In September, 2001, a few days after terrorist attacks in the US, medical marijuana activist Colin Davies and Dutch cannabis coffee shop guru Nol Van Schaik opened England’s first Dutch-style marijuana store (CC#34, England’s first coffeeshop).
The grand opening pre-ceremonies commenced on a quiet Saturday morning, attended by medical marijuana patients grateful that they now had a place to buy quality cannabis and hashish instead of pathetic “soapbar” low-potency cannabis products typically available in England.
Before too long, however, smiles and gratitude turned to horror. Police constables ruined the festivities, starting a near-riot, injuring patients, arresting Van Schaik, Davies and several Dutch nationals who were attending the event.
Davies and the other arrestees languished in prison while patients broke through police barricades and re-opened The Dutch Experience. Davies and his cohorts were eventually released from jail, but Davies was arrested again a week later, this time for possessing a small amount of medical marijuana that he uses to treat a spinal injury. Somehow, Davies and his allies kept The Dutch Experience open. Stockport officials report that the coffeeshop is now the town’s biggest tourist attraction.
Even after he was arrested a third and fourth time, Davies provided potent Superskunk and Moroccan primero hashish to his customers. When Davies told a bail judge that he would not stop selling marijuana, the judge remanded him to Northern England’s Strangeways Prison. As this article is being written in January, Davies is shackled in the hospital ward of the prison. Judges insist he will be behind bars until his trial on numerous marijuana distribution and importation charges; the trial might not happen until May.
In the streets
Colin’s supporters are an international coalition reminiscent of Martin Luther King’s coalition against segregation in America during the 1960’s.
During protest marches, hundreds of pot people and civil libertarians besieged Stockport’s police station. Stockport’s Member of the European Parliament, Chris Davies (no relation to Colin), went to the Stockport police station with a small quantity of cannabis and demanded to be arrested while leading a December protest march.
“Hundreds of British politicians admit in private that the law on cannabis is nonsense,” MEP Davies said during the protest. “It is time that more of them spoke out publicly. The legal priorities are wrong. Last year some 50,000 people were arrested for possession of cannabis, a drug which the medical journal The Lancet claims is less harmful than alcohol. In the same period nearly 800 young people died of alcohol-induced liver cirrhosis. It is not surprising that many police officers admit that they have better things to do with their time than arrest people for a supposed offence which causes no harm to anyone else. Ten years ago I worked for the Shopping Hours Reform Council, sponsored by major grocery stores who were campaigning for a change in the law on Sunday store hours. By opening his ‘coffee shop’ Colin Davies is doing no more and no less than the superstores did then when they broke the law by opening on Sundays to meet public demand.”
Marco Cappato, an Italian member of the European Parliament, was arrested during a Dutch Experience rally in December, after being charged with “civil disobedience.” He and other Italian politicians traveled to England on diplomatic passports to protest Colin’s imprisonment and Chris Davies’ arrest. When police arrested the Italians, Van Schaik said, they created a politically embarrassing situation for the British government, bringing Europe-wide attention to the Stockport situation.
Van Schaik and his partner Maruska De Blaauw borrowed tactics from Martin Luther King’s freedom marchers by singing hymns in jail during their September incarceration.
“Instead of singing church songs, we sang songs by Nol like: ‘We are sinsemilla guerrillas, free Colin and let us get high ? don’t steal medicine, don’t make patients die,'” Maruska reported. “The police kept coming to the cell and telling us to stop singing. We sang louder ? all night long.”
In follow-up protests when Van Schaik was incarcerated or unable to participate because he was already facing court proceedings, Maruska led marches across Stockport. Authorities tried to stop the marches using police on horseback, but Maruska and her followers fought back by entering police stations.
“We’d roll the fattest joints possible and then go inside the small station and light the joints,” she said. “Then we’d puff ’em as fast as possible to fill the air with marijuana smoke. The police were breathing the smoke. They had to be getting high off it.”
When Van Schaik returned to England for a court appearance in late December, he was victim of a KGB-style police hit.
“In November, they dropped all charges against me and the other Dutch people who were arrested in September on opening day,” he said. “I led several marches since then. You can see on our videotapes that constables ignore me as I stand smoking a joint, but they arrest British people right next to me. This contrasts with September’s arrests, when police specifically avoided arresting all British people except Colin, instead arresting only those of us who were Dutch, solely because we were Dutch, while refusing to arrest British people right next to us who were openly in possession of cannabis. In December, they watched me smoke pot publicly all day, then they took my hotel room key from the manager of my hotel, and walked into my room near midnight when I was in bed.”
Van Schaik’s hotel visitors interrogated him in his pajamas before taking him into custody.
“They found about ten grams of weed,” he recalled. “I told them I had brought it with me from Holland because I didn’t want to smoke the soapbar shite they have in England. Then they were smelling it and saying, ‘This stuff is real strong. It smells stronger than what we confiscate in England. Is this a hard drug?’ I said, ‘No, it’s just good marijuana, a Dutch product I am proud of.’ They as much as told me they were arresting me in my hotel room because they didn’t want the media to see them do it in public, and because they were mad at me for organizing protests.”
When Van Schaik and his allies go to court, they force judges and prosecutors to confront the new militancy of marijuana users and advocates in England.
“So far, they’ve arrested about 50 of us. Most are charged with misdemeanors that carry only a 50 pound fine,” Van Schaik explained. “Every one of us is insisting on a jury trial. A jury trial costs the Crown about ?10,000 per case. So the British government is going to lose at least ?9,500 every time it prosecutes us, and most of us are going to refuse to pay fines anyway. They have to bring all those cases to trial in January, so we are going to jam their court system. We are going to keep throwing ourselves at them until they release Colin and promise to leave the Dutch Experience alone. If they put me on trial, I will represent myself, and I will talk for 50 years about the stupidity of cannabis prohibition.”
While Van Schaik, patients, and European MEP’s were planning a major late-January Stockport street rally, Stockport police again raided The Dutch Experience on January 3, 2002. Six people were arrested. Noting that police in London’s Brixton suburb were abiding by a no-arrest policy for marijuana offenses, Van Schaik assailed Stockport police and magistrates, asking why people in Northern England were being arrested for offenses that they would not be arrested for in Brixton. He also noted that the British government had changed its laws to prevent marijuana defendants from requesting that judges and juries consider whether prosecuting people for possession of plants violates the European Human Rights Act.
“What really makes us mad is that the government has stolen Colin’s best medicine ? marijuana ? and now when he is in pain, they give him morphine instead,” Maruska complained. “The police can’t defend the laws or arrests. They say, ‘We’re just following orders. We don’t believe in the law. We’re just doing our jobs.’ I say, ‘That’s bullshit. That’s what they said in Germany during the war! Is that what England fought Hitler for, so you English police could persecute us the way Hitler’s Nazis persecuted Jews, and then hide behind your job as an excuse?'”
? The Dutch Experience: email [email protected]; web www.dutchexperience.org; web www.mmco.org.uk; web www.wwwshop.nl.
? Colin Davies: c/o Solicitor Chris Hinnett, Nicholas Herman Partnership, 164 Oldham Road, Manchester, M4 6BG. 0161 202 4999
? Chris Davies MEP: 87A Castle Street Edgeley Stockport Cheshire, SK3 9AR; tel 0161-477-7070; fax 0161-477-7007; email [email protected]; web www.chrisdaviesmep.org.uk.