by Martijn on 24/07/2015

30 Years of Sensi Seeds – from an overwhelming passion to an unshakable vision


This article reflects on the path Sensi Seeds followed and considers the most important steps taken in becoming a respectable cannabis seed company. The story begins in the previous century, in the mid sixties, with one person: the founder of Sensi Seeds, Ben Dronkers.



To honour its 30 year anniversary, Sensi Seeds, the trend-setting seed company, is posting a special series of articles on the blog. In these stories and through interviews with the key figures behind our company – Ben Dronkers and his sons Alan, Ravi and Gio – Sensi Seeds looks back on three very special decades. Click here to discover this extraordinary content.

The first article in this series took the form of a tribute to cannabis; the love for a plant which constitutes the foundation of Sensi Seeds and all our related companies, such as HempFlax and the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museums in Amsterdam and Barcelona. But what lies at the source of this love? How did this love develop into a relentless passion for the cannabis plant and everything that Sensi Seeds represents?

ben-in-greenhouse-bannerThis article reflects on the path Sensi Seeds followed and considers the most important steps taken in becoming a respectable cannabis seed company. The story begins in the previous century, in the mid sixties, with one person: the founder of Sensi Seeds, Ben Dronkers.

“They even called it spinach”

The foundation for Ben Dronkers’ entrepreneurial spirit and his great passion for plants was an enterprising father and a mother who was a very keen gardener. During his childhood, nobody suspected how much these two factors would contribute to him becoming a household name in the cannabis sector.

In the early 1970s, Ben opened a clothes shop in the Dutch city of Rotterdam where he sold homemade clothing. A few years earlier, at the age of seventeen, he smoked his first joint. But it wasn’t until he began making regular trips to Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan to purchase textiles that he became aware of the plant’s versatility. He learned about hemp fibre’s suitability as, among other things, a textile and he also bought or was given cannabis and cannabis seeds by local farmers. Ben discovered that the cannabis plant had so much to offer in spite of it being prohibited and vilified in all corners of the world.

Ben working in his greenhouse in 1983.
Ben working in his greenhouse in 1983.

It became one of his passions to collect cannabis seeds from Central and South East Asia and the Asian subcontinent. Back home in the Netherlands, he started to cultivate these seeds in order to learn more about the growth process of this very special plant.

Meanwhile the first Dutch coffee shops opened their doors in the mid seventies, when imported hash from Morocco became more popular in the Netherlands. At the time, cannabis was hardly used. “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… They even called it spinach”, referring to the bright green color, while the common appearance of cannabis in that time was brown Thai and African weed, pressed into blocks and dried out.

It starts with one small seed

Partly because of Ben’s efforts, cannabis soon grew in popularity in the Netherlands. He was more interested, however, in collecting different cannabis strains. Ben also began crossing these strains in order to promote new characteristics. As he developed a sincere and deep relationship with the cannabis plant, he discovered its beauty, its characteristics, its versatility and its strength. This only encouraged him to expand his knowledge of the crop even more. A journey of discovery to all corners of the world led Ben to places and cultures where cannabis and hemp had been part of the medicinal, cultural and spiritual heritage for a very long time – from the Hmong culture in China to the Sadhus culture in India and from the ships of the Dutch East India Company in the Golden Century to the use of cannabis-based medication which has existed for thousands and thousands of years.

The Sensi Connoisseurs’ Club.
The Sensi Connoisseurs’ Club.

All his positive discoveries contrasted sharply with the prohibition of cannabis, and they still do. Industrial hemp is also prohibited in many countries, where both it and cannabis are stigmatised. Ben was deeply affected by this illogical contrast, this contradiction, the injustice thousands of people experienced as the plant was kept away from them and the fact that they were being prosecuted for it.

All this, his strongly developed love for all things connected to the cannabis plant, his entrepreneurial spirit but also his sense of justice and rebellious character, encouraged him to take up the gauntlet and fight for the medicinal and recreational use of cannabis, for the return of industrial hemp and to counter all stigmatising misinformation in the media. In short, to fight for the return of the plant to its rightful place in society; a battle that started with one small seed, as is the case of all life on earth!

30 years of Sensi Seeds

One of the first Sensi Seeds catalogues (1987).
One of the first Sensi Seeds catalogues (1987).

At the start of the 1980s, the first examples of innovative, stabilised hybrids, such as Haze and Skunk, arrived in Europe from the United States. Ben was one of a mere three Dutch cultivators who were granted access to these hybrids, which are considered an important blueprint for the development of European hybrids.

With his continuously increasing collection of original seed strains and hybrids, and via the cultivation of cannabis strains, Ben gathered ammunition for what would prove to be quite a battle. Ben was arrested a few times for the cultivation and possession of cannabis. At the end of the seventies, one violating cannabis laws was thankfully released within a week in the Netherlands, but those few times in prison urged him to have a good look at the law. Ben found that cannabis seeds did not fall under the cannabis prohibition; it was only the plant that was prohibited and not the seeds. As it was not illegal to sell seeds, Ben reasoned that the production process should not be illegal either. He started his seed company after a lawyer confirmed this insight and in 1985 the Sensi Seed Club, also known as the Sensi Connoisseurs’ Club, came into being.

Ben Dronkers with two of his sons (Alan to the left and Ravi to the right) at the Cannabis Castle.
Ben Dronkers with two of his sons (Alan to the left and Ravi to the right) at the Cannabis Castle.

There was nothing left to stop Ben Dronkers from realising his dreams. Production facilities were established to develop, refine and stabilise new hybrids. One of those locations was a cultivation facility in Arnhem, which close friends will remember under its name ‘Cannabis Castle’. As this professionalisation took place in 1985, this is the year that is considered to mark the birth of Sensi Seeds!

Everything for the plant

The Sensi Seeds Club opened its first shop in Amsterdam in 1986 which also sold cultivation equipment and books on cannabis culture. Ben took over a company called the Seed Bank in 1991 and the gene libraries were merged to create the Sensi Seed Bank as we know it today.

Sensi Seeds was the first in the Netherlands, perhaps the first in the world, to start developing new hybrids using an extensive collection of cannabis seeds, and the gene library of original strains and the creation of new hybrids continued to grow. Within the space of ten years, the twenty or so strains offered in the Sensi Seed Bank catalogue had increased to almost forty, and it included world famous strains such as Northern Lights #5 x Haze, Skunk #1, Big Bud, Super Skunk, Black Domina, Fruity Juice and the renowned Jack Herer.

Investing in the truth

The facade of the Cannabis Info Museum, forerunner of the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum in Amsterdam.
The facade of the Cannabis Info Museum, forerunner of the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum in Amsterdam.

These leading strains helped Sensi Seeds to develop into one of the world’s largest and best-known seed companies. The company enabled people to use the best hybrids and original cannabis genetics for cultivation purposes. “It starts with one small seed,” states Ben Dronkers. However, Ben’s activities go far beyond what we’ve described up to this point and you can sense the presence of his indefatigable passion for the plant in all his enterprises.

We are strongly focused on the medical qualities of cannabis and support various scientific research programs, support-activists and lobby groups. Each year Sensi Seeds and the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum pay tribute to the most important cannabis champions by awarding the Cannabis Culture Awards. Read more on this subject in the ‘Sensi Seeds and cannabis activism’ article on the Sensi Seeds blog.

The entrance of the museum in Amsterdam following a large-scale renovation and re-opening in 2012.
The entrance of the museum in Amsterdam following a large-scale renovation and re-opening in 2012.

In order to show the true story of cannabis and hemp, the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum in Amsterdam opened its doors in 1985 as well. This museum was established with the collaboration of the American cannabis guru Ed Rosenthal and its exhibition comprises a large private collection of approxinately 1,100 items, all of which are unusual, beautiful and rare objects relating to cannabis and hemp. The Hemp Galley was opened in 2008 near the museum, as an extension of the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum. The Hemp Gallery is dedicated to showcasing industrial hemp throughout the ages. A second museum opened in 2012: the Hash Marihuana Cáñamo & Hemp Museum in Barcelona, Spain, where approximately 1,300 items are on display in the 16th century Palace Mornau.

Ben Dronkers started the HempFlax company in 1993 to promote the industrial qualities of hemp. This company grows several hundreds of hectares of industrial hemp in the Dutch province of Groningen, in Germany and in Romania, which then is processed in private factories into all sorts of products for various industries.

HempFlax harvesting hemp using a harvester the company developed themselves.
HempFlax harvesting hemp using a harvester the company developed themselves.

What once started with the overwhelming passion of one person, has developed into an inexhaustible source of inspiration over the past 30 years and a very strong vision which manifests itself within all the companies Ben Dronkers has established: to develop, promote, protect and cherish the cannabis plant in all its forms and to preserve its unique genotypes for future generations.

Sensi Seeds is incredibly proud and grateful that the company and everyone pursuing the same goal have fought for 30 years for the worldwide recognition of, and the truth about, cannabis and industrial hemp. On to the next 30 years.

#GROWONSENSI


30 Years of Sensi Seeds Exhibit in Barcelona
At the Hash Marihuana Cáñamo & Hemp Museum in Barcelona, a special exhibit will be on display to mark this festive year: Grow On. Through unique items from the Sensi Seeds archive and the museum’s collection, visitors will learn all about the high points from Sensi Seeds’ long history. The exhibit is open from 10 October 2015 to 1 May 2016.


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