I guess we all have a good idea about what we would call our “ideal job” and I’m sure that some of you reading this would totally agree that working in a cannabis café would be pretty ideal. I mean, imagine being able to go to work every day, smoke some damn fine cannabis, meet some really interesting people, and be part of a great community? Well this is my story..
Back in the spring of 2002, life was hectic for me. I was just a normal housewife, with a great hubby and four fantastic sons and my days were filled with the normal day to day things that any other housewife experienced. It was a Thursday morning, and I was browsing my local paper, when I came across an article. It was about this guy who had opened a head shop in the town centre. He was quoted as saying that he wanted to open a Dutch style cannabis café at the rear of the shop, but couldn’t do that because of the draconian laws surrounding cannabis in this country. I remember saying to Keith, my husband, what a great idea I thought it was, and so I decided to write a letter to the local paper to show my support for this man. To cut a long story short, my letter was printed and I got on with my life.
A good friend of ours, who has since passed away, came to visit a few weeks later, with some of the best herbal cannabis that I had ever smoked, and he suggested that I paid a visit to the new head shop in town. And so it was, a couple of weeks later, I met the man who was to change my life in a huge way. His name was Chris Baldwin and during our first conversation I discovered that he had been a candidate in the previous General Election for the Legalise Cannabis Alliance (now re-named CLEAR). Chris had such a vision – he wanted to see cannabis cafes on the streets of every town in the UK and I totally shared his vision. I had been a cannabis user for many years, and although I was a recreational user, I definitely could understand how cannabis could be used as a great alternative medicine.
The head shop, named Bongchuffa, was situated in Worthing, West Sussex. It was tucked away in a great road, with plenty of other businesses, just like you would find on any high street in any town. And it was just like any other head shop – shelves with bongs, pipes and smoking accessories, smoking papers etc. But that was where the similarity stopped. A door led from the shop front to a back room, and oh what a back room it was! It looked a bit like an artists studio – some incredibly talented artists were decorating the walls and ceiling. There were a few old tables and chairs around, the lighting was dim and some fine music was playing. And then there was a smell of fine cannabis… Chris offered me to join him and his friends for a smoke, so of course I accepted. It would have been rude not to! Chris told me that he had seen my letter in the local paper and was wondering when I would put in an appearance – to be honest I wished I had done it sooner….
We chatted for a while, and it became apparent to me that Chris was intending to open an illegal cannabis café in Worthing. Without thinking twice, I offered my help and support and left feeling a little wobbly to say the least. When I went home and told Keith, he was understandably a little cautious, but all the same he was very intrigued. During the next fortnight, I visited Bongchuffa on numerous occasions, making teas and coffees, meeting some great people and learning more and more about Chris’s vision. Things were progressing well in the “back room”. The walls were virtually filled with all different kinds of art, a wall had been built to separate the front shop from the back, and in the corner a lovely wooden dealer’s booth was being built. It truly did have the feel about it that many Dutch Coffeshops have. By this time my husband had also visited a few times, and plans were made to build a coffee bar with seating for around thirty people. It was also wheelchair accessible which would prove to be invaluable as time went on.
I’m not quite sure of the date that it happened, but one day, the coffee shop announced that it would be opening to the public, and adopted its name – Quantum Leaf. Opening hours were to be 11am – 6pm and none of us really knew what we were letting ourselves in for. Chris always said that he expected Quantum Leaf to be closed down on Day 1 but that wasn’t to be. During the early days, most people who entered through the door and walked down the short tunnel to Quantum Leaf simply could not believe their eyes. The first thing that met people was a dealer’s booth, complete with menu, which sometimes had as many as ten different types of weed, and up to five types of hash. Their deals were ten English pounds each, and depending on what variety you had, you would get a very fair and reasonable weight. A system was introduced whereby sales were restricted to four bags per day per customer, which is probably just as well, because we were always running out and having to send out for more supplies. The coffee bar was well stocked with teas, coffees, cold drinks, biscuits and snacks. It soon became apparent that people also wanted to purchase space cakes. We obliged by providing them with muffins priced at two English pounds, cookies priced at one English pound, and for special occasions, a box of handmade Cannachocs, priced at five English pounds.
My day usually started at around 9.30am when, on arrival with another lady, we would clean the premises and ensure that everything was ready for the 11am opening. The cannabis was kept in a safe house, and would arrive in fairly small amounts, just before opening time. There were a few volunteer dealers, who would usually work two or three hour stints in the dealer’s booth. It was a very enviable job! The coffee bar was similarly staffed, with staff earning two bags of weed or hash for each shift that they worked.
I should have mentioned previously, but alongside this coffee shop venture, Chris Baldwin and his friend and carer, Trevor Smith were also involved with a medical cannabis distribution service called THC (The Herb Connection) A lot of THC patients were local Worthing people and would often come in to Quantum Leaf to collect their medicine. I will never forget the first time that I met a young guy, only in his twenties, who had one of the worse cases of MS that I had ever seen. What was so great to watch was how his uncontrollable shaking stopped after just one or two pipes of high grade cannabis. Another lovely lady in an electric wheelchair, who had been struck with a crippling illness a few years earlier, would come in most days, stay for coffee and a chat, and at the same time medicate herself so that she was well and able to enjoy her days,