Welcome to the 'Cannabis Castle'
"a museum where visitors can take photos and touch any of the 2,000 marijuana plants exhibited."
And smoking, at least of a certain substance, is most definitely allowed...
"It's like walking into a wonderland," said Patty Collins, wearing a shirt that read, "Stoner Chicks Rule." She marveled Tuesday at the size of one variety of cannabis that was growing toward a ceiling of ultraviolet lights on an estate in central Holland.
Collins, who owns a pipe store in Portland, (OR), is in te Netherlands for the 11th annual Cannabis Cup, the weeklong potfest that draws several thousand people -- mostly Americans -- to the drug-tolerant nation every year. The so-called harvest festival is sponsored by the American magazine High Times.
Participants in the Cannabis Cup pay $200 for the right to judge the best cannabis of the year. The winner is crowned on Friday from among the "coffee shops" of Amsterdam, where hashish and marijuana can be purchased in small amounts.
Though technically illegal in the Netherlands, those soft drugs are decriminalized and Dutch authorities don't prosecute people who sell or use small amounts.
An added attraction to this year's festivities was Tuesday's bus tour to the Cannabis Castle. A marijuana user's mecca, the castle -- owned by the Sensi Seed Co. -- produces potent strains of marijuana with names such as "Northern Lights" and "Skunk."
Actually a stately 18th century home, the castle is tucked in peaceful countryside 40 miles from the bustle of the capital, Amsterdam.
Catacombs beneath the house protect the 'mother plants', which generate the castle's crop. Some of the original plants are more than 20 years old.
"Amazing," gushed Doug Biggs, an American who traveled from Indiana to smoke the drug he says eases his frequent migraine headaches.
Don Wirtshafter, an attorney from Athens, Ohio, was less impressed by the castle's treasures. "I made pot my issue," he says of his 25-year legal career. "Everyone's so impressed -- I see this all the time in my travels."
Still, he enjoyed the castle's gourmet lunch buffet of tangerines, smoked salmon sandwiches, Belgian chocolates, and, of course, marijuana.
And what would a castle be without its king? A man dressed as 'the king of cannabis' in a red robe and makeshift crown of marijuana stalks offered visitors snippets from branches of the castle's newest offerings.
Most lit up their sweet-smelling samples after the communal grace.
Linda Dronkers, co-owner of the castle and seed company with her husband and son, gave tours Tuesday of her family home as part of the event.
The castle's decor illustrates her affection for the plant. Cushions on wicker chairs are stenciled with the five-fingered marijuana leaf and prints on the wall show artists' renderings of joint smoking.
"It's the most beautiful plant in the world," Dronkers said, setting down a fresh-baked plate of hemp cookies.
"It's very spiritual," she added. "You have to give yourself completely to the plant."