On a spring day in 1972, a young Dutch student named Wernard Bruining and a group of his hippie friends opened a marijuana “teahouse” on a scenic street in Amsterdam.
Thirty years later, on a brisk late November day, I strolled a meandering cannabis shop tour route from Amsterdam’s central train station to the Pax Party House where the 15th annual High Times Cannabis Cup was being held.
Amsterdam was buzzing with Cup fever. Crowds of Cuppers from around the world, but mostly from America, were thronging the 30 or so Amsterdam shops that participated in the Cup this year.
I stopped at Barney’s Breakfast Bar to eat luscious croissants and smoke Barney’s Cup-winning Morning Glory bud. After stepping in front of a street car and seeing visions of my mortality, I jogged over to the Dampkring and hung out with manager Eric, then walked with him to the Dampkring’s partner shop, De Twede Kamer, where bearded seed guru Soma’s New York City Diesel was filling the room with dank humor.
Then on to the sexy, sordid but safe environs of the Red Light district, to one of the many Greenhouse franchise shops where Arjan’s Super Silver Haze lit a blaze in my mind.
After saying a brief hello to the fantastic employees and basement grow room at the Cannabis College, which recently re-opened better than ever after a fire, I worshiped the ganja goddess at the Old Church coffeeshop, with its superb Royal Creme hash as the body and blood of Christ. I also went upstairs to fly with Bluebird coffeeshop’s diverse collection of hand-rubbed traditional hashes from India, Nepal and Morocco.
Amsterdam is a feast for stoned eyes, appetites, and feet. Along the quiet, bicycle-gilded streets, I stopped to purchase Dutch specialty pastries and Belgian chocolates while exchanging greetings with industry friends and other Cup visitors who were also out enjoying the cannacity.
We shared our fondest purchases and discoveries ? munchies, Sagebud, bubblehash, Sensi’s Sticky Maroc, Kali Mist, Mango, spacecake, and a cute budbabe named Buddha’s Sister. Visitors talked of tripping on edible hashish and mushrooms inside the Van Gogh museum, of making love in the rose garden in VondelPark while rubbing hash oil on each other’s “private parts,” and of getting directions to the Cannabis Cup from police officers.
We Cupheads got beyond fear, distrust and unfamiliarity, and soon created a dynamic public Europot party, a laughing mass of heads from around the world, imbibing nature’s kindest without worrying about anything other than an unplanned stumble dip in a Rembrandtesque canal? the water was so cold while I swam a lap, my new friends laughing and cheering from the street above in the amber-cr?me Holland sunlight.
The Cup week has a rejuvenating family feeling, a mellow mood that makes the city even prettier than it usually is, and the vibe continued after I entered the crowded three-story Pax Party House. It may have been the cannabinoids soaking my brain, or my wet clothing making me shiver, but I swear the building danced as gales of Cup laughter swept towards me and the Pax doors opened with sensi smoke revealed.
Breathe deeply the air of the Pax, and get high, so high.
Before I got to work taking pictures of the Cup’s vendors, celebrities, and ganja girls, I gave thanks to those once young but now old hippies and businessmen like Bruining. If it hadn’t been for Bruining and his pot-dealing companions, there would be no Cannabis Cup; the Dutch cannabis shop culture as it is today would probably not exist.
Bruining’s Mellow Yellow pot teahouse was the first of many marijuana shops that came into existence beginning in the 1970’s.
The courage of early marijuana entrepreneurs ? Bruining, Mila Jansen, Henk De Vries, Ben Dronkers and other brave souls ? paved the way for Holland’s “tolerant” cannabis policies and the country’s thriving marijuana tourism and production industry.
Inside the Pax, next door to a police station, the international gathering of activists, tokers, growers, and industrialists celebrated Holland’s cannabis freedom.
The Cup has had many permutations and themes over the years. Some years marred by scandal, others tinged with golden memories. This year’s Cup transcended those ghosts of the past. The event was a safe, exciting, mature trade show that honored a persecuted industry finally come of age. And it was also a damn fine party!
“People realize we are lucky to be together with the herb,” commented Baruk, a former member of the Israeli military who left his country after marijuana consciousness convinced him that war and Zionism were not good for his soul. “There is too much fighting right now. A lot of people dying. Bush is so stupid that he might destroy the whole world. We are lucky that the Netherlands lets us do this weed festival. I think people are grateful for this Cup; we don’t know how many more there will be.”
The gratefulness I noticed most was for the copious amounts of hashish and marijuana freely available in the Pax.
Eagle Bill, the American vaporizer wizard who finally obtained legal residency status in Holland after years of effort (“The Eagle has landed,” he quipped), was on hand offering hardcore hits of Sensi sensi from his enormous glass vaporizer, while Mila the Pollinator Queen offered cool ice hash and Canada’s BubbleMan kept loading his fancy glass pipes with bubble glands.
Sagarmatha, KC Brains, Dutch Passion, Sensi, Soma, Serious, Paradise, Positronics, THSeeds ? these are the prosaic names of some of the many seed companies who brought genetics and flowers to this year’s Cup.
For growers, there were several companies offering stealth grow chambers replete with lights, exhaust fans, hydroponic nutrient-water systems, even computers. For fans of Canada, some of Vancouver’s finest activists, like med-pot maven Hilary Black and hospitality hottie Karen Watson, were on hand to well represent the maple leaf contingent.
In the evenings after the Pax closed down, Cup crowds packed into the Melkweg, one of Amsterdam’s oldest night clubs. There, rockin’ bands like Fishbone performed, and after the concerts, silk-skirt trapeze artists zoomed and swooped overhead in the club’s rafters.
And when the city was totally asleep, I stumbled back to the Hemp Hotel, run by Mila’s daughter, for a smoke and a chat before dissolving into a warm bed.
For the last 15 years, Cup week ended on Friday, and most people went home soon thereafter.
This year, many Cuppers chose to spend Friday and the weekend in Haarlem, where potshop bossman Nol Van Schaik was hosting a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Dutch coffeeshop experiment.
Van Schaik owns three coffeeshops in Haarlem, a charming town only 20 minutes by train from Amsterdam. He decided early in 2002 to honor the pioneers who created coffeeshop culture.
He spent two months writing the most complete history of Dutch marijuana and pot coffeeshops ever written ? The Dutch Experience ? and debuted the book to much acclaim at the Cannabis Cup.
He set up an all-expenses-paid trip to Holland for American “Old Ed,” a 76-year-old gent who helped Wernard Bruining bring California genetics and the sinsemilla technique to Holland in the late 1970’s.
Bruining, whose Mellow Yellow shop is generally acknowledged to have been the precursor for Dutch potshop culture, organized a Holland-wide weed/hash competition that utilized numbered joints placed into bins by smokers using a method that rated them for quality and potency.
In Haarlem during the cannaversary festivities, Bruining and Van Schaik counted thousands of joint butts from across the Netherlands, and tallied the winners, which included tasty “Haarlem Hope” bud and spunky old-style Sputnik hashish.
Van Schaik rented the massive sports hall across from Haarlem’s train station for a gala party during which Bulldog coffeeshop founder Henk de Vries, Bruining, and Old Ed were given trophies featuring real buds dipped in real gold.
The evening’s highlight came when Van Schaik and associate Marcel Dekker poured several ounces of Power Plant weed and BioHaze Ice Hash into the oversized bowl of a 64-hose hookah pipe. Hundreds of people took hits off the pipe, as the sports hall interior disappeared in a haze of Haze-hash smoke.
Old Ed passed out at the Cannabis Cup, and again in Haarlem, when he took his first-ever hits of strong Dutch weed and pure hashish.
“Whew, that was like the being on a rocket,” he exclaimed. “It took me a while to get used to it. They’ve sure made some advancements over what we used to grow here.”
The wicked weekend ended with a pool tournament, free food, and free hash at Van Schaik’s trendy Willie Wortel Sinsemilla coffeeshop. Old Ed, white-bearded and finally used to 60% THC bubblehash, got up to make the closing speech, paused until the shop was expectantly quiet, then summed up the rare vibe all of us felt that special week in November.
“People ask me what marijuana means to me, why is it worth all this,” the gentle elder said, his voice full of gratitude. “All I need to say is ? marijuana is our medicine. It makes us feel good. What else do we need to know?”