Kiwi green

No matter where you go in New Zealand, from city centres to suburbs to the remotest rural areas, cannabis plants will be flourishing somewhere. After more than 70 years of prohibition, the herb is firmly entrenched in the social fabric of the country, and is cultivated by everyone from business and professional people to the unemployed.
New Zealand Green can hold its own with ganja from anywhere in the world. Over the years Kiwi growers have imported seeds from Asia, Europe and North America, selected the best strains, cross-bred them, and produced some righteous buds. The latest edition of the Rough Guide to New Zealand describes them as “very potent.”

With a temperate climate and ample rainfall in most parts of the country, New Zealand is well suited to producing ganja trees. It is not unusual for plants to reach five metres (15 feet) in height and yield up to two kilos of bud, given the right conditions.

Cultural origins

The cannabis plant has been grown in New Zealand since at least the mid-19th century. Surviving records from the 1880s describe its medicinal use for asthma, neuralgia, menstrual cramps, and many other conditions. Locally grown cannabis was a staple ingredient in many patent medicines of the time. A 19th century gardening manual recommended it as a decorative plant for ornamental gardens.

In the 1920s, when the first wave of reefer madness swept around the world, New Zealand joined international conventions on drugs formulated under the auspices of the League of Nations, which prohibited opiates, cocaine, and cannabis. The Dangerous Drugs Act of 1927 enshrined prohibition in New Zealand law.

Driven underground, marijuana remained very much on the fringes of New Zealand society throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Among the more knowledgeable urbanites it was associated with jazz musicians, and during World War II with American servicemen who occasionally brought it into the country.

The postwar prosperity of the 1950s brought with it a keen interest among young New Zealanders in all aspects of American culture, including the beat generation and its use of the herb. “Reefers” became popular among local musicians and their fans. Most of the pot available at the time was brought into the country by seamen, who remained a major source of supply throughout the 1960s. (In 1965 customs officers were highly embarrassed after detaining an Indian seaman on suspicion of smuggling marijuana, only to find that his “stash” was tobacco. Officers complained that they could not identify marijuana because they did not know what it looked like.)

Growth spurt

Marijuana’s popularity grew exponentially among Kiwis in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when local cultivation began in earnest. Although unsophisticated by today’s standards, Kiwi growers soon established a reputation for New Zealand Green, and began exporting their surplus to Australia.

New Zealanders have always been keen travelers, and the 1960s and 1970s saw more of them traveling than ever before. Naturally many of them came across some fine local ganja here and there, and the more enterprising among them brought back seeds to plant. Strains of sturdy sativa from California, Hawaii, and Mexico flourished in the south Pacific climate, as did indica strains from Asia. The legendary Buddha sticks of the 70’s often had a few seeds in them, which became the basis for numerous local strains.

Green-thumbed counterculturists began crossing different varieties, selecting the sturdiest females with the choicest buds, saving seeds, and taking New Zealand Green to new highs.

Sweet spots

In the 1970s the Coromandel peninsula became famous as a prime growing area. This hilly backwater, largely forgotten after its late 19th century gold rush had come and gone, attracted many young people seeking an alternative lifestyle. Being within half a day’s drive of Auckland, Coromandel soon became a major source of supply for the urban market.

Other regions such as Northland, East Cape, and Marlborough in turn became renowned as herb headquarters. By the 1980s cannabis had become the number one crop in terms of value for many rural areas.

Pot was by no means immune to inflation and the 80s culture of greed. Prices rose throughout the decade, and with the increase in value came ripoffs, violence, and even murders arising from deals gone wrong. Inevitably the media sensationalized such incidents. With the twisted logic for which prohibition’s defenders are renowned, the violence was blamed on marijuana instead of the law which fostered the violence in the first place.

Coming indoors

During the 1990s indoor growing came into its own. From closets and spare rooms to entire factories devoted to commercial crops, Kiwi growers found that the great indoors had many advantages over the bush. Crops could be grown year round, ending the seasonal shortages that formerly prevailed before the autumn harvest. Indoor growing also improved security, removing the danger of plants being eaten by wildlife and reducing the risk of discovery by police and other undesirables.

Many Kiwi tokers have come to prefer the indoor varieties, especially skunk grown from imported seed stock. To some, “bush weed” has become downmarket, although others prefer the more natural buzz that they say comes from sunlight and organic soil.

Indoor growing technology continues to become cheaper and more accessible, making city smokers increasingly less dependent on rural suppliers. Poorer areas of the country, where the local economy has been boosted by the cannabis crop, have suffered accordingly.

In 1970 the average price of a Kiwi ounce was $30NZ ($10US). By 1990 it had risen to around $300NZ, more than keeping pace with inflation. Nowadays bush weed goes for $200 to $300 an ounce, while indoor skunk can fetch $400 an ounce or more.

A tinnie (or bullet) with enough for two modest joints wrapped in tinfoil sells for $20 to $25NZ ($8-10US). For those who want more but do not want to invest in a full ounce, the $50 bag is a popular unit. This can contain anything from three to seven grams, depending on the quality and who you know.

Potent future

Has New Zealand Green gotten stronger over the years? Scaremongering prohibitionists say yes, scientific tests say no. The Southern Hemisphere ozone hole ensures outdoor Kiwi herb gets plenty of ultraviolet radiation. The plant produces THC to protect itself against UV, and the ozone hole is growing. What does this mean for New Zealand Green? Watch this space.

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