Thank you, Drug Warriors: Doug Fine on the Mambo Social Club raid

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December 25th, 2013 | 12:55
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In a must read article American author Doug Fine reflects on the recent police raid of Mambo Social Club, Belgium’s second Cannabis Social Club, and on his European tour, organized by Mambo and the VOC. “All of us involved in European Drug Peace efforts knew right away that this raid would in the long run be good for Mambo and the European Drug Peace victory.”

Thanks, Drug Warriors, For Again Raiding the Most Responsible Operators

By Doug Fine

Doug Fine and Michel Degens, Cannafest, Prague, 10 november 2013 (© Gonzo media)

Doug Fine and Michel Degens, Cannafest, Prague, 10 november 2013 (© Gonzo media)

I knew the kind of organization Michel Degens had formed in Mambo Social Club, Belgium’s now most prominent cannabis legalization experiment, before I even landed in Brussels for the start of the recent Too High to Fail European tour. I’d seen this pleasant phenomenon before while researching the best operators in California’s Emerald Triangle, who, like Michel, yearned to be legitimate taxpayers providing the world’s best sustainable-grown cannabis. Good people are easy to spot.

In the case of Mambo Social Club, see if you agree: before my flight out of the States, Michel’s girlfriend emailed to ask what I wanted for breakfast the morning after I arrived. His bundle-of-energy mother picked me up at the Brussels airport. Over the next three weeks, that delightful woman took me on castle tours, gathered Michel and me at a train station in the Netherlands, and cooked three pretty much unreal meals for us between tour legs.  “She’s a princess of the kitchen,” I was advised before I arrived. “Don’t refuse food from her.” She stuffed me with chocolate. I didn’t complain.

Michel Degens and Doug Fine at Bedrocan, The Netherlands (© Gonzo media)

Michel Degens and Doug Fine at Bedrocan, The Netherlands (© Gonzo media)

Mambo’s founder himself, Michel, was my tour manger for this European jaunt. I saw immediately what he was made of. On the first tour stop, in Prague, he realized that our outbound flight was too early, and he began a frenetic and successful effort to find the stage managers and Prague Cannafest festival organizers to make sure I could begin my event a bit ahead of schedule. The guy barely knew me at this point, but, as he explained later, wanted the message of Too High to Fail to be heard in the Czech Republic, which is a progressive place plagued at the moment by a few fools in high places causing raids and policy setbacks. I’ll never forget seeing Michel practically pulling the headset off the venue stage manager as he gesticulated wildly but quietly (the previous speaker was on stage) to make sure the import of the situation sunk in. I knew I had an ally for life.

What turned out to be ten incredible subsequent events in five nations, during which I met thousands of wonderful and inspiring European Drug Peace soldiers, simply wouldn’t have happened were it not for Michel. He thought the sustainable Drug Peace story in Too High to Fail was an integral part of the process for final victory on the European front.

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

I’m flattered and humbled to report that it looks like he was right. My live events and his social club work wound up providing an irresistible combination for Belgian (and other European) media during November. We appeared on Belgium’s national news program Koppen for instance, and conducted probably a half dozen other newspaper, television and radio interviews, just in Belgium. Forget about the rest of the tour. It was a magical experience the whole time, one which helped me hone my own live performance and one on which I will always look back with fondness.

Then, just as I was finishing my reentry back into my  writing/ranching/ parenting life here in New Mexico, I got a note from Evi, Michel’s lovely girlfriend (she found replacement Googly Eyes – an essential part of my presentation for reasons it’s difficult even for me to explain at the moment — for me after hours in Flanders when my previous ones fell off in transport to our Ireland event, and introduced me to a chocolate topping that she translated as “shit of mouse”), that they, the core team of this incredible gift to humanity that is Mambo Social Club, had been raided.

Mambo Social Club logo

Mambo Social Club logo

This even though they not only followed Belgium’s one-cannabis-plant-per-person guidelines, they in fact consulted regularly with local police. (I was there for one meeting at the Hasselt, Belgium police headquarters: there was clear mutual respect among all parties).

They were totally in the open about the Club, its operation and its intent, and the whole Belgian nation knew it. Still, incomprehensibly, ten officers were kept from protecting the public that early December day. Michel’s home was ransacked, his members’ crop destroyed.

Now, you can read the details of the raid here and here, or, if you want to stay in a better mood, read about the beautiful history of the Mambo Social Club (In Michel’s words) here but this is the point I hope remains with every Drug Peace soldier (and Drug Warrior alike) who reads this dispatch: all of us involved in European Drug Peace efforts knew right away that this raid would in the long run be good for Mambo and the European Drug Peace victory.

Michel Degens being interviewed at Cannafest Prague (© Gonzo media)

Michel Degens being interviewed at Cannafest Prague (© Gonzo media)

Harassing the good guys (and nearly all the pre- and post-raid coverage in Belgium has been positive, this a place with 68% already in support of legalizing cannabis and one where three prominent professors are loudly endorsing the same) just brings more people, especially older folks and other traditionally conservative demographics, over to our side. By which I mean the side that is without question on the correct side of history when it comes to “drug” policy. That is, if you care about little things like public safety, economic prosperity and the planet’s atmosphere. This is before we recall that two previous prosecutions of Belgian social clubs have failed. Why? Um, because they’re both legal and good for the country.

Doug Fine visiting Doede de Jong, the Netherlands best known cannabis grower and VOC activist (© Gonzo media)

Doug Fine visiting Doede de Jong, the Netherlands best known cannabis grower and VOC activist (© Gonzo media)

The takeaway of an absurd, mean-spirited and counter-productive raid like the one Mambo just endured was one of the main lessons in Too High to Fail, and Michel, as we’ve seen, knows that book well: desperate, late-Drug Warrior attacks don’t stick, politically, legally or practically. The public knows the Mambo raid only helps criminals.

What seems like this week’s setback for Mambo (named, by the way, after Michel’s Yorkshire Terrier-Shitzu mix, a friendly critter who frequently leapt onto my lap as Michel’s Flanders apartment was our home base for the five nation tour), is actually a terribly backfiring tactic on the part of the dwindling Drug War forces (Michel believes the raid was ordered by a local prosecutor from the Justice ministry).

Thank goodness, there’s no way they can win: we have the economic and public safety truth about cannabis on our side. But rest assured, raids like this actually speed our victory up. So as I’ve had the opportunity to say plenty of times in the U.S. during the four years I’ve been a cannabis journalist, “Thanks, Drug Warriors!”

Even Matt Cohen, the sustainable non-profit farmer raided as I covered his harvest in Too High to Fail (it was great to see him and lovely wife Courtenay at the recent tour stop in Amsterdam!), emailed me this following Michel’s raid: “I would encourage him to…hang in there (and) use this event as a podium to encourage Belgium (and Holland) to regulate the industry.”  Matt knows full well this is a strategic opportunity, as his own raid was one of the final major Drug War offensives in the U.S. before the tipping point for peace was reached. Now, I’m proud to say, we’re racing toward legalization.

Doug Fine and Ben Dronkers at the Hemp Gallery in Amsterdam (© Gonzo media)

Too High To Fail: Doug Fine and Ben Dronkers at the Hemp Gallery in Amsterdam (© Gonzo media)

In our several Skype sessions since the raid, Michel seems tired (he has a factory day job: the Mambo Social Club isn’t yet making him anything like rich) but very together and resigned, and even confident. The fact is, from our earliest contact last winter as he tried to convince me to embark on what turned into last months’ incredibly impactful European tour, we knew this (the raid) was a likely phase.

Now that it’s happened, we know even more firmly that there will be Drug Peace soon. Michel was and is aware that by being the public face of law-abiding (and in fact police consulting) cannabis in Belgium, he was playing in the big leagues and the retreating drug warriors would very likely fire a few pot shots at a safe target, so to speak, as they always do. The Belgian justice ministry fell into a trap: as we’ve discussed, their tactics predictably backfired, with nearly all post-raid coverage supporting Michel and Mambo. This isn’t surprising. Over the course of the November tour, Michel began “dressing for the job he wants,” meaning navy blazers, short hair, the works. Our shorthand for this was “shiny shoes.” He never wanted anyone, from a CEO to a newspaper editor, to make any judgments based on how he looked or sounded. He hardly needed to make the fashion adjustment, though. Michel is just not a calculating guy. He came across in his media interviews as what he is: a forthright, well-meaning, honest human that your grandmother could trust with her lapdog. This is a lesson for every spokesperson working for Drug Peace: look like a someone a granny would vote for.

Left to right: VOC's Derrick Bergman, Freek Polak and Doug Fine (© Gonzo media)

Left to right: VOC's Derrick Bergman, Freek Polak and Doug Fine (© Gonzo media)

The Mambo raid is so misguided in fact, that maybe, as I posit in Too High to Fail, such senseless prosecutorial efforts are actually launched by people on the Drug Peace side. That’s how good something like this actually is. Not just for the club, but for Belgium’s economy and public safety. Most cannabis in Belgium today is distributed by criminal networks. Not for long. Michel, like Matt Cohen, like probably most everyone reading this dispatch, is trying to end that everywhere; to bring a responsible new industry into the law-abiding, taxpaying fold worldwide.

Michel Degens (© Gonzo media)

Michel Degens (© Gonzo media)

Not that Michel’s been sleeping a lot this week: he’s meeting with lawyers and media, explaining about the loss of plants to his members, and figuring our how he’s going to pay for everything. In California they call this Punishing With the Process. It can be effective in the short run, forcing operators out of business, either temporarily or permanently, but it’s a losing strategy. In fairness to the Drug Warriors, any strategy that aims to continue cannabis prohibition is a losing strategy. They’ve already lost. Look at the polls in nearly every nation on Earth.

In closing, I want to say that the way you know that the Mambo Social Club is here to stay is the way others react to Michel Degens. On our very few off days during the recent European tour, more than one friend of his did things like drive me to visit hemp fields and bike with me to cheese shops, based on an “any friend of Michel’s is a friend of mine” principle. The guy even calls his mother every day.

As a sustainability author, I care a lot that Mambo’s commitment to organic principles is unimpeachable. Michel’s a good listener, too:  I’m trying to nudge him (and all of Europe and the world) to outdoor cultivation in part because of its lower energy use, and I think the message is getting through. In fact, when I gave my “Be a Good Canna-citizen” address in Amsterdam last month, I had Michel in mind because he is walking proof that a Europe with cannabis alongside (and ideally often substituting for) alcohol in responsible social situations is a big win for society. And one we’re close to achieving. Let’s all send him (and the inevitable similar local heroes in our own communities) all the support we can.

About Doug Fine:
Solar-powered goat herder Doug Fine is the bestselling author of Too High to Fail, Farewell, My Subaru and the forthcoming Hemp Bound, available for pre-order now at Chelsea Green. His spring worldwide Hemp and Drug Peace live event tour is shaping up now. Book him via the contact button at www.dougfine.com/events and follow him on Twitter  for daily updates, at https://twitter.com/organiccowboy

Michel Degens, Doug Fine and Ben Dronkers at the Cannabis College, Amsterdam (© Gonzo media)

Michel Degens, Doug Fine and Ben Dronkers at the Cannabis College, Amsterdam (© Gonzo media)

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