What better way to celebrate our 30th anniversary than to start off by having an in-depth chat with the man who started it all, the Sensi Seeds founder himself: Ben Dronkers. In a conversation with him in his house in Malaysia, we discuss how cannabis has affected his life and led him to create one of the most recognisable names in the cannabis industry.
In this interview, Ben tells us how he came to discover Cannabis, what led him to dedicate himself to it and how he managed to turn his passion into a legal business. His enthusiasm is infectious as he discusses the plant he has devoted his life to.
We hope you enjoy this glimpse into Sensi Seeds’ history!
Hi Ben, thanks for talking to us! First and foremost, could you tell us about your first encounter with the cannabis plant?
That happened a long time ago. I had just turned 17 and was on the Maasbrug in Rotterdam with another guy who had a piece of hash with him. I’d never heard of it before. The guy rolled a joint and shared it with me. I felt it but at the same time didn’t really know what to look for. I certainly didn’t understand what all the fuss surrounding it was because I felt perfectly fine. I was a bit high but it wasn’t as if I’d suddenly gotten drunk which is what I originally was expecting.
The first high was a nice experience but I didn’t know what to expect. It is only during the 2nd or 3rd time that you can actually understand what exactly is happening to you. The first time, you’re not really aware that you are high. This is something you can see a lot in people using cannabis for the first time. They are really stoned but they don’t actually realise it.
In my case I was just hanging out on that bridge, feeling very happy to be there!
It was awesome!
Was it then that you took a sudden interest in the plant?
Well, technically it started a lot earlier. Growing up, my mother was always busy with plants, and she took such good care of them that they were constantly flowering. It is through her that I developed this love of plants. You really get involved in the entire growing process. Later on, I developed an interest in breeding, crossing one with the other to develop specific characteristics that led to the classics which, for me, stay relevant and very important for the decades to come.
What led you to then start working with the cannabis plant?
At first I wasn’t busy with the seeds. In those days, cannabis cultivation was not the same as in other parts of the world like Jamaica, Africa, or the USA. Back then we were experimenting with the first indoor grow techniques, using cool-tubes, shaped as a tipi to try and get some buds. The weed was not good, but it worked.
Then I started bringing back seeds from different countries. To start off: Pakistan. That is when we started getting good results… Really good weed!
That was the big turning point… [it] was interesting and fun.
Did things kick off for you then? How was the first proper Dutch weed received?
The first 2-3 years that I grew cannabis in greenhouses, no one wanted to buy it. They didn’t understand it. Even in Amsterdam…
That was until I went to The Happy Family and Prix d’Ami coffeeshops in Amsterdam and just forced them to take some of the weed in a paper bag, saying “Don’t pay me if it isn’t good, but do so if you like it”. And when I finally returned to the Prix d’Ami to ask what they thought of it, the bud tender answered: “It’s long gone! People keep coming back asking for more!”.
The American tourists knew what it was of course! But the Dutch had only seen brown Thai en African weed which was pressed into blocks and dried out. So when they saw green buds, they didn’t know what to do with it. They even called it “spinach”. That was, until they saw how fast it sold out. That’s when things started to speed up.
Very quickly, people knew how good the weed was, and they were getting so stoned that they would literally fall off their stools!
What did the authorities think of your new found passion?
Well… I was arrested a couple times. Many times actually. But in those days it wasn’t such a big thing. Even if you were caught with 10-20kg, you were released after 2-3 days.
But since I was arrested so often, I also got me to study the texts of the Opium Act, to search for a way to stay out of jail. This led me to discover that cannabis seeds were excluded from the ban. In effect, the entire cannabis plant was forbidden except for the seeds.
I then went to a very expensive lawyer to discuss this “chicken and egg” story: seeds are legal to sell but how can you obtain them if you’re unable to grow the plant? If seeds are legal, then growing cannabis plants for seeds must be too right?
The lawyer agreed with me and this led to the pivotal moment in which I was given legal permission to cultivate cannabis for the production of seeds. I then went to declare that I was going to produce cannabis seeds with police and the relevant agricultural Institutions and no one was able to object to my activities.
This was the loophole in the law which allowed me produce and preserve cannabis seeds for more than ten years without anyone really knowing about it. I couldn’t grow any weed of course, but you know how that goes…
These experiences led you to dedicate your life to the cannabis plant. What led you to take this decision?
For me, one of the unique properties of cannabis is the tendency it has to make people fall in love with it. You really form a bond with this plant. It’s a level of consciousness, you understand?
Back in the day, I went through some very tough times. It was my connection to the plant that helped me through it. The plant itself helped me out of this dark period. And it was at that point that I decided to dedicate myself to the plant and breed cannabis as much as I possibly could.
The cultivation of the plant led us to innumerable discoveries: its history, what it brought to people in past centuries and its incredible potential for the future. This level of consciousness the plant has bestowed upon me is the main drive behind everything I have done, and continue to do. It is an important part of how the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum came to be.
We started from nothing, and we discovered something new on an almost daily basis. When the internet arrived, this process of discovery expanded even more, and it continued to do so as I started to meet like-minded people from across the world and made many friends, too many to name here. Naming them would fill up several pages! I truly believe that there is a common consciousness attached to this incredible plant.
When I travel to HempFlax in Groningen and visit the fields of hemp seedlings early in the year, it truly warms my heart. Seeing hectares full of these growing seedlings truly fulfills me and this vision I had about my connection to the plant.
Today, we still carry out this vision, doing our best to plant as many seeds as possible, literally and metaphorically!
Thank you for discussing this with us Ben! To finish off this first part, we received some questions from our blog readers and friends on social media. Would you mind answering some of them?
Not at all!
From Chris Thompson
What do you think will happen with (recreational) marijuana business in the USA over the next 5 years, and will it become a new “Amsterdam?”
Yes, I think so. I can imagine that cafés will open where one can enjoy a coffee and a joint. Hopefully, one will be able to enjoy a beer there too!
With thousands of cultivars and hundreds of seed banks to choose from, does Ben and Sensi Seeds feel at all responsible (for lack of a better term) for the variety in the market today?
I really feel proud that our genetics became a platform for an entire industry to develop from. It wasn’t just me though, the coffeeshops are responsible for making the industry what it has become. [They] were behind the first cannabis magazines such as Bob Warren, the man behind Highest Magazine, which launched in 1986.
When we started to sell the seeds, we also [sold] fertilizers, and books. All the authors came to us and most of them saw what we did and wrote it down and taught us what they knew in exchange. This was crucial to educating cannabis enthusiasts the world over!
Do you think there are still wild patches of cannabis that have yet to be found in the world? Where do you think you’d find them?
I know that for a fact. 100%. We are currently busy discovering and gathering new ones in Eastern Europe, and to gather the ones we know of from their original locations, which is proving very difficult in certain cases as some of them have disappeared from nature and it is a question of finding the people who might still have them preserved somewhere.
What is your favourite Sensi Seeds strain and your favourite non-Sensi strain?
From Paul J. von Hartmann
“Essential civilian demand” is an accelerated, federal U.S. protocol, affording access to the strategic resource “hemp,” referred to in several documents having to do with emergency preparedness. Might you be willing to help with the grassroots globalization of “essential civilian demand” for Cannabis, before we run out of growing seasons needed to repair Earth’s atmosphere?
Hello Ben, I would like to know if you have visited the Canary Islands and what you think of its geographical location with regards to cannabis cultivation?
Of course! I love the Canary Islands! I know them well and know a guy there who grew 5 Jack Herer plants there and obtained 1.5kg each. So the simple answer is, yes.
Is there a European cannabis lobby? If so, would it not be interesting for you to work with them with the aim of accompanying the USA is their move towards the depenalisation of cannabis consumption?
In the USA, you have NORML which has been established a long time ago and which has a united presence throughout the country and you have High Times, a commercial entity. In Europe, you have ENCOD, but mostly, you have small groups spread left and right. I believe that there is a need for there to be a united front. This is something that still needs to happen. We have to unite. We have to get together to make things move forward.
I am getting ready for an eventual legalisation of cannabis in France by gathering as much information as possible with the goal of setting up a biological cannabis field. Will the resulting cannabis be as potent as one grown indoors under UV lights?
No, I don’t think so. Results would depend on the variety but I do not think so.
Which memory comes back to you the most when thinking of your earlier travels, discovering cannabis genetics?
The harmony and sweetness of the Afghan people. They are so proud of what they do. The goodness of their heart was so pure… it really struck me.
The legal status of Cannabis in the Netherlands is changing. How do you see the future of the plant in the country?
Coffeeshops will prevail! Cannabis is a social thing. It is something you share with others. So I believe that Coffeeshops will prevail.
Which strain did you last consume?
Jack Herer, in Malaysia! I have a medical prescription enabling me to do so here mind you.
According to researcher Mc Partland, in 1970, an error in the classification of the cannabis genome led to the use of incorrect denominations for the plant: Indica, Sativa, Ruderalis. It has been corrected lately into:
Cannabis Sativa should be “Cannabis Indica”.
Cannabis Indica should be “Cannabis Afghanica”.
Cannabis Ruderalis should be “Cannabis Sativa”.
Do you intend to reclassify your menu accordingly?
This is a good question. A very good question… History is always about interpretation and scientific discovery. We are currently financing research looking deeper into this matter. So time, and science, will tell!
Michael Freeman on Facebook
If you were able to choose for free legal Cannabis in Europe but for this would mean that you would lose all the money you have made, what would be your honest choice?
Kenan Gülersönmez on Facebook
Hello Mr. Dronkers, in Switzerland the Government is considering the concept of the Spanish “Cannabis Social Club”, but the progress is moving very slow. So I was thinking about getting active, thinking about becoming an activist. Any tips about how to start my journey?
Be well informed and self-supportive!
Thank you to everyone who took the effort of sending us questions and keep an eye out for part 2 of our interview with Ben Dronkers!