Nederwiet, or the Dutch Cannabis Revolution


by Thomas Bürk

Nederwiet refers to cannabis originating from the Netherlands, i.e. so-called weed, which is essentially based on the breeding and optimization of new cannabis strains. These THC- and CBD-rich plant strains not only revolutionized the use of smokable cannabis flowers, buds, and leaves, Nederwiet also laid the foundation for an ever-growing cannabis industry in Europe and North America, if not on a global scale. Many cannabis strains around the world are now based on the breeding results of Dutch plant producers and seed banks. The origins of the so-called Nederwiet are dated differently: An early account goes back to the Dutch activist Kees Hoekert, who made his first attempts at cultivating and breeding cannabis as early as the late 1950s and early 1960s. Based on hemp seeds from pet shops and a few donated seeds (probably of US provenance), Hoekert aimed to grow THC-rich cannabis [1].

Other founding myths revolve around the so-called hemp pope of the Netherlands, Wernard Bruining [2], who founded one of the first "coffeeshops" or "teahouses" in 1973, called "Mellow Yellow". These establishments made it possible to semi-legally purchase and, to a limited extent, consume primarily hashish, i.e. the pressed resin of cannabis plants and flowers. This was not officially legal at first, but was decriminalized over time through so-called "tolerance policies".

In 1980, Wernard Bruining is also said to have used hemp seeds brought back from California to cultivate cannabis weed with a higher THC content, and thus to have grown the first Nederwiet. Initially, this is said to have been motivated less by commercial considerations than by so-called hemp activism, as was the case with Kees Hoekert, who was already involved in the Dutch Provo movement. Bruining (and other growers such as Robert Jasper Grootveld) achieved a commerical breakthrough with the cultivation of seedless cannabis seeds, so-called Sensimilla. The Lowlands Seed Company was founded in the 1970s to sell cannabis plants from a houseboat in the Amsterdam canals, and in the 1980s the first seed bank for cannabis seeds was established [3].

From 1980, sensimilla (or sometimes called sinsemilla) cannabis was sold in the then newly founded and now legendary Amsterdam coffee shop "The Bulldog".

Nederwiet in the Federal Republic of Germany until 1989

The spread of Nederwiet beyond the borders of the Netherlands is probably mainly the result of lively cannabis city tourism to Amsterdam and other Dutch cities. The spread of smoking (inhale!) cannabis products in the FRG from the 1960s onwards was almost exclusively related to hashish imported from Morocco, Afghanistan or Lebanon in different varieties and strengths. Importers included soldiers of the US army, also known as GI's, stationed all over West Germany, who also brought North American jazz, blues and rock music to the west-German youth. Hashish was also brought to Western Europe by the so-called hippies and India travellers who made the long (and today impossible) car journey on the “hippie trail” in the late 1960s and 70s on their way to India and Nepal and on to Thailand via Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Hippie Trail in the 1960s and 1970s.


Their souvenirs purchased there included not only Indian cloths, incense sticks and jumpers, which were sold in newly established India shops, but of course also plenty of hashish and hashish oils, which they could acquire and consume cheaply along the way.

Until the 1990s, hashish was thus the dominant cannabis product for consumption in the now flourishing youth and stoner cultures of the Federal Republic in particular and Western Europe in general. Hashish is not only stronger in THC, but its high also frequently described as heavy and sluggish. Of course, there have always been hashish varieties (such as the rare sand-colored sifted Zero Zero from Morocco) that could be perceived as more invigorating and stimulating, but hashish still has the character of heavy resinousness, the ingredients of which often cannot be determined more precisely by plant variety. Cannabis consumption becomes completely different with the newly invented nederwiet cannabis, which began to spread from the 1980s onwards. At first, it was mainly varieties known as Superskunk (the seed breeder of the sensi seeds company made from 80% indica and 20% sativa), for example, which was miles away from the heavy "sweet smoke" of hashish, mainly because of their strong floral scent. Thanks to the efforts of many breeders who quickly concentrated on producing varieties of the three basic plants Cannabis Indica, and Cannabis Sativa, a wide range of different weed types with a wide spectrum of effects and flavors was created in just a few years. Nederwiet is thus not only a stunning commercial success of initially Dutch, and now globally active, breeders and cannabis producers. The seeds exported from the Netherlands from the 1980s onwards soon circulated globally and are now interpreted as local varieties in many countries of cannabis cultivation (such as Jamaica and other Caribbean islands, Malawi, South Africa, India and Nepal), although they should rather be seen as travelling objects of a globalized spread of crops. Similar to potatoes, tomatoes, corn, or tobacco, Nederwied today stands less for cannabis and cannabis seeds from the Netherlands than for the breeding and international spread of a commercially attractive cash crop.



[2] Wernard Bruining later foundet „Mediwiet“, a medical consultancy for medical cannabis. See: