With Liam Wesley Goodman’s work, you can almost feel the sticky texture of resinous buds, catch the glimmer of light in swiss-cheese slabs of shatter and imagine the ooze of gooey concentrates.
Goodman has been making art his entire life and one look at his detailed, contemporary approach to capturing cannabis in its full essence tells you that his talent extends beyond just a casual approach to art. His Instagram account (@cannabis.creations) is full of jaw-dropping images and behind-the-scenes glimpses of what it takes to create such incredible, realistic drawings. It’s the distinguished precision and delicate attention to detail that make each piece special.
His work stands out in the sea of weed art that often includes predictable tropes such as giant fan leaves on tie-dye print, Technicolor psychedelic scenes and a plethora of joints, blunts and smoking characters. Goodman says his evolution into drawing cannabis began after visiting a vapor lounge in 2017.
“My art evolved into cannabis through times of emptiness and a lack of a future, no direction but a passion for creation,” he says.
Born and raised in Ontario, Canada, Goodman had been practicing realism for about a dozen years and had a passion for creating, but maintains he still felt empty at the time. At the lounge, an employee recognized him and pulled up an old art account that had some of his previous work which included experimental drawings unrelated to cannabis. Later, a manager approached him and asked if he’d be interested in displaying art at their location and the rest is history.
With more than a decade of experience as a realistic artist, Goodman dove into what he knows best: realism. “I went home and started searching for cannabis studied and drawn in realism only to find a severe lack in the space,” he says. “I spent weeks searching without finding a solid body of work with an artist attached. I was strongly pulled into the idea of filling the emptiness I felt was needed in the world of cannabis in realism. From that point, I told myself I was going to start a series of 420 different flower drawings to create a world of cannabis in realism.”
Goodman’s project has now evolved into a flower series, extracts, trichomes, an upcoming cannabis flower coloring book and many more projects still on the way.
The artist made the intentional choice to step away from predictable and commonplace art, such as portraits and pets or sunsets and landscapes. He finds fulfillment in the process of creating cannabis art and strives to create something bigger than himself by lending his incredible talent to the genre. Goodman says he’s inspired by the cannabis community and the industry members who grow beautiful flower and produce top-notch extracts that provide the basis for his work.
As a full-time artist, his dedication to perfecting his art is noteworthy. He works seven days a week and swears he genuinely loves every minute of it. Over the years, he’s spent more than 10,000 hours creating pencil drawings while jamming to music, learning from podcasts or creating movies in his head while listening to audiobooks—Harry Potter, among others.
He’s fortunate, he says, that he’s able to concentrate without distraction and focus his attention on mastering the microscopic elements of cannabis that bring his pieces to life. His goal is to show the side of cannabis that people may not immediately be drawn to, such as focusing on the different shades that fade in and out of the flower, the beautiful contrast of colors and the captivating details that make each plant its own unique work of art.
“I see the image through a filter in my mind, the flower or extract is already in a drawing form when I first see it scrolling through social media,” Goodman says.
“I see elements of a photo that I feel would translate well into a drawing. I see oranges that might look more captivating as yellows, or greens that might contrast better as blues. I find there’s ultimate power in creating a drawing as I’m able to add or remove and choose every element to create a final piece that I’m happy with.”
There are challenges that come with the sensitive content of his work, of course. Like many in the industry—even those that are considered auxiliary—Goodman has had to deal with constant censorship online with recurring instances of his work being removed or deleted from social media for “sale of illegal drugs.” He’s lost his Instagram account three times in the last four years which inspired him to create his own virtual gallery called Cannabis Creations.
In the future, Goodman has plans to release a cannabis coloring book and embark on fashion illustrations. A peek at his Instagram shows the beginnings of the latter with time-lapse videos showing raw photos and his process of creating cannabis clothing from leaves and buds for illustrations. He also plans to host a virtual show where he can invite guests and even create artwork together. At some point, he wants to include oil paintings to his repertoire and eventually incorporate other mediums he loves (sculpting, papier-mâché) to create new, realistic cannabis art.
For now, though, Goodman says he’s focused on evolving as an artist and will undoubtedly continue breaking barriers in the industry and skillfully shattering the idea of what weed art can look like. “I may not be the greatest cannabis artist today, but one day I will be, and nothing will stop me.”
This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.
There are more cannabis cultivars available now than ever before through seed banks and nurseries in Europe and North America.
Growing from seed has its advantages, but also some issues. Seeds are easier to transport and store than cuttings (clones) from a nursery. Unlike clones, cannabis grown from seed is not genetically identical. The degree of homogeneity varies from breeder to breeder. Although plants of the same variety will be closely related, only skilled breeders can create a uniform crop. Starting plants from seed results in decreased uniformity in the canopy, which is undesirable because it can reduce yield in larger operations. Home growers and those with smaller farms may not mind the decreased uniformity in the crop.
Large-scale farmers are more likely to prefer uniformity, so choosing varieties from a nursery that takes cuttings from mother plants or from tissue culture will help provide those identical genetics that drive uniformity in the canopy.
Whether growing from seeds or from clones, choosing the right cultivar is paramount because they differ not only in their effects but also in how they grow.
Cultivar vs. Strain
The word “cultivar” is derived from “cultivated variety.” Although in popular culture cannabis cultivars are referred to as “strains,” the term “strain” is more appropriately used when referencing viruses, bacteria, or fungi. The use of “strains” in the cannabis industry is widely accepted and understood, however. This book uses “varieties” to refer to groups of related plants and the term “cultivar” to refer to specific varieties that are named landraces or the result of a dedicated breeding program.
Cultivars that do best in outdoor gardens tend to need more light than cultivars that grow better indoors. Some cultivars have very little branching, while others prefer to spread their branches and leaves horizontally. Some are heavy yielders with large colas that will need support as the flowers approach final maturity.
While some varieties may finish in 50 days, it can take as long as 12 weeks before the plant can be harvested. Choosing the variety of cannabis best suited to the grower’s goals can be a daunting task; however, it almost always is a pleasurable one. The right variety is the variety of cannabis that meets those goals, whether they are the plants’ medicinal properties, style of growing, taste, aroma, or any other trait desired by the breeder. There is no single perfect variety of cannabis other than the variety that works perfectly for the grower.
Choosing which cultivar to grow is one of the most important decisions to make when designing a garden. The two most important factors are the quality of the effects and suitability for the growing environment.
Find cultivars that produce desired flavors, aromas, highs, or medicinal qualities. Each cultivar has a genetic blueprint that determines how the plant will react to its environment, and therefore each cultivar will respond differently to different climates and garden setups.
New cultivars are the result of the intense competition among seed breeders hoping to find the next big thing.
How cannabis has been bred and for which traits has changed over the years as well. In 1964, THC was isolated and its molecular structure was described. It was understood that THC was driving all of the plant’s effects, which drove breeders to narrowly focus on THC content.
New cultivars were also bred for many other characteristics such as yield, flavor, aroma, medicinal effects, size, and maturation length, but no other aspect of the cannabis flower has been selected for more than THC potency. Popular varieties from the ’60s and ’70s usually had a THC potency that ranged between 6 and 12%, but ordinary Mexican tested in the range of 2 to 4%.
Breeders selected for a wide variety of desirable traits in new varieties. At first they concentrated on increasing potency, decreasing ripening time, and decreasing the growth-to-yield ratio. Later they developed more of an interest in terpenes, which provide the odor as well as “personality” of the high, as well as for cannabinoids other than THC, such as CBD and CBG. Outdoor environments have come into favor due to legalization, as well as a proliferation of autoflowering varieties, homogeneity, and a more scientific approach to obtaining intentional results and micro-adaptation to specific outdoor environments.
Cannabis is particularly easy to breed because it is dioecious, meaning unlike almost all other annual plants, plants are either male or female. This makes it easy to control pollination; separate all males from the females and only use pollen from selected males to pollinate females. Cannabis is wind-pollinated, so a male in proximity to a female plant will pollinate it. Flowers can also be hand pollinated. For this reason, it is relatively easy for a grower to experiment with breeding.
Compare cannabis breeding to tomatoes. Not only does each tomato plant carry both sexes, but tomatoes have “perfect” flowers, meaning each flower carries both sexes. To breed them, the stamen from the designated female must be removed before it matures, which requires tweezers and a sharp eye. Then pollen must be collected from the candidate male, which is painstaking.
As a result of the ease of breeding there are literally thousands of companies producing cannabis seed for commercial sales, so obtaining seeds has never been easier. They are available over the internet as well as in dispensaries. Many of these companies advertise in magazines that feature cultivation articles.
Clones are also available. Just as many people prefer to use tomato starts rather than germinate seed, clones provide a head start and save 10–15 days of cultivation. Another advantage of clones is that they have identical genetics and respond to the environment in a uniform way.
The “ideal” environment for one variety may not be optimal for another. Having cultivars that are genetically identical optimizes large-scale production, since all the plants will thrive under the conditions that the cultivator provides. Creating many microclimates to accommodate the different varieties is expensive and difficult to do if the commercial grower’s goal is to increase yield without compromising quality.
Home gardeners’ preferences tend to be more varied, and their cultivar selections reflect that diversity. Home gardeners have different goals in mind, which is why growing from seed or having many different varieties in the same garden is perfectly acceptable. Home gardeners may be less interested in crop yields than they are with crop quality. They tend to grow different varieties so they can harvest at different times and choose from a selection of cannabinoid potencies, qualities of the high, tastes, and aromas.
It is true that the heterogeneity of maturation times and types of cannabis grown in the same garden often result in smaller yields than from a homogeneous garden. Heterogeneous gardens require more individualized attention to the different cultivars, resulting in more individual care. Most home gardeners don’t mind, especially when they see the fruits (or flowers) of their labor.
The height and spread of the canopy are two varietal characteristics to consider when choosing which cultivar works best in the garden. This is particularly important whether the garden is indoors or outdoors. Sativa-dominant cultivars tend to grow taller and stretch farther than indicas. An outdoor garden with abundant sun and plenty of room for plants to spread out works well with strong sativa varieties such as Sour Diesel, Lemon Skunk, Vanilla Frosting, Lemon Tree, Runtz, Orange Creamsicle, or Lemongrass. These tall cultivars thrive in outdoor gardens with no height restrictions, and the extra intensity of direct sunlight keeps the plants from stretching too much. If they are pruned early in vegetative growth, they will bush out more rather than grow tall. The higher light intensity promotes shorter branching and thus denser buds.
Indoor gardens typically have size restrictions. Tall varieties can potentially grow close to or into the lights, causing damage to the plants and undesirable flowers that are light and airy. Shorter varieties such as those associated with most indica-dominant and many hybrid varieties are ideal for smaller indoor grows. Cultivars such as Do-Si-Dos, Wedding Cake, Grease Monkey, Lava Cake, Northern Lights, or Super Skunk have indica characteristics and thrive in indoor climates. However, an indoor garden does not mean it has to be relegated to only growing indicas. There are plenty of sativas and hybrids such as Sour Diesel and OG Kush that thrive in even the smallest of indoor settings if they can be grown with either the SOG or ScrOG method.
Cannabis varieties have different rates of maturation once they are set to flower. Typically, this ranges from seven to 11 weeks. The time it takes to reach maturity affects the choice of variety in a couple of significant ways. First and foremost, quicker-maturing varieties allow for more harvests per year. If a grower is looking to maximize yield, and streamline production, quicker plants are a big plus. The other significant reason is that late-season varieties are inappropriate to grow in areas with short growing seasons.
Outdoor growers consider maturation speed depending on the weather in autumn, which can be cold and moist, but varies regionally. Gardens in climates that remain warm through the fall may work best with varieties that have longer flowering times. Finishing the flowering cycle while temperatures are still hot outside can cause the flowers to be less dense and lose a lot of their terpenes (aroma and flavor). Flowering later when temperatures are cool will delay ripening. Conversely, outdoor growers in climates that experience early frosts should plant cultivars that are ready to harvest early in the fall. A lot of the autoflowering varieties flower quickly and still have a lot of the original qualities that make them so great.
Once the size and maturation speed of the varieties have been decided, maximizing yields is often the next decision that needs to be considered when choosing which cultivar works best for a garden. High-yielding crops provide more medicine after harvest. These varieties are vigorous growers and will usually have higher cannabinoid potencies as well.
Maturation speed has a negative correlation with crop yield. In other words, the faster the maturation time, the lower the yield tends to be, and vice versa. Slower maturing varieties have more time to develop flowers, and thus the yields tend to be larger. However, a quick maturation time and low yield are not mutually exclusive. If it is a necessity to have a quick maturation time, the resulting smaller plants can be more densely planted to fill out the given canopy with more buds.
Examples of heavy yielders are Blue Dream, Sour Diesel, Big Bud, Critical Kush, Super Silver Haze, and White Widow.
Flavor, Aroma & High
The quality of the flower is more important than the yield for many growers. The flavor and aroma of cannabis comes exclusively from the terpene profiles of the varieties. Some cultivars have very distinct noses. The decision to grow a specific variety based on flavor and aroma is a personal decision that is best decided by the end user.
Some people prefer fruity cultivars such as Strawberry Cough or Blackberry Kush. Others prefer a sweet flavor from varieties such as Durban Poison, GSC, or some of the “cake” varieties such as Wedding Cake or Ice Cream Cake. Sour Diesel, Chemdawg 4, and Hindu Kush all have gassy noses due to a relatively high concentration of limonene. Flavor and aroma preferences are personal, but they are also very closely related to the high that comes from smoking/vaping these varieties as well.
The high from cannabis comes from the interplay of the different cannabinoids and terpenes found in the plant. With hundreds of active ingredients, there are practically endless terpene and cannabinoid combinations. Finding the high that works best for different situations is part of the fun of exploring cannabis. Terpenes such as a-pinene and limonene are bronchodilators and tend to give an uplifting energetic high. B-caryophyllene and linalool are smooth muscle relaxers and are generally found in varieties that provide a relaxing, calming high. Cannabinol (CBN) is the only cannabinoid that is regularly mentioned in lab testing that is also a smooth muscle relaxer and can cause that calming high. Many consumers use cannabis to ease anxiety and will look to cultivars with higher than average cannabidiol (CBD) content, such as AC/DC, Cannatonic, Sour Tsunami, Harlequin, and Ringo’s Gift.
Cannabis is susceptible to gray mold (Botrytis cinerea) and powdery mildew, which is caused by a number of fungal species. Both of these fungal infections thrive in stagnant, high-humidity environments. Gardens with humidity controls or naturally low humidity and substantial air movement around the plants are less susceptible to mold and fungi. However, cannabis is grown all over the world, and there are a number of regions where high-quality cannabis is grown in high-humidity environments. Cultivars that are grown in high humidity gardens need to have some level of mold resistance.
Cultivars derived from varieties and hybrids from Thailand, Vietnam, and other countries in Southeast Asian where it is humid have a higher resistance to mold. Varieties such as Pineapple Thai, Super Lemon Haze, Voodoo, and Juicy Fruit have Thai ancestry and are less prone to fungal infection.
“One of the difficulties with post-traumatic stress disorder is that the readiness or need for treatment may emerge years after the trauma. Therefore, veterans and their families need long-term treatment options and long-term access to treatment, even if symptoms are not present at their time of discharge.” -William H. Braun, from Veteran’s for Medical Marijuana
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) wreaks misery on soldiers and families. Military training, combat experience and traumatic events like sexual abuse often radically change cognitive functioning. Unable to process peacetime situations without infusing combat conditioned responses, PTSD sufferers live chaotic, often isolated lives. Approximately 6500 veterans and 349 active service members committed suicide in 2012. The United States Veterans’ Administration (VA) is tasked with providing medical care for all honorably discharged veterans. This includes some psychological care.
A veteran with PTSD faces life and career altering choices. The VA does not dissuade this notion, advising on their website. “You may think that avoiding your PTSD is critical to keeping your job. But if your PTSD symptoms are getting in the way of doing your duties, it is better to deal with them before they hurt your military career. Getting help for PTSD is problem solving.”
The VA outlines several treatments, “cognitive processing, prolonged exposure treatment, mindfulness practice” to name a few, but provides more extensive information for psychiatrists prescribing Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), antidepressants and other prescription drugs. “The only two FDA approved medications for the treatment of PTSD are sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil). All other medication uses are off label, though there are differing levels of evidence supporting their use…” In a series of videos linked to the site, Psychiatrist Matthew J. Friedman of the VA National Center for PTSD explains that his patients “usually use these medications indefinitely.”
“David” is a former Army Corporal 1st Cavalry who served two terms in Iraq as a chaplain’s assistant in a 900 troop infantry unit. He started suffering from night terrors during basic training after performing sleep deprivation exercises. “I’m dead asleep, having a nightmare. They call me back. I try to explain to them that my time is done. Then I’m in Iraq and it’s hitting the fan and I can’t find my weapon! I don’t remember the rest, but if someone comes into my room or makes the slightest noise, I jump up in the fighting position, screaming, cursing, telling them that I am going to rip them in half. I’ve punched people, thrown stuff. My brother has kicked my ass my entire life, whenever it happens he’s terrified.”
Before enlisting, David was a teetotaling Protestant and devout believer in “George Bush, the War in Iraq, all of it.” Responsible for protecting unarmed rabbis, priests, imams and monks as they performed their duties, he screened soldiers seeking spiritual advice to make sure they weren’t a threat. “They told me all the stories, so I know how every one of their buddies died in detail. Then I would prepare their memorial services.” With the clergy’s help, David implemented a system to make sure those close to a fallen comrade didn’t sleep where they could see their friend’s empty bunk, a common trigger for night terrors. Many soldiers were simply “too far gone,” and referred to psychiatrists.
“More often than not, that’s the route that ends up happening. These people cannot handle it. They were not right for the situation. They thought they wanted to kill people without having any idea what that means. And then the reality bomb hit them so hard that they just couldn’t recover from it.”
For David, healing from the trauma of seeing friends grotesquely killed, sexual harassment from a senior officer, a broken engagement during his first tour, and the shock that George Bush was “just a spokesman for the oil industry” was found primarily through frequent sessions “talking for hours with a Rabbinical scholar while smoking joints.” After a few months processing the theological, political and personal ramifications of the war this way, he realized his night terrors were becoming less frequent. “I wasn’t smoking every night, so I didn’t see a correlation that it was stopping the night terrors.”
Four years back in the US and still waking violently to the slightest sound, David “just couldn’t take it anymore” and sought help from the VA. He told a physician’s assistant that he suspected marijuana might be helping, but worried about side effects. “All the research I had done said it was safe. The guy was very casual, but he recommended that I stop using it because they had stuff that would do the trick.”
The assistant prescribed diphenhydramine (Benadryl), an allergy and sleep aid, and “some blood pressure pills to make my heart slow down and stop the nightmares.” The treatment didn’t stop the problem and left him groggy and dysfunctional in the morning. “Benadryl hazes you, whereas weed, especially Sativa, makes me think clearer.”
David worries that he might “start liking marijuana too much and abuse it,” but prefers to take that risk over a lifetime experimenting with prescription medications. “I don’t subscribe to that way of thinking. I am completely 100 percent sure that marijuana cured my night terrors. My brain operates at a higher level than normal about my surroundings and I think about things in a much more peaceful way. My roommates can walk into my room now when I’m asleep and I’m like, “Hey, Dude.”
Years of persistent lobbying by the advocacy group Veterans for Medical Marijuana goaded the US Veteran’s Administration to clarify its stance in a January 2011 memo. “VHA policy does not administratively prohibit Veterans who participate in state marijuana programs from also participating in clinical programs where the use of marijuana may be considered inconsistent with treatment goals. Patients participating in state marijuana programs must not be denied VHA services. If a patient reports participation in a state marijuana program to a member of the clinical staff, that information is entered into the ‘non-VA medication section’ of the patient’s electronic medical record.”
Currently, the medical establishment waits to see if specific molecules can be isolated from cannabis and used to treat specific symptoms. With new strains bred daily across a multi-billion dollar global industry, testing with scientific certainty is an elusive goal. Several small studies are currently being funded and undertaken by federal and private researchers. For veterans and those close to them experiencing PTSD, research into treatment opportunities is crucial to finding a path to recovery.
Experimenting with treatment for mental disorders is extremely dangerous. Cannabis Now does not advocate or repudiate any particular course of treatment, but all available studies have shown that talking to friends, loved ones and professionals about PTSD triggers is vital to recovery. Veterans for Medical Marijuana urges those seeking treatment to, “Be assertive, every veteran deserves any, and all, medical and/or psychological help.”
For all the talk of federally legalizing cannabis in the US, sometimes one fails to take proper stock of the progress that’s being made beyond our borders. If one manages to keep tabs on Canada and monitor the prospects for legalization in Mexico, the focus is still too rarely tuned into what’s happening outside of North America. Be it science from Israel, shifts in public approval across Europe or Latin America’s rosy prospects as a major international exporter of cannabis, there’s undeniably a plethora to be gleaned by paying close attention to other markets.
At least that’s what Alvaro Torres, founder, director and CEO of Colombia’s Khiron Life Sciences Corporation is betting on.
Founded in the wake of the Congress of the Republic of Colombia’s 2016 decision to approve a regulatory framework for a national medical cannabis market, Khiron states it’s one of “three or four” companies currently licensed to cultivate the plant for sale in the country providing product to more than 90 percent of Colombia’s medical cannabis patients.
“When medical cannabis came along a few years ago,” Torres says, “I just knew it was here to stay, that it wasn’t a trend, that it was going to be here for the next century.”
As part of this plan, Torres correctly anticipated that establishing an export element to his business would provide Khiron with seemingly limitless opportunity to expand as other countries and government bodies join the steady march of nations ushering in new eras of cannabis reform. “My approach was to create a disruptive force to improve the quality of life for people in Colombia, because that’s where I live, and then the rest of Latin America,” he said.
To underscore this effort, Torres, a self-proclaimed Greek mythology fan, decided to name his company after the centaur known as the patron saint of pharmacies—a creature who, according to legend, once taught Hercules about medicine. “I didn’t want to create a company that was based on marijuana or cannabis,” he says. “I wanted to create a company that was about improving the quality of people’s lives.”
Over the past five years, Khiron has made great strides in accomplishing this goal. Today, the company has various deals and strategic relationships with at least six countries. In December 2021, Khiron opened a clinic in London, and Torres estimates that half of Khiron’s cannabis sales will come from Germany in 2022.
They’re also expanding within Latin America with clinics in places like Peru and Ipanema, Brazil. When it comes to cultivating the product for sale, Khiron’s position as a Colombian exporter couldn’t be more ideal. Beyond the fact that the country’s proximity to the equator makes for longer growing cycles and desirable conditions, Colombia also provides access to two oceans, plus cost-effective labor, water and energy.
The bigger challenge comes from the regulatory side, which is why Khiron hired one of the people responsible for crafting Colombia’s cannabis regulations to serve as its vice president of regulatory affairs.
Juan Diego Álvarez recalls that he was studying for his PhD in public health law at Tulane University in New Orleans when he got a call from Colombia’s Ministry of Health asking him to come home. The reason? They needed help shaping the regulation of medical cannabis in the country. In 2017, after two years, he left to join Torres at Khiron, where today he oversees all that goes into being compliant as a prominent international cannabis brand.
“One of the reasons I left the ministry to join Khiron was that my approach to medical cannabis was more focused on how you ensure patients have access to a safe product, and the government was thinking more about how to position Colombia as a leading exporter of raw material,” Álvarez said.
Indeed, in speaking with Álvarez and Torres, they repeatedly take the conversation back to Khiron’s focus: First and foremost, Khiron is dedicated to providing the best possible access for Colombian medical cannabis patients. And, on that front, they’ve already helped usher along some rather incredible advances.
First, in July 2021, the Colombian government decided that patients could access medical cannabis at any drugstore in the country. Before then, there were some 1000 locations legally permitted to dispense it. Then, in December the same year, the government decided to make it mandatory for insurance companies to cover the cost of all medical cannabis products. This latter ruling went into effect on January 1, 2022, making Colombia only the second country on the planet—along with Germany—to offer such a program.
“That happened because of the work that Khiron has done with the government,” Torres said. “Everybody talks about brands a lot, but in the end, a brand is a connection with a consumer or a patient. That connection is what’s going to be important, not the design of our label. We must always try to make it better for the patient and easier for the patient to get the medication. That’s how you build a brand—the rest is just cannabis.”
As for the immediate future, Álvarez is currently keeping a close eye on Mexico as Khiron’s next major market to tackle. Though legalization remains a work in progress there, the presence of former president Vicente Fox Quesada on Khiron’s board suggests that something may be imminent.
At least for now, however, the US isn’t a top priority market for Khiron, due to concerns of oversaturation and lack of access. But neither Álvarez nor Torres is closing the door on one day bringing Khiron to America. Whether or not they ultimately export product to the US, both men feel they’ll always have something to offer in the form of the invaluable data they’ve collected through their clinics in Colombia and other markets.
“We’ve been collecting a lot of data about how cannabis interacts with other types of drugs, how cannabis works in different concentrations and with different pathologies,” Álvarez said. “This is information that’s not generally available, and it’s going to be one of the keys in the future by offering cannabis products and treatments to patients in any jurisdiction. Of course, this is something that was created in Colombia, but now it has a global face and global potential use.”
This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.
Approximately four hours and twenty minutes northeast of Seattle in Washington’s Okanogan County, Melissa Beseda reflects on the successful conclusion of another cannabis cultivation season. After months of hard work as the plants grew and matured, she and Isaac Ekholm, her partner in life and business, have completed the harvest on the Wildwood Flower Farm and are now preparing for the impending arrival of their first child.
Ekholm began growing cannabis for his father who uses it medically to treat symptoms of multiple sclerosis. His labor of love quickly became a passion for cultivating top-quality cannabis. After the passage of Washington’s recreational cannabis legislation in 2012, Ekholm applied for a license as a cannabis producer and processor and founded Wildwood Flower Farm in 2016.
After witnessing how cannabis could positively impact people’s lives, Beseda joined him on the farm the following year. Together, they’ve been sustainably growing cannabis on a 30,000-square-foot plot of land ever since, with a crew of lovable and loyal animals to share in the work.
But since the coronavirus pandemic, the couple brought in two cannabis harvests without outside help, sharing the propagating, tending and harvesting duties throughout the season. Beseda says that she and Ekholm work well together and their interests and abilities complement each other nicely, all to the benefit of the operation. “His vision for the farm and ability to foresee opportunities and threats to the business have given this bootstrapped farm a competitive advantage,” she says. “His ability to focus on the overall strategy of the growing season while managing the intricacies and demands of the day-to-day operations is what has made us successful. He’s what keeps us on the rails.”
Beseda serves as the nurturer and sometimes taskmaster, working hard to care for everyone on the farm (including the animals), “while at the same time whipping them all into shape and ensuring it all runs smoothly,” she says.
The furry and feathered members of the family have their own duties on the farm. A flock of chickens and turkeys keeps the perimeter of the growing area free of bugs and weeds, and the ornery tom turkey keeps a watchful eye behind the garden, serving as the designated security guard. The farm’s two cats, Peggy and Squeakers, are pest management masters, protecting the cannabis plants from attack by voles and gophers.
“Since we had them, we haven’t lost one plant to rodents,” Beseda says, adding that even the herd of eight goats plays an important role on the sustainable farm when they’re moved to the growing area after harvest time to help prepare the land for the next season. “Goats are great for soil regeneration. Their hoofs aerate the soil, their foraging keeps the weeds under control and their manure goes into our compost, which will enrich the soil for years to come.”
Working together, the team of humans and animals keeps busy through the growing season, tending the plants and nurturing them to harvest. In 2021, the couple cultivated several strains of cannabis including Jungle Cake, Sunshine Queen, Magenta Hash Plant and a South African landrace sativa that’s also serving as parent stock for breeding experiments on the farm. After harvest, they trim and bag the best cannabis flower to be sold under the Wildwood Flower Farm label, with the rest of the crop going to wholesalers and manufacturers to be packaged as flower or processed into oil.
Ekholm and Beseda say they have embraced sustainable and regenerative farming values, using only OMRI-rated pesticides that are gentle on the environment. They’re also enthusiastic for integrated pest management practices including the use of beneficial insects and predatory mites and are careful to enrich their farmland with compost and other natural amendments.
“We invest in the long-term health of the soil and our environment,” Beseda says. “We try to close the loop as much as we can with our inputs: All of our plant waste is composted and will amend the soil for the next crop. Every year the soil seems to get better and better.”
Taken together, these sustainable practices give the cannabis plants at Wildwood Flower Farm a nurturing home to grow and ripen. The extreme northern latitude—only about 50 miles from the Canadian border—means the growing season is compacted compared to other cannabis growing regions, but the long days during the growing season provide ideal conditions to fuel vegetative growth.
“While we tend to have a short season up here in North Central Washington, our long summer days are hot, dry, and clear—the perfect environment for growing cannabis outdoors and in greenhouses,” he says. Ekholm and Beseda say they use these methods in concert with light deprivation techniques to ensure long-flowering cultivars finish in time. It’s difficult and time-consuming work, but it’s all part of the farm’s mission to “grow and share high quality, sustainably-grown flower with a commitment to our community, our future employees and the environment,” Beseda says.
Although cannabis is the primary commercial driver for the operation, Wildwood Flower Farm also grows other crops including alfalfa, elderberries, peppers and a few stone fruits. While growing these plants is largely in the experimental phase and the results are generally used for the farm or in their on-site home, Beseda says that they’re exploring ways to tap into a distribution chain that will allow them to make their other crops profitable, too.
“We love growing most types of plants and raising most types of animals,” Beseda says. “Seeing how things all come together on a small farm like ours has been very rewarding and always interesting. There’s a constant desire to see what inputs we can provide on our own and to find varieties of plants that thrive in the environment we live in.”
That environment, it seems, is also perfect for nurturing the family that serves as stewards of the land. Looking back at the past year, Beseda says her pregnancy and her baby developed in concert with the crops on the farm.
“My first trimester lined up with the bulk of our planning and prepping for the season,” she says. “The baby’s rapid growth in the second trimester coincided with the plants’ most rapid growth during the height of the summer, and the return of my energy helped us power through the light deprivation part of our season. The plants began slowing down and ripening up, just as I began slowing down during the third trimester and the baby began ripening up.”
This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.
In 1926, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) became Australia’s first jurisdiction to outlaw cannabis, following the 1925 Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs. Fast forward seven war-on-drugs-soaked decades and the state began to undo the damage caused by prohibition, starting with decriminalization.
Michael Moore, an independent member of the local Legislative Assembly, introduced the Simple Cannabis Offence Notice in 1992. This meant you’d be given a $100 fine if the police caught you with small amounts of weed, and if you paid the fine on time you would have no criminal record. So, for more than 30 years, cannabis was essentially decriminalized in Australia’s seat of power.
Next Gen Activation
In February 2019, the gauntlet was picked up by the next generation of progressive policymakers; this time, it was the calling of Labour MP (member of parliament), Michael Pettersson. He introduced a private member’s bill, the Personal Cannabis Use Bill. Following the state of Vermont’s model, ACT passed legalization legislation in January 2020, instead of holding a popular vote. Thanks to this “new attitude” politician, residents can now possess 50 grams of dry plant material, 150 grams of wet plant material and cultivate two plants per person and up to four plants per household.
Here’s a fun fact: Like Washington DC, recreational cannabis is legal in Canberra, the capital city of Australia. Here’s a not-so-fun fact: Because it remains federally illegal, like DC, there are no brick-and-mortar dispensaries to buy your bud. In fact, the Australian Capital Territory, where Canberra is located, is the only place in Australia to enjoy legalized recreational cannabis.
So, what’s the story? Is it merely a coincidence that cannabis is legal to consume yet unavailable to purchase in the capital cities of these two nations? Are there similar stories as the two capitals fight back against the damage the war on drugs caused?
The 30-year-old politician told me that his interest in the war on drugs came from his years as an angsty teen watching YouTube videos after school.
“I found this series of videos, I think the group’s called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition,” Pettersson says. “They had this former cop who had long black hair and a ponytail, a big buff guy. And they go on the American talk shows, and he talks about the war on drugs. He was so articulate and conveyed the failings of it. As a teenager I was really interested in politics, I thought he was the coolest dude ever. So, I’ve always kind of approached the war on drugs from a highly skeptical position.”
One is the Loneliest Number
When I ask Pettersson why no other Australian politician has been as progressive with cannabis law reform, he says, smiling, “Good question! It just hit me one day: No one else is going to do this. If no one else does this, then it’s not going to happen. So, I’m going to have to do it. A lot of people assume I have some deep personal interest or maybe some past associations with cannabis use. I’m a young guy, I’ve experimented with recreational drugs in a very limited way. But I don’t really use cannabis. I used it a handful of times when I was younger. My interest in this topic doesn’t come from my own personal use, it comes from good public policy.”
With cannabis decriminalized in the region for more than 30 years, the local community was pretty open to full legalization, Pettersson says. “Polling showed 54 percent of the community supported legalizing cannabis for personal use with only 27 percent opposed. So, the debate was pretty easy.”
Pettersson also future-proofed his policy by including a cannabis reform caveat to silence the opposition.
“The naysayers said that when the ACT changed its laws, the Commonwealth laws would then be the laws in effect and would send people into the Commonwealth criminal justice system where they’d get harsh penalties,” he said. “The ACT amended its laws in such a way that we empowered a defense that says if your use is excused or justified by a state or territory law, then it provides a complete defense to the Commonwealth charge.”
Not content with legalizing cannabis alone, earlier this year Pettersson put forward another private member’s bill to decriminalize small amounts of certain illicit substances in the ACT. Yet another parallel with DC, where the Drug Policy Reform Act of 2021 that would decriminalize all drugs for personal use was introduced. Under Pettersson’s proposed policy, drugs would remain a crime, but the penalties for those caught with up to 2g of cocaine, heroin or methamphetamines, and 0.5g of MDMA would be reduced from jail time to a $100 fine. Police would confiscate the drugs and the person would be referred to a health program, taking the emphasis from punishment to treatment.
Pettersson says the response from the local community has been positive and they’re ready to have this conversation. However, there has been a certain amount of top-tier pushback.
The Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Reece Kershaw, recently appeared before the Commonwealth Parliament and strongly condemned the proposed change, saying it could potentially lead to what he referred to as narco-tourism.
“The conservative elements are far more organized to argue and push back against the decriminalization of these substances. But for the most part, they didn’t fight too hard on cannabis legalization,” Petterson says.
Canberra, Washington, DC Twinning
When asked about the similarities with Canberra and DC regarding drug policy reform, Petterson was quick to respond. “If I had to try and distill it down, there are certain things that you can only understand when you live in a capital jurisdiction,” he says. “You have to contend with federal legislators who don’t represent your values telling you what to do. I imagine that similar politics would probably exist in Washington, DC, where residents also don’t like their central government telling them what to do.”
Pettersson maintains the well-being of his community remains his top priority. And while he contends that it’s a “balancing act,” for him, drug law reform is about harm reduction. It’s heartening to see that around the world, prohibitionists are losing the war on drugs. Progressive politicians listening to the voice of the people is what will bring about real change, keep people out of jail and end outdated legislation.
This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.
A few years ago, at one of the many pre-legalization cannabis conferences, business expos or cannabis competitions that after a while all seem to blend into one very hazy and terpy glad-handing session, someone manning the table at one of the (boring) flower-less booths handed me a card. It was the size, shape and heft of a credit card—which, as something very hard to use, then and now, in the almost-banking-less marijuana industry, was enough to strike interest. But this wasn’t a credit card at all. Instead, the card said, “PotCoin.”
“So, what’s this?” I asked. “It’s PotCoin,” said the fellow who handed it over. “Great,” I said.“So, what is it?”
Had I heard of Bitcoin? he asked. This being 2015 or so—around the time that online, crypto-powered drug marketplace Silk Road was busted, but Bitcoin was still mostly a thing for drug dealers and geeks, and not mainstream investors—I replied that I had.
“Great,” he said. “This is like Bitcoin, but it’s for pot.” “Great,” I said. “What’s it for—and how can I use it?” “Ah,” the fellow said, before launching into a lengthy and well-practiced monologue about blockchain, the digital peer-to-peer ledger; and cryptocurrency, the decentralized, digital currency that uses blockchain.
If you have heard any number of Bitcoin stump speeches, and if you’ve wandered onto social media anytime in the past five years, you’ve heard this spiel. A libertarian’s dream. Forget banks, forget governments. Total freedom through technology! (Mind you, by this time, only a handful of states had legalized recreational cannabis.)
“Great,” I said. “So how is any of this going to help cannabis?”
It was around then that the conversation screeched to a halt, with a return to the stump speech before both parties lost interest. (I still have the card, which had an activation code that I could use to put some PotCoin in a crypto wallet, sitting around in a junk drawer somewhere.)
Whether the man in question was Joel Yaffe or Nick Iverse, the two men who publicly claimed to have founded PotCoin, I couldn’t tell you if my life depended on it. A message to Yaffe sent to his email and Instagram accounts wasn’t returned. But in that time, not much has changed in the discourse around cannabis and crypto.
In 2022, Bitcoin, blockchain, cryptocurrency and other blockchain-reliant gizmos such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are near-household words whose adoption (or at least awareness) has been helped along by big-name billionaire endorsers including Twitter founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, as well as a growing crew of extremely online investors. Cannabis is still bereft by a host of problems—around banking, around cash flow, around product tracking and authenticity—that a decentralized, peer-to-peer currency might be able to solve—but hasn’t.
And so, the question remains: What can cryptocurrency do for cannabis, exactly? Is cryptocurrency just the latest shiny new thing, or does blockchain truly offer something valuable for the marijuana industry? The answer largely depends on who you’re asking, and on how bullish they are on cryptocurrency.
If you’re a believer, then blockchain and crypto are pure magic, ready to revolutionize everything from regulatory requirements to payment solutions to basic user and customer data. But for most cannabis investors, entrepreneurs and customers, cryptocurrency and blockchain remain a solution in search of a problem: an interesting idea, an emerging technology, but nothing that seems immediately able to help with the questions of raising money, using banks, paying taxes, attracting customers and the simple art of consuming weed.
For businesses who are still shut out of banks because of federal law, and for companies who must pay state and federal taxes in hard US currency and who would have to pay transaction or conversion fees if they operated in a currency other than US dollars—“crypto is solving no problems,” says Brendan Hallinan, a San Francisco-based cannabis attorney who represents clients all over northern California.
“People always talk about it like, this or that coin could do this or that for the cannabis industry,” says Jessie Grundy, founder and CEO of Oakland, CA-based Peakz brand. “But from everything I experienced, it was horrible.”
Young and tech-savvy, Grundy was a relatively early adopter, trying out Litecoin and a few other tokens in 2017-18. There was some utility in “trying to do black-market shit,” such as shuffling money around, Silk Road-style, he says. However, for trap artists (and just about everyone else), cash is always preferable. For legal operators like Grundy, whose branded flower is now available in three states, US dollars were still needed. Crypto, then, had appeal as an investment vehicle—but with its notorious volatility, it’s just as easy to lose your shirt when dealing in crypto as it is to become the next Bitcoin millionaire. (Grundy admits that he lost interest after losing some money. Buy the dip, bro!)
But that’s also why crypto may not be all that great for cannabis. Aside from conversion requirements, volatility is probably the chief reason why crypto isn’t a solution for cannabis’ woes. For a dispensary or a business that needs to raise $1 million or needs to pay the state franchise tax board $200,000 in taxes, a digital currency that investors don’t deal in and that the state won’t take—and that might be worth $800,000 or $1.2 million tomorrow, depending on Elon Musk’s tweets—isn’t the thing.
“For dispensaries, it’s hard for them to even take credit card payments,” Grundy says correctly. “So, for them adding crypto, that’s almost a no-go.”
In some instances, crypto makes things worse for cannabis. Steve Schain is a Philadelphia-based attorney. He and his firm represent cannabis clients all over the country. Schain’s secured bank accounts for large, publicly traded cannabis companies—and he’s a strong believer in blockchain and crypto as cannabis solutions.
The firm also represented a dispensary in Washington state that briefly accepted 28 different types of cryptocurrency. Briefly, because as the dispensary discovered, what customers wanted was to exchange their cash quickly and easily—their US dollars—for cannabis. What they didn’t want to do was deal with digital wallets or converting the cash to crypto and then into cannabis. That, in blockchain parlance, is “friction”—what you or I might call “a pain in the ass”—and thus a legitimate barrier to adoption.
As far as Schain and other experts I spoke to, no dispensaries in the US currently accept Bitcoin—or if they do, it was a very recent innovation. “It wasn’t a great idea,” Schain says. “It’s just one more thing to deal with.”
Initially, Schain points out, cryptocurrency held appeal for anyone with large amounts of cash they needed to either store safely or (ahem) clean. But “that didn’t really work,” he says. The problem was that every time cash was converted into Bitcoin for storage, safekeeping or transfer, taxes were owed. Then, whenever someone wanted to use the Bitcoin to actually do something, like, say, buy a house, converting Bitcoin back into cash was another taxable event.
“People thought they could evade the IRS—and they were flat wrong,” Schain says. “It was a good idea, but aside from facilitating international money laundering or trying to assuage safety concerns, it just wasn’t applicable.”
There’s a school of thought in cannabis that cryptocurrency’s main benefit is to solve banking problems, and once Congress gets its act together and passes banking reform—like the SAFE Banking Act that’s cleared the House several times only to stall in the Senate—crypto’s appeal disappears. Schain rejects this argument outright. SAFE Banking merely formalizes the 2014 Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) guidelines. “That’s better than nothing, but nothing great,” he said.
Banks would still be required to monitor customers’ accounts and file Suspicious Activity Reports for a host of reasons, and file Currency Transaction Reports for activity in amounts greater than $10,000. In Schain’s view, cryptocurrency offers less value to cannabis than blockchain generally.
Shifting from a government-sponsored single tracking mechanism, such as MJ Freeway or Metrc, to blockchain for state-mandated “track-and-trace” networks would be a benefit for transparency as well as security. It might also require states like California, who refuse to share any track-and-trace data with the public, citing state law, to finally reveal how cannabis flows around the country’s biggest individual market. Deals could be inked in smart contracts that automatically execute between two parties and the terms of which exist on blockchain. Growers could tag seed packs or strains with a blockchain-powered QR code as a stamp of authenticity. And dispensary owners could track their customers’ buying habits.
“All that kind of stuff makes a lot of sense,” Schain says. “It transcends alleviating security concerns. Your $20 bill cannot see what your covered medical condition is. Your $20 bill can’t talk about a terpene profile. Your $20 can’t do that, and your $20 bill doesn’t integrate with a hard copy ledger. Cryptocurrency does.”
That all makes sense—too much sense. So why hasn’t blockchain technology been adopted by the cannabis industry yet? The simple answer is that the government won’t let it. Track-and-trace has to be done via whatever system the state in question mandates. And taxes still need to be paid in dollars.
Robert Carp is a retired lawyer in Massachusetts who runs a compliance business. Many of his clients are cannabis companies—all of whom asked him to find ways to reduce their costs, including debit and credit card transaction fees (which they shouldn’t be processing, but whenever there’s a will, there’s always a way). He’s working on a blockchain-powered platform that promises to do just that, as well as serve as an all-in-one enterprise management tool.
“We’re still working on it,” he says, before pivoting into the familiar pitch. “It’s coming, and it’s going to capture the [cannabis] industry, because who’s gonna say no to saving money?” Nobody, of course—but when and how both remain to be seen.
This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.
Driving up to actress and cannabis entrepreneur Bella Thorne’s hilltop mansion in the picturesque backcountry canyons outside of Los Angeles, one could be forgiven for thinking that they were instead somewhere much more off-the-grid. This is a discrete area of Los Angeles County—close to the action, but far enough away that people who don’t want to be seen all the time can duck into the hills for some fresh air, literally and figuratively. Homes here are perched atop and in the pit of canyons, but rarely at street level, and driveways are always gated, with properties obscured by vegetation. The message is clear: All who live in this beautiful place prefer to do so in solitude. Come in peace, but only if you’re invited.
It just so happened that I had an invite, courtesy of Thorne and her team of handlers, though it still felt like I was trespassing in some sense. For me, maneuvering my Mini Cooper on twisting dirt roads while treading up and down hills in the uncharacteristic pounding rain of our drought-plagued state reminded me of driving in Humboldt County in Northern California’s Emerald Triangle, oddly enough.
Humboldt County is, of course, California’s famed cannabis growing country, and it’s another stunningly pretty place where people are welcomed with open arms, so long as they have an invite. Just like in the Triangle, there’s the promise of weed at the top of the hills on my horizon. Only this time, my car swerved between hulking live oak trees, not redwoods. And instead of meeting a grizzled farmer, I’d be interviewing a bonafide celebrity who’s finding her footing in the newly legal weed industry.
When I arrived at Thorne’s house—a gorgeous structure that towers over the canyons below and offers faint ocean views, as well as ample hillscapes and the distant glitter of the City of Angels—it became clear that not only is there weed in these here hills, hell, there’s damn near an empire.
For the unacquainted—which means you’re not among her 51 million combined followers on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and Twitter—Thorne is an actor that began her career in that most reliable of superstar Hollywood child actor factories: Disney. There, she took her co-starring turn as CeCe Jones on the Mickey Mouse network’s hit series, Shake it Up, back in 2010 and pivoted to a massive career that includes appearing in some 30 movies since her debut. Thorne’s latest turn is Amazon Prime’s Time Is Up, co-starring her now fiancé, Benjamin Mascolo.
In addition to acting, Thorne is also a writer (she’s currently working on her second memoir), model, musician, content creator, activist and, most recently, a legal cannabis entrepreneur. With all of this at just 24, she’s also recently added a “Forbes 30 Under 30 2022: Hollywood & Entertainment” designation to her long list of credits and accolades.
Today, Thorne is putting elbow grease into her cannabis brand, Forbidden Flowers, which launched in partnership with Santa Barbara County-based Glass House Farms in late 2019. Thorne’s brand is known for its greenhouse-grown cannabis flower sold in jewel-toned glitter jars with evocative strain names such as Midnight Thorneberry and Topanga Sunrise, which are intended to give the smoker an idea of what they’ll feel after toking up.
Some celebrities seem to start cannabis brands because it’s an obvious next step in their life plan for market domination. These days, and with a massive assist from any number of social media platforms, it’s easier than ever for celebrities to expand into consumer-packaged goods to further accentuate their personal brand. Cannabis is no different, with plenty of brands garnering labels slapped on by one famous person or another. The difference, in Thorne’s case, is that she’s a genuine cannabis enthusiast, dubbing herself an “indica girl.” She told me midway through a long, fascinating conversation that she actually started smoking weed at a young age for medical reasons. It helped calm her extreme social anxiety which at times even made her unable to keep down food.
“My body was kind of rejecting me at this time in my life,” Thorne says, reflecting on her teenage years. “And with anxiety not being really talked about…you know, that wasn’t something we ever talked about in my family. So, having none of these answers and feeling completely hopeless, weed helped me so much with that. It completely changed my life. I was coming to this point where doctors were putting me on pills, and I was so young.”
Thorne says that prior to trying cannabis for the first time, her doctors prescribed her the ADHD medication Adderall, which she said “obviously didn’t help” with her anxiety-induced eating and digestion problems. It also interrupted her sleep and didn’t get better with time. She resorted to asking her older brother for something to help her sleep and he suggested she try dabbing cannabis concentrates. This unexpected detail completely surprised me because dabbing isn’t exactly the first stop new users take on the cannabis train, particularly teenagers.
“‘Oh, this is going to help her really sleep,’” Thorne said, laughing hard and recounting what her brother said at the time. “It was hardcore! At the time I was like, ‘I’m never smoking weed again after this.’ Cut to now!”
Thorne explained that it took her a minute to come back to cannabis, particularly since her mom also wasn’t fond of anyone in the family smoking weed. These days, a lot has changed. Not only is her mom “totally with it,” but she’s also recognized the very tangible benefits cannabis brings to her daughter’s life. “She has really seen how much weed helps my anxiety,” Thorne says. “My mom has seen me where the symptoms really start to come on, I get upset and my breath gets really tight. She sees me smoking weed, sees what a capable human I am, and she gets it.”
Dabbing has also regained a place in Thorne’s heart and routine, though she maintains that, at her core, she’s truly a flower enthusiast, hence why Forbidden Flowers launched as a flower line first and foremost, with diamond-infused pre-rolls that launched earlier this year. But a peek into an alcove just off her kitchen reveals a stunning sight: a fully functional, beautiful dab bar bedecked in lush faux flora and garnished with large, lit-up marquee letters spelling out “D-A-B B-A-R.” A change of heart, indeed, though she says dabs are only an occasional indulgence at best. When juxtaposed with the other Alice in Wonderland elements adorning Thorne’s home—a wall packed with clocks, sparkles and bright colors aplenty and flowers, flowers, flowers everywhere you look—it’s clear that Thorne has aged out of her younger days with a sophisticated, discerning taste that still maintains its whimsy. Thorne’s home is both grand in scale and inviting: a deft trick, to be sure.
That extends to Thorne’s cannabis brand. Forbidden Flowers is special, Thorne says, because of the glass house it’s grown in. She’s referring to her cultivation and distribution partner, Glass House Farms, which grows cannabis flower in its proprietary, tech-heavy greenhouses that offer LED supplemental light when needed, but primarily rely on the sun. This technique provides the punch of indoor cultivation, like the potency and attendant climate controls, with the benefits of sungrown cannabis, which include lower energy inputs and outputs, as well as a wider spectrum of terpenes and other expressions depending on cultivar.
What makes Glass House special is the fact that they can do this at scale, which at this point is still an experiment in California’s legal cannabis industry, but one that’s working thus far. One only needs to try Forbidden Flowers’ weed to see that firsthand. Thorne works directly with the company’s cultivators, including president and lead cultivator Graham Farrar, to select the strains that go in her brand’s jars.
Glass House boasts an astonishing half-a-million square feet of total operating greenhouse space in their facility, located in SoCal’s Carpinteria Valley. With that kind of real estate, they’re easily one of the largest greenhouse cannabis producers in all of California.
The operation’s massive size, however, isn’t front of mind for Thorne. “You see how much love and care and attention is actually put into this flower; Glass House isn’t just making and making product, which was my issue with other brands,” Thorne says of other large cultivations, particularly strictly indoor grows.
She says she’s not only impressed by the attention the cultivators give to the plants—that is, how “committed to making beautiful things” and how laser-focused they are on the plants’ different sections—but also by the Glass House growers’ work ethic. That particular characteristic is especially meaningful to Thorne, who credits her Cuban heritage from her late father’s side for her own indefatigable work ethic. Hard-working is one attribute she’s more than comfortable designating to herself, but also one that she greatly admires in others, most importantly her business partners.
“I’d been approached by quite a few weed companies to start my own brand,” the actor says, sporting hair with an I-can’t-stop-looking-at-her vibrant orange hue. “Every time I visited these other farms, I was just like ‘…Oh…’ about the way that the cannabis was being handled on the inside—how rushed the process was only to produce more product to make more money for me. I just always thought that was gross because I’m like, ‘Bro! I’m smoking this! It’s going in my lungs!’ So, yeah. No thanks.”
The love goes both ways, according to Glass House’s Farrar. “My favorite part of working with Bella is that she’s a true stoner, knows her weed, appreciates sungrown and natural weed,” he says, of his partnership with the Hollywood standout. “Bella knows what she likes (indica, fruity) and what she doesn’t. She’s also a super nice person.”
Farrar also says that Thorne knows her cannabis and is choosy about what she likes.
“We select the strains by the flavors and tastes Bella likes,” he says. “Midnight Thornberry, a strain bred specifically for Bella, is for example a cross between Devil’s Johnson and Hell’s Fire OG. It’s an indica-heavy strain with a high potency, perfect for relaxing and melting away the stress that comes from a demanding schedule.”
So, Bella Thorne knows her way around the plant, sure, but is it working? In other words, how successful is this startup cannabis brand? According to Forbidden Flowers, the company is expecting to increase the top line by a full 50 percent in 2022 when compared to 2021.
After quality and strain selection were dialed in, Thorne’s next focus, her favorite part of owning a cannabis brand, is the marketing and branding, which she says she has a particularly keen eye for developing. The proof is in her entire existence—remember that empire?—and it extends to every inch of Forbidden Flowers, in tandem.
“One of my favorite things is how customers collect all of the jars,” Thorne says. “They collect them, and some people even make like ombré towers with all the different colors. Other people have started using the jars as lanterns for putting little tiny mini plants in the jars. They get so cute! People found such interesting ways to use this thing again, which is so great for our brand because we really pride ourselves on our jars.”
I can completely relate to this scenario, as it echoes my own behavior—and she’s right: These jars are great for business.
“You know,” Thorne continues, excitedly, “we make our own jars completely from scratch. We’re not white labeling jars, like most of the cannabis space really does,” she says, referring to the practice of contracting cannabis and packaging services while just slapping a label on the package and not being very involved in the actual product production. “I really fully designed these jars, so, I personally love them.”
It’s clear that one reason Thorne is so passionate about marketing, other than her natural prowess, is because it presents the most obvious challenges for her. Finding creative solutions—such as making packaging that people would buy just to re-use—is part of the game.
“Marketing, in particular, is one thing that makes the weed industry different from others,” she says. “The rulebook is very iffy when it comes to how you’re allowed to market cannabis. It’s very gray on what you can and can’t do. So, you could be the first to do something and you’re like, ‘This is amazing!’ and other people do the same thing and, all of a sudden, regulators come in and say, ‘Oh, now that you’ve done that, we’re going to change the laws. Thanks for bringing that to our attention, actually.’ It’s such a dick move!”
Her frustrations extend to social media as well, where Thorne says she feels like she can’t even fully step into her role as a cannabis executive, though that’s very much her function IRL, seeing as Instagram severely cracks down on so much cannabis content. “Even on Instagram, you’re restricted,” she says. “You’re not even allowed to sell anything or have any type of link to selling things on Instagram when it comes to weed. And even if I just post a photo, I get flagged, I get shadow banned; the [brand’s] account gets in trouble. It’s like, how do you expect us to even have an account? You might as well then just take weed down altogether because you’re not letting us do anything with it!”
She expects and hopes that’ll change some day, as the stigma around cannabis consumption continues to fade, which is something Thorne, predictably, feels passionately about. After all, she saw that conversion in her own life, most notably within her own family.
“I was smoking weed when that was taboo,” Thorne says. “I started a weed company when that was taboo; so, you know, people in the public are like, ‘Oh my god, this girl must be out here being crazy. She must be partying every night and…’ I don’t even know what they think! There are just a lot of crazy assumptions about me out there.”
And now? “People are like, ‘Oh, [Forbidden Flowers] is an actual business,’” she says, imitating people who have doubted her along the way. “Whatever they think a stoner is like, it’s not the best person in their opinion. They don’t think highly of it. But now they do. Now people say, ‘OK, she’s really a businesswoman. And this thing that I used to think was a dirty thing has built her a piece of her going-to-be empire.’ So, I think that really resonates. Cannabis becomes more acceptable. Some people may still frown on it, but if they realize it’s just a job, then it becomes OK.”
Challenge seems to be a natural draw for the cannapreneur, including her struggle to overcome dyslexia, a medical condition that juxtaposes letters making it excruciatingly difficult to read. Thorne actually credits her dyslexia for her clearly evidenced dogged perseverance since childhood that has resulted in her success. I ask Thorne if she chose to start a weed company because it was in an industry that still wasn’t federally legal yet. In other words, does Bella Thorne love a challenge?
Thorne paused for a beat and gathered her thoughts. “Yeah, I mean, I definitely don’t shy away from challenges,” she says calmly. “And there’s always going to be a challenge. So, I don’t know that I seek the challenge, though. I’m not like, what would be so hard to do? I’ll do that!” [Laughs]
She paused again. “I guess sometimes…yeah. No…yeah. OK. You’re right. That’s true,” she finally conceded, both of us laughing.
Even though “business is booming,” Thorne says, there’s no such thing as a free ride in the cannabis industry, especially not in California, where the market is crowded as ever, and the regulations are strangling far too many operators. Which means, yes, Thorne feels right at home, though it’s never easy. Still, it’s clear she’s psyched about what’s to come.
“Business is hot,” Thorne says excitedly when I asked how things were going with Forbidden Flowers. “I, of course, also trust Glass House, they’re my partners, I really trust them and listen to them. But as far as decision-making goes, where I’m all in is the design, the actual flower production—how it tastes, its quality. New products, too. We’re really looking to get into different areas of the cannabis industry because we’re killing it with our flower, so we’re ready to take it further. I’m overseeing all of that right now.”
Thorne says she’s involved “100 percent in marketing,” which includes what everything looks and feels like, “how the brand is perceived. That’s where I spend most of my time.”
“How do we keep elevating it?” Thorne asks hypothetically. “How do we keep getting people interested in different ways to keep them coming back? How do we introduce new people that aren’t in the cannabis space to our cannabis?”
To that point, Forbidden Flowers and Thorne, in turn, have quite a lot on the plate in the immediate future. A recent Valentine’s Day collab with a Santa Barbara chocolatier produced artisanal edibles. She’s also exploring getting into the “wax space,” she says of concentrates, as well as smoking accessories, which frankly should be de rigueur for someone whose impeccable aesthetics and vibes got her to near mogul status.
Thorne reveals she’s particularly excited about Forbidden Flowers’ rolling papers, which are colored and use natural fruit dye. “They’re healthier than normal papers, and I’m so proud that we were able to do that,” she says. “They work well, they’re beautiful and I just really want to see people with dope-colored joints all the time.”
As we wind down our conversation, I can’t stop thinking about the very first question I asked this multi-dimensional powerhouse: “Finish this sentence: Bella Thorne is…” While I waited for her response, she mumbled and thought out loud, clearly having trouble distilling herself into a single word or phrase. I understand her struggle. When trying to describe her, I come up with a multitude of adjectives, none quite encapsulating the space she so fully inhabits.
In the end, as she always seems to, the hardest working 24-year-old celebrity we know says, “Bella Thorne is…multifaceted.” I couldn’t agree more.
Los Angeles is a place where, if one applies their trade with equal parts passion and skill, they can make a name for themselves as the best at what they do. Kobe. Clayton. Dre. Snoop. And when it comes to cannabis—Wonderbrett.
One of the industry’s most sought-after cannabis producers, a man more humbly known as Brett Feldman, earned his acclaim providing choice batches of the West Coast favorite OG Kush to supreme clientele such as Eminem and Cypress Hill’s B-Real, all while California was just beginning to allow medical use.
“Even since the early 2000s, I was always hoping and dreaming that cannabis would become legal and we would be able to make a very prestigious brand one day,’’ Feldman says. “It was always in the back of my mind. I would think, ‘I can’t wait for this to be legal so we can grow, put it out there, and share good cannabis with other people around the world.’”
That time has come, as Wonderbrett recently launched its first retail shop in LA’s Fairfax District. Visitors can take in a double feature at Quentin Tarantino’s movie theater, shop for high-end sneakers at Undefeated and now purchase high-quality retail cannabis—all within a few miles.
“We’re LA guys,” Feldman says. “Our whole base of followers has been built in LA. We built our reputation in the music and entertainment community here. To have a store on La Brea Avenue in this location is paramount for our brand.”
With his flagship store now firmly tucked into a coveted Los Angeles retail district, Feldman looks back on the days when this legitimate business was once considered criminal more than two decades ago.
“I just start thinking about the time I got extorted or the time I got robbed,” Feldman says. “All of these horrible things that you were victim to in that part of the business, whereas now the business is so different. It’s a grown-up, sophisticated business world. The stuff I went through then seems so irrelevant now.”
Wonderbrett’s understated and earthy interior design makes for an appealing, if stark, contrast from the colorful packaging and branding lining the store shelves.
“With the natural woods, hand-pounded pendant fixtures and the irregular wood on the floor, it’s not perfect—purposefully,” says Wonderbrett co-founder David Judaken.
“That adds to the comfort and vibe and energy of the space. When that’s in conflict with some of the branding, I think it sets each off and makes them better and more important because they’re juxtaposed to one another.”
As the retail shop passes its three-month anniversary, the founders say to expect more surprises.
“Wonderbrett is all about the drop,” Judaken says.
The company’s brick-and-mortar HQ may not even be the biggest news: For Wonderbrett, it’s all about the strains. The company’s strains have been available in a few dispensaries in small quantities, but the new location guarantees that customers can get their hands on some of the finest boutique genetics in the current market. Strains such as Pink Picasso and Orange Banana burst with flavor from each toke, while indicas such as OZ Kush and Black Orchid carry tinges of pine and gas.
And, on this particular December 2021 weekend, the Wonderbrett Los Angeles location premiered the release of Feldman’s latest genetic achievement, Blueberry Purp.
“It’s got a blueberry flavor, also a sweet grape aspect and a savory cookie type flavor too. It’s been a long breeding process to create this strain. The OZK Cookies and Cream, Beyond Blueberry into Grand Daddy Purp. It’s a legendary strain. It’s one of those strains where people miss it so much and wish it would come back. But you need to polish it up and that’s what we did.”
But even before he takes time to enjoy his labor’s fruits, Feldman is already plotting his next genetic marvel.
“In my mind, I want to cross [Blueberry Purp] into the Pink Picasso and make a Blue Picasso. My gut instinct tells me that those two terpene profiles are going to make something very special. I’m really hoping for a blueberry champagne flavor.”
Feldman continues this theme.
“Now that I’m talking about it, I need to go home and roll up a joint that’s half Pink Picasso and half Blueberry Purp, and give myself a sneak peak,” he says. “Sometimes that inspires breeding as well.”
A genetic résumé as impressive as Wonderbrett may seem to be full of secrets, but for Feldman, crossing strains is just as easy as blending flowers together and lighting up.
And what would the THC percentage of a Blue Picasso be? According to Feldman, that’s not the right question to ask.
“There are too many misnomers out there right now with people trying to seek out strains that are 30 percent THC or higher,” he says. “Those tend to be not the better of the strains if you were to do a blind taste test. You’re going to tend to like strains with higher terpene profiles, not just THC.”
Wonderbrett’s elevated menu may prove to be a bit overwhelming, so Feldman himself decided to offer some of his own personal picks.
“New customer, never smoked, I’m going to say Orange Sunset because the flavor is so undeniable that even somebody who doesn’t have a developed cannabis palette will immediately have a great experience,” Feldman says. “For someone’s first time trying cannabis it should taste like something they can relate it to. Most people have had orange juice or candy. It’s undeniably orange. It’d be really hard for someone to have a bad experience with that flower as a first-time smoker.”
For the experienced enthusiasts, Feldman turns it up a notch or three.
“For the elevated connoisseur who’s looking for the most unique, special terpene profile, I’d go with Pink Picasso,” he says. “It’s one of those strains where I should probably have that in my Instagram bio, you know, ‘creator of Pink Picasso’.”
As far as his all-time favorite strain, Feldman is quick on the draw: Cherry Trop.
“I’ve been smoking Cherry Trop every day,” he says. “It’s one of the most beautiful strains I’ve had the pleasure of growing. In the last two weeks of growing, it turns so purple and red. It doesn’t even look like a bag of weed; it almost looks like a cartoon. The terpene profile is delicious, too. It’s derived from Trop Cookies and Cherry Cookies, so it’s savory and has hints of Tangie, and it’s very potent.”
Exclusive strains are far from the only reason why enthusiasts should visit the new shop. The remarkable selection of flowers lining the west wall, the pre-rolls and edibles found in the middle displays showcase a blend of the industry’s top brands in addition to in-house product.
“We like to bring in brands that we’d actually smoke,” Feldman says. “I want people to come in and not be overwhelmed. I want them to be able to have a selection that they can actually digest when they walk through here.”
But don’t rely on your new favorite flavor being available at Wonderbrett for too long.
“You have to have things come and go. We’re constantly breeding and creating new strains and pheno-hunting,” Feldman says. “Our goal is to put out at least one new strain every three months, and if we can do more than that, we will.”
Feldman continues to support the hip-hop community that once helped launch his own career. One of his favorite brands to promote is Coffee and Kush, created by Los Angeles rapper Problem.
“I’m really proud of Problem,” Feldman says. “He’s doing it right, doing it himself. He found good growers to work with. It’s a good example of how a celebrity should approach this space versus just trying to get a royalty by giving their name out. I really applaud him—he’s an LA legend doing it right in this space.”
This story was originally published in the print editionof Cannabis Now.
New York City remains a bellwether for all things weed. While the internet has improved global connectivity and information sourcing, somewhat lessening the need to visit trailblazing cultural cities such as London or Tokyo, Gotham’s cannabis community is best understood in person. And what better place to do so than at the up-and-coming Astor Club in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Launched in January 2020 by three long-time plant advocates and enthusiasts, this club may just be the epicenter’s epicenter. While other cannabis consumption hot spots can justifiably vie for the distinction, Astor Club absolutely deserves its place in the discussion. If a person truly wants to understand the pulse of the region’s cannabis community, then this lounge and its diverse range of consumers is one of the absolute best places to do so.
Resembling a European cannabis cafe where the herb is sold and consumed on-site, Astor Club has quickly established itself as a must-see destination for tri-state residents and visitors alike.
Featuring a variety of gas strains, the members-only club encourages people to hang around after purchasing, enjoy snacks, drinks, art, visuals—even a dog or two. Founder Ben and his partners Josh and Brett (they asked not to reveal their last names) and a small support team looked to their passions when creating the club’s vibe; embracing art, streetwear, hip-hop and other elements often associated with New York City.
The combined skill sets and credibility of the founders earned the club success in a relatively short period. On any given night, a club member can run into top names in cannabis business, advocacy and cultivation, as well as everyday plant enthusiasts. Various demographics regularly overlap on the numerous sofas and back in the outdoor “smoke spot.” From the super famous to mere civilians, Astor Club is a space for just about any type of cannabis consumer including advocates, plant enthusiasts, industry executives, lawyers and government experts.
On a recent November evening, a 60-something-year-old retired school teacher turned cannabis supporter sat across from a touring hip-hop production team. The two conversed a bit and rolled joints as the room filled to roughly 30 or so people by 8 p.m.
As New York City inches toward recreational legalization, with regulators projecting a 2023 launch, Astor Club could serve as a model for what a legal consumption lounge may actually look like. The co-founders claim they’re eager to work with whatever regulations come. Still, like everyone else hoping to participate in the New York market, they, too, await the final rules that will determine their next steps.
Astor Club strives to create and enrich the community through various events including information sessions, brunches, seminars and barbecues. Regardless of the topic, Ben says each event has offered a space where “people can come smoke out and get some information about what’s going on and how they can help in the legalization movement.”
The success and growing crowds led to what they considered to be the natural decision to launch the club. Ben says, “It really came out of that sense of us just wanting to have a place to continue to connect with those people in New York.” Astor Club also served as an ideal destination for the high-quality, gas strains the founders expect to find at events.
Matt brings the same enthusiasm for the plant and a love for art, streetwear and hip-hop to the space. His passions can be found in the art on the walls, featuring pieces from Banksy, BK The Artist, Kaws, 1UP and Stash. Prominent streetwear fashion brands such as Aimé Leon Dore, Alife, Camp High, Parra and Patta also play an importance in shaping the club’s culture.
Astor Club regularly attracts several dozen visitors each night, with the weekdays often busier than weekends. Josh believes that the club’s authenticity begins with its founders.
“We all come from a background of cannabis as part of our life,” he says. “Cannabis wasn’t even an industry at the time.”
The hotspot is on its second location after an issue unrelated to their operation booted them from their original space. The forced venue change is standard in cannabis, an industry in which businesses are often ousted either because of anti-pot laws or other loopholes that landlords or other authorities can still use.
Accessible to members, the current home has security upfront, two indoor lounges in the back and an outdoor section. Situated on a street with various Lower East Side staples, most especially the distinctive smells of Chinese food from neighboring Chinatown, the minimal odor that does escape the venue blends perfectly with the neighborhood. Once inside and past security, a wave of terpene-rich cultivars courtesy of dozens of strains of flower happily overwhelms the senses.
A small, passionate team of management, security and budtenders help run the daily operations. They include Brett, who came to Astor Club from the food, beverage and hospitality sector. Matt’s friend for more than two decades, Brett went from just being a regular club visitor to manager in record time.
“I started stocking shelves, then it led to budtending,” he says. Now, he operates the lounge’s daily operations and ongoing remodeling. He’s particularly proud of the large TV and newly installed floors as signs of the club’s progression. His optimism is bolstered by what he says is a fast-growing membership base. Access is granted on a referral-only basis. If approved, members can either pay a $200 yearly membership fee or $500 for lifetime access.
Overall, Brett considers Astor Club a destination for cannabis camaraderie in New York City and that feeling extends to the team. He says that they often engage in family activities, such as eating together on a nightly basis. During our interview, a plethora of sandwiches arrived for the team and guests to enjoy.
Astor Club isn’t the first or only prominent cannabis smoking lounge operating in New York City. Several function in some form or fashion, either as dedicated spaces or pop-ups. However, all too often, these gray market destinations end up like Icarus inching toward the sun, resulting in their eventual shutdown. Brands have survived crackdowns from regulators, rebounding in new locations—but the task is costly on bottom lines and the staff charged with the difficult job.
With New York’s cannabis laws set to include legalized consumption lounges, Astor Club’s founders are eager to explore their options—be it in that sector or elsewhere. “Depending on what the regulations are will determine what license we get,” Matt said. “Consumption has been a huge part of our lives.”
Since Kathy Hochul was inaugurated governor in August 2021, replacing the decidedly lukewarm legalization supporter Andrew Cuomo, New York’s cannabis program made its first strides towards implementation. After the first appointments of board members to the Office of Cannabis Management in September, additional hires have come, with members seemingly ready to get the market going. As of November 2021, regulators haven’t released rules regarding licensing, and it remains unclear whether consumption lounges resembling Astor Club’s environment will be allowed.
“There’s too much up in the air for anybody to know,” Ben says.
Josh jumps in on the discussion. “We obviously have our hopes, but at this point, it’s very hard for us to know what’s going to come down the line,” he says. “We’d love to be involved somehow.”