HIGH TIMES Speaks with The “King of Cannabis”
By Dan Skye & Nico Escondido
Over the years, the Green House name has slowly become a symbol, even an icon in the cannabis world. To some, it’s a sign of how far we’ve come as an industry and a movement. After all, the Green House name covers a chain of coffeeshops, a clothing line, a seed company, a film production house and more. But to others, the Green House – as well as its founder and owner, Arjan, the self-proclaimed “King of Cannabis” – can be controversial at times. For better or worse, the Green House company holds an almost monopolistic grip on the cannabis industry – and to some folks, that puts a hurt on their business. But to the average Joe, this empire can do a lot of good, and that means tons to those who have been repressed by marijuana prohibition.
At some point, you have to give credit where credit is due: Arjan is a man with no fear, a man who forges ahead and – despite the for-profit nature of his various enterprises – actually believes in the same cause we all do. HIGH TIMES recently sat down with the man behind the cannabusiness for a candid Q&A, and we also got the scoop on his latest contribution to the world of weed – his innovative, high-tech, quarter-million-dollar seed-selecting machine.
Tell us how you got started in the cannabis industry.
I went to India when I was very young – only 16 or 17 – and stayed in the mountains for a week, hanging out and smoking. I encountered an old, old man who talked about cannabis – that it can overthrow governments. At first, I thought he was crazy. He told me all kinds of things about this plant – that it didn’t hate me. He was very special. I didn’t know how special he was until much later, of course.
I went back to Holland and didn’t think much about it. Then, in 1985, we started to grow. At that time in Holland, pot was not very big – in coffeeshops, it was 95 percent hashish being smoked and about 5 percent cannabis. It all came from Nigeria or Jamaica.
I was interested in growing indoors, and I did it successfully – all of the shops were buying my weed. But I was interested in different varieties. I grew up in Africa and Asia and saw a lot of different cultures. I have background as a chef, so I know tastes. I was more interested in very special highs and nicer tastes than just the Skunk that I was growing.
I had a big discussion with my wife. I thought we should divert from the mainstream and make a niche market. I was growing a kind of sativa at that time. I was very pleased with it – I thought it was the best in the world, like every grower does. I went to the coffeeshops and dropped off a few kilos and said, “Please try it. It’s less yield per square meter, it’s a longer flowering time, so it costs a little bit more. But at least try it – you don’t have to pay, you get it for free.”
What strain was that?
We don’t know. It was probably a variety that came from South India, but we’re not really sure because we don’t even have the plants anymore. We were just working our way. At that time, there were no books; we were just trying to do something indoors. After two or three months, I went back to the coffeeshops, and they returned everything – they said it smelled like cat piss. There was no market for it, and there was already no market for weed.
Then I thought, “If you believe so much in this product, why not start your own shop?” We opened in 1992. The first two years, we had no people, nobody passing by, in the middle of nowhere – we only had pot, and we were going broke.
So how did you turn things around?
In ’93, I was asked if I wanted to participate in the Cannabis Cup. I’d never heard of HIGH TIMES – we forgot all about it until November. Suddenly, we had a few hundred Americans in front of our nose, and the rest is history. We won most of the Cups, and the tourists started coming.
We started developing our own brand. The first thing we did was invite the mayor and the police. Of course, both didn’t show up. But we made ourselves different – an artist café. We made everything ourselves: mosaics and water tubes on the ceiling with lamps coming down. It was very groovy. People appreciated the experience. It encouraged a lot of coffeeshop owners to change to my way. Many went a little bit into the Indian spiritual look and theme. It was good for the industry, because a lot of bad-looking shops closed.
What’s made you successful?
You think and you create. We are a very creative company. All of the people in our company like to create things. We have attracted people to our shops. We opened a few more shops and started a seed company because there was high demand for seeds. We are by far the biggest seed company in the world. Last year, we sold more than 450,000 packs. That’s more than the next three seed companies combined worldwide. We have 3,000 outlets now.
How did the Strain Hunters documentary series develop?
For a long time, I had the idea of going to the jungle to show what we do. We never did because it was all very dangerous. But the climate is changing, especially in America in the last few years. It’s getting more legal – not only in America, but in Spain, Italy, Portugal, Belgium – so we decided maybe it’s time to show the world what we really do.
So we created our DVD series Strain Hunters. It’s been very good to go mainstream. We’re like National Geographic. We’ve created a platform for the industry to be accepted. People see that we are a normal, legitimate business. Now, in airports, people approach me and shake hands – normal people, with nothing to do with our industry, who say it was a really good documentary and it changed their mind about cannabis.
We show the people of the world. So many Indian people at the Cup tell me they are proud that I showed India in that way. And we just released Morocco Strain Hunters. Nobody ever has shot Morocco in the way we did – it’s forbidden by the king. And we got permission. We filmed everything.
How are you perceived in Holland?
I think everybody recognizes that I’m the frontrunner for the coffee shops. I’m the spokesman for the Cannabis Retailers Association for more than 10 years. It’s good to have a few people that set out the direction where we should go: don’t go too crazy, talk to the government, get everybody together to fight new laws that are not good for us.
People have sniped at you for spending thousands of dollars on marketing. Has it been worth it?
You always have jealous people, but that you have in every industry. It’s a game, you know? I remember at the ’94 Cup, we pulled up with two buses in front of the door with Green House signs. Everybody was mad. I said, “Guys, these people are spending a few thousand dollars coming from the other side of the ocean. Let’s treat them well. They’ll go back to America with a good message and send all their friends when they have a good time. So why not put those buses in front of the door?”
A year later, everybody had buses. A lot of coffeeshops still don’t get it. Our marketing is guerrilla marketing. We rule the Internet. We are official partners with YouTube. We have a contract with them – we’re getting paid. We are one of the few in the world.
Basically, I think all things in this industry should be a little bit more professional.
What is the Green House message?
We’re a clean coffeeshop with clean people, with good customers, with a good story. We want to be open, be transparent, show the world what we are doing. Nothing is secret. We make sure everybody sees us, and we make sure to have a platform to explain the Green House.
What holds up progress in the industry?
Real politicians won’t stand up and say, “Okay, now we’re going to decriminalize or tolerate or legalize.” This is not yet happening like in the States. Not very many people smoke in Holland, so the politicians are not going to burn their hands on us and go screaming to the media: “Oh, let’s legalize the coffeeshops!” If the churches are against him, he’s not going to get re-elected.
I tell politicians there is 10 times less hard-drugs abuse here than in the countries around us. We have much fewer problems with AIDS and other diseases related to drug use. These are figures that they can’t get around. If you want to be religious, it’s your choice – if you want to believe in a guy that walked on the world 2,000 years ago, it’s your choice. But I don’t think someone who doesn’t harm anybody should be harmed.
This is the freedom of our rights. As a Christian, shouldn’t you be in favor of marijuana because it helps people? We should be rational, not irrational.
Do you think there’s a connection between pot and spirituality?
It’s a very important aspect for some people, but not for everyone. Maybe what we should talk about is the fact that 80 percent of the world’s diseases – cancer or whatever – comes from a wrong way of living. Stress, eating raw meat – whatever.
It’s a very important message. Spirituality for many people is something far away; they are scared of it and are embarrassed by it. If people would smoke marijuana to relax and think spiritually, that’s good. Calm down – watch a movie with your family, take time with your kids and chill. I think we will have a lot less cancer in this world if people can get with that true spirit.
The Green House Seed Selector debuted at the 2011 Spannabis Expo in Barcelona earlier this year, and HIGH TIMES couldn’t resist an exclusive sneak peak at just what this monster machine does and how it does it. In a nut (or seed) shell, the Seed Selector is a viability test for seed germination.
German engineers built the machine, which took more than three years of research and development to finally bring to fruition. The machine itself weighs over 60 pounds and must be moved in a flight case due to the sensitive nature of its instruments. With a specially designed software program, the Seed Selector is able to sort through tens of thousands of seeds and determine which ones will germinate and which will not.
Until now, the selection of seeds could be done in a variety of ways, but it always involved a labor-intensive use of manpower. The task of selecting viable seeds is not only extremely tedious but also very delicate; only certain well-trained and very experienced people have acquired the sensitivity and eye for detail necessary to do the job by hand. The Seed Selector, however, can sort as many (if not more) seeds in a day – and with much higher accuracy and precision.
The Green House Seed Company now uses the machine to select its seeds before they are packaged, to guarantee customers that its product is of the highest quality the industry can offer. “We are already working at making this prototype into a real product – one that one day will be the standard of the industry to certify viable, healthy cannabis seeds,” says Franco Loja, manager of the Green House Seed Company. “We have been devoting a significant part of our profits to research and development, to the benefit of our customers as well as the cannabis industry as a whole. It is a standardized, scientific and efficient way of selecting cannabis seeds. This new tool to select cannabis seeds will change forever the way we work.”
The Seed Selector is fully automated and designed to select seeds based on several parameters. The machine is fed seeds and, through the use of a percussion meter and high-resolution camera, divides its output into five containers. The seeds are placed in these containers based on their size, weight and appearance (colors, striping, etc).
Among the five containers, one is used to collect immature seeds (on average, a batch of unprocessed seeds will contain from 10 to 20 percent white, immature or underdeveloped seeds). Another container collects seeds that need to be reprocessed (meaning the machine was unsure of their quality). The remaining three containers collect the good seeds, divided into three distinct batches based on aspect, size and pattern.
The machine’s first step is to drop each seed on a percussion sensor that determines its weight and density. Then a high-definition camera measures the area and volume of the seed and takes several pictures to identify the color and pattern on the seed shell.
The moisture content is calculated with algorithms from the size, weight, volume and density of each individual seed. The germination factor is guaranteed by measuring the chlorophyll content present between the seed embryo and shell. A specially designed algorithm then decides if the seed contains enough water and chlorophyll to be able to germinate.
The Seed Selector combines mechanical and electronic elements and is controlled by a unique combination of a digital processor and a control-and-measurement unit specially developed for this machine. The software and algorithms are unique and have never been utilized before.
The selection process takes between two and three seconds per seed, allowing the selection of from one to two pounds of seeds every 24 hours. The parameters for selection (color, shape, size and density) are set by the operator for every batch and will usually vary from strain to strain. The operator (such as a seed breeder) knows which characteristics are most desirable in the seeds of a particular strain when it comes to germination, and so the machine’s programming is customizable for this reason.
As mentioned earlier, you have to give credit where credit is due: This innovation is the first step in yet another exciting new industry progression, and it has come courtesy of Arjan and the Green House.