the red carpet treatment in the White House, and trying to ruin our coffee shops?”
In late summer last year, Ravi found out the hard way that Holland is not as pot-friendly as it was when his dad started Sensi Seeds in the good old days of 1985. Ravi told how he was smoking joints with friends on the terrace outside Sensi Seeds’ Amsterdam headquarters when a police officer walked up.
“The officer told my guest, ‘You must put out the joint,’ and I said to my guest, ‘No, don’t put it out, I will take care of this,'” Ravi explained. “This is not the typical behavior for police in Holland; smoking a joint is not even illegal in Holland. So I just said to the officer, ‘What is your problem?’ The officer snarls at me: ‘Either put out the joints or I will arrest you.’ Then, he grabbed my arm and twisted it behind my back in a way that hurt very much. When I continued to argue with him, he said, ‘If you don’t do what I say, I will break your arm.'”
With the cop exerting vicious pressure on Ravi’s arm, Ravi dragged himself and the cop inside the Sensi Seeds shop, freed his arm and placed it on the counter.
“I told the officer, ‘You call a real cop, because I am not going anywhere with you,'” Ravi recalls. “Suddenly, an army of police poured into the shop like they had been waiting around the corner; they arrested me for ‘failing to follow an order’ and took me to jail.”
The charges were later dropped, but Ravi remains shaken by the incident. He and his father said it woke them up to the need to become more activistic.
“We have considered our business to be business, and also to be quiet activism, and so we have not spoken out thus far about the changes we see,” said Ben Dronkers, after he carefully weighed whether he wanted me to publicize what happened to his son. “It has been our policy to keep a low profile, to protect our seeds, our museum, and our hemp growing. But we see this police misbehavior also happening to Henk DeVries, the coffeeshop pioneer, with police harassing people at his Bulldog coffeeshop, and Henk has been at this longer than we have. And we see the police assaulting my son, who was not breaking the law. So I decided, yes, it is time to say this government must respect the marijuana businesses, and must stop attacking an industry that has done so much good for Holland.”
I wandered outside after talking to the Dronkers and enjoyed a breath of fresh air while Cannabusiness flags danced in the breeze. Suddenly, a white-robed figure appeared like a spirit from another world.
The apparition was none other than Free Rob Cannabis, the heroic British hempster who planted cannabis plants and won a civic prize for the cannafloral display outside his hemp shop in Glastonbury, who went to court on drug charges and instead of plea bargaining told the judge and jury that laws against cannabis are a crime, who went to prison for his beliefs, who brought cannabis plants to the Prime Minister’s office in London, and who gave away and auctioned marijuana at rallies he organized in London’s Hyde Park every year for 10 years until he was arrested for it in 2001, and dragged off to Charing Cross police station.
Rob’s girlfriend and I had waited in the rain outside the station while police lied to us and held Rob incommunicado for 12 hours. He was finally released, and faced a jury and judge a few months later, charged with possession and trafficking of marijuana. He told the jury marijuana was a “healing godly herb” and that he would “not stop providing it to fellow humans.” A majority of the jury decided not to convict him, but the Crown Prosecution Service decided to prosecute him a second time.
“I was ready to go into court and fight all over again, but something happened that took away my spirit ? my shop in Glastonbury got burgled in January 2003 just before the trial began, and all my seeds and bongs were stolen,” Rob said. “The burglary demoralized me, so I didn’t prepare for the second trial. Also, the prosecutor and judge were prejudiced against me; they told the jury it had to disregard everything I said about cannabis and human rights. They told the jury about all my past convictions, and said I was a drug dealer and a criminal.
“The jury came back with a guilty verdict,” continued Rob, “and the judge wanted to send me to prison right away, but instead I convinced him to get a probation report. The probation officer recommended I do community service, but the judge sentenced me to two months in prison.”
Rob was sent to a notorious maximum security prison that is nicknamed “Hellmarch” because it houses armed robbers and other violent criminals. He went on a hunger strike, protected himself against violent fellow prisoners, and left prison a changed man.
“There has always been a very strong spiritual and ecological component to what I do and feel about cannabis,” Rob said, “and this became even clearer to me in prison. I now believe that people who claim to advocate cannabis because it is a natural healing herb must confront problems with their relationship with the herb, especially with the way it is cultivated and ingested.”
According to Rob’s radical new cannabis dogma, which he bases on ayurvedic, holistic, organic, raw foodist, vegan, and agricultural principals, it is just as unnatural to prevent cannabis from being fertilized (which is the key element of making cannabis into sinsemilla) as it is to make cannabis pharmaceutical medicines. Rob believes smoking cannabis is “a sin against nature and against your lungs.”
“If we say man made alcohol but God made cannabis, we have to follow it through,” Rob argues. “God made cannabis, but God didn’t put fire on cannabis any more than God put fire on apples. You don’t burn an apple and inhale apple smoke, and you don’t need to burn cannabis to get what God meant for you to get from it. God made cannabis females to be fertilized by males, so they have a balance of yin and yang. Does God say, ‘Kill all the males,’ or is that just a Babylon human invention? God made cannabis to be used as it occurs in nature, which means eat cannabis blended with organic foods, rub it on your skin, inhale its pure, unburned essences through your nose. The manipulation of cannabis through selective breeding, through burning, through preventing the female plant from having sex with the male plant, has resulted in cannabis unbalanced with too much THC, and it is causing big problems for people’s health, mental clarity, and spiritual development.”
When somebody standing nearby challenged Rob’s views, he stunned the person into reluctant agreement.
“I’ve gone to prison for this plant, and I love the planet and the plant,” Rob said. “But when I smoked the plant, it made me weak, it made me sloppy, it clouded my spirit. Now that I use the plant in a way that respects nature, and use cannabis plants grown naturally without the artificial killing of male plants, I am enjoying the true benefits the plant provides. Do you find that smoking high-THC cannabis is enhancing your ability to think, remember, run, play, work, make love, fight for justice?”
The person stood silently, and then said simply, “No.”
“Well then, examine your mantra about respecting the nature, and look at how you burn this herb that you claim to respect,” Rob responded. “Cannabis is not meant for fire, it’s meant for healing.”
And with that, the white-robed Cannabis disappeared like a dove called to heaven.
hassles from Hassela
I was sitting with Peter Golembe at the Cannabis Kultur booth, which was mobbed with people telling us that CK is the best magazine in Europe, when a shy young man came up and asked me if I would step outside to discuss his cannabis activism.
I wondered why the guy was so furtive, but I stopped wondering after he told me he was an activist from Sweden ? the most prohibitionist country in Europe.
“It is frightening to even be an activist in Sweden,” said the 26-year-old office worker who made me promise not to use his name in the magazine. “Call me ‘Ashtray’ in your article. In our country, you cannot say anything good about marijuana. You cannot say anything bad about the drug war. You cannot protest. If you do, you will be hunted down by a group of religious fanatics who team up with the government ? the Hassela Nordic Network. They are like a secret police force. If they identify you as a marijuana user or activist, they will push you out of your job, family, home. They will ruin you.”
Ashtray explained that Sweden’s relatively liberal social climate began to disappear in the 1960’s, and that today the country is the leading proponent of US-style zero tolerance marijuana policies (CC#10, Beware the Swedish Narconazis!).
“The Hassela is teamed with police, government, Scientologists, schools, media and regular citizens to destroy marijuana people,” he said. “They will not allow even discussion of hemp or medical marijuana. They have a slang word, ‘kuarkare,’ that is the same as the word ‘nigger,’ and is meant to indicate that marijuana people are swine. If you have dreadlocks or are young, if you just went to Holland on vacation, they will pick you up and force you to pee in a cup or take you to a hospital for mandatory blood testing. It is illegal for you to have THC in your blood, and if they find it, you will be arrested. Your friends and neighbors will turn you in, believing you will get ‘help’ and ‘counseling,’ but what will happen to you is that the government will try to massacre your soul.”
Ashtray says he’s ashamed that his country is spreading its virulently anti-marijuana rhetoric across Europe. He reports that the Swedish government is agitating against the Dutch coffeeshop system, and recently authorized spending millions of dollars on prisons, police, informants, and other tactics designed to achieve “a drug-free Sweden and a drug-free Europe.”
“All the time in the media and at schools, we are told that there is no such thing as a soft drug, that cannabis is the same as heroin, that cannabis causes schizophrenia, depression, laziness and violence, that the war against marijuana is the biggest concern of the Swedish people,” Ashtray says.
Despite all this, there are still pockets of hope and resistance.
“Enlightened Swedish people use and grow marijuana, plus they go to Holland for so-called ‘drug holidays,’ and they pray that the propaganda and the brutality will stop,” explained Ashtray. “In 1998, the marijuana people formed the Swedish Cannabis Organization with a website at www.swecan.org, and they are asking the world for help in turning back the prohibitionist liars and brutalizers.”
Ashtray wanted me to add a plea for help to the global ganja culture. “Anybody who is reading this, please contact Swecan. Sweden is ruining the chances for marijuana legalization in Europe. My government must be defeated. We must save the world from Sweden’s narks.”
Ashtray’s chilling description of life in a police state was ringing in my head when I went back inside the Europahalle. Golembe was packing up the few magazines and bud posters we still had, as other vendors traded products, smoked herb, and said their goodbyes.
A beautiful young woman who had been part of the Sensi Seeds sales team stopped by, eating a hemp chocolate bar.
“It’s a lot of work, but a lot of fun,” she said of the Cannabusiness Fair and Trade Show. “Let’s hope the governments of Europe keep letting us meet this way.”