What makes a good bud? What will cultivation clubs need to consider? What are the trends in hemp and cannabis? And what drives the Dutch first-movers still to this date?
For one, the magic is the genetics of the propagation material for sure, and Ravi Spaarenberg-Dronkers, Head of Research and Development of Sensi Seeds will speak in detail about that during CB Expo and Conference in less than two weeks. But it is also the heart and soul of the community that counts, that works together for a common goal which can be summed up simply as follows: “Legalize it!” We were proud to have the opportunity to speak with one of the Dronkers kids in advance of his appearance as keynote speaker in Dortmund.
krautinvest.de: Your father, Ben Dronkers, is one of the most prominent cannabis activists and successful cannabis entrepreneurs in the Netherlands, maybe even the world. He not only founded Sensi Seeds which became one of the biggest seed banks for cannabis, but also the Amsterdam Hash Museum. How do you maintain that legacy and what areas would you like to extend even further?
Ravi Spaarenberg-Dronkers: Oh my father, yes many things he’s done for cannabis – But it’s actually a group effort and Sensi Seeds is just one part of it. The museum we have in Amsterdam, but we also have had one in Barcelona for 10 years now. Besides that, we’ve also been pioneering for the last 30 years with Hempflax. For hemp, we have a factory in the North Hollands and we have a factory in Romania. So it’s a big job, but it’s a group of people that we do that with, and it’s only together how we maintain the legacy. And luckily, I have a lot of brothers and sisters. We work within the company regarding legalization efforts, and how to spread this spirit worldwide.
After all, it’s a moving market. You can see now that in America in some states, recreational cannabis is legal, but federally, it’s not legal. Similar thing is happening here in Europe, where according to the European Union, it’s not legal, but countries are sort of becoming more liberal. So, we have to closely observe any movements in the laws and we go with our seeds where it’s possible to go. In the United States for example, seeds are completely legal, that’s a market for us.
You see with Germany, well all over Europe actually, the perspective on cannabis is changing. Look at Thailand, they took cannabis completely out of the law. Everyone was expecting chaos and mayhem but it didn’t happen. People just peacefully grow and smoke plants and sell weed for very cheap to the tourists. So what?
The problem with cannabis is, however, we have seen in the past that certain countries get more liberal and then a new government is elected and nullifies any former progress in that direction. Therefore, excuse me if I sound like a killjoy here, I tend to be skeptical and observe grand cannabis law changes with a grain of salt nowadays. So until it’s completely legalized, there’s a big job to do for all of us within the cannabis industry still.
krautinvest.de: Talking about legalization – the cabinet bill for German cannabis legalization (or shall I say decriminalization) has been published and it is foreseeable that very soon a lot of cultivation clubs will need top notch cannabis seeds. How do you prepare for the German market?
Ravi Spaarenberg-Dronkers: Ha! You said it! Yeah exactly, this bill in Germany is merely talking about decriminalization, this is by far not legalization. Oh and we already are prepared for the German market. We have been often in Germany of course, with seeds from our shelves…
Full legalization of cannabis within the European Union can be done by the European Union and not by any member state or country. So the term legalization, to me it’s a little bit funny – You see it in Luxembourg and Malta and even in Portugal. But it is a parade, it’s simply not legalized because we’re not allowed to do that within the European Union.
It’s the EU that decides on drug laws and without that, all can be lost. People’s rights remain very unclear. Basically, here in Holland, the situation is similar to what your cabinet bill proposes in Germany: five plants are tolerated. But the moment there is a complaint from the neighborhood, the police can also take your five plants. If they want to prosecute you, they still can, and they will. Take this rule about possession of only 25 grams, that basically means you are allowed to grow three plants, but not to harvest them, and if you do, you can still be criminalized, harassed, your stuff confiscated, if you have enemies within the authorities? What kind of legalization is this? Who makes this stuff up? Trust me, it’s gonna be wild. We have a similar situation here in NL. In all of Europe, we still have a long way to go before we can use the term “legalization”.
I want to add an aspect about the medical system in Germany. Isn’t it that a lot of these patients are considered somewhat “recreational patients”? How do you make this cut-off, anyway? Knowingly or unknowingly, all cannabis use can be considered medical, in my opinion. Isn’t decompressing, de-stressing, relaxing, isn’t that a way to stay healthy? Isn’t chronic stress, anxiety, etc. one of the most prominent public health threats nowadays? Worldwide, the medical systems agree on that, but still cannabis as a medicine that counteracts stress, anger, nervousness, anxiety, and whatnot, can pretty much only be prescribed as the last possible measure, a last line treatment option, when every other treatment already failed and the patients are basically almost dead. It’s a mystery to me why people can’t wrap their head around the fact that something about this approach is off. Globally, it seems the governments try to install a medical program, then make access as difficult as possible, and the conservative doctors and pharmaceutical industries seem to love it when the medical program fails due to that.
krautinvest.de: Strongly agree with you here, Ravi, indeed. But let’s not open that Pandora’s Box for now. I guess we can agree that young people better stay clear of drugs, but at the same time, at a young age the reality is different. Kids like to test their own limits, they try to rebel against parents, the system, and sometimes it leads to problematic consumption habits. But from your experience in (liberal) Netherlands – How to minimize risks? Could cannabis even be considered an exit drug, helping to get off or stay away from more harmful substances like opioids, or even heavy alcohol consumption, for example?
Ravi Spaarenberg-Dronkers: Oh in Holland, we have coffee shops. But you’re only allowed to go to the coffee shops when you’re at least 18. So all these younger kids shouldn’t be smoking – I understand. But some of them do, it’s a reality. And they’re buying stuff online, social media, there’s chat groups, and you’re right: The guys they get in touch with there, they sell other stuff as well, and don’t mind offering it to the kids. So, especially kids in Holland are more frequently confronted with a lot of different drugs besides cannabis. And the unregulated cannabis can be laced with far more harmful stuff. Is that good for harm reduction? I don’t think so. I don’t have actual numbers of drug fatalities and whether or not they’ve improved with the coffee shops. What I know for sure is, if there’s a deadly car accident and they find alcohol and cannabis, what the media will discuss is cannabis, not alcohol. Cannabis still has a bad name, even here.
krautinvest.de: Back to your R&D department at Sensi Seeds – What innovative ideas and products does your company currently work on? What are your personal favorite cultivars with expected THC content below 10% and above 10%?
Ravi Spaarenberg-Dronkers: So one of our departments in the company, it’s a research facility and we do preservation of varieties, and a little bit of breeding. We have some partnerships with some big companies here in Holland, but also Denmark and Switzerland, the list goes on.
For one, we’re working on hemp varieties. There’s a lot of questions still about hemp. All over the world, South America, Australia, etc. people want to make use of hemp and we have to find the perfect crop for each climate and each purpose, and also develop the best machinery and tools for processing, right? We need to establish systems that make use of the whole of the plant, in order to work economically and sustainably.
Now, in cannabis the big thing is autoflower, feminized seeds and recently F1 cultivars – stable varieties where all plants have exactly the same content. This goes especially for the medical market and it depends on which country you go to in Europe. We’re talking about a crop though, and there’s a margin between the percentage of THC even in, let’s say flowers on the top and the flowers on the bottom of one and the same plant.
In terms of “new varieties” – Variety is a big word, there’s maybe a thousand new cannabis names that flood the market each year…it’s very simple and you do one crossing, you take something that you like and there you go, you have some new flavor / color, or whatever. You give it a new name, maybe even win some prize with it. But that’s far from a stable variety. That’s why many people work with cuttings or clones from a mother plant they like, if they want to be sure in advance what they will get when they grow.
I’ve observed the trends in legalized states in the US, first, people go crazy and want the newest sh*t, latest flavor combinations, craziest colors, largest buds, highest THC, superlatives, you know…. until one day they get bored with it, or tired of it, and they just want their basics back, stuff they can rely on. The real users or connoisseurs really end up wanting cannabis that is consistent and that has their preferred flavor, not even the ultra-highest THC. And that’s about it. It’s quite modest, the ultimate goal. So when you ask me, what are my favorite varieties, let me put it as someone else recently said in an interview: “My favorite cannabis is whatever I’m smoking right now.”
As for the THC content – please be aware that depending on the method of THC detection, sample preparation, climate, soil, harvest time, drying procedure, storage conditions, and so much more, the THC content will vary, even from flower to flower. Hence, such a clear cut-off value will be hard, if not impossible, to realize, only based on variety genetics. And it can easily be cheated. What the politicians and doctors likely didn’t understand is, based on my experience, if you have a light cannabis variety, you tend to smoke more. And if you have a strong cannabis variety, you tend to put the joint or pipe down sooner, and pick it up again when you are ready. That’s how people dose in reality, not based on THC content, but the effect they feel right away.
krautinvest.de: What should cultivation clubs urgently take into account when buying seeds, in terms of quality, hygiene, variety stability, location in Germany (for outdoor grows), etc.?
Ravi Spaarenberg-Dronkers: Well, it’s more than just the hygiene of the seeds, the crop and the room. Genetics is one thing. I will speak about genetics in depth during the CB Expo in Dortmund. Just one note on that: There are no separate seeds especially for indoors or outdoors, but certain varieties may do better in certain climates, others not so much. Indoors is of course more reliable, because you can always mimic the ideal climate. I mean, some people like their outdoor grows, even in countries like NL or Germany where the cold and the rain is setting in too early for most of the plants, so they turn purple from the temperature stress, and so forth. In my opinion, these taste like nuts, but what do I know? Some people seem to be okay with it. As for the energy input, I think in the past people calculated one Watt yields one gram, but if you have the right seeds, the right set-up with the right lights and the right soil these days, you can easily yield 2.5 grams per Watts light input.
But the care during growing and also the way the flower is processed, this is very important. You can grow beautiful flowers but if you don’t process them right, don’t dry them right, cure them right, and you don’t handle them with care – the end product doesn’t look nice. I see that a lot with gigantic large scale producers. Small scale is often preferred by the coffee shops in Holland, although they’re often still operating in this gray area. People can select products to offer in their coffee shops from different producers, although often illegally produced. These small-scale producers, if they take really good care of their crop, that’s what the coffee shops are actually looking for. Compare it to micro breweries and their craft beer – if their craft beer is really good, that’s what people consider top notch in the end.
When we talk about outdoor cultivation for example, let’s say there’s an industrial hemp field too close to their outdoor grows for “real” cannabis, you will have cross-pollination and yield low-quality buds full of seeds. Actually, if you breed different varieties in the same facility indoors, you will also have cross-pollination, if you don’t take good measures to prevent it. Here in this research facility, we work with overpressure rooms. So basically, when you open a door to one of the rooms, the wind is blowing out, nothing gets in.
I remember years ago before it was legalized in California and they did a pollen test in the air in Los Angeles, I think six percent of the pollen that they found was cannabis. And recently, I actually read somewhere that cannabis pollen can travel very, very far – even across the Atlantic. So this might be the reason why all the varieties available are somewhat already mixed, all hybrids. Take this into consideration.
About Ravi Spaarenberg-Dronkers:
Ravi is head of research and development at Hempflax Agro, one of Sensi Seeds’ sister companies. Ravi is a breeder pur sang and the greatest part of his life revolves around breeding and cannabis genetics. One of the Dronkers‘ children who has also committed his life to the plant.
You can personally experience Ravi during the CB Expo and Conference in Dortmund, where he will be a keynote speaker during the session “Why should Genetics be a Core Focus for Producers?” (September 16th, 2023 2:15 PM – 3:00 PM at Education Stage)
Special Deal: krautinvest.de readers can get 20% off all ticket prices; please use voucher code cbexpo2023-krautinvest to claim it.
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