How a nightmare turned into a dream: the birth of Mambo
By Michel Degens
My name is Michel Degens, I’m 38 years old and I live in Belgium. In April 2013, I founded the second Cannabis Social Club of Belgium, the Mambo Social Club. We are a club that grows cannabis for the personal use of their members; we do this in compliance with Belgian law.
The keystone of our work is a Ministerial Guideline written in 2005 that states that every adult can possess three grams of cannabis or one cannabis plant if this happens without disturbance to others (no minors, no selling, not in public etc.,). If you get caught with the maximum three grams of cannabis or one cannabis plant, the police officer can write down your name and make a simplified complaint( nothing will come of this, it won’t even be mentioned in the statistics), and you can keep the cannabis and / or plant in your possession. The police do not have the right to take it from you, if you are abiding the rules and keeping to the three grams or one plant in possession. So this is the keystone of our existence, the ministerial guideline of 2005.
I never had dreamed that I should have to go to all the trouble of founding a Cannabis Social Club to be able to smoke my joint. In fact ever since I can remember people from my town, Hasselt would jump in their car for a twenty minute drive to the city of Maastricht in The Netherlands to buy their weed in one of the coffee shops in town. Life was easy in Belgium, being so close to the Dutch border. This is how I did it twenty years ago and how everybody else did it for almost thirty years. This is how it has always been ever since I can remember, in Hasselt weed always was just a twenty min drive away from the Maastricht coffeeshops.
I was lucky enough to get a job in one of the coffee shops in Maastricht and I was a very happy coffeeshop employee during five years of my life. I worked in a relaxed atmosphere and there was always something nice to smoke around.
All this changed with the new laws that where effective from May 1st 2012, when it was no longer possible for foreigners to buy cannabis in parts of The Netherlands and for Dutch people to buy cannabis without registration. As a result of these new laws the coffeeshops lost their customers to the illegal market and home dealers. The coffee shops lost their clients and the employees lost their jobs. The black market is thriving like never before in Maastricht at this moment. 400+ ex-coffee shop employees are sitting at home and not are paying taxes on their earnings anymore, while dealers are taking over the streets and try to sell anything to anybody.
So on may 1st 2012 the unimaginable happened to me, after twenty years, the people of Belgium where no longer welcome in Maastricht. I lost my job and I lost my weed that day. The dream was threatening to turn into a nightmare. I needed my social lubricant, my medicine, my mistress. I do have a medical subscription for almost 20 years and I have always followed the doctor’s guidelines happily ever since. The coffee shop has always been a reliable supply for me to get my medicine, especially when you are working in one. The cannabis is cheaper than in the pharmacy and works just as well or even better and you don’t need to get a doctor’s prescription every time you need some.
I had heard and read of a cannabis social club in Belgium called Trekt Uw Plant. They were growing cannabis for their members while abiding the Belgian law. I knew what they did (growing one plant for each member) and I had been following them passively for a few years in the media and on the Internet.
Now, being a employee of a Dutch coffee shop there was never any need to cultivate a single cannabis plant for your personal use, I had always lived where there was an abundance of cannabis available, so I didn’t do much more than follow them a bit on the computer…. But after may 1st (I call it P-Day from prohibition) … all that changed; I had to come up with something else to get to my medicine. I have never had broken any rule anywhere in regards to selling/buying drugs and I was not planning to do so now. I have never bought cannabis in the street or with home dealers; I’de always bought my cannabis in the secure confinements of a licensed coffeeshop.
It’s needless to say that the cannabis social club system that Trekt Uw Plant had worked out looked very appealing and interesting when there is no resource for hassle free cannabis. One plant is a lot better than no plant at all, and I was very happy with the possibility to have my own plant grown collectively with others in a collective growroom. I got in touch with them and became a member of the club.
A bit later my first own plant was harvested and collected at the club. This was a revelation to me. I found myself standing in Antwerp, in my own country, holding a bag of Amnesia Haze, that was legally mine, from a better quality than I knew from the coffeeshop I worked in, for less than half the price I paid in the coffee shop, sure to be 100% organically grown, paid by bank transfer, and accompanied with information about the product, printed on a nice paper and smelling great and looking awesome… I was godsmacked, I could not believe what was happening, but it was real for sure… I was holding my bag honestly priced top grade Amnesia in my hands, from my own plant that had my name and passport copy attached to it. I was so proud, happy and relieved. I never had dreamt my country had come that far, it was such a relief this experience. That was the day I found again my love for the cannabis plant and for my country.
In my hands I had the proof that life in Belgium now was better than in the Netherlands. I was so proud. From that moment on I really believed in the cannabis social club model. I got in touch with the board of the club and I founded a regional division of the club in the town where I live. We started out as a regional division of Trekt Uw Plant in may 2012 with 10 members. Everybody involved worked voluntarily in our division and after almost a year we had saved a small budget, but sufficient to pay for the foundation of an independent cannabis social club. The Mambo Social Club was founded in April 2013 and is named after my dog Mambo. Mambo is my best friend ever and is my Yorkshire Terrier- Shitzu mix breed, he’s always happy to see me and I love him very much. Doggies don’t get to the same age humans do and in this way I can honour his friendship long after he will be gone. The name Mambo symbolizes love and loyalty and fun and friendship for me, this was a good name for a social club I thought, and you must admit, it has a cool sounding to it … The Mambo Social Club.
The one and only reason for the creation of the Mambo Social Club was the fact that I’d like to have some good cannabis available for my personal use without breaking the law and getting in contact with dealers and other people I’d rather like to avoid.
Michel Degens, a Belgian national, is a former coffeeshop employee in Maastricht who lost his job following the ban on sales of cannabis to foreigners in the south of Holland. He is chair the the Mambo Cannabis Social Club in Belgium and will be introducing New York Times journalist and best selling author, Doug Fine, at his talk Too High To Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Revolution, to be held at London Southbank University on on Wednesday November 13th, 2013.