I woke with a start as the plane touched down in London’s Heathrow Airport. We had popped half a Xanax in Seattle and slept through the entire 12-hour flight. Jessica rubbed her eyes in surprise as I gathered our gear from the overhead. We would have a few hours drinking pints of San Miguel in England before catching our final connection to the Netherlands.
This was our second trip to Amsterdam, and I was anxious to be back. We had stayed on our own time zone the previous trip and left feeling like a vampires, rising each night and returning after the last bars closed late into the following morning. I was determined to see more of the city this time around.
The flight from England to Holland was a short one—two hours in the air and we were touching down in The Dam. Few cities are as well-known as this one. Famous for its liberal drug culture and open acceptance of the sex trade, Amsterdam has long been the cannabis capital of the world. Home to the original High Times Cannabis Cup, the city has been a mecca for cannabis enthusiasts since the ‘60s, many traveling thousands of miles to openly partake in cannabis at the hundred or so coffee shops that dot the Red Light District.
Longtime industry friend and Holland native Jair Velleman picked us up from the airport. He started a small lighting company with a few friends in the Netherlands and was one of the first European players to see the value in the American cannabis market, bringing Gavita Holland light fixtures to hundreds of U.S. growers.
He’d made a few million bucks off the sale of Gavita and became an unlikely investor in Dabstars, picking up a few percent of the company’s stock after my ex-girlfriend posted her shares on Facebook. He watched us grow the company from the start, and was one of the few people who truly had a vision for what we were trying to do.
Jair dodged the assault of bikes and pedestrians in the way only a true local can, navigating us deeper into the center of town towards our flat on the canal. This was a work trip for us, but we made sure there was plenty of time for play. We had a full schedule of coffee shop appearances, including one with Devin the Dude I was looking forward to.
I buzzed the door of the flat—the loud click of a heavy electric lock was the only reply. The shuffle of footsteps could be heard from above, and I swung the heavy door open wide to find a smiling Chris Jacobson. “You made it!” he exclaimed.
Chris was the man in Amsterdam, or Spain, or anywhere else in Europe that had a cannabis trade. Weed man to Action Bronson, Chris would be our host for the next nine days. He was well connected in the coffee shop scene and had been helping us launch Dabstars in Barcelona, where the dab scene was much friendlier.
In spite of all of the freedom, in Holland dabs are scheduled like heroin. RSO and even tinctures are strictly prohibited across the board. I was in the country in 2014, and even back then you could still find some decent dabs if you knew where to look. Walk into the right coffee shop and ask for some dabable “isolator” with a wink, and you were likely to see a small selection of budders and waxes being sold by the gram for €100.
From mushrooms to molly, anything could be found in the twisting, turning alleys of the Red Light District. As long as you stayed in line and didn’t affect anyone else’s good time, it’s pretty much anything goes. The idea is simple enough. The Dutch acknowledged that certain vices are always going to exist, and agreed that an ever shrinking part of town, affectionately named after the red lights glowing in the call girls’ windows, would house them all.
Stag parties from Britain, couples on a romantic getaway—Amsterdam is Europe’s playground, and it showed here in the city center. Trash littered the streets and spilled over into the canals which—though flushed regularly—held a green, dingy hue. On a warm, windless day you might catch a whiff of the methane coming off the water from your table at one of the many outdoor eateries.
The cleanup effort was immense. Each morning an army of workers hit the streets with hoses, washing the previous night’s filth into the canal and picking up after the more than five million tourists that visit the city each year. It was not hard to understand the disdain many of the local expressed towards visitors.
The capital city of the Netherlands, Amsterdam itself is a miracle of Old World engineering. Built five feet below sea level, the city grew from a small group of houses built up along the mouth of the river Amstel. The Amstel Dam was eventually created to manage the water, and Amsterdam as we know it was born.
Our first three days went by in a blur. Het Ballonnetje, De Kroon, Prix d’Ami, Green House—each coffee shop held its own treasures, and we were there to try them all. In spite of their famous disdain for tourists, the hospitality we received as members of the cannabis community was unparalleled.
I rolled a chunk of Lebanese cream between my fingers that the staff at Green House assured us was their very best. Joa, famous strain hunter and co-owner of one of the largest seed banks in the world, had dropped it off himself, along with some Super Lemon Haze that was now stinking up our table.
I chuckled as Ed Rosenthal, famous cannabis grower and author, walked in, pausing to take his bearings in the door frame. “Ed!” I shouted, motioning him over. “We saved you a seat,” I said, grinning. We spent a week together along with his wife, Jane, in a bungalow on the north shore of Oahu, lodged together by an event promoter. In spite of our age difference, we hit it off immediately, becoming great friends in the time since.
We were still chatting idly about the Lemon Haze a few hours later when two members of the Taylor Gang company walked into Green House. Wiz Khalifa was staying at The Grand next door, and this was his usual coffee shop. Saying our goodbyes to Ed, we headed back into the streets to hit a few more of the shops on our list before checking out the nightlife.
I woke the next morning to a shout from Chris. “Wiz Khalifa needs carts!” I sat up in the oversized bed, rubbing my head from a rough night spent at The Players Club. An hour later, we were back at Green House with a handful of Dabstar Carts that had found their way into my luggage. Joa introduced us to John, Wiz’s road manager, who thanked us for the pens.
“For some reason, when Wiz thinks of Amsterdam, he thinks of mushrooms,” John exclaimed in amused frustration. My ears perked up at the change in topic. While mushrooms were not strictly illegal in Holland, the magic mushroom shops that once dotted the Red Light District had been replaced with space cakes and magic truffles. Realmushrooms were hard to find.
Joa shrugged. “That is the only thing we can’t help you with,” he said apologetically. I looked over to Chris to see if he was thinking what I was. His grin was all the answer I needed.
“We can help with that,” I offered.
To be continued…