To quote Frank Zappa: “Fact of the matter is, there is no hip world, there is no straight world. There’s a world, you see which has people in it who believe a variety of different things.”
Whilst I was boarding the flight from Brussels, alongside well-heeled business folk and prim elderly ladies, I was starting to think that I was entering a world where people believe a variety of things very different from me.
Thus was the start of my long weekend of juxtaposition in Austria.
I was heading to the popular cannabis event, Cultiva, in Vienna. When I think of Austria, I think of right-leaning politics, the likes of which you would not expect a cannabis industry to thrive in.
Yet the Austrians have a very commendable approach to cannabis that is quite beautiful in its simplicity. In Europe, where every nation state has its own very different drug laws, it is often confusing to know where you stand. In Austria it is very clear: THC is forbidden. At face value, this seems to kill the chances of a cannabis industry.
But here’s the thing… cannabis seeds, mother plants and cuttings do not contain any THC. In Austria it is perfectly legal to set up a warehouse full of mother plants and sell the cuttings to customers for “ornamental” purposes. It’s easy for Austrian growers to skip all the steps of germination and selection and buy a clone of good stock for around the same price as a seed.
As a hobby grower for my own personal consumption, this approach has great appeal. It seems to resonate with the thousands of paying attendees to the event. My private stash for the weekend was the aptly named Think Different from Dutch Passion. Think Different is a spicy, sativa-dominant autoflower that gave me great yields in my modest greenhouse, despite a wet summer this year.
It is this industry, surrounding the home cultivation and consumption, that supports the Cultiva event — now in its 9th year. It’s a laidback affair which has a chilled out festival vibe to it. The majority of the public attending the exhibition and conference are affluent and well-educated cannabis enthusiasts.
I was chatting with a group of hobby growers who had travelled down from the north of Austria to take in the show before enlisting in the army. One told me, “The great thing about this show is everyone here are cannabis consumers.”
“All the smart, interesting people,” quipped another hobby grower. They had all abstained for the last two weeks on account of their army medical tests. I advised them to check out the BioTab stand – a Dutch family business based in Spain that sells kits to give growers a simple introduction to true organic growing – and consider joining the cannabis industry rather than the army.
Cultiva is situated in the impressive 8000 square metre Eventpyramide Vösendorf, which is housed under a sub-tropical glass pyramid filled with lush plants and winding lanes. It makes for one of the most appealing locations for any trade fair I have attended, cannabis-related or otherwise. The setting reminded me of an Ibiza nightclub, only without the loud music and drunk English tourists.
This year I was speaking at the Cultiva Cannabis Congress which was running concurrently to the trade fair. I was lucky enough to be lodging in the adjacent hotel with direct access to the exhibition and conference. The hotel is busy with all manner of folks. I spent my first evening watching a World Cup qualifier soccer match on TV between Austria and Wales with members of a local Polo team. I know, Polo, right?
As you can imagine there was a real mix of people in the hotel lobby. The dreadlocked and baseball capped comings and goings of the cannabis fair were in stark contrast to the well-to-do guests.
Those manning the stands had only good things to say about Cultiva and its organisation. The common vibe was that it was the most pleasant event in the European cannabis calendar, albeit not the largest or busiest. As a comparison, Saturday starts at a comfortable 11am and closes at 8pm, compared to Spannabis that runs from 9am through to 10pm – with no siesta!
Another aspect setting Cultiva apart is the fact that it is the only show in Europe where you can see live plants growing. A majority of the stands had clones on display. They were either companies who specialise in selling clones or companies selling LED lights, tents or other equipment, using the plants as props. It’s a step that brings everything into context.
The Bush Planet stand had blooming plants. Papers drawn up by a lawyer ensured that all plants will be destroyed after display and not in any way consumed. This loophole allows them to have live, flowering plants in their Vienna museum – Hemp Embassy – where you can pull a handle to release the smell of each.
And boy, was the smell potent! After a day of these beauties flowering the cacophony of smells had permeated the event and adjacent corridors of the hotel.
Flowery Field, one of the two main event sponsors, has been in the clone business for 10 years. Headquartered a short walk from the event, they have five shops throughout Austria. I asked Francesca at the colorful Flower Field stand – which would not look out of place between a Swatch shop and and an Apple store in a shopping mall – whether she sees any threat to this business with regards to changes in legislation. She thought not and said, “We’ve been cultivating mother plants and selling their clones for ten years, other companies have been around for 25 years or more. It’s not a situation that is going to change without changing the current laws, which we have tested multiple times in court and always won. Changing the laws takes time and there is no calling for it. We will continue to grow, have fun and make people happy.”
Selling clones is big business and in terms of numbers of clones sold, Flowery Field is the market leader. DNA Genetics, traditionally a seed company, is the second main sponsor. There is still a market for seeds in Austria despite the availability of high quality clones. The DNA rep pointed out the obvious reason why. “Seeds travel better and have a longer shelf life than clones, “ they said; a fact that opens the market further afield than Austria. In neighbouring Germany, with Europe’s largest population, seeds are illegal.
It was not just large clone and seed companies on show. The auxiliary industry supporting growers was also represented, as were smaller clone companies.
I stumbled upon such a stand for head shop Stamm Baum. Hans Christian, a friendly hippy, was behind a table covered in all kinds of plants with medicinal and hallucinogenic properties. These included peyote and salvia divinorum, giving anyone who chews a leaf or two LSD-like effects for around a very manageable five minutes. He echoed the views of Flowery Field, “I’ve been in business for 30 years, I don’t see anything changing for at least the next 10 years.” All these plants are legally sold and cultivated as long as they are only for display purposes.
The hemp industry was also part of the show. Two real treats were Hempoint, offering foods and teas derived from organically grown hemp, and “Werkstatt Zur Findigen Libelle”, which roughly translates to “workshop of the resourceful dragonfly”, where I picked up a beautiful handmade hemp scarf.
“We want to bring everybody in the Austrian cannabis and hemp industry together so they can work alongside each other to move the business forward in a positive way,” says Harold Schubert, General Manager for Cultiva. “We’re entering our 10th year now and we’re very happy to be established as the highest quality cannabis event in the European calendar.” I caught up with Harold, who also runs the Bushdoctor shops, as he was inspecting the food stands with his “cleanliness expert”, Bernard. He told me Bernard acts as a consultant for cruise ships and that he likes to keep a team of professionals.
Austria’s approach to cannabis has blossomed into a thriving industry and, thanks to the efficient and thorough Austrian way, it is extremely consumer-friendly and professional. It would be wonderful to see other countries in Europe learning from this example and making the necessary tweaks in legislation to steer them to a more Austrian approach.