When asked what he has lost in Franco’s passing Roskam observes, “Nobody ever left our team of people. We are a great group of people. The most important thing that I lost was a great friend.” Loja, like Roskam, was willing to jeopardize his life if it meant more access to the benefit of medical and recreational cannabis. “Him and me,” Roskam asserts, “we had the same philosophy, shy of whatever happens, we’re going to [strain hunt].” From hunting with the Taliban in Afghanistan and the FARC in Colombia to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean all the way to Malawi in southeastern Africa, Loja and Roskam risked their lives many times. “Our [strain hunting] team has nearly been killed in Malawi by drunken soldiers, we lost a cameraman in South Africa, who we found a day later in the bush. We had a huge issue in the Congo, in the north, with a general who didn’t like us and one of us was taking a shower in the river, naked, which was basically the death penalty there. In northern India, we became so sick [from] food poisoning that we all nearly died,” Roskam details. So, how did Roskam get his start in the cannabis business? It began in the north of Thailand in 1982.
“At that time, the [medicine man] was already 78 years old … he was not a young guy anymore. I asked, ‘What are you doing here?’ He responded, ‘We’re treating people here with drug addiction.’” Roskam had only planned on staying one or two nights, but his visit turned into a week-long stay. The medicine man mentions to Roskam that the cannabis is being used in lieu of quitting opium cold turkey. “He gave me a handful of seeds and said, ‘This is a very powerful medicine, it’s very good, it’s used in all ancient medicine in Asia.’ He said, ‘Keep those seeds. Those seeds in the future, they are so powerful. They will be able to overthrow governments.’” Roskam took the seeds and although to this day he is unsure where they ended up — he misplaced them during his travels, but he returned to Europe with a new sense of purpose and started growing. “I basically started working with marijuana because of that man,” Roskam asserts.
Roskam is hoping to film another ten episodes of “Strain Hunters” with no intention of slowing down. Removing the many misconceptions that surround cannabis seems to be what his legacy will be built on. It became apparent during our conversation that Roskam’s connection to small communities who employ cannabis holistically appears genuine. “We can see in Morocco, where we were running around, that the chickens and their eggs are much better to eat because in the big marijuana fields in Morocco the chickens live on marijuana seeds,” Roskam states. “In the Congo, we see children suffering with stomach issues due to malnutrition. The oil and seeds from hemp are very, very important for these children who often have nothing else to eat … It’s the ignorance, the stupidity, the politicians who don’t get reelected, the Christians, the Catholics, the pharma, the alcohol industry – they are responsible for the misconceptions about cannabis.” Roskam goes on to say that in Vietnam, they are using hemp to attempt cleaning up soil contaminated by Agent Orange.
“If you look at the quality of the movies, the first three or four, [it’s obvious] that we were making the films ourselves. You can see the difference in quality [between then and now]. At one point, National Geographic came and picked it up, they did an entire episode. Then Shane [Smith], the owner of Vice [Media] called me and requested a meeting in New York.” Vice Media would film, produce and air one “Strain Hunters” episode filmed on site in Colombia. After that, HBO approached Roskam, resulting in another episode.
During this time, Roskam penned his book, “How to Run a Dispensary.” He hoped that American weed entrepreneurs like Steve DeAngelo would take the book and go back to America and spread his message. “That was the plan. And it really worked because I became friends with Bill Maher, Woody Harrelson and Kirk from Metallica. We got 150 A-list supporters and family. Roskam felt that coining himself The King of Cannabis would be a prelude to greater awareness and more opportunity to share his message. In 1995 Roskam along with others in the community created a big cannabis union called the BCD (there is no English term/translation for the union), which still exists to this day.
As a young teen intending to become a world-renowned chef, Roskam worked in the service and hospitality sector. “My dream was to become a Michelin star chef,” Roskam laughs. After some serious reflection on his initial life goals, Roskam started growing. “At the time there was nothing happening in Holland; actually, there was no marijuana industry, there were no marijuana coffee shops in Amsterdam.” He notes that at the time the only person who had brought the first skunk seeds from America was Old Ed, a legendary pioneer of the Dutch marijuana scene. “I got ahold of [Old Ed’s] skunk seeds and started growing skunk,” Roskam notes. With his seeds in tow, Roskam started building relationships with some of the early coffee shops. Through the ‘80s he often traveled to Thailand, Nepal and Southeast Asia, bringing seeds back to Holland, and began to breed sativas and cross strains. “You have to remember at that time there was only skunk and orange bud, which were kind of the same thing,” Roskam shares.
“To make a long story short, there were I don’t know, 25 coffee shops entering into the Cannabis Cup. The award ceremony was like five or seven days later … these were the times of Steve Hager. At that time The Bulldog coffee shop had a discothèque called the Buddha Club, and he gave High Times permission to do the ceremony there.” Roskam goes on to express how crazy a weed world championship contest was in 1993. “Which idiot is going to award the marijuana contest where all the cops are going to come, you know what I mean? There were 25 television stations there to film this because no one had ever seen a marijuana contest. CNN came, and BBC and Japanese television and South African television and the whole lot! I am standing in the back, I think I am 27 at the time, so I am super young. There were six big prizes to give away. Well, guess what? I won five of the six prizes,” Roskam punctuates with excitement. “From there on the whole Green House saga started.”
“Well, you won’t believe the setting. I was very, very young. I think I was 17 [traveling] with my rucksack to north Thailand. [At the time] I had been to Thailand many times. You have to remember I grew up in Africa and Asia so I was kind of familiar with the area, and I went on holiday up in the north to see Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai,” Roskam reflects. At the time, in the early ‘80s in Thailand, many people were suffering from opiate addiction. “[The medicine man] was curing them of their addictions, treating them with marijuana at the time, and I was just a very occasional, recreational smoker but nothing special. I was just looking for a sleeping place actually, because I was going through the mountains and [the medicine man] offered me a sleeping place.” It wasn’t until the early morning that Roskam would realize how devastated the village had become as a result of opium. “I didn’t have a clue where I was until the next morning when I woke up … I see some people vomiting, and I see all kinds of pretty weird stuff around me, which was strange.”
Between ’87 and ’89, Roskam built his repertoire with Amsterdam coffee shop owners leading to his attempts to sell his cannabis. He desired to do something different and put his skunk days behind him. He would drop off samples, return for feedback, and learn quickly that they hated it. “I came with something new to the coffee shops. They called it ‘cat piss’ (the sativas and the kush). People weren’t used to it. You have to remember [that] Holland comes from a hash culture, so 90 percent of what Holland had was hash from Morocco and a little bit from Afghanistan, some Nigerian schwag, some Jamaican.”
It’s early afternoon on May 20th, 2019 and on the other end of the phone is Arjan Roskam, best known for his lead role on the television series “Strain Hunters,” although his relationship with cannabis dates back to the ‘80s.