May 11, 2014 | WES ABNEY
Sjoerd Broeks has been everywhere. The Amsterdam native turned Californian travels the globe in search of the finest strains and genetics available in an epic, relentless, pursuit of the best. We met up with him as he visited Washington in May for a quick stop over.
What was the cultural attitude toward Cannabis growing up?
I was born in Holland, in the Netherlands, and back then everyone was smoking hash. My family was always involved in the industry, especially in the early 1970s. They used to grow the Dutch varieties, the Lemons and the Purples.
Did you want to work with Cannabis as you got older?
I never really had a choice. I was crawling around plants before I could walk. My stepdad had a half acre or so of flower, and I grew up around it. I never wanted to do anything else. When I was 14 [and living in England], I told my career officer that I wanted to move back to Holland and grow pot. He didn’t like that very much.
When did you first start growing?
I grew my first two plants in England, and got my first caution there. That’s their version of a ticket. I went and talked to the police chief and argued with him. I told him that they were all male plants, and that they were ornamental. Back then, if you were growing a couple plants on your balcony it was no big deal.
Did that experience make you want to grow more? What did you do next?
I moved back to Holland in 1997, and things were just getting started there. There were only a couple seed companies. I helped found the Cannabis College, and put the first plants in there, and helped set up the Flying Dutchman Seed Company. The Cannabis College was set up as an information center about industrial hemp and medical Cannabis to educate tourists and locals about the plant. Upstairs was mostly literature and pictures, but if you wanted to learn about growing, you could pay a donation and come down to the basement. I was the gardener from the start, starting with 150 plants to teach with. Over five or six years, the authorities whittled us down to five plants flowering. Today the college still exists, but it is owned by Sensi Seeds.
What was the Cannabis breeding scene in Holland like at that time?
What had happened in the 80s was that Americans had collected sativa strains from around the world and started making the first crosses in California and then shipping them out to Holland. By the 90s, we were taking these genetics and making our own crosses and versions. We were growing hectares at a time — 10,000 plants — and we would keep the 10 best females and the three best males and develop all the possible crosses. Those greenhouses are what produced a lot of the seeds available today. And, once we had chosen our selections, we would let others come pick from the remainder. A huge rush of breeding came out of that.
Did you stay in Holland?
In the early 2000s, we started to work in Switzerland. It opened up and started allowing people to grow in greenhouses down there. You could produce Cannabis, but you couldn’t sell it for smoking. But there were all kinds of loopholes, and of course as soon as the country opened, it was flooded with growers. I think every Dutch person who grew was there in Switzerland at the time.
What would you do with a harvest if you couldn’t smoke it?
The authorities would destroy the overage, but the purpose was breeding. It was worth it to grow all the plants to get the right genetics.
Genetics has been a major cause for you, and you’ve traveled all over the world searching for the best. What drove you to do that?
I want to be a custodian for this plant. I’ve seen what happens to other normalized plants that become commercialized crops. They lose genetic variety, and many have been almost destroyed before people start protecting and growing heirloom varieties. So I traveled around the world from 2001 to 2006, visiting roughly 20 different countries in search of rare genetics to try and preempt the destruction of the gene pool so that in 20 or 30 years we aren’t left with five or six strains in the entire world.
By 2009, you ended up in California, where you have been ever since. How has that state changed?
When I arrived to help with my mother-in-law’s Cannabis farm, the state was a mess. Everyone was trying to figure out what to do, and the value of flower was very high [over $3,000 a pound] so people weren’t running projects efficiently. I told the people I worked with that it was going to be priced around $1,000 a pound in the near future and they thought I was mad. But my goal was always to be as efficient as possible, and now I work as a consultant for people doing exactly that.
What is your company called, and where are you currently operating?
My partners, Jan Carlos Byl and Adam Dunn, and I founded it about nine months ago to provide consulting services to emerging medical and recreational states. Right now we are in California, Massachusetts, Illinois, Nevada, Arizona, Washington, Colorado and Canada.
What do you see as the future for MedCanna?
Sjoerd: I can see us running an ethically based business helping states get good programs running. Every state has different standards, so for me I want to try and put in standards for all aspects of the industry. Our company is specifically working toward standardizing issues like plant count, integrated pest management, microbial counts/limits, employee rights, extraction methods/solvents, overage guidelines, qualifying conditions, interstate transport and more. I believe that to see this [MMJ] go well nationally and internationally, we need to have places with good systems, and we want to help develop those.
Sjoerd Broeks, MedCanna Consultant