Frits Bolkestein is known as one of the most prominent and successful Dutch liberal politicians. Like no other, he embodies classical liberalism and the right to self-determination. After an international career working for Shell, Bolkestein became a Member of Parliament, Leader of the VVD (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie) (People's Party for Freedom and Democracy), State Secretary for Economic Affairs, Minister of Defence and an EU Commissioner.
Frits Bolkestein is one of the most prominent and successful Dutch liberal politicians, and outspoken advocate of the regulation of drug trade. By awarding him the Cannabis Culture Award s 2013, the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum would like to thank Frits Bolkestein for his thoughtfull approach to the drugs debate in The Netherlands.
Bolkestein was the son of a lawyer and an Indian mother; he was born in Amsterdam on 4 April 1933. After attending Barlaeus Gymnasium he studied mathematics, philosophy, Greek, economics and law at the universities of Oregon, Amsterdam, London and Leiden. He worked for Shell between 1960-1976 and lived and worked in East Africa, Central America, Indonesia, London and Paris. In 1978 he was voted into the Dutch Tweede Kamer (House of Representatives) for the VVD. He was the leader of the VVD party between 1990-1998 and in this time he became a force behind the debate on multicultural society.
Bolkestein is one of an increasingly rare group of intellectuals in politics, for whom independent thinking is considered more important than party interests and the issues of the day. In his own words: "He who stands alone, is not necessarily wrong." His unique approach was rewarded and the VVD, led by Bolkestein, increased its number of members in the House of Representatives from 22 to 38 seats. Between 1999 and 2004 he was European Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, as well as holding the portfolio for Taxation and Customs Union, and he played a key role in the creation of the European single market.
For many VVD politicians and voters, Bolkestein remains an inspiration and figurehead of true liberalism. He has been awarded honorary degrees, royal honours, the Thorbecke prize for political eloquence (1994) and the Prize for Freedom (2010). Bolkestein has never shunned controversy and once summed up his position with the simple statement, “without dispute, no debate”.
In 2007 Bolkestein signed an 'Open letter about drugs to the government and parliament’. The authors concluded that the United Nations' global ban on drugs not only proved a failure in terms of availability, "it is also a sinister criminogenic measure." They requested that government and parliament "vigorously work towards an international discourse about the principles of the UN drug policy. At the same time, the national drug policy should also be fundamentally addressed." In addition, they argued for, "regulation of the cultivation of hemp for sale in coffeeshops. It will pull the entire sector away from the shadow of criminality."
The letter did not attract much attention, but that was not the case when a similar plea was published in May 2010, in the national newspaper, NRC/Handelsblad, under the headline, "Save the country, allow drugs". Bolkestein was not the only signatory, also signing this historic plea were former Ministers Els Borst, Margreet de Boer and Hedy D'Ancona, as well as law professor, Theo de Roos.
"Anyone who is concerned about safety must wonder if there is absolutely no alternative to drug prohibition. The amazing thing is the complete insistence of crime fighters to adhere to the ban. Do they not realise that they are turning the drug Mafia into supporting pillars of the drugs trade?
Could it be better? Of course, and that has become apparent. The thirty-year experiment of selling cannabis from coffeeshops is unique. Regulation of this drug has not led to increased drug use, not of cannabis or any other drugs. In the Netherlands the use of, and dependence upon, soft and hard drugs is either at, or below, the European average. And it is much lower than in more repressive countries like France, England and the USA. Additionally, these coffeeshops have enabled hundreds of thousands of cannabis consumers to buy cannabis without being given a criminal record, without having their licences revoked, or worse, as is the case elsewhere.
The ban is therefore not necessary. We can repeal these exceptional measures to protect citizens against themselves. Regulation works."
Even though this opinion is directly opposite to that of the current VVD direction, that is not enough to stop Bolkestein from speaking out. "I think my party is big enough and strong enough to handle my opinion and to take notice" he said in an interview with the Algemeen Nijmeegs Studentenblad (General Nijmegen Student Journal) in October 2011. "For example, I support regulated availability of cannabis, but at the moment, you will not see the same view in my party."
By awarding him the Cannabis Culture Award 2013, the Hash, Marihuana & Hemp Museum is honouring Frits Bolkestein for his contributions to the debate on drugs in general and cannabis in particular.