April 12, 2011

My Kushy New Job from GQ Magazine

This is an article published by GQ Magazine's website in August of 2010. Journalist Wells Tower took a trip to Amsterdam to see what all the fuss was about. He learned a lot you wouldn't expect about Dutch societies dealings with marijuana. Tower's personal experiences became a fun bit of literature to chew on.

This morning, employees of Amsterdam's de Dampkring ("the Smoke Ring") coffee-shop franchise have convened at the unbohemian hour of 9 a.m. for a daylong refresher course on the finer points of effective and responsible weed salesmanship. Not long from now, I'm scheduled to spend a week behind the hash bar at one of de Dampkring's two local branches, but what I know about the art of marijuana retail—not to mention Holland's perverse and hazy drug statutes—wouldn't fill a golf-ball dimple. So at the request of the shops' rightly nervous manager, I've crossed the pond early to undergo a spot of preprofessional cramming.

The seminar is taking place on the second floor of the Dampkring's forward-looking modern branch, whose decor tends toward diamond plate and brushed steel, in deliberate disdain, the owner tells me, for the hippy-shit aesthetics, smoke-browned Hendrix posters, and Jamaican tricolor of the last-gen Amsterdam dope joint. Despite the ineradicable skunk's-tail perfume leaching from the Sheetrock, the shop this morning is a pretty faithful imitation of a high school classroom—from the distracted bespectacled lecturer (a representative from a nonprofit drug-counseling agency) futzing with the overhead projector to the two icily pretty cheerleader types giggling in malicious-sounding Dutch while stocking their desktops with schoolgirl tackle (moisturizer, makeup, chocolates, tissue packets) to the rearmost dunce row, where I've been quarantined with my translator, who told me to call him Harry Resin. A merry Canadian in his midthirties who has lived in Amsterdam for the past decade or so, Harry was drafted into translation detail by Dampkring management and is not delighted about it. "I haven't been up this early in years," he says.

Harry, who formerly ran a seed business and now spends his days as a cannabis-policy gadfly, is also unhappy because we're forbidden to get high during class. On a typical day, Harry likes to spark a joint the size of a cornucopia shortly after getting out of bed and to spark another one every fifteen minutes or so until it's time to go to sleep at night. By his own account, Harry smokes ten to fourteen ounces per month (in the neighborhood of $5,000 worth if he were paying retail, which he does not). So, thwarted for the next few hours, Harry impatiently rolls one hefty spliff of G13-Amnesia Haze after another, lining them up on his desk in anticipation of the noontime lunch break.

Our instructor opens the session with the gentle question "How does it feel to work in a coffee shop?" Contrary to my conception of Holland as a freethinking sort of nation where it's no more fraught to suck a public bongload than an after-dinner mint, a number of people confess feeling a sense of vague disgrace at working in the industry.

"I guess I'm sort of a source of shame for my family," says one dealer (as the hash-bar staffers are known).

"I don't tell people," says a cheerleader. "I just say I work in hospitality."

"I say the same thing," offers Dampkring owner Paul Wilhelm, whose unflagging smirk and mirthfully squinted eyes give him the look of a man trapped in a mild and hilarious g-force machine. "It used to be cannabis was nothing; it was spinach. These days, if you say you own a coffee shop, people think you're a criminal."

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