On Saturday (March 30), the world of weed lost a pioneer.
Dig out the surely dust-coated March 1987 edition of High Times and flip to a feature called: “The incredible story of the man who would be King of Cannabis”. The piece was written by journalist (and later editor) Steven Hagar and in it he profiles a Dutch-Australian bird fanatic who packed up his life at 19, moved to the Netherlands, and started growing pot. That same smalltime cultivator would spend the next several decades collecting, selling, and crossing seed families—thereby establishing the country’s first cannabis gene bank and the world’s first mail-order delivery service: the Seed Bank of Holland.
Today, Nevil Schoenmakers schis not only still lauded as a king, but also one of the forefathers of modern cannabis breeding.
Schoenmakers was born in Perth, Australia in 1957 and moved to Holland in 1976. He began growing for his personal stash, but soon realized the genetics he had access to—being shipped in from equatorial regions, like Columbia and Nigeria—weren’t a match for the muggy and mild climate of northern Europe. Under the guidance of California Haze-enthusiast and world-renowned cannabis breeder Sam the Skunkman (also known as Sam Selezny or David Watson), he began budding cultivars that would go on to mother of some of the industry's most popular hybrids.
With his quickly blossoming portfolio of plants, he bought a large estate on the German border, which Hagar later dubbed the “Cannabis Castle”: a mansion equipped with greenhouses and industrial lighting fit for larger-scale indoor grows and seed storage. And in 1984, he founded the Seed Bank of Holland.
The Seed Bank was the world’s first mail-delivery service that posted cannabis seeds from Schoenmakers’ personal collection to growers and dealers internationally. As he diversified his offerings, he also began playing around with a few varieties of his own.
He won his first High Times Cannabis Cup in 1989 for an Early Pearl—Skunk #1—Northern Lights #5—Haze hybrid. The following year, his Northern Lights #5 also took home first place. Schoenmakers’ notoriety was on a sharp upward trajectory and his hybrids—primarily building on Skunks, Hazes, and G13 genetics—would sew the roots of some of the world’s most legendary cultivars, like Neville’s Haze and Super Silver Haze.
Then, came Operation Green Merchant—the Bush administration’s crackdown on growers, hydroponic shops, and counterculture media outlets selling or advertising cultivation equiptment and promoting the use of cannabis. The operation was the American Drug Enforcement Agency's (DEA) attempt to thwart the grassroots movement, making high profile breeders like Schoenmakers a high priority target.
On July 24, 1990, he was arrested while visiting family in Perth by the Australian authorities. Though what he was doing was technically legal by Holland’s liberal drug laws, Schoenmakers was detained and to face extradition to New Orleans where he would be indicted on 44 counts of violating the Controlled Substances Act. As one of the DEA’s largest pain-points, he was charged with a series of offenses, including the manufacturing a Schedule I narcotic, using the U.S. Postal Service to deliver nearly 2,000 cannabis seeds, and selling to undercover officers.
There are mixed accounts of what happened next—some say he posted bail and fled, while others say the Australian authorities let him go. Either way, Schoenmakers went silent for many years. During his time in hiding, he sold the Seed Bank to Ben Dronkers, returned to Holland, and the authorities lost interest in pursuing the charges.
In 2015, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Schoenmakers had resurfaced, announcing a new role as head grower for an Australian medicinal cannabis company, AusCann. He went on to consult for seed banks and breeders for his remaining years.
Schoenmakers was 62 when he lost a battle against hepatitis C and cancer. He passed in his hometown of Perth. Since news of his death broke, fans have taken to social media to share memories and condolences.
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Today is a truly sad day in cannabis history with the announcement of king of the Cannabis Castle has left us on our own I think of this man often and reminisce as our first contact was by hand written letters in 88 he was kind enough to write back after a couple months wait we got his letter explaining his strains that we had questions about and set us down the road I’m on today is only by his advice and genetics that’s started my preservation passion The letter came with the 89 Sensi Seedbank catalog and we were off collecting up all our money we could spare to put down on Haze/EP Skunk 1 nl5 Big skunk Northern lights no1 Skunk 1 Ruderalis True Love from all of us and pray your soul looks over us I’m very sad right now but so happy he helped me be me Rest In Peace my Friend #akbeanbrains #kingofthecastle #nevilleshoenmakers #restinpeace #thankgodforhim