Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum
In 1987, cannabis entrepreneur Ben Dronkers, together with his friend Ed Rosenthal, opened the Cannabis Info Museum. Here, at this location on the edge of Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Ben and Ed wanted to share their passion for the plant, and their personal collection of cannabis artefacts, with the public.
However, the Dutch Minister of Justice believed that the museum was promoting illegal activities. It was closed the day after the official opening, making headlines in national media. But Ben fought the decision, and the museum reopened a day later. Later renamed the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum, it has been the heart of the Green Light District ever since.
The museum collection now has more than 9,000 items. Over two million visitors have been here, from all over the world, to learn about the plant. As Ben Dronkers says: “We want to increase the recognition of this exceptional plant by showing visitors its past, present and future.”
Take a virtual tour through the museum (in Dutch).
Sensi Seeds Seedbank
Every cannabis plant starts with a seed. Just as wine has grape varieties, there are thousands of different types of cannabis, with specific characteristics such as flavour and effect. Enterprising cannabis enthusiasts have collected them in ‘seed banks’. You are in front of the first seed shop of one of the founders of the international cannabis seed industry. Pioneer Ben Dronkers, the museum director, founded the company Sensi Seeds in 1985.
Frustrated by perpetual battles with the law due to the semi-legal status of ‘weed’, he looked for an alternative product within the cannabis industry. He found a loophole in the law: cannabis seeds could be sold as souvenirs. Today, the company is one of the largest cannabis seedbanks in the world, with a portfolio consisting of over 500 different strains. The Dutch government chose Sensi Seeds genetics for the prescription medicinal cannabis available in Dutch pharmacies.
Watch an interview with Ben Dronkers.
The opening day of coffeeshop The Bulldog on Oudezijds Voorburgwal is written in large letters on the façade: December 17th, 1975. Although the very first coffeeshop (Sarasani) was founded in Utrecht in 1968, the Bulldog (named after owner Henk de Vries’ dog Joris) soon followed. De Vries got a taste for the business after selling cannabis at the three-day Holland Pop Festival in 1970, which was held in a park outside Rotterdam named the Kralingse Bos. He sold 9 kilos that weekend.
At the end of 1975 he took over his father’s shop, a sex shop in the Red Light District. All the toys were taken out, and de Vries transformed the store into a coffeeshop. This ‘living room’ for cannabis enthusiasts has since grown into an international chain.
Listen to Henk de Vries’ story here (in Dutch).
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Hash was popular in 1960s Amsterdam. Initially, little distinction was made between soft drugs, such as cannabis, and hard drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. In 1976 the Opium Act was amended so that soft and hard drugs were treated differently. Approaching drug use as a health problem was revolutionary. The ‘tolerance policy’ was born.
Small-scale consumption and production of cannabis was no longer seen as a crime and therefore had the lowest priority for the police and the judiciary in terms of prosecution. Coffeeshops, which often already had a ‘house dealer’, could start selling cannabis and hashish in small quantities. Rules were imposed, such as checking the age of customers and not advertising their products.
Here on the street, the raw reality of the illegal hard drug circuit remained. This led to open trade in hard drugs, such as on this bridge, popularly called the ‘pill bridge’. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was frequented by many hard drug users and dealers.
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The transformation of raw hemp fibres into basic material for clothing, sails, kites, ropes, and everything that had to be robust and sturdy began at the spinning wheel. This tool was a source of income for some, a punishment for others.
The Spinhuis on Oudezijds Achterburgwal was a penitentiary for women, founded in 1597 in part of a former monastery. ‘This spinning house was founded here to avoid begging, leeching and iniquity for poor girls, maidens and women,’ it said above the entrance gate.
Young ladies who were guilty of fornication in brothels and inns, who had been arrested for drunkenness, or who had committed adultery, were also put to work here, ‘to the great expense of the city, to be disciplined and corrected’. The Spinhuis therefore had unmistakable ambitions! At the time, many kinds of textile products relied on yarn from hemp and wool. This was spun as a form of punishment.
6. Apotheek W.H. van der Meulen
This is the only remaining 17th century shop in Amsterdam, and probably the Netherlands’ oldest pharmacy. Generations of pharmacists have practiced here consecutively since 1696. The small pharmacy room was simultaneously a shop and workshop.
Cannabis was essential for historical pharmacies. In 1839, the brilliant Irish scientist Dr. William Brooke O’Shaughnessy (1809-1889) introduced the Western world to the ancient medicinal uses of cannabis practiced in India. Consequently, cannabis extracts began to be added to tinctures (alcohol-based liquids) along with opiates and other herbal extracts – sometimes even cocaine.
Doctors prescribed them to young and old for the most diverse ailments: a few drops mixed with warm water was a good remedy for corns and bunions, menstrual complaints, and muscle spasms caused by epilepsy. After opiates, cannabis was the most commonly used ingredient in the medicines available in European and American pharmacies. In the mid-19th century, virtually every local pharmacy had its own tincture; by the end of the century, this role was taken over by pharmaceutical companies.
Read more about Medical Cannabis.
Club Fantasio opened here on March 29th, 1968, one day before the Paradiso youth center. Paradiso was established in a church, Fantasio replaced a youth / community centre. From the beginning, both places were associated with the protest and hippie movements. Fantasio organized pop concerts and performances; Pink Floyd performed there.
As a symbol of resistance, the use and small-scale trade of (then mainly) hashish was tolerated by the clubs. Coffeeshops as we know them did not yet exist. It was not until 1976 that Prime Minister Dries van Agt amended the Opium Act, creating safe places where people could buy soft drugs under regulated conditions.
Amsterdam politicians were not enthusiastic. They wanted to limit soft drug use, ‘[…] not only to protect the young people who are already corrupted at this point, but also young people who, out of curiosity, will try experiments tomorrow or the day after tomorrow with regard to the use of “drugs”.
Fantasio and Paradiso were important pioneers: many other youth centers in the Netherlands adopted the same attitude. Joint by joint, the foundations of the Dutch tolerance policy were laid.
The ship De Amsterdam is located next to the Maritime Museum. It is an example of the most important and largest type of freight ship used by the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC). After wood, hemp was the most commonly used material for shipbuilding. No other natural fibre is so resistant to the forces of the open sea and the effects of salt water.
Hemp was used for sails, rigging and other ship ropes. Hemp treated with tar was used to seal the seams between the planks of the hull, making the ship watertight. This process is called caulking. The sailors’ clothing was often made of hemp. The captain kept his logbook on hemp paper. Hemp oil lamps allowed the crew to read the Bible (printed on hemp paper). Hemp was central to an eventful period in Dutch history. During the recent restoration of De Amsterdam, this replica was made waterproof again with four kilometers of hemp flax.
9. Lowlands Weed company
Legendary figure Kees Hoekert (1929-2017) laid the foundations of modern Dutch cannabis culture, originally characterized by a tolerant attitude towards Nederwiet (‘Dutch weed’). Hoekert founded the Lowlands Weed Company in 1969 with artist Robert-Jasper Grootveld (1932-2009), known as part of Dutch protest movement the Provo’s for his ‘happenings’ on the Spui.
They grew thousands of hemp plants on the roof of Hoekerts’ houseboat De Witte Raaf (The White Raven). It was located on the Wittenburgergracht, directly opposite a police station! They sold plant cuttings for a guilder (about 50 Eurocents today), striving for the ‘hempification’ of society.
Hoekert received one subpoena after another; he repeatedly saved himself with incisive, humorous reasoning in court. For example, drying the flowers of female cannabis plants (the ‘weed’ sold in coffeeshops) was illegal. Hoekert defended himself: “I have not dried the flowers, they have dried! I threw them in a corner and then the flowers dry on their own.” The judge conceded, and Kees was acquitted again.
Thanks to the activities of pioneers such as Kees Hoekert, the Netherlands grew to be a leading country in the field of international soft drugs policy.
Watch a short film about the Lowlands Weed Company (in Dutch).
10. Lijnbaan van de Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie
The Lijnbaan building, later also known as the Sugar House, was built in 1660. It originally served as the office and front building of the lijnbaan (rope shop) of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). It was also the storage place for rope and hemp, the raw material for rope. Together with textiles, rope was one of the most important hemp products.
Due to intensive shipping and fishing, there was an insatiable demand for robust rope that could withstand the salty seawater. Strong ropes were made by twisting spun yarns together.
The necessary fibre was mainly imported from Russia or France. Sometimes Dutch hemp was used, but it was of lower quality. This hemp grew mainly in South Holland, on ‘kennep gardens’ – small plots surrounded by pollard willows, next to farms.
Most rope was produced by rope mills. They were often located in port cities, or cities well-connected to the sea by rivers. Making a long rope needed a long space. Whole canals were laid out with ropeways of sometimes 300 meters long, like the Lijnbaansgracht here in Amsterdam.
11. Hortus Botanicus
In the 17th century, medicinal herbs were vital to Amsterdam’s health care. Therefore, when the Hortus was founded in 1638, it was logical that medicinal plants made up the core of the plant collection. This was known as the Hortus Medicus. The Hortus today features a unique garden of medicinal plants which were grown there in 1646, created by using their first catalogue.
Although cannabis is not currently grown in the gardens, it has been in the past – as is to be expected from one of the world’s most valuable medicinal plants.
The Hortus Botanicus is one of the world’s oldest botanical gardens. The gate here and the glass cupola inside date back to the early 18th century. They have a vast collection of plants and seeds, gathered from all over the world. This is simultaneously a testament of commitment to science, and a reminder of the Netherlands’ colonial past. Looking at the past of plants is just as important as looking at their future, something which the book Weed of Wonder perfectly illustrates!
In the 17th century Rembrandt van Rijn, one of the most famous Dutch painters, lived in this house. Whether Rembrandt ever smoked cannabis is unknown, but contemporary painters such as Adriaen Brouwer liked to extend their then-expensive tobacco with the flowers of locally grown hemp plants. The flowers were a by-product, as hemp was grown only for the strong fibres around the stem of the plant.
Sailcloth was made from these fibres. In the 17th and 18th centuries, this was one of the largest industries in the Zaan, a region just above Amsterdam. Canvas for artists was also made. Paintings on hemp cloth even hung in the palace of the cityholder of the Dutch republic, the Huis ten Bosch. Canvas took its name from the French word canefas, which in turn is derived from the word cannabis.
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