A History of Cannabis in Holland
by Ben Dronkers
The breeding and selling of marijuana and cannabis seeds occurs in many places around the globe, but the Netherlands, and Amsterdam in particular, remains the epicenter of the cannabis earthquake currently shaking up the planet. What unique set of unfluences allowed the Netherlands to become so prominent in the cannabis world ?
There is evidence that the cannabis plant has been used in the Netherlands for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. Early residents of the marshy areas that became the Netherlands had access to hemp plants for food, fuel, and fiber. As the Dutch language evolved into its present form, one word came to describe any and all sorts of plants: hennep.
Dutch farmers began stretching their expensive imported tobacco with the leaves and flowers of the hennep plant in the early 1500s. At this time, we have no way of knowing how much THC was in those early plants, but there is a good chance that they contained some.
The Netherlands has long been a haven for those whose political, religious, or social values were not tolerated in other places.For generations, the Dutch culture has embraced the value of allowing others to live as they choose, so long as it doesn’t interfere with the whole of society. Along with the political and social unrest of the 1960s came a (Western) worldwide explosion in the use of cannabis and psychedelics. Part of this cultural upheaval was due to travel. Many young Europenas left the comforts of home or university to travel to the exotic East. In those days, the world political situation was such that one could drive from Europe to Tabgiers, Delhi or Kabul, and many did.On their travels, the young adventurers adopted many foreign practices – from meditation to vegetarianism to hashish smoking. Soon hashish began to find its way back to Western Europe, with Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and other cities becoming consumption and distribution centers.
Not surprisingly, the Dutch official reaction to this trend was rational and practical. By the mid-1970s, there was widespread use of marijuana, speed, heroin, LSD, and other recreational drugs presenting various degrees of health risk to Dutch citizens. The then-Minister of Health and Interior, Irene Vorik, examined the medical and social studies of the harm cause by the various substances. Vorink noted that young people often experiment with tobacco, sex, alcohol, and other drugs as a natural part of the maturation period. She wanted to reduce any potential harm, and she felt that Dutch youth faced the most danger. She decreed that cannabis was considerably less harmful than the other drugs and that the most common way to be introduced to drugs “harder” than cannabis was directly through the drug suppliers themselves. Vorink recommended the authorities stop persecuting people for the consumption and sales of personal amounts of cannabis. She also took advantage of existing youth centers as places to permit the sales of small amounts of hashish and marijuana. It was in these youth clubs that the commercial coffeeshops of today were born.
Long before it became socially current or pilitically contentious, cannabis had certainly grown in the Netherlands, so it was logical that the smokers of the 1960s would try to grow their own. In the mid-1960s, artists Kees Hoekert and Jasper Grootveld fought the first symbolic battles to be permitted to grow cannabis. Their plants were leafy and low in potency, more rope than dope. By 1970, the Holland Hemp Company / Hokkah Tribe was growing for buds. Even though seeds came from Thailand and Afghanistan, it was difficult to get anything very potent, largely because it is very hard to get mature buds outdoors in Holland before the autumn rain and cold kill the plants.
In 1978, people brought the first killer bud to Netherlands from the States and a standard was established. The first good seeds from the States came in about 1980. The 1980s also saw the formation of Lowlands Seed Company, the Seed Bank, SSSC and Sensi Seeds. It was through the journalistic efforts of Ed Rosenthal that breeders started to communicate with each other, exchanging information and genetics. In 1985, strains developed in the U.S. – Skunk #1, Early Pearl, Original Haze, Northern Lights, and Holland’s Hope – were the first grown in Dutch greenhouses. This revolutionized the growing and smoking scene.
Slowly but surely, as the potency increased, bud smoking began its rise in popularity in the Netherlands. In the mid-1980s Sensi Seeds introduced large scale cloning. By the end of the decade, the emphasis had shifted to production of green bud, from clones rather than seeds, to sell in coffeeshops or keep as personal stash. Imported hashish maintained its popularity throughout the 1980s, but sales of Dutch grown grass began to increase dramatically every year after 1985. By the early 1990s grass sales exceeded hash sales in most coffee shops and continued to grow in share of the market until the mid-1990s. Shop owners have reported that since about 1996, they sell about 2 grams of bud for every 1 gram of hashish sold. A small but growing number of Dutch smokers are adopting the North American practice of smoking their cannabis pure rather than the traditional hash and tobacco mix in Europe. As breeding advances and greater emphasis is placed on taste rather than potency, more smokers here may well “go pure”.
The Dutch have made it possible to breed and produce seeds, but without the existing greenhouse industry and other farming techniques, the cannabis growers would not have moved ahead so fast. With the obstacles presented by Holland’s weather addressed, the social and political climate made it a logical place for the industry to flourish. By the late 1980s, there was a quiet trade in seeds to the world from three or four busy companies. In 1987, U.S. smoker’s magazine, High Times, started hosting a Cannabis Cup. The event was modeled on the harvest festivals of the late 1970s and early 1980s in Northern California. A group of High Times writers evaluated the entries from various seed breeders and growers in Holland. In 1989, the biggest trader was compromised by their U.S. contact and decided to shut down. The scene altered radically for a few years, with some major shifts in control over basic breeding strains. In the years following this breach, there wasn’t much competition, so the Cup emphasis switched over to coffeeshops. The seed company competition was reinstated in 1994, with three firms entering varieties. By 2000, the number has rizen to more than a dozen. At present, there is a multi-million-guilder cannabis seed industry in the Netherlands. Cannabis seeds have become just like tulips, vegetables, cheese, and tomatoes – a major export product. In spite of a drug war, Holland still bombards the world with seeds.