Tales From The Cannabis Cup: Day Four

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Roger Norville is back with another dispatch from the 25th annual Cannabis Cup…

Activism is a natural part of being a marijuana enthusiast. It’s the nature of the beast when such a widely used product is so universally demonized; even the casual smoker can’t help but be caught up in the legalization debate.

Even here in Amsterdam pot is only de facto legalized; marijuana possession remains illegal though the city is tolerant to the point that the opposite seems true. And even this was a situation in jeopardy until very recently. In the last month two troubling changes were officially taken off the books in Amsterdam: the notorious Weed Pass that would limit marijuana and hashish sales to locals, and a rule that would force coffeeshops within 350 metres of a school to close down.

[Phot by @musicsumo]

With these issues at least tentatively put to rest the big buzz has been the recent legalization initiatives that have passed in both Washington and Colorado. In a timely coup the Cannabis Cup had booked a seminar with Mason Tvert, one of the main engineers behind the successful Colorado referendum.

Straddling the expo alley of booths is a white tent that houses a large lounge area and a seminar room. Nearly 200 people were seated in advance of the lecture and when the speaker was introduced it became clear that Tvert is a highly regarded celebrity among these circles.

And with good reason. The man had a well-planned strategy and he succeeded in a relatively short time where so many had failed.

In 2006 a survey was released showing a third of Americans thought that marijuana was more harmful than alcohol. Another third of those surveyed believed that the harm was about equal while a further third were aware that alcohol was a safer drug than alcohol. The stat that most intrigued Tvert was the fact that 75% of the latter group was in favor of marijuana legalization.

Tvert figured that if the public was educated on the relative harmlessness of marijuana they would naturally drift toward the legalization movement. He further realized that if someone was convinced that marijuana was harmful all the standard legalization arguments would fall on deaf ears. Who cares how much taxes the stuff would bring in if one is under the impression that pot is a harmful drug?

So the focus began with awareness. In 2006 Tvert started Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) and after accumulating just $30,000 in donations he ran a successful ballot initiative eliminating criminal charges for adult cannabis possession in Denver. SAFER built the momentum by organizing media stunts, student initiatives, and hosting non-binding campus referendums. In no time they had a statewide ballot initiative up and running. This one cost SAFER $125,000 and was voted down.

“It takes millions of dollars to win,” says Tvert matter-of-factly. “It just does.”

The millions were forthcoming. When the state opened up dispensaries in 2008 the marijuana movement built in leaps and bounds. SAFER kept up with their media circus by calling out the major and the governor for their hypocritical support of alcohol and ran a thought-provoking family-oriented series of billboard ads. When the ballots were counted three weeks ago full legalization and regulation of marijuana was passed in Colorado with 55% of the vote.

You can imagine the applause in the seminar hall.

While there is no “silver bullet” to attack federal laws (ballot initiatives can not pass at a federal level), Tvert says that there is a blueprint – the end of alcohol prohibition.

“Most states will opt out of marijuana prohibition and the whole thing will come tumbling down,” enthuses the optimistic activist. Indeed, legislators in several other states are already drafting bills to loosen their own marijuana laws and the dialog level around this issue is high. The Amsterdam model proves that tolerance works and when people see this happening in neighboring states they are likely to follow suit.

Back at the expo the High Times staff was busy making sure everyone was having a good time, the booths were busy showing off their wares and an ever-present cloud drifted up from the crowd to the peaked glass ceiling of the former locomotive workshop. Seeds, grinders, pipes, bongs, everything is available here except the smokables themselves, that is offered up only in vapor form. That said, patrons are free to wander the hall smoking their own joints.

That freedom extends to the shuttle bus, the smokiest ride you’re likely to take. Dozens of huge joints burning at once, smoke billows out of the open ceiling vent making the bus look like a coal train. It’s good conditioning for the evening’s coffeeshop crawl, one smoky room after another, many of which are ventilated only when the door opens to admit another customer.

There was a fine mist later in the evening as I walked to Melkweg, the first rain I’ve seen. If it washed away any of the lingering odor from my clothes I became tainted again as soon as I entered the venue. The smoke fest continued right through the MF Doom show as marijuana and beer flowed through the bustling crowd.

The silver-masked rapper and his oversized sidekick spewed a constant rhythmic babble that approached speaking in tongues. The samples were sparse and interesting; MF Doom even sucked in the aficionados when he rapped over a Frank Zappa loop.

I’ll be straight, when it comes to hip hip I don’t know my shit from my shinola, but I’ve been around the music industry enough to recognize professionalism, and MF Doom has it down. Easily the most solid and, well, professional show I’ve seen in the last two years at Cannabis Cup, Doom pulled the energy that Ghostface Killah couldn’t and kept the crowd seriously moving for a solid ninety minutes.

On the way back to the hotel I stumbled into FEBO, a chain of ultra fast food outlets scattered about town. FEBO is basically a large vending machine, burgers and sandwiches sit behind little windows in a wall of compartments. One needs only toss a coin into a slot and warm sub-par food is in hand. It’s dirty, it’s fast, and it takes the human element out of the equation altogether. It’s the world’s most impersonal way to fulfill a basic human need.

[Photo by Alix Guillard – CC 2.5]

So fitting then that I detoured through the Red Light District on the way home. FEBO for sex. Scantily clad women sit in crimson windows waiting for someone to throw a coin in their slot, so to speak. Some ladies are actively trying to lure customers in while most sit idly reading a book or checking their text messages. Again, the world’s most impersonal way to fulfill a basic human need.

Rest assured gentle reader, I drew the line at FEBO, the rest was merely window-shopping.

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