Cannabis Culture Awards 2009

"This would never happen in another country - a cannabis event that begins in a monastery and ends in an art gallery, attended by politicians and VIPs - it would be impossible!" exclaims a Swedish visitor at the unveiling of the Cannabis Culture Award 2009.

It´s a valid point. The former Prime Minister of the Netherlands standing next to a cannabis plant in full bloom, cheerfully sipping champagne and admiring the Hemp Gallery´s extensive displays of art and artefacts related to cannabis and hemp makes for a picture that is, as the saying goes, worth a thousand words. The press and media attending the event certainly seem to think so, as Mr. van Agt and Mr. Ben Dronkers are suddenly strobe-lit by camera flashes.

Frederik Polak, Ben Dronkers, Edith Ringnalde and Dries van AgtFrederik Polak, Ben Dronkers, Edith Ringnalde and Dries van Agt
tolerance policy

This could be seen as the ´new´ face of cannabis: mature, dignified, serious, and invested in both culture and politics. However it is also another milestone on a journey that began over 30 years ago with Mr van Agt´s innovative tolerance policy regarding the separation of hard and soft drugs. This now world-famous policy recognises the vast difference between cannabis and ´hard´ drugs and made the two categories legally distinct and separate.

While it is unlikely that he ever envisioned receiving an award for his work, the delight on his face is obvious as he is surrounded by people to whom his principled action has given a unique freedom - one that is much more important than simply the ´freedom to get high´.

Frederik Polak, Ben Dronkers and Dries van AgtFrederik Polak, Ben Dronkers and Dries van Agt
The need for legalisation

Earlier in the day, at the beautiful and historic Bethaniënklooster (a former monastery, now usually a venue for chamber music), Mr. van Agt spoke eloquently about the need for legalisation and answered questions from members of the press. When asked about his personal experiences of cannabis, Mr. van Agt disclosed that "I have never had a joint between my lips, let alone inhaled." This is a refreshing change from the hypocrisy of the current generation of politicians, many of whom have inhaled, yet continue to support the repression of cannabis.

Eminent psychiatrist Dr. Frederik Polak, Ms. Edith Ringnalda, widow of Simon Vinkenoog, the 2008 winner, and Mr. Ben Dronkers (of the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum and Hemp Gallery), were also on the panel of special guests.

Edith Ringnalda and Dries van AgtEdith Ringnalda and Dries van Agt
The ´new´ face of cannabis

The Cannabis Cultuurprijs is a lifetime achievement award and is also intended as a gesture of gratitude to people who have made a real difference to the perception and acceptance of cannabis in all its forms.

With each passing year the award and its recipients demonstrate that there is far more to the movement for cannabis legalisation than the derogatory and incorrect stereotype of "lazy, stupid stoners who just want to get high". The ´new´ face of cannabis is not new at all. Mature, dignified, serious and intelligent people have always been prevalent among the defenders of cannabis and it is only the concerted efforts of prohibition that have led to the ´stoner´ image becoming so widespread.

The importance of eradicating this false image should not be underestimated. The ´stupid stoner´ stereotype is surely one of the reasons that the event described above would be considered impossible in another country, as opposed to the rational and apt celebration of human endeavour and achievement that it is.