Nevil Schoenmakers, one of the most famous cannabis collectors and breeders in history, renowned for starting the first cannabis seed bank, died on March 30, according to numerous reports from friends, fellow cultivators and a notice in a Western Australia newspaper from his family.
Schoenmakers’ friends commented online that the breeder had been battling Hepatitis C and its complications for years.
“You fought bravely but lost the battle,” his family wrote in the West Australian. “Know that your dream will live on Nevil and the world will be a better place because of it.”
In today’s cutting-edge world of cannabis policy, much of the history of the old-school cannabis industry has been lost, as a revolving door of capital continues to welcome the waves of new faces not thinking about prison time or compassionate cultivation. But to any old school cannabis entrepreneur who ever worried about handcuffs, Schoenmakers is an absolute legend whose amazing work can be found all over the planet to this day.
The Sun Won’t Set on His Strain Creations
Before becoming a breeding icon, Schoenmakers moved from his native Australia to Holland in 1976. Two years later, he began his cannabis growing adventure. In the early 1980s, Schoenmakers started the Holland Seed Bank with the help of a loan from the Dutch government. He moved into an old mansion the eastern part of the Netherlands and cultivated there. In time, thanks to a 1987 feature in High Times, the mansion became dubbed the “Cannabis Castle.”
“Nevil started the Holland Seed Company and started getting varieties from legendary people,” longtime medical marijuana cultivator, advocate and patient Todd McCormick told Cannabis Now in a phone interview. “Things like California Orange, Afghan, Skunk #1, Northern Lights, Haze…”
McCormick says a lot of the strains Schoenmakers became famous for were bred by other people. The Skunk #1, Cali-O and Haze came from Sam the Skunkman, while the original Afghan strains were probably from Mel Frank. “You can also look at things like Northern Lights — that came from a grower out of Seattle. He took these things and mixed them together, then things like Northern Lights x Haze #5 became legendary,” he said.
Varieties we smoke today like Jack Herer and Super Silver Haze have a lineage that’s a result of Schoenmakers mixing together and sharing it with the world, McCormick said.
“A majority of the genetics we are smoking today can be traced back to at least going through his garden,” says McCormick. He also says, while Schoenmakers didn’t breed certain phenos he worked with, “Picasso didn’t invent yellow, blue and red. But his combination of yellow, blue and red is greatly appreciated through his art, and that’s the same with Nevil.”
McCormick says Schoenmakers took those colors of cannabis and made them his own by mixing them together into ways that came out way better than they ever were from the start. Schoenmakers was a true breeder. In addition to his work with cannabis, he also bred koi fish and race horses. McCormick believes that spirit was seen in his work across all mediums.
“He wasn’t just throwing pollen at plants. He was selectively breeding, testing, and he was taking those results and multiplying them for everyone else to great effect,” said McCormick.
A Run-In With the DEA
After working for years on developing strains, Schoenmakers’ Seed Bank became the target of a ’90s DEA anti-cannabis project known as Operation Green Merchant. Many of the people who purchased seeds from Schoenmakers got caught up in the sweep. In total, the DEA arrested 119 people in 46 states during raids against retail stores specializing in horticultural equipment used to grow marijuana and cultivators who had purchased seeds.
One of the people Schoenmakers had used to distribute his seeds in the U.S. kept the addresses of all the people he’d shipped seeds to on behalf of Schoenmakers. When the feds came knocking for him, he produced the lists to save himself.
In July 1990, Schoenmakers was visiting his family in Perth, Australia when he was arrested by Australian officials at the behest of the U.S. government, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. After spending 11 months in jail, he was granted bail and fled the country. He sold everything and went underground back in Holland — not knowing if the Dutch government would extradite him.
“In time, it turned out the Dutch government would not extradite him because what the DEA was charging him with was not a crime in the Netherlands,” McCormick said.
All of Schoenmakers’ work was sold to what became Sensi Seeds.
The Legacy Lives On
Not long after word got out of Schoenmakers’ passing, Northern California breeder Shiloh Massive of Massive Creations posted a photo of the two of them in a greenhouse. Massive said that Schoenmakers had been an idol of his since he first read about his work in 1988. “I was like, I want to be this dude. Later in the late 1990s, early 2000s, when I moved to Amsterdam and starting the seed company, I had a friend who knew Nevil,” he told Cannabis Now.
Schoenmakers had already left his famed castle for the countryside and wasn’t taking many guests. Massive was able to get the invite, and as he looked at koi fish with Schoenmakers, he says they talked about the legend’s general ethos in breeding.
“The whole conversation was about breeding and breaking different things down. He told me his next step was he was going to take on the sultans and the princes and show them someone financially handicapped like himself could breed the greatest horses in the world,” Massive said.
Massive says it wasn’t that Schoenmakers was intense, he was just razor-focused on everything he was doing, not just cannabis. At the end of the day, he opened up to Massive about his remaining seedstock.
“I was lucky enough to get some of those seeds. I got an A5, some Nevil crosses, and I think there was a [Skunkman] Sam indica in there,” Massive said. Those genetics are now in his current projects, living on and growing into new and beautiful cannabis strains.
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