It’s not surprising that Amsterdam is home to a museum of Hash, Marijuana and Hemp, given its generally tolerant policy toward soft drugs. You’d think, given the somewhat subversive subject, that it would be entertaining to visit.
The main part of the museum (hash and marijuana)
The main part of the museum inhabits the ground floor of two attached row houses: two shopfronts, in other words. It is packed with exhibits, but not particularly well-presented. The rooms are brightly-lit, and the space is filled for the most part with glass-fronted display cases. The glass reflects the light, making it hard at times to see what’s inside the cases, especially toward the back of the cabinet.
Inside the cases, the items are crowded together, jumbled, unlabeled. One shows pipes and other pot-smoking tools. Another contains a collection of vintage anti-marijuana propaganda: books, pamphlets and so on. Antique medicinal bottles showing cannabis as the active ingredient are assembled in another cabinet, while another contains medicines meant for veterinary purposes. And so on. It looks like someone’s personal collection that outgrew the available shelving in their attic.
Any remaining wall space that’s not blocked by glass-fronted cabinets is packed with framed photos, drawings and lithographs: botanical, historical, propaganda (for and against) and so on, very few with labels, and many too high up to see well. Nothing is presented interactively, unless you count a few videos.
The second storefront, containing the medical displays, smells slightly of marijuana: four plants grow there, in a brightly-lit room, glassed-in, I presume, to prevent customers from stealing any.
I’m not saying there isn’t plenty to learn here. The audio tour, included in the €8.50 admission fee, gives plenty of information about many of the items on display. The problem is that it contains an overwhelming amount of information and I, with my usual lack of patience, could not listen to the whole thing at each stop.
The museum “gallery” (hemp)
The admission price includes a “gallery” in another storefront half a block away, devoted specifically to hemp and its uses. In other words, despite being somewhat better laid out and more artfully lit, it’s even duller than the storefronts devoted to hash and marijuana.
Here you can learn about the industrial uses of hemp and objects made from hemp, with explanations of how hemp is used for making ropes, reinforcing cars, and so on, emphasizing how strong it is. In this “gallery” some of the items are not actually behind glass: a loom, for example, and a big piece of hemp rope. If possible, it was even less interesting than the first part of the museum. Yawn.
Perhaps when I was a teenager I would have found this museum titillating: a hint of the forbidden, especially seeing those live plants openly displayed. I guess the problem is that marijuana and hash are not really forbidden in the Netherlands: “coffee shops,” where marijuana is freely available, are everywhere. When something that was once forbidden is allowed, it just isn’t exciting anymore.
Would I recommend the Hash, Marijuana and Hemp Museum? If you’re into hash and marijuana and have a lot more patience than I do, sure. You could learn a lot here: about hash and pot themselves, of course, but also about the arguments for and against legalization, the different ways these drugs have been viewed throughout history, the “war on drugs,” and so on.
If you’ve come for a thrill, though, don’t bother. Instead, go to one of the coffee shops in the neighborhood and partake of some yourself. It will be far more entertaining.
This is one of my on-going series on small museums in Amsterdam. Here’s the whole list:
- Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder
- Het Grachtenhuis (canal house museum)
- Museum van Loon
- Rembrandt’s House
- The Handbag Museum
- The Brilmuseum (spectacles)
- Huis Marseille Museum for Photography
- The Dutch Resistance Museum
- Red Light Secrets: Museum of Prostitution
- Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum
- Body Worlds: Museum or Freak Show
- The Sex Museum