Going Dutch: High Times Cannabis Cup Memories

Attendees and participants of the the original High Times Cannabis Cup event in Amsterdam get nostalgic and misty-eyed this time of year. The Cups from the early '90s to the 2010s took place in the Dutch capital each year during Thanksgiving week, nowhere else.

The Cannabis Cup was hardly off the ground when High Times editor-in-chief Steve Hager tossed it in my direction. The year was 1992. It was not yet a public event. He told me to go over to Amsterdam and run it.

The author wrote this cover story about the ’92 Cup.

1991-1992: The Coffeeshop Cups

Hager organized the first three Cups, setting the stage for establishing a standard to determine the best Dutch marijuana strains. For the fourth Cup in 1991 he sent staffers Judy McGuire and Lou Stathis. They contacted several coffeeshops and produced a small event.

The following event, Hager assigned myself and Cup photographer Andre Grossmann to organize the fifth Cup. Grossmann had the coffeeshops contacts from the previous year. When we arrived, we rented bikes and peddled around town collecting stinky-smelling entries. The three main competitors were Homegrown Fantasy, which won with Haze x Skunk; Sensi Seeds; and the Bluebird.

Our celebrity judges were U.S. federal glaucoma patient Elvy Musikka, Dutch offical Dr. Eric Fromberg, Pearl Jam drummer Dave Abbbruzzese and members of the Britsh garage band the Stairs and the Dutch funk band Gotcha. We wanted to arrange for a concert but that never happened. I visited the Melkweg venue and nudged open a door that would be beneficial for the Cup in years to come. We held a dinner for about 30 people and announced the winners.

Rita Marley performs at the 10th Cannabis Cup in 1997, the year Bob Marley was honored.

1997: The Bob Marley Cup

By the time I returned to the Cup five years later, it was a public event. There was an expo in one location and concerts at the Melkweg, as I had suggested in '92. The 1997 Cup was a big one for me. As music editor of High Times I'd built up a relationship with the Marley family. Hager decided to create a Hall of Fame and wanted Bob Marley to be the first inductee. We needed a Marley to accept. For several months I sent messages to the Marleys' representative, asking if Ziggy, Stephen or Rita could attend. Finally, just days before the start of the 10th Cup, I learned thet Rita had accepted our invitation on Bob's behalf, which was a major coup.

The day she was supposed to arrive, I was escorted to Schiphol Airport by Arjan Roskam from the Green House. We waited and waited. No Rita. We returned to the city with long faces. The next morning the phone rang in my hotel room. "It's Rita," the Marley matriarch said cheerfully. "I'm at the airport." I made arrangements to meet her at her hotel at 5 pm. The plan was to take Rita to the Melkweg, where the Cannabis Cup Band were rehearsing their set of Marley tunes to be played that night. We were all hoping that Rita would agree to join them on stage. She listened for a few minutes, shook her head affirmatively and promptly walked up and started singing with the band.

Later that night, we presented the award and had a Marley tribute concert during which Rita performed "One Draw." Before she returned to Jamaica, we heard Rita had a little mishap in her room when a fire broke out. But fortunately there was no major damage and no one was hurt. Bob would've understood.

Classic Amsterdam canal scene with terrific old architecture. (image via High Times)

2003: The Jack Herer Cup

For the next eight Cups I was the backstage liaison for the bands - 311, Fishbone, George Clinton, Jefferson Starship, Patti Smith, Galactic, Steel Pulse, Culture and many more - booked by Mike Esterson and 420 Tours, who co-produced the Cup from 1997-2003. I was a celebrity judge - meaning I received my own stash of seed-company entries - in '97. The other years we all shared the strains and hash, testing out the latest Dutch varieties.

Hager and Esterson ran the Cup as an semi-improvisational event - part legitimate trade show, part psychedelic carnival. In addition to magazine staff, Hager had a handpicked crew dubbed the Temple Dragons, which I was brought into and then tossed out of within the course of a few years. The Dragons mostly shot video and did security. 

The years pretty much blend together for me, but 2003 stands out because that's when Jack Herer was honored. He flew into New York from California and stayed with me until we departed for the Dam. This was after he'd suffered a stroke. That year George Clinton performed. The last night I hit a huge communal spliff and ended up getting sick. Everyone usually came home with the Cannabis Cup cough, but that in 2003 I was socked with the flu as well. It was a rough flight home.

Visiting Amsterdam in the fall means you need to bundle up. Generally, if there's any sunlight, it disappears early in the day. Rule of thumb: Don't bother bringing sunglasses.

RELATED: Cannabis Cup Winners Over the Years 

In addition to the awesome herb, the Dutch capital is known for beer, chocolate, cheese, herring, pea soup and an international selection of restaurants. The locals are friendly but hard to get to know. Get around town on the trams or, if you're more adventurous, on a bike. The Dutch love to bike. The flat terrain makes for easy spinning and bike lanes get you almost anywhere in and out of town. Of course, Amsterdam is even more famous for its canals and museums - the Rikjsmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House are not to be missed. A nice boat ride is always a highlight.

Hager no longer runs the Cup. High Times took the event over from him after Colorado legalized it in 2012 and branched out with numerous U.S. Cups around the country, mostly in the Western states. I've attended Cups in San Franciso and Denver. They were fun, but judging was limited to hand-picked judges. The biggest award at the Amsterdam Cannabis Cup was always the People's Cup. That's what missing from U.S. judging events. 


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.