Back in 2014, a few close friends from Belfast took their first steps on an unexpected journey.
As they were in the habit of cultivating and smoking cannabis, they began taking photos of their plants at different stages, along with the buds they were curing and smoking, and shared the images with others over social media. After a while, they were contacted by a friendly individual who said that they should consider making their antics more official by organizing a smoke club.
In essence, this was a social club for fellow cannabis consumers who could meet up at a set location to enjoy their buds with like-minded individuals. This sounded like a fun idea, so they started to expand their group and met at set locations (usually a member’s house) to enjoy cannabis as a collective.
After noticing the rise of cannabis clubs in England, Scotland, Wales and most of their major cities they thought it would be an even better idea if they expanded their horizons and developed their network into an official club of their own. The way they saw it, this would be an opportunity for them to help people in need by advising them on using cannabis to treat different ailments and, perhaps even more importantly at the time, they thought it would be fun. Through their network of friends and social club members they began to reach out to people in need and started to get organized.
A few people advised them that they could potentially look at renting out locations for them to meet up in, such as renting a venue for a day, but they felt that the early stages would be better suited to smaller locations with minimal visibility and less involvement with outside parties. Initially, they found that the meets were successful and they were happy to have achieved something, but this didn’t come without its fair share of problems. A few of the events were raided by the police and a number of members were arrested. They weren’t sure how the police were staying on top of them and their activities, but the idea of regular indoor meets became increasingly difficult. To make matters worse, members had to be treated with an element of suspicion and new members had to be vetted before they could become involved.
Despite the illegal nature of the club, things began to look up when local sponsors got involved. A number of local businesses got in touch and offered to support the club in various ways. One such business was a local head shop called The Seedy Side of Town (which is literally the best name ever) who provided their products for promotional purposes and giveaways etc.. This was followed by a hydroponics store and it became a sound relationship based around equality of promotion – the club promoted the products and had banners/posters from the sponsors and the sponsors worked with the clubs to get their members the best deals.
The club expanded quickly due to their active social media accounts and a lot of people contacted them wanting to help out. Subsequently, they started having larger meet ups in different member’s places and continued uploading more pictures and posts under the moniker of the Belfast Cannabis Club. Just as they were beginning to establish a solid working relationship with their sponsors, however, the Irish High Court dealt a crushing blow.
Due to the rise in legal high usage and the perception that legal highs were more appealing to younger people, the High Court ruled that head shops were no longer allowed to sell smoking apparatus of any kind. Although you can understand them trying to tackle a problem head-on, there was no need for the legitimate head shops to suffer because of this ruling as they didn’t sell legal highs.
Sadly, the ruling stood and many of the head shops found that they couldn’t support the club in the way that they had intended. Unperturbed, the club looked forward instead of giving up hope and began to look further afield. Before they knew it they were working with Amnesia and Royal Queen in the Netherlands along with Dinafem and various outlets in Humboldt County, California.
As the club developed they started hosting 4/20 events in Belfast which, unsurprisingly, didn’t go down too well with the local law enforcement officials. One particular event was planned for Belfast city center, but while they were setting up they noticed the police presence was keeping eyes on them. A few minutes after they officially opened the event they were ordered to cease and desist by the police.
In their own words they explained that, “We all know weed’s still illegal here because the UK is so backwards and the government is up to no good. A few of us were arrested then and have been many times and we still get harassed by the police regularly. We tried to lay low and told our other friends what was happening, but it feels like the police are coming after us at every opportunity and monitoring our activity closely.
We even had threats from paramilitary organizations because they think we are trying to interrupt the drug supply chains that they control. What nobody seems to understand is that we don’t mean anybody any harm, no, this is about connecting the community, helping those in need and pushing for a change in policy that can lead to legalization.
Our pages on social media kept getting shut down and we were in lots of trouble with the law because of Cannabis, but that never stopped us spreading word and supporting an end to prohibition. People sometimes ask us how we get round these problems and the truth is that we can’t, at least not currently. We have members who are being accused of all sorts of things and a number of them have ended up serving jail time for their alleged crimes, so what are we supposed to do? That’s when we knew we had to rethink our approach.”
The club reached out to organizations across the globe for help and advice and managed to establish a connection with some Californian farmers who were growing legally in the Emerald Triangle. Once they had made contact and learned more about the area, one of the founding members flew out to visit members of CannaHope and see how they could use their knowledge to support their members back home.
After flying 6,000 miles their representative met with breeders and extractors who welcomed them into their community with open arms. It was a truly refreshing experience to see legal grows being conducted on farms in the open with no hassle from law enforcement and the whole experience inspired them to fight for the cause even more passionately than ever before.
While they were there they learned about alternative growing techniques and extraction methods, but also got the chance to make their own bubble hash, wax, rosin and RSO from a variety of different strains using the incredible facilities they had to offer. The hosts went on to joke about the fact that the Belfast contingent instinctively ducked when they heard a helicopter overhead. Old habits die hard. When it came time to leave it was hard to say goodbye, but they knew that the knowledge they had gained from their gracious hosts would make a world of difference back home.
Looking back at the experience, our contact explained that, “CannaHope made Belfast Cannabis Club have more meaning after we connected. It inspired us, so I took the skills back home and taught our members what we’d learned. Now we have to look to the future and think about how to spread our ideals far and wide.
We want to help keep our members out of trouble and we are looking to meet with the police commissioner so that we can ask him some important questions about the way they punish small users and growers. We know that County Durham have a policy of not arresting people found with less than 6 plants – the plants can be destroyed with no criminal proceedings put in place.
Our hope is that if we approach them openly and honestly (and bring them medical research papers to inform them in more depth about the truth relating to cannabis) they might communicate with County Durham and maybe realize that they can shift focus to more pressing issues. We’re hopeful that our actions could inspire real change, but we are obviously concerned about exposing ourselves to them. Hopefully it will be worth the risk.”
Like many other members of the Belfast Cannabis Club, our main contact uses cannabis to self-medicate for their health conditions (epileptic seizures in this case – which have been under control for seven months through cannabis alone). They believe that it is a tragedy and injustice that a critical illness can be treated with this marvelous plant, but until legalization is fully implemented they will keep fighting the good fight.
Written and Published By Psy-23 In Weed World Magazine Issue 135