The self-proclaimed Cannabis King, Arjan Roskam, does not escape controversy, he likes to be the center of attention. But in addition, with its revolution in the market of feminized seeds he has managed to make Greenhouse Seeds the world's best selling seed bank. Diary of a Strain Hunter: The Life & Times of Arjan Roskam.
It’s early afternoon on May 20 th , 2019 and on the other end of the phone is Arjan Roskam, best known for his lead role on the television series “Strain Hunters,” although his relationship with cannabis dates back to the ‘80s. In 2005, Roskam approached his team of global strain hunters with the idea of taping the team’s strain hunting expeditions. “I went into my office in 2005 and said, ‘Guys, you know what? We’re going to film [our excursions].’ My partners Olaf and Heiko go, ‘Arjan, you’re crazy. I only have one goal: activism and legalizing marijuana. It is more important than my family, as crazy as it sounds.” On January 2 nd , 2017 Roskam lost his right-hand man, Franco Loja, when he contracted “a very aggressive form of brain malaria in [the] Congo … we came back, and he died in the hospital here in Barcelona,” Roskam shares. When asked what he has lost in Franco’s passing Roskam observes, “Nobody ever left our team of people. The most important thing that I lost was a great friend.” Loja, like Roskam, was willing to jeopardize his life if it meant more access to the benefit of medical and recreational cannabis. “Him and me,” Roskam asserts, “we had the same philosophy, shy of whatever happens, we’re going to [strain hunt].” From hunting with the Taliban in Afghanistan and the FARC in Colombia to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean all the way to Malawi in southeastern Africa, Loja and Roskam risked their lives many times. “Our [strain hunting] team has nearly been killed in Malawi by drunken soldiers, we lost a cameraman in South Africa, who we found a day later in the bush.
We had a huge issue in the Congo, in the north, with a general who didn’t like us and one of us was taking a shower in the river, naked, which was basically the death penalty there. In northern India, we became so sick [from] food poisoning that we all nearly died,” Roskam details. So, how did Roskam get his start in the cannabis business? Thailand 1982 – Painting a Picture of a Medicine Man. I had stumbled upon an early interview with Roskam in which he mentions receiving a gift of cannabis seeds from a medicine man in Thailand in his teens while on holiday. How did this seemingly serendipitous encounter launch Roskam’s lifelong romance with the plant? I think I was 17 [traveling] with my rucksack to north Thailand. You have to remember I grew up in Africa and Asia so I was kind of familiar with the area, and I went on holiday up in the north to see Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai,” Roskam reflects. At the time, in the early ‘80s in Thailand, many people were suffering from opiate addiction. “[The medicine man] was curing them of their addictions, treating them with marijuana at the time, and I was just a very occasional, recreational smoker but nothing special. I was just looking for a sleeping place actually, because I was going through the mountains and [the medicine man] offered me a sleeping place.” It wasn’t until the early morning that Roskam would realize how devastated the village had become as a result of opium. “I didn’t have a clue where I was until the next morning when I woke up … I see some people vomiting, and I see all kinds of pretty weird stuff around me, which was strange.” “At that time, the [medicine man] was already 78 years old … he was not a young guy anymore. I asked, ‘What are you doing here?’ He responded, ‘We’re treating people here with drug addiction.’” Roskam had only planned on staying one or two nights, but his visit turned into a week-long stay. The medicine man mentions to Roskam that the cannabis is being used in lieu of quitting opium cold turkey. “He gave me a handful of seeds and said, ‘This is a very powerful medicine, it’s very good, it’s used in all ancient medicine in Asia.’ He said, ‘Keep those seeds. They will be able to overthrow governments.’” Roskam took the seeds and although to this day he is unsure where they ended up — he misplaced them during his travels, but he returned to Europe with a new sense of purpose and started growing. “I basically started working with marijuana because of that man,” Roskam asserts. As a young teen intending to become a world-renowned chef, Roskam worked in the service and hospitality sector. “My dream was to become a Michelin star chef,” Roskam laughs. After some serious reflection on his initial life goals, Roskam started growing. “At the time there was nothing happening in Holland; actually, there was no marijuana industry, there were no marijuana coffee shops in Amsterdam.” He notes that at the time the only person who had brought the first skunk seeds from America was Old Ed, a legendary pioneer of the Dutch marijuana scene. “I got ahold of [Old Ed’s] skunk seeds and started growing skunk,” Roskam notes. With his seeds in tow, Roskam started building relationships with some of the early coffee shops. Through the ‘80s he often traveled to Thailand, Nepal and Southeast Asia, bringing seeds back to Holland, and began to breed sativas and cross strains. “You have to remember at that time there was only skunk and orange bud, which were kind of the same thing,” Roskam shares. Between ’87 and ’89, Roskam built his repertoire with Amsterdam coffee shop owners leading to his attempts to sell his cannabis. He desired to do something different and put his skunk days behind him. He would drop off samples, return for feedback, and learn quickly that they hated it.
They called it ‘cat piss’ (the sativas and the kush). You have to remember [that] Holland comes from a hash culture, so 90 percent of what Holland had was hash from Morocco and a little bit from Afghanistan, some Nigerian schwag, some Jamaican.” Eventually, the coffee shop owners came around, but the problem remained in the “budtender” recommendations. “Back then, the budtenders as you would call them today, they didn’t give a shit about weed, they didn’t think [my stuff] was good, so they wouldn’t promote the product to their customers, which was a bummer of course,” Roskam chuckles. This continued on until 1990 or so when Roskam’s wife said to him, “If you really think this is so good, why don’t we open our own club?” Thus began Roskam’s dive into the Holland coffee shop scene. Roskam was no stranger to solitude, having spent the ages of seven onward in boarding schools.
His wife and he sensed a similar loneliness in the early ‘90s as they attempted to launch The Green House coffee shop on the Tolstraat (a street) in Amsterdam. At one point we were so poor we were kind of living on the street,” Roskam opens up. “We were kind of just cruising around in the center of Amsterdam, and I had one good friend whose sister had four bars, her name was Marsha. She had famous bars where all the theatre people from Amsterdam would come, the left wing [people], the gay community, artistic people, the painters.” Roskam’s connection to Martha was the catalyst for the opening of The Green House coffee shop. “My good friend [Marsha’s brother] we grew up together from the age of 12.