An Interview With Maria Cavali
Amsterdam’s Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum recently held an exhibition, “We are Mary Jane: Women of Cannabis”, that explores the role of women in the world of cannabis. From prehistoric times to the present day, this Museum has paid tribute to the often-overlooked female contributions in the history of the world’s most versatile plant.
Dutch drug policy is based on the fundamental belief that every human being is the master of his / her own health and should be able to decide what is good and work for himself / herself. A terminally ill patient, for example, may consider the possibility of the controlled suicide (euthanasia). Another idea that guides Dutch drug policy is a conviction that hiding social negative phenomena does not make the issue disappear; on the contrary, it will make the issue worse. Why? It is because when the issue is hidden, it becomes more difficult to influence and control. The Dutch see the use of drugs as a health matter, similar to the usage and problems of tobacco smoking, alcoholism and obesity.
The Dutch divides drugs into two groups: soft and hard drugs, depending on their influences on human health. Hard drugs such as cocaine, LSD, morphine and heroin are forbidden.
Soft drugs such as cannabis (Ganja) in all its forms (weed, hashish, hash oil) are legal under the condition of personal use. In Amsterdam, soft drugs are so accessible and affordable that one can even buy them from coffee shops at the price of cigarettes. Smoking and selling of cannabis even in the public will not be prosecuted, although, technically, it is illegal under the still valid Opium Act (dating from 1919, cannabis added as drug in 1950). However, it is widely tolerated as long as it happens in a limited and controlled way (in a coffee shop, small portions, 5 grams maximum transaction, not many portions on stock, sell only to adults, no minors on the premises, no advertisement of drugs, the local municipality does not give the order to close the coffee shop).
In recent years, United States of America’s legalized cannabis industry has become a multibillion-dollar venture. It is projected that marijuana sales could rise to tens of billions in 2021. Today, women hold a greater share of executive positions in the cannabis industry than in all other U.S. industries combined. Notably a large number of these “ganjapreneurs” have their hearts in the right place and their values align with many larger social movements such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter. As the industry grows and develops, will women lead the cannabis industry into a new era in different parts of the world? With more women in charge, will there be a greater sensitivity to matters above and beyond the bottom line?
Why the interest in exploring such exotic theme?
Amsterdam is famous for it's coffeeshops I since am not Dutch, when I would have friends or family visiting me in Amsterdam everybody wanted to go and see the coffeshops as part of Amsterdam experience. I am very visual person, so every time I would go to the coffeeshop I was truly amazed: all of them were different, unique and had that "homey" vibe to i. I have travelled allot and I have to be honest, it's hard to compare it with anything else, it's not an ordinary coffee place or hippie gathering, you have amazing interiors and wonderful people, all different: from tourists, to artists or even business man in suits. I absolutely loved it! Especially one coffeeshop covered in graffiti from the bottom to the top (Hill street Blues) and one day my brother came to town and I wanted to show him this place and it was not a coffeshop anymore. I researched and I found out that many coffeeshops were closed during last years and I decided to document them while it's not too late.
What are the challenges you faced while commencing this project? Any notable/memorable experiences that you never expected before you step into this project?
Many people that smoke multiple times a day live in different vibration, so making appointments and following up was challenging from time to time, but I have learned to just let go and let things be. One time I was waiting for a girl for about 1,5 hours, I made peace with her not coming at all, but I stayed since I booked my babysitter anyway and so I started looking around and I found one amazing tattoo artist which I photographed for this project couple days later :) and the lady that had to come came as well, so everything worked out just perfectly fine.
Based on your works, it seems you have visit plenty of coffee shops in Amsterdam to produce results. What are your thoughts on the coffee shop culture? Any experiences you'd like to share?
I love coffeeshop culture in Amsterdam, I think it's a big part of Amsterdam personality and it's face, it made Amsterdam what it is today.
I would probably disagree with calling cannabis a drug, it's a plant, sacred plant in fact, and this was very important aspect in making this photo series. I started from photographing interesting cannabis figures in Amsterdam such as John Sinclair and others and then I got approached by Hemp museum, they wanted to collaborate for the exhibition about woman in cannabis scene and it blew my mind that there are so few woman running coffeshops still. It's totally changing, but I loved this aspect and decided to take this approach for the whole series, so now it became series about Woman in Cannabis called "We are Mary Jane".
This series and full exhibition is not only about woman smoking cannabis in the coffeeshops, it features woman's relationship with cannabis plant from the tribes to modern days when woman also become cannabis entrepreneurs ("canabosses"). Woman always had special relationship with cannabis, it's scientifically proven that cannabis affects woman in a different way then it affects men and so in this exposition you could follow this beautiful bond trough the centuries in various cultures until nowadays where woman slowly becoming leaders in cannabis industry.
I would not call cannabis a "drug". Coffee is drug, white sugar is drug. I am happy cannabis is legal in The Netherlands. When it's "allowed" people are not tempted to do it anymore and overdoing is a problem, overdoing anything in fact. I am proud of woman in cannabis scene and I love cannabis plant even if I do not smoke.
What are the reactions of consumers and coffee shop owners when you approach them for your project?
Everybody were excited to collaborate, nobody ever done project like that and I have met amazing woman and I am continuing the series so I am very excited to meet more woman in cannabis scene.
What would you say is the most valuable lesson or thing you've learned from completing this project?
Accepting people and situations as they are without trying to control them.
To do or not to do
Smoke cannabis you mean? You are the master of your life responsible for your own choices so it's totally up to you :)