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Dutch hemp fair draws record numbers

The annual cannabis growers’ bonanza in The Netherlands, the HighLife hemp fair, which is under way until Sunday, has come up in the world since it started nine years ago.

More than 20 000 visitors from Europe and North America — 5 000 more than last year — are expected to travel to Amsterdam for the annual event where dope lovers share their appreciation of weed.

In a sign of the festival’s increasing popularity, it has been moved this year from the regional capital, Utrecht, to Amsterdam, the capital of coffee shops where people indulge in The Netherlands’ liberal drug laws.

And in a sign of its increasing sophistication, the crew of old hippies and Rastafarians and others will be treated to a champagne bar, promotional films on a plasma screen, demonstrators in white lab coats and skimpily dressed models distributing multilingual prospectuses.

“By moving to Amsterdam, we have increased our visibility,” Andre Beckers, the fair’s information officer, said. “People will come from further afield because Amsterdam, for a weekend, has more to offer than Utrecht.”

Visitors to the fair — soft-drug lovers, including many of whom cultivate their own cannabis at home — will be in their element as they visit the about 150 stands spread over a 15 000-square-metre exhibition hall recently used for a motor show.

The link with cannabis might not always be evident — the first stand, for example, features an organic fertiliser and a young woman doing pole dancing around a flagstaff.

Although visitors would be forgiven for thinking that it is an agricultural fair, there is one big difference: exhibitors are not allowed to distribute samples, as only Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops legally have the right to stock and sell drugs.

But the main attraction is for people who cultivate cannabis at home. By the look of their drying rooms, airing and watering systems, they cultivate more than they need to consume themselves.

Since The Netherlands banned the production of cannabis seed eight years ago, growers have become more cunning, specialising in exporting and importing seed or material that, according to their promotional material, is used to grow basil and tomatoes.

They carry out a lucrative trade with an annual turnover of between €5-billion and €10-billion, between 1% and 2% of the Dutch gross domestic product, even more than The Netherlands’ other speciality: cut flowers.

Michka Seeliger and Tigrane Hadengue have visited the fair from Paris, where they also have to use skill in circumventing France’s repressive legislation.

They are here to push their annual guide to cultivating cannabis, CannaScope, which has sold 27 000 copies since it hit the bookshops in 2001.

Their publishing house, Mama Editions, last year brought out what is considered to be the Bible of home dope growers, the neutrally titled Indoor Marijuana Horticulture by Jorge Cervante, complete with three-dimensional drawings of marijuana leaves but no mention of the active content of cannabis, THC.

“Everything that could possibly be construed as an encouragement to consume drugs has been removed,” Hadengue said.

The book was so popular that the first 10 000 copies sold out in weeks and had to be reprinted to satisfy demand. – Source: Frederic Bichon, AFP, via the Mail & Guardian, Jan. 21, 2006

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This post was last updated: Apr. 11, 2006