From 24 to 26 February 2006, the third edition of the yearly Spannabis fair, on technologies to grow and consume the hemp plant, will take place in the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona, Spain. Earlier editions of Spannabis and other hemp fairs, which have been organised across Europe since various years, have received between 10 and 15 thousand visitors.
At the last edition of the Highlife Fair in Amsterdam (that took place from 20 to 22 January 2006) standholders and visitors were harassed by Dutch police and custom authorities. In spite of the fact that the use and sale of small quantities of cannabis is allowed in the Netherlands, the Dutch authorities considered it worthwhile to invest in hundreds of working hours in order to ensure that no illegal activities took place on the fair.
Cultivation of cannabis for personal use is allowed in several European countries such as Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands, and tolerated in many other European countries. The production and sale of many products that are derived from the hemp plant is legal in the European Union.
Nevertheless, the Dutch police and customs authorities who visited the Highlife Fair in January controlled standholders for issues like import tariffs, tax forms or the amount of THC present in cannabis related products such as beer, spaghetti and tobacco. One standholder was kept in custody for three hours in a police office in Amsterdam because he had not paid import tariffs on 12 bottles of hemp beer. Visitors to the Fair were told not to give away cannabis to people who were not family or friends, as this would be considered an arrestable offence.
In response to the presence of police and customs authorities at the Highlife Fair, a spontaneous demonstration was organised by a group of visitors who claimed the right to expose and enjoy cannabis-related products which are not illegal in the Netherlands.
The harassment of standholders and visitors at the Highlife Fair in Amsterdam is a way to criminalise the companies and customers who are operating in the growing cannabis industry in Europe. More than 30 million European Union citizens are in one way or another connected to this industry. If authorities really wish to reduce harm concerning public health and safety that could be related to cannabis, what they should do is co-operate with the hemp fairs, not criminalise them.
We express the hope that on the next Spannabis event in February in Barcelona, the Spanish authorities, whose drug policies are known to be much more rational that those of the present Dutch government, will show this spirit of co-operation. This will undoubtedly lead to a successfull collaboration between all involved actors, for the benefit of everyone.
European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD)
Lange Lozanastraat 14