Former Dutch Minister Receives Cannabis Culture Award 2013

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Two ‘Grand Old Men’ of Dutch politics came together in a former 15th Century monastery in Amsterdam’s Red Light District at the end of April to repeat their long and public opposition to the senseless war on cannabis.

The event was the Cannabis Culture Award 2013, awarded to former Dutch Minister and EU Commissioner Frits Bolkestein for his appeals for a different approach towards cannabis in the Netherlands.

former Prime Minister Dries Van Agt, former Minister Frits Bolkestein

(former Prime Minister Dries Van Agt, former Minister Frits Bolkestein)

Father of the coffeeshop system

Bolkestein was presented with the award by former recipient Dries van Agt. As Prime Minister of the Netherlands in the 1970s, Mr Van Agt was the architect of country’s soft drugs tolerance policy that is now under threat.

“Though I’ve never smoked a joint myself, I’m all for the free but regulated access to soft drugs,” said Bolkestein. The iconoclastic liberal party politician has regularly courted controversy, most recently in a newspaper article in 2010 calling for legalisation of all drugs in the Netherlands.

former Prime Minister Dries Van Agt and former Minister Frits Bolkestein

(former Prime Minister Dries Van Agt and former Minister Frits Bolkestein)

End-to-end legality needed

Mr Van Agt also called for the full legalization and regulation of the cannabis trade, from growing to distribution and consumption. This had been the expected outcome of the tolerance policy when it was implemented, he said.

Former winners include weed luminaries such as Jack Herer and Eagle Bill, and prominent supporters such as Sir Richard Branson and former Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Thorvald Stoltenberg.

Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Thorval Stoltenberg

(Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Thorval Stoltenberg)

Stoltenberg recently led a commission to recommend changes in Norwegian drug policy. Now a member of the liberalising Global Commission for Drugs Policy, he also spoke at this year’s award ceremony.

Holland loses ‘shining light’ status

Long been known for its harm reduction approach towards soft drugs, the Netherlands has in recent years begun to backtrack. While countries around the world from Europe to Latin America and increasing numbers of American states are finally focusing on the benefits of medicinal cannabis, the evidence is that the Netherlands is turning its back on progress.

Former Prime Minister Dries Van Agt and Director of Hash  Marihuana & Hemp Museum Shiva Dronkers

(Former Prime Minister Dries Van Agt and Director of Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum Shiva Dronkers)

A nationwide ‘coffeeshop pass’ membership scheme was narrowly headed off last year, but politicians continue to chip away at the successful Dutch system.

Back in the hands of criminals

Bolkestein denounced his fellow Liberal Party member and Minister of Security and Justice Ivo Opstelten for attempting to reschedule cannabis containing more than 15% THC as hard drugs and close a large number of coffeeshops.

“The 15% rule would not only outlaw 70-80% of all cannabis sold in Dutch coffeeshops but also push the market straight back into the hands of criminals, the very thing the original tolerance policy was created to avoid,” he said.

From left to right; former Prime Minister Dries Van Agt, former Minister Frits Bolkestein, CEO of   Sensi Seed Ben Dronkers, former Minister Hedy d’Ancona

(From left to right; former Prime Minister Dries Van Agt, former Minister Frits Bolkestein, CEO of  Sensi Seed Ben Dronkers, former Minister Hedy d’Ancona)

The Cannabis Culture Awards are granted to public figures that have occupied a frontline position in the struggle for acceptance of cannabis in all of its forms. The Awards are organised by the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum (Amsterdam and Barcelona), established by seeds-to-hemp entrepreneur Ben Dronkers, and given in recognition and gratitude for a lifetime of achievement.

No Dutch mainstream media considered the event newsworthy. A spokesman for the Museum said he was not surprised. “There’s an unofficial policy among the Dutch media that no positive news about cannabis is printed, ever.”

Former Prime Minister Dries Van Agt and Director of Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum Shiva Dronkers

(Former Prime Minister Dries Van Agt and Director of Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum Shiva Dronkers)

As the ceremony ended, guests took a short stroll through the red light district to the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum itself, where a champagne and hemp snacks reception was enjoyed by this unique mix of be-suited, ‘respectable’ bigwigs and Amsterdam’s Canna-business elite.

In short, a vision of some near future ‘drugs peace’?

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