Master cannabis breeder Franco Loja, 42, half of the team behind the popular Strain Hunters series, has died while filming an episode in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The cause of death is still unknown, but there are unconfirmed reports that Loja succumbed to an aggressive case of malaria.
Early in the afternoon on Monday, January 2, rumblings began on social media that Franco had passed while shooting Strain Hunters with VICELAND in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Two days prior to his passing, he posted a video of his African travel companions working to free a bus that was trapped in the mud outside the DRC capital of Kinshasa.
His passing was later confirmed on the Strain Hunters web page.
Word was the Strain Hunters went to the Congo in hopes of expanding the knowledge base around using cannabidiol to treat malaria and to continue their hunt for genetics. While no official cause of death has been released, various posts across the web have pointed to cerebral malaria being the culprit.
The highest concentration of malaria is in Asia, with the Indian Academy of Neurology reporting the mortality rate at 20%–50%. The average incubation period is 12 days, but it may be as short as 6–12 hours in children and non-immune people, which would offer one explanation for the rapid onset that saw Lojas posting on social media just days prior to his death.
The root of Franco Loja and his iconic career
After brief stints in the hospitality industry and translating instruction manuals for the role-playing game Warhammer, Franco ran into Arjan Roskam of Greenhouse Seeds in Amsterdam, the other half of what became the Strain Hunters.
For the next 17 years, together, the two would search the world for the finest landrace genetics possible.
In Franco’s own words from 2014:
“Landraces are the most natural form of cannabis existing on the planet because they have been constantly adapting and evolving, improving their harmony with the environment they live in. They are the basis of breeding, and the most ancient pure cannabis races existing on the planet.
Landraces have been obeying a basic rule of nature inside their own environment: survival of the fittest… It is our duty to preserve cannabis landraces for the future of scientific and medical research, and for the basic human right to use a plant that has been used for millennia. Landraces could hide cannabis profiles that one day may be used to create new medicines, and these medicines could improve or even save lives.”
This dedication lead Franco to become a part of the most heavily awarded breeding projects of all time. Franco regularly graced European stages long before the American cup scene kicked up a notch in 2010, and even then strains he’d put in major effort on (like Super Lemon Haze) were taking these the new cups home.
Danny Danko, Senior Cultivation Editor at High Times Magazine, remembers Loja as a kind, helpful part of the cannabis community.
“Franco was one of the most welcoming and kind individuals I’ve ever encountered,” he said. “From the first time I met him in Amsterdam many years ago at the Cannabis Cup, to the last time I saw him, many Cannabis Cups later in Jamaica, he was always the same amazingly upbeat and giving person.”
Danko added that Franco was enthusiastic for cannabis in a way that made you want to smile proudly.
“His proud smile is in every photo I see of him,” he said. “My condolences go out to his family, the Green House Coffeeshop & Seed Company family and the Strain Hunters franchise. I cherish the time I got to spend with him, smoking huge joints and celebrating cannabis freedoms.”
No death has sent the cannabis industry reeling like this since that of pioneering author/activist Jack Herer in 2010. Every level of the profession — from budtender to CEOs — have spent the day remembering Franco’s massive legacy on social media.
That includes Etienne Fontan, co-owner of Berkeley Patients Group and National Cannabis Industry Association Board Member.
“He was a pioneers’ pioneer, a humble man who stood on the shoulders of cannabis giants and in turn became one justifiably in his own right and way. He truly broke the mold and shattered it for all to benefit from,” Fontan said. “He was charming, funny, always had a great story to laugh over and share his joints over and was a motorcycle junkie to the end.”
Danko said that Loja now joins the pantheon of immortal cannabis legends.
”He joins Jack, Old Ed, Eagle Bill, Brownie Mary, Dr. Mikuriya and so many countless others in the pantheon of marijuana legends we’ve lost to eternity,” he said. “Our fight to free the flower and the green prisoners continues in their honor!”
TELL US, what do you remember about Franco Loja?