Category Archives: Research

Spannabis Hemp Expo

WITH ITS warm, sunny climate and relaxed laws, Spain produces some of the world’s best weed and is now the biggest market for legal cannabis seed sales. The world’s largest cannabis and hemp trade fair, known as Spannabis, is held in Barcelona every February.

Spannabis features over 200 stalls and exhibitors of everything to do with cannabis, including hemp products, the latest hydro systems and grow gear, nutrients, marijuana magazines and law reform organisations, a huge number of seed companies, as well as bong merchants, grinder developers and more marijuana-related stuff than you could shake a spliff at. Spannabis is a great place to check out the latest developments, compare heaps of seed strains all in one place with the low down from the company owners and breeders, meet fellow potheads from throughout the world, and generally enjoy the laid back Spanish pot scene. It truly is an extravaganja!

I had arrived after a marathon series of flights and trains via Dubai and Paris. The expo hall was located in the depths of an industrial zone on the outskirts of the city and finding it was quite a mission. Eventually, the freaks began to outnumber the straights and I knew it must be near. A long line twisted out the front door for all of the three days the expo ran – organisers estimated the head count at 18,000 people. The interior had already filled with a sweet marijuana haze, and it was only for the first few hours that a lone security guard kept up the pretence of telling people to stub out their fat euro-style spliffs.

Over at the T.H.Seeds booth Adam had samples of Dark Star, the newest addition to their range. It’s a full indica that tested at 23 per cent THC at the last Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam. It was so strong, he said it sedated the judges too much to vote for it. This required verification of course!

Doug from HempHoodLamb showed off their new artic-canno range of jackets and said they had supplied Paul Watson of the Sea Shepard a custom bullet-proof version to help in their fight against the Japanese whaling in the Southern ocean.

Horticultural lighting company Lumatek ran a super-sweet VIP booth, up high over the crowds. It was a great place to chill out, share a laugh and uh, “network” with booth holders.

SPANNABIS 2010 AWARDS

BEST SEEDS – PYRAMID SEEDS
BEST STAND – LUMATEK GOLD LABEL
BEST PARAPHERNALIA PRODUCT – 00BOX
BEST HYDROPONIC PRODUCT – GENERAL
HYDROPONICS
BEST GROW PRODUCT – HUMBOLDT
NUTRIENTS, LÍNEA ORGÁNIC

The grow scene was heavily represented, with a massive variety of nutrients, grow tents, digital ballasts, infra-red proof wall linings, blade-less fans, as well as dozens of local cannabis seed
companies.

The guys at Humboldt Nutrients had a great range of specialisd products, while Dutch nutrient co Canna didn’t have anything for sale – their massive booth was actually a free bar as well as a THC testing service. Unlike the pee-in-a-cup kind we get here, they tested people’s favourite herb samples for THC and terpene content with a mobile GCMS machine and laboratory, the idea being to build up a database of cannabis strains to assist their development of even better products.

“Curro Knnabinoide” of the popular Spanish cannabis forum cannabiscafe.net told me that over the past twenty years there had been a big change to local home grown over imported Moroccan hash. Most Spanish smokers abide by a “homegrown” ethos meaning they grow their own and they neither buy nor sell it. I had noticed that this means there is plenty of excellent herb to share but comparatively little for sale, and for tourists (like me) scoring is surprisingly difficult. Still, that was not necessary when there were so many kind herby folk about, only too willing to show off their latest homegrown effort, or a seed company promoter trying to tempt you with their latest strain…

GROWING IN SPAIN

Spaniards have the luxury of being able to grow outdoors all year round. The feminised and autoflowering strains that have revolutionised growing around the world have had an even bigger impact on Spain, where seeds are legal. Spanish growers can just pop a feminised auto-flowering seed in the ground any time of the year, and come back in a certain number of days. The most popular local strain is Critical from Dinafem while Eva, Pyramid and Sweet Seeds are also huge. The relaxed legal environment means growing at home is really easy and safe for anyone to do, and it is not unusual to see healthy plants on people’s balconies. Hola!

See spannabis.com

[Originally published in NORML News Winter/Spring 2010]

Note: importing or possessing cannabis seed, or cultivating cannabis, is illegal in New Zealand.

Moroccan Mountain high

A JOURNEY INTO MOROCCO’S HIGH MOUNTAIN CANNABIS CULTURE

Morocco is not only a land of delicious food and mouthwatering coffee, it is also the world’s largest producer of cannabis, with an estimated 134,000 hectares under cultivation.

Words and photos by CHRIS FOWLIE

THE highlands around the Rif Mountains, which face the Mediterranean Sea in the north of the country, account for more than forty per cent of global hashish production. Largely driven by the close proximity to the millions of cannabis consumers in Europe, hash is now Morocco’s biggest source of foreign currency. At least 800,000 people are directly employed in the industry, contributing at least 2 billion euros to the local economy.

Cannabis was first recorded in Ketema – now ground zero for dodgy hash smugglers and the occasional tourist disappearance – in the 15th Century. Today, most is smuggled to Spain and on to Europe by high speed motor boat departing from the northern ports of Martel, Oued Laous, Boh Ahmed, Nador, Tetoaun and Tanger. A lot also goes inside trucks and cars on ferries. In fact the smugglers have become so proficient and have opened up enough routes with their bribes and corruption they have caught they eye of the Columbian cartels. Coke is now being traffiked into Europe via established hash smuggling channels – another example of prohibition encouraging the spread of hard drugs.

THE LAW IN MOROCCO

Morocco is a hash and caffeine culture. Those two drugs are commonplace, whereas alcohol is against the law. Today cannabis is also officially prohibited and strictly punished but this has only been the case since Morocco gained independence from Spain in 1956, and shortly after the King granted the Rif Mountain areas permission to cultivate cannabis. This exemption has never been rescinded, and for the locals at least, hash can be consumed fairly openly.

Tourists are another story, being an easy source of bribes for the underpaid cops. I was told the police have no right to search people, but the general advice was to keep a low profile and restrict any smoking to the hotel.

MEANWHILE, BACK ON THE FARM

Having said that, we were not here to sit around the hotel. Chefchaoun is known as the gateway to the Rif Mountains and the start of cannabis country. It’s also bloody cold and rains a lot. After noticing a familiar smell and click of the lighter, I gingerly approached the hotel boy and asked very politely and nonchalantly whether he might possibly know anywhere… oh yes of course, he smiled, and was back in a flash with some very nice unpressed hash powder. Upon further testing it was determined to be of top quality so a question was put about perhaps paying a visit to the grower. Of course, he said, we do the package trip!

For the very reasonable fee of about NZ$150 we were picked up early the next morning by Grande Taxi and driven high up into the mountains near Bab Taza, where we were entertained with stories, fed delicious home cooked Moroccan food, shown how they make hash with a very informative and instructional workshop, taken on a tour around the fields, given some to try, and after a long and very enjoyable day were taken back home again for a well earned rest.

Our host Mustapha is a taxi driver during the off season but during the farming months his entire family is kept busy tending cannabis terraces that stretch high into the surrounding hillsides. Everyone around here does it, he says, and the local cops are paid enough to look away.

At several points along the winding roads to and from his isolated farm house we were beckoned and whistled at by young men on the road side, eager to “do business”.

CANNABIS CULTURE IN MOROCCO

Morocco is a Muslim country, where alcohol is forbidden but cannabis is widely tolerated. There are many Sufis in Morocco and cannabis use among them is commonplace.

Most Moroccans use cannabis kif or hashish pollen in a sebsi pipe. The hash pollen is collected from semi-wild, seeded cannabis flowers, grown on a massive scale for an export market that now helps sustain the Moroccan economy.

Nakhla or hookah pipes are common, even three headed beasts like that shown below, but they are only used for tobacco.

Mustapha explained the local cannabis culture to me. Moroccans smoke their ganja with tobacco. They put what they call Kif in a Sebsi, a long pipe made from several sections of wood with a small clay bowl, and they put hash into cigarettes.

Hash comes as loose unpressed powder, while Kif (or “grass”) is what is left over from hash production. It has been beaten and crushed and is very low quality, however can still be used as a mixer with the hash powder.

It is not unusual to see Moroccan men in traditional jeleba outfits in cafes smoking their sebsi pipes, often within view of nearby policemen. In the medinas of Chefchaoun and Fez the touts were relentless. “Pssst… get high before you die?” (must have assumed I was straight) “I have something to blow your mind… and no one will know!” (was he going to secretly kill me?)

All I wanted was to satiate my intense munchies, and what’s great about Morocco is they eat these mouth-watering giant crumpets as big as dinner plates, and you can always get a delicious coffee to go with your top quality hashish.

ARRIVING IN MOROCCO, AND GETTING AROUND

  • Getting around by bus or train is easy. Grande Taxis (old beat up Mercedes) can be hired for trips between towns while petite taxies are used within towns. Getting lost in the Medinas is part of the adventure.
  • Touts will be waiting anywhere there are tourists. They are not dangerous, just annoying and relentless. Don’t talk to them. Scoring from them would be risky and more expensive.
  • Ask a taxi driver, but don’t be timid – tell them exactly what you want and don’t take any bullshit. Always remember when getting in a taxi to negotiate the fare before it sets off!
  • The safest way for a traveler to make a good connection is to ask discreetly at the hotel. Often the belhop will be pleased to make some extra money. Plus, tourists are recorded with the police as being their guest so the hotel has an interest in tourists remaining safe and happy. If caught, offer to “pay the fine now”.
  • When shopping, whether for hash or slippers, haggling is a national sport. Get into it, but be warned: attempts to cheat are also commonplace (eg fake souvineers, fake hash).

HANDY WORDS TO KNOW IN MOROCCO

  • Any French or Spanish!
  • Hello/Goodbye = Salam/Besalam
  • Thanks/No thanks = shoukran/la shoukran
  • Baraka! = Stop!
  • Pollen = dry sift hash powder
  • Hadala = the best hash (should cost about NZ$5-7/gram)
  • Grass = crap but makes a better mix than tobacco
  • Sebsi = traditional Moroccan smoking pipe.

[Originally published in NORML News Winter/Spring 2010]

DNA Genetics: the best of California in Amsterdam

DNA Genetics has taken the cannabis world by storm, winning 32 prestigious prizes in their first six  years of business. Originally from California, Don and Aaron (DNA, get it?) moved to Amsterdam with the aim of presenting the best American cannabis genetics to the world.

The DNA store in the heart of Amsterdam stocks high-quality bongs, clothing, and of course regular and feminised seeds including their cup-winning strains LA Confidential and Martian Mean Green.

DNA’s philosophy is to “circulate and preserve the pool of cannabis genetics” which is carried over to their new sub-label Reserva Privada, which showcases heirloom strains from a West Coast (USA) collective of breeders who, although protected by medicinal cannabis laws, wanted to remain nameless.

INTERVIEW BY CHRIS FOWLIE

So Don and Aaron, tell us how you got started.

Aaron: Don and I had been really good friends for a long time. I guess our relationship was based around cannabis from the very get go. Don had just moved into the neighbourhood, somebody he knew through me needed some medicine and it started there – around 94 or 95. We were selling weed in the alley. It was basically the USC, University of Street Cannabis! When we moved out here Prop 215 had just started.

Don: It passed in 96 but didn’t get rolling till 2002. Those years in between, it wasn’t like you could go to a dispensary or be a vendor. Back then it had to be like cancer or AIDS or glaucoma, it was so hard core. I didn’t want to take anything away from the true medical patients, so we moved and it blossomed while we were over here.

A: We’ve been smoking since almost 13. Don’s mom is sitting right here. How long have you been smoking weed for mom?

Don’s Mom: 1974 was my first year of smoking weed.

D: I remember as a kid that mom would be smoking a bong and we didn’t know it was bad. She used to bong out in the bedroom! We went to the DARE program where they try to brainwash a kid to snitch your family or something. I remember my parents sit me down and they were like “listen their program is good but weed isn’t a drug and they are going to try and make you think it is a drug and you just know that we are telling the truth.” And I knew right then as a kid that the whole system is shit. For years I came out here to Amsterdam on vacations, smoking weed out here and I was like, we got better weed in LA. We came out to Denmark and we ended up on a couch in this little town in Belgium at some dudes house that we didn’t even know, and three weeks had gone by so we were like ‘lets go to Amsterdam and we can party for a couple of weeks and bounce out’. We ended up getting a job at a hostel, and in the end it manifested itself into this. He had seeds saved in his vault from forever, I had seeds saved from my vault forever, family members and this and that, and it all came together into this smorgasbord in Holland.

How do you come up with your new strains?

D: You have two and they have babies and you see what comes out of it. We’re real strict about our selection.

A: The bottom line is you want the best and whether you select from 100, 2000, or 10,000 finding that one that is special to you is really something. You are playing God, saying this one is going to stay alive, this one is going to die.

So what are you looking for?

A: You gotta look for the total package, you want it to put off a phenomenal smell, you want it to taste very well, put off the same kind of flavours, and hash if you can have that it is a plus. We are not so worried about yield or strength, because all of the cannabis these days has been so hybridised that everything is going to get you medicated. It really comes down to enjoying the cannabis. You don’t want to smoke it just to smoke it, you want to enjoy it. You want to savour the flavour.

D: DNA Genetics is based on two guy’s opinions. We feel that this – whatever product we’re talking about – has reached it’s level. Doesn’t mean it will be your favourite or even our favourite. We do selections and we have a taste test of whoever’s around and we’ll take a popular opinion, and maybe it’s not what we wanted but the popular opinion says we should select it.

Which are your favourites?

D: The LA Confidential we will sacrifice yield for the flavour every day of the week, and we will always have some growing indoors, because we love the flavour, and it is strong. Shark’s Breath or Cannalope Haze, we like it, it will get you high and we grew it for years but we are over it. Now it is deemed commercial in our mind. It is still really good pot but for us it is kinda like really good mediocre pot.

A: LA Confidential, I’ll never get sick of it. Yield is not the best, but who gives a fuck about yield when you are looking at your personal stash. We can grow the Cannalope Haze and it comes out phenomenal, but it is like I could grow my best crop, I’m still not saving it. I will sell it all cos I would rather smoke the LA or the Martian. Sweet Haze, originally came from Neville as a Super Silver Haze or Silver Haze grown by another really big activist in the cannabis community Todd McCormick. I had purchased some weed from Todd and I found some seeds and brought those seeds back with me to Amsterdam and grew them out. It was like a Skunk Haze, a sweet tasty hazy strain. We took that female and crossed it with our Cannaloupe and brought out the Sweet Haze.

What should the outdoor grower in NZ be growing?

D&A: Sour Cream, Connie Chong, C13 because these are sativas and perfect for outdoors.

Are any particularly resistant to mould?

A: LA Confidential is pretty resistant to the powdery white mildews you get outside. Chocoloupe and Cannaloupe does well. I would stay away from the bigger buds like the Sharks Breath, the Recon. Most of them can and will do good, depending on where you live.

Tell us about the Cannabis Cup.

A: We always put in 150% towards the Cup, seeing as how all these people travel from throughout the world to sample the best weed in Amsterdam. We smoke out over a kilo and a half of grass with people and it’s a good time for us.

The most successful winners?

D: Chocoloupe, LA Confidential, Lemon Skunk, Martian Mean Green, Cole Train, Kush Berry has won a couple. Connie Chong just won the Slovakian 10th Annual Cannabis Harvest Cup!

Are you concerned about feminised seeds?

A: Who knows what is going to happen? You might sell a feminised seed, say Chocoloupe, and then the next person down the line might say ‘I’ve got a really good breeding male’ and then they breed that into the feminised line and we don’t know what is going to happen. Whether we agree with it morally has nothing to do with it, we want to do good business and 80% are screaming for this.

D: Right now, feminised seeds go for more than regular seeds, but we’re the opposite: our feminised seeds are cheaper than our regular seeds.

Do you get any heat? Is operating in Amsterdam similar to other countries?

A: We try to keep our mouths shut and we don’t tell anybody anything. Here, it’s hard to be anonymous because people know we’re DNA and they’re smoking our weed at the coffeeshops. They know what we do but we don’t throw it in their faces. We let the guys like Arjan, Derry and Soma put their heads way out there. We like the limelight a little bit, but we’re American and those motherfuckers [Dutch authorities] could come in here and swoop us up any time they want.

DNA Genetics are available at their shop in Amsterdam, or see Attitude Seed Bank (UK)

Note: Although legal in many places, the acquisition, purchase and possession of cannabis seeds is illegal in New Zealand. Cultivation is also illegal. Check your local laws.

[Originally published in NORML News Summer 2010]

Dana Beal: Yippie for drug treatment!

Dana Beal, one of the world’s original pot protesters, was in New Zealand recently promoting Ibogaine, a controversial treatment for drug addiction. By CHRIS FOWLIE.

In the 1960’s Dana Beal helped found the Yippies – the Youth International Party – with Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, and participated in the first public Smoke-In, held in New York in 1966. Decades later, Beal founded the Global Marijuana March. Known as J Day in New Zealand, this highly anticipated annual event is now held in over 200 cities around the world.

The Yippies were one of the highlights of the 60’s. They tossed money at the stock exchange, tried to levitate the Pentagon and protested at the Democratic National Convention in 1968. In the 1970’s and 80’s they held smoke-ins for marijuana legalisation, marched against Reagan’s secret wars, and took the right to burn the flag all the way to the US Supreme Court. A hard core of Yippie activists continue to this day, working on drug law reform, medical marijuana, promoting Ibogaine for treatment of substance addiction, and protesting the wars of the 21st century. Among them is Dana Beal, who visited Aotearoa in September as part of the Ibogaine Forum held at Otago University on 5 & 6 September.

Over forty people attended the forum organised by former addict Tanea Paterson, with a least 8 having already tried Ibogaine therapy. Among them was Dr Anwa Jeewa who discussed his experience treating about 300 people in his South African clinic.

Ibogaine is a medicinal extract from the inner root bark of the Tabernanthe Iboga plant, which grows in West Africa and has long been used by the people there as a healant and ritual entheogen. It is a powerful tool for introspection, leading patients to an understanding of their addiction and showing them a path out of it. As well as this, in low doses Ibogaine acts like a stimulant, so proponents say it has the potential to be a maintenance tool for methamphetamine (P) addicts in a similar way to how methadone is given to heroin or morphine addicts.

“Ibogaine cancels out withdrawal,” says Dana Beal. “It’s legal here. It’s actually really conventional, because you’re not trying to lead them into taking more Ibogaine. Nobody does this stuff for fun – it’s a real ordeal.”

Yet Ibogaine has a remarkable success rate. “If you have legal access to Ibogaine, we could get it to about 70 or 80 percent, which is far greater than anything else.”

Ibogaine, and the separation of marijuana from hard drugs, are the same issue

Dana says the separation of marijuana from hard drugs has always driven his law reform efforts. “We did a number of Smoke-Ins in the summer of 1967. There was a situation where there was series of violent incidents, like police riots, and we distributed marijuana in order to encourage peace, and it worked: a wave of peace.”

He says that promoting Ibogaine, and the separation of marijuana from hard drugs, are “the same issue”, because if Ibogaine is available “you are able to deal with the problems that may occur because people you know may engage in problematic behaviour that is screwing up the whole scene.

“When you have Ibogaine it’s like having that “break this glass in case of fire” object, that you can deal with someone who has got completely out of control on a heroin problem. The system can’t deal with that. The system here [in New Zealand] has a lot of problems dealing with their P problem.”

It can be hard to understand why people would do such “really lousy drugs”, but Dana has one theory: “I think it’s the absence of good marijuana. Sufficient marijuana would displace the P thing almost completely, if we legalized marijuana, because it’s such a shitty high and any good pot would chase it away. You know how we got rid of speed in the 60’s? Millions of doses of LSD!”

“There was a thing involving the Vietnam War where they were importing heroin in the body bags. Me and Tom Forcade the founder of High Times did a demonstration against the CIA conspiracy to flood the marijuana scene with heroin. They had Operation Intercept and they cut off all the pot and heroin was everywhere. They were out to get us because they believed they could cripple the anti-war movement using heroin. They’d already done it to the black community.

Ed Rosenthal in 1973 introduced me to Howard Lotsoff. Over a period of time he told me the whole thing. I was very deeply impressed, but we didn’t develop [Ibogaine] right away and it was a big mistake.

“A couple of years later I’m talking to the drug czar under Jimmy Carter, Peter Borne, hanging out at the NORML party that he got in trouble for being at. I saw everything, man. They were being very discreet, you wouldn’t have really seen coke being snorted. They had these snifters there, but you could tell. He was basically a good guy, but you know, he had problems. And they ended up pulling a serious of dirty tricks and the entire movement to legalise pot crashed. And that was when we realized the agreement not to talk about psychedelics didn’t mean anything, because if these guys were going to flirt with legalising coke, all that was out the window.

“We started developing Ibogaine and the problem was it was intermittent money, it would start and stop but Howard started doing the research. The first thing he did was read through all the literature and he started finding out a lot of the places heroin is active, Ibogaine is active but in a different way.“

Dana says there is even emerging evidence Ibogaine helps with Hepatitis C. “There’s a lot of skepticism about this claim, but there were three people at the [Dunedin] conference, all of
them took Ibogaine, and all of them the Hepatitis is fine. This is with one heroic dose like what you give for heroin.”

Although Ibogaine is legal in New Zealand, in order to be marketed as a treatment it would need to be approved by MedSafe, an agency of the Ministry of Health. Even if it is not approved by MedSafe, it is still legal to use.*

Treatments are available in the Netherlands, Britain, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, and some have already been done in Dunedin (“for opiates”). After a comprehensive medical check up, patients are given an oral dose of Ibogaine of up to 20mg per kg of body weight, with effects lasting for 24 to 48 hours, during which the patient lies down and experiences a vivid dream state while awake. This can be an extremely intense experience; aspects can be arduous as well as deeply emotional. During the treatment, symptoms of narcotic withdrawal virtually disappear, while patients afterward report almost none of the insatiable cravings associated with methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, alcohol or nicotine withdrawal.

Ibogaine has also been found to switch on a growth hormone called GDNF that not only regenerates dopamine neurons fried by substance abuse, but also back-signals to cell nuclei to express even more GDNF.

“Ibogaine turns on the growth factor that rebuilds the dopamine neurons. That’s specifically what’s involved with methamphetamine, because it’s a big dopamine releaser. That’s the reason people are completely burned out after they quit doing it. Their dopamine receptors are all wilted. So what we’re thinking is a low dose product where we give really low doses to methamphetamine addicts as a kind of replacement. It should still turn on the growth factor.”

An Ibogaine trip is not fun, so there is little potential for abuse. Undesirable side-effects include ataxia, nausea and (rarely) bradycardia (dangerous slowing of the breathing and heart rate), which is why patients must be screened for existing health conditions. Ibogaine can be risky, but in a controlled setting such as a clinic it has been shown to be a safe treatment for addiction, with some patients undergoing profound transformation. “Think of it like pulling a tooth. It really hurts but you’ll feel so much better later.”

“Everyone says there should be a clinical trial. I was thinking we should do the P here in Auckland, because it’s the biggest place where P is, and do the heroin down in Christchurch. We should go to the main places where the problem is.”

Sufficient marijuana would displace P almost completely… You know how we got rid of speed in the 60’s? Millions of doses of LSD!

“You’ve got to judge society by how it treats the most vulnerable people. The people who are sick and dying, the people in terrible pain. One of the things about the prohibitionist paradigm is that they like to inflict pain on people a lot.”

When asked how the medical marijuana movement is progressing in the US, Beal replies “it’s spreading like an inexorable tide.” The New York resident is pushing for a citizen’s initiated referendum, which unlike other states, New York doesn’t have – “or we’d have had legal medical marijuana twenty years ago.”

In the mean time, this tireless campaigner is concentrating on organizing the 2010 Global Marijuana March, which continues to grow. “We got Kathmandu and Istanbul this year – the more the merrier. We’ve got to go to India, and find the activist Sadhu’s or something. Just explain to them we finally see what they were talking about, and we need them to have processions through the streets on a certain day…”

More info: see these links:

[Originally published in NORML News Spring 2009]

* Since this article was written, Medsafe have confirmed the status of Ibogaine as a medicine under the Medicines Act. A clinical trial is currently underway in Northland and Otago, led by Dr Geoff Noller. Meanwhile, shortly after this interview Dana Beal was arrested in October 2009 for shifting medical marijuana across state lines.

Getting seedy

ALL ABOUT CANNABIS SEEDS

Many cannabis growers these days use cuttings (or ‘clones’), where one grower gives a cutting to another. As they are a part of the original ‘Mother’ plant, cuttings have the exact same genetics – but what if you want something new? MR FANTASTICO investigates.

There are a myriad of cannabis strains from all over the world, and ultimately it is the seeds of these plants that determine what is grown, smoked, consumed and shared. Getting new seeds means growers can select new plants to breed, cross with old favourites, or select new mother plants.

Seeds are sometimes found in bags of weed, or swapped between growers, but in both cases the recipient is unlikely to know for sure the heritage of the seeds. If growers want to be certain, the only way is by heading offshore to places of enlightened tolerance where seeds are legal and sold openly, like Holland, the UK or Canada.

Cannabis seeds are, however, completely illegal in New Zealand, and tucked away downunder in the far-flung corner of the globe, you might think it would be hard to get new cannabis genetics here. But like prohibition in general, authorities have proven ineffective at keeping cannabis seeds out of Aotearoa. After all, they are rather small, shipped by regular mail, and it is easy to order online from home, or an internet cafe across town.

Buying seeds

Cannabis seeds are a Class C controlled drug and being caught importing them could be serious. There are also plenty of stories online about dodgy seed merchants who sell any old seed labeled as the big names, or who don’t take care to package steathily, or who just take your money and send nothing. I’ve talked with many people over the years who have ordered seeds online, and they often tell me it’s better to go with seed company names they know and trust, like Sensi Seeds, Kiwiseeds, THSeeds, DNA Genetics, Serious Seeds, Dutch Passion, or their authorised distributors such as Nirvana, the Vancouver Seed Bank, and so on.

To reduce risk they often order from an internet cafe and pay using a pressie card or blank money order. They never order using their own name and never have it sent to where they are growing. One seed buyer told me about getting a friendly visit from Customs but he denied all knowledge of the seeds, and since it wasn’t his name there was nothing they could do. Other regular seed buyers told me Customs tend to find about 25% of their orders, but all they usually get is a letter (addressed to the fake name) saying not to do it again. Another said to think about mail volumes and how Customs works.

“There isn’t a lot of mail going between NZ and Holland,” she said, “but there is between NZ and the UK, and seeds are completely legal in the UK, so there are plenty of companies over there. There is also a fair amount of mail from Canada that tends to come straight to NZ or doesn’t go through a dozen countries on the way. My advice is to order from UK or Canadian companies, just make sure they sell in original packaging.”

What you get

Cannabis seeds are usually sold in branded packs of 5, 10 or 15 seeds of a particular variety. Cannabis has both male and female plants, and seeds could grow into either sex. Usually, growers only want female plants as these are higher in THC. However males are of interest to breeders or growers who want to produce seed for future crops.

When you order seeds of a strain called ‘X’, usually only the mother will have been ‘X’ and the father will be something different – often a Haze or G13. This is because if the seed company sold you female ‘X’ crossed with male ‘X’, your seeds would be 100% ‘X’ genetics, and this would mean not only would you have no reason to ever go back to them, you could also go into seed production in competition with the seed company who sold them to you. They actually cross the female you are buying with another male, so in a pack of seeds you will get some variation. Some seeds will have more of the mother’s genetics, some will have more of the father’s genetics, and some will be in between. This difference in displayed characteristics is known as the phenotype. Usually you will notice one or two main phenotypes, with possibly several more. However there is also a good side: hydrid vigour.

Seeds produced by a cross of different plants will grow faster and stronger than clones or seed produced from parents that are genetically identical. The exception to this is strains labelled ‘true breeding stock’. These will usually be classic old strains like Northern Lights, Mexican Sativa or Blueberry.

Storing seeds
Cannabis seeds should be kept in a dry, cool, dark place. The lower the humidity, the longer seeds will remain viable. Ensure seeds are kept in an airtight container. Film canisters are great – just put some silica gel in there to remove moisture.

Feminised seeds

For the past decade seed companies have been selling so-called “feminised” seeds, which contain only female genetics so only produce female plants. For growers who don’t want to breed they are a tempting option as they eliminate the risk of missing a male which could seed their entire crop.

The first company to develop and market feminised seeds was Dutch Passion, in 1998. Since then the steadily increasing demand has forced almost every other company to follow suit.

Feminised seeds are the result of marijuana’s remarkable survival mechanism – stress the plant enough and it will pollinate itself rather than die. Breeders stress out a female plant to the point where it turns hermaphrodite, using harsh conditions and most commonly a diluted solution of Silver Nitrate (AgNO3) or alternatively a hormone spray called Stamen-It. This is sprayed on the female plant early in the growing cycle, forcing it to start growing male flowers within the female buds. The pollen from those (genetically female) male flowers is then used to pollinate another healthy female plant, that has not been adulterated by the chemicals. The seeds from that plant will then be feminised.

Most customers get 100% female plants, but sometimes a few seeds do grow into hermies. This is because environmental factors have such a huge influence, that in stressful circumstances even feminised seeds may not grow into female plants.

Some breeders take it a step further, by growing out their first round of feminised seed under harsh conditions, then selecting plants that resist the tendency to turn hermaphrodite, then using those to produce seed, and repeat the cycle again as necessary.

So what’s the big deal? Feminised seeds are great for outdoor growers who don’t want to produce seed. They are also good for mother plant selection – buy a pack of seeds, knowing all will be female, and pick one or two to keep as mothers.

Feminised seeds are NOT intended for breeding, and it seems no one is quite sure what will happen when people do. Seed company owners I have spoken to were quietly worried about what they had unleashed on the world, but said the market demanded it, and if they didn’t they would lose market share to other companies that do. I got the impression they were worried a tendency for hermaphrodism could be put out into the wild where it could pop up in people’s outdoor drops, or float into indoor rooms through the air intake. So there is a responsibility that comes with planting feminised seed: grow it, consume it, but do not breed with it!

Feminised packs are marked with the female logo, and can be more than twice the price of regular seeds.

The other big innovation of recent years has been auto-flowering strains, and this year has seen the release of – you guessed it! – feminised anto-flowering strains.

Auto-Flowering seeds

Auto-flowering strains start flowering shortly after germination, regardless of the light cycle. Even under lights on 18 hours a day, they completely mature from seed to bud in only 60 days. Outdoors, yields will be low but the plant will flower automatically after a certain number of weeks, not just at the end of Autumn. Auto-flowerers are a new option for growers plagued by bud rot and mould caused by humid Autumn weather. Everyone has heard of sativa and indica being the two sub-species of cannabis, but there is also a third type called ruderalis. It is thought to predate the others, and evolved to reproduce year round, regardless of the daylight hours. These days cannabis ruderalis survives in Russia and East Europe, but early attempts at marketing it produced stunted, weak plants with varying potency. Some could barely be called drug varieties. Now breeders from Holland and Canada have crossed ruderalis with potent indicas and sativas, and using huge breeding programmes have managed to eliminate the weak genetics while keeping the auto-flowering trait.

The first true auto-flowerer to hit the market was Lowryder from the Joint Doctor, but this year has seen several new potent auto-flowering strains released, including Taiga and Tundra by Dutch Passion, Smurfberry from Sagamartha, and Roadrunner from Spain’s Dinafem Seeds.

Germinating seeds

Seeds need water, a little heat, and air to germinate (not light – it’s dark underground!). Some growers sew directly into the soil where they are planning to grow.

To increase the rate of germination, cannabis seeds can be first soaked overnight in a cup of water (rain or distilled water is best – some growers add 1% bleach to the water so they know it is sterile). Don’t soak seeds for more than 24 hours or they may rot.

Soaked seeds are placed between damp paper towels, or put directly into a rockwool cube, or a pot of fine, soilless mix.

Some growers use a plastic baggie or glad wrap to construct a ‘tent’ over their seeds, which keeps the humidity and temperature elevated. The cover is removed as soon as the first sprout appears.

Seeds usually germinate in 2-7 days, at temperatures around 20 deg C (higher temperatures can inhibit germination). When the seed germinates a white tap root is visible.

The tender sprouts are planted with the root facing down, under 1cm of fine soilless mix or seed raising medium. The planting medium is kept evenly moist, and watered with a dilute fertiliser solution.

Experiments have shown these factors can increase the ratio of female plants:

  • higher nitrogen in the seed bed and lower potassium levels
  • lower temperatures
  • higher humidity
  • more blue light in the spectrum
  • fewer daylight hours (eg 14 hours on, rather than 18)

Males are increased if the grow medium is not moist, as any environmental stress tends to produce more males.

Seed companies in Holland say Spain is up to 90% of their sales, so what they want has a huge influence on what is made available – and the Big Thing at the moment is feminised auto-flowering strains. Cannabis seeds are legal in Spain, and they have the good climate and tolerant laws to be able to grow openly outdoors. In towns and cities plants on terraces or balconies are a common sight. Now with the autoflowering feminised strains they can plant anywhere, any time of the year. They only have to mark their calendar and come back at that time, knowing the plant is female and is genetically programmed to flower at a certain time, regardless of daylight hours. Hola!

Auto-flowering feminised seeds will revolutionise growing for the smalltime personal grower, making guerilla ganja gardening even easier. They are particularly suited to people who just want a couple of easy plants on the deck, or growers who want to go into the bush or countryside, chuck some seeds into the ground, and just come back a certain time later. It should not be overlooked that the ability to plant year-round could put a massive spanner in the works of our constabulary’s annual helicopter recovery programme.

Auto-flowering strains are also good for indoor growers who want to have plants at different stages of growth under the same lamp. Normally mothers are kept under 24 hours lighting, vegetative plants might be under 18 hours light, and budding plants will be under 12 hours light, but an auto-flowerering plant could be matured in the same room as a regular mother receiving 24hr light.

However auto-flowering strains are not suited for growers seeking mother plants to take cuttings. They won’t get a stable mother, because the plant will start to bud regardless of what light cycle it is kept in. In balance, they are probably not much good for indoor growers at all. The whole point about growing indoors is they can control everything about the environment. A key part of this is using the light cycle to induce flowering at the time of their choice. A strain that flowers automatically takes away that choice.

Also, unless they keep mother plants, people who buy feminised strains will need to go back to the seed company for new seeds every time – which gives you some idea why many of the seed companies love them!

Ultimately whether people choose to use auto-flowering and/or feminised seeds will depend to a large extent on what value they place on being easy compared to having more control. I tend to think a couple of auto-flowerers in the back yard will probably fit a lot of people’s lifestyles and we’ll probably see more of them around New Zealand in the not too distant future.

Note: Although legal in many countries, the acquisition, purchase or possession of cannabis seeds is illegal in New Zealand. It is also illegal to cultivate cannabis here and in much of the world. Consult your local laws.

[Originally published in NORML News Spring 2009 under the pseudonym “Mr Fantastico”]

Amsterdam’s THSeeds

T.H.Seeds have given themselves an ambitious target: “to protect genetics and serve mankind”.  They’ve done a good job so far, with their strains winning multiple cannabis cups and grown throughout the world. They also have a successful hemp clothing company. CHRIS FOWLIE caught up with founders Adam Dunn and Doug Mignola in Amsterdam.

Gidday Adam, tell us about your entries for the Cannabis Cup and how it went.

It went exactly as we planned we got really good feedback from people and everyone loved it. We are not really worried about the awards. We had one old variety, MK Ultra, which is a winner from 2003 so we just thought after 5 years bring it back out of retirement. The other one is Rambo which is a Sativa entry that has got some afghan in it [with] two types of Jamaican, called Most Wanted which is the Haze, and the other is 9 Month Skunk, a purple sativa skunk from the original hippy trail vibe.

What are your concerns about feminised seeds?

There is always a big hype for a moment and right now it is feminised. I think Hank was the first company with Dutch Passion to go for it and commercialise the whole process. Not to say the seeds are bad or anything, but over the years I kind of watched to see what the reaction was and I never got the feeling that you were getting the best out of it. I’m sure he made lots of money and sold millions of packs, but when you checked with people on how these things turned out a lot of times it was weak issues: not really the most potent of genetics and a lot of times the hybrid vigor was lost or something seems to be missing. And the reality is if you grow indoors you definitely don’t need feminised because you just need a mom. You also want a plant that is really strong and can be cloned for years on end without any problems.

If you are breeding dogs or birds or fish, anything, you are looking for the best breeders and they are usually the most male of all males or the most female of all females. You don’t want something that is somewhere in between, where it has either hemaphroditic tendencies and/or not robust enough for genetics to follow.

If you take a plant that is feminised it has had stress induced on it at some point, a generation or two ago, so if plants were forced to turn into male then that next generation will all be female – it is true – but the fact that they are all female doesn’t mean that they are all good. It means that they have to be female because there is only female information on top of female information. But it also means that any problems will be amplified just as any good things may be amplified. So if you have a problem with bug resistance or THC production or any of these things, if there is not something to create vigor like what you get with a male and female, you can end up losing in the long run not gaining, which is our whole game.

Also when you are making clones from the same plant over generations if you are starting with stress there is a good chance it will go hermy on you or won’t root as well. I have just seen so many more negative results than positive.

Is there a risk that feminised seeds might contaminate the gene pool and have unintended consequences down the track?

True. It is like what Ruderalis was back in the early 90s when it was a really hot thing and everybody wanted it. I never included it in our program because I felt if this gets in there is a chance that 10% or 5 % or more could come out with these “pretendicas” – duds that don’t have any resin content or the resin is not potent. It much easier to put something into your gene pool than it is to pull something out. Once it is in, it is in, and if you’re working a few generations down the road you can’t reverse it. So for us Ruderalis was never that interesting. It was in my mind back when I was a kid – I thought it was great, these little auto-flowering plants – and some companies have based their entire existence on an auto flowering situation. But it is kind of like making it too easy for the person who is the end user, and that’s not really the goal, it is more the preservation of genetics. Yeah you’re going to get a female, and yeah it’s going to flower automatically, and yeah it’s going to stay under your waist level. It is great for that guy who doesn’t know what he is doing. But for the people who really know what they are doing, the last thing they want is to have no control over a plant where it just automatically flowers and is automatically a female so you have no chance of making any of your own seeds. It would be nicer if you could, say, take a pack of Chocolate Chunk, and a pack of SAGE, cross them together and you’ve got Chocolate SAGE or something like that. You’ve given the option to the person to produce their own, and that’s a lot more interesting

What is the philosophy or point of difference for T.H.Seeds?

We were one of the first to recognise the American gene pool which is now dominating the whole scene around the world with strains like Kush and Sour Diesel.

When we started CIA in 1993 we had already heard about Sour Diesel from our friends New York. I didn’t actually really get to try it until I got it in 1997- 98. It was one of those plants that didn’t even get to the Cup until 2001-2002, and now all of a sudden everyone knows Sour Diesel. The reality is that East Coast of America, that’s like the Don, you know, and the West Coast it is the Kush, and actually both of those strains are interrelated. The Chem Dawg is the plant that produced both of those things. So our thing was to find these isolated strains that had been proven themselves via the local population. And that is what is nice. They are our testers, the people who do that breeding make it that much easier for us -they do all the preselection, although they don’t know what they are doing half the time, that’s the other problem.

What are your favourite strains?

Our top strains are SAGE and Bubble Gum. Bubble Gum was the first plant we introduced into the whole market. That was a situation where we were forced to work with what we had. We had seven different moms that we were working with, and we had a break in at the room, and somebody did all our pre-selection for us by killing everything down to the one plant that had one branch that had been left at the bottom, so that could be re-veged and kept. So the unfortunate part of that was it wasn’t particularly the best of all the Bubblegums, it was the one that made it through. So that was our first introduction into the reality that if you have something good maybe people might like it and might really want it!

Then we did SAGE. That was our friend in California who lived here at the time. He actually did most of the pre-selection here and he did a lot of it outdoors which was cool. Like literally a whole back yard full, and not even the best conditions, but at least you can see in the worst conditions how it can work so you actually learn more than if you did it in the best conditions. That’s the thing about Holland. We live in a shitty horrible country, it’s rainy, miserable and humid. Conditions are never good so that’s why we all grow indoors. But everything that you bring from here and bring into nicer conditions always does so much better, like “oh my god, look at that!”. You go to Spain and take that same seed, all the different flavours pop out, things you didn’t even know were there.

A lot of people grow outdoors in New Zealand. Which strains would you recommend for that?

Medicino Madness is our flagship outdoor strain, that’s seven week flowering – mid September for the northern hemisphere so probably [mid-March] for the southern hemisphere. So that’s the kind of guarantee, the money maker to make sure you can get your product out on time and be the first guy smoking, which helps! Then if you have the good conditions, Sage and Sour work really well, like in Spain and California they really love it. This year I’ve have been getting good results with Zero Gravity in California. SAGE does well if you have the conditions, but not here! I’m sure the North Island and South Island are completely different from each other so it’s probably a northern one.

What about for down the bottom of the South Island which would be equivalent to Scandinavia?

That would be the Mendo. That would be the only one I would guarantee, the rest would be a little bit borderline. That’s why we did the Rambo this year because we were looking for something else outdoor, with a bit more Sativa influence. It’s big outdoor producing and quick. In NoCal if something stands out, it means something because they are growing a lot of different weed there. Usually they just keep going through different varieties, until they find one or two. They’ll go through sixty per year, so that’s a much better testing ground than anywhere, because they have the medical clubs and people testing it.

So what are the future plans for T.H.Seeds?

Well next year it is sweet 16 so big parties probably! No, we’re at a situation where we have new packaging, new energy back in. We had a couple of years with the jackets taking off, it made it hard to concentrate on everything. We’re putting more focus on getting everything tightened up so that people get the best and it’s always guaranteed. Seeds are one of those industries that have expanded so fast. There’s a new company every day, but we’re in the location where people can come to our shop any time. We also want to be available to anyone anywhere, so hopefully open a new shop, why not!

For more info see www.thseeds.com & www.hempworks.nl

[Originally published in NORML News Spring 2009]

Rationale for urine testing flawed – study finds marijuana use lowers accident risk

Testing urine for cannabis does not improve on-the-job safety. It not only fails to measure impairment, a new study confirms cannabis users have an even lower accident risk than straight people.

The entire reasoning for drug testing workers and drivers is based on the assumption that any use will cause impairment and therefore users would endanger themselves and others around them. Now a new study has undermined the rationale for drug testing workers, by showing that the use of cannabis actually reduced the risk of accidents.

Investigators at the Luasanne University Hospital in Switzerland assessed the association between the use of cannabis and/or alcohol and the risk of injury among 486 patients aged 16 and older treated for various injuries. They found alcohol use in the six hours prior to injury was associated with a three-fold elevated relative risk compared with no alcohol use, but cannabis use was inversely related to risk of injury, with only 0.33 the risk compared to no use. Cannabis users had less injuries and were actually safer than alcohol drinkers or even straight people. Despite the study’s relatively small sample size, investigators concluded:

“The results for cannabis use were quite surprising. … The present study in fact indicated a ‘protective effect’ of cannabis use in a doseresponse relationship.”

A prior case-control study conducted by the University of Missouri also reported an inverse relationship between marijuana use and injury risk, finding, “Self-reported marijuana use in the previous seven days was associated … with a substantially decreased risk of injury.”

Drug testing in New Zealand

Employers often say they have to drug test workers because of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, but they must also take into account the Privacy Act 1993, the New Zealand
Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993.

Under New Zealand employment case law, testing is allowed for:

• Pre-employment
• Post accident/incident
• Just ‘cause’
• Follow-up (after a positive test)
• Random or periodic testing for safety-sensitive positions.

New Zealand and Australia follow a common standard for urine tests (AS/NZS 4308:2008), which is based on the US Standard. It permits only two methods for analysing urine: EMIT or GCMS. No other type of urine test, and no other type of test such as hair, saliva or sweat, meets the standard because they are unreliable and have a high rate of incorrect positives and negatives.

Only EMIT and GCMS urine tests can be used for evidential purposes, and any other type of test should be challenged.

  • EMIT tests are usually conducted at doctor’s surgeries or medical centres or places like MedLab.
  • GCMS tests are performed by the government-owned ESR, who have close ties with the police and who also analyse samples collected by NZ Drug Detection Agency Ltd, a privately-owned testing outfit run by former cops.
  • A simple on-site “screen” is sometimes used (that often resembles a home pregnancy kit) but these do not meet the standard and must be confirmed with proper lab analysis.

Urine tests are made to detect only the presence of THC-COOH, the non-psychoactive metabolite
of THC. A cut-off of 50ng/ml is allowed, supposedly to allow for any second hand smoke, but that figure is actually fairly arbitrary and based on little real science.

Evidence-based testing

Drug testing advocates claim it is about safety, but they only look for the inactive metabolite that remains after someone straightens up. THC from marijuana is converted to THC-COOH, which is fat soluble and can stay in the body for several months after use. Because urine analysis does not measure the presence of THC it cannot indicate when cannabis was inhaled or ingested, or whether a person is impaired.

If testing really was about on-the-job safety, as they claim, testers could just as easily look for the presence of THC itself, which is present while a person is high. Testers could set a limit for THC based on actual impairment.

In 2007 a research team led by Franjo Grotenhermen at from the Nova Institute in Germany showed a THC level in blood of 10ng/ml was equivalent to the legal drink-driving limit of 0.05. The study found that a level below this was not associated with an increased risk of injury.

Setting an THC level that is based on evidence and comparable to alcohol impairment would be more effective, just, and more widely accepted by workers and smokers.

Beating the test

The biggest question on the lips of most pot smokers is how long they have to stop in order to give a clean urine test. In anecdotal reports people say it takes anything from 2 days to 6 weeks to be clean, but there has not been a lot of actual research on the subject.

In a new study by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse in Maryland, USA, 60 regular cannabis users were monitored during 30 days of abstinence. Their urine was tested for the presence of THC-COOH, the non-psychoactive metabolite of THC. Surprisingly, researchers found there were considerable fluctuations between days with a positive urine test and days with a negative test during this period, rather than a constant decline in THC-COOH concentrations. The average number of days until the first negative test (THC-COOH below 50 ng/ml) was 3.2 days, while the average number of days until the last positive test was 15.4 days.

If you can’t wait that long, many stores now sell products designed to beat urine tests and maintain your privacy. But just as there are two officially sanctioned types of urine test, and others that are not approved, there are specialised products designed to work for each one. Make sure you get the right product for the test you are taking, or it may not work. One of the most widely used products is synthetic urine, that comes with a heating pad and pouring spout. It’s unisex, completely undetectable, and beats all types of urine test.

Sources: Goodwin RS, et al. J Anl Toxicol 2008;32(8):562-9; Gmel G, et al. BMC Public Health 2009;9(1):40. Grotenhermen, F., et al, (2007), Developing limits for driving under cannabis. Addiction, 102: 1910–1917. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2007.02009.xVinson DC, Marijuana and other illicit drug use and the risk of injury: A case-control study. Missouri Medicine [2006, 103(2):152-156]

Declaration of interest: the author is the manager of The Hempstore.

Interview with Kiwiseeds

The boys from up north have done it again. Kiwiseeds recently won Best Indica at the High Times Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, so CHRIS FOWLIE sat down for a session with founder Tim A’Court.

Chris: Congratulations for winning your second Cannabis Cup! Could you take us through what happened, what you entered and why?

Tim: We entered the Mt Cook this year which is a plant that didn’t come from anywhere near Mt Cook, it is just the beautiful name that we gave it. It is a true Indica, one of the first when we were bringing Indica seeds back from overseas in the late 80s early 90s. We started playing round with them and this was something we came up with. Since then we brought it back to Amsterdam, and have crossed it, bettered it and made it into the hybrid kind of bigger plant. It is a fat leaved Indica with lots of crystals and grows in nice short seasons and has that typical Indica quality which is lots of strength.

Unfortunately we didn’t have a lot of it. This was a selection from a group of seeds that we have grown out. It happened to be much better than the last one we had. For the cup we have to enter nearly 100 grams of weed and it took up everything we had. I know people were not happy they didn’t get a change to taste it or have any of it!

Me included! Speaking of taste, the High Times judging crew said they all agreed Mt Cook was the best and said it was a clear winner.

Yep, I’ve heard that as well from the lady who fills the jars for the judges. She came in and got her packet of Mt Cook seeds before she left and she said the same thing. I’m absolutely rapt. I mean the seed cup is always great. We don’t have a coffeeshop so I don’t win coffeeshop prizes but the seed cup is the real one. The samples are there and people vote on what they see and taste. It is a blind test so there is no buying of votes or persuasion from other people. So we are absolutely rapt and there are a whole lot of seed companies who are astounded that we’ve taken not just the Sativa Cup two years ago but now we’ve got the Indica Cup. We have never really been known as Indica-type people. Our idea was originally to be the Sativa varieties that we grew in New Zealand in the early days; to capture some of the genetics that we were rapidly losing in New Zealand due to skunk varieties and other various things coming in.

Before you got to Amsterdam what were you getting up to in New Zealand?

Ever since I was a kid, the whole family was a horticulture family and we still are. Over the years my crazy mum who I guess I should blame everything on has grown everything from sweet peas to boysenberries and loganberries. We have always had glass houses, open ground market gardening kind of thing. When I was 15 I left school – stupidly, but not stupidly. The marijuana thing was just a sideline. It was just another herb in the garden in those days. Of course we realised we could grow it and we had friends who all wanted it so it became something that we were good at, a young age. I think my brother and I had our first plants when we were 13 years old. I’m the first one to say it is not a complicated plant. It’s not a hard plant to grow. Breeding is a different story. It is really easy for anyone to grow in so many different ways. It’s a fantastic medicine.

I hear in those days you were a member of Norml in Whangarei and did a bit of activism.

We were all big members of Norml. I realized that is wasn’t fair that a lot of friends were in court for having a roach in there pocket. It was destroying young peoples lives. I joined Norml and every Thursday we would go to the court house with pockets full of joints and smoke them on the steps and we would try and get in. On several occasions we had these sessions going in the middle of the court house. There were often police coming up from Auckland and they would just go nuts – grabbing people, absolute chaos and violence. It made the whole thing look stupid.

What sort of growing did you get up to in New Zealand?

The typical guerrilla growing – cages in the bush. Then we got a little bit sneaky and realised that putting it right under peoples noses was actually the best way. We actually ended up night time gardening right on the edges of towns. After that we moved to the Hawkes Bay and down there was huge demand for this stuff but the price was incredibly high compared to up North. We ended up going back up north and putting our patches out and feeding the people of Hawkes Bay with our produce. The last couple of years we went back to Northland and tried pretty unsuccessfully to pull off the big one – we didn’t pull it off but at the end we had just enough to come back to the UK. The rest is history.

What do you put your success down to?

Just being humble kiwis not being full of bullshit. We have stuck to the really basic old varieties crossed with some things we have brought in from NZ. We haven’t gone too far off, we have kept the hybrid vigour, we haven’t bred and bred into some strange little thing. It can get all too complicated. We need to get back to the basics. I like to keep it really simple when people come into the grow shop and need advice. I don’t want to sell them every bottle of potion in the shop which is how it comes in a grow shop in the end.

What is your top tip for growing the best marijuana around – from the Kiwiseeds catalogue of course!

Keep it simple – you can get carried away with additives. Stick to what is known. Marijuana requires a lot of food. It is a very fast growing annual – the growing and nutrition of it is very important.

If people want to recapture that old style Kiwi taste what should they be going for?

There are couple of strains we have that are typical kiwi weeds. One of them is “2 Pounder” which was really famous up north when I was a kid. We brought it back into Holland and we have made it into more of a super hybrid that really can produce a lot of weed if people have got a bit more room. It really is that classic big old kiwi sativa with that lovely sativa taste and high. The other one would be Mako Haze. We had a plant that we nicknamed Mako in the north and we brought this back in clone form and crossed it with the Haze. We managed to capture the spice and taste of the New Zealand bush weed.

Have you kept that original cutting alive?

Yes – we have to keep it all going, and we do rely a lot on original stock that we’ve still got going. You have to keep it not just in one place but two or three places, just to make sure. If one goes down or we get busted, they take everything. One of my biggest nightmares is to keep it going. Every 3 or 4 weeks the clones are replenished in each place. I think we have got about 150 different things in vegetation all the time, just for the mothers and fathers for all those different things. You can always go back to seed but there is nothing like the original stock. I know a few people in town, different seed breeders, quite famous ones, who have lost everything at one stage and they have tried to bring it back from nothing. That is a big shame but it is also something that happens in an illegal situation.

The perception from people outside Holland is often that it is very liberal, that it is legal and that you can do anything, but the reality seems a lot different.

It has been going backwards, but even when it was at its peak, all it meant is that the Dutch people are pragmatic people, and the Dutch always saw this as a personal liberty. Rather than go in all guns blazing they decided it was better to try have some control but also at the same time try and separate the soft drugs from the hard drugs. All they did was say that personal use of drugs should not be a criminal offence, so coffee shops were allowed. The idea was to take it out of residential areas and put it where it could be controlled. But the problem is the supply to the coffeeshops is illegal, and the coffeeshops are only allowed to have 500 grams. The “backdoor” as we call it is totally illegal. As a grower it is completely illegal.

What can New Zealand learn from the Dutch scene?

It has always been such a shame that we couldn’t do something like the Dutch. I still see New Zealand as having the opportunity to be an eco-paradise. If we said in New Zealand tomorrow that we would decriminalise marijuana we would have hordes of tourists wanting to come and lie down and smoke a joint, because people say it is so far away and when you get there you can’t score anything! Give people their weed and let them have a holiday in paradise.

So what does the future hold for you and kiwi seeds?

We have won the cup again this year and I was almost looking to take a break but the race is on to get out all the seeds that are in the catalogue this year. We are doing some feminised seeds this year, purely through pressure to do that. I really don’t like the idea of spreading genetically modified seeds round the world and ruining our stocks of plants.

When people buy feminised seeds what would you caution them about?

If they have any love for marijuana and the species as a whole, if you buy feminised seeds you should grow them, clone them and flower them but don’t try and seed them. If you grow a plant and it is a couple of months old and a couple of feet high you can sex it there and then. Just take a gauze bag, stick it over the very lower branch. Doesn’t have to be perfectly 12/12. Give it a lot of darkness and a little bit of air as well and that branch will sex and you can pull it out or keep growing it. It means that you don’t need to have feminised seeds.

Are you looking for new strains if people back home have the meanest weed around and want to get that to you?

Absolutely. Just give us an email or ring or put it in a video case. We actually supply little containers if people want to send a clone. We would be absolutely honoured to grow those things
out.

Maybe we could get the Mako Haze back and enter the Auckland Cup! Are there official overseas sites that people can go to to buy your seeds?

We sell to distributors and some of those take the risk for selling overseas, mainly everyonedoesit.co.uk. There is no problem with it at the moment but as a producer we have to be careful. England seems to have no problems sending anywhere in the world.

So there you have it, go for the English sites. Thanks to Tim, Dave and all the crew at Kiwiseeds, and here’s to winning your third Cup!

[originally published in NORML News Autumn 2009]

Judging great hash

Assessing the quality of great hashish is not as simple as marijuana. You can use a loupé or magnifying glass but you can’t always tell what you are looking at. Adulterants are commonly added. But there are a few simple tricks.

Unfortunately “is it hard or soft” is no longer one of them, because dodgy suppliers have worked out how to add whatever it takes to make a hard hash soft or vice versa. There are labs in Amsterdam that boast they can take a hash from anywhere in the world and turn it into whatever type you want it to be. That means coffeeshops can still sell popular types even if they can’t get any! If you come across some hash, check how it sounds when you drop it.

Has it got “clack”? That’s how good hash sounds. Not click or clunk or dink or donk.

The next question is, has it got snap? When you pull it apart does the hash ‘snap’ leaving a tail? Poor quality hard hash cannot be pulled apart, while mediocre soft hash will stretch and crumble.

Finally, does it bubble? When you put a flame to it, does it fizz, melt and bubble? That’s what the best hash should do.

As I found, there are very few hashes these days that pass all of these tests, even in Amsterdam and even at the Cannabis Cup. I was lucky enough to check out all the entries for the Import Hash Cup.

After the cup was over, our inside lady in the Temple Dragon Crew, the cup organising committee, took me and Rob to check out what was left of the entries. Surprisingly, there was a lot left, although all of the local ice hashes had been consumed. The hotel was littered with ashtrays overflowing with roaches bigger than thumbs.

Of the 20 or so import hashes, we picked 5 that we thought would be worth smoking and took away hefty lumps of each. Only one passed the all the tests, and it was very tasty indeed (‘Aalin Grano Cru’ from Boerejonens Coffeeshop). It had snap, clack and bubble and oh my gosh did it do the business.

Rob and I raced to finish it, but the others – and these were the best of the cup entries – were a bit disappointing. A couple fizzed slightly but after half a toke just tasted of carbon.

The best hash finished nowhere in the cup, probably not helped by being entered by an little-known coffeeshop. The winners were rather predictably Barney’s Farm and Green House Seeds, the two most-promoted brands in Amsterdam.

Disclaimer: This post like others on this site is for information and education only. Marijuana and hashish are legal in Amsterdam but not in New Zealand. Check your local laws.

Synthetic cannabinoids in herbal incense not controlled by law

Synthetic cannabinoids designed to research the health effects and medical applications of cannabis are being sold as legal highs.

Brands such as Spice, Dream, Aroma, Space and possibly others have the cannabinoids, which have cannabislike effects but are usually not listed on the packets. Spice comes in several varieties and has been sold in New Zealand, Europe and Canada since 2002, while other brands have appeared more recently. The active ingredients are sprayed onto a base of herbs such as baybean, blue lotus, scullcap and lion’s tail. The products are often labelled as “incense” but are typically smoked. Anecdotal reports suggest they can also be used in a vaporiser.

Last year authorities in Germany asked a company called THC Pharm, which extracts natural cannabinoids and other psychoactive ingredients from plants, to find the active ingredient in
Spice. In December they announced they has isolated a “cannabimimetic” called JWH-018.

Then on 19 January 2009, the University of Freiburg in Germany announced that the other main active substance in Spice is related to a synthetic cannabinoid called CP 47,497. Different ratios of the two cannabinoids have apparently been used in the different varieties of Spice. US Customs was reported to have seized 100 pounds of Spice containing another potent synthetic cannabinoid called HU-210, but this has not been confirmed.

The synthetic cannabinoids activate cannabinoid receptors, causing similar effects to THC. More than one hundred synthetic cannabinoids already have been designed, many by researchers wanting to investigate the medicinal applications or health effects of cannabis, but who were stymied by anticannabis attitudes and overly restrictive government policies.

The irony is that these chemicals have crossed over onto the legal high market, also as a way of getting around cannabis prohibition. The synthetic cannabinoids in Spice do not resemble illegal cannabinoids, and therefore are not subject to laws restricting drug analogues. Analogues
must have similar molecular structures, and this is not the case.

Germany and Austria quickly banned Spice, but the products remain legal elsewhere. The problem for authorities is that because many more cannabinoids can be easily synthesized, the detected substances could easily be replaced by similar substances.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spice_(drug)
Sources: CBP, AP.

(Originally appeared in NORML News Autumn 2009)

Answering objections to natural medicinal cannabis

OPPONENTS of patients being able to medicate with natural herbal cannabis, including our own Ministry of Health, can no longer ignore its medical effectiveness. Instead, they deny relief to seriously ill people by hiding behind smokescreens and circular arguments. CHRIS FOWLIE explains.

The Ministry of Health supports allowing the cannabis-extract Sativex. This in itself is not a bad thing. Sativex is, after all, a natural extract made from whole cannabis. Its genetics are based on quality Sensi Seed Bank stock. But it’s not yet available in New Zealand – and it’s not for everyone. Sativex has a fixed ratio of just two cannabinoids, whereas the variety of cannabis strains allow patients to pick and choose to match strains to symptoms. And Sativex is expensive – an estimated cost of $150-$300 per week, with no sign Pharmac will offer any funding.

Smoking

Objectors to herbal cannabis say smoking anything must be bad. That assumes all smoke is smoke, but cannabis smoke is different: for a start, it contains THC, a powerful antioxidant with tumour-fighting abilities. THC kick-starts the lung’s immune response, and clears the lungs. Several large-scale studies have thus found cannabis-only smokers to be more healthy than even non-smokers!

Next they talk about cannabis smokers taking deep breaths and holding it in longer. But it is the vastly-inflated value caused by its illegal status that forces tokers to maximise the bang for their buck. If cannabis cost the same as tobacco ($20 per ounce including taxes), we’d see a more relaxed smoking style.

Even if we accept anti-smoking arguments, herbal cannabis does not have to be smoked. Patients can avoid smoke entirely by growing cannabis and turning it into foods, drinks or tinctures, or even skin creams or massage oils. They can use a vaporiser to get the instant effect and dose control of inhalation without any smoke at all.

Standard dosages

The next objection that is usually raised is that there can be no standardisation or dosage control with herbal cannabis. But smoking actually provides patients with very precise dosage control, due to the instant onset of effects. Furthermore, baked foods, drinks, candies, chocolates, elixirs and tinctures can all be easily made to a standard recipe that delivers a product of known strength. Anyone who can follow a recipe can do it. For larger-scale production, places overseas have
met patient need by licensing community groups, pharmacies or local companies to produce natural extracts or tinctures of known strength. The Dutch licensed several companies to provide standardised natural cannabis to pharmacies there. The varieties all have fixed and known quantities of active ingredients and are sterilised to be free of mould or fungus. It is that not hard to do, and could easily be done here.

Home invasions

Finally, those who object to herbal medicinal cannabis eventually say that allowing patients to grow their own would expose them to risk of robbery or home invasion, acknowledging that the current drug law creates crime and violence. Regardless, many patients are already growing their own, but are denied any protection. If their medicine is stolen they can’t go to the police. Patients are forced to engage with the illicit market and the risks that go with that. Places overseas that allow patients to grow their own or nominate someone else to do it for them have not noted increased violence of thefts from patients. To the contrary, allowing patients to grow their own is the best way to safely meet their needs.

(NORML News Autumn 2008)

Police spray Island community

BY CHRIS FOWLIE

Auckland drug squad members sprayed toxic poison over the township of Trypheena on Great Barrier Island, as part of the so-called cannabis eradication programme.

What’s more, they did it from a dangerously-low height of around 100 feet, at least 900 feet below the Civil Aviation Authority rules.

It happened on Sunday 3 February, the last day of the summer holidays. Around 1000 locals and holiday makers were in the township, enjoying the sunshine or waiting for the last ferry back to Auckland.

A spotter plane and helicopter hired by the police arrived on the scene and began dumping sprays  of blue poison over people’s back yards, roadsides, near streams, over a caravan and over weeds of the legal variety (see photos). It seems no cannabis was sprayed.

Outraged residents convened a town meeting and unanimously condemned the operation.

The Great Barrier Community Board is laying a complaint with the Independent Police Conduct Authority, while a complaint is also being laid with the Civil Aviation Authority.

Growers forced indoors

A report by the US Justice Department says the cannabis eradication program has driven producers indoors.

The US Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) is similar to the New Zealand police’s expensive, dangerous and largely ineffective annual eradication programme. Both use planes and helicopters to uproot or spray poison on crops, and co-opt gung-ho Army and Air Force personnel and expensive hardware to help them do it.

The report notes that one side effect of shifting indoors is that “groups will produce higher-potency marijuana year-round, allowing for exponential increase in profits derived.”

The report also notes that the eradication program had not reduced availability of cannabis, and said the US cannabis market is “saturated”.

(NORML News Autumn 2008)

Property Seizure 2.0 – The Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill

BY CHRIS FOWLIE

The Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill is a significant erosion of civil liberties and will almost certainly see the innocent punished

The bill has not yet come back from the Law and Order Committee and so could still be significantly amended. It proposes to seize people’s assets even though they have not been convicted of any crime. It violates fundamental norms of justice, such as the presumption of innocence and the prohibition on double jeopardy, and could also breach the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

If passed, the bill would allow both conviction-based forfeiture and confiscation which requires no conviction for property that is said to be the proceeds of crime or unlawfully derived income. The same person may be the subject of criminal prosecution and confiscation action under the civil process. Those who are acquitted can still have their assets seized for unproved and unspecified
crimes. They would not even have to be prosecuted to have their assets seized. Furthermore, if they are prosecuted they could not use their disputed assets to fund their defence.

In a departure from the accepted norms of natural justice, people who are targeted must prove themselves innocent. The bill allows the government to use an absurdly low standard of proof – “reasonable cause to believe” – to seize assets. With insufficient evidence for a conviction, police may approach a High Court judge with a lower standard of proof to seize assets. Suspects may not even know they face action and may have no opportunity to defend themselves.

The bill specifies that “the court may not allow legal expenses to be paid out of the restrained property”, denying suspects the fundamental right to legal representation. The retrospective provisions in the Bill made it even more contemptible.

The Proceeds of Crime Act 1991

Under the existing Proceeds of Crime Act 1991, which the new bill would replace, almost the entire total amount confiscated has been from cannabis growers.

To seize property the police need only show that the property has been “tainted” – they don’t need to prove it was paid for using drug incomes. Furthermore, they only need show a civil burden of proof, i.e. a “balance of probabilities” rather than the usual proof of “beyond all reasonable
doubt”. Not only is the new bill repugnant, the Proceeds of Crime Act 1991 should also be repealed.

Maori

Maori are at particular risk of having their ancestral lands taken by the Crown – for a second time. Many Iwi and Hapu have only marginal lands left. Faced with little prospect of farming this land, little hope of legitimate employment and ongoing land rates to pay, some have chosen to use the opportunity cannabis prohibition has presented them with. Money may not grow on trees, but it does grow on cannabis plants that are almost worth their weight in gold. If they are caught Maori face not only a harsher average sentence but may have their ancestral lands confiscated under the Proceeds of Crimes Act, despite the obvious fact that the land could not have been paid
for using illicit drug money.

Police corruption

Asset forfeiture laws encourage corruption. There have been several reports of police impropriety in attempting to seize property including planting evidence and lying under oath. In one of the biggest sums awarded against police, in August 1999 Judge Michael Lance awarded Great Barrier Island man Colin Moore $54,000 towards the $100,000 he spent defending charges of cultivating cannabis and fighting to keep the family farm. Police did not photograph the evidence or give Moore the chance to look at the plants. They also left out evidence during the trial. The Police helicopter was allegedly spotted delivering a load of cannabis to Mr Moore’s farm. The farm had
been in the family for generations and could not have been paid for with drug money.

The Judge was scathing of the Proceeds of Crime Act. “It’s an invasion of personal privacy,” said Lance. “The legislation needs some careful attention.” Even the rather conservative New Zealand
Herald opposed the new bill (27/11/04):

“It’s classically opinion-poll driven legislation that seeks to wipe out the rights of people who legitimately own property by seizing that property on what’s often no more than a suspicion. The onus is then on the owner of that property to prove otherwise. It can be very hard to prove income was legally derived without documented evidence.”

The government believes other countries have been more successful in seizing assets. However, in seeking to ‘get tough’ on drugs, they are trampling on all our rights and the principles of natural justice.

(NORML News Summer 2008. Next issue: in Pt.3 of this series Auckland lawyer Rob Weir reports on the progress of the bill and any changes made by the Law and Order Select Committee.)

Dosage and plant numbers

Medicinal cannabis patients have widely varying needs: some need only a few specks of pot as their symptoms require, while others may need to medicate almost all the time, although individual dosages may change with time or severity of symptoms.

It is not unusual for patients using cannabis to consume far more than the average recreational user – particularly those with chronic pain or other severe ongoing symptoms.

It’s interesting to consider what the authorities have to say about how much medi-weed is appropriate. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a dosing guideline for synthetic THC (Marinol) of 30-90mg per day. Researchers applied these guidelines to herbal cannabis and calculated how much would need to be smoked in order to achieve the FDA’s recommended daily dosage. For average cannabis that is 10% THC, 1.8 grams per day would be required for a dose of 30mg THC, or 5.5 grams for a dose of 90mg THC. For cannabis that is very potent, such as 20%
THC, 0.9 grams would be required to achieve a dose of 30mg THC, or 2.8 grams for a dose of 90mg THC. That adds up an estimated range of 339 to 2000 grams per year, which the researchers say is consistent with amounts reported in surveys of patients in California and Washington (Carter, et al, 2004).

The US Federal government’s Compassionate Use Investigational New Drug Program has supplied a handful of patients with federallygrown medical marijuana for almost 3 decades. Patients have received 300 pre-rolled joints per month, every month, since entering the program. Those suffering from chronic pain receive 50% more than the others, or 450 joints per month. The joints each contain about 0.9 grams of marijuana. The US government has therefore established a medical marijuana dose range of between one half and three quarters of a pound per patient per month. (Russo et al, 2002)

Plant numbers

Setting plant limits based on arbitrary amounts risks denying effective treatment to those most in need, and/or criminalising those patients who happen to require more medication than others. If a limit must be set, it would be better to limit the growing area rather than the number of plants. This is because plant yield is more closely related to the available area than to plant numbers. Plants require light to grow and the available light (sunlight or indoor growing lamps) is a fixed quantity. Putting more plants into the same area will result in smaller plants, while the total yield will be about the same.

US State medical marijuana programs include various plant limits, several of which regulate growing areas rather than plant numbers:

Alaska: Patients (or their primary caregivers) may legally possess up to an ounce of usable marijuana, and may grow up to six plants, of which no more than three may be mature.

California: Proposition 215 did not set any limits regarding the amount of marijuana patients may possess and/or cultivate. Senate Bill 420, which took effect on January 1, 2004, imposes statewide guidelines outlining how much medicinal marijuana patients may grow and possess. Under the guidelines, qualified patients and/or their caregivers may possess no more than eight ounces of dried marijuana and/or six mature (or 12 immature) marijuana plants. However, SB420 allows patients to possess larger amounts of marijuana when it is recommended by a physician. The law also allows counties and municipalities to authorise patients to possess larger quantities of cannabis than allowed under the new state guidelines. For example, Humboldt County guidelines allow patients a 100 square feet garden and 3 lbs with no plant number limit. San Diego City Council guidelines allow up to 1lb of marijuana, and 24 plants in 64 square feet indoors.

Colorado: Patients (or their primary caregivers) may legally possess no more than two ounces of usable marijuana, and may cultivate no more than six marijuana plants.

Hawaii: Patients (or their primary caregivers) may legally possess up to one ounce of usable marijuana, and may cultivate up to seven plants, of which no more than three may be mature.

Maine: Patients (or their primary caregivers) may legally possess up to one and one-quarter ounces of usable marijuana, and may cultivate up to six plants, of which three may be mature.

Montana: Patients (or their primary caregivers) may possess no more than six marijuana plants.

Nevada: Patients (or their primary caregivers) may legally possess up to one ounce of usable marijuana, and may cultivate seven marijuana plants, of which three may be mature.

New Mexico: The law mandates the state to issue rules governing the use and distribution of medical cannabis to state-authorised patients, including defining the amount of cannabis that is necessary to constitute an “adequate supply” for qualified patients, and the creation of  state-licensed “cannabis production facilities”.

Oregon: Patients (or their primary caregivers) may legally possess no more than six mature
cannabis plants, 18 immature seedlings, and 24 ounces of usable cannabis.

Rhode Island: Patients (or their primary caregivers) may legally possess 2.5 ounces of cannabis and/or 12 plants, and their cannabis must be stored in an indoor facility.

Vermont: Patients (or their primary caregiver) may legally possess up to two ounces of usable marijuana, and may cultivate three plants, of which one may be mature.

Washington: Patients (or their primary caregivers) may possess or cultivate a 60-day supply of marijuana.

(NORML News Summer 2008)

For more information see:

 

New vaporiser studies remove last objection to Med-Pot

Vaporisation is an effective method to deliver THC according to a clinical study, writes CHRIS FOWLIE.

The most common objection to medical marijuana is that smoking is bad for you. Never mind that marijuana is not tobacco, does not contain nicotine, and has anti-cancer and anti-tumour properties. Or that terminal or seriously ill patients are more concerned with quality of their remaining life than whether they could get lung problems in several decades – if they are still alive. Prohibitionists ignore these facts when they deny patients and doctors access to medical marijuana.

Now, two new studies have blown that last objection away, and should pave the way towards allowing medicinal use.

In a study conducted at the University of California by Dr. Donald Abrams and his colleagues, 18 healthy subjects received three different strains of cannabis (with a THC content of 1.7, 3.4 or 6.8 per cent) by vaporization (The Volcano, made by Storz & Bickel) as well as by smoking a cannabis cigarette.

Unlike smoking, a vaporiser does not burn the plant material, but heats it just to the point at which the THC and the other cannabinoids turn to steam.

Peak plasma concentrations and bioavailability of THC were similar under the two conditions, with the  vaporiser producing a slightly higher level. The levels of carbon monoxide were greatly reduced with vaporization, with “little if any” detected. Researchers concluded “vaporisation of cannabis is a safe and effective mode of delivery of THC.”

In a second study, researchers at the State University of New York interviewed nearly 7000 cannabis users and found vaporiser users were 60 percent less likely than smokers to report respiratory symptoms such as cough, chest tightness or phlegm. The effect of vaporizer use was more pronounced the larger the amount of marijuana used.

Sources:

  • Abrams et al. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2007 Apr 11
  • Earleywine et al. Harm Reduct J 2007;4:11

 

(NORML News Winter 2007)

Safer Cannabis Use / NORML’s Principles of Responsible Cannabis Use

I drafted these guidelines for Sensible Cannabis Use, with input and peer review from leading researchers and consumer advocates. As Editor of NORML News I ensured they ran in every issue. NORML is a consumer advocacy organisation dedicated to reducing harm and encouraging more sensible drug laws. I had it adopt a set of Principles of Responsible Cannabis Use that define and limit acceptable use.

Safer Cannabis Use

Although the vast majority of people who use cannabis suffer no harm, some do experience problems. Ensure that your cannabis use does not impair your health, family, employment and education, and try to have periods of reducing use or not consuming cannabis.

Harm reduction:

  • Remember that “Less is More” – the less you use, the less you will need, and the more high you will get.
  • NORML recommends consuming organic cannabis.
  • Heavy long term cannabis use may lead to some respiratory damage. Deep tokes and long breath duration are more harmful to the lungs.
  • Water pipes and bongs help cool the smoke, filter solids, and absorb some of the most harmful tars in the water. Bongs can make the smoke very smooth, so avoid inhaling too deeply. Replace bong water each time and regularly sterilise your pipe or bong (eg using meths, alcohol or denture cleaning tablets)
  • Meningitis and other diseases can be transmitted through saliva, so don’t share spit on joints or pipes. Try using your hands like a chillum to hold the joint, especially if someone in the circle has the flu!
  • Try other ways of ingesting cannabis, such as eating or drinking it, or using a vaporiser to heat the herb and release THC without combustion.
  • When eating cannabis preparations, start with a small piece and wait an hour before increasing the amount, if desired. The effects of edible cannabis products may be stronger than smoked cannabis.

Health warnings:

  • Cannabis is best avoided by pregnant and breastfeeding women.
  • People with a history of severe mental illness should reduce any cannabis use to a level agreed with their clinician, or avoid cannabis altogether.
  • Those receiving digitalis or other heart medications should consult their doctors before using cannabis.
  • Mixing cannabis with alcohol can make you more out of it than you intended. The anti-nausea effect of cannabis may also cause you to drink more.
  • Mixing cannabis with tobacco means more smoke damage to your lungs, and may make you become nicotine dependent.

NORML’s Principles of Responsible Marijuana Use

Adults Only. Cannabis consumption is for adults only. It is irresponsible to provide cannabis to people aged under 18.

Safe Driving. The responsible cannabis consumer does not operate a motor vehicle or other heavy machinery while impaired by cannabis, nor (like other responsible citizens) impaired by any other substance or condition, including some prescription medicines or fatigue.

Set and Setting. The responsible cannabis user will carefully consider his/her mind-set and physical setting, and regulate use accordingly.

Resist Abuse. Use of cannabis, to the extent that it impairs health, personal development or achievement, is abuse, to be resisted by responsible cannabis users.

Respect the Rights of Others. The responsible cannabis user does not violate the rights of others, observes accepted standards of courtesy, and respects the preferences of those who wish to avoid cannabis.

(NORML News Autumn 2007. Up-to-date versions can be found at https://norml.org.nz/about/cannabis-harm-reduction/ and https://norml.org.nz/about/responsible-use/)

Thousands of Kiwis need safe legal access to medical marijuana

More than 11,000 New Zealanders could already be using marijuana for medical reasons, or could benefit from doing so. They deserve compassion, not criminalisation.

Estimates of how many New Zealanders suffer from conditions potentially alleviated by cannabis and how many may be already using cannabis illegally can be gauged by extrapolating from Australian figures. Hall et al (2001) estimated NSW has 19,000 medical marijuana users, suggesting New Zealand could have on a population basis 11,400 medical users.

A 2005 British survey of more than 500 HIV/AIDS patients found that one-third of respondents use natural cannabis for symptomatic relief, with more than 90 percent of them reporting that it improves their appetite, muscle pain and other symptoms.

A previous US survey found one out of four patients with HIV had used natural cannabis medicinally in the past month.

Cannabis use is also prevalent among patients with neurologic disorders. Nearly four out of ten Dutch patients with prescriptions for “medical grade cannabis” ( provided by Dutch pharmacies with a standardized THC content of 10.2 percent) use it to treat MS or spinal cord injuries, according to survey data published in 2005 in the journal Neurology. Perceived efficacy is greater among respondents who inhale cannabis versus those who ingest it orally, the study found.

A 2002 British survey of MS patients found that 43 percent of respondents used
natural cannabis therapeutically, with about half admitting they used it regularly. Seventy-six percent said they would do so if cannabis were legal.

A Canadian survey of MS patients found that 96 percent of respondents were “aware cannabis was potentially therapeutically useful for MS and most (72 percent) supported [its] legalization for medicinal purposes.”

A more recent Canadian survey published in Neurology reported that 14 percent of MS patients and 21 percent of respondents with epilepsy had used medical cannabis in the past year. Among epileptics, twenty four percent of respondents said that they believed that cannabis was an effective therapy for the condition.

A 2002 survey of patients with Parkinson’s Disease found that 25 percent of respondents had tried cannabis, with nearly half of those saying that it provided them symptomatic relief.

For sources and more information, see the report “Marinol Versus Natural Cannabis: Pros, Cons and Options for Patients” by Paul Armentano (11 Aug 05) at www.norml.org

(NORML News Winter/Spring 2006)

Drug Warriors invade the classroom

As well as being ineffective, drug testing school children is a draconian invasion of privacy, writes CHRIS FOWLIE

A recent conference held by the School Trustees Association has raised the ugly spectre
of drug testing extending even into primary schools.

Trustees and principals claimed that children as young as 5 had been caught taking drugs including cannabis to school, and some – including Otamatea High School principal Haydn Hutching – said testing the entire school population was the answer.

Some principals even said they would not seek the permission of – or even inform – parents before testing their children, claiming it was purely an educational or disciplinary matter.

Several schools are even sending drug-sniffing dogs on patrol in the classrooms. Palmerston North Boys’ High School conducts up to seven sniffer-dog searches a year, at a cost of $1500 each time. They receive no additional funding for this, so the money is taken from somewhere else – perhaps education resources or teacher’s wages.

The Ministry of Education doesn’t endorse drug searches in schools, spokesman Vince Cholewa told the Manawatu Evening Standard. He advises schools to seek legal advice if they do decide on searches. Mr Cholewa said only police have a right to search a school if drugs are suspected.

“Teachers aren’t above the law,” he said.

Student drug testing is not without its opponents, who insist research does not show drug testing policies make any difference to whether young people use drugs. A 2003 study sponsored by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse that included 94,000 students in 900 American schools, half with a drug testing policy and half without, found there was no difference in illegal drug use among students.

Drug tests violate students’ privacy, and could wrongly turn students into suspects if they refuse. As the programs expand, children may find their ability to object to the tests eroded. Tests could open the door to lawsuits. Most tests are imprecise and can show “false positives” as well as “false negatives”.

Only the GCMS test is truly accurate, but at a cost of at least $100 per test this is unlikely to be used by many schools, who will likely use the cheaper and less accurate screening cards (similar to a home pregnancy test).

Advocates of testing do not appear to have considered the consequences of violating the privacy of a child as young as 5 by forcing them to pee into a cup. At the very least, it could raise awareness of drugs in a child who until then had never thought about them.

What happens after a positive result is another concern. Many schools simply expel the student, which creates additional problems with alienation, delinquency and crime. Then again, these outcomes must by now be familiar to all prohibitionists.

(NORML News Winter/Spring 2006)

Drug policy review – have your say

BY CHRIS FOWLIE

The Government has announced a review of the National Drug Policy and this means it is your chance to have your say.

The current policy is harm minimisation, which means policies and government agencies should
seek to reduce overall harm even if it means people continue to use drugs. One example is the
needle exchange and methadone network. Another example is NORML’s tips for safer cannabis
use.

The NDP review is to:

  • assess the effectiveness of the current policy

  • review the impact of the NDP in terms of stakeholder support and its contribution to reduction of drug related harm

  • identify options for future drug policy directions

  • determine the best approach for a future National Drug Policy including the relative focus on strategic versus action oriented approaches

  • develop a draft Strategy for endorsement by Government, including a process for evaluating the effectiveness of that

New Zealand led the world in introducing this policy, and although evidence shows harm minimisation is the most effective policy, it is not without it’s critics including many politicians who campaign on “tough on crime” platforms. This includes United Future’s Peter Dunne, who has tried to get the wording of the policy changed so that it is more orientated around abstinence.

The document outlines areas of supply control, demand reduction and problem limitation. Proposals range from toughening law enforcement, better drug education, more work on pricing
and tax policy for alcohol and tobacco, and improving access to treatment. It also said more
needed to be done on collecting data.

Associate Health Minister Jim Anderton said the policy tried to take a more economic view of the harms caused by drugs, rather than just the health effects. He emphasised legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco caused far more harm than illegal drugs — between 70-90 per cent of criminal activity related to alcohol use and 4700 deaths a year were from tobacco use.

Five regional meetings will be held in Auckland, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Separate hui, with a focus on issues for Maori, will be held in Auckland, Wellington,
Christchurch, Whangarei, Gisborne and Rotorua. Written or emailed submissions can also be made. The cannabis inquiry held from 1999-2003 was greatly promising until the evidence was overridden by the politics and grandstanding. Don’t let it happen again. Have your say and help make New Zealand’s drug policy evidence-based.

Other law changes in the pipeline include:

  • Sale of Liquor Act – review of the drinking age and advertising
  • Tobacco – Hone Harawira’s bill to extend cannabis prohibition to tobacco will be similarly disastrous.
  • Proceeds of Crime Act – oppose Phil Goff’s bill to increase police powers and reverse the burden of proof when seizing assets from suspects.

We encourage you to get involved in the political process for these bills. Write a submission and have your say. Make your views known. The draft document is available at www.ndp.govt.nz and you have until 26 May to make a submission.

(NORML News Autumn 2006)

Largest study on cannabis and driving finds only a low increased risk

BY CHRIS FOWLIE

  • Several other recent studies find no increased risk
  • burdon is on officials to justify roadside testing

The largest study of its kind has found drivers under the influence of cannabis are far less likely to be culpable in traffic accidents than drunk drivers, while several other recent studies have found no increased risk at all.

In an epidemiological study of approximately 8,000 accidents published in the British Medical Journal, researchers at the French National Institute for Research on Transportation and Safety found that alcohol intoxication and speeding were nearly ten times more likely to be an attributing factor in traffic fatalities than the use of cannabis.

Overall, researchers estimated that psychomotor impairment caused by cannabis was similar to that exhibited by drivers with blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) ranging from 0.02 to 0.05 per
cent. The legal limit in New Zealand for a driver over 20 is a BAC of 0.08

The relative risk for causing a fatal accident (where 1 = no increased risk) was 1.8-2.2 for cannabis. The risk factor was ten times that – about 20 – for alcohol above a BAC of 0.05, and also for speeding.

The study results have been provoking embarrassment among French government officials as they always claimed drugs are responsible for more deaths than speeding.

A recent study in Sweden found that the introduction of zero-concentration limits for THC and other drugs in the blood of drivers did not result in a reduction of driving under the influence of drugs (DUID). Researchers also noted that “the spectrum of drugs identified in blood samples from DUID suspects has not changed much since the zero-limit law was introduced” in 1999.

In another recent study, by researchers at the University of Maryland, the use of cannabis was not associated with the risk to cause a traffic accident. Researchers looked at the presence of
alcohol and illegal drugs in 6,581 drivers who were hospitalized at a shock trauma center from 1997 to 2001. Crash culpability was strongly associated with alcohol use. In contrast, this study did not find an association between crash culpability and cannabis use. Since only urine tests on cannabinoids were performed, it is not known whether drivers were actually under the influence of
cannabis – and since cannabis lingers long after use this makes the association even weaker.

In another recent study, researchers of the University of Victoria (Canada) investigated whether clients in treatment for problems related to the use of alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, or various combinations of these substances, had a higher risk to drive while impaired compared to a control group. 445 drivers under treatment were included. In the 8 years before treatment, every drug group except the “cannabis only” group had significantly more convictions for driving while impaired than controls.

UK Police use computer games to test impairment

Last year UK Police introduced traditional coordination tests to check for drivers impairment by drugs. Now the Home Office has turned to computer games. The traditional test included such tasks as instructing drivers to walk in a straight line, stand on one leg or touch their nose with their index finger. The Home Office believes the tests are too subjective, so has loaded a laptop with  several “games” designed to assess the reactions of a motorist.

Drivers would be tested not only on their speed and dexterity but also the accuracy with which they performed the task. This is because while cannabis can slow reaction time, amphetamines quicken it – but also make individuals more prone to error.

Both these sorts of tests – traditional and computer – are more accurate than urine or saliva screens, as they measure actual impairment rather than past exposure to drugs.

A urine test may pick up cannabis residues that are several weeks old, while doing nothing to  detect drivers impaired by fatigue or prescription drugs. Coordination- or computer-based tests are also less invasive, cheaper and quicker to operate.

Sources:
Libération, 3 October 2005;
Jones AW. Traffic Inj Prev 2005;6(4):317-22;
Soderstrom CA, et al. Annu Proc Assoc Adv Automot Med 2005;49:315-30;
Macdonald S, et al. Traffic Inj Prev
2005;6(3):207-11.

(NORML News Summer 2006)