I recently visited Vienna, the “City of Music”, with its UNESCO World Heritage city center, Baroque castles, gardens and beautiful parks; only my trip didn’t follow your average tourist itinerary.

My destination was Cultiva – one of the many events populating the European cannabis calendar. This year is the tenth Cultiva, which makes it one of the most established on the circuit. It’s relaxed popular with exhibitors, thanks to the friendly and affluent attendees. One marketing manager I spoke to from a leading seed company said, “Everyone turns up with 50 Euro notes. In Holland, if you turn up with a 50 Euro note they call the police!” For the cannabis industry – that operates predominantly in cash – attending these shows is a no-brainer.

I was talking at the Hemp Congress that runs concurrently to the trade show – this meant that I was flown in, provided a nice hotel room and fed. With some of the trade show swag I picked up, I was even clothed as well. I literally could have turned up naked and survived the October weekend in comfort.

For the last decade, Vienna has been in the top three most liveable cities in the world. People are happy, and happy people are productive. The show ran like clockwork and the supportive staff were always smiling and happy to assist.

It all began at the airport. Standing between the usual black-suited chauffeurs holding name signs, I spotted my ride who stuck out like a… well, like a guy holding a multicolored sign adorned with a cannabis leaf.

Once settled in my hotel room, it was time to explore the exhibition hall to pick up my pass for the weekend and see if I could spot any friendly faces to ensure I didn’t spend my first evening dining alone.

The main part of the exhibition is held under a huge glass pyramid. Walkways finished in white stucco and terracotta tiles skirt the perimeter. Tropical greenery adds to the idyllic Mediterranean vibe.

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The Cultiva pyramid. Photo Credit: Bill Griffin

I found some friends and we enjoyed a meal at the hotel restaurant. Then they all suddenly went to bed! After all, they had just completed a few thousand mile drive from Barcelona, built a ginormous stand and were mentally preparing for a busy three days on their feet. I had a day of networking to do the next day, so I retired, too.

The next morning, I had my first mission. It was Friday and my talk was on Sunday. I was going to talk about growing organic cannabis for beginners and I would demonstrate an easy way to germinate cannabis seeds. I thought it would be nice to actually germinate something to demonstrate what I was saying. Two days was tight, and with the hotel air conditioning it wasn’t ideal conditions to germinate seeds in. There were two other factors that were blocking me as well. I had some organic substrate, but forgot to pack pots and, most importantly, some cannabis seeds.

I improvised on the pots by stabbing holes in the bottom of a few paper cups. To combat the dry air in the room I put the makeshift pot and soil in a sandwich bag. It made a neat mini greenhouse which helped to keep the humidity high – essential for germination.

Now I just needed a few seeds. Thankfully, I was in the the right place as all the major seed companies were exhibiting here and each had thousands of seeds on hand.

Sure enough, the guys on Dutch Passion’s stand were happy to oblige and helped me with a ten pack of Night Queen – a solid indica which is typically fast to germinate. They also had a mission and I asked if I could join them. We were going on a shopping spree.

What sets Cultiva apart from all the other trade shows on the European circuit is that, thanks to a legal loophole, cannabis plants can be sold legally in Austria. But they are only to look at – as soon as you harvest and process them you are breaking the law. Each country has its quirks, and this was a quirk I was digging.

The result is a healthy trade in clones for “display purposes”. We had to go get a bunch to add the finishing touch to Dutch Passion’s stand. First, we needed a shopping cart. That was not hard, since the event was located directly opposite a colossal shopping mall. We selected a sturdy Ikea cart. Next, we needed some clones. This was a cinch as dotted around Cultiva were a few companies specializing in clone production. Flowery Fields was one of them and we headed there – three men and a shopping cart.

The result was a surreal trek back to the trade show with the Dutch Passion guys pushing along their cart full of cannabis plants.

We got back to the event just as the crowds were starting to flood in. Our VIP badges got us past the line and grinning attendees cleared the path as we wound our way through the show to the LED lit tents the Dutch Passion grow experts had installed. The scene was perfect – I felt like high-fiving all those we passed as they beamed and flashed thumbs up.

That’s how you enter a party – pushing a chariot packed with three foot high cannabis sativa plants.

Typically, Friday is the day that networking is done. I was touting my writing services and looking to team up with grow experts to collaborate in future editions of my book project. After walking many thousands of steps, I had offloaded all my sample book copies in exchange for business cards and invitations to email people. Aside from my talk on Sunday, my “work” was done by the end of the first day.

Time to unwind. What better way to do that than to hit the bar? Housing the event next to the hotel meant that the exhibitors were captive and the bar was the hub for socializing. After several beers, I stumbled upon a group of cannabis geeks who were dabbing away merrily and they invited me to join them. Their eyes lit up when they learned that I was a “dab virgin”.

Like many others, I wished my first time was not after quite so many beers.

iPhone cameras at the ready, they loaded up a 99.5% THC concentrate. I didn’t even know that was possible, but if anyone knows their cannabis facts, it seemed to be these guys. Why would they lie? I’d be impressed if they told me the THC content was half that.

I finished my peanut-sized dab.

“You didn’t cough,” the guy holding the iPhone said.

“That’s because I don’t smoke tobacco,” I responded.

“Say something,” he said.

“That’s definitely a very therapeutic herb,” I recall saying, instantly regretting not coming up with something cooler. They chuckled and christened me “dab queen”. Given the strength of what I had just inhaled, it’s a wonder I could say anything. Maybe that video has gone viral in some social network I’m not hip enough to be a member of? After another dab, it was time for me to hit the hay. After hugs and kisses, somehow I managed to make it back to my room – though undressing was beyond me. I awoke fully clothed on my made up bed. I had never been so high. 

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Glassware being made live at Cultiva. Photo Credit: Bill Griffin

Needless to say, Saturday was somewhat of a blur. The crowds swelled more and the stands were taking 50s hand over fist. I floated around and took photos. My mission for the day was to stay sober and prepare for my one hour talk the next morning. As of yet, none of the seedlings had germinated. 

Slightly unlucky for me, my talk was the first on Sunday. The Cultiva annual pool party is held on Saturday evening and ends around 4am. I did not wish to roll into my talk in a zombie-like state, so I sat the party out and went to bed at a very respectful midnight.  

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Enter party or exit to bed? Photo Credit: Bill Griffin

The following day one of the seeds had popped, so I had all my props in order for my talk. The audience passed it around and inspected it as I guided them through the process of setting up a one pot organic grow.

I was grateful for the support of ENCOD during my talk. They are a non-profit organization campaigning for just and effective drug policies in Europe. Their founder, the late Joep Oomen, had made popular the concept of Cannabis Social Clubs, which are gaining popularity around Europe – especially in Spain. After the talk, they whisked me away to their stand to catch up and make an interview for an Austrian cannabis network, CIA TV. As we were waiting for the crew to arrive, we popped outside for some “air”. Which for everyone else meant smoking cigarettes, or “spliffs” – a European style joint made with tobacco and cannabis. I gracefully declined the offer of a puff. Instead, one guy who was standing in our vicinity said “how about some of this?” He held up a 30ml amber bottle with a dropper.

He claimed it was RSO – Rick Simpson Oil. I told him that I was about to do an interview. “It’s ok, it’ll take an hour before you feel anything,” he said. So I held out my index finger. Once loaded up with a blob the size of a few grains of rice,it I polished off. I’m not sure why, but I seem to be a magnet for extremely potent cannabis-derived products.

As expected, the crew took longer to arrive than anticipated. The first take had audio problems – in the form of an over-excited Italian colleague. As we were recording the second take, the RSO started to kick in. In case you are interested, here’s a direct link to the interview. German speakers may be interested to watch the whole Cultiva report.

I spent the rest of the final day soaking up the atmosphere and mentally preparing myself for the real world outside of the Cultiva bubble. It started as my driver – returning me to the airport – asked, “What’s with everyone smoking joints outside, don’t they realize that’s illegal here?”

I explained that it’s not that they don’t know it’s illegal, it’s that they are the kind of people whom you cannot stop from consuming cannabis – no matter what.