In the middle of the night after last year’s CannaBusiness trade show in Germany, I sped south on a German autobahn, smoking resin glands with hashmeister BubbleMan, wondering if my rental car going 150 miles per hour would last long enough for us to reach our destination ? a rural Swiss village near Lugano.
There, according to BubbleMan, was acre after acre of ganja grown by an American named Chris Iverson, who moved to Switzerland in 1997 after hearing about a loophole in Swiss law that allowed high-potency cannabis to be openly grown and sold as “hemp.”
We traveled in a multi-car caravan that included a car containing urine-drinking, trance-dance gypsies affiliated with what Iverson told me was Europe’s wildest subculture, called “psychedelic trance,” which met for massive sex-drugs raves under full moons during Euro-summer.
The gypsies didn’t easily make it through the border; they were detained by authorities who questioned them about their hemp clothing and urine. Bubble and I, in walkie-talkie contact with Iverson, decided to head south fast; we arrived at Iverson’s farm after negotiating a twisting, Lord of the Rings-esque road while tripping on bubblehash two hours before dawn.
I hadn’t slept in a week, but immediately leapt from the rental car, unloaded photo backpacks and tripods, and obnoxiously asked sleeping residents of a nearby farmhouse where the ganja fields were.
From under a table in the farmhouse kitchen crawled pot photographer Barge, who offered to take me to the fields by the light of the silvery moon.
We saddled our Nikons and trekked cross-country in Swiss Alps night, crossing a field of mud, and a fenceline, soon standing in awe amongst thousands of ganja plants with sticky stalks silhouetted against the Milky Way.
Barge and I shared the pure joy pot photographers feel when they stand in a massive outdoor ganja garden, and then he went back to his table at the farmhouse.
I never left the field, running from plant to plant burning film, as the sun rose and traversed the sky. It was late afternoon when, covered in resin and high from inhaling vapors of 15 different kinds of ripening buds, I finally headed back to the farmhouse.
It was my first day ever in Switzerland, and I was higher than a mountain.
Iverson was waiting for me at the farmhouse, surrounded by cannababes, trancers, yoga masters, European pot businessmen, and a movie crew.
The ganja field was a living set for a movie Iverson called The Green Goddess. He said the movie was a “psychedelic trance comedy about hemp.”
Iverson’s entourage carried me through a scenic valley and mountain pass to another farmhouse, where the energetic American had a digital video production studio, sauna, yoga deck, raw foods kitchen, and piles of tasty “hemp.”
He told me he’d been a marijuana activist in the US Pacific Northwest before getting sick of badge-wearing pigs and deciding to live the Swiss hemp miracle dream in 1997.
The movie plot, footage and theme were loosely autobiographical, he explained, and were unique because they contained never-before-seen feature film scenes of ganja plantations, pot dealing, trance dances, Dutch coffeeshops, hallucinations, and Iverson’s hilarious alter-personality, which combines Pee Wee Herman with acid, goddess worship, and dyed blonde hair.
After eating a delicious meal of raw, uncooked, untreated, unprocessed, unadulterated, totally healthy, invigorating, delicious food, watching beautiful babes doing naked yoga and luna “girl-blood-menstruation” rituals, and watching the trance hippies drink urine directly from the source, Iverson beckoned me to his upstairs studio where the movie director, screenwriter, producer and stars watched edited and unedited Green Goddess footage.
I was very impressed by what I saw. The Goddess storyline features three Americans traveling to Switzerland to grow outdoor marijuana and get rich. It shows them escaping police, doing pot sales research in Amsterdam, tripping on acid with a lunatic guide in a real Swiss insane asylum, planting hundreds of clones using a specially-designed tractor, trying to save their crop from a late-season killer storm, and making ganja potions and smoking machinery.
The film was hilarious, full of gorgeous real ganja, infused with Iverson’s New Age, surrealistic vision, and powered by hot marijuana music.
I pronounced the film Oscar material, and then spent blissful hours lost in Iverson’s fields, sleeping in them, watching purple buds swelling under the evening sun.
Six great seasons
Soon after I sadly left Switzerland to go on assignment to Morocco, Iverson held a wild trance-harvest party that he filmed for the movie. It all seemed so fun and easy, until the Swiss police showed up and Iverson felt the need to suddenly do some mountain climbing.
I met him again during Cannabis Cup week in Amsterdam, where we chatted in his amazing apartment overlooking the Grasshopper coffeeshop and the city’s central train station.
“I think that the glory days of Swiss outdoor growing are over,” he said, with a sad look in his eyes. “About ten years ago somebody figured out the loophole, and a lot of people realized that the Swiss are not into having drug wars on their people. A lot of people went there, among them [Canadian seed developer] Breeder Steve, and set up grows.
“Tons of pot were grown and sold in shops as potpourri, sachets and herb-filled pillows,” continued Iverson. “When the Dutch government cracked down on Dutch seed production a few years back, a lot of the top Dutch seed companies moved their production to Switzerland. The country was exporting pot too. And at first, the cops didn’t really care, but then after too many people got too greedy and the United Nations and the US began to notice, the cops started to care.”
Cops caring meant that Iverson and other foreign growers, as well as high-profile Swiss growers like hunger striker Bernard Rappaz (CC#36, Swiss pot prisoner), started getting visits that involved police testing fields for cannabinoid percentages. Police calculated crop strength and yield, and if they thought somebody was growing for the “drug market,” they interrogated them, jailed them, and sometimes threatened them with expulsion from the country.
Police actions differed from province to province in a country that has distinctly different cultural zones, some influenced by Germany, others by Italy or France. In some regions, marijuana buds continue to be sold openly as “dried flowers,” while ready-to-harvest cannabis can be bought as a houseplant. Some of these potshops get raided and close down, while others re-open and continue to operate.
Iverson himself decided to “get out while the getting was good.” He left Switzerland in late 2002.
“I had six brilliant seasons there, many thousands of clones and huge fields, and a great experience in a very sane and smart country,” he explains. “But I’m taking some time off to see what happens there. Breeder and a lot of the other guys have left too. If you stay and try to pretend it’s 1999, you’re likely to wish you hadn’t.”
Conflicting reports mean nobody really knows what Swiss pot law is anymore, at least at the enforcement level.
Switzerland has been harshly criticized by the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board for its tolerant marijuana policies. Yet the Swiss government is apparently moving ahead with marijuana decriminalization that would be almost as liberal as Dutch policies, with cultivation and sale officially illegal but not prosecuted, and with small-scale cultivation, sales and use being de facto totally legal.
The planned liberalization of official Swiss law is slated to be complete within two years, but for the majority of the country’s estimated one million pot smokers, the alpine paradise is already a pot paradise, and, as one stoned Swiss girl asked me, “Why do we need to go to Holland anymore?”
I put that question to Luc Krol, founder of Paradise Seeds, who got in big trouble for growing seed crops in Switzerland.
“Yeah, we got knocked down for making seeds there, as have other Dutchmen,” Krol told me. “Who knows what will happen, but we will keep making Paradise seeds somewhere, maybe in Spain; that’s where a lot of the other Swiss guys moved to. If you look on Switzerland from the top of the Alps next summer, you still see the weed plant from border to border. They can’t stop it any more than they can stop the snow.”