Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cannabis Cup

Cannabis Cup

Thousands of Americans and thousands more from every corner of the globe are in the Netherlands this week to celebrate one thing- Amsterdam's infamous 'Cannabis Cup'. This year marks the 21st year of the worlds largest smokefest. The main focus for the cannabis cup (as well as too many other cannabis festivals) is on marijuana, while industrial hemp is overshadowed and overlooked.

While I couldn't not make it Amsterdam this week, I did actually go just two weeks ago. The highlight was quite possibly the 'Cannabis College', located right in the red light district, just down the street from the Cannabis Museum. The Cannabis College was a real gem for Hemp advocates in a city up in smoke.

The Cannabis College is officially a free information center, a government recognized non-profit that relies entirely on volunteer support. I actually got to sit down with one such volunteer, Kristie, who has been volunteering at the college for just over six years. A freelance journalist that deals primarily with cannabis issues, Kristie is the lead researcher at the college, where she has built a small library dedicated to cannabis. The binders upon binders that she compiles invite visitors to sit down and learn something new.

What I liked most about the college was the community that it fostered. The 'College Crew', as it's known around Amsterdam, is made up of volunteers, supporters, and advocates, who work to keep the college up and running. Never granted a vendors license, the college needs all the help it can get to remain sustainable, since it takes in no money selling hemp products. The information center is more than just a few bookshelves and displays. It acts as a community hub for cannabis advocates and activists, both marijuana and industrial hemp. When I asked Kristie how she initially got involved with the college, her answer painted the picture. "I would be here every day, hanging out, doing research, talking to people. I started helping out with little things they needed. When people started assuming I worked there, I approached the manager for a position. I've loved every day since."

I came in on a busy day. People of all ages were in and out, some to look and some to ask probing questions about the humidity in their grow rooms. But, more importantly was the preparation for this very week. The cannabis cup coincides with the Cannabis College 10th Birthday Party.
With no one else really representing Hemp, the Cannabis college hosted a week of free events focused on education and awareness for Hemp. It included a Hemp street festival with a demonstration of 17th century techniques. There was the grand opening to the "Hemp Gallery" right in between the hemp museum and the cannabis college, on Achterburgwal (the main street of the popular red light district). The Hemp gallery is an exhibition of artifacts and antiques that seeks to show viewers what is overlooked in other history museums. An archaic bible takes on new significance when it's explained that it was printed on hemp paper, like most books at the time were. Or imagine a painting, like any other you might see from the era, painted on Hemp canvas with hemp based oil paints. You might not have even known it was hemp, but knowing makes all the difference.

Also worth noting is the upcoming "Cannabis Tribunaal". This is a series of six hearing focused mainly on Gedoogbeleid, Amsterdam's 'tolerated' policy. Here, community members, police officers, doctors, judges, and other government officials will converge to discuss the present state of cannabis. The event is based on a 200,000 euro (about $260,000) bet that there are more positive effects of cannabis than negative effects. While it will talk more about policies regarding decriminalization and medical access, the fact that police will often refer to marijuana as hennep will surely be an issue. This goes to show the levels of awareness and the scale of activism that is going on.

Why are these important if they have to do more with marijuana than hemp?
The old conservative argument against hemp was the slippery slope- legalizing industrial hemp would lead to the slippery slope that would- they fear- lead to the decriminalization of marijuana. Unfortunately for this argument, the tables have turned. We now find ourselves in a situation where marijuana reform has become such a salient issue that instead; increased marijuana reform may be the slippery slope that leads to industrial hemp legislation. As the marijuana movement grows, so does the Hemp movement. With the new Hemp Gallery, Amsterdam now has three Hemp education centers right in the middle of it all. I'd call that progress.