James Leavey's Sharing An Ashtray With... Henk De Vries

Henk de Vries

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James Leavey's Corner
  By James Leavey

 The founder and ownerof the Bulldog Café, Holland’s first cannabis café, which opened inAmsterdam, 27 years ago, sounds off…

JL: Where did you smokeyour first joint" 

HDV: It was in Amsterdam, in 1965, when Iwas about sixteen.

 JL: Werethere many people smoking cannabis in Holland, at that time"

HDV: Yeah, but actually it was smokedmostly by – what you say - the black people.  It wasn’t that common.It was also a period of time when hard drugs started to put on itshat.

JL: What type of cannabisdo you smoke now"

HDV: I prefer Morroccan.

JL: Why"

HDV: It’s soft, it’s blunt, it’s easy forme  - but then I’ve smoked cannabis for so long.

JL: When did you openyour first cannabis cafe"

HDV: In 1975, inAmsterdam.  I had just come back to Holland, after two years inGermany, and saw that all my friends, neighbours and colleagues had,during the time I was away, switched over to hard drugs. That hurtme, because I lost quite a lot of friends. So I decided to open aplace where I could sift the hard and the soft drugs, especially formy friends and neighbours.  I opened a shop that was more a part ofmy living room, and said, ‘I will kick out everything that hasnothing to do with cannabis.’

JL: Was that the firstcafé of its kind, in Holland"

HDV: Yeah. The name ‘Coffee Shop’, wasthe name I came up with.  At that time, there were what we call‘coffee houses’, which were for the regular work people who drankcoffee before they went to work, or at lunchtime.  

JL: What was it thatprompted the Dutch government’s tacit acceptance of cannabis cafes,such as yours"

HDV: It was a fairly bigfight.  In the first 2-3 years we had 30-40 police coming in to thecafe, 5-6 times a day.  And they busted me, baby, a hundred times. And they busted my customers for a couple of hundred times. Andevery time when the customers went out, I went on the door and toldthem that every piece of cannabis that the police had busted themfor, and taken away from them, I would replace.  So the customerswanted to smoke a joint and they’d say, the same as me, ‘What are wedoing wrong"  We’re only smoking a joint.’  At the time, the policewould take away all the cannabis they found and put my customers injail for a day, or half a day.  Later on, it was just for a coupleof hours.  But mainly, they took away the cannabis.

JL: When did they startleaving you alone"

HDV: We created a kind ofslogan, ‘We break the rules, to create the rules’. That gave us thepower, and the reason why we have been going on with it. Now, thecannabis cafes are ignored.  They are not legal, yet.  It’s a ‘blindeye’ policy.  They give you the opportunity to sell your hash, butthey bring it down and down and down with a lot of rules.  And theserules are the strongest you will find in any kind of Dutch business– they’re not the normal rules a business can run with. For example,we are only allowed to sell five grams of cannabis per person, perday. That person has to be 18 years, or older.  Each ‘coffee shop’is only allowed to keep a total of 500 grams in stock.  And we arenot allowed to bring 500 grams to our shop.  That means that I needa person who can carry only five grams at a time to my shop, where Ican only sell 5 grams, at a time, to a customer. That’s if you do itby the book. I can only keep 500 grams of hash in my shop, at anyone time, but how I should get it there, nobody knows.

JL: It’s just amiracle, I guess…

HDV:  Yes.  It’s a silly situation, butthat’s how it goes, in Holland.

JL: How many premises doyou own"

HDV: Seven, but it covers lots of things,including a low budget hotel, a sports café, coffee shops, acocktail bar, merchandise, and the Bulldog energy drink.  It’s nowmore of a lifestyle thing.

JL: Have you everthought of opening a Bulldog cafe in Britain"

HDV: Yes.  I always planned to open aBulldog in Britain, but I’d like to do the whole Bulldog line – ahotel, bar, coffee shop  – but I’ve been busy now, for 27 years, andthe battle is not really won.  Every day I still battle withauthorities over here in Holland.  So, if I can find the rightperson, who says ‘I’ll go in the way you have been going, and in theway you do it today’, with money to invest in a good place, then I’dbe open to open a Bulldog shop in Great Britain.

JL: Who do you preferto share a joint with"

HDV: The people I startedwith. I’ve got more than 35 people who have worked for me between 10and 27 years. They’re the best persons I can enjoy a smoke with.

JL: Finally, whosedoorway would you love to smoke in"

HDV: The first coffeeshop in London.

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