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Dutch ‘Tolerance Festival’ Will Bring Cannabis Activism to The Hague

Amid a growing push to reform cannabis laws in the Netherlands, a pair of activists have hatched a bold plan: Take the call for tolerance directly to the seat Dutch government with a massive show of support in The Hague.

Set for September 2017—still plenty of time to book a trip—the Tolerance Festival is the brainchild of veteran coffeeshop owner Jo Koopman and Henk Westbroek, one of the country’s best-known pop musicians.

Westbroek, who recorded major hits with his band Het Goede Doel (The Good Cause), has never made a secret of his love for cannabis as a source of inspiration and pleasure. “Henk wrote his best songs while enjoying a joint,” Koopman told Leafly. “He’s tolerant towards people, doesn’t discriminate, and supports coffeeshops. And he obviously has a lot of experience in the media world.”

Koopman and Westbroek met after filming a music video in Koopman’s coffeeshop in Maastricht, and the two men took an instant liking to each other. Among the topics they discussed was general erosion of tolerance in the Netherlands—and how it’s paralleled the increasingly repressive steps taken by officials against cannabis and coffeeshops.

Culturally, Koopman said, he’s learned from his decades of running a coffeeshop that cannabis and tolerance are connected. “It taught me that places like a coffeeshop must continue to exist,” he said. “They are genuine pillars of the community.

“There certainly is a link between cannabis and tolerance,” Koopman continued. “Cannabis expands your consciousness, like tolerance does, too. In the 1970s, both went hand-in-hand. That’s why coffeeshops are the most tolerant places, where the whole world can be together and let each other be. Nobody judges you in a coffeeshop.”

“This kind of policy has now been adopted in Canada, Spain, and numerous US states. And what do we do? We are slowly terminating it.”

The Tolerance Festival aims to rekindle the spirit of the Holland Pop Festival, often referred to as the Dutch Woodstock. Held in Rotterdam in 1970, the three-day event made history as the first time police tolerated the open sale and consumption of cannabis. The approach was unprecedented, paving the way for a change in the so-called Opium Law six years later that officially decriminalized the cannabis use and possession in the Netherlands.

Organizers are lining up top artists, past and present, to perform at next year’s Tolerance Festival. The goal is to attract more than 100,000 people to The Hague. Admission will be free. To help foot the bill, the team has sent out a thousand fundraising letters to coffeeshops and other cannabis-related companies.

The venue for the new festival hasn’t been confirmed yet, but Koopman and Westbroek have their eyes set on the Malieveld, an enormous grass field in the center of The Hague that has been the stage of some of the largest demonstrations in Dutch history.

Westbroek, a popular radio and TV personality who appears frequently as a guest on TV talk shows, recently noted that the number of coffeeshops has dropped from more than 1,400 in the 1990s to fewer than 600 today.

“We were a leading country in the world, because our policy prevented people from using hard drugs. This kind of policy has now been adopted in Canada, Spain, and numerous US states,” he said. “And what do we do? We are slowly terminating it.”

It’s not just coffeeshop policy that’s become less tolerant, Westbroek added—it seems people in general are less tolerant, as well. “Tolerance is like a pleasant form of indifference: let everyone do as they please, it doesn’t bother me. Why would it bother me if you are gay or Jewish?” he asked. “But you do notice, looking at the open sewer that is Twitter, for instance, that people are getting angrier without any real reason? To me, the decreased tolerance for coffeeshops in spite of the fact that the policy has been successful symbolizes what has been happening in the Netherlands in a broader sense.”

The committee of recommendation for the Tolerance Festival includes the mayor of Utrecht, member of parliament Vera Bergkamp, the woman behind a law proposal to regulate cannabis cultivation for coffeeshops and lawyer Gerard Spong. ‘It’s essential for coffeeshop owners to pull together’, said Koopman, ‘and this is a real chance to unite and make a positive statement.’

More information on the Dutch Tolerance Festival can be found on the event’s website.

Derrick Bergman's Bio Image
Derrick Bergman

Derrick Bergman is a Dutch journalist, photographer, and activist who has been covering cannabis culture since 1994. He is a founder and the current chairman of the VOC, the union for the abolition of cannabis prohibition. Since 2010, he's served as the coordinator of Cannabis Liberation Day, the biggest cannabis and hemp event in the Netherlands. He is a father to three sons and has been growing his own cannabis for more than two decades.

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