It’s 3 p.m. on a cold, gross Saturday afternoon in November and I’m stationed at the World Beat Café/community centre on St-Laurent to wallow in the wonder that is the first-ever Quebec Cannabis Cup. I feel privileged. The cost to attend this gruelling competition is a whopping 200 bucks, but I, as an official hanger-on of celebrated American pot guru Ed Rosenthal, have managed to hustle my way in for free. Praise the Lord.
The event is going down all weekend and today all of us participants are scheduled to receive the hefty canisters of doob that we will dutifully taste, smoke, fondle, and, ultimately, judge for the awards ceremony planned tomorrow evening. It’s a beautiful world.
Except for one thing. The all-important goods have yet to be distributed. And everybody knows that if there ain’t no official reefer around to judge, then you’ve got yourself one bogus Cannabis Cup. Word has it the police came by the World Beat yesterday to check things out and, though they were relatively cordial and gave the Cup their unofficial blessing, nobody really trusts them. Imagine that.
Consequently, the organizers, HempQuebec, have opted to feel out the cop situation a little while longer before doling out the competition doob. I don’t blame them. Close to 500 enthusiastic weedheads have bought tickets to this event and, with each one of them due to receive an official Quebec Cannabis Cup canister stock full of choice pot, I suspect HempQuebec could be looking at a few fairly nasty criminal charges should the Man choose to bust in and spoil the party. So we wait.
The mood inside the earthy and smoke-filled café is a contrast of blissful celebration and apprehension. I overhear a couple of restless potheads at the table next to me bitching about having to hang around so long to score the promised booty. I don’t know why they’re so irritable. Since I’ve been paying attention they’ve probably smoked about five Cheech-and-Chong-style joints and they’ve got a giant bag of weed sitting on the table in front of them. Everyone is getting high. There certainly doesn’t appear to be any shortage of reefer in the World Beat this afternoon. No worries, man.
Ed Rosenthal: a quick primer
I’m doing my best not to partake in the goings-on–pot almost always renders me completely useless–and simply hang close to Ed, whom I find holding court upstairs in the lounge area. He’s been brought here by Heads magazine to cover the Cup and lend his celebrity presence to the affair. In the world of marijuana culture, Ed Rosenthal is king. A crack horticulturist since the age of 10, Ed has been working his marijuana magic since the 1960s, back when he was involved with the Provos–a high-spirited activist group who provided much of the inspiration for the Yippie movement a few years later on. “The Provos recruited a bunch of us researchers and scientists to go back to the farms and develop new and better highs,” Ed tells me as a fresh army of sycophants storm our table to bathe in the master’s wisdom, “and I guess I’m still working on it.”
Rosenthal has written close to a dozen books about marijuana and for 17 years was the man behind “Ask Ed,” an especially popular advice column in High Times magazine. A talented and articulate marijuana activist, Ed is the undisputed authority on all things reefer. Scores of admirers interrupt us to shake his hand, give him pot to sample, and to maybe pick up a few botany tips from the master. “I only resent that I wasn’t a rock star,” Ed leans over to tell me. “Those guys get all the free drugs but they also get the girls.”
The two of us are having a marvy old time sitting around discussing everything from the current U.S political scene to his old associate Abbie Hoffman. “I would have killed myself too if I ended up having to live my days hiding out in a chicken coop in rural Pennsylvania like Abbie did,” Ed chortles.
As far as I can tell, I think Ed likes me. He’s a smart, charismatic old coot who laughs at most of my jokes–unlike the other PC potheads at our table who I’m pretty sure just think I’m an asshole. Our interview is going great. I’m taking copious notes and I’m well on my game: animated, witty, and thoroughly offensive to the hippie fucks who relentlessly cling to Ed like crabs to Grace Slick’s pubic area. Sheesh, I’m having fun.
“So do you smoke?” Ed asks after noticing that I keep passing on the joints making their way around the table. I tell him that while I’m no stranger to recreational drugs, pot just totally knocks me out, to the point where I can hardly even talk when I’m high, let alone conduct an interview.
“Maybe it’s the poor quality of pot you smoke,” one of the hippies slyly offers. “Try this herb, brother. Trust me, it won’t fuck you up or give you a bad trip.”
A bad trip
At which point in the afternoon everything becomes a little hazy. Within a few minutes I noticed that while Ed’s lips certainly seemed to be moving, the only sound coming out of his mouth was a guttural honking, not a whole lot unlike Charlie Brown’s schoolteacher from the old Peanuts cartoons. Ed was looking me straight in the eye and telling me something no doubt noteworthy, but I had stumbled into the other dimension, a place where words could not reach me.
By the time I realized I’d been dosed with some unspeakably strong pot by a hateful hippie who just wanted to shut me up, it was too late. I had blasted off and wasn’t due to land any time soon. I vaguely remember drifting away from the hippies and Ed and making my way over to the munchie table, where I stuffed about three dozen brownies in to my mouth, thinking that the food might help me come down a little. But it didn’t. Curiously, I just got progressively more disoriented…
I had to get far away from Ed at this point. His face was freaking me out. I made my way downstairs to the main hall and sat down to watch some dreadlocked white Québécois reggae band sing about revolution with fake Jamaican accents. I knew I was in trouble when I started thinking they were actually pretty good. I was suddenly struck with a strong urge to leave but couldn’t feel my legs anymore and didn’t want to take the chance that I would try to get up and end up rolling around on the floor like a crazy person–tears welling in my eyes, alternately laughing and crying. I opted to sit tight for awhile. I noticed the remnants of a big fat joint sitting in the ashtray at my table. It seemed like a good idea to smoke it.
What happened next is anyone’s guess. I know I lost all track of Ed. All I can remember is several hours later being at home in my living room eating a giant BBQ chicken–a bird I have no recollection of buying and which I’m concerned may well have come out of a dumpster. I fell asleep shortly after with one thing on my mind: I had to get back to the Cup and find some more of this incredible dope.
The vibe at the World Beat today is one of righteous indignation. Apparently, the police raided the joint last night but I, first-rate journalist that I am, was too stoned to notice. Some potheads tell me that the cops dragged Alain Berthiaume, the head dude over at HempQuebec, out into the street and arrested him on three counts of trafficking shortly after the competition doob was distributed–something else I regrettably missed while in my stupor. Alain is going to be stuck in jail until Monday or Tuesday. Some of the more dedicated activists are going to march over to the Guy street police station this afternoon to hold a vigil and voice their displeasure with the Man.
I decide it’s probably a good idea to track Ed down and see if he’s got any pertinent details this reporter should know about. I find him upstairs near the munchie table mulling over some giant contraption some pot grower guy has brought in that makes hash oil–or something along those lines. Ed and the pot grower are deeply involved in conversation about germinology and soil and a whole bunch of other horticultural shit that no one but a dopesmoking gardener could possibly care about.
I interrupt to ask Ed if he intends on going to the protest this afternoon. “Damn right, of course,” he tells me, a little incredulous that I would even ask the question. “I hope you’re planning to demonstrate as well.”
“Um yeah, sure,” I say a little weakly, not all that confident my commitment to the cause is strong enough to march all the way over to Guy and René-Lévesque on a freezing cold November day just to let some marijuana guy know I’m thinking about him. “I’ll see you there.”
“You know,” Ed says patiently, recognizing a liar when he sees one, “this kind of police action is not just an assault on marijuana, it’s an assault on dissent. The authorities are not just trying to control what people think, but the way people think. Marijuana smokers are very individualistic people, and that’s something the government really doesn’t want. Alain organized this wonderful party and now he’s sitting in a holding cell because of it. I think it’s important to show some solidarity.”
I was starting to feel guilty. I liked Alain when I met him yesterday. I want there to be more local Cannabis Cups in the future. I want pot to be legalized so I can cop the incredible grade of smoke that’s been going ’round the World Beat this weekend every day for the rest of my life. I want to fight the power.
“Listen,” Ed continued a little more gently, “these events are very meaningful to the people who go to them because they’re the celebration of a culture which has been under a genocidal assault by governments for 30 years or longer. And it’s important for people to celebrate in spite of government repression.”
Screwing the Man
By the time Ed has finished his spiel he’s inspired an Oprah-sized righteousness in my soul. The arrest has totally messed with the weekend’s festivities. I’m told that since the bust the chances of getting my hands on my canister of potential prize-winning doob are now slim to none. I’m bummed and angry at a world that can allow an injustice of this calibre to occur. The awards ceremony has been called off. Fewer than 200 people have bothered to come back today and a good chunk of them are heading out to the vigil. So much for fun.
I head downstairs and out the door to witness Heads editor and Bloc Pot hero Boris St-Maurice rounding up the troops for the big march. “Screw the Man!” I cry out to nobody. Some of the marchers are passing joints around while we wait for our cue to go put the fear into the cops. Within a few minutes I am totally fucked up and shocked to discover my passion for organized protest increasingly diminished with each gust of cold air creeping up St-Laurent Boulevard.
Ed, who is right up at the front of the line, starts telling me excitedly about a master conspiracy he is organizing for next August that will cause a total breakdown in the American legal system. “The courts are going to have too many people to process and then they’re going to find out that they’ve arrested some people that they shouldn’t have arrested. I can’t tell you anymore right now, for obvious reasons, but believe me, it’s going to be big.”
And I believe him when he says it’s going to be a milestone in the struggle against prohibition but, more importantly, his teeth are freaking me out. So are all of the protesters. I’m having trouble remembering what decade I’m living in. My resolve to protest is weakening by the second. I notice that the sidewalk seems to be kind of moving. I conclude there is no way I can make it to the vigil and opt to fuck the march and head back upstairs to listen to Jim Zeller’s band and smoke more pot. I hang out for awhile, alone, but quickly get bored, and while Berthiaume languishes in jail, I decide to head back home to enjoy my BBQ chicken. Thanks for the party, Alain.
The new disciple
I do manage to hook up with Ed one last time before he flies home to Oakland, California to reconvene his jihad with the U.S. pot prohibitionists. He gives me a copy of his latest print offering, The Big Book of Buds, an aluminum pipe, and all of the unfathomably strong pot that was donated to him over the course of the weekend. I am eternally grateful. I’ve gotten high every day since. Bless you, Ed Rosenthal, for you have shown me the light.
Alain Berthiaume of HempQuebec was released last Monday on $1,500 bail. He says he is confident he will beat the rap and plans on holding more Cannabis Cups in the future. “I want to open a full-time hash house in Montreal within the next year,” he told me over the phone earlier this week, “but the police treat me as though I am some kind of criminal. Tell me, what was so criminal about what we tried to do over the weekend?” His trial for trafficking is scheduled to begin on January 21.
Originally published in the Montreal Mirror, 2001