In 1997, a man named Henk van Dalen found “the Holy Grail.” Starting in the 1970s, he’d grown his own cannabis, opened an Amsterdam coffeeshop and founded one of the world’s first cannabis seed banks, but he knew he was also capable of achieving a long-anticipated goal for cannabis breeding: discovering how to create feminized seeds.
When van Dalen bred those first feminized seeds in 1997, he solidified his seed bank, Dutch Passion, as a pioneer in the international cannabis industry. Today, it’s been more than two decades since the invention of feminized seeds and the cannabis industry has new holy grails to chase — but van Dalen and Dutch Passion are still here chasing.
I met Dutch Passion’s head of genetics and new territories, Mahmoud Hanachi, at the legendary cannabis author Ed Rosenthal’s home garden on a brisk Bay Area winter morning. Hanachi was visiting California from Amsterdam and looking to meet new potential business partners. In a crisp white button-up, faded jeans and white sneakers, Hanachi appeared the quintessential new school European cannabis businessman, and his sensibility matched. He’d woken up early, taken advantage of the time difference to get some work done and called his wife and children back home.
When we talked in Rosenthal’s garden, over a cup of tea and a smoke, Hanachi spoke about the cannabis industry with a clear-eyed candor. He joked about the ridiculous nature of cannabis laws around the globe (for example, in Austria, it is legal to grow cannabis as an ornamental plant, but not to harvest and sell the flower you’ve grown), but noted that the rest of the world is increasingly challenging America’s prohibition hegemony.
“The future is definitely going toward worldwide legalization,” Hanachi said. “Some places will move faster than others, but it’s just a matter of time.”
Then, as squirrels played in a nearby tree, Hanachi gave a glimpse into what Dutch Passion’s new holy grail might be: a truly global, recognizable cannabis flower brand, sold legally around the world.
Canada & Beyond
When it comes to the legal global cannabis market, all roads pretty much pass through Canada. For the past three years, Dutch Passion has been working on entering the Canadian market, and by 2018, they legally exported their seeds to many of Canada’s Licensed Producers. Hanachi says Dutch Passion is one of the only commercial cannabis seed companies that has been able to navigate the complex government regulations in Holland to get the necessary phytosanitary certificates to legally export their seeds.
But, perhaps most interestingly, Dutch Passion is now moving beyond simply selling seeds. The company now also has branded pre-rolls and cannabis flowers for sale through one Canadian producer, Weed Me — and those products are sold in the same packaging as the Dutch Passion pre-rolls and flower they now have for sale in Italy, where cannabis with less than 0.6 percent THC is legal for sale.
“We’re using the same packaging in Italy as Canada, because we want to have uniformity across the world,” Hanachi said. “In the future, if the U.S. opens up, we’d want to use the same packaging here.”
However, he added that Dutch Passion doesn’t have much interest in the U.S. hemp market, where — unless the FDA releases regulations limiting the sale of hemp flower with less than 0.3 percent THC — it is likely that a new legal market will develop rapidly this year.
“For us, [hemp] wouldn’t be that interesting,” Hanachi said. “We are recreational breeders and we have always bred recreational strains.”
Dutch Passion is certainly not the only cannabis company to be eyeing global expansion, with Canadian firms acquiring the top brass in pro-cannabis U.S. states almost every day and a handful of cultivating companies expanding to newly legal countries like Colombia, Lesotho and Macedonia. But given their unique position as a legal seed bank that can move their genetics across international borders, as well as their OG legacy in the industry, Dutch Passion could be the first to set up a recognizable and legal cannabis product line that — like so many other products in our increasingly globalized world — is exactly the same on one side of the planet as the other.
When it comes to the actual flower being sold, the Amsterdam-based seed company is still focused on developing new seed lines. In January, they released four new strains, all of them featuring genetics garnering hype on the American side of the Atlantic.
There’s Meringue, a sweet cross between Wedding Cake and Animal Cookies. There’s Mokum’s Tulip, a frosty Gelato and Sherbet cross, and an autoflowering version of their award-winning Lemon Zkittlez. And finally, there’s HiFi 4G, an interesting cross between a North American cut of WiFi OG and Dutch Passion’s best European-style OG, Glueberry OG.
“Smoking HiFi 4G makes the experience of listening to music a different kind of thing,” Hanachi says, lifting his hands up over his torso. “You feel your body uptake the music.”
Hanachi says that they intentionally bred a top American OG with a top European OG in order to bring together two different terpene profiles and create a new flavor palate.
Dutch Passion’s seed relationship with Weed Me currently only flows in one direction, with Dutch Passion sending seeds to Canada. But soon, Hanachi says that they’re going to have a partnership in Canada where they can grow out their own strains and phenohunt on a large scale.
“Right now, we are working in our political climate in Holland, which is still underground, more or less,” Hanachi says, referencing Holland’s “backdoor problem,” whereby it is legal to have cannabis seeds and sell cannabis in coffeeshops, but not legal to grow on a large scale. “With the partnership we are building in Canada, we can work at a faster pace and breed for different cannabinoid levels. There are some interesting times still ahead of us.”
Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.