European Cannabis Activists On The Verge Of “Winning”, But Is The Prize...

European Cannabis Activists On The Verge Of “Winning”, But Is The Prize What They Had Hoped For?

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Image Courtesy of Bill Griffin

Cannabis fans, activists and entrepreneurs met in Flevopark, Amsterdam for the 10th annual Cannabis Liberation Day in mid-June. This was my third Cannabis Liberation Day, and this year they doubled the capacity by filling the entire park. As ever, it was incident-free and good times were had by all. 

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Cannabis Liberation Day 2018. Image Courtesy of Bill Griffin

Writer Doug Fine shouted whilst rousing the crowd, “We are winning! We are winning because truth is on our side!”  

Great progress is being made and maybe we are winning, but what exactly is the prize?

Throughout the day, I heard rumours (later confirmed in an announcement from the main stage) that this would be the final Cannabis Liberation Day – a free festival that has demonstrated the safety of a recreational cannabis-orientated event for the last decade. I wanted to figure out why this was the last, had we won already? Is cannabis liberated? Or, is it that the point has been made and it’s time to explore the next chapter?

Cannabis Is Not Yet Liberated In Europe

As is usually the case with cannabis, the answer is complicated. Nowhere in Europe is cannabis yet legal for recreational use. Cannabis activists and growers are still facing persecution from authorities for their activities. Medical cannabis is ever so slowly being made legal in European states, but the product is expensive and not widely available to those that need it most.

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Vaporizer testing. Image Courtesy of Bill Griffin

Yet, despite all of that, there is a strong sense that in some form or another legal cannabis is coming to Europe. The driver is going to be big business and this is leaving activists – who have dedicated their lives to legal cannabis for all – somewhat shell-shocked. They’ve suffered from being outcasts or misfits in society, they’ve pushed the boundaries of the law, they’ve kept the conversation going, they’ve raised awareness of the benefits and safety of cannabis. But, when legal cannabis comes will they be able to participate in this market? Can they compete with Silicon Valley and its investors?

Dank To The Future

They say that the future is happening right now, but just not evenly distributed. So who better to discuss what the future holds than a representative of a leading vaporizer brand based out of California. He gave me a glimpse of the future of cannabis. The experience was amazing in every sense. Infuriatingly, I’m under embargo so cannot go into details (the tech he showed me is so cutting edge it’s not even released in the US). It is a device that is wonderful for the consumer, but so advanced the barriers to compete with it (huge R & D costs) are significant for smaller entrepreneurs. 

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Derrick Bergman, event coordinator. Image Courtesy of Bill Griffin

In contrast, I spent some chat chatting with a motivated Dutch entrepreneur who had invested heavily in equipment to make disposable cannabis oil cartridges for vape pens. I’m fairly convinced this is where the future lies in some form or another, but the European market is not there yet. Aside from the fact that cannabis is still illegal, not enough European cannabis consumers are ready for such advanced consumption techniques or technology to make it a viable business. The majority of European cannabis consumers are still making joints (or spliffs) with tobacco. Even those that have made the switch to e-cigarettes for their nicotine hits have an attachment to making huge, dense clouds of vapour. They like to inhale something with “body”. They seem oblivious to the fact that clouds are actually wasting good cannabinoids. Overcoming this will be an educational marketing campaign that only those with powerful financial backing can achieve. Laws need to change and distribution channels need to be established. Meanwhile, the SMEs will be struggling to recoup the costs of their expensive equipment.

What Did We Want Anyway?

I’ve been trying to figure out what the general consensus of European cannabis activists is for quite a few years. Under the main banners of “legalize” or “free the weed” there are nuances on how this legalization should be in reality. I’m pretty sure all of them want – as a priority – legal access to safe cannabis medicine for the sick. That is coming, but it’s maybe not exactly how many envisioned or what they hoped for. It won’t be the old neighbourhood hippy medicine man helping the community – it’ll most likely be via a pharmacy like any other drug prescribed from a doctor.

A large group also want amnesty for those serving time or holding criminal records for non-violent cannabis related offenses. Unfortunately, that seems a way off. Even in Canada, where legal recreational use is just about to happen, that is still a contentious issue. In Europe, there is not even one state that has legal recreational cannabis – let alone the entire EU. When the large corporations that are currently providing our pharmaceutical drugs, alcohol, tobacco, chocolate or sugar are in the cannabis driving seat, do you think they’ll be encouraging policymakers to be lenient on the competition? Neither do I.  

The best we can hope for is the relaxation of the limit for growing for personal consumption and ideally an open playing field for licenses for larger cultivation operations. If any European activists are wanting for a cause once legal cannabis arrives, then getting those in prison for cannabis related charges free (with a full pardon) is worthy one.

For some, I get the impression it was never really about the cannabis. It’s about sticking it to the man and being self-sufficient without relying on suits and lab coats. For these people, all I can say is: Keep up the resistance comrades!

One saving grace for those who are lucky enough not to be locked up could be artisanal or craft style cannabis products – goods and experiences that preserve our cannabis culture.

What About The Guy In The Cannabis Suit?

Now that the cannabis conversation is so mainstream, is there a need for people to be dressed up in suits covered in cannabis leaves whilst carrying comical sized joints? What is this achieving and is this kind of behaviour shedding a good light on your average cannabis consumer?

A consultant working within the vaporizer industry put it like this, “Imagine alcohol was illegal and people where wearing suits covered in whiskey bottles and downing copious amounts of whiskey – do you think that would help persuade people to feel the need to legalise alcohol? They’d be disgusted.”

From inside the cannabis community I get where the guy in the cannabis suit is coming from, but stepping back I can see how those in authority could struggle to take him seriously. Now that it’s on the verge of becoming legal, many in the emerging cannabis industry are shifting away from such hardcore cannabis fans and eyeing up – erm – the rest of society. As I found out in my recent trip to Berlin, it’s becoming very much a lifestyle thing.

Shifting Focus: Save Our Cannabis Culture

What we are left with is the culture surrounding cannabis – the books, the art, the music and the community. This is what bonded people from all walks of life to help form the cannabis movement. This is what we need to preserve and cherish. The beauty is that this can be done without the need for confrontation or activism. We just need to continue celebrating cannabis and it’s healing properties (personal and communal).

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DJ Booth. Image Courtesy of Bill Griffin

It may be the last Cannabis Liberation Day in Flevopark, Amsterdam, but I’m hoping the momentum gained in this cannabis awareness event is not lost.

More and more people are seeking a community where they don’t feel ostracised for their cannabis use, and what better way to do that than in a beautiful day in the park with thousands of other like-minded people?

Cannabis Liberation Day is (was) Amsterdam’s biggest cannabis event. As Ed Rosenthal, established cannabis author and self-described “generalist researcher”, put it whilst on stage, “Holland was a beacon of freedom.”

I sincerely hope it remains that way for years to come.

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