The interviews “Working with Cannabis”, published in of Cannadouro Magazine, seek to make known Portuguese people working in the cannabis sector in various national and international companies. We started this new section with André Paquete Carvalho, a Madeiran who has been working at the mythical Sensi Seeds, in Amsterdam, since 2015.
How did you come to Sensi Seeds. What was your path?
In 2006 I went from Coimbra, where I was studying Biochemistry, to Oxford, with the intention of starting another course. I found work in the only alternative shop in all of Oxfordshire. Among the various departments in this store, I was responsible for the Head Shop department for two years. A large quantity and variety of products were sold in this section, including cannabis seeds, as in England its commercialization was, and still is, legal. I would say that, here, one of my great passions merged with my professional career and I realized right away that with this associated feeling, “flowers are picked”. Some of my best suppliers were from the Netherlands and I ended up going there for a “Cannabis Cup”. Besides having done good business, Amsterdam enchanted me! I returned to Madeira in the summer of 2008 and opened my own commercial space, Parkside Street Wear, which among its range of products also had a Growshop component. Later, I opened an independent GrowShop in another part of Funchal, Flower Odyssey, with exclusive supplies from the Netherlands. I promoted the plant as much as I could, but Madeira isn't that big. I always dreamed that one day cannabis would be legal, but I think at some point I lost hope in Portugal. I decided to leave with my family.
Since when are you in Holland?
I arrived in February 2015. I decided with my wife to start from scratch, my daughter was 2 and a half years old and my son was born here, that spring. I am very grateful to my brothers-in-law for taking us in until we found our nest. Amsterdam is a city of enormous cultural weight, clean, with a harmonious construction surrounded by green spaces and water from the canals, where you can enjoy your daily trips by bicycle!
Did you start working with cannabis right away?
In a way, I already worked a little in this industry, but yes, here at Sensi it was more exclusive. I started by handing in my CV to a few seed banks, and Sensi Seeds quickly contacted me for an interview. From the moment I was hired, the dedication was total. Thanks to the extensive library and information available, I delved deeper into this matter and immediately took weekly shifts at Cannabis College, an association fully supported by Sensi, which keeps its doors open and continues to inform, free of charge, all interested parties on the most varied topics. related to this matter.
On a family level, what was the reaction when they found out that you worked in the cannabis sector?
At this point it was no longer news to anyone. Since my early adult years, I have had a very open relationship with my mother regarding this topic and since cannabis has always been, for me, more than something you smoke, it has always been very easy to talk to my grandparents as well. and uncles about this industry so complete.
What does it mean to you to work in one of the oldest seed banks in the world?
It means being directly connected to my chosen Industry, surrounded by legends and “connoisseurs” where you never stop absorbing information. It means representing one of the most important companies in the world in its sector, quality and originality. Sensi Seeds is, in fact, the world's oldest seed bank still in operation. It is a great pride to be involved in the ideals of the great Ben Dronkers. In addition to the enormous, stable and original genetic variety made available by Sensi over these 37 years, the Dronkers Group has the world's largest collection of artefacts directly related to cannabis, from books, documents and historical paintings to instruments from different peoples. Part of that collection is available at the world's first cannabis museum, the Hash Marijuana and Hemp Museum, here in Amsterdam, and another in Barcelona. The Sensi Seeds group also owns Hempflax – leader in the production and transformation of hemp in Europe, and SensiPharma, dedicated to medical research.
It's a huge legacy...
Yea! Sensi Seeds opened the world's first online store selling cannabis seeds in 1996, and our blog is very extensive, representing in some way the legacy that Sensi carries over the years. Two of our genetics are grown here by the only licensed medical company, which also underlines the quality of our work and shows that experience adds points to the result at the end.
What is your position in the company?
I am the Retail Manager for Amsterdam, 4 official stores and the two Museum spaces where I have a team of 20 to 25 members. I report directly to the CRO of SensiSeeds and the CEO of Dronkers Group. I work daily with all departments. My mission is to ensure that our customers have easy access to top quality cannabis products and are served by trained professionals in this matter, obtaining a unique and holistic experience of what the plant has to offer. I also grow all the plants we have on display in these spaces with my assistant, the perfect escape from office work.
What are the most positive and negative aspects of your work?
I would say that the most positive thing is the absence of prejudice in relation to this plant. We have an environment with a familiar touch and some perks that are not very common anymore. I feel a lot of confidence from all my colleagues. More related to my position, I have a lot of freedom of decision and also of schedule. Negative aspects, I have nothing to point out. I work hard, but with pleasure. Perhaps the fact that, even here, the laws on cannabis are not clear. Yes, Amsterdam is very open, but we still live in times of tolerance. In fact, cannabis here is still illegal.
What is your assessment of the Portuguese market?
I would say that the perception of the general population is changing. They begin to associate the plant not with drugs, but with a healthier lifestyle. You already know that it is a plant where you can find highly nutritious food solutions, solutions for a stronger immune system, for certain physical and psychological conditions, environmental, sustainable and socio-economically viable solutions.
Do you think people are becoming more informed?
Yup. I also felt that those looking for this type of product are already concerned about their origin and which production techniques are applied, where a premium, raw and organic product turns out to be the choice. I confess that, when I came from Porto, from the last edition of Cannadouro, I was very satisfied with the perception that is being created in Portuguese lands.
What is your opinion on the legalization of medical cannabis, which took place in 2018 in Portugal?
It is undoubtedly very positive. Cannabis is an excellent natural alternative to drugs. It is only a pity that it was catapulted by foreign and not national investment. I think it is taking a long time to be available to the Portuguese and I feel that it continues to be one of the last therapeutic alternatives, and, consequently, is rarely prescribed by doctors. Almost all, if not all, countries and also American states that until now have regulated cannabis for recreational purposes, began by regulating it for medicinal purposes. I hope that the now re-elected Portuguese government does not set aside the bills presented before the dissolution, which seek regulatory solutions to put an end to illicit business and provide the population with a product of controlled quality, also contributing economically to the country.
Sensi Seeds has recently invested in CBD flowers. How do you see the “confusion” in which hemp finds itself, with different laws all over Europe?
True, we launched Sensi Weeds at European level, with the aim of continuing to offer premium cannabis products. We sell flowers where the ratio of cannabinoids shown is the natural one, as none of our products are washed nor do we apply post-cultivation techniques to reduce THC. We also launched flowers of CBG (cannabigerol), a very interesting cannabinoid, which promises as much or more than CBD. Confusion appears when there are no clear laws. I feel a lot of uncertainty and resistance from governments, when they should be in resonance with the European Union. It makes no sense that a product can be marketed but not produced in that country. In my opinion, they are hypocritical situations and hidden interests. Sensi Seeds was also one of the first entities to make its CBD oil available, produced entirely in-house and organically. We know that it is an extremely important cannabinoid and its benefits are visible, but it is not the only one and its isolated form is not the most beneficial either.
What solution would you find best for this situation, at European level?
For me, the best path for Europe is that of regulation: medical, recreational and self-cultivation by all member countries. This is the only way to have an effective and safe control system in local businesses. In this ideal scenario, CBD becomes one of the many products that can be obtained from the plant, along with others with different characteristics and, eventually, different types of sales control.
What about industrial hemp?
With regard to cannabis with a THC content of no more than 0,2%, and its natural constituents, such as CBD, the European Union cannot be clearer with its directives. All European countries should be following them rigorously, facilitating the cultivation of hemp with incentives and benefits (as happened about 10 or 20 years ago in Portugal) and not making life difficult for farmers and producers. We are in 2022, I expected further evolution in truly sustainable terms. He also hoped that Portugal would produce more hemp paper. Whoever talks about paper, talks about textiles, building materials, cosmetics and all kinds of industries, of which there are many, where hemp and its derivatives can be incorporated.
Do you think cannabis plays a key role in sustainability?
There are already many environmentally conscious and very effective opportunities for this industry to continue to develop. I believe that cannabis is an obvious answer to combating global pollution, deforestation and the devastation of the oceans caused by commercial overfishing. I am available and actively committed to contribute to this ascendant.
How Ben Dronkers Founded Sensi Seeds
Sensi Seeds is a Dutch company that sells cannabis seeds. Today, it is one of the world's largest producers of cannabis seeds and has the largest cannabis seed bank in the world. The company was founded by Ben Dronkers, who, as he was originally from Rotterdam, started working at a young age on the merchant ships that departed from the large port of this city. That initial experience of travel and foreign cultures was an exciting adventure that broadened his horizons, but Ben would eventually realize that the life of a sailor just wasn't for him. It was then that he opened a clothing store, which he designed and manufactured himself. The clothes had a rather whimsical and medieval look and it was during his travels in Afghanistan and Pakistan in search of fabrics that Ben found hemp fabric and farmers growing vast fields of cannabis. He was given handfuls of seeds of his favorite strains of cannabis and, back in Holland, Ben began experimenting with growing and crossing the different strains he had gathered on his travels. In 1985 he founded The Sensi Seed Club and a few years later he acquired another seed producer company called The Seed Bank. Along with his genetic stock, Ben changed the name to The Sensi Seeds Bank and launched a new and expanded catalog of cannabis seeds. Some of those old strains are still in the catalog today, including big names like Super Skunk, Northern Lights x Haze, Black Domina, Big Bud, Jack Herer and G13 x Hash Plant aka Mr Nice. Since the 80s, with Ben Dronkers at the helm, Sensi Seeds has won more awards than any other seed company in cannabis history.
This interview was originally published in issue #5 of of Cannadouro Magazine.
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