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14/08/2007 00:00:00

Netherlands: Amsterdam's hash museum



---
Europe is in the grip of summer holidays, and both the cities and
beaches are crowded with holidaymakers. The Netherlands is no exception
- but many visitors to the Dutch capital are disappointed to find that
two of Amsterdam's world famous museums are closed for renovation with
only a tiny portion of their collections on show.

But there are a wealth of other, smaller museums in the city, often the
brainchild of one obsessive collector. And they're well worth a visit
for the curious or the adventurous.

Amsterdam's Hash museum - or Museum of Hash, Marijuana and Hemp, to give
it its full title, is to be found on one of the canals running through
the city's red light district. Tourists of all ages and nationalities
are drawn to the area by its reputation as a haven of easily accessible
sex and drugs. Sitting at a canal-side cafe, Ken Johnson the Museum's
manager - or plant curator as he prefers to be called - warned that
although most foreigners think soft drugs are legal in The Netherlands,
that's far from the case.

For virtually everyone, except the coffee shops who can have a small
amount (but where they get it from is a bit of a legal mystery), and
regular users in very small quantities, it's very tightly controlled.

It seems paradoxical, that coffee shops can exist, and sell marijuana,
but that it's illegal to supply them. Ken calls it the intersection of
sane drug laws and insane international obligations, and points out that
the Dutch approach has resulted in a rate of cannabis use lower than
almost all Western countries, even those which take a draconian attitude
to the drug.

At the museum itself, the shop which sells cannabis seeds is doing a
roaring trade and a cue of mostly young tourists are waiting to enter.
It's a tiny space, crowded with exhibits, the first of which focuses on
the history of hemp and it's practical uses. Once a vital crop, Ken
explains how cannabis came to be an outlawed substance.

The prohibition of cannabis is an incredibly irrational phenomenon.
Basically it's got links to racism, to social control, to industrial
monopolies. Unfortunately, hemp is so useful it's also a medicine and it
happened to be a drug mostly used by blacks and Mexicans, which was a
very useful way to ban it. That's actually where the word marijuana
comes from: it was the 1920's equivalent of the word terrorism. It was
designed to undercut people's thoughts. Everyone knew what hemp was and
if they tried to ban hemp on the floor of Congress, they'd get a very
different reaction so they re-branded it as marijuana.

At the back of the museum is a small room crammed with visitors. The
smell of cannabis is strong and protected behind glass is a fine crop of
big bushy hemp plants. Visitors push their noses up against the glass
and admiring comments in a range of languages fill the air.

Environmentally friendly

The museum has displays of beers, books, comics, clothes, games and
music all inspired by hemp's recreational applications, but Ken insists
it's not just a crop to grow for fun. It's environmentally friendly,
nutritionally valuable and has a wide range of medical uses - Cannabis
there's just one problem, it's illegal. So how did this seeming wonder
plant get such a bad name? Ken's convinced it could almost be called a
conspiracy.

It's simply decades, almost a century of disinformation based on the
shakiest of science. There's a curious parallel between the
anti-masturbation movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
They were armed with endless reams of statistical data about how
masturbation made people crazy and you can draw such amazing parallels
with the anti-cannabis movement. That it's just a morally bad thing, and
they come up with shaky reasons for why. But if you look at the data
neutrally, conspiracy does fit very well.

Now, Ken Johnson is clearly a man who knows his subject, but for most of
the museum's visitors, the history of hemp and it's wide variety of uses
aren't nearly as important as that brightly lit glasshouse full of bushy
plants, Legal or not, there's only one form of cannabis most of them are
interested in.

http://www.radionetherlands.nl/currentaffairs/ams070814


Source: http://www.ukcia.org/news/shownewsarticle.php?articleid=12790
Author: Radio Netherlands via UKCIA

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