INSIDE THE SMUGGLER'S CUP
Adventure at Amsterdam's annual pot party, the 22nd Cannabis Cup!
“I accidentally brought pot from New York!" one of my cannabis colleagues exclaims. “Crappy pot, too ... old, dry dust in a crumpled-up baggie I must have forgotten about in the bottom of my luggage."
Freshly arrived in Amsterdam, the HIGH TIMES staff takes a moment to relax and regroup at the Dolphins, a centrally located coffeeshop with free Wi-Fi and an underwater-themed decor. The 22nd Annual Cannabis Cup, still a few days away, will see the induction of Tom Forçade, HT’s pot-trafficking founder, into the Counterculture Hall of Fame, and our conversation appropriately centers on this year’s theme: the "Smuggler’s Cup."
We're sipping tiny coffees, smoking the local herb and discussing our various smuggling faux pas, intentional or otherwise. “I once brought a tiny chunk of Strawberry Cough hash into Costa Rica between my toes," a member of the art department confesses. "But I’d never bring anything back into the States."
Since we all now work for a notorious drug magazine, and our names are probably listed in some secret government files somewhere, we’re justifiably paranoid about moving illegal plant matter around the world.
But plenty of other pot-lovers still do—some out of necessity, some for money, and some for the illicit thrill. In the heady tradition of Tom Forçade, many dedicated breeders and growers continue to risk their freedom to smuggle seeds, pot and hashish past the authorities—even here, in the global center of cannabis freedom. One adrenaline junkie attending the Cup even plastic-wrapped live clones and concealed them in his luggage, facilitating the spread of New World genetics back in the Old.
"But why smuggle pot into Amsterdam?" you might ask. "Isn’t that like bringing sand to the beach?" Well, not really—at least if you’re a breeder or grower who wants to prove that your "sand" is the best in the world, including everything that’s on offer in Amsterdam’s famous coffeeshops. A couple of Californian judges, who traveled more than 7,000 miles to attend, even brought their most prized purple strain along with them, just in case they got homesick—an endeavor that brought the whole concept full circle, or (more appropriately) back to its roots.
Founded in 1988 by longtime HIGH TIMES editor in chief (and current creative director) Steven Hager, the Cannabis Cup began as an international homage to the ’70s-era harvest festivals once held in Northern California. The Cup has since grown into the world’s premiere marijuana event, drawing up to 3,000 judges from all over the globe to sample the wares of Amsterdam’s competing coffeeshops and vote for the best cannabis and hash among them. The weeklong festival also includes a pot-industry trade show, daytime seminars, musical entertainment by some terrific bands and artists, and a separate contest for cannabis-seed providers worldwide, split into two categories (indica and sativa) and presided over by a select panel of expert judges.
Whether you're a part of "Marijuana Inc." or just an everyday head on the pot pilgrimage of a lifetime, you’ll quickly discover that everyone at the Cannabis Cup not only loves pot, but potheads too. In fact, many "cannabis couples" have met and fallen in love while in Amsterdam. It’s easy to introduce yourself to an enticing stranger here, since you already share something in common—a high-level appreciation of the herb.
Several HIGH TIMES staffers have formed committed relationships that started at the Cannabis Cup. In fact, my own partner is a co-worker, and our passionate affair began behind the registration booth four years ago, where we were thrown together working 10-hour days. Senior editor Bobby Black also met his match at the Cup, and this year he proposed to his girlfriend, Vegas Price, on a romantic canal cruise.
The most public example of reefer romance took place at the PowerZone, home to the world’s biggest marijuana trade show and exposition. Conspiring in advance with Cannabis Cup MC Jet Baker, Carl Shaw, a first-time judge, got hold of a live microphone while standing in the center of the crowded convention floor. His girlfriend, Vicki—fully acclimated to the atmosphere in Amsterdam—at first looked highly confused. But when Carl dropped to one knee, she understood, and tears of joy started
flowing even before he had a chance to pop the question.
“This day will never be forgotten for both of us," Carl told us a few days later, as the happy couple prepared for the bittersweet journey home. "This has been a dream vacation!"
Science has apparently never tested the premise, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support the common-sense notion that couples who share a love of cannabis stay together longer and have more satisfying relationships. After all, it isn’t called the “peace pipe" for nothing, and who can stay mad when there’s a jar full of Kush to help set the mood for reconciliation?
With plenty of parties, concerts and activities—all of it set in the midst of one of Europe’s most romantic cities—the Cup’s a perfect place for lovers. Even if you arrive solo, or with a few of your best "buds," you'll quickly find yourself sharing the love of great cannabis, and you’d better come prepared to add your own thoughts on the running debate over what exactly is the "best of the best" that Amsterdam has to offer. Judges purchasing an official Cannabis Cup pass get to vote for their favorites from among the cannabis and hashish entered by 29 different coffeeshops, ideally visiting each one (or at least sampling their goods in an informal session with fellow judges).
RETURN TO THE TEMPLE
As a behind-the-scenes organizer and Temple Dragon Crew member, my return to the Cup this year was a happy one—last year, I was forced to remain stateside due to some legal issues, the terms of which didn’t exactly allow me to leave the country for two weeks to indulge in nonstop cannabis smoking.
Happy to be back where i belong, my most important task at this year's Cup was assisting HT photographer Brian Jahn as he catalogued more than 100 distinct samples of pot and hash for posterity. Next, I helped code the entries to make sure the judges wouldn’t be influenced by the real name of the strain or the breeder who had submitted it while making their decisions. Since I saw the samples prior to coding, I couldn’t share my opinions with anyone doing the judging, which freed me up to silently observe everyone else as they sniffed, rolled and sampled their way through the jars.
So how exactly do you determine the "best in show” when evaluating nearly 30 kinds of cannabis? Every HT staffer has developed his or her own method, whether based on dog shows, tournament brackets, Olympics-style 1-to-10 scoring, or some more improvised method of elimination. And with the arrival of the Berkeley Patients Group, all of our best methods came face to face with the BPG’s newly developed system for a more scientific cannabis evaluation.
A pioneering dispensary led by longtime medical-marijuana activist Debby Goldsberry, the Berkeley Patients Group has operated openly in California since 1999. After 10 years of providing safe access for thousands of medical-marijuana patients, the BPG has recently teamed up with scientist Victoria Garzouzi to design a bioassay sheet to help people evaluate cannabis using specific sense criteria. With this new system of "organoleptics," the dispensary hopes to train buyers to rate the quality of cannabis flowers more effectively than can be achieved with expensive laboratory testing.
The bioassay form tasks a cannabis tester with rating the taste, odor, appearance (trim, structure and resin), density (fluffy or dense), and dryness of a given cannabis sample on a scale of 1 to 6. Tastes and smells are also noted (as sweet, savory, salty, sour or bitter), and there’s a descriptive section asking whether the medicine was uplifting or sedative. A graph section asks the patient to draw a line indicating the strength of the medicine over time, and also to guess at the THC percentage.
The overflowing cornucopia of cannabis that is the Cannabis Cup proved to be the perfect place for the Berkeley Patients Group to test-drive their new forms under extreme conditions. Back home, they evaluate cannabis from hundreds of growers every year, rejecting over 50 percent of what they see. But this was the best pot in the world, and plenty of it, to be evaluated in only a few days, and the BPG members still had to find time to run their booth, host a seminar, see the city and hit a few of the parties, too. Needless to say, without such a scientific approach, things could have gotten a little confusing somewhere between the seed-company sativas and the imported hash.
As an example, when legendary Apple Records artist David Peel first arrived in the official HT testing temple and saw all those coded jars of lush, pungent nugs, he stared in disbelief for a moment before declaring, "I’m used to smoking Yippie dirtweed!" and digging right in. Sure enough (and true to his word), after an hour or so of random sampling, the stoner-songster was taking a nap, unaccustomed to such potent pot.
GLOBAL GANJA GATHERING
Meanwhile, at the PowerZone, the pre-registration was up and running, and the earliest arrivals among the judges were picking up their passes, T-shirts, guidebooks and maps so they could get a jump-start on the coffeeshop crawl. Senior editor David Bienenstock, author of The Official HIGH TIMES Pot Smoker’s Handbook, greeted many of those newly arrived and helped them to get oriented.
"I asked almost everyone where they were from, and was amazed to meet stoners from all over Europe, North America, South America, Central America, Asia, Russia, Alaska, Hawaii, the UK, and even a small group from Australia,” Dave told me that night as we ate our communal staff dinner. ”1 love finding people who've just arrived straight from the airport, and it's their first time in Europe, and they haven't even been to a coffeeshop yet. I make sure to smoke them out on something really special and give them a little advice on how to make the most of their trip.”
All around the world, this has been a huge year for the advance of marijuana freedom. No wonder we had more vendors and sponsors this year than ever before. By the time the PowerZone Expo opened, the massive space was filled with seed companies, bong and vaporizer manufacturers, cultivation-equipment suppliers, hempclothing companies and other representatives of the stoner-industrial complex, one of the few business sectors capable of thriving despite a down economy. In this sense, the Expo can also be viewed a potential job fair, or at least a great place to make contacts within the pot industry.
Opening night at the Melkweg drew a capacity crowd of judges, competitors, celebrities and special guests for the official opening ceremonies hosted by David Peel, followed by a performance from the Easy Star All-Stars, the laid-back reggae band best known for transforming songs by Pink Floyd, Radiohead and the Beatles into groovy, spaced-out jams. "Ganja is the healing of the Earth," lead singer Eliot Martin declared before drifting into the band's version of "Time” by Pink
Floyd. The All-Stars capped off the night with a dubbed-out encore of Radiohead's "Karma Police.”
Now that the Cup had officially begun, the race was on to sample as much cannabis as possible before the voting closed in four days. Shuttles whisked the judges from the PowerZone to different shops around the city; many more would make the journey on foot or bicycle, crisscrossing Amsterdam to visit exotic-sounding shops like De Dampkring, De Tweede Kamer, De Rokerij, Katsu, Bij and many more. Ninety-six of the stoniest hours of their lives lay just ahead ....
For our select panel of expert judges, however, the fun and adventure of the Cup comes mixed with a heady sense of responsibility, since they’re solely responsible for picking the winners from among the 27 indicas and 29 sativas entered by nearly 30 different seed companies representing Holland, Spain, Canada, the UK and the US. HIGH TIMES staffers were constantly on hand to coordinate and assist the judges in this daunting task, fetching grinders, papers, vaporizers, clean pipes, refreshments and hemp wicks for lighting all those bowls and bongs without butane.
The indicas were given code names drawn from vegetables, while the sativas were styled as different fruits. When presented with the jars, the judges ooh’ed and ahh’ed, cracking open the seals and sniffing samples of "Lime” and "Pineapple" while gazing in wonder at all those perfectly manicured buds. The resin glands from each sample were studied under the microscope, and those jars that looked and smelled best were lined up for special consideration.
Grinding the buds offered the best chance to assess the bouquet. Then it was time to roll up, inhale and ponder the deeper questions: What makes this particular strain unique or different? How does it make you feel? Does it burn well, leaving a clean white ash? How does a vapor hit of the same sample taste?
After two solid days of testing, it was time for the final sativa showdown. At high noon, the BPG crew arrived at the Temple and, in a power session, narrowed the final seven contenders down to just three, code-named Mandarin, Persimmon and Date.
Seven coffeeshops with the top pot in Amsterdam rated by our panel of expert potheads (in no particular order).
Located outside the city center, this shop and its new satellite, Bij, continue to tantalize pot palates with an extensive selection of premium-quality hash and herb. It’s definitely worth a trip there to try the S5 Juice, a hairy, reddish strain with an uplifting high.
Located near the Leidseplein, this funky, undersea-themed shop was always well liked for its convenient location and late hours—but this year the weed became a reason to visit as well! White Dolphins sent a warm buzz throughout my whole body, and induced the kind of cottonmouth that was alleviated by a delicious fresh mint tea.
Established in 1967, Mellow Yellow is Amsterdam’s oldest coffeeshop, but the staff has kept up with all the current trends in cannabis. Their S5 Haze sample was perfectly grown and recaptured the tasters’ nostalgia for the ’70s.
This old-school, wood-paneled Dutch barroom has been converted into a cannabis café with a pool table in the back. It’s only a few minutes from Central Station, so stop by and try their crystal-laden 420 Kush.
Situated across the street from the 420 Café, this shop offers an excellent selection of hash from Morocco, Asia and Holland, plus a weed menu with many promising indicas and sativas. This year’s entry, OG #18, was as good as any Kush in California.
Another newcomer to the Cup, this shop is located outside the city center, away from the touristy parts of town and in the midst of a real Dutch neighborhood. While they don’t offer more than a few types of cannabis and hash, what they do have in stock is of exquisite quality. Taste the real-deal Silver Haze while you still can!
De Tweede Kamer
A cozy and comfortable shop with an extensive menu, De Tweede Kamer consistently offers great cannabis, and this year’s G-13 Amnesia tested extremely well among the expert pot panel.
CALIFORNICATING AT THE CUP
Back at the PowerZone, growers interested in furthering their cultivation skills lined up for a seminar featuring Erik from Hydroponics Secrets and Don and Aaron from DNA Genetics. Now among Amsterdam’s top seed breeders, the DNA boys arrived not so long ago as refugees from the Drug War back in the States. But with all the freedom sprouting in Cali these days, Don and Aaron (the "D” and "A” in “DNA") can finally start to fantasize about their eventual return.
"We want to be back in LA," Aaron assured the seminar audience. "If you legalize, we’ll be back in California, where we belong.”
Those curious about the medical-marijuana scene in Cali stuck around for the Berkeley Patients Group seminar, which offered an in-depth look at the day-to-day realities of running one of the state's most highly regarded medical-marijuana organizations. By developing an integrated social model, the Berkeley Patients Group has won the support of the local community to such an extent that their 10th anniversary was dubbed “Berkeley Patients Day” by a unanimous vote of the City Council. After chronicling their challenges, setbacks and successes over the years, the BPG clearly communicated to their listeners that a victorious medical-marijuana movement depends on community involvement and political action. Beyond providing patient services such as counseling, yoga and massage, the BPG offers legal information, quality control, security and a culture that emphasizes knowing your civil rights.
Looking forward, the BPG spoke about how to apply their tactics to the legalization of cannabis for adult recreational use, as well as the importance of proving the safety of a whole-plant medicine. To this end, they created the Medical Cannabis Safety Council, which addresses issues related to packaging, nomenclature, contaminants and pesticides, creating a type of regulation system that parallels the FDA’s. If marijuana activists can establish these kinds of self-regulating organizations now, the wider society will eventually accept that successful systems already in place can maintain control over cannabis access and quality.
The day’s seminars came to a close with Rick Simpson, who expounded on hemp and cannabis as the “rational answer to the problems of the human race” and railed against the Canadian and US governments, Monsanto and the pharmaceutical industry. Simpson asserted that “the cure for cancer has been known for years” and that the essential oil of the cannabis plant is the key to fighting this deadly disease. As our Freedom Fighter of the Year, Simpson exhorted all courageous, freedom-loving people to rebel against the corruption of a government that supports pharmaceutical companies as "drug dealers to the public,” and championed instead a self-sustaining, do-it-yourself regimen of empirical healing (see interview on page 84).
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DUDE, IT'S A HASH INTERLUDE ...
By day, the judges divide their time between the Expo, the coffeeshops and Amsterdam’s many other attractions—but at night, everyone congregates at the Melkweg. On Monday night, Barney’s Farm threw a huge party, flying in Gomez, an awesome UK indie-rock band, for a night of Vanilla Kushfueled jamming. Up in the balcony, the entire HT crew reunited to swap war stories, while Gomez tore through their hits as well as songs from their latest album, A New Tide.
On Tuesday, after the sativa judging and before the indica round, we enjoyed a hash interlude. The imported hash was code-named after different kinds of rock, while Nederhash was named after various bodies of water. As we surveyed the Granite and Quartz and Antarctic and Mediterranean samples laid out on the table, it occurred to me that all these “imports” should instead be called "smuggled,” since they arrived clandestinely from exotic locales in India, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Afghanistan and Nepal.
As if on cue, Mila—Amsterdam’s resident hash expert and proprietor of the Pollinator Company-popped into the Temple to offer her wellinformed thoughts on which fragrant resins were indeed the most sublime. After examining and smoking the Nederhash, she concluded that the Antarctic (Hemp Flower Concentrate), Indian (Royal Jelly) and Pacific (Strawberry Ice) were her favorites.
DANK SIDE OF THE moon
Floating on a fragrant breeze of hashish, we returned to the Melkweg for a huge party thrown by the Green House to promote their Cup entry, Super Lemon Haze. Californian reggae-rockers Slightly Stoopid headlined the event, jamming through everything from mellow tunes appropriate for a relaxing 4:20 smoke-out to face-shredding punk anthems that made the crowd erupt into a grinding, whirling mosh pit.
So how do you follow Slightly Stoopid at the Cannabis Cup? That question was answered the next day at the Expo, when TH Seeds continued their tradition of mindblowing theatrical stunts. Inspired by this year's theme, TH Seeds chose the moon as their next smuggling destination, and put together a multimedia presentation to document the mission to launch their own strain into outer space, including a giant fake rocket that spewed tons of reaL cannabis vapor.
The launch was scheduled for 4:20 p.m. At the appointed hour, Adam and Terry from TH Seeds, clad in white Hoodlamb spacesuits, launched an LED-light-powered spacecraft that spewed THC from its tailpipe, annihilating the crowd with pure vapor from the company's Dark Star strain.
That night, Barrington Levy—flown in all the way from Jamaica—performed for the judges at DNA Genetics' Fourth Annual Hotboxxx Party. So many joints of Headband Kush were circulating that the entire venue looked like it had been set on fire. After roaring through a show composed of hits like “Too Experienced/Under Mi Sensi” and "Please Jah Jah/Black Roses,” the reggae superstar retired to the backstage area to enjoy a big spliff of his own.
Back at the Temple, the indicas had been unleashed, and the expert judges prepared to tackle another round of cannabis testing. Once again, the microscope came out, the bioassay sheets were filled in, and the favorites slowly emerged. At high noon on Thursday, the judges convened for a final meeting on the indica strains, and the offerings were culled down to the three winners.
Meanwhile, the PowerZone featured another day of cultivation seminars, including Derry from Barney's and HIGH TIMES' own Danny Danko. Plus, with the voting deadline fast approaching, a line of judges snaked across the Expo floor waiting to make their voices heard in what proved to be a hotly contested election.
I conducted a few exit interviews and discovered that most of the judges had made it to most of the coffeeshops, but only a hearty few had managed to run the gauntlet and visit all 29 listed in the guidebook. Still, every judge was irie and happy-, especially since, after casting their ballot, they received a shiny “I Voted!” sticker, plus free magazines, rolling papers, hemp wicks and leftover nuggets from the Temple judging sessions.
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Since we use an ingenious, simple and foolproof computer system to sort out the ballots in quick progression, we can avoid looking at the returns until the moment of truth, after the last vote has been counted. Only then could I reveal the secret codes and share my opinions with everyone else: "Eggplant was really Motivation from Paradise Seeds, and, wow, yeah, look at those crystals.... ”
Then it came time for the closing ceremonies and the awards show at the Melkweg. Behind the scenes, tensions ran “high” as Vaporella and I ran through our final preparations for the stage show, making sure plaques, medals and Cups were all in place, filling out cards, and coaching presenters on how to pronounce the names of the winners.
Of all the amazing and creative innovations showcased at the Expo, only three could hope to win the title of "Best New Product.” Judges voted the Strain Hunters: India Expedition DVD from the Green House as their third-place favorite, with the Incredibowl taking second place, and the totally stonifying Vapor Swing selected as the winner, after the folks demonstrating it successfully stoned countless judges during the week.
Next came the seed-company awards. The code names were stripped away and the real identities of the saf/Va-competition winners were revealed. Third-place "Date” was a perfectly grown Purps from BC Bud Depot— deeply colored, with bright crystals and an amazing flavor.
Second-place "Persimmon” was Super Lemon Haze from the Green House—yet another triumph for this popular strain. But first place went to a surprise entry code-named "Mandarin,” a sticky specimen of incredible potency, with an uplifting buzz that made it the runaway favorite. We were all amazed to discover that it was Ceres Hilton from the Harvest Men, who had unfortunately been busted while smuggling their entry from the UK. Luckily, a second shipment of the strain had arrived in time—and we sincerely hope that winning a Cup makes any subsequent legal troubles worthwhile.
The indica contest was also infused with new blood that made the judging a surprise and a delight. All-Star Genetics, a newcomer from the Netherlands, won third place with Kushdee, while second place was snapped up by the excellent OG #18 from Reserva Privada. But first place, once again, went to another unheralded contender, Starbud from HortiLab, which arrived so heavily encrusted with crystals that it proved difficult to roll in a joint.
Next up was the coffeeshop hash. After Mila shared her personal favorites, she announced the winners in the import category: third place went to Amnesia, for their Azila hash, followed by a second-place medal to Barney’s for the decadent Triple Zero, while Green House took the Cup again with a championship-level Rif Cream. Then it was time for the heavy-hitting Nederhash—some of these specimens cost up to 50 euros per gram, so you definitely want to know what’s worth your cash. Judges voted third place to the Grey Area Crystal, an unpressed hash made of gland heads and stalks, and second place to Green House Ice; making a well-deserved first-place finish for the Nederhash Cup was Barney’s Royal Jelly.
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Now we were ready for the big announcement: Whose cannabis would reign supreme? Counterculture hero John Sinclair took the stage to introduce the winners, saying it was "quite an honor to announce the best weed in Amsterdam.” Third place went to the Green Place, whose Headband Kush no doubt reminded many native Californians of the stash they’d left back home. Second place went to another Kush variety, this time Vanilla Kush from Barney’s. But the 2009 Cannabis Cup went to the Green House, who won for the second year in a row with Super Lemon Haze, a feat that has occurred only once before in the Cup’s history—back in ’98 and ’99, when Arjan won back-to-back Cups for Super Silver Haze.
Taking the stage, the jubilant King of Cannabis proclaimed, "We have won the War on Drugs!” Hopefully, the Customs officers waiting in airports from San Diego to Philadelphia will soon heed that declaration and cease shaking down potlovers in search of smuggled seeds and souvenir chunks of hash.
Tom Forçade left the world a valuable legacy when he gave us HIGH TIMES magazine, and we will continue to celebrate and support the counterculture he represented for another 35 years. Although we can’t officially condone flaunting international protocols, I’m happy to think about all the seeds that have doubtless been scattered around the world by Cup attendees, bringing pieces of Amsterdam back to Canada, Japan, Brazil, Italy, South Africa and the US, as well as all the new smugglers who have been inspired to subvert worldwide pot prohibition.
Every time you plant a seed, smoke a joint or harvest a plant, you contribute to a network of resistance, furthering the survival of cannabis in spite of official repression. In the immortal words of David Peel: "If life gives you lemons, smoke Lemon Haze!” The Cannabis Cup offers everyone a chance to become part of a special community— to feel a sense of love, belonging and camaraderie—and that’s why I hope to see more people than ever at the 23rd Cup next year! ^