His wife and he sensed a similar loneliness in the early ‘90s as they attempted to launch The Green House coffee shop on the Tolstraat (a street) in Amsterdam. At one point we were so poor we were kind of living on the street,” Roskam opens up. “We were kind of just cruising around in the center of Amsterdam, and I had one good friend whose sister had four bars, her name was Marsha.
She had famous bars where all the theatre people from Amsterdam would come, the left wing [people], the gay community, artistic people, the painters.” Roskam’s connection to Martha was the catalyst for the opening of The Green House coffee shop. “My good friend [Marsha’s brother] we grew up together from the age of 12. We’ll make it like an artistic café, we’ll sell alcohol and we’ll sell joints.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’” Roskam and his business partner approached the Heineken brewery with a proposal to open a bar, got a loan for one hundred thousand guilders (the currency of the Netherlands until 2002) with backing from Marsha, and opened up the club. At the time, one hundred thousand guilders was a fortune. We made [the space] very beautiful, I sent a letter to the mayor inviting him to come for the opening. I sent a letter to the head of police to come to the opening because it [was only] the third coffee shop with alcohol, it was pretty rare, that didn’t exist then. At that time coffee shop licenses didn’t exist … they came in 1995,” Roskam iterates. From the launch, The Green House faced immense problems. The cops showed up and wanted to shut the place down. They had no customers because no one liked the weed they were selling.
“People would say, ‘It’s still the same, it’s cat piss, we don’t want to buy it,’” Roskam says. From nine am until one in the morning, Roskam would lay on the couch in the shop waiting for customers who never arrived. “Maybe I was selling 25 dollars’ worth of beer and coffee each day,” Roskam shares. The lack of sales had Roskam’s business partner and Marsha worried. She had vouched for the shop for Roskam to get the initial loan. “My partner and Marsha saw that [the lack of sales] was jeopardizing all of her businesses. After three months my partner said, ‘We’re losing so much money Arjan. You can keep it; you pay me back whenever you want.’ Which I did later. So here I am on my own, with my wife, with a place that’s not running … nobody likes my marijuana. Then in January of 1993, a car stops in front of the door, a big limo with the Kennedy family*. They stepped out [of the limo] and I had no idea who these people were, I didn’t even know of High Times’ existence. They said, ‘We heard that you have some special marijuana. Do you want to enter a contest around Thanksgiving in November?’ I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ I had nothing to lose.” The limo drove away and some months later in November when 500 people would show up on the doorstep of The Green House coffee shop. “The club’s still not running [well], I’m with my wife, and total panic breaks out and luckily, luckily, luckily we had old enough weed [to enter into the competition].” “To make a long story short, there were I don’t know, 25 coffee shops entering into the Cannabis Cup. The award ceremony was like five or seven days later … these were the times of Steve Hager. At that time The Bulldog coffee shop had a discothèque called the Buddha Club, and he gave High Times permission to do the ceremony there.” Roskam goes on to express how crazy a weed world championship contest was in 1993. “Which idiot is going to award the marijuana contest where all the cops are going to come, you know what I mean? There were 25 television stations there to film this because no one had ever seen a marijuana contest. CNN came, and BBC and Japanese television and South African television and the whole lot! I am standing in the back, I think I am 27 at the time, so I am super young.
I won five of the six prizes,” Roskam punctuates with excitement. “From there on the whole Green House saga started.” 1995 – The King of Cannabis. “At that time there was a big repression by the United Nations – from the French, Americans and Swedes. They were bashing on Holland because [they felt] our drug policies were very dangerous for the youth, bad for the world. They thought that Holland should be stopped and that the coffee shops should be closed. We were scared to lose our business,” Roskam flashes back. During this time, Roskam penned his book, “How to Run a Dispensary.” He hoped that American weed entrepreneurs like Steve DeAngelo would take the book and go back to America and spread his message. And it really worked because I became friends with Bill Maher, Woody Harrelson and Kirk from Metallica.
Roskam felt that coining himself The King of Cannabis would be a prelude to greater awareness and more opportunity to share his message. In 1995 Roskam along with others in the community created a big cannabis union called the BCD (there is no English term/translation for the union), which still exists to this day.