Highest greetings from Amsterdam, where I’m spending the summer in a very interesting section of the city called the Bijlmer that used to be a terrible fear-ridden slum on the outskirts of town but has been redeveloped by the government as a sort of art-centered multi-cultural neighborhood populated by people of many descriptions, from dark-skinned immigrants to young white urban professionals with real jobs and a certain quotient of bohemians both black and white.
The interesting thing is that, unlike in the States, the immigrant population of the former ghetto was not expelled to make the renovated area “safe’ for white people but was included in the redevelopment plans and rehoused as an integral component of the upgraded neighborhood. The oppressive 1950s-style Stalinistic eight-storey project dwellings were razed and replaced with buildings of no more than four floors and the whole thing painted in bright colors marked by diagonal stripes of orange, yellow, green, bright blue, and lots of third-world murals.
I’m staying in the spacious apartment of a new friend named Tariq Khan, a Dutch Rastafarian with big dreads who started out as a rapper called MC Lazy but now is an energetic artistic and cultural activist with his own recording studio in the building around the corner that also houses a hip-hop radio station called Hot Twenty that’s staffed by local youths. Tariq also produces and directs video shoots for many purposes and conducts youth workshops for community groups, but his day job is working for the Sensi Seeds empire at the Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum one day, the Cannabis College the next and the Sensi Museum Gallery on Thursdays, where he joins my old friend Joseph who mans the vaporizer and gets people high all day.
What a job! Joseph has been around for a long time and knows everybody who’s into anything in terms of the cannabis culture—he’s even regarded as a spiritual leader in some advanced quarters—so I turned to him when I was desperate to find a place to lodge for the summer after my week-long residency in the Sensi guest quarters was up at the end of May. He hooked me up with Tariq, and Tariq took me straight to his place in the Bijlmer and set me up like a champ.
Sensi Seeds is a remarkable enterprise started by a guy named Ben Dronkers in Rotterdam a long time ago, first as one of Rotterdam’s initial coffeeshops and then as a way to get marijuana growing in Holland by supplying top-quality seeds and encouraging local growers to plant and harvest them. Over the past 30 years Sensi has grown into a mammoth operation known as “the most comprehensive cannabis seed bank in the world,” dispensing millions of seeds to funky farmers all over the world and then pioneering the revitalization of the hemp industry as well.
As the Sensi Seeds website explains, Ben Dronkers started growing marijuana in 1975 and began saving the seeds he found in good quality weed, eventually collecting and categorizing all the cannabis seeds he could find. From the end of the 70s until the mid-80s Ben travelled the world from Central Asia and the Hindu Kush to the Himalayas, down through the subcontinent to Southeast Asia and around the tropics, seeking out the best genetics and focusing on regions famous for their ancient cannabis traditions.
Around 1984 Ben began several cross-breeding programs in order to develop new cannabis hybrids. He gained access to the first examples of the new stabilized hybrids from the US—including Haze and Skunk—and took the final step required for the creation of new, world-class hybrids in Europe. By 1985 he had founded the Sensi Seed Club, expanding and centralizing the process of creating hybrids and keeping meticulous records of plant genealogy and interrelations.
In 1991, Ben bought another seed company from a breeder who had also been working with the US hybrids since the 80s and merged the two companies to form the Sensi Seed Bank. In 1994 he founded HempFlax, a company dedicated to growing and processing industrial hemp, and successfully revived the once-thriving Dutch hemp industry. in 2006 Ben acquired the Flying Dutchmen seed company when his friend the owner decided to retire, and he consolidated its venerable stock with the existing Sensi Seed Bank to make an even more comprehensive collection of cannabis strains.
The great thing about Ben Dronkers and Sensi Seeds is that it isn’t just about raking in the profits like most of the people in this great industry of ours. Sensi has garnered millions of dollars in sales over the years, but—aided and abetted by his friend Ed Rosenthal, the great American cannabis activist—Ben has dedicated a significant portion of his earnings to the creation of public benefit institutions like the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum, the Sensi Museum Gallery, and the Cannabis College, which was initially a project of Flying Dutchmen. Among many other things, The Gallery displays Old Masters painted hundreds of years ago which depict ordinary men and women enjoying the smoking of cannabis.
Now these institutions are lined up on the Achterburgwhal in the Red Light District in the center of town, making up a sort of Green Light District of their own along with the Sensi Seed Bank itself and the Sensi Corner Store, formerly the Sensi coffeeshop where I used to hang out and got to know all these incredible people that make up the Sensi empire.
One of my fondest memories of the Sensi coffeeshop was the day I sat down with Ben Dronkers at a table inside and listened while he carried on an intense conversation with a South American man who turned out to be a minister in the new government of Bolivia led by the former coca famer and now head of state, Evo Morales. Evidently Ben and Evo had met and even toked down together on Morales’ visit to Amsterdam before the Bolivian election, and Ben was making a impassioned plea that the new government consider completely legalizing marijuana and establish Bolivia as the world center of cannabis enlightenment.
Dronkers promised that he would move his entire cannabis empire to Bolivia and encourage the international growing community to do likewise, bringing incredible amounts of new revenue to the small South American nation and transforming it into a haven for the worldwide cannabis community of suppliers, growers and consumers.
I listened with rapt attention as Ben’s argument unfolded, but the Bolivian minister calmly explained that there was no chance that the church and moral authorities would let them get away with it, no matter how great an idea it might be. Ben was visibly dejected, but I guessed he was accustomed to official rejection of his visionary ideas and the conversation passed on to more mundane topics.
Well, there were several other topics I’d meant to discuss in this month’s column, but I got carried away thinking about the greatness of Sensi Seeds and now I’m out of space for this time. Of course I continue to feel that one day cannabis will be granted its rightful place in our world of oppression, but it’s never going to be an easy proposition and we’ll just have to keep on fighting every way we can until that happy day. FREE THE WEED!
June 24, 2016
© 2016 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.