WORDS & PICs Alun & Dean from The Original Sensible Seed Company
Pioneers are best remembered for paving the way and for providing an easier route for the ones that follow in their footsteps. What’s so often forgotten are the hardships and struggles that accompany being the first to brave the treacherous terrain. Arrest and persecution are often likely and health and safety are always at risk. Alan, the founder of the Sensible Seed Company, can attest to this first-hand and after a long absence and forced silence is ready to reveal what really went down and the plans to re-launch the legendary seed bank. Dean, his friend and new partner, gives us a glimpse into how this will happen.
The Rise and Fall
I really don’t know where to start as I am not a writer and am a better talker. But never mind. After our court case, we had a five-year gag order applied to us, so this is the first time we’ve ever spoken about it.
In the early nineties, me and my brother-in-law Dave were in Amsterdam and we noticed how many British people were in the grow shops. So, as we were growers ourselves, we noticed and discussed the potential of opening one up in Britain. We achieved this very quickly and, with several flights to Amsterdam, we soon had distribution rights from the new Canna, rockwool, seeds and many other related items. With what the police was to later call aggressive advertising, we grew very quickly.
We were running successfully and were about to open four new shops and a distribution warehouse when one morning, the police came with their trusty friend, the sledgehammer, and a Home Office warrant. They forced their entry and nine police officers, some with firearms, made their way in. I was arrested along with 42 other people around Britain. I was charged first with cultivation to the value of two million pounds; an amount the police estimated from the turnover of the shop. Luckily, we ran a completely legal business, paid taxes, insurances etc. We were in fact a proper business.
We were kept in police custody for six-days and once we were eventually let out on bail, had to register at the police station every night. The police found it very difficult to get any real evidence to substantiate a case. We knew that what we were selling was legal, but it needed to be proven in a court of law. The case became a test case on the legality of both grow and seed shops.
During the following 12 months, we went back and forth to court. Each time the charges would be changed and a new charge brought against us. Eventually, we had a Crown court date. The judge in the case, Sir Tom Crowther, deemed that the case was too complicated for barristers, so we had to be represented by QCs (Queen’s Councilors).
Law and Disorder
My Queen’s Council had the name John Jenkins (no relation, thank God). Here’s a man who told so many lies that he wouldn’t recognize the truth. After a session of meetings with him one day, a barrister, who I cannot name for legal reasons, contacted us and told us to research the Single Convention of Narcotic Drugs 1964, pointing to Article 28, which states that both seed and fiber were exempt from the narcotics law. He guided us by giving us reference numbers to get from the libraries and the Home Office records, essentially providing us with our defense. When we handed these papers to Sir John Jenkins, QC and said that this was the defense, he first asked where we had got the information from, and then told us we shouldn’t have it and adjourned our meeting.
Things started to get aggressive in court, as they just wanted us to plead guilty and not use our new information as evidence. When they saw that we would not plead guilty and the road we were taking, that we were trying to argue that what we were doing was legal, they changed tactics. Our friendship was very strong and they used our friendship against us by taking us into a room with our QCs and a man from the Home Office and telling us that if we did not plead guilty to lesser charges, they would find other, more serious charges (from where, I don’t know). They told us that if we agreed, we would get no prison sentence and no fine.
In court, we pleaded guilty to inciting people to cultivate cannabis through means of advertisement. This is where the current incitement law comes from. It proved that the selling of both cannabis seeds and growing equipment was legal. The line was drawn in that you can’t promote cultivation while selling cannabis seeds. Yet, car manufacturers advertise the speed of their car and the speed limit is only 70mph; is that conspiracy to incite speeding? But never mind. The problem was that we had been ill advised, what we had plead guilty to fell under the drug trafficking act and this meant a huge compensation order and the confiscation of assets and stock.
After the court case, we were left with hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of debt. The police had confiscated or damaged all of our stock, so we went to see suppliers and manufacturers who knew of our predicament and came to an arrangement on what we owed and obtained some new stock. Some agreed, others just wanted the money we owed. The pressure of building up the company again and paying off its burden of debts caused a great deal of stress, emotionally and physically, but like all good growers, we grew our way out of trouble.
Still, the stress took its toll by taking the life of Dave Moore, my brother-in-law. After this, I lost all my heart and soul to keep the business running. So after Dave’s death I decided it was not in my interest any more. I decided to travel for a bit, sampling and searching for seeds. I eventually settled in Spain with no thought of coming back into the industry after the death of Dave and with John Henry leaving to write music.
After a number of years in Spain, I became friends with Dean and after many months and talks with him over many joints, we realized that we had so much common ground and interest in the hemp and cannabis industry. I suffered a heart attack and fortunately, Dean rushed me to hospital and probably saved my life. After this, Dean and I became really good friends. We decided after a few more joints, and the odd Jack Daniels, that we should reopen the seed company.
When we researched our name, Sensible Seeds, we found it had been used by another company (who we have no association with) in our absence. I can see why, it’s such a good name. Never mind, so we called the company the Original Sensible Seed Company. The internet has opened up a whole new world for me and the Original Sensible Seed Company. We are hoping to bring the business back to the top level again, back to the standard that the name deserves.
Since we’ve opened we have reconnected with many old suppliers and friends. We’ve been lucky enough to get a great response from everyone. The industry is booming in Spain at the moment and it’s a fun place to be in, and is rapidly becoming a great centre for distribution. Many top breeders and companies are working here now and the huge hemp fairs in Barcelona and Madrid are among the best attended in the world.
We’re building a very different style of seed business, rooted in the history of the industry, but with our sights firmly set on the future. We can see how quickly the industry is moving with the popularity of the cause and people’s product knowledge increasing all the time. We want to cater to this surge for information on cannabis rather than focus solely on selling seeds. We’ve used all of the latest tools to present as much educational information and content as we can for our customers. We see this as the best method of promotion for the hemp industry across the board.
We are currently completing our breeding program and hope to be releasing some new strains next year. We plan to re-release some of our old firm favorites soon, with a planned variation on our Bigger Pine. Our most famous seed was known as PR; so potent it was refused by the coffee shops for being too strong for their needs. We hope to start work on PR soon with assistance from its original breeder. Unfortunately, he went on a trip to Asia a while ago and hasn’t been seen since.
All the best,
Alun & Dean
The Original Sensible Seed Co.
Alun, you suffered tremendously during your first go around. In hindsight, was it all worth it?
Absolutely! During the time at the shop in Newport, I met all sorts of weird, wonderful and brilliant people who I’m still in regular contact with. Many of them visit us here in Spain for a good smoke in the sunshine. We had a lot of fun with the people who came into the shop; we’d arrange “company outings” and would take smoky buses overflowing with friends, good customers (and PR) to Amsterdam.
It was a very exciting time and despite the hard times, very few people can say that they’ve spent their entire lives doing something they love.
You mentioned that Dave, your brother-in-law, passed away and you yourself suffered a heart attack. Do you attribute this to the stress of the trials? We chose Claire (Alun’s wife & Dave’s sister) to answer this one.
Dave had a heart complaint although you would have never known for his energy and enthusiasm for the business, his family and life itself. He was an inspiration.
He was an active campaigner for the legalization of cannabis, with strong views and he fought for his rights with a passion. During the court case, his remarkable enthusiasm and energy boosted everyone’s morale. He was more determined than ever to keep both the light and seed shop running during this period, but he was backed into a corner together with Alun and John and had to plead guilty to the charge of “inciting people to grow cannabis through the means of advertisement.” They pled guilty to prevent others from enduring a possible prison sentence and with the promise by the judge on the final hearing day to release the stock confiscated in the bust— with the stock back he could save his livelihood and provide for his family once more. The stock was eventually returned broken, damaged and unsellable. Debts and pressure were growing, there were heavy court costs and fines, debts to wholesalers and the VAT man who took great delight in adding interest daily, there was only one alternative— use his knowledge and expertise to get us out of trouble!
Sadly just a couple of days after paying the final payment to the courts, the stress and pressure finally took their toll and Dave was suddenly taken from us. The morale and uplifting enthusiasm was lost, the will to carry on was just too much and Sensible Light Systems and Sensible Seeds ceased trading.
10 years later, Dave’s determination thrives within us all. We’ve had the odd knock back re-forming the seed company, but this only makes us stronger —so bring it on!
“We won’t give up. No, we won’t surrender”—lyrics to the song written by Jeh (John Henry) about the bust – how true they are Dave’s passion drives us once more and I’m proud he was my brother.
As for Alun, he just smokes too much!!
It seems as if the government was trying to use you as an example, yet the sale of cannabis seeds is presently flourishing in England. How does it feel to know you’re partly responsible for this, even though it came at a huge price?
I said to the police at the time that this was becoming a cottage industry and that it was something that they could not stop from spreading. In fact, the size of the case and the media coverage only promoted the concept and we had support from around the world. It’s brilliant to see how strong the industry is in the UK and great to know that we played our part.
Is there anything you would have done differently? Any lessons that you’re going to put to use in your new venture?
We would definitely have avoided talking to an undercover policeman called “Dave.” Setting up a grow room in a policeman’s caravan—also a bad idea!
As for now, we certainly know the limits when it comes to advertising. Having spent 13 months in court, we saw the law develop around us. But we still have the same overall approach as before
What type of strains do you intend to focus on? Will you be a connoisseur type seed bank or one that carries a lot of variety?
We know how important it is to cater to the wide range of differing tastes and requirements that people have. We currently offer over 600 strains in the seed bank and are continually expanding. We cover all main breeders, interesting connoisseur ranges, as well as having a large medicinal section. Our own ranges will cover the same areas, with the aim of catering for enthusiasts of different levels.
Where can growers get your gear?
They can check out the Original Sensible Seed Co website: www.original-ssc.com. We also plan to focus our own ranges on street-level head and grow shops across Europe and Canada. We think it’s important to remember our brick and mortar roots and want to offer extra support for shops.
Spain has embraced you and your endeavors. Can we suggest that your adopted country has overtaken Holland as the place to be in Europe for anyone in the cannabis industry?
The judge told Alun in summing up, “Mr. Jenkins, I see you have spent much time abroad, you are a constant smoker, if you wish to continue with these habits, I suggest you move back abroad.”
Holland is still unique because of its café scene, but the industry is booming in Spain at the moment. It’s a great place to be and is rapidly becoming the centre for distribution.
Dean, what happens to the PR if the original breeder never returns from Asia?
While we hold on to hope that he’ll be returned safely from the East (or wherever), the complex genetics of PR are still safely in our possession. We are lucky to have a network of top breeders, some involved with PR, who we can bring in to help out and we hope to release a stable feminized seed as well. PR was a serious strain and when it returns it will hit the cannabis scene hard. You’ll know when you’ve been PR’d!