Pubdate: 17-23 Dec 1999
Source: LA Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 1999, Los Angeles Weekly, Inc.
Author: Paul Krassner, The High Life 
Note: Paul Krassner's Impolite Interviews (Seven Stories Press) and Pot
Stories for the Soul (High Times Press) have just been published.
Cited: High Times:


The fact that the flight to Amsterdam is scheduled to depart at 4:20 p.m.
balances on the cusp between appropriate coincidence and good omen, because
420 has become a number representing celebration in the marijuana
subculture. Some say it's because 420 is the police code for a pot bust.
Others say it's the number of ingredients in the herb. Who knows, maybe it
has something to do with that nursery rhyme about four-and-twenty blackbirds.

In any case, during the weeklong 12th Annual Cannabis Cup, sponsored by
High Times magazine, there will be huge partying at 4:20 every afternoon,
and also at 4:20 every morning, with live music, from blues to reggae, at
Melkweg, a nightclub several yards away from police headquarters. The MC
will be an invigorating standup comic from San Francisco, Ngaio Bealum,
whose parents were both in the Black Panther Party. "You know," one of his
routines goes, "when we were kids, we didn't have bongs. We just had to
fill our mouths with water and suck real slowly." He describes smoking pot
while drinking coffee as "the poor man's eight ball." Usually you can spot
the folks at LAX who are traveling to the Cup, but I'm surprised to
overhear a retired 62-year-old grandmother say to her 49-year-old
companion, "I was so stoned I couldn't get off the toilet." The two women
will be staying at a youth hostel. They're looking forward to checking out
the coffee shops, which are open until 1 a.m. In 1976, the Dutch Health
Ministry decriminalized marijuana, and some years later licenses to sell
pot were given out to the coffee shops, the same ones that had already been
selling pot and hash. Customers can choose from an actual menu of marijuana
varieties, then sit down at a table and smoke their purchases.

They can also buy coffee. Cup attendees are given "passports" with pages
for each of the coffee shops that they can get stamped as they sample the
offerings. Every participant to come back with a completed passport (in
this case, a group of seven college students from Buffalo) wins . . . more
pot, of course. The grandma I met at LAX seems exhausted. She's spent the
day schlepping from coffee shop to coffee shop by streetcar and on foot,
unaware that one coffee shop, the Green House Cafe, offers an energy drink
for those who've been smoking too much all day. "This is like the march to
Bataan," she complains. "I've had my first bad high here."

Most people aren't complaining about the nonstop orgy of pot smoking. In
the funky Quentin Hotel lobby, a gigantic painting of Keith Richards
watches over the guests as they sit at wooden tables, cheerfully chatting
while they smoke joints and drink hot chocolate. Joints are shared with cab
drivers. The pot smoking continues at the opening banquet. High Times
editor and Cannabis Cup founder Steve Hager refers to marijuana as "our
sacrament." He labels pot smokers "the most repressed minority group on the

This year, in a sort of countercultural version of Roots, icons of the Beat
Generation -- Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg and William
Burroughs -- are being posthumously inducted into the Cannabis Cup Hall of
Fame. Hager asserts that "Beat culture is the bedrock and foundation that
provides a continuity of tradition as counterculture continues to evolve."
He demands respect for "the elders of our tribe" and requests a moment of
silence in memory of Beat patriarch Paul Bowles, who died just days before
the Cup got under way. Even the pot smoking is temporarily halted.

At the Pax party-house on the second afternoon, we gather in a ballroom
with a bar, a stage, rows of chairs, and some tables at the back. Onstage,
Neal Cassady's widow, Carolyn, and their son, John, are paying tribute to
Cassady. Seated at one of the tables are three psychedelic relics, Robert
Anton Wilson, John Sinclair and Stephen Gaskin -- all sporting white beards
and mustaches, all there to honor a different Beat icon each day. While
passing around a joint, they recall the specific years that they started
smoking pot.

Wilson is the author of 32 books. The latest is an encyclopedia of
conspiracy, Everything Is Under Control. Wilson does six drafts of
everything he writes, alternating between straight and stoned, the final
draft always while stoned. Onstage, John Cassady is gesturing toward his
mother. "This is the gal that started the Beat Generation," he says
proudly. Wilson smiles and mutters, "I thought it was Burroughs, but what
the hell." Wilson started smoking pot in 1955.

Sinclair founded the White Panthers in Detroit and was the spiritual leader
of a hard-rock band, the MC (Motor City) 5. The cover of his book Guitar
Army features a photo of him smoking what had been a cigarette but was
morphed into a joint because he didn't want to send the wrong message to
kids. When a Dutch TV correspondent questions him about his cigarette
smoking, he replies with a snarl, "It's none of your business." Sinclair
started smoking pot in 1963.

Gaskin is leader of the Farm, an intentional community in Tennessee made up
of people who left San Francisco in a convoy a few decades ago. He is
challenging Ralph Nader for the Green Party presidential nomination. At the
upcoming debate, he plans to delineate and praise Nader's accomplishments,
then add, "But I can bring out the hippie vote." His platform includes
health care for all and the decriminalization of marijuana in such a way
that it will "not fall into the hands of tobacco manufacturers." In
Gaskin's administration, he says, there will be mandatory drug testing to
find out who has the good stuff. His Secret Service agents will be
urine-tested to be sure that they have a high enough THC level. But what if
he wins? "First I'd shit, and then I would kick ass." Gaskin started
smoking pot in 1962.

His wife, Ina May, president of the Midwives Alliance of North America,
predicts that she would be "an unruly First Lady." She would turn the
Lincoln Bedroom into a birth center for the poor. She would grow hemp in
the Rose Garden, all meals at the White House would be vegetarian, and
she'd teach a Secret Service agent to braid her hair. When asked if she has
intern concerns, she replies, "No, we'll do the blowjobs in every room."
Her husband will be left to explain to the media, "I can't control her. You

The Cannabis Cup has become a big event in Amsterdam. In 1993, there were
52 attendees; this year, more than 2,000. But the centerpiece is still the
competition in which the coffee shops enter their finest wares to be
judged. In the early years, there were celebrity judges. Later on, anybody
attending the Cup could be a judge, and that resulted in equal-opportunity
bribery in the form of free pot. But this year the coffee-shop owners
themselves are the judges, and the 16 brand-name entries have been coded,
so that it will be a blind competition. "We truly don't know who's gonna
win," Hager promises. The only complaint is that coffee-shop owners are
expected to smoke too much cannabis.

For many, the first joint they smoke automatically becomes the winner,
because everything after that one is difficult to distinguish. There is no
surcease of euphoria, no time to savor one strain of marijuana or
anticipate the next. This is not like wine tasting, where the wine is spit
out between tastes. At least in the aroma-therapy booth coffee beans are
whiffed between each new fragrance, to neutralize the olfactory sense.
Ultimately, though, a winning strain of marijuana, Super Silver Haze from
the Green House coffee shop, is selected. It is the ultimate irony of this
whole affair that an herb that promotes a sense of cooperation is this week
being inhaled in such an aura of competition.

Ah, but I am jaded. Indeed, my cannabis cup runneth over. An issue of High
Times once included a questionnaire asking, among other things, "Is it
possible to smoke too much pot?" A reader responded, "I don't understand
the question."
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