The Bowl is only in its second year, but it has already achieved the kind of status and cache associated with Amsterdam’s long-running annual Cannabis Cup.
As I traveled to the Bowl via air from the United States, I spotted people who looked like they were headed to Vancouver for the event. They had that special look in their eyes, the look that said they were soon to escape America’s repressive regime for the Canadian city that is so pot-friendly that it is nicknamed “Vansterdam.”
A dreadlocked guy and his girlfriend, a New Age goddess, an older couple, a solo grower from the Midwest ? all of them turned out to be heading to Canada for the Bowl.
“We’re worried about getting across the border,” the dreadlocked guy said, and indeed his worries were justified. I was behind him in the immigration line after we got off the plane in Vancouver. Immigration officers waved through most travelers, but when the hip-looking dude stepped up and presented his passport, the vibe changed. The dude had previously told me that if he was questioned he was going to assert that he was visiting Canada to “do some fishing.”
The immigration officer thought that was fishy.
“Where are you going to go fishing?” she asked the guy.
“Ummm, I’m not sure yet,” the guy replied, breaking into a sweat and rocking back and forth on his heels. “Probably over on the coast.”
“Where is your fishing gear?”
“I’m going to rent some,” he replied unconvincingly.
The immigration officer instructed him to go to a sequestered area, and I approached the officer next, silently grateful that I have short hair.
Safely across the border, I arrived Thursday evening at the British Columbia Marijuana Party (BCMP) Headquarters and Bookstore on Hastings street in downtown Vancouver.
The BCMP compound is a multi-level building that also houses Pot-TV’s studios. In the bookstore, customers can buy hemp clothing, marijuana books and magazines, inhalation devices, and exotic legal herbs.
Next door is the New Amsterdam Caf?, not financially affiliated with Marc Emery and Cannabis Culture, but an official part of the Tokers’ Bowl venue this year.
In and around the BCMP building on Hastings street are marijuana seed retailers and other companies selling pot-related products and services.
“This entire section of Hastings street is a cannabusiness zone,” explained Sean, a former employee of Marc Emery Seeds who now runs his own seed business. “It’s fair to say that if it wasn’t for Marc, none of us would be here right now.”
Tokers’ Bowl guests found Hastings street to be an interesting mix of subcultures.
As part of their modest $500 US entrance fee, guests had been presented with a customized bowl filled with 23 varieties of locally-produced marijuana.
Street hustlers repeatedly approached Bowl guests asking them if they wanted to buy “weed.” Some brave Bowlers responded by breaking out their bowls of bud to show the hustlers that they already had “real strong marijuana.”
Many Hastings street hustlers are addicted to hard drugs. As part of the CC crew, I had insider access to dozens of complementary one gram bags of bud, and I got in the habit of stopping to talk to individual addicts about using marijuana, yoga, meditation, and exercise to kick hard drugs. When they invariably asked me for marijuana, I surprised them by handing over a bag or two of powerful Shiskaberry, Great White Shark or Blueberry.
In subsequent days, as I walked to the Bowl area along Hastings street, I found I had created addict “groupies” who eagerly awaited “the American guy who hands out free weed.”
I gently guided my new-found friends away from the BCMP building, and talked to them about self-reliance, health, and harm reduction, while enjoying their comments about the cannabis I’d given them.
One comment I heard I will never forget: “That herb you gave me was so fuckin’ strong that if I had been able to smoke that all along, I never would’ve tried the white powder that’s killing me. I’d have never needed any other drug.”
So much for the gateway theory!
higher than high
The Thursday night welcome party at the New Amsterdam was rollicking and stony. There were nearly 200 paid guests at this year’s Bowl; most of them were from the United States. There were several veterans of last year’s Bowl, but some first-time Bowlers had never smoked strong BC bud, and within a few tokes after their entrance to the opening event, they were very well-baked.
A demographic overview of the guests would describe many of them as being in their 30’s and 40’s; they were mostly middle to upper-class white folks who had “regular” jobs and families back home.
There were younger visitors as well, including a beautiful cannagoddess named Megan, and an attractive 20-something couple who looked like television stars.
“I came up here because I really admire Marc Emery and I wanted to hang out with him,” was a common response when I asked people why they had made the long trek to Vancouver from the USA.
An equally common response was: “We can’t get any good pot where we live, and we read about the Bowl in the magazine and it looked like a huge amount of fun. It’s worth every cent it cost to get here.”
Many guests said that the relative freedom and safety of Vancouver had influenced their ability to enjoy cannabis.
“In the states I can get hold of some kick-ass chronic indoor for about $300 an ounce,” commented a visitor who lives in the American Midwest. “But no matter how much I smoke there, I never really get high. I am too worried about the police, and about getting narked on, and there’s a lot of people with guns who don’t mind their own business ? they mind yours. It’s not a friendly country anymore. It’s all about war. It ruins your high. But here in Canada, people are so laid back and Vancouver is so safe and friendly. So I could feel myself relax as soon as I got out of the airport, and being relaxed, the weed hit me like a brick and I could afford to let it hit me.”
Loretta Nall, president of the US Marijuana Party and founder of the Alabama Marijuana Party, agreed that Vancouver is a “great place to get high.”
“I just keep shaking my head trying to get over how cool it is here,” she said. “Of course, I am also shaking my head trying to keep my head clear from all this hellacious weed. This stuff is so strong. Basically I have been way too stoned ever since I got here. I am usually real boisterous and talkative, but I’m so high all I can do is just sit in a corner and watch everything happen.”
up in smoke
The hard-working crew of the Tokers’ Bowl provided lots of activities for stoners to engage in. Even if there had been no planned activities, Vancouver is a vibrant, stonerific city, and Bowl weekend was especially exciting due to a convergence of other events. The Bowl weekend overlapped a huge horticulture and hydroponics convention and the “Slam City Jam” skateboarding championships.
On Friday night at the elegant Heritage Hall, guests ate splendid food while watching Marc Emery and other Vancouver pot heroes cavort in medieval costumes.
A talented Celtic band provided ear candy during the enchanted evening, which featured 10-foot-tall stilt walkers dancing while smoking phat joints.
Near the end of the costume party, hostesses served tray after tray of potent cannadesserts. The delicacies, which tasted so good that I ate too many of them, were about five times as strong as space cake I’ve eaten in Holland.
Still woozy from those orally-ingested cannabinoids the next day, I joined other Bowl guests and hundreds of Vancouverites for the “Global Marijuana March” that finished up in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Canadian activist David Malmo-Levine, who was soon to depart for Ottawa to deliver a challenge to prohibition as an official petitioner to the country’s Supreme Court, led the march and the rally which took place afterwards.
Functioning at times as a court jester and at other times as a sage veteran of street protests, Malmo-Levine spoke through a public address system to give a rousing speech in favor of marijuana. He conducted the annual marijuana protest sign contest, and then rocked the place with his famous “joint giveaway,” during which he distributed approximately 400 Emery-supplied doobies to the grateful crowd.
A few stern-looking police officers on bikes hid behind the tulips, mumbling to themselves about “open flouting of the law.” But with a huge crowd and the media present, they were not about to precipitate a conflict situation, and the sunny afternoon glided by like a colorful kite.
Later, we all hurried to our abodes to shower and dress up for one of the Bowl’s most anticipated events: the Saturday night harbor and ocean cruise.
However, unbeknownst to the Bowl organizers and all but two of its participants, a couple of Bowl guests had gotten themselves corralled by local police earlier that day.
Apparently, the pair were caught smoking a joint in their rental car. Police felt obliged to haul them in for five hours, especially after finding their souvenir silver bowls full of potent pot samples. And unfortunately, the hapless detainees had on them the departure location and schedule for the night’s cruise.
So off the police traipsed to confront the owners of the luxury yacht that Marc Emery had chartered for the cruise.
They told yacht company reps that the company would get in big trouble if it allowed its vessel to become a floating cannabis coffeeshop.
Thus, when we all arrived dockside, there was confusion. Finally we were told, with a wink, that no marijuana was allowed on board. Half of the Bowl guests decided that the cruise was not such a good idea; they went back to Bowl headquarters to a party with pizza and trance-dance DJ’s.
Those of us who stuck it out and went on the cruise enjoyed great food and stunning views of the Vancouver harbor and the mountains beyond. We smoked lots of herb on the upper deck, but pretty soon we noticed we were being escorted by a police boat!
The four-hour cruise was shortened down to two hours, but the police didn’t do anything other than just watch as the baked Bowlers clambered off the boat and joined the rest of the tokers at the BCMP.
“Next year we’ll do it a bit differently,” vowed Emery. “This is a good reminder for everyone that we are still pushing the envelope. But we won’t let this kind of thing happen again.”
magical mystery tour
One of the most enjoyable outings of the Bowl weekend happened on Friday morning, when Emery chartered and hosted a bus tour of Vancouver, piloted by the congenial and knowledgeable Reverend Herb.
Emery chatted with Bowl guests about his political exploits, seed business, Vancouver history, and his favorite types of cannabis, while the Reverend regaled us with fascinating historical factoids and showed us the many elegant and unique facets of this world-class city.
From Granville Island market, with stall after stall of fresh produce, meats, chocolates and seafood, to the phenomenal old-growth forest in stunning Stanley Park, and on to the verdant setting of the University of British Columbia, American visitors reveled in the clean, orderly, spacious city that Emery has long called his “supernatural home.”
We took a smoke break overlooking Lion’s Gate Bridge and then again at the scenic Westside beaches. Emery handed out chunky buds of Jamaican herb and toked up with us on the beach, while bald eagles cavorted behind us and Vancouver glittered like Oz in the background.
On the last day of the bowl, we partied all day and into the evening at a swanky Middle Eastern restaurant. Bowl guests ate lamb, fish, baklava, and other luscious, exotic foods while filling out ballots that ranked the herb they’d received.
Some Bowlers were in no condition to remember what they had smoked, especially after the perennially-generous BubbleMan brought his mobile “inhalation station” to every table, stoning people onto the carpet with his smorgasbord of bubble hashes made from the finest bud.
“We’re opening our Melting Point store in Vancouver,” BubbleMan said, “where we’ll be showing people how to make their own bubble while also promoting good health and personal evolution.”
BubbleMan’s own personal evolution was enhanced when his “Rene” bud won first prize, followed closely by runner-ups Great White Shark and Blueberry. Marc Emery gave BubbleMan a super-expensive glass pipe as a victory prize.
The band played on as Bowl guests talked about the cannabis competition and about their glorious weekend in the heart of North America’s marijuana revolution.
“It makes me want to move up here,” said one participant who currently lives in California. “But if I can’t do that, I’m gonna come back to the Bowl every year. They treated us like royalty, and I’ve never been so stoned, free and happy in my entire life.
* 2004 Tokers’ Bowl 3: email [email protected]; web www.tokersbowl.com
* Watch the Tokers’ Bowl on Pot-TV: www.pot-tv.net/shows/2006.html
* Tokers’ Bowl coverage on CBC: www.pot-tv.net/shows/1971.html
SPECIAL EARLY-BIRD OFFER! Send in your payment before December 1, 2003 and save $75 off your entry fee. See www.tokersbowl.com for details.