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Humans have been cultivating cannabis since antiquity, and the plant has played an important role in world history. This heritage is often overshadowed by cannabis’ psychotropic nature, with scientific study overlooking its fascinating history and instead focusing on the plant’s recreational uses. Amsterdam’s Hash, Marihuana & Hemp Museum is devoted to dispelling the myths that surround cannabis, researching the plant as an important historical entity in order to amend cultural misconceptions.
The museum was co-founded by Dutch entrepreneur, Ben Dronkers, and American horticulturalist, Ed Rosenthal, in 1985. The pair aimed to create an institution that could fairly portray cannabis’ cultural significance, documenting the plant’s global influence and historical importance. For them, cannabis was much more than a narcotic, and represented human ingenuity. Cannabis’ versatile hemp fibers were one of the principal forces behind many of history’s greatest inventions and were woven into paper, clothing, and canvases; moreover, the plant has been used for medicinal purposes since prehistory.
In the 17th century, the plant made its way to Northern Europe where it was used to create durable ropes and sails, advancing naval technology and allowing the Dutch to quickly amass large fleets of powerful ships. Cannabis’ role in Dutch and world history, Dronkers and Rosenthal believed, had been too frequently ignored – a fact that they were eager to amend. A week after the museum opened, it was forced to close because of a personal order from the Dutch Ministry of Justice. Dronkers successfully contested this decision and a week later reopened the project.
The museum began as a relatively small enterprise, displaying items from Dronkers’ personal collection. Over the years, its inventory has steadily grown to over 12,000 pieces, illustrating humanity’s multifaceted relationship with the plant. Its exhibitions trace the history of cannabis by presenting diverse sets of objects, including pipes, medical equipment, propaganda, and Dutch Golden Age paintings. In 2009, the museum decided to divide its collection over two sites and opened an adjacent gallery that was dedicated to the hemp industry. Three years later, its interior was completely renovated and then reopened by the Dutch Minister of Education, Science and Culture, indeed symbolizing a sea-change in culture’s perception of cannabis.
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