Pre-raid, Saturday through Tuesday, the event seemed on track to be the best Cup in history. The large expo venue was comfortable and had a good sound system. The booths, from Grassroots to Green House, were fun and informative and the panel discussions were all well attended. Cannabis Cup judges – both those doing the blind judging of the Seed Company strains such as myself, a judge on Team Indica, and those doing the public judging of Coffeeshop entries – were very happy. Each evening sponsors hosted parties from large club events, featuring B Real from Cypress Hill and Dilated Peoples, to smaller connoisseur and private events.
But Wednesday was an entirely different story. Upon arriving at the Expo location for my panel discussion on preserving our missions, visions and values as this “movement,” the vibe felt odd. Little did I know undercover agents from the Dutch police had been inside the show previously, which would lead to a raid that was just hours away. Most attendees were still blissfully unaware of rumors of a pending crackdown, and even HIGH TIMES had no clue that threats and innuendoes were about to turn serious.
My 1:30 PM panel discussion went great. I spoke about Steep Hill Labs, the first and foremost testing lab in the medical cannabis industry, founded to assure the safety and future of cannabis medicines. Arjan Roskum from Green House Seeds discussed how their visionary mission is the foundation of many successes. And, rounded out by Ryan Connolly, CEO of Grassroots, Liana Held of Liana Limited, and Brendan Perry, a cannabis friendly psychologist, the discussion brought home the importance of securing the future of legalization for the counterculture – rather than allowing control to be transferred to a few wealthy individuals or big businesses.
After the panel, a few friends and I headed to the V.I.P. area to finish judging indicas. Our results were due to be turned in later that night and I still had to choose my favorites. The hotel had sternly notified us the day before that cannabis was not to be smoked in our rooms or we would face immediate eviction. So, I brought all of my samples to the event to get done in time.
We’d been watching Big Buddha’s presentation from the sidelines and smoking joints when an announcement in Dutch came over the loudspeaker. Not knowing more than a few words of the language, I judged from tone and then the reactions of those around me that the message was ominous. Then, the female voice switched to very choppy English, but enough words to get the point across. The Cannabis Cup was being raided!
Within moments, the police occupied the V.I.P. area, and forced us out into the expo. Despite hundreds of attendees, and even more booth workers and staff, the vibe remained calm. It quickly became clear that we were all to progress to the one exit, except the booth workers, who were each assigned an officer to watch over them. Police would be waiting to search us and confiscate any cannabis they found, even legal amounts. Also clear was the fact that, well, these were the most mellow cops ever.
The line to exit was huge, so my friends and I decided to dawdle and observe the raid in progress. Years of training as a cannabis activist and with the Berkeley-based nonprofit group “Copwatch” had taught me that careful observation by civilians is an essential part of a healthy democracy. We have to keep an eye on cops to make sure they follow the laws and to see that our friends are safe. But, this must always be done within the bounds of the law.
Quickly, attendees noted that the police did not seem to be there to arrest us, nor did they seem to care much about cannabis. In fact, while most attendees were locating spots to stash their cannabis and heading to the exit, others were industriously rolling and smoking gigantic joints.
In fact, while I was watching the Police begin their tax review and search process at the DNA Seed Company booth (see the attached search warrant, in Dutch), a police officer told them something like,
“Soon, we will search you and your booth, and confiscate all of your cannabis, even legal amounts. So, smoke it now, before this happens.”
Standing there with Addison DeMoura from Steep Hill Labs and the DNA crew, we all took pause. Did that cop just tell us to smoke the evidence? Generally, I tend to resist police orders, but this one seemed worth following.
So I scooted off to locate my samples, which had been previously stashed near the coat lockers, and grabbed my friends to sit down and finish judging. All around us those intrepid attendees still not in line to exit sat down, smoked cannabis and waited to see what would happen next.
We had plenty of time to finish smoking our favorite four samples and choose a winner before being forced to exit. The police did not seem to mind that hundreds of people were blazing joints all around them. Some even seemed to be smiling with contact highs. Passing joints around fast and debating the merits of samples 21, 20,17, and 12, while surrounded by 200 cops and tax collectors actually become fun. Indicas will do that to you! Traffic jams and police raids are all made easier with the help of indicas.
After about two hours the entire line had processed out, except for a few stragglers still smoking and watching the raid. My friends and I were particularly concerned to leave our observation posts, as the police were still holding the vendors hostage at this point, and several of our friends had been under constant observation since the raid began. As HIGH TIMES Freedom Fighter of the Year, I was not planning to leave until assurances were made that everyone inside was safe.
Thankfully, after vendors were interrogated by tax officials, forced to sign consent to search documents, and searched in a rather haphazard manner, everyone was free to leave. Psychologist Brendan Perry and I managed to stay the entire time to observe the raid. At the end, we helped our allies at Hitman Glassworks pack up their display samples and exited through the front door, where we still faced a “perp walk.” The local media had plenty of time to turn out in force by then, and the flashbulbs were blinding. We were very happy to hop in a cab, and get out of there.
The Dutch Police only arrested one person, Mila of Pollinator fame. She is an unflappable longtime activist and entrepreneur, and was showcasing her invention and new movie Mila’s Journey at the event. But, her case will likely be dropped. She was freed after a few hours without bail, and returned to the Cup event later that evening.
The Cannabis Cup went on as the Dutch police found nothing in violation of the law. It was just another typical shakedown for those of us experienced in the ways of the police. They wanted nothing more than to show their might, wave the flag of the “War on Drugs,” and to harsh our mellow. And, the police came back the next day. This time, they made an announcement in advance, telling attendees that the location would be raided again soon, and giving everyone the option to leave in advance. Good advice, and if only the U.S. police were so polite!
They even came to the Melkweg early Thursday night to harass HIGH TIMES before the award ceremony. Upon arriving for the ceremony, we were told that anyone smoking cannabis would be warned once and then asked to leave. Signs were posted around saying no marijuana could be smoked at the event. Tired of being harassed, everyone complied. We wanted to get through the ceremony and hear the winners announced. And, typical of the “raid,” we were allowed to step right outside the front door of the venue and smoke freely. Mind you, this is across the street from the police station, but no problems resulted by following this simple step.
As it turns out, a coffeeshop coordinator told me that these shakedowns happen at each location once a year in the Netherlands. The police barge in with tax officials and shake up the clientele while moving them out. They shut down the business, while taking hours to weigh the cannabis and check the sales and tax paperwork. Everyone strictly complies with the laws, though, and they are never forced to close by these raids. This is nothing more than another constant reminder of the struggle we face to change these prohibition-style cannabis laws.
Now, we have to work together and assure that we did not just spend 25 years ending prohibition in many ways, only to see that government entities, city, state, or national, are allowed to dawdle at implementation, create unworkable regulations, or flat out ignore the laws. Recently, I co-chaired a referendum campaign in San Jose, for the Citizens Coalition for Patients Care. We successfully blocked implementation of a bad medical cannabis law there, by gathering 50,000 voter signatures, raising $200,000, and registering more than 7,500 voters in 30 days. The Mayor and the City took notice, and we are deep in negotiations to create a workable ordinance.
The “War on Drugs” is a dying beast that will flail for many years, unless we work hard to protect ourselves and assure success. As your HIGH TIMES Freedom Fighter of the Year for 2011 – 2012, I believe that each citizen must take up the same fight for freedom that was launched by the U.S. Revolutionary War, upon which founder Steve Hager modeled the Freedom Fighters. The job of creating laws, voting, holding office, and running this democracy is the job of the people. Until we reach the reality of unalienable freedom, our work is not done. It is time to decide how you can help, and get to work now.
Check out Debby’s acceptance speech at the 24th Cup here: