Switzerland: at home on the hemp farm

By Chris Fowlie

Swiss law says that smoking cannabis is illegal, but does not mention growing or selling it. This creates a unique situation where everything is kept hush-hush but right out in the open.

I had the pleasure of visiting a Swiss hemp farm near Bern. Ten thousand plants of Dutch and Swiss origin lay unfenced near a main road. The farmer told me he started by planting cuttings directly into the ground. This had two problems: getting enough cuttings ready all at the same time meant creating a large grow-room, and if you’re going to do that then you may as well continue growing under lights; and secondly the unseeded nature of the crop attracted thieves who stole substantial numbers of plants. He now just throws seeds over the ground and rips out the male plants as they appear. He can’t keep up with all the males, so the buds get seeded but only lightly. This is enough to deter any thieves, but it also means he can’t sell the seeded buds as they are.

Instead, he designed and built a hash-making machine, which is basically a rotating silk-screen drum about 1.5m diameter by 2.5m length. Inside the drum are fins to carry the plant material to the top of the drum as it tumbles. The silk screen is just the right size to let the THC-laden trichomes (or “crystals”) through, leaving the plant material behind. The machine will turn 40kg of cannabis plant into 2-4kg of hash in under an hour. This is completely legal as long as none of it is smoked, so to satisfy the authorities that his hemp is not actually for smoking, he also built a seed cleaning machine and an essential oil extractor.

This year’s European summer has been very wet, and when we visited it was following yet more rain, which had a disastrous effect on the hemp crop. Many of the plants were infected with a mould which was quickly spreading in the damp conditions. The weather was forecast to clear for the next week so a decision was made to wait for the sunshine then harvest the crop early, remove the mouldy parts and make hash from what was available.

I was told that the past three summers have been similar, with conditions too wet for the hemp blossoms to mature without getting mould or fungus. If this weather continues, Swiss hemp farming could be forced indoors and out of the mountains.

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