Beyond Amsterdam: Marijuana Policy Reform Takes Europe
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Since Europe is experiencing the same remarkable sea change in drug policy that North America, South America and the rest of the world is, I was glad, as the Drug Peace Bumblebee, to be able to pollinate across the Pond – the trade winds were whispering that a new and successful cannabis club model is birthing in several EU countries.
As he lives and works in Belgium and I in New Mexico, I expected the interview with Mich Degens, founder of the Mambo Social Club in the Flemish town of Hasselt (population 71,000), to be the most difficult to set up of any of column so far. And it was. But the Skype wasn’t the problem. It was smooth, crash-free and without even those troubling moments when your partner on the other end becomes briefly robotic – and slow motion robotic at that.
No, the difficulty was the flooded Land of Enchantment river I had to ford to even return to my ranch from a town run for the virtual meeting. This year’s high desert Monsoon, following so quickly after the 150,000 acre wildfire about which I wrote in an earlier column has turned my already Black Diamond driveway into a “swim at your own risk” situation. Neighboring ranchers’ vehicles have turned into boats and washed down to Mexico. Scratching their hat brims and assuring me that the river never acted like this when their granddaddies were negotiating with Geronimo, suddenly my non-liberals friends don’t want to talk about anything except climate change.
So you’ll understand why a fellow who’s dripping mud and silt onto his keyboard as he logs into Skype is firmly of the belief that when the world’s number one crop – cannabis – comes aboveground, it must do so in ways that are healthy for body and planet. What a relief it was to discover that Belgian provider Degens, who was back home unwinding from a long day operating his cannabis club when we spoke, shares this sustainability priority.
Fundamentally, the 37-year-old, clean-cut Degens motivation for cannabis activism will sound very familiar to the 100 million American aficionados of the plant: “I’m a law-abiding guy who wants to legalize my only crime,” he told me. “I have no problem with anyone who prefers alcohol responsibly, even though I had a stepfather who showed me the dangers of alcohol abuse. I decided to make sure that I and my neighbors can know that if cannabis is their choice, it will be 100% organically grown, cannabinoid tested, and reasonably priced.”
Living 25 miles from the Netherlands, Degens told me, allowed him, to hold his “dream job” for six years. “I got to advise people about my favorite plant [at a Dutch coffee shop]. The owners were not in it to get rich. It was an educational experience for me, and for the customers.”
Then, in April 2012, Holland’s longstanding cannabis policy changed, and in the southern provinces nearest Belgium, only Dutch citizens can partake of Holland’s quasi-legal cannabis market. “Imagine if Italy only allowed Italians to drink Italian wine!,” Degens said emphatically, waving his hand toward his laptop’s camera to produce an almost 3D effect. “I lived and paid taxes in Holland. It’s an abominable policy. Quality is going down and prices and crime are going up.”
But the rule change in the Netherlands – besides proving the ill-advised and very likely temporary effect of a right-leaning government trying to win points in a dying culture war and instead only (what a shock) encouraging the organized crime syndicates that the nation’s famous 1976 cannabis decriminalization was so successful in stifling – is opening doors for the rest of Europe.