‘Preservation Is Our Duty’: An Interview With Cannabis Giant Sensi Seeds

Published on April 19, 2018 · Last updated July 28, 2020

Sensi Seeds is headquartered in the middle of Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Some locals joke that the epic cannabis seed company has given the entire street a distinct shade of green.

World-roving seed seeker and cannabis curiosa collector Ben Dronkers founded Sensi Seeds in 1985. Since then, the Dutch seed bank has exploded in growth, now containing over 500 varieties of cannabis. Marquee strains include post-Skunk #1 iterations and the eponymous variety honoring American hemp activist Jack Herer.

What’s more, Dronkers has helped cultivate a number of influential Dutch cannabis enterprises, most of them located on the same sidewalk as Sensi Seeds. They comprise sister seed businesses The Flying Dutchmen and White Label Seeds Company, the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum, and the info center known, unforgettably, as Cannabis College. Dronkers’ industrial hemp cultivation company HempFlax can be found in the more bucolic north of the Netherlands.

Sensi Seeds remains under Dronkers’ direction, though nowadays his sons, Che Dronkers and Ravi Spaarenberg, aid him in their capacity as executive directors.

To learn more about the inner workings of one of the industry’s most consequential seed banks, Leafly interviewed its corporate ambassador, David Duclos (pictured above). Longtime readers of Sensi Seeds’ blog may know him as author David Cannafacts, though these days Duclos, now in his ninth year with the team, is more likely to be overseeing a robust flow of news as well as speaking to the public on behalf of Dronkers family.

Originally from France but having lived abroad for most of his life, Duclos has found himself in different societies over the years and is continuously asked why cannabis isn’t legal. He may not have an easy answer to that question yet, but he had many others to share.

Leafly: What drew you to this job?

David Duclos: Originally, I started working at Sensi Seeds to get some money in, as I was in between jobs. I then discovered the Cannabis College, which reawakened my passion for the cannabis plant. I actually started studying the plant as a kid, handing in my first paper on why cannabis should be legalized around the age of 14. I can’t remember the exact title, but it would have been something along the lines of “Why isn’t cannabis legal”? Needless to say, I got quite a reputation with a few of the teachers—despite being one of the only kids who wasn’t smoking cannabis then.

Which Sensi Seeds strains are most popular?

Duclos: Our Skunk range has become a classic go-to for most growers, including the Skunk #1, Sensi Skunk, Super Skunk, and Shiva Skunk. But all in all, our Jack Herer variety has to be the most popular of our strains.

One I’m personally proud of would be our latest variety: Michka. This variety was launched in October 2017 in honor of French cannabis icon, prolific activist author, and “grande dame” of cannabis, Michka Seeliger-Chatelain. She was extremely clear about the fact that she wanted a sativa strain and we did just that, combining Silver Pearl and Haze genetics to create an 80% sativa strain—perfect for creative work.

Michka Seeliger-Chatelain (Courtesy of Sensi Seeds)

What sets Sensi Seeds apart from other seed companies?

In today's market, you see new varieties popping up left and right, but this quest for novelty has led to the original genetics disappearing, especially landraces.

Duclos: For me, it comes down to our passion for maintaining and developing cannabis genetics, some of which date back to the early ’70s. In today’s market, you see a lot of new varieties popping up left and right, which is great, but this quest for novelty has led to the original genetics disappearing, especially landraces. We see it as our duty to make sure these genetics do not disappear. To date, we have more than 500 varieties, which we are carefully preserving—each one with its own specific characteristics, be it for industrial or therapeutic use.

Tell us about the Dutch government choosing Sensi Seeds genetics to develop medicinal cannabis supplied by pharmacies.

Duclos: The Jack Herer variety is the basis upon which the medicinal cannabis strain available in pharmacies is based. The company produces cannabis for the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, which in turn exports cannabis throughout Europe and other parts of the world.

Ravi Spaarenberg, Ben Dronkers, and Che Dronkers lead the Sensi Seeds brand.
Ravi Spaarenberg, Ben Dronkers, and Che Dronkers lead the Sensi Seeds brand.
How is Sensi Seeds’ line of CBD oil being received?

Duclos: We introduced our first CBD products back in March 2015, and they have been very successful. We have lately broadened the product range with CBD capsules and CBD coconut oil, which are also doing great. Quality is our main focus point, which is why we control the production from A to Z, to make sure we can stand behind all our products.

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Ben Dronkers lives in Malaysia nowadays, but how hands-on is he still?

Ben Dronkers, Founder of Sensi Seeds (Courtesy of Sensi Seeds)

Duclos: As the founder of Sensi Seeds, Ben is always involved in the company in one way or another, despite officially being retired. As an entrepreneur, you can’t just quit. It’s part of who you are.

At Dutch coffeeshops, it’s hard to find cannabis with specified levels of THC, CBD, and CBN. Sensi Seeds doesn’t give these compound breakdowns either. Why is that?

Duclos: Some coffeeshops have started performing tests on the cannabis they sell, but this is indeed not common practice. Since commercial cannabis cultivation is illegal in the Netherlands, there is no real product traceability or quality control beyond that done by the coffeeshop itself. The costs attached to testing each and every sample is extremely costly, and few coffeeshops are willing to do so. The Dutch legal situation surrounding cannabis is extremely inefficient, and we, with the rest of the cannabis community, have been trying to change it ever since its introduction in the Netherlands in the ’70s.

With regards to our varieties, cannabinoid production is linked to the genetics, but also to the environment in which the plant is cultivated. Any cannabinoid content we would indicate would therefore be inaccurate. Basically, someone growing in the south of Spain could get a vastly different result from someone growing in the north of the Netherlands. This is why we do not mention it.

THC levels, overall, seem to be getting higher and higher. Has this been the case at Sensi Seeds?

Cannabis is much more than THC. You could focus uniquely on THC, but what would be the point?

Duclos: We have seen the international trend towards ever-growing THC levels and keep this in mind when coming up with new strains, but it has never been our main focus. Cannabis is much more than THC, and we prefer to focus on the overall makeup of our strains, including cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. You could focus uniquely on THC, but what would be the point? Aroma and flavor plays just as important a part when it comes to experiencing cannabis. It’s about providing the complete experience!

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As someone embedded in the Netherlands’ cannabis industry, how would you explain the country’s relatively early progressive cannabis policy?

Duclos: I’m not Dutch myself, but from my experience, it doesn’t surprise me that they would be the ones to break the mold. There is a very practical approach to problems here which I haven’t seen anywhere else. At the same time, there is a strong progressive feel.

Things have taken a turn for the worse lately, though. The government opted for a more prohibitionist approach, with disastrous effects. We have seen a decrease in availability, an increase in product price, and a decrease in product quality, all of which have an impact not only on the end user, but also on society as a whole—who has to finance this useless new Dutch war against growers. We still have a lot of work to do to regulate the market and remove the stigma surrounding the cannabis plant.

The government is preparing to launch experimental legislation that would legalize cannabis cultivation within the Netherlands. How would Sensi Seeds’ business be affected should that pilot eventually become policy?

Duclos: It really depends on the wording of the law. Full legalization would of course open the market up to everyone, which would increase the competition, but at the end of the day, we are specialized in cannabis genetics. Demand for high-quality, reliable genetics will always remain.

Where does the name Sensi come from?

Duclos: “Sensimilia” of course! I find the irony in it amusing, seeing as “sensimilia” derives from the Spanish sin semilla, meaning “without seed.”

Who is the face of the logo?

Duclos: Ah, the infamous Sensi lady. There are many stories and theories surrounding her. Who knows? It will always remain a mystery, sorry.

Last but not least, what is your favorite strain?

Duclos: During the day, nothing beats a Northern Lights #5 x Haze, but at night, to relax, I’d have to go with the Super Skunk, the first strain I ever experienced and a true classic!

Lead image: Karina Hof for Leafly

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Karina Hof
Karina Hof
Karina Hof is a freelance journalist based in Amsterdam. She writes and edits content about culture and coffee.
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