During the Stone Age, humans began exploring their surroundings and figuring out how to survive, forming crude communities along fresh water sources and experimenting with eating the plants and animals they encountered. These humans would have had a hard time ignoring the cannabis plant, its pungent flowers dripping with resin, and ethnobotanists believe it was one of the very first plants they explored. The cavepeople tasted cannabis’s fresh green leaves, bitter flowers and nutty seeds. The thick sap coating the flowers, rich with THC, stuck to their fingers. When they licked it off, they discovered the plant’s ability to intoxicate. They were the first in a long line of hash eaters to come.
Today we understand that it was the cannabinoids in the sticky resin of those plants that got those early humans high by activating special human receptors that enhance the expression of FOXP2, a gene that facilitates speech and language development. For our ancestors, there was only an understanding that this plant could take their minds to new places and open up untapped avenues of thought. It gave them good ideas. Researchers Geoffrey Guy and John McPartland theorized that as cannabis coevolved alongside humans, it was primarily responsible for what historians call “the great leap,” the time when we began making tools, weapons and art, and working together in collectives.
Ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes’s theory is that ingesting those cannabis plants led early humans to invent religion. “Primitive man, trying all sorts of plant materials as food, must have known the ecstatic hallucinatory effects of hemp, an intoxication introducing him to another-worldly plane leading to religious beliefs,” Schultes and Albert Hofmann wrote in “Plants of the Gods” in 1979. “Thus, the plant early was viewed as a special gift of the gods, a sacred medium for communion with the spirit world.” Though it was seemingly discovered by accident, Robert C. Clarke and Mark D. Merlin wrote that the female cannabis flowers’ ability “to exude large amounts of readily apparent and easily collected psychoactive resin” was the plant’s “most evolutionary significant trait.”
Though valued for its nutritious seeds, cannabis’s psychoactive qualities may well have been the magic bond that motivated early humans to begin putting crops in the ground and continue to plant cannabis wherever they went. After observing that early African Pygmies learned to cultivate cannabis because they considered it an important tool for keeping the hunters soothed and amused during the long hours they spent stalking meat and fish, scientist and author Carl Sagan famously suggested it would be “wryly interesting if in human history the cultivation of marijuana led generally to the invention of agriculture, and thereby to civilization.” Sagan went on to observe: “The marijuana-intoxicated Pygmy, poised patiently for an hour with his fishing spear aloft, is earnestly burlesqued by the beer-sodden riflemen, protectively camouflaged in red plaid, who, stumbling through the nearby woods, terrorize American suburbs each Thanksgiving.”
As hunter-gatherers moved from place to place in search of food, they left behind campsites of rich compost where wild cannabis seeds germinated and flourished. Later, a vast, wandering Stone Age religio-complex of tribes seeking new lands and new consciousness brought cannabis, which they used as a spiritual tool, as they traveled farther and wider. Cannabis, Schultes wrote, “developed together with man as a multi-purpose economic plant: the source of a fibre, a narcotic, a medicine, an oil, and an edible fruit.”
As soon as they could figure out how to do so, humans domesticated cannabis and began breeding it to enhance useful traits such as elongated bast fibers, large seeds with high oil content and sometimes, copious narcotic resin. “Under the pressures of selection for these characters,” Schultes wrote, “cannabis began to reveal characters and combinations of characters not found in wild or presumed wild populations, a phenomenon that has occurred in every plant domesticated by man.”
Excerpted from the book “Pot in Pans: A History of Eating Cannabis” by Robyn Griggs Lawrence. Used by permission of the publisher Rowman & Littlefield. All rights reserved.
Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE
I’ll be honest: history classes were never really my jam. I was more drawn to English, journalism and social sciences in college — and yet I always knew somehow I would eventually develop a deep passion for history.
And sure enough, it happened — starting with sprawling Ken Burns documentaries, moving forward with smart history podcasts and hitting me over the head more recently via Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical theater masterpiece “Hamilton.”
While I spent my 20s in rock clubs and my 30s studying drug policy, I find myself in my 40s going back to explore the historical roots of these subjects and others. And like countless others before me, I’m learning how thrilling it can be to understand history and how impossible it is to fully comprehend the present or forecast the future without knowing what came before.
Cannabis history is a fascinating one, from ancient Chinese relics to the Anslingers and DeAngelos of the world. But many modern cannabis consumers are hardly aware of this rich history, and so here’s a lively lesson on three figures in cannabis history you may not know.
Raymond P. Shafer
Raymond P. Shafer was the 39th Governor of Pennsylvania, from 1967 to 1971. Before this son of a reverend became a national GOP leader, he was an Eagle Scout, high school valedictorian, Yale Law grad, naval intelligence officer, World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient.
After Shafer’s gubernatorial term, President Richard Nixon appointed Shafer as chairman of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (later dubbed the Shafer Commission). And just think of the timing: Nixon was approaching peak anti-marijuana hysteria, having just signed the Controlled Substances Act, which “temporarily” categorized cannabis as Schedule I in anticipation of the Shafer Commission’s report.
But when Shafer presented the report — Marihuana, a Signal of Misunderstanding — to Congress in March 1972, the thoughtfully researched report written by politicos, physicians, psychiatrists, pharmacologists, educators and researchers actually recommended descheduling and decriminalizing cannabis.
This was monumental, and champions of drug policy reform cheered the report’s reasoned, common-sense recommendations. Nixon and important congressional subcommittees, however, ignored the report and moved forward with a War on Drugs that targeted people of color and ruined untold lives.
Margaret Mead was an author and cultural anthropologist known for her groundbreaking research (and resulting papers and books) on the role of sex in primitive cultures, as well as the debate surrounding race and intelligence.
Before becoming an internationally renowned academic, Mead was the daughter of a sociologist and a University of Pennsylvania professor, recipient of a masters and doctorate from Columbia University, assistant curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In 1969, Mead testified to Congress that marijuana should be legalized, saying: “Marihuana is not harmful unless it is taken in enormous and excessive amounts. I believe that we are damaging this country, damaging our law, our whole law enforcement situation, damaging the trust between the older people and younger people by its prohibition, and this is far more serious than any damage that might be done to a few over-users, because you can get damage from any kind of overuse.”
Speaking truth to power, in 1969 no less. Impressive.
Dennis Peron was an entrepreneur and activist best known for radically changing medical marijuana laws in California and beyond.
Before Peron made drug policy history, he was raised in Long Island, New York, served in the Air Force in Vietnam and supported gay activist Harvey Milk in Peron’s newly adopted home of San Francisco.
Peron’s cannabis history is long, from his San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club — the first dispensary in the U.S. — days to unsuccessful, legalization-centric bids for California Governor and U.S. President. But Peron, known as “the father of medical cannabis,” is best-known for organizing 1991’s Proposition P in San Francisco and helping to write 1996’s Proposition 215 statewide in California, the latter of which allowed the cultivation, possession and use of medical marijuana in the state — the first time such laws had been successfully passed in the modern world.
TELL US, who are your cannabis heroes?
Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE
When Jessamyn Stanley told me that she loves smoking spliffs, I was surprised. As a yoga teacher who has gained prominence as an outspoken critic of white-centric, commercialized yoga, Stanley occupies a particular intersection of weed and wellness that I didn’t expect to be cool with tobacco.
But perhaps I should have expected it.
After all, it’s Stanley’s seeming contradictions that have vaulted her to becoming one of the most sought-after voices in yoga. Identifying as fat, black and queer, Stanley is an inspiration to women who don’t look like the typical skinny-white-girl-doing-a-handstand image of yoga that has come to dominate wellness culture. She is here to tell us that, in fact, it is not a contradiction to be fat and fit. And now, she’s here to tell us that it is not a contradiction to be productive and a stoner. (Hear, hear!)
In many ways, her journey to becoming a cannabis consumer and advocate mirrors her journey to practicing, teaching and speaking about yoga.
“I’m a Reagan baby. My parents made sure that I was in D.A.R.E.,” she explained. “So I was really anti-everything up until undergrad, and even then, [smoking cannabis] still made me think, ‘This is like a bad thing to do.’”
The thought that marijuana could be medicine was not really something that occurred to her, until she dated a cannabis consumer who showed her the plant in a new light — as a “healing practice” rather than a shameful activity. And later, this new mentality about cannabis turned out to be instrumental to her success in the yoga world.
An Elevated Flow
Stanley, who is based in Durham, North Carolina, re-discovered yoga while struggling with anxiety and depression in the wake of her aunt’s death. When she first started posting photos of her yoga practice on Instagram in 2013, she had hoped to solicit feedback and improve her form. Instead, she dispelled stereotypes and inspired others to start practicing yoga, too. Those early Instagram posts are littered with comments like, “I just started doing yoga and I didn’t think I could do some of the moves because I am not a twig! Thanks for showing me anyone can do yoga!”
As her community has grown exponentially since 2013, Stanley has been featured in publications from The New York Times to People, published a book (“Every Body Yoga”) and taught yoga classes all over the world. Earlier this year, she launched her new app The Underbelly — a subscription service for those who “have ever thought that people who look like you or think like you or live like you don’t do yoga.”
When we sat down for an interview at The Wing Soho in New York (Stanley and I are both members of the women’s co-working space) on a summer afternoon, she says she couldn’t have managed her whirlwind rise to prominence if it hadn’t been for cannabis.
“The combination of cannabis, yoga and meditation… I don’t know where I would be without them,” she says. Marijuana is “something that I attribute so much of my health and success to. As my life has evolved to have this career that takes so many different pathways, it’s very difficult for me to be emotionally available for my work in the way that I need to be without it.”
The Reagan baby-turned D.A.R.E. kid has now been a daily cannabis consumer for the past decade. She prefers smoking joints and spliffs (whether mixed with tobacco or other herbs). Vaping and edibles are nice while traveling, and dabbing is reserved for special occasions. “But smoking a spliff or smoking a jay is definitely my go-to,” she said.
As a fellow fan of smoking spliffs, I mentioned to Stanley the pushback to mixing weed with tobacco that I’ve encountered in the cannabis world. “People often view tobacco as tainting the cannabis,” I said.
“It’s the same with cannabis and yoga!” she said. “People think that it’s tainting the practice somehow, or that it’s fogging the space that needs to be cleared. And I think that that is the prohibition mindset.”
And while she hasn’t taught any 420-friendly classes yet, her home practice is “extremely” 420-friendly.
“Anything that you can do to let go of the f*ckery of this world is helpful. I think that that’s where the combination of cannabis and yoga is incredible.”
Combating Stigma, On and Off the Mat
Stanley hasn’t always been so open about her cannabis use. Despite recent gains in legalization across the U.S., the stigma surrounding marijuana persists. People can still lose their jobs over medical marijuana use — even in states where it’s legal.
When she first considered opening up about her cannabis advocacy, she says her “immediate fear” was that that it would impact her professional standing, a fear that still keeps many a cannabis consumer in the closet.
But ultimately, she realized that, by not talking about it, she was complicit in a system where too many are still incarcerated for the very substance that had helped her succeed.
“I just felt like, ‘What’s the point of having the platform if you’re not going to really use it for something that matters?’”
The same forces of gentrification have shaped both the yoga and cannabis industries. As a fat-bodied yoga practitioner, Stanley says seeing changes in the yoga world helped inspire her to speak out about cannabis, especially since the cannabis industry is still in its early days.
“What’s key for marginalized people is to stop trying to be accepted by this mainstream whitewashing of the cannabis industry,” she says.
“I’ve noticed that in the yoga world, there are so many black and brown voices who have f*cking co-signed this [mainstream] agenda,” she says. “There are fat bodies that have co-signed… Lululemon. How far can we really go if we’ve already given them the sign off?”
In the cannabis industry, the forces of white, corporate control are especially insidious, thanks to the patchwork of state marijuana laws and continued federal prohibition that disproportionately punish black and brown people.
Often, it’s the already privileged who have the resources or connections to start a business, whether it’s a yoga studio or a marijuana dispensary. Stanley pointed out that these dynamics are even more pronounced in the cannabis industry because of all the legal barriers to entry: Funding is scarce due to federal prohibition and just applying for a license can cost thousands of dollars. And that’s not even considering the fact that many marijuana programs bar those with past cannabis convictions from even entering the industry.
When Stanley first started traveling to Seattle as her yoga work took her around the country, she says she was excited to be in a legal state — a sharp contrast to her home in North Carolina. She looked up dispensaries on Yelp and headed to Uncle Ike’s, a popular spot in the city’s Central District. “I loved it,” she says. “Everything was great.” She went back there every time she came to town and started talking about it on social media, too.
But her followers started to push back. At first, she dismissed the critics — “yeah, y’all mad, whatever. It’s great,” she thought. But then, she realized, “Actually, it’s really not [great] because we’re just continuing to feed the cycle,” she says. “The corner that the dispensary is on was once the corner where like everybody was getting locked up… that story is being lost as time goes on.”
Now, she goes to the woman-owned cannabis retail shop Ganja Goddess when she visits Seattle. She’s mindful that consumer choices are important, and says this is about more than the façade of a company. “This isn’t an anti-white guys club,” she says. “It’s about the ethics of the company. What work are they doing on the other side to lessen inequality? What work are they doing in terms of prison abolition? What are you doing for incarcerated populations?”
Plenty of cannabis companies purport to promote certain values in the industry, whether it’s participating in social equity programs, funding expungement clinics or hiring those with past cannabis convictions. At best, these actions are well-intentioned attempts to remedy the harms of racially disparate drug enforcement. At worst, they’re cynical undertakings to gain good press while skirting the real work that needs to be done to achieve systemic change.
“Yoga studios and companies ask this all the time — ‘What can I be doing? We want to be body positive, we want to be diverse,’” said Stanley. “I’m like, ‘Look around you, dude. If you’re only looking at people who look like you, why would anything different be happening?’”
As for advice she has for companies looking to genuinely make a difference, she says: “Don’t tokenize your space, but truly diversify. Listen to the other voices who are in the room and then you’ll know what you need to be doing.”
A Homegrown Practice
Moving forward, Stanley hopes to continue making use of her platform while incorporating cannabis into her yoga teaching, too.
But in the meantime, subscribers to The Underbelly are able to use cannabis at their own leisure. “The home practice is really designed for that,” she says. “Truly the heart of The Underbelly is to create the yoga space that is really authentic to you… [The home] is also one of the only places — even if you live in a legal state — where you can consume cannabis legally.”
And you better believe that she’s going to continue speaking out against inequality and unequal representation, whether it’s in yoga, cannabis and beyond.
“Activism seems fun and easy before you’re actually doing it. And then it’s scary and lonely,” she says. “If you think about it in the bigger picture, the discomfort in the short term just doesn’t really matter because [it] makes a difference to other people.”
TELL US, have you ever incorporated cannabis into your yoga practice?
Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE
Stop for a second and think about your last smoke session. Imagine the smell after grinding up the bud, the flavor after that first full exhale and the pleasant effects that follow: a boost of energy, a wave of relaxation or a sense of peace. The unsung hero of your perfect post-high moment? Terpenes. These aromatic compounds, also found in other plants, herbs, flowers and even fruits, are key players in the taste and scent of your cannabis and the distinct buzz that follows.
Because terpenes also interact with cannabinoids to create all of the components that make up your favorite strain, adding herbs to your cannabis can enhance the consumption experience.
Depending on which herbs you use, you can boost flavor profiles, increase energy and focus, ease pain or reduce stress. There are lots of different ways to pair herbal blends with cannabis and knowing what to consider before making your own combination is crucial for coming up with the perfect mix.
Monica Fine, a California-based master herbalist, has some simple tips when it comes to matching herbs with cannabis strains. She says it’s best to use what you like in small amounts, change herbs regularly and try to use what is actually in season around you. Fine explains that any herb used in excess can be dangerous — even ones you think are the safest.
She also suggests staying away from herbs like datura, morning glory and nightshades, which are poisonous.
Unfortunately, she cautions that both burning and vaping dried herbs don’t allow you to enjoy the highest terpene content possible, because of the process of combustion and oxidation burns off terpenes. So, Fine says, tinctures are the better option when it comes to cannabis and herbal blends. Still, there are some benefits if you are interested in consuming cannabis and herbs by vaping or smoking, especially since Fine notes that smoking hits the central nervous system much faster than other delivery methods, which makes it useful for immediate relief.
Personally, Fine favors herbs like damiana, life everlasting flower and any of the artemisia family added to joints and spliffs. She is working to launch a brand that will feature sublingual extracts that utilize the powerful combination of herbs and cannabis, using formulas designed to preserve the integrity of the plants.
When it comes to picking your own herbs to pair, she refers to her mentor Jeanne Rose, a world-renowned author, herbalist and aromatherapist who suggests using herbs like rosemary and sage to dry mucus and excess secretions from the lungs and recommends trying marjoram, chamomile and gentian to help kick a tobacco habit. And of course, there are also other herbs and flowers, from peppermint and mullein to rose and jasmine blossom, that you can choose from to complement your strain of choice.
How to Combine Herbal Terpenes With Cannabis
Linalool is an anti-inflammatory, antiepileptic and analgesic terpene found in herbs like lavender and is good for pain management and reducing anxiety and stress. Pairs well with the strains Romulan, Sour Kush and Purple Urkle.
Pinene is a bronchodilator, expectorant and antimicrobial terpene found in herbs like rosemary and sage and helps with boosting focus, increasing alertness and improving airflow to the lungs. Pairs well with strains like Purple Kush, AK-47, Dutch Treat and Bay Dream.
Myrcene is an antibiotic, antimutagenic and a muscle-relaxing terpene found in herbs like eucalyptus and hops and is known for its calming properties. Pairs well with strains like Mango Kush, Granddaddy Purple, Trainwreck and Grape Ape.
Geraniol is a natural antioxidant terpene that’s antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic. It’s found in roses and is good for adding floral flavor profile. It also has antibacterial and antifungal properties that can help reduce infections. Pairs well with strains like Afghan, Headband, Amnesia Haze and Great White Shark.
TELL US, do you go for certain taste profiles when it comes to choosing cannabis?
Originally published in Issue 39 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE
Mila Jansen’s story is quite the odyssey. The renowned hash maker escaped from Holland’s Home for Unwed Mothers and opened both a clothing store “for the happy and free” and an underground tea house in Amsterdam before she invented the Pollinator and earned the title of Hash Queen. The Pollinator, the first mechanical tool to separate trichomes from plant matter, was unveiled at the 1994 High Times Cup in Amsterdam and represented a revolutionary moment in the ancient practice of hash making.
In this excerpt from her book “How I Became The Hash Queen,” Jansen describes unveiling the machine to legendary cannabis aficionados including Soma, the breeder behind the Amsterdam-based Soma’s Sacred Seeds; Rob Clarke, the author of several cannabis science books; and Jack Herer, cannabis activist and author of hemp bible “The Emperor Wears No Clothes.”
The Pollinator made such a splash that a judge even congratulated Jansen on her invention.
The Pollinator: Hash From Trash
By Mila Jansen
By mid-November 1994, we were preparing to present one of the first five Pollinators at KGB, in their upstairs shop. Adam from TH Seeds was having a party in their store to celebrate that year’s High Times Cup. The moment arrived when Rob Clarke was to pull away the black velvet cloth covering the machine. There was a select group of 30 or 40 people from all over the globe. While everybody was cheering and drinking a glass of something or smoking a puff of something, I filled the Pollinator with small buds. It performed its first public job and everyone was amazed. I handed out what the Pollinator had produced, and it was squeezed, smelled, rolled, burned, and smoked. Compliments galore were received! It was November 28 — the night after the High Times Cup festivities had finished.
Adam was a great host. Soma and Jack Herer were there, both of them in Amsterdam for the first time. Soma was expecting the cops to arrive at any moment and spoil the fun, but the fun was just starting. Our host from KGB set up a Trichome Challenge and everyone tried to smoke a bong filled with freshly-made hash, which was nearly impossible… for me, anyway. I exploded in a cloud of smoke. But then there was Soma. He inhaled, inhaled and inhaled some more and held his breath — 1,2,3,4, holding it all in, 5, 6, 7, 8 and still going strong. Adam called “9, 10!” and there was a great whoosh of smoke. Soma won the first Trichome Challenge and that week he decided to come live in Amsterdam.
I think Rob Clarke understood the uniqueness of my machine more than most of the other people there. After all, he had studied the production of hashish worldwide for many years and had never, ever come across a machine that could separate out the crystals — not in the 7,000-odd years that hash had been produced. It was a day that would eventually influence hash-making worldwide, even in places like Manali, Nepal, Colombia and Morocco.
We sold two or three Pollinators the first night. One went to Ben, from Sensi Seeds, and one went to Positronics, the first grow shop in Amsterdam. Wernard, its owner, made a special place for it in his Sensimilla Salon so his customers could bring in their own dried trim. While they enjoyed their coffee, their trim would be turning. Ten to 15 minutes later, it would be ready, with all the crystals separated and lying on the bottom.
“Hash from Trash” was our slogan and we had it printed on T-shirts. From our first sales, we had money to buy more materials. Another seven machines were made. So we began buying more materials from the sales of each batch. We received our first publicity in Soft Secrets magazine. It was rather funny that in the same issue, in the newspaper clippings section, there was also mention of the bust of our “football-field-sized” greenhouse. The court case connected to my making of clones for this greenhouse would be taking place only one day after Het Parool published an article about the Pollinator.
The judge started by congratulating me on my invention, and then proceeded with the case. I admitted to making the clones and getting 2,000 guilders (about $1,000) for my services. I also told them that I had taken my four children on our first holiday in four years. If he insisted on getting the money back, I would pay it back, but could he please remember that for the last 15 years, I had brought up my four children alone without asking for any money from social services.
I don’t think it made a lot of difference, but I was able to go home without even a fine and there was no mention of any greenhouses — even through the newspaper wrote I was an expert on growing marijuana.
Excerpted from “How I Became the Hash Queen,” published by Mama Editions.
TELL US, have you ever tried ice water hash?
Originally published in Issue 39 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE
The ultimate guide for minding your marijuana manners has
just arrived from America’s most respected etiquette brand: The Emily Post Institute. “Higher
Etiquette,” written by Emily Post’s great-great-granddaughter Lizzie Post,
focuses on the cannabis etiquette that has developed in post-prohibition
landscapes. The guide provides a light-hearted and thoughtful look at the many
customs that cannabis consumers have developed to be considerate to others in
just about every situation where cannabis comes up.
From well-known rules for smoke sessions, like “puff, puff, pass” or not bogarting a joint, to more subtle etiquette situations, like how to approach playdates as a cannabis-using parents or come to agreements with roommates about smoking in shared spaces, this book is full of realistic cannabis scenarios and advice for how to navigate them with consideration and respect. And hey, it also teaches you how to throw an amazing cannabis dinner party!
Post, a cannabis consumer herself, says she had the book idea for a while, but it became a reality after interest from its publisher, Ten Speed Press. “I had a woman reach out and say, ‘Hey, I know of someone looking to do a book on this topic. I didn’t think it was right for you, but thought it might be right for someone you know.’” Post recounted laughing. “I literally did raise my hand, alone in my office, to no one and was like, ‘Right here. I’ll write that book!’”
From there, Post started her research phase. “It was
honestly the best research of my career,” she said. “Go book a ticket and visit
legalized states. Buy weed and hang out with people who enjoy it.”
Still, it wasn’t just the great cannabis that Post
enjoyed during her research. Post says etiquette can be a really negative
space, because “everyone is complaining about something.”
But in the cannabis sector, things were different. She
says the etiquette was more focused on consideration, respect, generosity and
sharing. “I think those are things that we really need now, as a country,” she
explained. “I was very excited to work in this space for a while.”
While no one expected the Emily Post Institute to take on the topic of cannabis, Post explains that the project actually fits right into the institute’s values. “We have seen how based the cannabis community is on sharing, on respect, on being aware of the people around you,” she said. “It just falls so in line with the Emily Post principles of consideration, respect and honesty. That is something that I find really inspiring.”
This spirit of consideration and generosity is reflected throughout “Higher Etiquette.” While readers might think of an etiquette book as a big list of rules and judgments about what they are doing wrong, in this book, the conversation is more focused on considerations for how to make everyone feel comfortable, respected and understood. Far from a list of rules, “Higher Etiquette” leaves room for personal style and preferences. Instead of telling people what to do, it simply describes situations that might arise and offers helpful tips on being kind and thoughtful to everyone involved.
When asked to give just a single piece of cannabis etiquette advice, Post’s was this: “No judgments.” Post said that people use this incredible plant in such a wide variety of ways, “the biggest takeaway is we really need to try to not judge each other.”
TELL US, do you
puff, puff, pass?
Originally published in Issue 39 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE
Chris Romaine didn’t expect to become a prominent cannabis photographer. Better known by the moniker Kandid Kush, Romaine was raised by fairly conservative parents and only took a mild interest in the arts during his youth.
“My dad was a cop,” Romaine laughs. “He taught D.A.R.E. and everything.”
Despite a childhood filled with anti-drug rhetoric, 32-year-old Romaine first tried cannabis at age 20. He loved the uplifting and creative vibe he felt, and smoking soon became a regular part of everyday life.
While working as an automotive painter, Romaine was given the task of snapping a couple of quick pics of finished work for his boss. It was his first stint behind the lens, with the exception of a basic black and white photography class during high school, and the somewhat menial assignment forever changed the trajectory of Romaine’s career — even if it would be several years before he realized it.
Creating a New Destiny
After reviving his interest in photography in LA, Romaine spent several years in Las Vegas, where he ended up in the hospitality industry. When not slinging drinks in nightclubs, Romaine taught himself the ins and outs of digital photography. He picked up a decent DSLR and started setting up shoots with models he would meet online or cocktail waitresses from work.
Six years later, in 2015, Romaine set out for San Diego to help open a new nightclub. It was at this time he also secured his first salaried product photography position at a local car dealership. He also bought some weed, obtaining a medical marijuana card as soon as he arrived in California (adult-use sales didn’t begin there until 2018).
“I went on Weedmaps like the first night I pulled up, and the photos were pretty awful,” Romaine explained. “You couldn’t even tell what anything was!”
After purchasing a few strains, the quick-thinking Romaine opted to take some shots of his own. He reached out to a delivery business with his work, and eventually hashed out a deal: one-eighth of cannabis for every product photographed. After a year and a half, the artist (who says he loves any and all Chemdawg crosses) moved up north to Oakland on a whim to fulfill his artistic destiny, given the Bay Area’s unofficial designation as the epicenter of California’s thriving cannabis industry.
‘Kandid Kush’ Is Born
In the Bay Area, Romaine was a relative unknown. It took time for him to break into the cannabis photography industry, but his attention to detail and the development of striking prints featuring hundreds of images stacked on one another were soon earning him gigs for well-known brands and dispensaries such as Garden of Eden. During his first visit to an indoor grow, when he toured the cultivation center for the top-shelf boutique brand Gold Seal, Romaine was taken aback by the immense beauty of fresh cannabis.
“It was the first time I saw live trichomes, and I was blown away,” he said. “The plant is crazy beautiful. I want to show the beauty and rid the stigma through my photography. That’s really my mission.”
Knowing he needed a brand of his own to fulfill his mission, Romaine got a few of his friends together and developed a simple yet effective plan: Everyone would write every word they could think of that involved cannabis and photography, throw them in a hat, and draw out combinations until something stuck. “Candid” and “kush” came out of the hat, and now, only a few short years later, Kandid Kush is officially trademarked by the United States government.
Working with Industry Icons
Today, at his studio in downtown Oakland, Romaine is busier than ever. As an artist, his meticulous nature may be considered borderline obsessive. After a recent 10 hour shoot at the Sherbinskis cultivation facility, Romaine went home with a jaw-dropping 160 gigabytes of data (yes, that’s a ton).
Romaine says getting to work with industry icons such as Mario Guzman, the cultivator known as Mr. Sherbinski, is a dream come true.
“I thought this guy was untouchable, and fast forward three years later, we’re smoking a joint and laughing like old friends,” Romaine says, adding that his first day shooting at the Sherbinskis farm was one of the highlights of his career so far.
Besides being inspired by the cultivators he works with, Romaine also looks to other cannabis photographers for creative guidance. Romaine says he considers the book “Green: A Field Guide to Marijuana”to be a big inspiration. The quintessential cannabis text by Dan Michaels features stunning imagery from Erik Christiansen, and Romaine says he would pour over its pages day in and day out while still honing his craft.
Years later, he found out that Christiansen at one point lived only a mile away from him during his time in San Diego. The two are now friends, which he says is a testament to the incredibly serendipitous nature of the cannabis industry.
In keeping with what he’s learned about the cannabis industry so far, Romaine encourages other budding photographers to stay focused, regardless of preconceived notions about whether or not there’s still room for them in the weed game.
“Keep persevering, no matter how many people laugh at you or tell you it can’t be done,” he said. “Things don’t happen overnight. Always embrace change and failure. Put yourself in uncomfortable situations to grow. I’ve failed so many times over and over again. I’ve even quit photography a couple of times — but I keep coming back to it.”
Why would a promising talent such as Romaine give up his art? It turns out his initial foray into model photography ended when one subject became threatening. The man he had photographed had posted unauthorized images of the shoot, and when Romaine requested he cease and desist, became hostile.
“It sort of pushed me over the edge in dealing with people,” he lamented.
With pot photography, the gorgeous plants don’t get hostile. Instead, they invite Romaine in with their intoxicating aroma and brightly colored buds, and he always knows they will only end up creating more happiness once they’re consumed.
A Vision of What Lies Ahead
Romaine believes the future of his craft lies in 360-degree photography, which utilizes augmented reality to allow viewers of an image to see it from all angles. However, he adds the nascent nature of the cannabis industry has led to a critical lack of standardization. For example, one producer’s product may look very different on one dispensary menu versus another. Currently, Romaine uses a 50-megapixel camera to gather macro shots and raw footage that showcase every last nook and cranny of the plant. Someday, visitors to KandidKush.com may be able to get as up close and personal with the buds as Romaine does.
This vision of tomorrow fits within Romaine’s steadfast dedication to his original mission: to celebrate the beauty of cannabis while normalizing its place in our society.
“One of the ways to normalize anything is to really get it out in the public eye,” he says. “I want to see trichome pictures on a billboard! I don’t think we’re that far away.”
But what does Romaine’s dad, the D.A.R.E.-teaching police officer, think of his son’s success?
“My dad is, like, borderline on the edge of maybe trying an edible,” he laughed. “Pretty huge coming from a guy who thinks you can literally get high by being in a grow room!”
TELL US, do you ever try to photograph your stash?
Originally published in Issue 39 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE