Dr. Dope's Connection

David Watson, the CEO of the Dutch RD company Hortapharm, has assembled what is arguably the world's most comprehensive cannabis-seed library.

This Web Exclusive is offered as a supplement to Fast Company's February 2004 article "The Cannabis Conundrum."

In the annals of medical-marijuana history, it was a significant moment: In June 1998, British regulators granted GW Pharmaceuticals a license to cultivate and supply marijuana for research and pharmaceutical development. There was just one problem: Where in the world would Geoffrey Guy, GW's founder and chairman, find a legal source of pharmaceutical-grade marijuana seeds — enough to grow "tons" of material? Someone in England's Home Office gave Guy a tip: A reclusive Dutch company called Hortapharm, founded by two Californian expatriates, might be able to help him out.

In the world of ganja connoisseurs, Hortapharm's founders — David Watson and Robert Clarke — are near-gods. Clarke, Hortapharm's principal botanist, is the author of Marijuana Botany and Hashish!, the first serious, science-based books on cannabis cultivation for a counter-culture readership. Watson, the company's CEO, traveled to nearly every marijuana-rich country on the planet and assembled what is arguably the world's most comprehensive cannabis-seed library. Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, credits Watson with "almost single-handedly preserving hundreds of strains of cannabis."

When I met Watson in his office in a residential neighborhood in Amsterdam, he presented me with two marijuana seeds. One seed, from Kashmir, was the size of a pinhead — "wild ditch weed, wannabe marijuana," Watson called it. The other was a hemp seed, as fat as a lentil. The seeds could easily have symbolized the breadth of his study of Cannabis sativa.

Watson has a linebacker's build and a crooked, Jack Nicholson smile. On the subject of cannabis, he is ferociously opinionated, frequently punctuating his assertions with an in-your-face refrain: "Do you understand?" What follows are excerpts from a lengthy interview, in which he describes how he and Clarke came to be two of the pioneering entrepreneurs in the Aboveground Marijuana Economy.

What drove you to collect cannabis seeds?

I had a jewelry and clothing import business during the 1970s and early '80s, and I did a lot of traveling throughout Asia. While I was in India, I became aware of Ayurvedic medicine, which still uses cannabis to treat a wide variety of illnesses. I've always had an interest in seeds — I'm a lifetime member of the Seed Savers Exchange in the US — and I began collecting cannabis seeds to see how different strains might be used for different medical applications. I also saw how eradication efforts by international law enforcement agencies were having a negative effect on the very high end of the gene pool. I wanted to collect that high end before it was lost. I collected in Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, Colombia — thousands of strains from dozens of countries.

How would you find the seeds that you wanted?

It depends. If it's during the growing season, you might be able to make contact with an illicit farmer. If it's out of season, you've got to connect with a person who sells illegal cannabis. I've walked into pharmacies and asked, "If I was interested in getting seeds from the cannabis plant for making medicine, where would I get them?" In south India, I notified the police that I was collecting and one of them gave me a plant as a present! My goal was to collect all of these genetics worldwide. It wasn't easy — sometimes you have to step into harm's way to get the goods.

What kind of a plant would you look for?

In general, you're looking for a clean genetic profile — the ability to produce the compound you're after. And you want a plant that's producing lots of flowers — lots of resin. If the plant doesn't have a lot of resin on it, it's probably not going to have very much THC in it, even if the profile is incredibly clean. You need both.

The clones that people are using to produce illicit marijuana are by far primarily only THC [the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana]. They don't really have the other cannabinoids because year after year, recreational smokers have selected only for THC and rejected everything else. But because we're breeding for medicine, we're after THC and all the other cannabinoids. [Cannabis is comprised of 61 cannabinoids, complex molecules unique to the plant, of which THC is the best known.] I don't have any interest in collecting varieties that have been developed in the West by marijuana growers. They're just have the same old THC, which is what recreational smokers are looking for. I want varieties that have unusual characteristics in their growth or flowering period, or new and unusual sources of cannabinoids.

What led you to launch Hortapharm?

Our original business plan was to breed pharmaceutical-grade cannabis and use it to produce a cheaper, generic version of Marinol. [Marinol is a synthetic-THC tablet for treating nausea induced by cancer chemotherapy.] We knew we could produce pure THC from the plant, which is superior to a synthetic. I'm convinced that the synergistic effects of the full plant, which in its natural form produces 400 compounds, is far more medically beneficial that any single synthetic component.

We were going to knock our price down at least a third or more from Marinol's price tag. We thought that within a year or two, we could grab 66% of Marinol's $20-million market, which was enough to support our small company. But money wasn't the reason we did this. We were really interested in bringing cannabis back into mainstream medicine.

Given the drug laws in the United States, I guess you had no choice but to set Hortapharm up in the Netherlands.

We never could have carried out this activity in America — we would have turned old and gray just waiting to do the work. So in 1994, we applied to the Dutch Ministry of Health for a license to cultivate cannabis. We finally got it in 1997, which made us the Netherlands' first legal operation to grow cannabis for pharmaceutical research. The application process was extraordinarily rigorous. I was shocked by how long it took. Holland has this rep as the marijuana capital of the world. But while it's true that you can buy a small amount in a coffee shop, the government is very strict with cultivation.

How did you go about growing pharmaceutical-grade cannabis, which must be standardized to be made into a medicine?

That's the thing. If you bought tomato seeds and grew 100 plants, they'd all come out the same. But if you bought cannabis seeds on the black market and grew 100 plants, you're probably going to get a lot of variation. Amateur growers just don't have a full understanding of how to breed. I had spent years collecting cannabis seeds worldwide. We grew thousands and thousands of those, analyzed them, and selected for the target compounds we really wanted. We grew the plants in a big glasshouse and we also grew outdoors, in secret locations.

[Watson displays a photograph of five acres of high-grade pot, cultivated for seed production, from "somewhere" in Europe.] After we extracted the seeds we wanted from this crop, we burned all five acres. My American friends were dumbfounded — it would have been worth millions of dollars on the black market. But that's what plant breeders do — we grow 100,000 plants, keep 100 of them, and trash all the rest. I love to kill. I'm getting rid of everything that's imperfect.

Okay, so you got the seeds you wanted. How did you then grow plants that were genetically consistent — a prerequisite for producing medicine?

Cannabis is normally a heterozygote, which means it has two sets of chromosomes — one from the mother and one from the father, and they vary. Through a proprietary technique we developed called selfing, we became the world's first breeders to develop homozygote cannabis, in which both sets of chromosomes are identical. We then mass produced plants with just the one cannabinoid profile we wanted. We grew plants that were 98% THC, or 98% CBD. And that's what Geoffrey Guy [founder of GW Pharmaceuticals] was looking for. He wanted different cannabinoids — THC, CBD, CBC, CBG — which he could then blend in different ratios and explore them for their medical efficacy. We were the only ones in the world who had what Geoffrey badly needed.

How did you meet Dr. Guy?

We had sent a representative to a meeting of the Multiple Sclerosis Society in England, which Geoffrey attended. We were the only people there that were supporting the U.K. government's position on medical marijuana, which was to take a step-by-step approach to studying the issue. Everybody else just wanted to legalize medical marijuana tomorrow. We felt it was better to test the materials first and put them through a normal drug-approval process. Our colleague impressed Geoffrey, and he contacted us.

When Geoffrey came over here in 1998, we were getting close to our financial limit. We're an R&D company — we didn't have a product that was making an income. The problem for Geoffrey is that all cannabis experts have backgrounds — they've built their expertise by working with an illegal material. But Hortapharm was fully licensed by the Dutch government. So Geoffrey got a legal supply of pharmaceutical grade germ-plasm. And he got me and Robert Clarke to pass along our knowledge. We gave him at least a five-year head start.

If Sativex, GW's cannabis-based medicine for treating MS symptoms, gets approved by British regulators, what effect will that have on the debate over medical marijuana?

It will prove to people, patients, and businesses that cannabis can be a valuable therapeutic agent. And once Sativex gets the go-ahead in the UK, it will quickly win approval in Europe, Canada, and Australia — and the U.S. will be the one country to stand there and say, No, cannabis has no therapeutic application. But I don't think American scientists will stand for that.

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  • Grower of Conviction

    Baroness Browning

    Minister for crime and anti social
    behaviour

    Marsham Street

    London       

    Airstrip 1

    SW1P 4DF

                                                                                                                3rd
    November 2011

    CTS Reference M8259/11

     

    Dear Baroness Browning.

     

    Thank you for your letter of the 27th
    July 2011 in response to my letter requesting a meeting between Mr Peter
    Reynolds of Clear and the Prime Minister to enable Mr Reynolds to give the
    Prime Minister the factual truth about cannabis, as he appears to have become
    more than slightly confused over this issue; despite his own (non criminalised)
    use of this substance (along with so many parliamentarians) and his own
    speeches prior to becoming leader of the Conservatives.

     

    The words from Mr Cameron’s  first speech in parliament “fresh thinking
    and a new approach” to drug policy comes to mind, as does “Politicians attempt
    to appeal to the lowest common denominator by posturing with tough policies and
    calling for crackdown after crackdown” and then there is “Drugs policy has been
    failing for decades”;  I believe as a
    member of the Home Affairs Select Committee 
    he stated that the government at the time should initiate a discussion
    at the United Nations to consider alternative ways ,including the possibility
    of legalisation and regulation, to tackle the global drugs problem; all of which
    glow as beacons of hypocrisy in the light of recent claims over “very very
    toxic cannabis”.   This leaves many of us
    wondering if some agency other than the elected government and its Prime
    Minister decide our nation’s drug policy.

     

    I have also sent you emails with regard to
    my freedom of information request lodged with the Home Office and James
    Brokenshire’s reluctance to reply.   I
    believe an email was sent to you on the day you were appointed, I didn’t get
    any replies until now and I note it still fails to answer the questions over
    Hortipharm NL Hortipharm NL, it’s ‘licence’ and its Directors.  I was however gladdened to read that your
    officials are working hard to “formulate a response to my other representations”
    as the responses I have had, even to Freedom of Information requests, have been
    incomplete and inaccurate.  Indeed one
    FOI become lost for a few months and had to be reissued, I still await a full
    reply to all the questions contained within my FOI requests the most recent of
    these are contained in emails sent on the 12th and 16th
    of May 2011, proper responses are now overdue.

     

    I am hoping someone will explain why the
    British government gave millions of pounds to GW Pharmaceuticals.  I believe it is illegal for the government to
    ‘gift’ public money to fund a private company with a market share above 80%,
    and then actively promote and protect that company; let alone the 100%
    protected by criminalising the sick that the government currently favours.  Unfortunately the Department of Trade tell me
    they can’t look into ‘dodgy dealing’ in other governmental departments, not
    exactly a reissuance of governmental commitment to free and open government or
    honesty.

     

    I am also hoping some one might tell me how
    much of that £10 million was given to ‘Sam the skunk man’ as he was known to
    the criminal underworld of Holland’s cannabis growers and cannabis seed
    producers, of which he was a major player. 
    One who used his ‘licence’ to provide seeds to most of the cannabis seed
    companies in the Netherlands for around thirty years.  He was the only seed breeder who could
    guarantee the safety of the crop due to his ‘licence’ other breeders, his
    contemporaries being routinely arrested and their crops seized.  AKA Sam Selezny the name on the passport he
    used when he ‘apparently’ fled the USA and their Drug Enforcement Agency to
    avoid criminal prosecution.  It is
    publicly claimed he was carrying with him the dubiously obtained Cannabis
    genetics (250,000 cannabis seeds) and the research of the Sacred seed
    collective, Santa Cruz, California of which
    he had been a ‘junior member’ when it was raided by the DEA.  AKA David Watson, which is his real name and
    the one that the DEA was ‘apparently’ looking for him under although for
    reasons best known to themselves, they never applied to extradite him under, (a
    DEA undercover employee perhaps) David Watson who introduced Cannabis skunk to
    Europe.  David Watson the director of the
    discredited Hortipharm NL, who’s claimed
    licence, was apparently fraudulently obtained. 
    It was withdrawn by the Dutch Government as a consequence and this was
    ‘prior’ to the UK Governments financing of GW Pharmaceuticals and their attempt
    to privatise and monopolise the medical cannabis industry by handing over £10
    million of taxpayer’s money to obtain these ‘stolen’ genetics; Money from
    taxpayers who still can’t access this ‘contaminated’ Cannabis medicine but can
    and are arrested for using natural cannabis medicine.

     

    I believe Hortipharms other director is RC
    Clarke; author of Marijuana Botany – a guide to breeding distinctive cannabis
    strains, a book that has ‘informed’ most other illegal cannabis seed breeders
    worldwide. I look forward to some one justifying the lying to the public over
    our government’s role in handing over millions of taxpayers pounds to two
    people who could fairly be described as the grandfathers of the illegal indoor
    cannabis market.  Such blatant hypocrisy
    and double dealing/double standards could only come from British
    parliamentarians.

     

    I am still hoping that someone will tell
    me; who in Government knew the true nature of the company ‘Hortipharm NL’ it’s
    illegally obtained and withdrawn licence and 
    also who was aware of the possible criminal nature of this companies
    directors in particular, David Watson. 
    Unless of course he was/is in fact a DEA agent; (which would explain
    many things about this ‘Teflon coated’ criminal);  who has gone ‘freelance’ and privatised the
    possibilities of utilising the drug his and every other government, including
    our own has signed up to destroying in the Opiates act!!  An act that makes possession or production of
    Sativex as illegal as any other type of/ ether of/ ester of/ compound of/ oil
    of or preparation of cannabis in any form! Licensed or not, as does the British
    Muse use of Drugs Act!

     

     

    Earl Howe has indeed responded and
    confirmed that there is essentially no difference in the cannabis contained in
    Sativex and natural uncontaminated herbal cannabis. Both are cannabis, and
    cannabis is confirmed as the only ingredient of any medicinal value in O’Shaughnessy
    tincture or to use it’s rebranded, at great expense to the taxpayer name,
    Sativex.  Which is strange as cannabis
    apparently has no medical value according to the misuse of drugs act; yet Earl
    Howe clearly accepts that cannabis is the active ingredient in Sativex and that
    no medicinal claims are or can be made for any of the other ingredients.  I can only presume that either Earl Howe is
    mistaken or lying about cannabis the only effective medical content in Sativex;
    something I find hard to believe, considering his positions, by which I mean;
    Parliamentary under Secretary for Standards (Lords) and the Minister
    responsible for pharmacy policy at the NHS. 
    The only other conclusion possible is that you are mistaken or
    lying.  The feeble attempt to justify the
    government’s position that Sativex is a ‘different product’ is ridiculous as is
    the claimed reason for it to be considered so. 
    By which I mean it is a medicine of quantifiable ingredients, only 5 of
    the 83 ingredients being at a measured dose which leaves 78 cannabinoids at an
    unregulated, unquantifiable level.

     

    You state in your letter that cannabis is a
    harmful drug that should not be taken. Am I to deduce from this statement, that
    the government will continue to refuse to follow the requirements of the UN
    Opiate act of 1963 to deal with the social and health issues surrounding drug
    use?  That the governments misuse of the
    UK’s misuse of drugs act, an act that is supposed to be used for the regulation
    and control of dangerous drugs; not the prohibition of drugs coupled with the
    criminalisation of some people (over a million and climbing) will continue
    regardless of common decency and respect for UK citizens who use ‘some’
    drugs.  That our government will continue
    to claim that criminalising its citizens without any proper basis in law is,
    some how, being done to protect people; protecting people being the true basis
    for and the intension of the UN Opiates Act and the UK’s Misuse of Drugs Act.

     

    Perhaps you can give me some credible
    information over the harms as the Cannabis psychosis theory was found ‘not
    proven’ by the Keel University study which was funded by the Government and the
    ACMD.  I would also love to see the
    information upon which your dependences claim is made as cannabis is and always
    has been considered a drug of non dependence with no withdrawal symptoms.

     

    You go on to claim that the ACMD provide
    independent advice!!  This is the same
    ACMD who’s chair the government sacked for refusing to entertain the official
    policy of lying to the public over drugs, the same ACMD that had a rash of
    resignations in protest at Professor Nutts sacking and governmental
    misrepresentation of the facts.  The same
    ACMD who’s current Chair Professor Les Iverson is on record as stating in an
    article in 2003 that “cannabis had been incorrectly classified for nearly 50
    years and stated that cannabis was one of the safer recreational drugs”.  It’s certainly safer than the
    parliamentarians drugs of ‘snout in the trough’ self interest, alcohol and
    tobacco, both of which cause death, no deaths have ever been recorded from
    cannabis, both are harmful to heath, both are addictive and do course
    irreversible brain damage. 

     

    You further claim that the supposedly
    independent ACMD issued the statement in their report that “the use of cannabis
    is a significant public health issue, cannabis can unquestionably course harm
    to individuals and society”. I can only presume that you have never read this
    report and that this quote was furnished you by an advisor as anyone who has
    read this report would know that your chosen quote goes against the grain of
    the rest of the report; which does not contain any evidence to back up this
    statement.   Indeed I believe this was
    included on the insistence of the representative from ACPO who seems to be
    confusing his responsibilities to factual evidence with ACPO’s desire to
    protect and preserve the honey pot of funding to the institutions of the state,
    (Police, Courts and prisons).  Cannabis
    represents a very large portion of the £16 billion dedicated to ruining the
    lives of some people who use some drugs, via the ‘War on some people who use
    some drugs’ AKA state sponsored ‘social conformity terrorism’ with the catchy
    tag ‘War on Drugs’ to disguise the fact it is a war on some people!!

     

    The claim that keeping cannabis illegal is
    to protect the public is farcical. How is allowing free reign to organised
    crime to pollute / contaminate the drug supply with dangerous adulterants in
    order to increase their profit, supposed to help protect anyone let alone the
    vulnerable.  My brother died after many
    years of opiate addiction his body wasn’t destroyed / impaired by the drugs he
    took but by the contaminate that clogged his veins, destroyed his liver,
    kidneys and caused abscesses in much of his body.  What ID does a modern ten year old need to
    buy a bag of Heroin or cannabis contaminated with ground glass that can burn a
    hole in your lung if inhaled hot from a joint? 
    Answer a note with a picture of the Queen on.

     

    A regulated drug supply would save the
    lives of countless people, save countless others from contaminate based harms
    and consequently save the NHS from long term costs treating these harms.  Cannabis properly regulated and taxed as
    suggested by Cannabis Law Reform in the document on Taxing the UK cannabis
    market compiled by the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit would offer more
    protection to the individual, children and society as a whole, than the current
    policy of feeding the monster of failed prohibition.

     

    You claim that the Government balances the
    rights of the individual on one hand and the greater health and welfare
    considerations on the other.  This
    statement flies in the face of reality; the harms caused by drug use stem
    directly from prohibition.  From people
    dying from contaminates to those that die due to suddenly finding some thing
    pure. From those that are robbed to feed a habit to the child with a note with
    the Queen on to buy a habit, they are not having their health and welfare
    considered or their rights as individuals protected.  The children even parents of cannabis user’s
    whether sick or well are not having the rights protected  by Police Officers smashing their way into
    peoples home at all times of the day or night in pointless raids that do
    nothing to boost respect for the authorities or its institutions,( I have
    enclosed a letter from my daughter to the court

    hearing a case against me to further your
    understanding of this matter, she is from the third generation of my family to
    suffer state/police home invasion).  In
    fact I suspect cannabis arrests and raids are the single most destructive act
    that the authorities undertake in the UK today. It cost’s billions when it
    should be making them, wastes enormous sums of public money in a war on our own
    population and the only things it generates is growing resentment and mistrust
    in both democracy and politician’s ‘truths’!

     

    Politicians truths brings me nicely to your
    statements that cannabis has no medical value.

    Why was £10 million handed over again; the
    absurdity of this claim is with out comparison, as is the hypocrisy.  The UK Government are to put it blatantly
    engaged in an attempt to privatise and illegally monopolise the  medical cannabis industry here in the UK and
    beyond, they are hand in glove with GW pharmaceuticals who are ‘housed’ at
    Porton Down and still, I believe involved with the criminals of Hortipharm NL.

    Our government is willing to allow citizens
    of all the countries that signed the Schengen agreement to consume natural
    cannabis as a medicine in the UK yet criminalise UK residents to protect
    commercial interest; ‘Politicians truths’ appear to be great big fat stinking
    lies! Perpetuated to protect the vested interest of their partners in a
    criminal conspiracy to control medical cannabis whilst denying cannabis is a
    medicine or has any medical properties, then using that augment as an excuse
    for destroying the lives of the sick and needy via criminalisation, a sicker,
    sadder conspiracy is hard to imagine but then again we are talking about
    British politicians aren’t we!

     

    The most worrying aspect of this whole
    situation is that you may already know all this and are still prepared to
    continue the lie, while I will spend the rest of my life, as the last twenty
    years, being prosecuted for producing the kinds of seeds bought from Hortipharm
    NL and hence prevented from doing my own research, earning a living and having
    a life.

    I am in court again tomorrow and may not be
    going home to my wife and family!

     

     

    Yours Sincerely

     

     

    Mr P.S.Walsh

    Cannabis Criminal