Cannafest 2013 – the largest Hemp Fair in Europe
By Deej Sullivan
For the past 4 years the Incheba Expo Centre in Prague has hosted Cannafest, one of the largest hemp fairs in the world. Since its inception it has become one of the biggest dates on the calendar for cannabis and hemp enthusiasts and has attracted esteemed speakers from all over the world.
This year NORML UK and the UKCSC’s decided that we needed to have a presence at the event, to show the rest of Europe what’s going on in the UK in terms of cannabis activism. As we could not get a stall, the next best alternative was to simply attend the event armed with all kinds of information and to talk to as many people and make as many contacts as possible. To this end Greg de Hoedt, Ben Clarke, Jordan Phipps and I all flew out to Prague from Bristol airport a week before the event.
Before Cannafest began we had a week in which to enjoy The Czech Republic and all the wonders it has to offer. As well as seeing all the usual touristy sights (Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, Prague Castle etc.), we were able to make use of the relaxed cannabis laws in the country. Up to 15 grams of cannabis and 5 plants were decriminalised by law in 2010, which basically means that although production and possession are still technically illegal; the only punishment you can get is at worst a 1000Kc fine. To put that into context: 1000Kc is worth around £30, and is the same fine you can receive for crossing the road when the light is red in the Czech Republic.
As a result of this law, and of the relaxed nature of the Czech people in general, cannabis use is pretty much a part of everyday life in The Czech Republic. Out in the countryside almost everybody has at least a couple of plants in the garden, which is often made into tinctures and ointments for the medicine cupboard. In the city there has been a recent explosion in the number of indoor grows and there are bars dotted around Prague where you can smoke your favourite herb openly, and it’s even possible to buy it in a few places. Needless to say our week was thoroughly hazy even before we’d got to Cannafest.
After four days of sampling the local delicacies and looking worryingly like a stag party with our matching UKCSC hoodies, Friday bought with it the promise of the first day of the festival. Needless to say it didn’t disappoint. From very early on the venue was packed with people of all shapes and sizes; from infants (there was a babysitting area) to pensioners, all enjoying the vast array of stalls displaying everything from industrial size carbon filters to rolling papers made of gold and of course every kind of smoking implement known to man. As well as all of this there was a great selection of food stalls (most of which sold hemp based food and drink), a cinema, a conference centre and the ‘chill out zone’ where people were free to smoke to their heart’s content.
The majority of the first day for me was spent milling around, taking in all the many different stalls and collecting as much free stuff as I could carry. Probably the highlight of the day was getting a chance to see the newly released documentary ‘Bringing it Home’. The film follows an American father as he attempts to find the healthiest building material for his new home, and ends up building the USA’s first hemp house. It was refreshing to see a film about cannabis that didn’t focus on the psychoactive strains of the plant and instead highlighted the huge number of uses for hemp based products, which are being ignored as a result of this ridiculous prohibition. Obviously the focus was on using hemp as a building material, and the benefits really are quite incredible. Hempcrete (a mixture of hemp, lime and water) is non-toxic, carbon negative, and actually gets stronger as it ages; among many other pluses. If you get a chance to see this film I highly recommend you do; if nothing else it really brings home the fact that, especially in the US, farmers are being are being utterly let down by a Government that refuses to allow them to grow a crop which could make hundreds of billions of dollars for the economy and get millions of Americans back to work.
Saturday was a somewhat more chilled out affair compared to the excitement of Friday. Having already visited most if not all of the stalls on the first day, I spent a good deal of time in the conference centre, listening to some fascinating speeches by experts on cannabis and hemp from all over the world. The one that really sticks in my mind the most from the day came from Professor Yosef Sarne from the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, Israel. The title of this talk was ‘Ultra-low doses of cannabinoids protect the brain, the heart and the liver: Medical, ethical and economical aspects.’ The main crux of Professor Sarne’s speech was that, according to his research and the work of other Israeli scientists (some of whom also spoke on the day), ultra-low doses of THC and CBD can offer protection to most of the major organs. If Professor Sarne’s research is correct it would mean that doses of cannabinoids up to 10,000x lower than those found in a typical joint, could protect the brain from long-term cognitive damage in the wake of brain trauma caused by lack of oxygen, seizures or toxic drugs. This research is ground-breaking, not only because it is yet more proof of cannabis’ huge medical value, but also because these doses of cannabinoids could be obtained not just from the psychoactive Cannabis Sativa plant, but also from industrial hemp.
On Saturday evening a protest had been organised in the wake of a series of raids which had taken place throughout Prague on the day we had arrived in the country. Police had shut down 50 grow-shops for ‘promoting’ the growing of cannabis, despite the fact that none of the shops had done anything illegal. Despite the short notice (about 5 days) the protest was a huge success. Over 1000 people showed up in Old Town Square where speeches were given, music was played and lots of cannabis was smoked. It was a real eye-opener in terms of how we protest back here in the UK. The British people do not seem to be able to gather together in such large numbers without a huge amount of planning; maybe this is because we have simply had it too easy for too long in many ways. It is worth remembering that up until 24 years ago what was then Czechoslovakia was under Communist rule, and the majority of Czech people know what it is like to have to fight for your freedom. This is clearly something a lot of people in the UK have forgotten how to do, and is definitely something that needs to be remembered before it is too late.
The final day of Cannafest was the one I was looking forward to the most before we got there, and it was easy to see why. With a line-up of speakers including Michel Degens, Howard Marks, Shantibaba, Steve DeAngelo, Doug Fine and Derrick Bergman, it was always going to be an interesting and inspiring day. Needless to say it didn’t disappoint. There were many highlights throughout but for me Derrick Bergman’s talk on the VOC and Dutch activism in general was the best of the bunch; it really shed some light on what is really going on in the Dutch cannabis scene and made sense of some of the strange, contradictory issues that have arisen there. Another personal highlight was the talk from Howard Marks and Shantibaba from the CBD Crew, who explained how they go about enriching regular strains of cannabis with CBD and all the hard work that goes into it. On a personal note it was a real honour to meet these two as I find high-CBD strains (especially CBD Crew’s Critical Mass) to be extremely helpful in dealing with anxiety issues, relief I cannot find elsewhere.
Most of the talks from the final day of the Cannafest, as well as footage from the rest of the weekend, can be found on CannabisCureTV’s Youtube channel here. Unfortunately Doug Fine’s talk was cut short on Sunday because of a mix up with time (he had a flight to catch), but he did perform his talk in London a few days later, a video of which is available to watch here.
Overall then Cannafest was an extremely enjoyable and inspiring event and I would recommend it to anyone looking to learn more about the cannabis plant and hemp. Hopefully next year NORML UK will be able to have our own stand but if not I will be there regardless; any excuse is good enough for me to visit a country where I can feel free to smoke cannabis without repercussions.
You never know, maybe by that time our Government can look to the example of The Czech Republic, as well as countries like Portugal and The Netherlands, and finally make some changes to our outdated, unfair and draconic drug laws. I’m not holding my breath though.
Deej Sullivan is a writer and activist. He is membership secretary for NORML UK and Chair of the Devon Cannabis Social Club, as well as South West Regional Admin for the United Kingdom Cannabis Social Clubs.
You can follow Deej on Twitter @sullivandeej