For almost four years, a thriving cannabis smoking lounge operated within walking distance of a police station. Michael Andrew looks back at his one and only visit to The Daktory, and asks the founder what it meant for New Zealand’s movement to legalise cannabis.
It was a muggy summer afternoon in early 2009 when a friend arrived at my home in Massey, West Auckland and insisted we drive out to New Lynn.
“What’s in New Lynn?” I asked. His reply was terse and mysterious: “Pot shop,” was all he said.
I shrugged and jumped in the car, thinking he meant a humble tinnie house – a regular destination in those days. And yet I couldn’t quite figure out why we were driving across west Auckland when there were several within a three-kilometre radius of my house. “Just wait,” he said. “You won’t believe it.”
Half-an-hour later we pulled into a small street off Great North Road and parked outside a yellow and green building that looked like a mechanic’s workshop. Music, laughter and a rich, pungent haze drifted out of the raised roller doors. On the front of the building, stretched out between the windows, were the large words announcing to the world: “The Daktory”.
We stepped inside and came to a counter, behind which was a man processing transactions, and behind him were several large jars, each with a different label and price. Strawberry Cough, $20 gm; White Rhino, $20 gm; Blue Light Disco, $20 gm. It took me a few seconds to register that each jar contained different strains of weed, and that the man was serving each customer a generous portion in exchange for money.
We got to the counter, my friend bought a gram of “Kush”, collected a bong, and we proceeded inside a large warehouse where several dozen people were mingling. Some were sitting on couches, others were playing pool or table tennis. All of them were smoking weed.
My friend was right – I couldn’t believe any of it. I’d been smoking for only a few years, and up until that afternoon, it’d been entirely contained to squalid kitchens in Dunedin flats, dank garages in Kumeu or old Honda Integras at Bethells Beach. It was usually secretive and always nefarious – especially when procuring it.
Typically a weed-buying mission would involve driving down a poorly-lit cul-de-sac in Massey and parking under a pair of shoes hung on the power lines. A strange hooded person would emerge from a house, you’d give them $20 and they’d give you a meagre morsel of bush weed wrapped in tinfoil. Then you’d drive away, terrified that within 35 seconds the police would pull you over, confiscate your tinnie and arrest you.
And yet here, in New Lynn’s industrial estate, among the panel beaters and tyre shops, were 50 people openly purchasing and smoking high-quality cannabis in a light, social setting. It was something I’d seen only in movies. It was like Amsterdam had come to Waitākere.
My recollection of the rest of the evening is hazy. I recall losing at pool, talking with a tall man wearing a leather jacket and getting very, very stoned in a friendly and relaxed environment.
That was the only time I went to The Daktory. A month later I moved to Dunedin and, in 2012, I heard it had been raided and closed down by the police. But I’d always wondered how such an enigma had come to be, and how it had survived for so long.
From late 2008 to 2012, The Daktory operated as Auckland’s preeminent illegal cannabis club, garnering over 2,000 members and becoming a cult institution – a fun and safe place for people to smoke and learn about cannabis among like-minded people without fear of reprisal from the law or gangs.
How, in a country with such entrenched stigma and intolerance of cannabis, had a place like The Daktory avoided the wrath of the police and politicians for four years? Was it because it was discreet? Under the radar? Only known in certain circles?
“There was nothing discreet about it!” declares Dakta Green, founder of the New Lynn Daktory and its more recent incarnation in Wellington.
“We didn’t go looking for publicity. But when we opened, we had about 30 people come along on that first day. Within three weeks … we would have 150-250 people at the front door, waiting for us to open. It just went bezerk.”
Opening night at the Daktory (Video: Vinny Eastwood)
A veteran cannabis activist, Green (formerly known as Kenneth Morgan) tells me he set up The Daktory in order to raise funds to repair and store Mary Jane the Cannabus – a Bedford bus he drove on tours throughout the country, promoting cannabis education and advocating for law reform as a board member of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
“We came back from our first tour on Mary Jane and the bus needed some repairs. It was my job to raise money, and my method of doing that was to rent a premises and seek membership for people to come to a smoking lounge.”
Anyone over 18 could sign up for a yearly membership with the club, paying in monthly instalments. Members remained anonymous, using pseudonyms with the title “Dakta” at the start instead. Casual visitors were also welcome and paid a $5 entry fee. Generally, people brought their own weed, but it was also available to buy onsite.
Green says at its height, The Daktory’s 2,000-plus membership included doctors, lawyers, court officials, business people and school teachers, with the oldest member in his late 70s.
“They just enjoyed the fact that they could sit among a group of like-minded people and not have to look over their shoulder while they’re having a toke and think, ‘oh my goodness, this is illegal’,” Green says.
“They were simply being themselves and enjoying a smoke. And it’s the least harmful thing that anybody can do while socialising. We don’t allow alcohol in our clubs. We don’t allow drugs in our clubs. We are cannabis clubs. And we celebrate our bud. That’s what we’re about.”
For the first 14 months, The Daktory operated with relative impunity, committing to its mission statement to “live like it’s legal” and reportedly recirculating its profits back into the legalise cannabis movement. In early 2010, however, the club and Green’s plans to open further cannabis centres throughout New Zealand attracted media attention. While writing a feature, Sunday News journalists asked police why they’d allowed the club to operate. Police raided The Daktory a few days later, confiscating equipment and charging Green with cultivating cannabis.
“I got arrested on that particular day but I was released two hours later and we were open within an hour of me getting back to the club,” Green says.
“I was self-represented during that period, and the detective would come along and provide me with discovery documents and such, and we’d stand outside the front door of The Daktory and watch people coming and going. The detective would laugh and say, ‘you’re busy tonight Dakta,’ and I’d reply ‘yes we are detective’. He’d give me the papers, make some small talk and go.”
Despite reports that it’d closed, the Daktory continued as a smoking lounge and the headquarters for both NORML and the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party for which Green ran as a candidate in the 2009 Mount Albert by-election. Over the next two years, however, it would be subject to two further raids, including one in March 2012 in which police seized its legendary cannabis vending machine.
A standard confectionery dispenser, it’d instead been filled with one gram bags of cannabis for $20 each, ostensibly so that Daktory members could avoid being charged with dealing. Despite the ploy, police arrested four people, seized $27,000 and 200 grams of cannabis. Although they confiscated the vending machine, they returned it in 2014 following a District Court decision that ruled the raid to be unlawful.
According to Green, the raid occurred after Daktory members called the police to report a threat by a local gang. When police arrived, they immediately began seizing property and arresting members, despite not producing a warrant.
“We do have some police officers that have been corrupted by the prohibition laws. It’s become a game for them. It’s become a way of life,” Green says.
“They break the law to convict a lawbreaker, and they tell lies about how they came to catch them. I find that actually offensive. The truth is the truth, a lie is a lie.”
Although the March raid would eventually be scrutinised, in June that year the police raided the club for a third time, seizing evidence and arresting three people. Not long after, The Daktory closed its doors permanently, and the headquarters of NORML was eventually moved to the Hempstore in central Auckland.
Dakta Green is currently on bail, awaiting a hearing for multiple cannabis charges relating to his Wellington Daktory which opened in 2018 and was raided twice in 2019. It closed down in July this year
“I don’t want to talk about that,” he says. “It just depresses me.”
“We can’t fight back. I opened the club in Wellington so that I could demonstrate, this time in front of politicians in the capital. And what did the police do? They put the Serious Crime Squad on me! Why? I’m a harmless old great granddad.”
I never went to the Wellington Daktory, but according to Green it operated under the same philosophy as the Auckland one: a safe space for consenting adults to enjoy and learn about cannabis, and for those suffering from painful and terminal illnesses to seek relief from their symptoms.
That the Wellington club was viewed and treated with the same contempt as the first one 10 years ago does seem incongruous in this era when so many views and laws appear to be shifting. With the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme having come into force in April, and the referendum on the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill set for October, New Zealand society would appear, at least on the surface, to be slowly relaxing it’s historically stern views.
Even the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act in 2019 was hailed as a profound shift in the treatment of cannabis users, allowing police the discretion to consider a “health-centred or therapeutic approach”.
So why does such severe treatment continue?
“Police, unfortunately, will take the view that the law is the law is the law. And unless the government changes the law, they’re gonna keep enforcing it,” Green says.
“Just you wait. Soon it will be harvest time and they’ll be out there flying around in army helicopters, wasting money chasing New Zealand civilians for a flower. It’s just obscene to me. Just obscene.”
Despite his staunch activism, Green insists he isn’t an advocate for widespread cannabis use, conceding that it’s not for everyone. However, he’s vigorously opposed to the prohibitive laws that continue to punish or incarcerate people for using it.
“It’s a crock of nonsense that has no basis in common sense. There is absolutely no reason to be locking people up for cannabis.
“You’re not going to stop us smoking cannabis by locking us up. You’re not going to make us give it up. It’s part of our lives.”
It’s ironic that incarceration should still be used as a weapon against cannabis use, considering the idea for The Daktory was spawned during the three years Green spent in Rangipo Prison in the early 2000s for cannabis cultivation.
“The Auckland Daktory was very much modelled on that work we’d done in jail some years earlier,” he says.
“It was just one of those fun things to do. I’d lead the conversation on a daily basis and we’d sit in the compound and smoke a joint and the screws would think it’s a cigarette. In jail, it’s not unusual to find a large number of people who like to have a puff.
“We’d sit there and say, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if there was a club that we could go to and buy our cannabis and sit, celebrate and enjoy?’”
A place to sit and enjoy. Ultimately, the concept was far too radical for New Zealand to accept both in 2010 and in 2019. Of course, I can’t attest to everything that happened at The Daktory in its four years, nor whether everyone enjoyed it. But during my one visit, it struck me as a wholesome and communal environment that, at the very least, offered a welcome change from the dank garages and dark cul-de-sacs; from the judgement and secrecy that overshadowed many of my smoking experiences.
The Daktory might’ve eventually been forced shut by the stern hand of prohibition, but with the right kind of momentum, next month’s referendum could eventually lead to the existence of licensed consumption and retail premises, of which The Daktory could be viewed as an ad hoc prototype.
It will take a strong yes vote, but there’s a chance in the next few years the club that was envisaged and attempted all those years ago will finally be permitted by law, allowing its users to emerge from the shadows and enjoy a smoke in the warm light of day.
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