Shock & Sadness: the Cannabis World Mourns Franco Loja

Franco Loja Strainhunters Cannabis Now

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.


The cannabis community just celebrated 2016 — one of the biggest years in the history of the plant — but now it starts 2017 reeling over the shocking and sudden loss of famed Strain Hunter and master breeder Franco Loja.

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 had 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 roots of an 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,” said Franco, “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 whom 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?

Jimi Devine has been involved in the cannabis movement since 2005, and joined the industry full time in 2009 after moving to the Bay Area from Boston. He currently works with Smell the Truth on SFGate,The Hash Podcast, and was involved in the organization of New West Summit in San Francisco last Fall. His writings on cannabis products and policy have been seen in The Boston Globe, SFGate, The Hill, The Chronicle of Higher Education, StopTheDrugWar.org, and HailMaryJane.com.

18 Comments

  1. Kenyan2DCore

    June 19, 2017 at 5:57 am

    Malaria fought back
    A typical case of a westerner coming to Africa to rape our land and its endowments for personal profit. Malaria made sure that he will not be around to enjoy what the west has continued to do to many African nations especially the DRC
    Rot In Hell.

  2. Dire Straitz

    April 28, 2017 at 12:54 am

    America’s ignorant, hateful war on drugs is one of the most embarrassing and pathetic aspects of our culture. The sooner it ends – the better.

  3. anonym

    April 8, 2017 at 12:27 am

    лютый вася был … RIP

  4. Ryan

    April 5, 2017 at 8:00 pm

    Franco was someone many of us did not know personally, but represented the tolerance, passion, and love that marijuana brings… most importantly, he represents sharing that experience with those we care about…and he did it all over the globe.

    Respect, Franco Loja, and good night.

  5. CHristian

    March 13, 2017 at 11:25 am

    R.I.P This is really sad…

  6. 420k

    January 24, 2017 at 6:23 am

    He’s smoking with Jesus now

    • Dire Straitz

      April 28, 2017 at 12:48 am

      Really?

  7. Dave W.

    January 7, 2017 at 9:34 pm

    Franco was always fun and entertaining in the Greenhouse videos. He was a walking encyclopedia of valuable cannabis horticultural expertise. I will watch his videos with a thankfulness renewed. May he enjoy peace and happiness in the afterlife.

    • Herbavgenger

      January 19, 2017 at 9:49 pm

      He put his life on the line every day. As they would say in the West end of jamaica. Maximum respect ,you don’t know. The man did more for the movement than all the rest put together!! He is in the highest region of heaven that being the Celestial Kingdom ya know .He was ghee HERBALIST HIGH GRADE SPECIALIST of the World ya know. LANDRACE COLLECTING WAS HIS MISSION…….. fe real . All strainhuntstrainhunters Big up yourselves ….ONE LOVE FRANCO

    • Henchy

      January 23, 2017 at 12:34 pm

      My man my man my man. The signature is here. Punto roja in the house. Fackk

  8. MedWes (FRM CEO TY MAG)

    January 5, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    He will be greatly missed. Franco was the engine and driving force of nearly all of G.H.S. creations, and endeavors. Great man and truly a pioneer, a classic Italian in style and dedication to his passion and craft! R.I.P.

    Medical Wes
    (former CEO, TY Mag, TY expo, TY cupp)

  9. Josh

    January 5, 2017 at 9:02 am

    I spoke to Simon from strain hunters. He confirmed it was an aggressive form of malaria that caused the brain to swell

  10. Dane murray

    January 5, 2017 at 5:36 am

    All i can say is when i was 15 an would ask older dudes to buy me a high times cuz i was to young to buy it at the time …. so i could read it over an over an over an was introduced to him wayyyy back them im now 37 an still growing with the same passion as a teenager… he was a hero and someone I looked up to very much extremely jealous of his lifestyle and as the capabilities of traveling globally searching for the land race genetics to be completely honest I have been having a hard time not crying my brains out for the last 24 hours I rode the big fat bone sat down in my garden and in memory and respect stuffed it with Franco I’m not sure if others can relate but I felt like he was a brother and family member in a weird way it’s an incredible loss that words can’t describe… Dane …from boston mass ❤

    • Max

      January 10, 2017 at 3:39 pm

      Same thing here

  11. Daniel

    January 5, 2017 at 4:55 am

    I remember Him beeing my Menthor on Strainhunters Forum when i joined the Gh Tester Team. Long Texting bout Plants almost all my Knowledge bout this Topic he passed to me. It sadens my Heart that a good Guy like Him had to go in such a Young Age. Rest in Strains my Friend.

  12. Lukas Rampa

    January 3, 2017 at 10:21 pm

    I’ve meet FRANCO , just about 1 month ago on Expomedeweed in Colombia and few days later on Expoweed in Chile . We had a great time , he even told me little about his project in Congo and to wake up to this news is very devastating . I didn’t know him well but I know he was a good person and I have respect for him. I’m sending condolences to his family and to the Greenhouse crew…, he won’t be forgoten…. Rest in peace , my friend , BOOM BHOLENATH in your memory ….

  13. Josh

    January 3, 2017 at 8:24 pm

    Franco was to me a outstanding Person. From the first Time we met, there was a connection and soon a friendship. I’m gonna miss him, his Smile, his whisdom and his Parole: No Rest for the wicked. Much love m8

  14. Gwiz

    January 3, 2017 at 8:00 pm

    Ah Franco… dear lad…Franco came into my life as a true connoisseur of cannabis, he taught me how to properly roll a spliff over a decade ago, I recall countless doobies of purple voodoo in a dimly lit weed layer in the west county hills of Northern California. Back then I knew nothing of connoisseur smoke, Franco and Arjan turned this light on for me resulting in my current passion and love for the plant and it’s purpose. Franco will be dearly missed, he was a light to be seen and felt, may he shine on forever in our hearts and minds.

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