The Cannabis Industry in the Netherlands could be falling behind that of other countries in the world. NUBusiness speaks in a series of summer interviews with Dutch entrepreneurs who are extra busy in the summer. This week: coffeeshop owner Paul Wilhelm (54). He had movie stars Brad Pitt and Matt Damon as customer, and wanted to open a Cannabis Experience.
Recently Wilhelm fears that the Netherlands will start to run behind on cannabis developments. ‘Growing cannabis should be legalised’, he finds.
Wilhelm was 22 years when he opened up his first coffeeshop. Together with his best friend Jeroen Hamersma in 1985 he started coffeeshop Tweede Kamer in Amsterdam, which is currently still open. All their childhood the two spent time in coffeeshops of others. First as customers and later behind the counter. “We thought: we should start one of your own”, Wilhelm reflects back. ‘In those days you could only buy bags of 10 guilders or 25 guilders. We introduced the scale behind the bar, so customers could decide how much they wanted to spend. We cut it at the bar ourselves and weighed it in front of the customer. You could smell it and you could feel it’.
It was a great success and quickly Tweede Kamer grew to be a kind of living room where people met and had political discussions. Exactly what Wilhelm and Hamersma had aimed for with the name of their shop.
Wilhelm just started that year with a study at the social academy. This gave quite some peculiar situations. ‘In the break time i bought five kilos of weed and sat with that in class’, Wilhelm explains, ‘I had a big bag between my legs. A sports bag. I noticed that I had to choose between my studies and my business’. He chose for the cannabis industry and left the social academy after the first year.
While in the eighties there was a mood of no future in coffeeshops, Wilhelm did not experience that. For the coffeeshops there were hardly any rules, so being an entrepreneur in this industry was relatively easy. You didn’t need an official permit’, Wilhelm explains, ‘and because of that Amsterdam had about four to six hundred coffeeshops in these days. The police did some controls occasionally, but forced closures never happened, according to Wilhelm: ‘Such a control we used to call a raid. The police took all your stuff, but that same night you just got new stuff’.
The climate in the industry in the eighties was very different than nowadays, Wilhelm states: ‘The criminality did not hit the sector and there were lots of relaxed hippies. They went on holiday and took a kilo of Indian hash with them back to pay back their holiday’, he remembers. ‘It really were cannabis lovers, these were there in that time. Now you see more like a kind of car salesmen in the sector. People do it more for the money nowadays’.
For the cannabis lovers Wilhelm and his companion came with original products. So Wilhelm introduced the so called “Oranjebud”. ‘It was grown in Dutch greenhouses’, Wilhelm explains. ‘We could sell this a few years only at our shop in the city. It was the cheapest and best Nederweed, as a consequence there were big queues in front of the shop.
Because their coffeeshop only was 25 square meters, the entrepreneurs started a second coffeeshop in 1993: Dampkring. Aiming at tourists since from that moment. Also here they treated the hash and weed as true lovers. ‘We actually always treated this product like wine’, Wilhelm says. ‘You have many different kinds of cannabis, various grow methods and everything has it’s own smell and taste’.
Dampkring which in the mean time has a second location named coffeeshop amsterdam – reached a true cult status among international tourists. Also with the American director Steven Soderbergh, who knocked on Wilhelms door in 2004. Soderbergh was looking for a location to shoot some scenes for his movie Ocean’s Twelve and had his eyes on Dampkring.
‘He thought Dampkring stood for freedom’, Wilhelm knows. ‘Steven was an American from different times. When he was young, you immediately went to prison for a year if you smoked weed. Steven said that he always came to Dampkring when he was in Amsterdam. He loved the diversity of your public. Black, white, young, old, everybody does their thing. The freedom to buy cannabis, he found that genius’.
Five long days the team of Soderbergh they took their shots in the Dampkring. Wilhelm all had them on his premisses: Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, George Clooney and so on. ‘They were smoking all the time’, Wilhelm smiles. ‘Ocean’s Twelve turned out to be the worst of a series of three. That had probably everything to do with it’.
Wilhelm had big plans in 2015. Together with other coffeeshop entrepreneurs he wanted to open up a so called Cannabis Experience at an area in Westpoort, Amsterdam-West. In a big complex not only eight coffeeshops with a drive in had to arise, but also an exposition-space, a gift shop and a test laboratory. ‘Think of the Heineken Experience, but than for cannabis’, Wilhelm explains. “We wanted to open a educational visiting centre with the purpose to learn people as much as possible about hemp and cannabis. We wanted 3D-glasses and touch screens.’
The city part agreed after some time. The cannabis entrepreneurs were very pleased and expected about 200.000 till 500.000 visitors per year. The police was afraid that the public safety would come at stake and decided to block the plan.
Still Wilhelm repeats: education about cannabis is important. ‘You don’t want things to go wrong and users who faint. That’s why he will start a campaign directed towards undergraduates. Ín the end I do sell drugs, so I want to take my responsibility for society’. He wants to publish flyers, posters and a brochure with tips for responsible use. Also there should be a information website. ‘Providing information on cannabis is not against the law’, Wilhelm says, ‘That only goes for advertising’.
With his campaign Wilhelm wants to explain users when or when not to use cannabis. ‘Don’t do it if you have to do homework, for example’. Also he advices to restrain form cannabis during working hours and also not to use all day long. Only do it if it adds something. As an example with going to a concert or if you play music. Or do it if you go to a superheroes movie with special effects, but not if you go to a French intellectual movie. Than you fall asleep and forget what the movie was all about’.
That things can go wrong with cannabis, Wilhelm experiences once in a while in his coffeeshops. Over courage users use too much weed or hash, than they collapse and as it is called ‘go out.’ For this we have made a protocol’, he explains. ‘We bring this visitor outside, so they can get some fresh air. Also sometimes we give them something to eat or to drink’.
Wilhelm is never stoned in his coffeeshops. He may me a cannabis lover himself, but smoking he only does in the evening once in a while. In the past he did smoke cannabis while working in his coffeeshops, but that did not always work out. ‘I’ve had inconvenient situations, like with a fight in my coffeeshop and a raid from the police. You notice that you react different than when you’re sober, you loose the oversight in the situation.’
Wilhelm finds it much harder to be a cannabis entrepreneur in 2017 than in the eighties. ‘It’s gotten more difficult to get good products’, he says. ‘In about fifteen years the romance has disappeared from the cannabis industry’.
‘All cannabis lovers and little home growers have stopped more or less, because the risk is too big for them. If you have a grow room in your house, you risk jail time. The people with green fingers and passion fort he product have been filtered out of it.’So he has become more careful with who he does his business. Regularly he has to say ‘no’ to cannabis traders. They offer a ‘good product’, he says, but for a far too low price. He doesn’t trust that. ‘Often they have a grin face and than you think: no i shouldn’t do that.
Also with the controls it’s not got easier. ‘The regulations has become so strict. As a minimum you get checked twice a year by a horeca-intervention team. Then the police, the tax-office and sometimes the customs office also drop by’. These are severe controls, the entrepreneur knows. ‘Often they come with a ten man force. And your shop has to close down for two hours sometimes. Also the visitors get checked. If you don’t have your things in order, you’ll get a warning. With a second warning you have to close down your shop for a week and the fourth time you lose your licence’.
Wilhelm is afraid that the Netherlands in the longer run will lose its competition position in the field of cannabis. In the mean time Uruguay is running ahead at the subject of regulation of cannabis growing. Where it became totally legal recently. Also in the American states of Alaska, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, California, Massachusetts and Nevada the majority of inhabitants voted fort he legalisation of marijuana.
The entrepreneur pleas for complete legalisation of cannabis growing. ‘Because the growing is still completely illegal there is a lack of valid ingredients formation in coffeeshops’, Wilhelm states.
‘Cannabis does not only contain THC, but about 56 other active substances. I want to be able to tell clients exactly what the concentration is of all these substances, so i can better inform them about the risks. Now i cannot do that, and as a consequence cannot uphold reasonable demands from a healthcare perspective’.
The forbid on the growing is ‘does not fit this era anymore’. Wilhelm: ‘Gay marriage, euthanasia and prostitution were once also forbidden, but that is past history already. When will the growing of cannabis finally become legal?’
Source: July 29 nu.nl