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Interview


The Dutchman Nol Van Schaik plays a big role in the legalization of cannabis in Great Britain
By Paul Scherder

Since 'the Dutch Experience', the first coffee shop in Great Britain opened September 15 last year in Stockport (near Manchester), Nol Van Schaik got continuous attention in the foreign media. Who knows the Dutch 'CanabiNol', is aware of the fact that he is the initiator of many different activities and is also the owner of the Global Hemp Museum and three coffee shops in Haarlem (Holland), like the famous Willie Wortel Workshop (Gyro Gearloose Workshop) that was started ten years ago, last year. Van Schaik, who once started to try doing business in Belgium and also has a single about cannabis on his name, is always busy trying to soften the policy on cannabis. So we had lots of reason to visit him.


Colin Davies and Nol van Schaik

At first Nol didn't like to talk to us. 'I'm busy for years and you hardly wrote about me. And when you did, most of it wasn't true; once I read I was wanted in Germany (!)'. Nol didn't like that. Once he escaped spectacularly and not without risks at the Spanish-French border after they found a huge amount of hashish in a car. He likes to tell the truth.

Can you tell us how things are in Stockport?

That you can read at www.williewortel.org  or www.dutchexperience.org . I've got a lot of clippings from recent foreign press. And that is only a selection of the most relevant things. Lot's of countries are very interested on what is happening with cannabis around the world. The BBC followed me for weeks and filmed almost everything what happened in Stockport. We're open almost six months and daily people visit and smoke in The Dutch Experience. There are enough growers in the UK to buy our weed.


Nol van Schaik inside
'the Dutch Experience'

We've had three raids, but never been locked up for more then a few hours. Luckily we could open very quickly. Alas Colin Davis - officially the owner of The Dutch Experience and a real supporter of the availability of medical weed to patients - is still in a kind of political hostage. He has to go to court again, but we have good hopes of him being bailed out. At first, he has never been convicted before and the possession of cannabis is a 'non-violent offence'. And I can guarantee you that, although he is in jail, he is getting his medicine (cannabis). As soon as Colin gets out of jail, we will again open the shop officially and with all kinds of festivities.
The situation is quite hypocritical on the moment. While in the area of Lambeth (London) the possession of cannabis is not prosecuted any more, the police in Stockport will still put you in jail. Together with two members of the European parliament and other sympathizers we often smoke our joints on the sidewalk in front of the police station, and hope they'll prosecute us. Thanks to the attention in the media, I'm so famous myself in the UK, the policemen don't want to put me in jail any more. So if I smoke an enormous joint, the police just passes me as if they don't see me at all. But if I pass the joint, that person is immediately put in jail.
I have to be in court in Manchester, because of the possession and the import of marihuana. But in the meantime I'm followed for weeks by the makers of 'The Money Program', the program about economics of the BBC. They want to know everything that has to do with managing a coffee shop: buying, selling, managing, costs, whether you pay taxes, etc. They know how interesting this is, economically, and are very interested in the financial consequences in the UK. So I'm also busy with Wernard Bruining to make a course 'How to become a coffee shop owner in the UK?' like the Dutch Experience model. The students have to come to Holland to go this course for 5 days. They will be thought in knowledge of the products, bar management, inventory, bookkeeping, social hygiene, social skills, all facets of managing a coffee shop. They also get a real certificate. On other places in the UK are also very interesting things are going to happen. We work together with Kevin Williams (producer of the movie Trainspotting) who is going to open his first coffee shop in Edinburgh, Scotland. And Wernard Bruining and me are writing a book about 30 years Mellow Yellow, the first coffee shop in Holland, and there will be a big party too at the end of this year.
But, lots of other things are happening. I've been in contact with members of the Ministry of Health of the State of Israel. They came to buy seed for scientific research and were very interested in my advice.

You'd say that Lebanon is a lot closer.

That's very true, but politically it's quite a mess now. And the farmers from Lebanon wouldn't like it to give Israel seed.

It could be a beautiful first step on the road to reconciliation.

'You notice that political opinion and policy in Europe are on a turning point. I've been asked as a guest speaker on the British Liberal Democratic Party. They want to promote legalization of cannabis. Their spin-doctors and policy advisors, they need something to break open the vacuum of power between the Tories and Labour. And legalization of cannabis is very suitable, because so many people think that it's important, in all generations and parties. And they don't want to punish the use of all illegal drugs with jail.

Is Holland already old fashioned in Europe?

'I wouldn't say that, but it seems there is already a turning point in Italy and Spain. Switzerland is holding back, but I don't think that will last a long time. Also Chirac in France knows that he has to have something really important to win the next elections. In the old days, on the highest French political post was a real hawk that was certain that using cannabis would always lead to using heroine. Now Chirac is not popular any more, he wants to legalize cannabis to keep his power. So the adherent of the stepping stone theory had to leave and now a professor of the Paris Sorbonne has this job.


Nol van Schaik demostrating for Colin Davies

I heard him on the German TV saying that legalization is the best option. So they had to go along with it.

Indeed. Or something like that. I've been also invited on the congress of the European Radical Parties, which is in Geneva soon.

What about the plans of the Dutch Minister of Health to provide weed via the pharmacy?

'I did volunteer as a grower, but I put myself off the list as soon as I knew what way it would be like. There is no scientific research done by the Ministry. It looks like they've only looked at the economical part. Assume that a patient of MS smokes 3 grams a day. That costs 30 Euro a week. So it would be 10,000 Euro a year. Until now the insurance companies want to give 900 or sometimes 1200 Euro a year. That is gone in a month. And the weed is sterilized with gamma radiation, and that's not good for the smell, taste and amount of THC. If you ask me, they don't take the patients seriously. There will be made agreements about the prices, because they know that a lot of other medicine, like morphine and prednison and others will not be sold as much as it did before. That's going to cost the pharmaceutics containers full of money. No, those patients better visit me, then they pay only one third of the price and the quality is a lot better. All coffee shop keepers in Holland should do that.
Cheap biological weed for patients and collectively give the receipts to the health insurance companies to force them to an adequate compensation.

Just before this magazine went to the printer, I contacted Nol. 'How did he do on the Liberal Democratic Party convention?'.

'The news of the plans to legalize was really surprising'. All political parties agree. The committee (that has to advise the Government) recommended a change of law to legalize cannabis. All lawsuits are postponed. Only Colin chose to force a judgement (discharge) and he's still in jail. He will be in court on June 24. The prosecutor has a lot of work to do, because Colin called 200 witnesses (besides patients, also doctors from England and Holland) to testify for the validity of cannabis as a medicine. (Colin wore a T-shirt in court, on which was printed 'I'M ALREADY A PRISONAR OF A BODY THAT DOES NOT WORK')
The British students already had their course, followed by an English film crew. The students will open coffee shops in Rhyl (Wales), Bournemouth and Milton Keynes. The papers are also aware of the fact that the coffee shops are going to open. Today a big article was placed in The Observer, which was also telling about the Brixton-experiment (in the area of Lambeth, London). But over there is one big chaos. Now you see how you really can mess up combining a repressive policy with too much hard drugs.
All lawsuits are postponed until the day the law will be changed. The British Government is afraid for the claims for damage. And we will open the second branch store of The Dutch Experience in Bornemouth. We truly belief that the legalization in England will be soon.

So, that was a very enthusiastic Nol van Schaik. We congratulate Colin, all other patients and all smokers in the UK with the forthcoming victory. And we want to say to the British people: Cannabis is great if you suffer from 'stiff upper lip'. Just try it!

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