- 21 Apr 08
Dylan is a farmer with a difference – he's a cannabis cultivator. He is squeezed by both criminals and the Gardai. But he aims to put Ireland on the map for quality, organically grown weed.
Like many farmers, Dylan is proud of the quality of his produce. He smiles as he tells me that he’s almost sick of hearing people tell him it’s the best they’ve ever sampled. His cultivation skills have been recognised internationally, which appeals to his sense of national pride. He may be growing cannabis, but the illicit nature of the crop does not mean that Dylan’s horticultural skills go unnoticed. He has made a name for himself, both in Ireland and internationally, and tells me that his goal is “to put Ireland on the weed map”.
Dylan is not merely a grower, he is also a cannabis breeder. Indeed, the large grow-operations he tends are a by-product of his enduring mission to identify strains of cannabis which are amenable to Ireland’s climate. One such strain is Canelope Haze, which Dylan rates both for its incredibly quick growth and its energetic high, which he recommends as an antidote to the crappy Irish weather in which it thrives. His goal, he tells me, is to make Canelope Haze Ireland’s cannabis staple.
In a parallel, horticulturally egalitarian universe, his patriotic ambitions might have earned him a Teagasc grant and the enthusiastic backing of the Minister for Agriculture.
In such a civilised alternate universe, he would surely also draw praise from the keepers of the national purse, since he is helping address an ongoing black hole in our balance of payments by denting the cannabis import market. Ireland relies so heavily on imported cannabis – and pays such an inflated price for it – that money is constantly, covertly bled from the country. Dylan’s business may involve the redistribution of some of that illegal, tax free, wealth towards himself but that is surely preferable to the alternative, which involves funding organised crime.
A GROWER’S NETWORK
Dylan’s activities are certainly criminal. They also have the appearance of extensive organisation. But that’s where the similarities to the usual method of getting illegal drugs to the market end. Though the law would hardly distinguish between this soft spoken farmer and a violent drug dealer, Dylan’s efforts are part of a growing cannabis cottage industry whose byword is quality and whose ethical nature is in stark contrast to the violent machinations of the drug syndicates whose franchise operation penetrates every city, town and village in Ireland. In light of the ongoing contamination of herbal cannabis, Dylan defines his first mission as “reminding people what cannabis should look, smell and taste like”.
“Contaminated weed is now the soapbar of the cannabis world, it’s here to stay,” he says, referring to Ireland’s predominant (badly polluted) hash product. “Commercial growers have learned how easy it is to contaminate their product and add weight, and so long as people are smoking it, they’ll continue to sell it.”
His analysis may be pessimistic, but it’s hard to dispute. A nation of smokers who have grown up on a product containing only 10% cannabis, along with boot polish, coffee, glue and various other undesirable fillers, are essentially uneducated in the ways of the herb.
“The stuff on the street isn’t really cannabis at all. Soapbar hash isn’t cannabis – it’s a million miles from cannabis,” Dylan says.
“There’s a network of us,” he says. “We are growing at a phenomenal rate – and I mean growing in both senses of the word. We aim to educate people about cannabis, not through lectures and leaflets, but by actually putting top quality product in their hands. When people try real cannabis, they will realise that the shit on the streets is just that – shit.”
Ireland lags stubbornly behind Europe when it comes to awareness amongst cannabis smokers, and this lack of awareness is keenly exploited by European and Irish criminals alike, who – as we have pointed out in Hot Press before – sell us the worst products in Europe at outrageous prices.
Dylan is frustrated by the attitude among smokers that even a terrible product is better than no product at all. “People have more power than they think,” he tells me. “Our campaign is about making them realise that they can change the situation. All they have to do is tell their dealer that they’re only interested in smoking clean, high quality cannabis. Tell him that you’re not smoking any of his stuff until he offers you something better, and I guarantee he will come back to you with something better.”
STRICT ORGANIC ETHOS
If people were to take Dylan’s advice, the current criminal stranglehold on the cannabis market might be broken. But that is not a given.
There’s more and more cannabis being grown in Ireland now, but homegrown is no longer synonymous with healthier, ethically agreeable cannabis. Ironically, though the Irish criminal gangs import all of their product, the exponential growth in demand for weed in Ireland has seen foreign criminals relocating here to fill the gap in the market by growing vast quantities of weed for domestic consumption.
Dylan tells me that he has personal experience of a Polish gang which was contaminating their product – whether commercial or homegrow – by covering it in whatever came to hand: salt, sugar and sand are the most common adulterants. Since the same Polish outfits operate speed factories, improperly prepared batches of speed can be added to the cannabis to give the product an extra ‘buzz’.
Dylan also claims that Vietnamese gangs have arrived in Ireland, and are bringing with them the brand of indoor cannabis farm seen increasingly across the UK in recent years. The modus operandi of the Vietnamese gangs is to acquire houses and fill them with grow lights and thousands of the fastest growing, highest yielding cannabis plants they can find.
“They literally fill every inch of the house with weed,” Dylan says. “The guy who looks after the plants sleeps in the hall: the bedroom’s are reserved for weed.”
This is a hugely profitable enterprise for the gangs, but it is bad news for cannabis consumers. Every aspect of the Vietnamese model is geared towards maximising profit. “They don’t flush the weed,” Dylan says, “they sell it full of steroids and water, and they don’t trim the leaf.” The result is the same mass-produced, poor quality McWeed as British smokers have ‘enjoyed’ for the last couple of years.
Steroids and grow-nutrients are another bugbear. Citing the Dutch campaign and resource organisation the Cannabis College, Dylan says that hydroponically grown, chemically-fed weed emits five times more radiation than organic weed. But that’s not the only difference which has led him to operate a strict organic ethos.
“The taste is different and the high is different,” he insists. “With hydroponic weed, it’s very harsh on the throat, and when you smoke it, you’re high instantly. With organic weed, it’s a smooth smoke which brings you up in stages and lets you down gently. It is also much longer lasting.”
Again citing the Cannabis College, Dylan tells me that when a user stops smoking hydroponic weed they experience cravings, whereas users of organic weed will not experience withdrawal symptoms. “There is something in the hydroponic weed which your body craves – your body is actually craving the radiation and the foreign chemicals in the plant,” he claims.
REEFER MADNESS PHASE
For the uninitiated, Dylan explains that ‘hydroponics’ refers to the soilless system of growing plants indoors, in which nutrients are pumped directly to the plant’s roots. He says that hydroponic weed contains more water than organic weed, as well as more attractive looking THC crystals. He compares commercial weed to commercial ham. Both potency and yield can be increased through the use of plant steroids.
“Like that packet of ham in the supermarket, the hydroponic weed might look great, but it’s 80% water,” he asserts. “Similarly, if you’re going to take pictures of weed to show in a magazine or catalogue, you’re going to take a picture of the hydroponic stuff because it looks better. But it doesn’t taste better.”
But isn’t Dylan’s wonderful organic weed just for the lucky few who can afford such indulgences? You can imagine the Harvey Nicholls advertisement. This isn’t just weed, this is certifiably organic, guaranteed Irish, soil-grown, naturally ripened Canelope Haze prime-flowering cannabis bud!. Whatever about the discerning smokers of Ireland, we all know that most Irish teenagers aren’t shopping at Harvey Nicholls!.
The only way to change this, Dylan says is to “blow their heads clean off” with high quality weed so that they realise how poor the mass market stuff is. There is a massive market for high quality weed, Dylan tells me, and entrants to the market quickly become swamped by demand.
The trade is not risk-free. Dylan says that the police are a grower’s worst enemy, but the criminal competition ranks a close second. “The problem with the criminals,” he frowns, “is that they’ll steal your crop and threaten you and put you in a position where you either retaliate – in which case you’re hardly any better than them – or keep getting robbed.”
In response, Dylan and his band of green-fingered comrades have their eyes on the prize: a domestic cannabis market tended by domestic farmers, with criminal elements sidelined along with their “shitty product”. This is obviously a long-term goal, though Dylan worries about increasing repression.
“The problem with the Irish cannabis scene is that it’s still deep underground. The harsher the laws, the further underground it goes, and that drives out the softer element,” he opines.
Unfortunately, we are currently in the grip of the sort of resurrected Reefer Madness phase, with the previously benign reputation of cannabis being besmirched with outlandish claims of skunk induced madness and murder. Given that Dylan’s weed comfortably falls under the ‘super potent skunk’ category, what does he make of the notion that he might be partially responsible for the mental meltdown of the nation’s young?
“There is no such thing as super skunk,” he says. “The skunk plant was first grown out by [cannabis cultivation legend] Sam the Skunkman in the 1960s. Since then, over 19,000 different strains of cannabis have been identified, but they are rarely much stronger than the original skunk plant, which is the bedrock of the breeding game. That contains between 10% and 16% THC. Today’s commercial weed contains between 5% and 10%, no more.”
Dylan’s suggestion that cannabis has actually become less potent tallies with the recent results of a Dutch government study into the plant’s potency in the cradle of creative cannabis gardening. The study concluded that, contrary to the media reports, the potency of weed available in the Netherlands was actually decreasing. Dylan also rubbishes the oft-touted but never substantiated claim that cannabis is 30 times stronger than it was in the ’60s and ’70s. Referencing a horticultural “freak of a freak”, a plant which was tentatively called ‘Sex’, he says that its alleged THC content of 28% is the highest ever claimed. It is a feat which has not been repeated, giving the lie to the notion that cannabis could now be 30 times stronger than it was.
What does he make of the notion that cannabis may be responsible for triggering mental illness?
“Well, there are many, many different strains of cannabis, and some people find some of them intolerable,” he says. “If it were legally available, people would be able to decide what type of cannabis they’d like to consume. Instead, we have a situation of total ignorance where you get what you are given, and what you are given is going to contain so many impurities that it’s impossible to separate the effects of the impurities from the effects of the weed.”
Aside from media sensationalism, Dylan believes that the more serious barrier to the decriminalisation of cannabis is the might of the international pharmaceutical industry. “Basically, cannabis treats a massive number of symptoms and illnesses, and it strikes me that the pharmaceutical companies aren’t going to allow a plant, which anyone can grow for free and which the corporations cannot patent, drive down their share of the drug market,” he speculates, pointing to the UK government’s licensing of GW Pharamaceuticals to grow cannabis in order to develop a treatment which can be patented and sold.
The most Dylan believes we can hope for is a gradual easing of the laws, so that cannabis offences are treated as minor matters, more akin to receiving a parking ticket than robbing a car.
Given the success of last year’s unprecedented anti-prohibiton march in Dublin, it seems that Dylan’s willingness to come forward for an interview reflects a growing awareness within the cannabis community that – potentially at least – change is in their hands. Another protest is planned for May 10, and organisers hope it will be bigger and better than last year’s.
While Dylan supports peaceful protest, he says that change must come from within. He leaves me with two simple statements of intent: to smokers he says “grow your own”; to the authorities, “leave us alone”.
Illustrations by 3rd Year VisCom Students at Athlone I.T.