by Scarlet Palmer on 13/12/2013 | Uncategorized

What a difference a decade makes

A comparison of the 2003 and 2013 Cannabis Cups in Amsterdam reveals the changing nature of arguably the world’s most famous cannabis festival. This echoes the radical changes that have also occurred in the acceptance of the use of arguably the world’s favourite plant, on both sides of the Atlantic. Whereas the U.S. appears to be moving forward at an unprecedented rate, the Netherlands is seeing increasingly restrictive measures imposed upon a tolerance policy that Frits Bolkestein, a former Minister who is in favour of a regulated coffeeshop model, described in 2013 as “straining at the seams”.


A comparison of the 2003 and 2013 Cannabis Cups in Amsterdam reveals the changing nature of arguably the world’s most famous cannabis festival. This echoes the radical changes that have also occurred in the acceptance of the use of arguably the world’s favourite plant, on both sides of the Atlantic. Whereas the U.S. appears to be moving forward at an unprecedented rate, the Netherlands is seeing increasingly restrictive measures imposed upon a tolerance policy that Frits Bolkestein, a former Minister who is in favour of a regulated coffeeshop model, described in 2013 as “straining at the seams”.

Decadent and creative

In November 2003 a more decadent, generous and creative spirit reigned than throughout both the city and the Cannabis Cup of ten years later. In 2003, Amsterdam boasted 258 of the 754 coffeeshops in the Netherlands, many of which served alcohol and all of which allowed tobacco smoking. The Dutch capital was enjoying a boom in tourism that would continue to increase until 2007, and even then an estimated 7% of visiting tourists listed ‘coffeeshops’ as their primary reason for travelling to Amsterdam. With a mere eight U.S. states having legalized medicinal use of cannabis by 2003, and no tolerated – let alone legalized – recreational use anywhere, many Americans had no alternative but to make the pilgrimage to the original Mecca of getting high. By 2013, two states had gone all-out with legalized recreational use and the total of states with legal medicinal cannabis had rocketed to 21. In contrast, 60 of Amsterdam’s coffeeshops had closed, although 27 of the remaining 198 (none of which could permit alcohol or tobacco) entered the Cup – only one less than in 2003. In addition, this year saw the first High Times Cannabis Cup to take place in the U.S., although High Times Medicinal Cannabis Cups had begun with the advent of medicinal legislation in multiple states.

Of the many Amsterdam coffeeshops, 28 of them entered the Cannabis Cup in 2003. The expo was held in the Hotel Arena for the first and last time, possibly because the venue –though ideal for performances by live bands, with its U-shaped balcony and soaring ceiling – was less than perfect to contain the many booths and visitors that the Cup Expo hosted. There was seldom an empty square foot of floor space throughout the entire week! Cannabis abounded, with large buds covering the tables and the Sensi Seeds booth proudly displaying two large, flourishing, flowering plants, to the delight of the 1,700 judges.

Sensi Booth 2003
The Sensi Seeds booth at the 2003 Cannabis Cup expo in Hotel Arena

In 2013, the expo was given more ample space by the venue Roest, a characterful building that played host to the expo for the second year in a row. There was plenty of room for the hundreds of judges to walk around, and the Sensi Seeds booth dominated the first area after the entrance point. Although there were no live plants this time, the impressive yet welcoming structure still received third place for Best Booth!

Sensi Booth 2013
The Sensi Seeds booth at the 2013 Cannabis Cup expo in the Roest

Counterculture Hall of Fame Inductees

In 2003, Jack Herer was inducted into the High Times Counterculture Hall of Fame. A long-time friend of Ben Dronkers, Jack was a passionate activist, and supporter of Sensi Seeds. The achievements that earned him his place alongside such luminaries as Ina May Gaskin, Bob Marley and Jack Kerouac are too numerous to list here, but of course the one he is best known for is ‘The Emperor Wears No Clothes’ – a book which for many people was the beginning of their reappraisal of the cannabis plant. Ben Dronkers credits Jack with “turning [him] on to hemp”, and it is certain that Jack would have been delighted to see his old friend Ben inducted exactly ten years later. Ben is the first Dutch person to be inducted into the Counterculture Hall of Fame, and received the honour with grace and pride.

Following his acceptance of the award, Ben in turn announced the 2013 winners of the ‘Coffeeshop Flowers Cup’; in third place The Bushdoctor, in second place the Greenhouse and in first place, the Green Place. The latter is around the corner from the Sensi Seeds shops and the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum, and so for the Sensi staff it was a great pleasure to see close neighbours receive a well-deserved prize from their boss!

Personal Possession

Having attended both the 2003 and 2013 Amsterdam Cannabis Cups, the biggest difference would seem to be the presence of actual cannabis. In 2003, it was everywhere – laid out on booths, filling vaporizers and display jars and enormous bongs, even decorating hats and spilling out of judge’s pockets. This was in spite of the fact that personal possession of more than five grams was not tolerated even then, but it has not been until this year that enforcement of this rule by High Times has been so strict. There was a sad lack of the communal festive feeling created by freely giving away cannabis in the spirit of generosity and fun, apart from the moment that Ben Dronkers rose above the restrictive attitudes of others (as he so often has done) to give away buds during his seminar.

There is one more peculiar similarity between the 2003 Cannabis Cup, which was themed “the Conspiracy Cup”, and the event of a decade later. Steve Hager, one of the main organizers and original founders, did not attend either Cup; conspiracy theorists may draw from this what they will!

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