Tag Archives: UK

Worldwide Weed

I’m fortunate enough to regularly travel the world researching the latest trends in cannabis use and cultivation. This lets me keep up with the latest research and trends so I can better assist New Zealand courts.

In 2013 I visited California and Colorado to witness the development of regulations for the world’s first legal cannabis market, tour grow gardens and dispensaries as part of the World Cannabis Week tour, sit a cannabis cultivation course approved by the state Department of Education, attend the first Cannabis Cup on US soil, and in the process I became the world’s first legal pot tourist.

In 2010 I traveled to Spain, Germany, Morocco and India.

In 2008 I attended the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam and traveled through Asia:

I visited the Mardi Grass in Nimbin, Australia, and was a guest judge in their cannabis cup in 2006.

In 2002 I toured the cannabis law reform hot-spots of the world, a result of being busted for a tiny spec of weed. In June of 2001 I had been searched unlawfully by a group of police officers who claimed to smell cannabis. I was arrested and charged with possession of 0.7 grams of cannabis, but I contested the charge in court. In dismissing the charge, Judge Gittos set a precedent that will protect other people from being searched in similar circumstances. The Dominion, arguably at the time the most anti-cannabis newspaper in the country, wrongly published that I had been jailed. I settled for enough money to take me around the world to research alternatives to cannabis prohibition. Ironic, huh. My first stop would be the NORML conference in San Francisco.

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”]

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)

The Dutch Experience, Manchester UK

By Chris Fowlie, President, NORML New Zealand, 2002

I crossed back over the channel and away from the Spanish sun to visit the Dutch Experience, the UK’s first genuine coffeeshop located in Stockport, near Manchester.

The Dutch Experience opened amidst a huge drugs debate and widely-expected cannabis law reform. Colin Davies and Nol van Schaik opened the Dutch Experience on September 15 last year as a medical marijuana club. They were immediately raided by police, who later threw Colin in jail without trial. Colin suffers from a broken back and takes cannabis for pain relief, but he had spent much of his time in prison chained to a hospital bed and on a morphine drip. Rather than giving up, a band of committed supporters stood firm against the injustice, kept the cafe open and after almost 40 arrests the police backed down and refused to arrest any more supporters even when they smoked cannabis in the police station lobby.

NORML President Chris Fowlie meets Dutch Experience Stockport founder Colin DaviesColin, who has already been acquitted twice on medical necessity grounds, was recently released from Strangeways Prison after the judge suggested the defence make a bail application on the grounds that he would be unlikely to serve any more time than the seven months he had already been behind bars, should he eventually be found guilty. The judge is the same judge who heard Colin’s previous trials and will also preside over his trial later this year. Strict bail conditions prevent Colin from visiting the Dutch Experience or his home town of Stockport, having any contact with his fellow defendants or giving interviews to the media. I briefly met with Colin and then later that week he was again arrested, this time for breaching bail conditions (he was found at his Stockport home by police). Colin was again released by the judge, and then police arrested him again before he even had a chance to leave the court. He was beaten in the courtroom by security guards after his back pain prevented him standing up. It seems the police would like to keep Colin imprisoned until his trial, which is due to start September 9 and run for six weeks at a cost of over one million pounds.

Dutch Experience, StockportMeanwhile the Dutch Experience coffeeshop remains open every day using the tried-and-true Dutch rules: R18, no hard drugs, no alcohol, no advertising, no nuisance and no large deals. The Stockport tourist office happily directs people to the cafe, who have never been cause for a complaint. Like many Dutch coffeeshops, the DE is part of a medi-weed system where social buyers subsidise free or cost-price marijuana for patients. The Dutch Experience has also improved the local cannabis market, with users reporting reduced prices and better quality.

Inside the Dutch Experience, StockportI took in my 5 pounds and passport photograph to become member 1089, signed the form that committed me to following the rules and declared that I am not a cop or an informant, and went out the back to the member’s room. This includes two essential features of a genuine Dutch coffeeshop – a table soccer machine and a dealer’s booth. The booth has been built to look like a machine so no-one can see who the dealer is. Customers put their membership card, money and request in one slot, and what they want drops out the other. The set up appears to conform to what the UK police keep saying about not tolerating “blatant open dealing”. What could be more discreet than whispering your order down a drainpipe in the back room of a cafe in a courtyard down a quiet street in a sleepy town in the north of England?

In early July 2002, after I had returned to London, Home Secretary David Blunkett confirmed that cannabis will be reclassified to Class C, which means possessing and using cannabis will remain an offence but people cannot be arrested or searched for it. This small-but-significant step means millions of British cannabis users no longer have to live in fear of the police. Cannabis seeds have always been legal in the UK and now indoor growing is really taking off as people forget their fears and inhibitions generated by the cannabis prohibition.

It is not all good news, however. When making the announcement, the British government capitulated to a small but vocal number of anti-drugs campaigners and the tabloid press and doubled the maximum sentence for dealing in cannabis from 5 years imprisonment to 14 years, with their only explanation that they wanted to “send a message” that they are not going “soft” on drugs. This contradictory policy shift – reduced penalties for using but increased penalties for dealing – has already confused the public. Unlike the Dutch policy, the new British policy will increase the link between cannabis and hard drugs instead of breaking it.

The so-called “gateway” effect is a result of the procedure of forcing cannabis buyers to shop in an illicit multi-drug market. This gateway effect therefore can only be broken at the point of supply, by separating the vast majority of people who only want to smoke cannabis from those dealers who want to sell them something else. The increased penalties will make friends less likely to want to sell to their mates because cannabis supply will be on a par with aggravated robbery and sexual assault. Cannabis users will therefore be more likely to have to resort to street dealers to score. Those street dealers will be more likely to offer hard drugs like crack as the penalties will be the same but the potential profit is much higher.

It was time to cross the North Sea and visit a Scandanavian haven where the hard and soft drug markets are separated – Christiania in Denmark.