Interview with “The King of Cannabis,” Arjan Roskam. Arjan is best known as a strain hunter and his famous strains have won over 30 Cannabis Cups. When he is not in Amsterdam he spends most of his time traveling the world looking for the best strains of Cannabis to be brought back to his lab with the goal of making the best strains of tomorrow. His most famous strains are: White Widow, Super Silver Haze, Hawaiian Snow, Super Lemon Haze, Flowerbomb Kush and others.
Arjan has been joined by actor Woody Harelson and Sir Richard Branson in his efforts to legalize cannabis worldwide.
Arjan is the owner of the Amsterdam based coffee house, Green House Coffeeshops as well as Green House Seed Company and Strain Hunters.
Interviewer: Arjan Roskam is often referred to as the king of cannabis. He is the founder of Green House Coffee shops in Amsterdam. Arjan is best known as a strain hunter, and his famous strains have won over 30 cannabis cups. When he's not in Amsterdam, he spends most of his time traveling the world looking for the best strains of cannabis to be brought back to his lab with the goal of making the best strains of tomorrow. Welcome, Arjan.
Arjan: Welcome. Thank you for the beautiful introduction.
Interviewer: For people that aren't familiar with you, can you give us just a little bit of background on who you are, and how you got into the cannabis business?
Arjan: Well, my name is Arjan Roskam. I'm the Founder and Owner of Green House and Strain Hunter Companies. I started growing in '85. I grew up in Africa.
Arjan: And when I was 17 I was traveling through Asia, and I met a very interesting character up in the north of Thailand who was curing heroin addicts with marijuana. And I was just a young guy passing by with my rucksack and I started talking to him. I stayed one day. I stayed three days, and I stayed seven days. When I left, I thought, "Mm, this guy's pretty crazy" but I got more and more interested in his work. And when he left, he gave me a bunch of seeds, and he said, "In the future these seeds will overthrow governments."
Arjan: And I thought, "You're really crazy, you know" because I'm 49 now. So this is 32 years ago.
Arjan: So, you know, 32 years ago was a different world, no?
Arjan: And I went back to Holland and didn't really know what to do. So I started working in the restaurant business. I was a chef for a while, and then I picked up those seeds and started growing. And the rest of the story is history.
Interviewer: Ah, and how many packets of seeds do you sell a year now?
Arjan: A lot.
Interviewer: [laughs] Okay. And you really have a large market share, particularly in Europe. I mean, do you have an idea of what percentage the market share of your seeds take?
Arjan: Yes, between 15 and 25%, depending on the country.
Interviewer: Okay. Well, how do you think you got so much of the market share?
Arjan: Well, look, when we started Green House Coffee shops in ... Basically I started my coffee shops in'92 because I started growing in '85, and '84 basically. And '85 we started selling marijuana, and at one point I was making ... Are you still there?
Interviewer: Yes, I'm still here.
Arjan: I thought you dropped away. I heard some sound. Me and my wife, I started growing other varieties then. I started breeding and working, and I made special sativa strains, and I was bringing them to the most famous coffeeshop at that time, like four of them. And I gave my new varieties, and they all said after two months, "You can come and pick it up because nobody's buying it."
Arjan: At that time the owners were friends of mine because I was selling them the regular skunk, and on the side I was selling them other stuff.
Arjan: But I underestimated the intelligence of the guy who was selling the marijuana. So I thought he would put more effort in it, but he was not really interested in my marijuana because he didn't like it. So I also did advocate it to the public. So after two, three months I took it back. I got my two kilos back from each shop. I gave them all one or two kilos. So my wife said, "If you really think that the product is so good, why don't you start your own club?"
So in '92 we started our own club. And the philosophy of our own club was to make something different, not the regular coffee shop at that time. It was looking like a Jamaican hangout, with a Jamaican flag on the wall and these kind of things.
Arjan: So we made a very artistic cafe where your mother and my mother would possibly go inside for a cup of coffee and would not notice there's a marijuana place. It was very artistic. We made all the shop ourselves, decorations, mosaics on the wall. We made our own lives because we were pretty crazy. My wife is an interior architect, so interior designer. So this is how our first club started.
And then, again, I had the same problem because indeed the Dutch really didn't like toe marijuana that I was making.
Arjan: And don't forget, 90% at that time was smoking hash until the mid-'90s.
Arjan: So '93 the Kennedy family passed by on high times at that time, and they said, "Listen, would you like to join a contest Thanksgiving. November." It was the first marijuana competition in the world. And that time, of course, yeah, marijuana competition was one of the most crazy things to do. Of course, it was really illegal.
Arjan: So CNN came, BBC, there were like 25 television stations because which idiot in the world was going to make a marijuana contest? The cops were going to raid it. You know, the whole story, noA?
Arjan: Well, to make a long story short, we completely forgot about the whole event because this was in April, and the event was in November. In November it was 3-400 really high Americans in front of my door. I had this little place in Toolstrat [SP] south of Amsterdam, a little neighborhood. And suddenly I was confronted with all these people there. They're lucky I didn't have good thoughts. I just thought smoking, all the Americans said to me, "Oh man, this is really great. This is really great. We've never smoked this."
So, okay, I thought, yeah, yeah, sure, you know. Yeah, you're happy now because you get something for free and blah, blah, blah, you know how it goes. But okay, five days later was the election. At that time in the Red Light there was a big hotel, and they got a club there. And then I won five of the six main prizes, main cups.
Interviewer: Oh wow.
Arjan: I was a 28-year-old boy, very young. And so full television was on, CNN and BBC from that day on, things went very, very fast. So that's a little bit of history how the Green House started and then, of course, people started asking for the seeds. So in '95 we established the seed company, and after we established three, four more clubs. Then the king of cannabis came, and the kind of cannabis was created.
Everybody thought, "Yeah, this is some marketing thing and blah, blah, blah" but I just had an idea at that time. I became A spokesman for the cannabis retailers association for 12 years, and we had a very bad vibe in that period from the public and from the press and all these kind of things.
And I wanted to look better. I already realized that at the time when I was really young, especially my father said to me, "Listen, boy, this whole story in 10 years is going to be finished because Sweden is complaining, France is complaining. Mr. Reagan is complaining. You guys are all going to get closed here. So if you want to be legal in the future, you're going to have other countries coming and support us."
So one of the ideas was, "Why don't we create a king of cannabis?" That was me. I made all the best varieties, and we started getting international famous people who smoked to Europe and to the club here and tell them our story. Tell them how good this product is. Go back to your country and help us out.
Arjan: Well, that happened with Woody Harrelson who became a very big advocate who was a great friend of mind, and all these kind of people and all the rappers came, and this is why I created the kind of cannabis. And then they went back to America, and this is where Steve DeAngelo who was from Harvard, for example, who's got now 125,000 members. It's the biggest club in the States. And he saw what I was doing in the club, and one moment, guys ( Arjan is talking dutch to some people in the background, because they are too noisy). So all of those guys went back to America and started their own clubs, and from there on we created the king of cannabis.
The king of cannabis, yeah, was a thing for the regulation, and then in 2006, 2005 I came up with the idea of strain hunters. So now it's time because America's getting open and more things are happening, strain is happening. I said, "What will be really good is to show the world what really is happening on cannabis?" And then I started Strain Hunters. What I always did was go to the jungle and find species, but they said, "Let's film it." And you probably saw some of those episodes.
Interviewer: I did, I did.
Arjan: Well, one of the ideas was to show that 200 million people around the equator really depended on marijuana and how important marijuana is and to more show people what's really, really going on about marijuana. Then, of course, National Geographic picked it up, and now Vice picked it up. And we're going to make a few more episodes for Vice.
Arjan: It was just all part of the regulation process to make people more aware of our industry and normalize the business.
Interviewer: Okay. For people that don't know what the term "land race" means, can you describe that because that's a big part of what you're doing with strain hunting?
Arjan: Well, yeah, the discussion about land race in science is a little bit diverse, but basically it's a species that grows for a certain time, They would say, this is the argue, like minimum 30-40 years in a certain area or preferable hundreds of years that is known to this local area.
Arjan: Again, there could be a Malawi, Golden Malawi or Durban Poison in Durban or whatever.
Interviewer: And it has some unique qualities that make it strong for growing in that environment so it's been able to thrive in that environment. So you want to take back that particular seed and do something with it since it's done so well in that particular environment. Is that the idea?
Arjan: Well, very partially. The idea is also that we could have different profiles in these plant profiles, cannabis profiles. It could have different tastes because of the terpene so you can use it for breeding purposes. It could have some medicinal values that we don't know now, that maybe in the future could be helpful to autistic, epileptic, or cancer treatments, or whatever. We don't really know.
It has all kinds of value. One of the other values is that in some areas it's getting really wiped out. So we have to protect it also for the future. So it has all kinds of reasons.
Interviewer: So other than ... A lot of people out there just think, "Hey, you're looking for the highest THC value possible, but there's a lot of other variables you're considering." I mean, CBDs, germinations, speed, how well it's resistant to diseases.
Interviewer: What other things do you look at when you're evaluating seeds where you say, "Hey, this is something I really I think is a desirable seed."
Arjan: Well, basically all the ones you just mentioned, but also, for example, mold resistant can be a very important factor.
Arjan: Sativas, some areas are really, really good sativas. Like in America, it's all kush. In Holland it's all Indica. In Spain, but you could mix those strains and create something really, really nice. So it has numerous interests.
Interviewer: Okay. And on the Vice episodes you were on recently, you were really excited to find the Punta Roja landrace strain.
Interviewer: Can you tell us a little bit about that strain and why you're so excited about it?
Arjan: Well, first of all, there are three races there. There's Lemon Verde and the Mango Veecha. Nobody really obtained a proper one. So it's an accomplishment to have those, especially Lemon Verde. We all know there's a big war going on there for the last 25 years.
Arjan: And basically we were the only people going in and out there without being kidnapped. So and it's a really, really good country for growing, and unfortunately a lot of cocaine took over there. And now we see marijuana coming back. One of the things we showed in that movie, "Colombia" where you see all the lights that it used to be all cocaine plantations, and now people are growing grass again, like in the '70s.
Interviewer: Well, good.
Arjan: What I see is very encouraging and very important for everybody. So this is one of the main reasons we went there is because we heard about a lot of growers are going back to pot again. And secondly, the varieties are really nice. They have some nice strains. They have some nice smoke. Basically marijuana, you can compare to wine. How many times do we drink the same bottle of wine? Rarely, huh? Every restaurant we go we get another bottle of wine.
Arjan: And this makes marijuana very interesting, and it's also very important for you as a smoker to smoke very diverse. If you smoke one variety all the time, at one point you have to smoke more and more of it which is not a good thing. And so personally I really advocate to smoke different varieties. So this is one of the main reasons I like to have a lot of varieties on my menu.
Interviewer: Oh good. And are you using any genetic modification techniques in your lab or is it just hybrids? How does that work?
Arjan: Oh nobody does. It's a big myth at the moment. Nobody is using genetic medication techniques in the marijuana world as far as I know. We just make hybrids and that's it, very simple.
Interviewer: Now I've heard the term "hybrid vigor" which means when you create a new hybrid, they kind of thrive in a way that's interesting. Do you witness that firsthand?
Arjan: Yes, of course, but that doesn't always work. Of course, you try to create a new hybrid with a new taste. You try to bring the best threads from both species together, and you hope that the bubble gum from one and the lemon from the other comes together, you know? But that doesn't always work, of course.
Arjan: This is the doctor who's working.
Arjan: It would be too easy now if everything goes like that.
Interviewer: Right. What is your most popular strain? I guess that probably changes over time, but what do you think the most popular strain is right now?
Arjan: Well, Past [SP] the world's most famous strain is Past due to the California ones. At the start of the business it was the Skunk.
Arjan: Later it became the White Widow, my most famous strain from the early '90s. Past was the Super Silver Haze in '98 until early 2000s. And now it's the Cheese and the Super Lemon Haze. Super Lemon Haze is probably the most famous strain ever. That one won three times the cannabis in high times. It was the most smoked, and if you go to all international seed banks every seed bank with this that's the number one seller. It's a very good sativa, a very good grower and, yeah, it's a fantastic plant and a great smoke. And that's probably your main one, to say.
Interviewer: Okay. Do you see any threats from the best seeds coming to market? Is there any entrenched market interests or big companies or governments getting in the way from the best seeds coming to market?
Arjan: Well, let's not hope. Let's not hope. I hope it will go in the same way that the wine industry went. Of course, there will be a few big players, but as in France, as in Australia, as in California, as in South America, in Chile, there's still a lot of very good little wine houses.
Arjan: You never can stop the capitalist industry. We all know this. We have to be honest about this, but I hope guys like me will not get crushed by big tobacco companies to take over our business. But who knows? This is the future. It's getting more legal, amigo. Let's hope that Hillary Clinton gets elected in 2016 and changes the Federal Laws. You see now very good movement in America with letters coming out from the White House from Eric Holder that it's ... back off of the dispensaries and let them do their work if they're legal.
Arjan: So you live in the center of the center. You know better than anybody else. It's going pretty good in Colorado. I understand that the first $40 million on tax has been spent on the schools.
Arjan: So a very, very, very intelligent move from the Colorado State, and I hope it goes like that in the future.
Interviewer: Yes, I'm very optimistic. It's been going really well here in Colorado.
Interviewer: Who do you feel like benefits from keeping cannabis illegal?
Arjan: Politicians are too stupid to organize anything or solve any problem if the economic crisis starts speaking about drugs because they can't speak about economics. Of course, a little bit of tobacco or a pharmaceutical or the alcohol industry. We can see that very, very clear in California where the alcohol industry is against us. I even heard that the owner of Starbucks is putting money in the lobby against us. So even the coffee industry is against us.
Interviewer: Oh no.
Interviewer: Now you've travelled all over the world looking for great strains. How have you seen different cultures, like you mentioned in Thailand? How have you seen them use cannabis as a medicine?
Arjan: Oh well, you can see that in a lot of my movies, especially they use it for all kinds of things. First of all, they don't have anything else there. I'm from Africa. You have to understand there. Very poor families have three fields. They have a mini field that's a cornfield basically. They have a vegetable field, and they have marijuana fields. They don't have money for fences so this is the reason the children don't go to school. The children have to guard the cattle. If the cattle goes into the vegetable field, they just die of hunger.
So the marijuana they make to sell. Now one of the things they use is if the kids are really sick, for example, and they have stomach problems or they have not enough food, it's sounds a little bit contradicting because in America you get the munches when you smoke really strong marijuana. But in Africa and other places they give the kids a little bit of seeds and a little bit of marijuana because the seeds have a very high nutritional value. We all know there is Omega 3, 6 and 9 im there in there.
Arjan: And there's a lot of seeds available in marijuana so they feed the kids seeds. We can see even the chickens are much more healthy in Africa. The eggs are much more bigger in Europe when they eat the marijuana seeds. It's a very scientific thing what you see. The meat is also much nicer of the chickens, but they use it in all kinds of ways. They make oils. They use it in all kinds of therapeutic ways, like in South America, for example. They use the cocoa leaves or they use the ayahuasca, all kinds of other herbs. In Africa they use it to treat themselves because they don't have money to obtain pharmaceuticals. And pharmaceuticals are in many ways, anyway, not the answer as we all know. We have too many people who are addicted to sleeping tablets, tranquilizers, and all kinds of other things. And they should indeed take some cannabis instead of all these bad things for you.
Interviewer: Now you recently interviewed Sir Richard Branson. I'm not sure when that was, but why do you feel his message is so important to get out?
Arjan: Well, it's the same as when I created the king of cannabis. I wanted to have all the famous actors and movie stars and singers to advocate our issue. You see my site, for example. Now Rihanna, you see these big people that are very important for young people telling, "Hey, listen, I smoke. I don't care. It's not dangerous."
Arjan: And you can think whatever you want to about this message, but for me this is a very good message. Now there's another very, very big league, the league of Paul Allen, the league of Sir Richard Branson and these kind of people. For me this is very important because these people are respected businessmen, and now they are standing up and advocating our case. And they are also financially contributing to my organization a lot. Sir Richard Branson donated 150,000 Euros last year for our Congress and a lot of mayors attended and a lot of people from America.
And these people have money. They can help us, and they are much more creditable than us. And they are now telling the world that this is a good product. And that's why it's very important that these people come in. Unfortunately, these people are only in America and in England and not yet in the mainland of Europe and in Holland, but this is the beginning. And he's also part of the Drug Commission of the United Nations where he's with Kofi Annan and Madeline Albright.
So these people are very, very important to us for the regulation process.
Interviewer: Great. Now you've been growing plants since the '80s. Aside from new strains, is there any technology in the cannabis business that really excites you?
Arjan: Yeah, well what excites me more is, of course, the whole regulation process in America what I think is great, but, of course, yeah, you have the whole new edible industry, of course. That's very important where people don't have to smoke anymore but can take a cookie or whatever which is a new interesting thing. But I'm a real, real original grower and breeder and that's what excites me the most.
Interviewer: Is there any tips or suggestions you would give to people in Colorado and Washington that they can take away from your experience in Amsterdam, you know, with legal cannabis there that they can make sure they do here to get off on the right foot?
Arjan: The most important thing is to buy Green House seeds.
Interviewer and Arjan: [laugh]
Arjan: That's a joke. Now listen, what I hope and what I hope will come to Spain one time. Yesterday we had Allison the woman who wrote the thing for Washington.
Arjan: The whole proposal. I hope we can make clubs like in Amsterdam, like in Spain where you would have food, where you would have drink and where you can smoke marijuana and obtain your marijuana. I think this is the future. And you also go to a restaurant to eat food. You don't only eat food in your house. You go to Starbucks to buy your coffee. You go to Apple phone to buy your phone, yeah?
Arjan: So also when you come together and you smoke marijuana, you talk about social problems, this is very important. Holland is a very international country.
Arjan: We're a very open country. We have legalized abortion, euthanasia, and gay marriage. We are famous for showing the world in which direction freedom should go. And I think it's very, very important to understand it. In a coffee shop in Holland there's a black guy. There's a white guy, and there's a Chinese guy at one table sharing a joint and talking about daily problems. And you don't see that much in other countries. Marijuana, it's nice people. And I think that is the strongest message that we give out with those coffee shops, and that's why I think it's so important to have the coffee shop system in America in the future.
Interviewer: Great point. It would be a lot of fun.
Arjan: It's nice for this interviewer.
Arjan: You probably have more questions.
Interviewer: Well, where are you up to next?
Arjan: I never mention my trips because of security reasons, I'm sorry.
Interviewer: That makes a lot of sense. I could see why after watching the Vice Colombia.
Arjan: You have to keep it a little under the radar. I hope you understand.
Interviewer: Sure. And for listeners that want to follow your work and learn more about your seeds and your coffee shop, how can they do that?
Arjan: Well, we have a very big, famous forum on the www.strainraces.com.
Arjan: That's one place to log in. We have GreenHouseSeeds.nl, and these are two main websites where everybody can find us and everybody comes together there. Another nice thing is to watch us grow, HD.TV where there is a lot of people putting their little things on. And, of course, Instagram is really, really important, strain on Instagram where they can follow our trips and see a lot of nice pictures. And, yeah, that's basically the way to follow us.
Interviewer: Great. Well, Arjan, thanks so much for the interview. I really appreciate it.