By Harry Resin
Generally when you think of Amsterdam, you think of the coffee shops, but that’s not all that’s going on. This article is part one of a two-part series intended to shine some light on the Dutch Medical Marijuana industry.
In Holland, the medicinal cannabis sold by Dutch pharmacies is manufactured by a company called Bedrocan, with sale and distribution managed by the Office for Medical Cannabis (BMC). Since 2006, the Groningen-based Bedrocan Bv has produced all of the marijuana sold in the Dutch pharmacies. The founders of Bedrocan have always been farmers, growing endives throughout the ’80s. They entered the cannabis industry in
the early ’90s by making seeds for the Sensi Seed bank, which they did until the Dutch government made seed production illegal in 1998. In 2000, they decided to begin the process of applying for a license to legally grow medicinal cannabis, as at this time there was a lot of talk about starting a program in the Netherlands. In 2002, they were offered the first test grow and delivered their samples in early 2003.
That same year, SIMM (Stichting Institute Medical Marijuana), a company started by James Burton and Bedrocan, became the first two legal producers of cannabis in the Netherlands. Both companies began having problems in 2005 when the government couldn’t initially handle the quantities these companies were producing, creating an overflow that led to severe financial issues. As of 2006, Bedrocan was the sole producer of medicinal cannabis in Holland.
Currently, the medical cannabis sold by the drugstores and manufactured by Bedrocan retails for? 9,03 a gram. It is sold in a little plastic container by 5-gram increments. Both the bud and the container can be seen in the photos. One major issue regarding the cost is that Dutch insurance companies won’t reimburse their clients for their medicinal cannabis. All this is in contrast to the cannabis available from the coffee-shops, normally sold for around? 6.50 to 7 at the cheapest end of the scale—usually a PP grown commercially and often not flushed very well.
On the other hand, for good herb grown organically in soil, you will pay around 10–12. As a medical user, you are currently limited to those two choices: the coffee-shop, or the Dutch medicinal weed from Bedrocan. However, there was an important ruling made in September 2008 by a Dutch court that gave permission to an MS patient to grow his own cannabis, who argued that he didn’t want to sm2oke irradiated weed and it was cheaper for him to produce it himself. At 9 a gram, without compensation from an insurance company, costs can add up if your condition requires a more chronic dose.
The question remains which model is more effective, one in which patients or caregivers are able to grow their own plants or a system that sees the government provide patients with their medicine, which is thoroughly controlled and monitored. From my own experience, I can only say that usually the patients or caregivers who grow do so in a way that best suits what they are looking for in their medicine. It gives them the freedom to choose soil over hydroponics, organic food and pest control, certain curing and drying techniques, and, most important, strain selection. All of this adds to both the quality and effects of the medicine. For me, given the personal choice, I would pick the veggies from the organic farmer rather than the Monsanto-style genetically modified produce.
Bedrocan currently offers three strains of cannabis, all of which are available from a Dutch pharmacy with a doctor’s prescription. The strains are: Bedrocan, which is an old Jack Herrer phenotype measured at 18 percent THC; Bedrobinol, a cross between the Jack used in the Bedrocan strain and an Afghan strain measured at 12 percent THC, and Bediol, the parentage of which is a closely-guarded secret. It measures 6 percent THC
and 7 percent CBD. Bediol is also the only sort that is sold in a granular, pre-ground powder—all other strains come in bud form. These are grown using small 3.5 litre pots on a drip system. I found it interesting that they use such small pots, considering they yield nearly 150g per plant. They do,
however, give their plants a lot of space and airflow. The food used is made in-house and is a mineral-based powder.
For pest control, they use only natural products—no chemical pesticides. The lights they use are HPS Phillips green power utilizing 230.000 kWhs of electricity. I will go into more detail about their growing and gardening techniques in the interview next issue. Amongst their grow spaces, they have one veg room and three flower rooms, of which they currently only use two. The reason is that at full capacity, they can produce 400 kg per year, but the BMC needs only 100 kg annually. However, by operating at full capacity, it is arguably they would be able to lower their prices. Another issue facing medical users is that the BMC adds their cut to the final product. The dried buds aged and irradiated by another company. These containers in turn end up in the pharmacies where they are sold to the public. However, in Groningen, the city where Bedrocan is based, there is a special medical cannabis pharmacy that exclusively sells the Bedrocan sorts which are purchased directly from the company, saving the patients nearly 2 Euros per gram.
I personally find it absurd that a government agency feels it has to take a cut when it comes to charging patients for their medicine, especially if those extra costs pay for irradiation and packaging. In fact, if anything, governments should subsidize medicine. This is, after all, why we pay taxes—one would think. There is definitely something to be said here about the exemption status available in Canada, or proposition 215 in California. It should be the right of the patient to decide if they wish to grow their own medicine. Recently, while speaking with a medicinal cannabis activist here in Holland, she complained that the strains available from Bedrocan had no positive effects on her. She needed more Skunk-based strains, as she found the sativas to be a bit too racy for her. This then forces her to either buy her cannabis from a coffee shop, which can be expensive for the better sorts, or to grow it illegally herself. I believe that the best system is a combination of the Canadian and the Dutch. This way, as a patient, you have the choice of either going to a pharmacy or of growing it yourself. I don’t think it is fair to create a monopoly-style situation that gives one company the sole rights over what is considered to be medicinal cannabis. It should be the right of the patient to make the choice of what is best for them.
Until further strain-by-strain research is conducted, who better to decide what strains are best than the patient actually using them? Hopefully we will see some changes in Holland for the better. Stay tuned next issue for the interview with the director of the company. Peace, love and light.