Hear Them Roar in ‘Lady Buds’ Documentary

Recent trends and predictions estimate that legal adult-use sales in the US could gross upwards of $100 billion as soon as 2030. With those types of numbers in the pipeline, it’s easy to feel like California’s Prop 64 legalizing adult-use cannabis was light years ago. The documentary Lady Buds helps bring viewers back to their roots by highlighting the unstable period leading up to the adult-use legalization and 2017, the year after the significant Golden State vote took place. Director Chris J. Russo features six trailblazers in the exciting and uncertain times that helped shape the historic shift in policy.

The film offers a look back at the beginnings of what has evolved into an industry beyond some of our wildest dreams while honoring women who have become prominent figures in California’s growing cannabis scene. Although each person featured comes from completely different walks of life with varying paths that led to the cannabis industry, they all experienced the complicated barriers of entry to the adult-use market. From a second-generation cannabis farmer to a former Catholic school principal, what makes these stories special is the thread that runs through every single one—a deep determination, a tenacious spirit and an unwavering passion for a plant that undeniably changed their lives.

Cannabis activist Felicia Carbajal and her campaign team discuss how to talk with voters on election day.

Risk is one of the driving themes throughout the movie. It’s a distinct and glaring actuality that brings an unyielding sense of unrest to Lady Buds. There are moments of hope, triumph and thrill that offer heartwarming levity. And with so much at stake, each woman’s willingness to put all they have on the line is nothing short of inspiring. Even with local and federal laws changing at neck-break speeds, they’re still risking their freedom. These leaders aren’t just coming out of the shadows to face unfamiliar regulations and complicated legislation; they’re confronting the nail-biting reality of jeopardizing their livelihood and facing big questions about whether they’re willing to go to jail and lose everything, simply for what they believe in. There’s much to consider, but for these changemakers, the only way is forward.

If you like being shown the different pieces that hold the cannabis industry together, this documentary will do the job. It’s compelling, provocative and educational—a terrific trifecta. Even if you aren’t familiar with all of the nuts and bolts of legalization, the director’s storytelling lens, along with the engaging stories, will help pull you into the narrative.

Lady Buds
Lady Buds film poster

Russo succeeds in shifting the perspective away from the typical bro culture associated with cannabis by shining the spotlight on some fearless female pioneers in the industry. Viewers are invited to weather the transition, share the tears and brave their worst fears in this honest delve into what it looks like to never give up.

This story was originally published in issue 44 of the print edition of Cannabis Now.

The post Hear Them Roar in ‘Lady Buds’ Documentary appeared first on Cannabis Now.

The Color of Money

Business-based racial inequality in this country is far from the distant memory it should be at this point in our social development. Legalization isn’t necessarily changing the demographics of people involved in corporate cannabis; the industry is still made up of predominantly white, middle-aged men who are the gatekeepers to inclusion. There are many examples of bias from cannabis stakeholders, which prevent post-legalization dreams of a cannabis utopia from being truly realized. No one knows this better than Ron Brandon.

“It’s gangster, but it’s clean. ’I thought it’d be more trappy. I’ve heard it all,” Brandon said, alluding to the type of ignorance and prejudice many experts face when entering the regulated cannabis market.

Impeccably dressed and frustratingly chivalrous, Brandon returns a knowing smirk. We’re sitting at a cafe discussing how the lack of education in the cannabis industry poses challenges for those trying to enter the legal marketplace. Brandon has big plans for the future of cannabis.

While he’s not yet a household name, Brandon is on his way. For more than a decade-and-a-half, he’s worked with at least 20 cannabis companies in an industry that is in many respects new, but also inherently old. He has partnered with the likes of Ball Family Farms and Headstash, bringing high-quality cannabis to the legal market directly from the people who created this corporate landscape before the governance caught up. Most are members of California’s Social Equity Program (SEP), which launched in 2018 with the passing of Senate Bill 1294, the Cannabis Collaboration and Inclusion Act.

Designed to repair the impacts of prohibition and the War on Drugs, the program offers a greater degree of government support as individuals with past cannabis convictions or arrests, or those who live in disproportionately impacted areas, attempt to start their legal cannabusinesses. The brainchild of a liberal playbook, the program’s priority access to applications and help in this journey rarely occur the way they’re pitched on city websites. Although cannabis.LACity.org details the technical and business assistance offered through the program, many believe it to be a complex process.

In recent years, the myriad problems facing social equity applicants have come to a head. “People run out of resources in a system that’s very difficult to navigate,” Brandon said. “Launching a social equity enterprise is so much more than qualifying for assistance. A serious barrier to entry is that cities grant licenses based on the organization already having a building lease, but so few of these applicants have the means of paying tens of thousands of dollars in rent on commercial space before finding out if they qualify to monetize their work.”

Clearly frustrated by such overtly impractical hurdles, Brandon goes on to note that these issues are only exacerbated by so-called “technical experts” at the city level who have little understanding of the industry— it’s a case of the blind leading the blind.“

Legalization in California just hasn’t worked like it was supposed to, and the SEPs aren’t effective in mitigating the issues faced by the Black community in all areas of business,” Brandon said, choosing his words carefully.

Kingston Royal founder Ron Brandon. PHOTO Brandon Almengo

Changing Course

After a career as a professional football player spanning six years, Brandon retired in 2007 due to a knee injury. Soon after, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a lifelong passion for the arts. “I’d always been really into hand-sketching, but I missed my opportunity to follow that seriously,” he says.

Brandon is the last person to admit that he’s a multi-talented creative. He’s more than dabbled in music, and he started finding real success just as the 2008 financial crisis hit. “I love getting involved in anything that pushes the message of non-conformity with what society is dealing with,” Brandon said. “The failing economy disrupted my own existence, but because I was looking to connect cannabis and music, I started to supplement my income by brokering cannabis. Cannabis is used in music as a tool, and it was fulfilling to be on both sides of that journey.“

As the Green Rush hit California, Brandon was presented with an opportunity to become involved in corporate cannabis. Motivated to represent diversity and maintain the integrity of his cannabis work, Brandon moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco, where he entered cannabis politics. There, he co-founded the San Francisco Cannabis Licensing Group, a subchapter of the California Growers Association. He was instrumental in shaping the group’s policy to fall in favor of the operators rather than policymakers.

While Brandon remained committed to removing the stigma around cannabis, he kept hitting the same walls: time and money.

The slow growth of distribution for cannabis products was getting in Brandon’sway, so he hacked the system. Killing two birds with one stone and avoiding the three-year wait for business licensing, Brandon’s new distribution company took SEP applicants to market in 30 days as brands. This gave them the clout and proof-of-concept to raise the same money as their non-SEP counterparts. The process also made the difference between a few million-dollar investment cap, to less than a $100,000, streamlining the journey to licensing. As a point of purpose, Brandon built a sense of community in all the operations he partnered with, which naturally led to the creation of his own flagship brand, Kingston Royal.

Ron Brandon
Ron Brandon’s Kingston Royal brand cannabis products. Photo courtesy of Kingston Royal

Kingston Royal’s Long Game

Kingston Royal was founded on a desire to enhance creativity through cannabis. Championing the notion that “you are the creator of all things,” the purpose-driven cannabis and lifestyle brand aims to inspire. Kingston Royal isn’t going for an instant money grab like many other mainstream brands; they’re aiming for longevity by embracing cannabis’ roots while supporting originality, innovation and unrestricted thinking in their team.

“Mainstream brands started earlier because that’s the SoCal system; people who have money could get in early, but their top-down approach has made their businesses irrelevant in less than half a decade,” Brandon says.

Colloquially known as “Hollywood” brands, these products are quickly fading from dispensaries. Brandon attributed their failure to a lack of understanding around the origins of cannabis, noting the exact pressure point these brands missed: the culture. Cannabis is no longer derived from Cheech and Chong stereotypes. The modern cannabis narrative is rooted in Black American history and the music that normalized consumption as a daily activity.

Brandon says that just as hip hop was birthed from backyards and community centers, so, too, was the shared experience of peace, relaxation and creativity from cannabis. America has the likes of Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre to thank for the current state of legalization, but corporate brands and dispensaries ignore their forefathers at their own peril.

Ron Brandon
Ron Brandon has big plans for social equity. PHOTO Brandon Almengo

The Struggle Is Real

This leads Brandon to the core component of social equity that’s ignored in the governance: Many dispensaries aren’t carrying enough social equity products.

“There’s supposed to be 20-25% of shelf space dedicated to SEPs. Dispensary owners aren’t being held accountable,” he said. While this isn’t a law, dispensaries must dedicate 20-40% of shelf space to equity brands to qualify for Equity Trade Certification by OEG, the first federally recognized social equity certification program for cannabis and other goods.

According to Brandon, this is due to a concern over aesthetics, as well as the uphill battle to market that most social equity applicants are facing. He says the largely white-owned dispensaries don’t want edgier items taking center stage on their carefully curated shelves and that these biases are based on a common misconception that white-washing cannabis will draw new customers.

And that couldn’t be further from the truth. A new consumer is almost always introduced to cannabis through a friend or family member who partakes rather than seeking out products themselves. No question about it. The branding is important in a general sales way, but customer loyalty trumps the conversion metrics every time.

Most social equity products boast significant customer loyalty and could expand the market appeal of many dispensaries, but they’re not given a seat at the table. This occurs while brands and business owners cozy up to musicians, producers, rappers and artists who are far more closely aligned with the root of cannabis in America — a root defined by social equity applicants.

“Black social equity applicants make up the majority of in-fluence of this industry, and we’re asked to show up at the events, but there’s always a guest list we miss when it comes to shelf space,” Brandon said.

It’s a bizarre picture that Brandon’s painting: Social equity products and brands are more likely to be consumer-friendly in terms of cost, quality and consistency. Consequently, because these products are more aligned with the reality of the consumer, they’re more likely to garner customer loyalty and drive sales. More than that, because of the macro psycho-social nature of cannabis use, SEPs are also more likely to be the first brand used by new consumers, and therefore generate longevity.

A true gentleman, Brandon doesn’t dismiss his peers in any pointed fashion, but simply picks up on a consistent psycho-logical failure of leadership.

“Hollywood brands may find it easier to get into retail space, get into parties,” he said. “It’s easier to duplicate, it’s easier grow, but when you can’t maintain your consumers, and more importantly can’t maintain your in-house talent, then you’re a pointless brand, and you’re only in cannabis to look cool. If you’re not looking to achieve anything else, you’re going to fail. That’s what we’re seeing now.”

When corporate businesses ignore the people who historically drove primo product from Canada to California — who grew in the hills of NorCal, and who sat in cells for smoking a joint — they seem to flounder and fade from sight. Put simply: People who never grew up in the real cannabis culture are trying and failing to make a profit, while the people who know cannabis best still largely sit inside of the American prison system.

Though the true metric likely won’t be realized for a few decades, it appears that a key to longevity in cannabis is association with the traditional market and the people who brought cannabis to the forefront of our legal, adult-use activities.

“Success streams from developing brands and operations like your developing artists,” Brandon says. “The mainstream industry is too busy trying to rethink cannabis.”

Ron Brandon
Ron Brandon is a true trailblazer. PHOTO Brandon Almengo

What Now?

Brandon’s next big undertaking in the cannabis industry as Chief Business Analyst at NatureTrak transcends his supply chain expertise. “A very close friend in tech asked if there was a play in cannabis, and it took until the passage of Prop 64 for us to pivot our concepts to focus on banking,” Brandon said.

The first Black-owned FinTech SAS company, NatureTrak is changing the global business landscape by making it possible for cannabusinesses to operate with financial institutions. The tech company’s free track-and-trace software can follow the complete lifecycle of a product—from seed to bank—giving banks an easy way to ensure their cannabis clients are legally compliant. Brandon is a consultant on the operations side, offering guidance on how the software speaks to social equity operators and the government.

“We help social equity operators get compliant banking so they can have some stake in the game, “he said. “We really built the airplane in the air. Had it not been for my life-long history in this business, I’d never have understood the needs of all the key stakeholders.“

With a finger on the pulse of change, Brandon is a true trailblazer. He understands the importance of cannabis’ place in history while still being able to identify future opportunities and take advantage of the present moment.

“My personal belief is that it exists today, but it’s not a promise it will exist tomorrow,” said Brandon, speaking to the state of California’s Social Equity Program. “We need to utilize funds while the government is being supportive. Let’s get these people to the finish line.”

This story was originally published in issue 42 of the print edition of Cannabis Now.

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Gimme A Hi5

They’re happy little cans, aren’t they?

I spotted them the moment I walked into legendary Berkshires dispensary Theory Wellness’ busy Great Barrington, MA location. There, almost as if they were smiling at me, these smartly designed and packaged small cans of joy, had me at hello; well, “hi,” to be precise.

Theory Wellness’ popular flavored cannabis-infused drinks are elevating the seltzer game, no question. One way is alluded to, again, smartly, in the name: The all-natural, gluten-free, hangover-free, zero-calorie concoction actually “works” in five minutes (avoiding the, “I don’t feel anything; I’ll have another” trap). You feel the effects of either the regular (44 mg THC) or light (18 mg THC) offerings fast—Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote fast.

The question is, “How does it do that?” Theory Wellness credits its nano-emulsification process that allows them to bind THC to water (previously not possible since most edibles are fat-soluble), resulting in a faster onset of the effects, which takes the waiting game out of edibles. No wonder they’re flying off the shelves.

Hi5 Lemon is a fast-acting, revolutionary cannabis drink with zero calories.

Within six months of its debut, the dispensary had sold more than 700,000 cans of Hi5 in all six flavors—including two seasonal flavors of pineapple (Summer) and cranberry (Fall)—and they’re also available in 45 dispensaries across Massachusetts.

“The Hi5 brand has been an incredibly fun project,” says Thomas Winstanley, Theory Wellness’ Vice President of Marketing. “A lot of the development happened during COVID where we were longing for interaction, social connection and missing the good times with friends. That comes through on the brand, and I think consumers enjoy it because it’s the perfect product for social consumption as we all begin to reconnect with one another.”

What better way to reconnect than to give (or receive) a Hi5? Hands up, people!

This story was originally published in issue 42 of the print edition of Cannabis Now.

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Marvin Lee Stohs’ Cannabis Photos Are ‘Out of This World’

When it comes to cannabis photography, Marvin Lee Stohs is a name worth remembering.

Working out of Washington State, the 30-year-old, better known online as Surface Area, has quickly become an in-demand photographer of buds, batters and all things weed. Known for his insanely detailed shots — what Stohs calls “a glimpse into an alien world” — the lensman’s indelible work has netted him more than 35k followers on Instagram alone. Stohs’ success isn’t a simple matter of luck, however and it doesn’t come from simply pointing a camera and hitting the shutter. His rocky journey to the top has been paved with hard work at every step along the way.

A self-taught photographer, Stohs launched his professional career nearly a decade ago when he found work with international clients, as well as several Burlington, VT-area head shops that hired him to photograph vaporizers. But, starting in 2017, the success of Initiative 502 in Washington State (passed in 2012) inspired Stohs to switch gears and test his talents in the then-nascent legal cannabis industry. Long before deciding to focus on super macro cannabis photography, Stohs says that he listened to his gut and combined his dual passions — photography and cannabis — and that proved to be extraordinarily valuable.

“Vaping was becoming kind of unpopular at that time, and as soon as weed became legal, I knew there was going to be some type of market for photographers in the industry,” Stohs said.

Stohs’ photography contains many creative cannabis works such as this nug in the sky.

Stohs says his own approach and ultimate aesthetic in much of his work is inspired by some of the biggest names in cannabis photography, including Sean Moore (Dankshire) and Erik Christiansen (Nugshots). At the same time, the budding photographer also knew it was vital that he get a body of relevant work under his belt as quickly as possible.

“I basically did what every beginning cannabis photographer does,” Stohs said of his first attempt at establishing a name for himself. “I went to the weed shop, bought one of my favorite products sold by the company, took pictures of it, and posted it on social media and tagged them. Then you hope that they’ll take the bait and send you a direct message the next day asking about your pictures.”

He was an instant hit. Almost immediately a popular Washington cannabis brand reached out to Stohs and commissioned him for work — some of which was later featured in High Times. It was, according to Stohs, exactly the type of recognition and cache he was hoping for. And things have only gotten better from there.

Jelly Biscuit from Solfire Gardens.

Instagram Troubles

Today, Stohs’ work is collected on Instagram, where a scroll through his feed reveals a veritable kaleidoscope of far-out, expertly captured images of cannabis in all forms. Whether he’s soliciting followers to guess the weight of a jar of badder or sharing his latest shots from Washington’s top cultivators and extractors, the business of being a cannabis photographer is one Stohs conducts exclusively through the ubiquitous social media platform.

But as legions of influencers, brand and content creators can attest, life as a cannabis-affiliated Instagram poster is also one frequently fraught with fear and anxiety, due to the platform’s seemingly never-ending crusade against weed.

“It’s really difficult to be a content creator in today’s age, especially with how many restrictions are being put on cannabis content shared on Instagram and Facebook,” Stohs weighs. “I constantly live in a state of anxiety every time I press ‘share’ on any posts, on any account that I work with. I’m worried that my posts might get flagged or that my account may be deleted for the tenth time.”

A close-up look at a jar of seeds from Cloneworld Northwest.

In total, Stohs says his main Instagram handle @surface_area999 has already been pulled a staggering 15 times. Though he’s been able to successfully recover it in each instance, Stohs explained that cannabis photographers relying on the platform remain in an anxiety-inducing situation, without much hope for change.

“That’s my entire business,” he says. “I don’t have any other websites or social media platforms. I run my entire business on Instagram, so it’s very, very stressful for me to be living like this all the time. I’ve also seen a lot of social influencers who are switching to different apps and kicking themselves in the butt because they lost their 60k follower-strong account that they’d worked more than a decade to build. I hope it gets better, but I just don’t think it will.”

Trichomes sparkle on a Cat Piss plant from ZOZ Wellness.

Flower Power

While Stohs’ nerves surrounding Instagram show no signs of waning, he’s on firmer ground — almost upbeat — when it comes to the issue of destigmatizing cannabis. Recalling his own upbringing, Stohs shared that his mother was once fervently anti-cannabis, going so far as to tell him that anyone who smoked weed would “never amount to anything.”  Though the process wasn’t easy, Stohs says his mom has subsequently come around on the subject. Now, as a father himself, he’s enjoying the results of taking a decidedly different approach to cannabis with his own daughter.

“When I was growing up, I always felt afraid to get in trouble because of weed,” he said. “So, today, being able to sit on my back porch and watch my daughter run around with pot leaves from weed plants we’re growing and showing her how to grow and how to trim… it’s just a super remarkable feeling. In my daughter’s young mind, it’s got to be the complete opposite of how we felt as children. I come home with weed, and she tells me it’s beautiful because I’ve taught her that weed is, in fact, a flower.”

GMO Terps on the Rocks by Gold N’ Grams.

Beyond his efforts to normalize cannabis within his own immediate family, Stohs’ striking photography also gives the rest of us another medium to appreciate the plant’s natural qualities and transcendent beauty. One of his new favorite approaches is objective microscopic photography, in which fields of glistening trichomes and rich globs of concentrate are revealed in detail unavailable to the naked eye. Even though Stohs is the one taking the photos, he says he’s still personally blown away by what his camera reveals.

“At this point, a lot of us are getting into objective microscopic photography. We’re taking pictures that you can’t see unless you’re using a fucking microscope!” he says incredulously. “Look, a lot of people might think that they’re ‘just taking pictures’ but I disagree. No, I don’t take pictures; I take super-macro pictures of alien worlds within plants. The moment I saw how otherworldly this stuff looks in this format, it just immediately had me hooked.”

This story was originally published in issue 42 of the print edition of Cannabis Now.

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The Good Fight

A sense of fairness and equity is what drove Dennis Hunter and Ned Fussell to launch Farmer and the Felon, a cannabis cultivator and advocacy brand dedicated to social justice. The duo knows all too well how prohibition can drastically alter a life.

“When you’re incarcerated, and even when you’re waiting for sentencing, it seems like an eternity before you’re going to be released—it can feel very, very dark; as if there’s no way out,” Hunter said. The Emerald Triangle native spent more than six years in prison after a federal raid on his illegal cannabis farm in the late 1990s. Upon his release, he connected with fellow cultivator Fussell and the pair went on to launch the influential CannaCraft family of brands, which includes the popular Care By Design and AbsoluteXtracts. The company became a poster child for compliance and saw skyrocketing sales. It was a Cinderella story, almost unfathomable to the vast majority of cannabis offenders.

But despite the incredible turnaround, Hunter and Fussell never forgot where they came from. They knew they wanted to support restorative justice efforts and raise awareness of the plight of those still suffering because of prohibition. But the lightbulb didn’t go off until a fateful dinner meeting with mentor Terry Wheatley, CannaCraft Chairwoman of the Board.

“She said, ‘there’s my farmer and my felon’ as we sat down, and I was just like ‘that’s our new brand!’”Hunter says, laughing at the memory. The name stuck, and thus Farmer and the Felon was born. As CannaCraft’s first flower line, Farmer and the Felon took the company back to its roots while simultaneously staying true to Hunter and Fussell’s desire to educate the cannabis community at large.

The Farmer and the Felon product catalog includes eighths, quarters, ounces and pre-rolls.

“We wanted to be able to tell the story of the company and the founders coming up in cannabis and the injustice that happened,” Hunter said. “And the name truly lent itself to do that. But we’re really seeing the opportunity to use the brand to share information and get the message out—to interject change in the industry and how people look at cannabis.”

With a clear vision, the team got to work. In another stroke of serendipitous fortune, cannabis activist and Harborside founder Steve DeAngelo approached Hunter with a new project that aligned almost too well.

“We were probably a month out from launching when he reached out to me with the idea for the Last Prisoner Project,” Hunter said. “I just thought, ‘Wow, this is a great fit—I’m about to launch a brand called Farmer and the Felon.’”

Last Prisoner Project (LPP) is a nonprofit dedicated to freeing individuals incarcerated for nonviolent cannabis crimes and supporting those who have recently been released from custody. The mission was a perfect match. As such, Farmer and the felon agreed to include LPP’s messaging on every one of their products, with a portion of sales benefiting the nonprofit.

As soon as they launched in March 2020, Farmer and the felon resonated with consumers, many of whom loved the opportunity to do a little good every time they re-upped. It also helps that the sun-grown flower is a fantastic bang for your buck.

The Farmer and the Felon cultivars include Orange Creamsicle, Legend OG, Blue Dream and Strawnana.

“We have more than 40 years combined cultivation experience, and we want that to come through in every bag,” Hunter said. “We want to keep this brand as close to the plant as possible.”

The product catalog includes eighths (the company’s best-sellers), quarters, ounces and pre-rolls with cultivars such as Orange Creamsicle, Legend OG, Blue Dream and Strawnana. The brand is also planning a line of solventless rosin cartridges for the near future.

Bringing premium flower at budget-friendly prices to market is the goal of many cannabis brands, but it’s the message behindFarmer and the Felon that matters most to the team.“No matter how dark it seems, there are a lot of beautiful things on the other side,” Hunter says when asked if he had any advice for people still making their way through the criminal justice system.

“I missed out on so much, but now I get to look back at all that I accomplished once I got out. Hang on and get through it—then cherish the opportunities you’re given.”

This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.

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Moon Made Farms Is Cultivating Wellness From the Ground Up

Deep in the heart of the Emerald Triangle, a 40-acre plot of land is the home of a small regenerative farm that serves as a connection between Earth and a community of consumers eager to enjoy the benefits of its natural bounty. Welcome to Moon Made Farms.

The small cannabis cultivation operation is nestled into an oak grove in southern Humboldt County, the hub of California’s legacy marijuana industry. Tina Gordon, the steward of the land and founder of Moon Made Farms, says she realized it was a magical place when she first visited in 2007 to make a documentary film about the property’s previous owner Joani Hannan, a 1950s and ’60s drummer who blazed a trail for mid-twentieth century queer performers. After leaving behind the grit and decay of the big city, the tranquility and interconnectedness of the farm’s natural surroundings spoke to Gordon’s soul and revealed what was missing in her life.

“It shifted my consciousness and opened my eyes to the fact that we’re living on a living planet,” Gordon said. “Being from an urban area — from a city — I didn’t recognize that I was living in captivity.”

Gordon marveled at the abundance of nature she found in her new home: clean air, untreated water, a clearly visible night sky and food harvested fresh from the land. Most importantly, the secluded piece of the Emerald Triangle is where her relationship with cannabis fully blossomed.

“Once I was here, I fell in love with the plant,” she said.

Growing healthy cannabis is only part of the picture.

A New Calling

When she first moved to Humboldt, Gordon had no intention or even interest in becoming a cannabis cultivator. But when she saw the health and vigor expressed by plants grown in healthy soil and natural sunlight, she was inspired to make herself a part of the living process. Before long, she was learning to pay attention to the quality of the soil and how to improve its fertility naturally. She ensured the other plants growing among the cannabis were beneficial companions, providing natural protection from pests and disease. And as she nurtured and developed her garden, Gordon discovered her new passion was spilling into other aspects of her life.

“When I started taking care of these plants, I started taking care of myself better,” Gordon says. “And that’s how I embrace this plant as a living being—as my teacher.”

After Hannan’s death in 2012, ownership of the property passed to Gordon, ushering in the beginnings of Moon Made Farms.

Moon Made Farms
Providing natural medicine remains at the core of Moon Made Farms.

Natural Medicine Grows in the Sun

Now in her 15th year in Humboldt County, Gordon has transformed Moon Made Farms into an undeniably successful space that produces healing medicine from plants grown in natural soil and sunlight. Her cultivation practices surpass those of typical organics, eschewing the use of herbicides and pesticides while incorporating techniques that go beyond substituting inputs and build the health of the soil. And she isn’t alone. With a like-minded supply chain of suppliers, processors and retailers, Gordon works to provide natural medicine that remains at the core of Moon Made Farms.

“The mission of Moon Made Farms is to honor the most powerful plant on the planet that expresses in the female form, and that’s cannabis,” Gordon says. “And by honoring this plant, we’re participating in creating a regenerative supply chain.”

Part of that chain is Jesse Dodd, an Emerald Triangle cannabis breeder who works under the handle Bio Vortex. Dodd’s work with Gordon is a collaboration combining their deep knowledge. After discussing which traits Gordon wishes to maximize in her medicine, Dodd performs crosses likely to produce the desired qualities in the next generation of plants. By working together, they create new varietals that are bred just for Moon Made Farms. Gordon takes over from there, coaxing the new seeds to their lush and productive potential.

Moon Made Farms
A framed photo of former property owner Joani Hannan, a drummer who paved the way for queer artists in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

“I feel very happy that the seeds have a very good home at her farm,” Dodd said. “She shows them off really well. They can come to their full expression and just amazing beauty and quality in both CBD and THC varieties.”

Gordon says her journey building Moon Made Farms is ultimately an expression of her commitment to healthy living. Even before she moved from San Francisco, she had a keen interest in nutrition, exercise and pursuing a more healthful lifestyle. On the farm, that natural tendency could fully express itself. Now integral to her persona, that commitment is expressed in the therapeutic benefits of sungrown cannabis, which Gordon compares to the qualities of organic produce or grass-fed beef. In concert with full-spectrum sunlight, clean water and fresh air, Gordon cultivates healthy plants and clean medicine.

“We want to bring people something that’s pure, that’s healthy, that’s grown to the highest standards, and that’s truly an expression of this place, because we want to make people’s lives better,” Gordon said.

Moon Made Farms
Tina Gordon, founder of Moon Made Farms (L) and life on the farm.

Sustainable Cannabis

Looking ahead, Gordon says that supporting farmers who use sungrown, regenerative practices will not only result in clean cannabis, but also a healthier planet. With climate change bringing ever intensifying fires, floods, and other global catastrophes, farms that nurture our ecosystem rather than exploit it will take on new significance. Gordon envisions a polyculture economy in which small farms produce medicine in addition to food and other agricultural products needed by local markets.

“This is what’s going to support communities,” Gordon said. “This is what’s going to provide the public with the best possible cannabis.”

Growing healthy cannabis is only part of the picture. Cultivating a genuinely sustainable, healthy cannabis economy depends on a community of individuals and families willing to invest in their health as well as the well-being of the environment. Key to that investment, Gordon says, is a marketplace of buyers who educate themselves on the origins of their herb.

“The questions I want consumers to ask are, ‘Where is this cannabis from?’ ‘Who grew this?’ ‘How did they grow it?’” she said. “And, to get visibility into the source.”

With that transparency, all members of the supply chain, from seed producer to end user, can be empowered to cultivate a healthier planet for all.

This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.

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Meanwhile, In The South Pacific’s Emerald Triangle…

Rugged alpine mountains sweep down to thundering waves along the wild Kaikōura Coast in Marlborough, New Zealand. Standing in a field high above the southern Pacific Ocean shoreline, I inhale deeply; the sweetly pungent aroma of sungrown cannabis plants and crisp ocean air surrounds me. An overwhelming sense of déjà vu suddenly hits me — it’s as if I’ve been here before. 

I’m on assignment visiting Kēkerengū, the grow operation for Puro, New Zealand’s largest licensed medical cannabis cultivation company. Founded in 2018, Puro is part of an exclusive international group of large-scale commercial growers using organic methods of cultivation. Tiffany Tompkins from Organics Aotearoa New Zealand (OANZ) is also on the tour. As CEO, her mission, she says, is to help OANZ members, including Puro, collaboratively work for organic policies that benefit the health of New Zealand’s people, communities, environment and economy. 

Winston Macfarlane (Kēkerengū Site Manager) scouting during outdoor cultivation season.

Winston Macfarlane, site manager at Puro, explains that Kēkerengū is almost the exact distance from the equator to Humboldt County but along southern latitude lines. Therefore, that same terroir that makes the Emerald Triangle grow some of the world’s best cannabis can also be found here. 

Kēkerengū has been home to Macfarlane’s family for more than 130 years. Winston and his older brother Sank Macfarlane, who’s also on Puro’s leadership team, are the sixth generation to farm the 1000-hectare property. Implementing sustainable grow practices, they’re working to grow premium medical cannabis that improves the health and well-being of people, along with the surrounding environment. 

Puro’s decision to grow under organic protocols has come from the company’s core values, the younger Macfarlane says. “We’re committed to growing and supplying premium cannabis products as sustainably and ethically as we can.” 

Max Jablonksi Puro
Commercial Cultivation Lead Max Jablonski in the field.

Overwhelming evidence shows that synthetic chemicals used in conventional agriculture pose adverse health risks to humans, as well as nasty side effects to the environment. Organic agriculture, on the other hand, works in partnership with nature — it nurtures the health of people and ecosystems. With an emphasis on clean water and creating soil vitality that’s teeming with microscopic life, organic farming encourages the soil rhizosphere to flourish, rather than treating it as an inert monolayer.

As Macfarlane leads us across the farm toward the fields of cannabis, Tompkins can’t hide her enthusiasm. “It’s really exciting to see this brand-new medical cannabis industry emerging in New Zealand. Puro is setting a new precedent for organic cultivation,” she said.

It’s late summer on the flat plateau at Kēkerengū, and the plants are thriving in their microenvironment. The grow offers high UV ratings and long sunshine hours, while the salty sea spray provides a natural anti-bacterial layer, helping to keep insect and pest numbers low. 

Guy Randall (Research and Development Manager) assists with Puro’s first commercial outdoor harvest.

Puro’s Managing Director Tim Aldridge and Commercial Cultivation Lead Max Jablonski join us in the fields. We walk through the rows of fragrant bushes, inspecting the beauty and bounty of the flourishing pink-pistil plants, and Jablonski starts telling me about his life before New Zealand: He was working at Caliva, a vertically integrated cannabis company in California, where he focused on postharvest, cultivation and fertigation. Turns out we have a few mutual connections; again, California doesn’t seem all that far away.

“Kēkerengū provides perfect growing conditions, with a coastal microclimate that’s ideal for medical cannabis production,” Aldridge said, adding that he and his team believe New Zealand has the potential to produce some of the best cannabis in the world. Cannabis grown under organic protocols in New Zealand has piqued international interest, and Puro is currently finalizing its first export orders. According to Aldridge, the government has been extremely helpful, especially the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.

Tom Forrest Puro
Puro Cultivation Director, Tom Forrest, and the Puro indoor team inspect mature THC cannabis flowers grown under license at Waihopai.

Aldridge also reveals that Puro’s Cultivation Director, Tom Forrest, is leading a research and breeding program with geneticist Dr. Anna Campbell from AbacusBio, a world-class genetics company. Using a scientifically driven quantitative breeding program, the two are developing a seed bank of consistent medical cultivars that are adaptable to organic cultivation methods, alongside traditionally important traits such as yield and potency.

A Churchill Fellow for Cannabis Agronomy, Forrest has spent time at over 50 cannabis cultivation facilities across eight countries, examining differing approaches and optimal methods for growing cannabis. Under his leadership, Puro has been awarded an “In Conversion’’ organic certification. 

“After informal experiments with various living soil methodologies and forays into the world of permaculture, it became very evident that organic cultivation is a necessary part of our future,” Forrest later tells me on the phone after my visit. “Although it’s still somewhat anecdotal evidence, we’re confident that biological, natural and organic cultivation methods will encourage healthier growth with more desirable secondary metabolite production — higher concentrations of terpenes, flavonoids and cannabinoids.” 

Raised in a conventional farming family, Forrest says he’s always wanted to challenge traditional modern agriculture and find a more progressive means of cultivating healthy food and medicine.


“Natural products have been intertwined with pharmaceutical practice since the dawn of mankind,” he said. “Our first recorded medicines were all plant-based and organically produced. Herbal medicines are now a powerful voice in the pharmaceutical portfolio, and cannabis has a strong role to play.”

We agree about the sheer beauty of the outdoor cultivation site at Kēkerengū, and we discuss Puro’s overarching plans to improve the land, soil and environment while contributing to a healthier future for both plants and people. Forrest believes the relationship between organic cannabis and the local environment, the benefits for the farm and farmers, and the influence of terroir on cannabis expression are all strong arguments for organic cannabis. 

“Organic and sustainable medical cannabis cultivation are two of our core values,” Forrest said. “We aim to improve the land, soil and environment of our growing locations and contribute to a healthier future.”

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Phoenix Fizz: The Ultimate Canna Mocktail

All it takes is four steps. You’re only four steps away from making a Rick Simpson Oil-infused syrup that you’ll want to keep on hand to easily make cannabis beverages at home. No alcohol, no fuss, and you have total control over dosage and ingredients. Sounds pretty great, no?

RSO in the Kitchen

If you’re looking for a potent, relatively inexpensive, full-spectrum extract to incorporate in the kitchen, Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) is the perfect choice. It has a concentrated cannabis-flower taste that adds depth and bitterness to a drink or dish (it even boasts a floral sweetness, depending on the strain), with a powerful dosage that’s convenient to work with when making therapeutic foods.

Rick Simpson Oil/RSO replaces alcohol in this delicious cannabis mocktail.

What’s RSO?

Rick Simpson Oil/RSO is a super-concentrated cannabis oil that’s also full spectrum, meaning it contains all of the cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids of the plant. It’s made with a high-octane solvent, such as ethanol, then left unrefined beyond extraction, resulting in a high percentage of original chemical compounds and chlorophyll left in the final product.

Heat gently applied during the extraction process burns off the solvent and decarboxylates the cannabinoids, so the oil is ready to be applied as a potent topical or eaten as-is. The catch: It tastes terrible. However, this actually makes it ideal for infusing foods that make the most of its fiercely bitter, herbal flavors, and allows for the creation of heavy-hitting edibles that fully maximize the entourage effect (the idea that the specific chemical compounds and oils found naturally in cannabis strains are amplified in strength when left together).

Who’s Rick Simpson?

The eponymous creator and advocate of the dark, sticky cannabis oil recommends making the extract from your own plants so you know precisely what has and hasn’t gone into the final product. He first published his DIY recipe for Rick Simpson Oil—a name first coined by Jack Herer—on the internet in 2004. Simpson himself poetically calls the oil “Phoenix Tears” and has never patented his method, ensuring the information remains freely available to literally anyone who wants it.

For years, he made RSO personally from his home grow and gave it away for medicinal use, but a 2009 raid by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police put a full and final stop to that effort. He and his wife Danijela now live in Croatia, where they continue to be tremendous cannabis activists and educators, despite Simpson suffering a paralyzing stroke in 2018. They currently sell the authoritative books on RSO from their website and offer instructions on how to produce the oil.

Phoenix Fizz
The finished Phoenix Fizz.

Phoenix Fizz


  • 1-gram RSO*
  • 1/8 tsp. Liquid Sunflower Lecithin** (found in health food stores or online; do not sub powder)
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 2 cups Water
  • Sparkling Water
  • Ice


  • Glass Stirrer/Rod
  • Immersion or High-speed Blender
  • Heavy-bottomed Saucepan


Change the math to correlate to your specific percentages of THC or CBD in your RSO, but as an example: The average RSO contains about 60-80% THC per gram. So, if the gram of RSO used in this recipe had 60% THC, it would come out to 600mg THC in the final bottle of syrup. Divide that total by the number of servings (which in this case is 19), so 19 servings equal roughly 30mg per drink.

* Learn to make your own RSO.

**Liquid sunflower lecithin is the key to creating a stable suspension of oil in liquid/emulsification here, accept no substitutes.

RSO-infused Simple Syrup

1. Bring water to a boil in the saucepan;

2. Turn off heat and whisk sugar into the hot water until sugar is dissolved completely;

3. Let cool slightly, then carefully pour the syrup into a heat-tolerant container safe for blending with an immersion blender. If using a high-speed blender, pour into the blender pitcher;

4. Blend RSO and 1/8th tsp. of liquid sunflower lecithin into the hot syrup until most of the oil specks dissolve. If the oil specks remain stubborn, you can add it back to the saucepan and heat it slightly (the gentlest warmth and stirring should do the trick);

5. Once hot, it’ll foam like crazy which means the sunflower lecithin is creating a stable suspension/emulsion;

6. Scrape down the oil that sticks to the sides of the container as you blend;

7. When most of the oil specks have dissipated, use the glass stirring rod to break up the foam;

8. Let the syrup cool fully. Label clearly as containing cannabis and at what dosage

Big Finish

1. Put ice in a Collins or rocks glass;

2. Fill the glass with sparkling water;

3. Top with 1 oz. RSO-infused simple syrup;

4. Garnish and enjoy

This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.

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The Queen of Cannabis Activist Art

When it comes to the effortless blend of art and activism in Savina Monet’s work, it’s hard for her to say which came first. It’s a chicken-egg conundrum that combines her mother’s ingenuity and fortitude with her own go-getter attitude that inspired her artistic career path. 

“My mom was really creative when I was growing up,” the Portland-based Monet said. “Whatever we didn’t have, we would make. From a young age, I learned how to put things together with whatever I could get from salvaged materials and whatever else I could find. In a way, my artwork became a chance for me to channel my upbringing and start a conversation about cannabis to continue to normalize the plant.”

It makes sense that Monet is passionate about collaging, a technique that creates one cohesive piece of work from an assemblage of seemingly unrelated materials such as pictures, paper clippings and fabric scraps. She’s found a way to digitally continue the tradition of her childhood by pulling inspiration from different places to create eye-catching designs. The self-taught graphic designer and artist uses her work to draw viewers into her world of whimsy, weed and wonder — with built-in political undertones calling out the stigma that still surrounds cannabis. 

“I moved to Portland right around when the adult market was legalized,” Monet said. “It was a really weird place to be where a small bubble of Oregon was celebrating, but outside of Portland there was still a really big stigma around cannabis use. It really seemed like my artwork was needed at that time.”

Ridin’ High (L), Focus (R).

Vintage, Yet Modern 

At a quick glance, Monet’s Technicolor work is a feast for minimalists who love lush and uncomplicated art. But a closer look draws you into the details and the message. Retro beauties elegantly puff on joints; icons such as Spike Lee and Eartha Kitt are juxtaposed with cannabis fan leaves; and dense buds playfully replace objects ranging from funky hairstyles to broomsticks for weed-wielding witches. This subtlety is intentional—it’s Monet’s way of giving people a gentle step toward normalizing cannabis use. 

“I’m a big fan of exposure therapy where you’re encouraged to just face the thing you’re avoiding so you can become desensitized to it,” Monet says with a smile. 

Her art has an undeniable vintage vibe that also embodies a modern twist that ensures the cannabis plant is the main message—even if it’s not always front and center. 

“My work is for people who are uncomfortable with weed,” the talented artist says. “I do a good job of blending cannabis into my work, so it may almost feel like it’s hidden. Someone who may be against weed might like a particular work, and when they look a little harder, then realize there’s weed featured in it.”

She said these exact kinds of moments have led to interesting conversations where she’s had the opportunity to educate people who weren’t open-minded about cannabis. She sees these interactions as fun social experiments where her art becomes a teaching platform.

Savina Monet
The Offering (L), Tiger Style (R).

Relax, It’s Art

Monet lets it be widely known that her work is a significant part of her activism advocating for cannabis. “I’ve always been an outspoken person when it comes to cannabis, but since working in the industry, I’ve been inspired to learn more about our collective civic duty and to better understand the law,” Monet said.

As co-founder of the Cannabis Workers Coalition and We Are MOTA (Minorities for Opportunity, Transparency & Accountability in Cannabis), Monet champions fair labor practices in the cannabis and hemp industries. “Around the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of uncertainty and confusion,” she said. “Workers were afraid of getting sick or losing their jobs, so it seemed like the right time to unify the voice of the labor movement in cannabis.”

Both of her organizations have the goal of building an equitable, inclusive future for people of color within the industry. The energy Monet puts into her activism has clearly inspired her recent creations. Because she puts so much intense focus into strategizing and organizing on her civic agenda, Monet said her work has become even more chill to balance out the high energy. Her art has always been a pleasant escape from reality, but more than ever, she’s using it as a way to relax and create a separate space from her activist work. 

Savina Monet
Brown Pride (L), artist Savina Monet takes a puff (R).

The steady pace hasn’t stopped Monet from fine-tuning her plans for the future. Since working in the cannabis industry, she’s seen her workload grow tenfold with the ever-evolving relationship between society and weed. As views, opinions and access to information continue to shift, she hopes to see the scope of her work expand to larger projects. 

“I’d love to start doing more murals and even have my work in dispensaries,” Monet says. “I really want to show more of my artistic side. You know, it still feels a little funny calling myself an artist —but I’m ready to explore that and take my work to another level.”

This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.

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Book Review: The New Chardonnay

In “The New Chardonnay,” award-winning journalist and former ABC News anchor Heather Cabot, explores how cannabis shed its “reefer madness” stereotype and — seemingly overnight — moved into the homes of wine-sipping soccer moms looking to take the edge off when the clock hits five.

Cabot’s writing style is engaging and informative as she seamlessly weaves the stories of various cannabis entrepreneurs willing to risk it all to profit from the Green Rush. Three years in the making, Cabot travels all across the U.S. with a stop in Canada, accompanying these characters in person, taking note of their conversations and personalities, and ultimately what drives them to reach success. She brings the reader with her, giving us an inside look into their homes and offices, courtrooms, release parties and bigwig networking events.

We meet Beth Stavola of the Jersey Shore, a boss babe and mother of six deemed “the Queen of Marijuana;” Jeff Danzer, former fashion marketing executive turned high-end cannabis chef; Ted Chung and Tiffany Chin, Wharton grads and masterminds behind Snoop Dogg’s cannabis endeavors; Bruce Linton, founder of the world’s first publicly traded cannabis company; and Mel McDonald, a devout Mormon and former U.S. attorney during Reagan’s War on Drugs who changed his stance on cannabis after the plant saved his son’s life.

The cast of characters spans a range of socio-economic backgrounds and their interests in cannabis all stem from different places. Cabot’s selection is no accident — their experiences give way to a larger narrative that shows how cannabis is changing lives for the better as it transitions from a taboo drug to an alternative medicine, to a sophisticated option for winding down.

Along the way, Cabot educates readers on the path toward legalization, highlighting political and voter interests while showcasing the complexities of implementing new infrastructure for both medical and recreational sales alongside the underground market. 

A great introduction for the canna-curious, the book outlines common terms such as indica and sativa and explains how the body interacts with the endocannabinoid system. It also shares new, innovative consumption methods, such as vape pens, precisely dosed gummies, pressed tablets, infused beverages and gourmet edibles. It’s a whole new world for those wary consumers who may have hit the gravity bong too hard back in high school. More seasoned consumers should also find the novel a good refresher while learning about some of the most successful people in the industry.

“The New Chardonnay” has a catchy title, and while it certainly offers insight into the continually growing cannabis customer base of women who are seeking alternative options for medicine and stress relief, at its core, this piece of investigative journalism is about the healing and unifying power of cannabis across all margins of society. It’s about how cannabis can change the world.

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