The Grand History of Cannabis

High Times
Mon, Apr 1
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In 2023, an artist and his patron set out on a seemingly impossible task: illustrate the vast history of cannabis in a single art piece. Inspired by the Tapisserie de Bayeux—an ancient chronological tapestry depicting a two-year invasion of England by the Normans—Stefan van Swieten commissioned his friend Mossy Giant to create a piece for his cannabis social club in Barcelona, Spain. Now stretching across the wall at La Creme Gracia, the artwork displays incredibly detailed and interconnected scenes. Starting with the Big Bang, the whole world of weed unfolds in images, illustrating an epic tale of turmoil, triumph, and THC. 

In March 2024, Mossy Giant and La Creme Gracia debuted the second iteration of their project on the opposite wall of the club, a massive artwork detailing the history of cannabis in the Netherlands. The opening coincided with Spannabis—a yearly gathering that stands as one of the largest cannabis seed marketplaces on the planet—and brought out major players from the Dutch scene. Through seed companies and coffeeshops, the Netherlands played an outsized role in the proliferation of cannabis throughout the world. Like an ancient tapestry or a scene by Hieronymus Bosch, the artwork, The Grand History of Cannabis: The Dutch, tells a story in a single expression. Naturally, viewing it while smoking weed and hash in a cannabis social club in Barcelona only enhances its depth and allure.

Upon arriving at La Creme Gracia for the art opening, the first thing I see is a fox-like dog poking its head out of the bottom of the front door. In a city where recent raids on local cannabis social clubs would lead people to believe these spaces are dangerous, the German spitz’s fluffy face is a glowing beacon of joy. Club owner van Swieten greets me inside the hallway and later tells me his dog’s name is Leo.

“Leo is the boss,” van Swieten says in a French accent. “He’s quite famous; he’s famous in the neighborhood. People know his name.”  

Found within the Gracia neighborhood of Barcelona, a short distance away from Antoni Gaudi’s towering architectural masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia, La Creme Gracia is a local spot. 

“Basically, the club is really here for the local people, so we really try our best to offer weed that can match with the economic or the capacities of the people here,” van Swieten says, explaining that a gram of Amnesia Haze—a strain that’s so prolific in the Spanish cannabis clubs that it’s crossed the bridge from cool to cliche—goes for 6-7 euros depending on the quality of the batch. “[Amnesia Haze] has a bad reputation because it is so successful. And if we don’t have it, I feel something is missing.” 

The rest of the club’s cannabis flowers go for around 6-8 euros a gram. Flowers grown in “super soil” are priced at 9-13 euros. 

“We have a bit of American stuff, but very limited,” van Swieten says. “We never wanted to be on the cusp of fashion. I prefer to have weed that’s 10 years old, the genetics, that’s sold at a reasonable price, than to buy something new that’s going to be outrageous.”

Van Swieten and Mossy Giant were first connected through van Swieten’s work as a music producer when he commissioned Mossy’s work for album covers. Based in Paris at the time, van Swieten and Mossy—who is from the Netherlands—came together through a mutual connection with Amsterdam-based Soma’s Sacred Seeds. Van Swieten has run La Creme Gracia for the past decade. The cannabis clubs in Spain operate as decriminalized member-only spaces. 

“I love it, I love the club,” he says. “I think it’s perfect. It’s what I call the perfect third place. The first place is your job, the second, your house, and the third… this is a perfect third place. I love it. I would wish that it could continue and I would wish that this model would not be destroyed by personal ambition, which could happen.”

The club has two rooms, a dispensary and a lounge, and it is packed during the art opening on Saturday, March 16. 

Falling in line with his artistic nom de plume, Mossy Giant, Mossy is quite tall—he played college basketball in the U.S.—and is easy to spot at the opening among a crowd of admirers. After briefly meeting, Mossy brings me to the center of the room and introduces me to Derrick Bergman, a longtime cannabis-focused journalist based in the Netherlands. Bergman served as an advisor on the art project and worked with van Swieten and Mossy Giant to release a companion book that details the history of some of the players within the Dutch scene. I pass him a joint, which he asks and correctly assumes is all cannabis without tobacco. Of course, I smoke like an American, he says. With Bergman now acting as my in-person audio guide, I jump into examining the artwork. 

Bergman quickly establishes himself as an expert in Dutch cannabis culture as I ask questions about the people and things depicted in the artwork. 

“I’m 30 years writing about cannabis, and so many of these people I know, I still know,” he says. “I’d say the common thing with all these people is that they have a passion, but they walk their own path.”

Looking at the highly detailed art in person is impressive. When I ask Bergman about my primary mentor in weed journalism, High Times co-founder and cannabis cultivation expert Ed Rosenthal, he points him out at a table of influential figures that include Mila Jansen, aka Mila the Hashqueen, and Henk de Vries of the famed Bulldog Coffeeshop. At the center of that table is the first issue of High Times, which came out 50 years ago in 1974. Rosenthal is depicted twice in the work. He’s also shown with another iconic cannabis character, Sam the Skunkman, building the cannabis genetic bridge between California and Amsterdam that resulted in the first hybrid cannabis crosses in the 1970s, most notably Skunk #1. 

The elaborate work of art has many elements, but Mossy’s favorite part is the windmill puffing a joint. 

“I just thought it was really cool to use extreme Dutch iconography in the windmill,” he says. “Because I’ve never drawn this—I am a Dutch guy—I’m usually very much inspired by American culture and nature, and that’s very much in my work. But to really get, almost patriotic in a way, to go full out with these Dutch icons, the wooden shoes and the tulip, and then have all the weed stuff in it like the typical Amsterdam house…”

He says that the artwork is intended to fuel conversation.

“Through art, you can have a very easy conversation about very difficult subjects like this history of the Dutch and the way cannabis in history has been connected to mankind,” Mossy says. “Through art, you can have these conversations very easily. You can tell a story. And that’s how it should be used, as a tool.”

Another cannabis industry client Mossy has worked with includes Mat Beren, the breeder behind The House of the Great Gardener. For Beren, Mossy drew a moment when Beren met the “great gardener” during a transformative psychedelic journey. 

“We saw each other at Spannabis, and he’s very good friends with Soma, and I do all the Soma branding,” Mossy says. “I get into meeting with these guys, and they have very interesting, elaborate, crazy life stories, and they share something really personal. Like this ayahuasca experience that he had when he met the great gardener in the sky. And he was ordering my prints because the guy I always draw, the hippie, looked exactly like the guy he met in that experience.”

When I catch up with Beren on the noisy showroom floor on the first day of Spannabis 2024, The House of the Great Gardener is already sold out of two of the Barbara Bud crosses it made exclusively for the three-day event, Fruit Joy x Barbara Bud and Sweet Peach x Barbara Bud. The longstanding popularity of Barbara Bud is real. I find my friend Stoney Xochi at the booth hoping to get the Sweet Peach x Barbara Bud seeds as Sweet Peach won an award at the 2024 Barcelona Dab-A-Doo, a global hash competition organized by Jansen, a Dutch cannabis icon.

While the House of the Great Gardner is a Spanish-based cannabis seed company, Beren and his business partner started with Great Gardener Farms, based in Canada on Vancouver Island. 

“I created Barbara Bud about 25 years ago, and 10 years ago, I won one of the first Dab-A-Doos as a rising club in Barcelona,” Beren says. “That essentially started a craze in Europe, Spain, and Morocco. Barbara Bud has sort of gained iconic status now. It’s the original peach. But the other side of that is it’s easy to grow, creates ridiculous amounts of trichomes, finishes in about seven or eight weeks, so…”

Back at La Creme Gracia the morning after the art opening I re-animate over joints and espresso with van Swieten, Bergman, and Mossy. At the close of our conversation, I ask Mossy about the Grand History of Cannabis piece, specifically the end, where there are two train tracks.

“One goes up, that’s the green train, so you see hemp there, green medicine, oils, cannabis culture goes forward,” he explains. 

And driving the train?

“Those are my two characters that always are in my world: the hippie and the bear. The hippie is like the farmer, the wise man, the crazy guy, and the bear is creation, the happy energy. They balance each other out,” Mossy says. “Those are my iconic characters, and they drive this train forward, the green train, and the other track is the track of prohibition.”

Mossy explains that this part of the artwork is based on a poster promoting cannabis legalization in Spain.

“There was a poster for pro-legalization of cannabis here in Spain that had two train tracks on it. One leading to prohibition and one leading to a green future, and [the art] is based on that poster, that concept,” Mossy says. “Prohibition doesn’t work, and it’s been proven many times prohibition doesn’t work… So, it ends in the mouth of the monster of prohibition. It’s basically saying that [the history] is still being written, there’s still chapters to come, the track keeps going.”

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