On June 11th, 2017 Amsterdam hosted the 9th Cannabis Liberation Day. Thousands of cannabis enthusiasts and cannabis-curious folks gathered under glorious sun – and a ginormous cannabis leaf – in the beautiful Flevo Park for the annual free festival. Police presence was minimal – I only saw one policeman all day, and even then, he was in a street neighbouring the park and not actually on the park grounds.
Revellers were not being harassed or intimidated by authorities and the day passed peacefully and enjoyably. The most serious incident was probably a severe case of sunburn. You have to ask, why is the event called “Cannabis Liberation Day”? Cannabis is already enjoying freedom in the Netherlands and many other European states – Spain, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, the list goes on.
What’s the problem?
Unfortunately, under this complacent environment, things are not as progressive legally as they are in the U.S. Derrick Bergman, the Cannabis Liberation Day coordinator points out, “People in Holland think they can legally grow five plants, that’s not true. Dutch authorities are arresting people who are losing their homes and more – in 2017!” During the 70s and 80s, The Netherlands had been a shining light in their pragmatic approach to cannabis and other drugs. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the War on Drugs was getting into full swing. Today, we are seeing the inverse. The trouble is, the general public doesn’t see it.
Speaking on a panel in the “Cannabis University” tent that hosted a conference during the event Sean Carney, Director of Business Development EMA of Tilray, one of the major players in the international legal cannabis industry says, “Europeans are so tolerant of cannabis they don’t do anything.” It’s true. In most of Europe, if you want good cannabis you can get it without much trouble.
Cannabis patients can’t get their medicine
The thing is, medical cannabis is only “legal” in a few countries, but actually available to patients in even fewer. In the Czech Republic, for instance, medical cannabis has been legal for four years; yet it is still not available to patients, thanks to red tape and obstructive politicians. Even when it is available, it is usually in the form of Sativex spray that has cornered the market for medical cannabis in many countries. Another company that has the market to themselves is Bedrocan, who produce “nuked” cannabis flowers to the German medical cannabis market. James Burton, a Vietnam veteran who started the first large scale medical cannabis grow supplying the Dutch government, describes the gamma radiating off Bedrocan cannabis flowers as one of the biggest mistakes Europe has made in their rollout of their medical programs. “You open a canister of Bedrocan medical cannabis and there is no smell. The gamma radiation removes all the terpenes,” he says.
Throughout Europe, a series of monopolies are being built – which is devastating for the quality and selection available in a fully legal market. Michael Knodt, a German medical cannabis patient, journalist and cannabis celebrity, points out, “Germans are paying 23 Euros ($28) per gram for Bedrocan cannabis [audience gasps]. Pharmacies charge eight euros just to grind or even check the product. Which involves just opening the cap looking inside and saying it’s ok. People are successfully suing their insurance companies to cover these costs.”
“Normal business needs competition, the European cannabis market is developing a culture of monopolies; Bedrocan in Holland; the army in Italy; Sativex in the UK,” Sean Carney says. In Canada, where competition is able to exist, the quality and selection is going up and the price is going down – factors which all benefit the consumer.
“Europe has fallen behind culturally from the U.S. The good thing is that there is a clear distinction between medical and recreational, unlike in California. Europe does not have this baggage,” Sean Carney points out.
Patients forced into criminality
Sativex is only available to people who have MS, so those who seek cannabis for less serious but perfectly legitimate reasons are forced into being criminals. This is why events such as Cannabis Liberation Day need to exist and flourish in Europe – to allow citizens to not only enjoy cannabis recreationally, but to learn about its medicinal properties and the harms caused by it illegality.
Clark French, cannabis patient, co-founder and board member of Norml UK, described to me what it’s like to use Sativex. “It kinda burns, it’s alcohol so not very pleasant. It sort of gets you high and provides relief but is not the best way to consume cannabis, so people turn to other sources, such as cannabis clubs.” Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, patients have a whole plethora of cannabis products to choose from.
Empowering patients with the freedom to farm and heal
One of the refreshing things about the event – and the conference, in particular – was the interest from patients who wanted to discover more on how cannabis could help them. To this end, Rick Simpson and Wernard Bruining were both there giving talks on their oils and the philosophy of empowering the individual to produce their own medicine. Rick Simpson’s rousing speech highlighted the fact that “the government had no right to make cannabis illegal and they have no right to lay down the regulations when it’s legal; it’s time we stood up and told them so. Big pharma don’t want to cure you, they want you to keep coming back.”
Wernard Bruining – who teaches people to make his simple and safe cannabis oil – said, “I want to teach people how to make cannabis oil for themselves and not become a distributor. It’s a people’s medicine. When you learn how to make and use cannabis oil, it makes you strong. Big pharma wants you to remain weak so they can profit from you.” He gives master classes on making oil using his Cannolator product for people who are interested – many of whom are suffering from life-threatening cancer. “Coffeeshops are full of people who are smiling, that’s why it’s illegal!”
Rick and Wernard are both strong advocates for home growing. Rick says, “The only addictive thing about cannabis is growing it. Once you start to grow you cannot stop!”
Meanwhile, on the main stage, music played and speakers reminded the crowd that the fight is far from over.
Europe is not angry enough
We have got it good in most European countries, with regards to the decriminalization of cannabis. It is by far the most consumed drug here. Europeans are not angry enough to take to the streets or pester their politicians – like our friends in the U.S. have been. And thus, there is the paradox in this situation. Those who enjoy the drug think things are fine and ultimately are accepting a subpar situation where they are, in some cases, putting up with an inferior product. It’s those that see the issue and who are trying to improve the situation who are facing the legal struggles without the general support of the population who see it as a non-issue.
Take the recent crackdown in cannabis clubs in Belgium, where organisers of the main clubs were arrested and locked up for extended periods of time without a trail. There was no uproar from the public or marching in the streets. This must’ve been the easiest bust for authorities as their targets – Trekt Uw Plant and other Social Clubs – were operating with full transparency, in their mission to provide their members safe access to cannabis away from the criminal market.
Cannabis Liberation Day is an essential highlight in the European cannabis calendar in that it allows people to celebrate and have fun, but at the same time reminds them what needs to be done to drive things forward.
Next year, Cannabis Liberation Day celebrates it’s 10th anniversary. “2018 is gonna be a big year for Cannabis Liberation Day – ten times as big!” Derrick Bergman tells me. I, for one, cannot wait to be there.