AMSTERDAM (MainStreet) - In a move that surprised festival event organizers, sponsors and attendees of Cannabis Cup 2014, Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan pulled the plug on allowing the famed first day's expo to proceed. Organizers continued to say that they believed honestly that their festival was operating in compliance with newly issued "stricter" city regulations.
Officials at High Times, which organizes the event, were unwilling to comment on the record on Sunday beyond the press release authored response found here and re-issued a revised events schedule online late on Sunday night local time.
Impact, apart from inconveniencing exhibiting companies (most of which are American) and for whom this was not an inconsequential expense, was directly to consumers who showed up, it seemed, from comments on the ground, almost exclusively for the expo, not the advertised lectures.
It was clear from comments on backgrounnd at the event on Sunday to MainStreet that organizers, for one, hoped that this first black eye would not dampen the overall mood of the conference. High Times publisher Mary McEvoy was convinced the event would proceed smoothly on Monday. That said, security also did not want the picture taken of a paraplegic in a wheelchair (of apparently Dutch descent), who was also clearly highly upset that he had not been contacted at the first sign of potential delay.
High Times was also clearly working behind the scenes until doors opened for the scheduled event to secure the go-ahead from the city. Publicly, all the organizers would say is that they had to secure a new location for the event. By 2 p.m. Sunday, also a new starting time (an hour later than originally planned as the beginning of the event until the day before) booths had been torn down at the new location too, and all the exhibits which had been set up in the morning were no longer present.
Returns of ticket fees and frustrated customers as a result were the order of the day. Attendees had come from all over Europe, Asia and across the United States. Few sponsoring companies bothered to stick around to see the fallout in the afternoon. Festival organizers also gamely told anyone who would listen that this setback really "didn't mean anything."
Comments from those who waited outside, however, told a different story.
Long-time attendees from both in country and as far away as New York City who agreed to speak to MainStreet on background confirmed that this move by the city of Amsterdam (and specifically the Mayor who made tighter regulation of the tourist trade linked to marijuana a part of his political platform) was mostly political posturing and not of the anti pot variety.
It is clear upon visiting neighborhood smoke shops whose primary purpose is selling marijuana to customers no matter where they hail from, that the Dutch are not making an anti-marijuana statement. "Medical" consumers (who must be Dutch citizens) can present prescriptions at any registered "coffee shop" and receive their medication tax free. Dutch citizens and those with legitimate Dutch bank accounts, can also use plastic to pay for their purchases. Everyone else must pay cash.
Recreational users (and that essentially means foreigners) also pay a sin tax.
This appears to be a move (although nobody would go on record to say the same) to explicitly keep out American companies, if not influence. And while the events of Sunday hit smaller businesses in this market niche, everyone -- from attendees to those on the commercial end of things admits -- that this is actually a trade war over pot and ancillary products. And the Dutch, for one, want to keep American seeds and culture at the border.
It is not that "American influences" on a political and philosophical level are very much welcomed here, no matter who claims ownership of them. It is obvious that Amsterdam's economy is dependent on tourist dollars, which on the smoke shop front come from across the continent as well as across the pond. It is rather that in this move, the Dutch, who have long been a part of global trade initiatives and thus are adept at reading the shifting winds of trade and politics, seem to be taking a pro-pot, local home-grow approach.
Expo organizers are bravely charging on, while trying to ignore an obvious slight and political signal from the city of Amsterdam that reform is obviously here. But the Dutch, who have also historically had a few experiences with high value, "exotic" flowers of a different shape and hue, are clearly interested also in putting their stamp on another sort of plant.
--Written by Marguerite Arnold for MainStreet