30 years of Sensi Seeds – An interview with Ravi Spaarenberg

A black and white photograph of a man clapping. He is in a crowd of people

Following our interview with Ben and Alan Dronkers, we now turn our attention to one of the main people responsible for the company’s success, both in Amsterdam and abroad! Meet one of the most recognizable faces of the Sensi Seeds company: Ravi Spaarenberg!

A black and white photograph of a man clapping. He is in a crowd of people

Hi Ravi! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. First off, do you remember your very first experience with cannabis and your first high?

I remember plants growing on the balcony when I was very young. My first time smoking cannabis was quite a bit later, when I was 15. It was funny because, people knew that my dad was from Sensi Smile and Sensi Seeds so people expected me to know everything about smoking weed already.

The time I smoked my first joint was that one of these guys double dared me to roll a joint. So I had to roll a joint and smoke it with them after school.

I remember being nervous. I felt really under pressure, and ashamed because I really didn’t know what I was doing. I was shaking but I managed to roll the joint and we puffed on it a little bit before I left. I didn’t feel anything at all though, no real effect.

From then on it went quite quickly. I remember making my first water pipe and, well, you know how it goes…

How did your fascination with the plant develop?

Well, when I was young, I remember running around in greenhouses but the click happened later for me at the High life cup in Rotterdam. I believe I was 18 at the time and I was working there for the company for the first time. I was dressed up as a lackey as I remember! Cypress Hill was playing, we had a big booth and there were loads of big buds going around. This was my first actual professional experience with weed and when I saw how big it was and how much fun it was. Being part of this industry was really appealing to me.

When I was 19, I came up to Amsterdam just before my final exams at school and had a tremendous of fun there. So once I’d finalized my exams in Rotterdam, it was really a no brainer. I travelled to Amsterdam, moved in above the Sensi Seeds coffeeshop and immediately started working there and in the seedbank! Those were fun times!

Ravi Spaarenberg speaking into a microphone at the High Time Cannabis Cup 2003
Ravi Spaarenberg @ High Times Cannabis Cup 2003

How did those early days go?

My dad told me that I was to start at the bottom of the ladder and work my way up so I started like everyone else, in the seedbank. It was very different back then to how it is now. It was very relaxed. That was when Alan was in charge.

Later on, we renovated the museum and the seed bank and, when the seed bank manager left, I took over his role.

We broadened our reach, bringing out catalogues in additional languages like Japanese and eventually, we arranged for us to open another store in Amsterdam, in the Nieuwendijk.

You played an essential role in developing Sensi Seeds’ presence internationally. Could you tell us more about how that took place and how the industry evolved since the early days?

That’s definitely the case: in the last 30 years we’ve gone from a passionate team of enthusiasts to very passionate professionals… We did a lot of marketing and made an international name for the company. The market in Spain was getting bigger and bigger and I spent a lot of energy building our wholesale department there.

Now that cannabis has become more mainstream, the market for it has opened up in certain countries. You can really see the impact it is having, and the increasing presence of greed. Even big companies like Microsoft and Apple are investing in cannabis projects nowadays. Everyone wants a piece of the pie.

Sadly, I see a lot of initiatives which have no emotional attachment to what they do, no real passion for the cannabis plant. I guess this is a logical step but I’m happy that at Sensi Seeds, even though we have grown to be one of the largest seedbanks in the world, the staff is united by their love for the plant and a drive to improve things.

Ravi Spaarenberg leaning out of a doorway and looking down at the camera
Ravi Spaarenberg @ Hash Marihuana Cáñamo & Hemp Museum Barcelona

What are your thoughts on the level of acceptance cannabis has internationally?

Well, I did all the fairs. Originally, Ben and Alan would always be there but eventually, I also became the face of Sensi Seeds at those events, so I had a front row seat. What really struck me were the continual legislative shifts that would occur in the countries hosting the events.

In Germany for example, the events used to be well tolerated and everything went smoothly until they adjusted the laws and really decided to crack down on cannabis. I remember this one trade show where the security was so strict that we couldn’t even smoke joints. My dad, Alan and I decided to play around with chocolate joints and we were still chased by the police because of it!

The same thing happened in Switzerland, England, everywhere really. The industry was growing but the legal landscape was constantly shifting on us. One year you’d see big booths and people enjoying joints during the fair, and the next there would barely be anybody and it wouldn’t be allowed to walk around with any weed at all. This has been happening for 30 years now and it is still happening now. Everybody’s smoking and there are still tradeshows happening left and right but people still keep on getting busted. It’s weird.

At the same time, the market is growing bigger and bigger. In Spain this year, the Spannabis fair had over 20.000 visitors in a single weekend! Our competition has been growing as well of course, but as it turns out, it has actually been beneficial for us. It seems like the bigger it gets, the more people realize the quality of our products. So we’ve been doing very good!

What about the legal status of the plant?

It’s hard to say. Over the years I’ve learned to be cautious about it.

A good example is the year of my birth, 1976. During that year, cannabis became decriminalized in the Netherlands and many states still tolerated it in the USA as well. A few years later however, the USA were waging a war against it. Today, they are making advances but it’s the Netherlands’ turn to become increasingly repressive! So that’s the problem. Regardless of what one administration does, the following one can just as easily reverse it.

Another thing is that the laws implemented in most countries are not well known by the police, the politicians, the smokers or the general public. This in turn leads to a lot of misinterpretation of these laws and disastrous consequences of this ignorance such as people being put in jail, and families getting destroyed. An example of discrepancies between the law and its application is personal possession. In certain states in America, you can walk with an ounce (28 grams) of weed on you without a problem. In the Netherlands, where the tolerant stance allows you 30 grams, the police will still take it away from you if they find it.

No-one seems to know what they’re talking about and this is why I remain very cautious of any new development.

Ravi Spaarenberg closeup blurred portrait with bikes and bike riders in the focus in the street
“Cannabis has become more mainstream and we are re-discovering the plant’s uses.”

How do you see the future of cannabis?

Despite this legal schizophrenia, the future looks amazing! If you see what they’re discovering in the medical and industrial fields, it’s incredible. The level of awareness about cannabis has improved and the level of acceptance for the plant and its benefits has also increased. So who knows? In a couple years, we may never have to discuss the subject in this way. It will be an accepted fact that cannabis is part of our everyday lives.

Cannabis has become more mainstream and we are re-discovering the plant’s uses. Again. This has happened many times throughout the past. So to see the future, first have a look at the past!

How do you see the evolution of Sensi Seeds in the future?

I want to emphasize that we are the Sensi Seed Bank. The genetics that we carry – and that we are still gathering – are crucial to maintain and preserve. So the Sensi Seed Bank will continue to exist, regardless. The question is in what form. Research has been prohibited for a long time. There are so many genetics to look at and study… The potential is amazing!

Ok, now for a more personal question, what is your favourite Sensi Seeds strain?

My favourite to smoke is the Northern Lights #5 x Haze. Of course, as a patient I smoke the Jack Herer all the time.

I still look around in coffeeshops when I’m in Amsterdam but so far, I’ve never found anything as good as the NL#5 x Haze. What makes it extra difficult is that coffeeshops sometimes just switch names so the only way to know what you’re getting is to put your nose in the jars. They don’t like it but that’s just the best way.

Finally, what keeps you busy these days?

Well, currently I’m in between two places. I miss the Netherlands but I really love Asia as well.

I see the industry evolving and that there is a lot of stuff to do! I definitely want to be involved but am not yet sure in exactly what way. It could be in the medicinal field or the industrial field… I just don’t know. Yet.

Thanks for that Ravi!

Not a problem. See you soon in Amsterdam!

Be sure to tune in next week for our upcoming interview with the current director of Sensi Seeds, Gio Dronkers. And if you’ve missed them, here are links to our previous interviews with none other than Sensi Seeds founder Ben Dronkers, and the master breeder behind our favourite strains, Alan Dronkers.



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    Sensi Seeds

    The Sensi Seeds Editorial team has been built throughout our more than 30 years of existence. Our writers and editors include botanists, medical and legal experts as well as renown activists the world over including Lester Grinspoon, Micha Knodt, Robert Connell Clarke, Maurice Veldman, Sebastian Maríncolo, James Burton and Seshata.
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