Our man [formally] of Amsterdam

High times at the Cannabis Cup
November 25, 2009, 20:43
Filed under: Amsterdam

I knew something was not quite right, just that bit unusual, when on walking past Barney’s Uptown late last Monday night, I noticed a large crowd on the footpath, either eager to enter or some smoking reefers. This is extreme.  Barney’s Uptown, as the name suggests, is one of the rare upmarket venues catering to the more discerning pot smokers lingering between the various ‘coffee shops’ dotted along Haalemmerstraat. Barney’s designer decor, mood lighting, very attractive female staff and premium prices manage to deter most of the tourist riff raff on their cannabis crawl. And for this reason, Barney’s Uptown is hardly ever full; just relaxed and comfortable. It’s the place grown ups come for their post-ganja chill. Or so I’m told. But this week, things were amiss.

Ahh, the Cannabis Cup had begun. It coincides with Thanksgiving, that peculiarly North American celebration of the harvest ritual. That being the fourth Thursday in November (yeah, go figure how they came up with that day). Just like the first Tuesday in November is for Australians, this uniquely Dutch gig is the Tour de France for pot heads from around the world. Mind you, the Dutch have nothing officially to do with running the event; it’s completely managed out of the States by High Times magazine. For US$199, ‘stoners’ can buy a ‘judges’ pass, which effectively entitles them to sample the green stuff from nearly 30 participating ‘coffee shops’ all this week, and somehow pass judgement on what the best weed or resin is.


This is no task for the faint-hearted pot head. This takes stamina, perseverance, sustenance and a certain amount of technical knowledge, similar to that of a judge at a wine show. Consider these abbreviated instructions from the Official Cup Guide:

Before you consume, inspect it carefully. Is it well-cured and well-manicured? Does it have a coating of sugary crystals? Use your loupe [I had to look it up – a magnifying glass] to inspect the trichomes that contain the THC. Are they amber and well-formed?

Then there’s the smell. Those in the know hand grind a small portion and note if the aroma is “spicy or fruity?” Haze strains have a distinctive piney smell, apparently. “Diesel smells like red grapefruit … If the smell is green, the strain hasn’t been cured.” Then there’s the taste. And the high. So you can see, this is no easy task for the judges.

A final note of warning suggests judges return any mouldy cannabis – it’s not safe – and to “drink water, but avoid alcohol, caffeine or other substances that may confuse your cannabis palate”.

The streets all this week have been awash with such folk, ambling and mumbling as they try and find their way from Dampkring to Grey Area, or any one of the other 30 ‘coffee shops’ listed on their Official maps. There are shuttle buses to assist visitors with this, but some invariably get waylaid. Like the 2 American kiddies who accosted me this morning, just after 11am, near Amnesia (a past winner) as I made my way home in between lectures. They were looking for De Tweede Kamer (another past winner). They were near the right canal/street, but many, many blocks and bridges from their destination. I just directed them to Singel, told them to follow their nose (literally) and keep heading south; they were bound to find it.

Cannabis crawl map: #24 is De Tweede Kamer and #20 is Amnesia. Note #7 Russland, right in the middle of the university's UvA campus. Only in Amsterdam.

There is an Expo as part of the week’s festivities. Seminars on growing seeds, hydroponic insights, and the like are featured. With no uni lectures tomorrow (Thursday), guess where I’ll be? All part of the life of a freelance writer, you see! I’m particularly looking forward to Denny Danko’s session at 5pm; he’s the Senior Cultivation Editor of High Times. Another highlight will be the induction into the Counterculture Hall of Fame of Tom Forcade, creator of the industry’s bible, High Times. Previous inductees include Louis Armstrong, Jack Kerouac and Cheech & Chong.

Plus, the major prizes will be awarded. It’s the Big Day Out at night, topped off with a show by, get this, Jefferson Starship, formerly known as Jefferson Airplane. What the … ? These guys pre-date the Rolling Stones. [Warning; pun alert] Seems they’re on a ‘roll’ from ‘head’lining at the recent 40th anniversary Woodstock reunion concert. So rather than pack away the Zimmer frames, they’re live at the Melkweg (Milky Way) Night club. Tickets are sold out; have been for weeks. Sure promises to be a high time at the culmination of the Cannabis Cup. At least I’ll be able to get a seat at Barney’s Uptown now.


4 Comments so far
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Maaaaaaaate, you have clearly been out of Oz for too long. Our big day is the first Tuesday in November (not the second)…..obviously had too much of the gunga.

Hope to catch you live on the web at our picnic 13 December

Catch ya soon


Comment by Scott Bathie

Duly noted, amended, and much appreciated. Might be a challenge to hook up on the 13th though – I’ll be in North Africa, but I’m sure there’s a WiFi cafe there somewhere. Cheers!

Comment by Grant Doyle

Politicians are 10 years behind the times when it comes to hemp use. People have been fighting for a long time against marijuana and pot prohibition with some movement going on now. Still too slow for those caught up in the jail system for possessing a little weed. Our freedoms have been trampled on by folks who know nothing about how beautiful cannabis can be for someones life, if one learns how to grow cannabis. Keep up the good work.

Comment by Eco Green

and with due respect, ‘the times’ are 10 years behind the real scientific research continually unfolding.

Cannabis does damage, real damage – physically and mentally, and at least as much as other legal drugs, and some illegal ones.

Yes, cannabis can assist therapeutically for certain conditions, particularly (sadly) terminal ones. But it ain’t a recreational thing, and should not become one!

And before we get into the alcohol debate, the official line on how safe alcohol is for children, health, driving etc etc has been challenged and reduced over the past 3 decades. and right now there is a flurry of discussion here about RAISING the drinking age.

So, yes, we know, we know, alcohol isn’t really safe either, why shouldn’t cannibis be legal too. But I’d suggest the legality of alcohol is heavily constrained by circumstances where it IS illegal, and the ‘illegal’ moments are growing.

Comment by Jan

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