On May 18 and 19, retailers, buyers, and investors attended the exclusive, invite-only Luxury Meets Cannabis Conference in Manhattan, NY. The prestigious two-day event, billed as the first B2B trade event of its kind, was an opportunity for luxury cannabis, CBD, and hemp wellness brands to connect with New York’s burgeoning adult-use market.
Unlike other tradeshows, LMCC’s aesthetic was akin to an Apple Store—spacious, white and inviting. Dozens of brands were in attendance, with sitting areas purposefully created for conversations. In addition to the retail exhibition, there were some high-profile speakers covering some hot topics, including “New York Cannabis Retail Comes Alive: OR Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know But Were(n’t) Afraid to Ask,” presented by the New York State Cannabis Control Board and Bloomberg News and featuring Tremaine Wright, Cannabis Control Board Chair, New York State Office of Cannabis Management.
When I first walked in and began to make my rounds, I immediately noticed the packaging of what looked like a teddy bear falling asleep and I headed in that direction. I was greeted by a smiling man with a firm handshake. He turned out to be Kyle Paradiso, CEO of Sleepy Bear Gummies. The all-natural sleep aid products are redefining the word “wellness” and how it relates to selling cannabis and CBD-infused products.
Paradiso, a former army ranger, experienced multiple spinal cord injuries that led to his premature medical retirement from the military at the young age of 24 in 2016. Enduring chronic pain as a result, he faced numerous sleepless nights and sought solace in CBD and cannabis, which ultimately transformed his approach to wellness and provided significant relief.
“Wellness is not a one-size-fits-all approach and neither should CBD be for its use”, Paradiso says. “Getting the active material, albeit THC-v or CBD, into the bloodstream and doing what it needs to do for relief is what matters. My goal is to offer the fastest, most effective edible on the market”. And he’s not wrong, most people avoid gummies for their ambiguous dosage and onset time—I know I do.
Continuing around the show, a few other brands stood out to me including Dad Grass, Pamos beverages, and Drew Martin pre-rolls. Dad Grass for its nostalgic, approachable packaging, and its ability to be self-aware about its market position and X-factor as a CBD pre-roll that isn’t looking to get you high at all; rather, it wants to chill you out with a glass of wine, so you can stay in the moment while your friends partake in stronger cannabis. Pamos is a delicious well-branded infused beverage that left a minimal weed-like aftertaste, that really played well to the California sober crowd.
What I appreciate about the Drew Martin pre-roll is its ability to make a standard joint look and feel pretty. The brand infuses cannabis with natural botanicals, so you get a potpourri-smelling joint versus the standard aromas we’ve all become accustomed to. They offer both high and low doses, so you can relax with friends or with your thoughts while being grounded, engaged and immersed in the moment.
Overall, the Luxury Meets Cannabis Conference was a great event with positive energy. I am glad I had the chance to attend and see first-hand the direction NYC is taking with the “luxury” narrative.
A New York Senate committee passed a bill authorizing the establishment of a state-sanctioned overdose prevention center (or OPC, also referred to as supervised consumption sites or safer consumption spaces). Safer consumption spaces are supervised places to use illegal drugs under medical supervision. The legislation, Senate Bill S399A (the enactment of the Safer Consumption Services Act, or SCSA), would require the New York State Department of Health to authorize at least one supervised consumption site. While OPCs already exist, this bill will make it easier for harm reduction workers to do their jobs and solidify the work that is already happening.
New York City opened the first city-authorized safe consumption sites in late 2021. The advancing legislation will provide a sterile environment for people to use pre-obtained substances (they won’t provide you with any), giving them a safe alternative to bathrooms or other sites frequented. In addition, the prevention center will also keep medical workers on site to ensure folks are administering the drug more safely. Such sites also offer protection that’s not available when using the drug in a non-monitored establishment, as medical workers will be there to treat any overdoses properly. Naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses will be at the safer consumption site. On-site workers will also educate participants on safer consumption practices and information on treatment. While the site can collect aggregate data on its participants and their experiences, participants and the staff at the safer consumption site will have immunity from prosecution for the sanctioned activities.
For some history, in 2015, IDUHA (the Injection Drug Users Health Alliance) released a memo essentially directing Harm Reduction agencies to act on the assumption that people using their bathrooms would likely be using opioids and therefore be at risk of overdose, a New York City harm reduction worker explains to High Times. However, most agencies have a policy wherein anyone using the bathroom gets a knock on the door every few minutes, and staff can access the bathroom and provide overdose support (including naloxone and rescue breaths and contacting EMS) when the occupant is unresponsive. “On average, my team responds to one overdose a month in our bathroom, with several utilizations a day not resulting in overdose. We have to wait for someone to stop breathing and stop responding to a knock at the door, at which point they may have been not breathing for several minutes,” our source says. “The SCSA is an important bill because it acknowledges work that is already happening—harm reduction workers and people who use drugs and their peers are already on the front lines of the overdose crisis.”
The Senate Health Committee passed the harm reduction legislation from Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D) in a voice vote on Tuesday, and it will now go to the Finance Committee for consideration. The Assembly companion version of SCSA, sponsored by Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal (D), cleared the chamber’s Health Committee in March.
“Harm reduction works. Harm reduction is a modality—a way to approach dealing with an issue which assumes, first, that a person who uses drugs is a person, and that they have to be met where they are,” Rivera said at the hearing. “Fact number two, criminalization has not worked.”
“Over decades of the drug war, it is pretty clear that we have lost said war,” he continues. “The notion that we could arrest our way out of addiction—that we could arrest our way out of overdoses and deaths—has been proven to be a lie based on all of these years of experience. Criminalization does not work.”
It marks a milestone in harm reduction history. “Today, the Senate recognized the dire situation New York is in because of the overdose crisis and failed War on Drugs era policies,” the advocacy group VOCAL-NY said in a press release on Tuesday. “New York is one step closer to seeing Overdose Prevention Centers authorized across the state,” the group’s Users Union leaders elaborated. “The legislature needs to keep the momentum and pass the Safe Consumption Services Act out of both houses by the end of session.”
However, the New York City harm reduction worker High Times spoke with explains that this bill may be simply securing what already exists, thanks to the hard work of passionate harm reduction groups. “Every OPC will be placed in already existing harm reduction agencies. In a very real way, the bill will not change much. Last week I went to Albany with a cohort of workers and participants at VOCAL-NY, Housing Works, and OnPoint to speak to legislators who had not signed on yet. When we met with [New York State Senator] Tim Kennedy’s legislative director, I told her: we are already doing this, but because we can’t acknowledge it, we have to keep the bathroom door closed. Let us leave the door open—that’s all we’re asking.”
The swirl of excitement around developments in the cannabis industry is at an all-time high, with an endless parade of biz cons and trade shows trumpeting the latest innovations in genetics, technology, equipment, and extraction. The Dank Duchess cuts through the noise with her passion for traditional hash making and her mission to educate people about the subtleties and nuances of creating the most phenomenal melt in the world.
It’s a cool gray day in Far Rockaway in Queens, New York, when we meet via video call, and The Dank Duchess is in peaceful repose on a blanket on the beach as gulls cry and waves crash in the distance. She recently moved back to New York City, where she grew up as a first-generation Panamanian American.
“I moved away at 17,” she says. “And 26 years later, I’m home.”
Duchess speaks thoughtfully, with the slightly formal tone of an educator, as she unfurls the details of her life and career in cannabis. After graduating from Howard University in Washington D.C., where she studied mathematics and psychology, Duchess moved to Miami, where she smoked weed for the first time.
“I didn’t have my first puff of cannabis until I was out of college for two years,” she says. “And it was because I had this boyfriend, who I thought was pretty brilliant, but I didn’t understand why he smoked so much weed because weed was going to kill you. Right? Everyone knew that.”
Nevertheless, one day she felt the pull to try it when one of his glass pieces struck her as particularly beautiful.
“It called me,” she says. “And I felt like anything that could be associated with it couldn’t be that bad. So I had my first puff, and yeah, it’s cliché, but my life changed. I suddenly went from a binary perspective, where everything was very black and white, to seeing all these different shades of gray—it was almost a visual opening up of doors. I was amazed.”
Very soon after that, Duchess started growing her own cannabis. But after a decade of growing in Miami, she wanted to shake off the stresses of living in a state where simple possession of a joint could land you in jail. She considered moving to Seattle, but “it was so gray it made me sad,” she laughs. So instead, she chose Oakland for its sunnier weather and because the city had passed an ordinance making adult cannabis offenses Oakland’s lowest law enforcement priority.
“I knew that I wasn’t ever gonna be worrying about any kind of legality—and that made me flourish,” Duchess says. “I took that opportunity to grow a good amount of weed on my roof.”
Duchess wanted to write about cannabis as well. She was an avid magazine reader and felt weed media, in particular, failed to include diverse voices and perspectives. Soon after landing in Oakland, she went to a HempCon event, where she spotted the industry pioneer and hash-making legend Frenchy Cannoli. She knew Frenchy was a contributor to Weed World Magazine, so she seized her chance and asked him to coffee, not suspecting that the meeting would transform her life.
They’d briefly met at a High Times Cannabis Cup in June of that year, where she remembers being dazzled by the superabundance of concentrates at that event: “BHO was flowing like a river.” She saw a huge crowd gathered around a booth and made her way to the front.
“I expected to see the most beautiful golden nuggets, dabs, crumble… and all I saw was chunks of chocolate. I was super disappointed because I don’t like chocolate.”
She said as much as she turned to leave, “and this little voice says, ‘This is not chocolate. This is hashish.’” It was Frenchy.
“So I got my first dab of hashish, and it was awesome,” Duchess says. “And I took a picture with this little French man and went about my business.”
A few weeks later, she moved to California. She knew that besides growing great weed, she could offer a writer’s perspective that was sorely lacking.
“In 2014, I felt like there was nobody writing for any of the cannabis magazines who really related to my situation,” Duchess says. “And I don’t feel like that’s changed much at all. Part of the issue is that there are cultural concerns we’d rather have addressed by people of that culture. You don’t see many Black and brown faces in cannabis media.”
As a longtime subscriber of Weed World, she was determined to write for the mag. Frenchy was an esteemed contributor, with highly regarded articles like “The Lost Art of the Hashishin” and multi-part series on the origins of concentrate and cannabis terroir. Duchess knew they’d have plenty in common, but she was surprised by just how much: “We were both web designers in the ’90s; Frenchy went on to do purse design in Japan, and I did landscape design, so we traded stories of being hardcore designers.”
Frenchy asked if she’d be interested in writing for Weed World—on one condition. She’d need to learn how to make hash. “I’m always honest about this,” Duchess says, shaking her head at the memory.
“I was disappointed that Frenchy felt that for me to write about hash, I’d have to learn to make hash because I didn’t care about that. I moved to California to contribute to cannabis media and to grow more weed. Hash did not appeal to me.”
However, she didn’t want to miss an opportunity, so a month later, Duchess found herself in Frenchy’s basement, making hash for the first time.
“It was Sept. 10, 2014. What we used to do back then was, after the hash was collected from the plant, we would air dry it. That took seven days. On the 17th, I pressed the hash. I celebrate Sept. 17 every year because, on that day, I knew that there was no way I wasn’t going to do this for the rest of my life. It was everything.”
Under the gray Far Rockaway sky, Duchess glows with the recollection, her voice warm.
“I fell into caressing the hash the way when I’m writing, I want to caress words about hash. Hash making is so visceral. And when done well, it’s so beautiful. The aesthetics are mind-blowing—and the effects. Whew!”
Thus began her hash career, as she learned the traditional art of hash making using a method called bottle tech, now colloquially known as “Frenchy tech,” in which a hot bottle of water is rolled over hash to both homogenize and partially decarboxylate it. Armed with newfound knowledge, Duchess started profiling hash makers for Weed World. She’d learn their backstories and methods and sample their melts.
“Every single hash maker I interviewed contributed to my hash-making style,” Duchess says, “and Frenchy’s foundation is a good 60 or 70%.”
She’s written over 100,000 words about dozens of hash makers, production, growing, and experiencing the wonders of hashish in all its forms. She’s posted much of her learning online, with “how-to” videos on YouTube and Instagram.
“People I’ve never met thank me for teaching them hash making through the internet,” Duchess says.
She also posts about how she integrates cannabis, hashish, and psychedelics into her everyday life.
“I’ve found that my approach has been key in reaching women who often feel mansplained to,” she says. “I’ve told stories about wins and losses, and my life journey is the background for exploring mind, body, and soul.”
Duchess found a second home in the cannabis community when she visited Barcelona in 2015.
“I was recognized in San Sebastian by one of my favorite hash makers—Edu, a.k.a. Blue Ice,” she says. “That set off a series of introductions that have proven immeasurably beneficial in my growth as a processor.”
Hash-loving Spain has been the perfect environment for Duchess to flourish in, both as a hash maker and a writer. It’s also the only place she’s ever run afoul of the law—in March 2017, she was arrested for hash possession and spent two days in solitary confinement.
“I was released with a warning to not get into any trouble in Spain,” she says.
But in September 2018, she was served by the U.S. Department of Justice with a notice that she was being charged with international drug trafficking and could face five years in prison.
“My tremendously good lawyer had that reduced to two years,” Duchess says. “I had the option of taking a two-year ban or returning to Spain to fight my case.”
After years of seeding her place in the Barcelona cannabis club ecosystem, she was reluctant to turn away, so she fought the case and was acquitted in February 2019.
Now that she’s back in her hometown, Duchess plans to continue teaching the traditional style of hash making as a consultant. She’s also considering collaborating with growers on limited offerings, rather than seeking a New York license for herself, she says: “I’d like to be able to touch resin all over the state.” In addition to her consulting and educational work, Duchess plans to build a content platform focused on high-quality concentrates and their makers and another focused on Black and brown women in cannabis. She also has a line of eyewear coming out in collaboration with Method Seven, called “The Duchess,” designed for indoor growers with a sense of style.
Duchess is also keeping her eye on regulators and lobbyists as legal weed comes online.
“I feel like the future for New York is bright,” she says. “It’s such a huge market that opportunities for influence on the global scale are infinite. What happens here influences everything. And I feel like right here is where I need to be.”
Few names loom as large over exotic American cannabis as Anna Willey. In a legal industry where jokes about quality have become the norm, not many companies have been able to float on top of that noise based on the quality of the product. Hers, California Artisanal Medicine or CAM, is like a battleship ripping through the waves of the decimated California industry.
While many struggle to sell middle-tier products as elite, Willey can barely feed the monster. She’s on the cusp of opening her 2,000-plus-light cathedral of hype in Sacramento, on top of a new facility she just opened in Long Beach. The facility will be her second in California’s capital, with the ground now breaking on a third. Willey jokes she’ll run back to her 500-lighter if she screws it up, but many insiders expect the facility to become one of America’s premier heat factories once it’s finished. Some even inquired with Willey about her helping their own production needs.
But how did a bubbly Indian-born retired software engineer climb to the highest heights of California’s cannabis industry with a stop on the Colorado throne along the way? It all started in what is currently the wildest frontier in legal cannabis, New York City.
Working Your Way Up
Willey arrived in NYC with her parents at the age of 6. At one point, her dad would leave mom in NYC while he headed north to get a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the top engineering schools on the planet. Her mom would become a nurse. By sixth grade in 1985, Willey would become a courier for one of NYC’s famed old-school weed delivery services. She pointed to that moment as where her real cannabis adventure started, but before that, she had enjoyed the smell the first time she was around someone smoking.
“Back then, it was all about the service in New York City,” Willey told High Times. “To get into cannabis, you had to get a job delivering weed, and you needed to kind of work your way up the system.”
When she came home with the cash from her efforts, her parents’ conservative household took a no-questions-asked policy. She would work for the service for a few years. If you ordered cannabis from the service between 2nd and Gold and Murray Hill, Willey would show up right out of school with her Catholic schoolgirl uniform and 1.2 grams for $120 bucks. Willey said it sounds steep, but buyers had to say yes or they would get a visit from a large Puerto Rican man.
Her parents still turned a blind eye.
“I think that they thought it stopped for a little bit in college,” Willey said, smiling. “As all Indian people and children when they’re born, they tell you that you can be many different types of a doctor. You can just pick a type of doctor. So, obviously, I did not want to be a doctor.”
Growing & Coding
Willey noted her sister skipped the medical school plan too, but her mom still tells people she’s a pharmacist. By 10th grade, Willey was bodega hopping in Harlem and the Lower East Side looking for the newest issues of High Times. After graduating from college, Willey would move west to Colorado in 1998.
When she arrived, she immediately met a grower named John from Fort Collins. He offered to set her up in a grow house. There she would learn to grow. She laughed, noting how much easier it is in the modern era to get the info you need, “Nowadays, you just get on to YouTube. And it’s crazy, right?”
When she did get on the internet forums, she felt there was a ton of support. She was amazed by just how many people were open to helping her. With her background in tech, she also didn’t have any fears about covering her tracks as she searched for the answers to her growroom problems on sites that would eventually be shut down by the feds.
Nevertheless, her first round would not go to plan.
“All males,” Willey said. “And I’m talking about ripe ball sacks covering the plant. I kept posting to IC Mag and Overgrow like, ‘These are new strains.’ I thought I created a new strain.”
Willey noted that pollen stuck around for about a year and a half and caused a lot of headaches. The first strains she would work with included DJ Short’s Blueberry and Fort Collins Cough.
Through all this, Willey continued writing code for IBM and Computer Associates. It was the early beginnings of the move towards automation in as many sectors as possible. Willey’s STEM background from childhood through college would give her much more faith in technology than her peers back then. She applied this knowledge to the grow.
“So it was a huge breakthrough, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m breaking through in technology,’ because I was one of the first people to do automated grows,” Willey said. “So everyone that I met would boast about hand watering and [was] also constantly talking about how they want to be there when the lights are on.”
Willey thought the idea of needing to be completely hands-on was dumb, and people needed to learn about timers. What if they got sick or had a flat tire on the way to the grow? There are a thousand reasons to have some redundancy when talking about getting your lights powered up on time.
During that era in Colorado, she would start growing in rockwool. Eventually, she would make the move to Hydroton and use it through 2009 before making the jump to an ebb-and-flow system with Hydroton.
While continuing to develop her skills, she would open Colorado’s third dispensary. Her first fully legal grow would be 30 lights, the next 150. She thought she was in heaven.
The next major factor in her rise came in 2011. She decided she was going to get her general contractor’s license.
“It took me two years. I worked under a bunch of subcontractors, mechanical, plumbing, electrical. l learned enough about those trades to actually get a general contractor license,” Willey said. “And then I was able to do my own builds. That’s when it was over. I had a 40,000-square-foot warehouse. I had 760 lights. I had three warehouses.”
Her weed started to take off. As demand increased, she started the ongoing quest of growing as much fire as possible that she’s on to this day. At the peak of her Colorado cultivation capacity she would have 1,250 lights.
“We would literally do it like New York City deli style,” Willey said. “When we ran out of weed that day, we were out of weed.”
The store would close early every day for three years. Every single day they ran out of weed, even as Willey expanded she just couldn’t keep up. Another thing helping push numbers was the fact hers was the first shop in Colorado offering half-eighths. This allowed people to mix and match more than other dispensaries. When Willey worked the counter herself, the half-eighths weighed a little heavy. The patients loved it.
Moving on from Magic Dust
In 2013 and 2014, she started plotting her move west. She was already getting a lot of her genetics from California.
“I was very aware of how much better California cannabis was; even five months old light deps were severely better than what I call the magic dust,” Willey said.
No matter how good Willey was at growing pot, it was never going to be able to compete with the cannabis being grown at sea level in California. Even to this day, indoor farms skirting the waster in the San Francisco Bay Area are considered among the best in the world.
Willey would eventually sell everything she owned. But as with much of her life, it all started on the forums. They were alive and well through the cannabis floods and droughts of the mid-2010s. As she continued to watch the landscape, it was very obvious to her that those with the heat were in the best shape. California was the land of the heat, and it was before the price crashes we’d start to see later in the decade.
When she arrived in California to start her conquests in 2018, she wanted to get on METRC as soon as possible. Her buildout ended up taking eight months, and everything was on the books. Her friends already here balked at the idea, but her first California runs were basically as compliant as they could be at that moment.
But how did she end up in Sacramento? In her early goings, she would attempt to get set up in Oakland. She quickly realized it was not the most friendly place for cannabis with everyone from the city council to the landlords lining up to milk the industry. But as she worked to fund the California move, one of the jobs she was doing was licensing work. Through that work, she would become familiar with just how friendly Sacramento is to cannabis businesses.
“I noticed it was the number one place that was super friendly to other people. I had a great connection with the Connected team, and Sacramento was celebrating Connected, giving them a store license, whatever they applied for,” Willey said of the observation. “So I was like, ‘OK, this town seems much friendlier.’”
There is an argument to be made that her decision to move to Sacramento has crafted one of the biggest cannabis companies to hit the top-shelf market following legalization. There was always going to be a boutique class of bougie top shelf selection for those who wanted to pay big money. When Willey hit Sacramento, it was the beginning of that kind of quality being normalized for everyone.
She laughed and noted it wasn’t that easy out the gate. When she went all-in on California and sold her last Colorado warehouse, she brought 19 OGs with her that nobody wanted. It was all good though! She found a guy in the desert with a Harvard business degree that would buy all this pot, but he quickly realized consumers couldn’t tell the difference between light deps and indoor, especially if they couldn’t look before they bought it. He ended up making the switch to pounds he could get for $850 as opposed to Willey’s indoor.
“He ditched me for deps in October,” Willey said. “It was brutal and hilarious at the same time.”
Eventually, Willey would get her hands on cuts more suited to Californians’ tastes. As soon as CAM flowers started hitting shelves, it was always priced at least $5 cheaper than things of comparable quality, sometimes even $15 bucks cheaper as others attempted to cash in on whatever hype had gotten them that far. Shelf by shelf, CAM began to dot California from north to south.
One of the reasons for that competitive price point was how much cheaper it was to operate in Sacramento compared to her initial potential home in Oakland.
“I got super lucky with my landlord in Sacramento,” Willey said. “It was still insanely expensive, $1.75 a square foot. But the building was good. We all had a good foundation and relatively good TPO [thermoplastic polyolefin] roofs. They already had some basic power, 800 to 1,000 amps. It had some good bones if you can say that about a building.”
Things were eventually going well. Someone offered to buy her out. But two days before making the deal she pulled out. She was destined to grow the heat for the masses, how could she stop now?
In the end, it would work out.
“Everybody talks about how we got all these investors and whatever. I got lucky and I got one partner and that’s all I really needed. And then one of my closest friends, a grower in Colorado at Grand LAX, Josh Granville, had already come up before, and he was, you know, doing his own thing.”
Easy as Apple Pie
Eventually, Willey got her hands on some Apple Pie. It was some kind of bastardized version of Apple Fritter that her friends at the kings of apple weed, Lumpy’s, had vetted as something close to the original Fritter but not exactly the same thing. This was also the strain that put CAM on my radar back in the day. It was the absolute top of the mountain. There is a strong argument to be made at the peak of apple terps hype a couple of years ago, the three most popular strains were CAM’s Apple Pie, Lumpy’s original Fritter phenos, and Alien Labs’s Atomic Apple. The trio firmly separated themselves from the pack.
She would send a box of that primo Apple Pie to Berner from Cookies. His lineup of dispensaries is now one of CAM’s biggest clients. Willey transitioned to all the doors that have opened for her over the years through her dedication to the flame and regardless of plumbing.
“My experience of being a woman in cannabis is that I’ve just been surrounded by older brothers, mentors, people that have embraced me and shown me so much love and respect,” Willey said. “I’m not here to tell people there is not sexism or misogyny inside the industry. I’m not here to say that. I’m just here to talk about my experience and my experience with all these people that are in cannabis that have moms and sisters and girlfriends, and whatever, like really treated me as such.”
Things would change a lot from those early runs. Gone were the Harvard MBAs that were flush with newly raised capital and ready to buy anything in a jar that tested half decent. Then came the consolidation of many companies. Those with the heat like Willey would be survivors, but it was nuts. She started seeing things like dehydrated nugs going through testing to make the THC numbers higher. She didn’t even realize for a bit you could shop around the same batch for the highest THC numbers since there are no standardized cannabis lab operating procedures (plans are set to change next year.).
“And it’s about to happen. The homogenization of the testing process is going to be revolutionary for cannabis in California. I really do believe that because you will finally be able to grow a lot of strains [that you can’t in a THC-driven market,]” Willey said.
She’s been sitting on cuts for years, waiting for the moment lab testing wouldn’t be as big a factor. About 80% of them are mother plants; the rest are in tissue culture.
We asked Willey if there was a moment where she knew her weed was doing better than most as the walls were caving in on the California industry. She explained it’s not about the hundreds of stores she finds herself in but the sell-through. That’s when she knows she is connecting with the shop’s clientele.
“The one thing I really want to convey is how lucky I am with how much love California has shown some small transplant,” Willey said. “I have the best team. I can’t like, I mean, I want like a whole segment of this conversation to be about how lucky I got.”
New York Governor Kathy Hochul on Wednesday signed legislation to reign in the state’s illicit marijuana market that includes penalties for unlicensed cannabis retailers of up to $20,000 per day. The legislation, which increases civil and tax penalties for the illicit sale of cannabis in New York, was signed into law as part of the state budget for the 2024 fiscal year.
Hochul first proposed the new measures to address New York’s underground cannabis market in March as a way to prop up the emerging industry for recreational marijuana, which was legalized by state lawmakers in 2021. Regulated sales of adult-use cannabis began in the closing days of 2022, but so far, only a handful of licensed dispensaries have opened statewide. Meanwhile, free from the threat of criminal penalties, unlicensed dispensaries have proliferated, with a law enforcement task force study conducted earlier this year identifying at least 1,200 illicit pot shops in New York City.
“As New York State continues to roll out a nation-leading model to establish its cannabis industry, these critical enforcement measures will protect New Yorkers from illicit, unregulated sales,” Hochul said in a statement on May 3. “Unlicensed dispensaries violate our laws, put public health at risk, and undermine the legal cannabis market. With these enforcement tools, we’re paving the way for safer products, reinvestment in communities that endured years of disproportionate enforcement, and greater opportunities for New Yorkers.”
Law Gives New Enforcement Powers
The new legislation provides additional enforcement power to the New York Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) and the state Department of Taxation and Finance (DTF) to enforce regulatory requirements and close stores engaged in the illegal sale of cannabis. The new law allows the OCM to assess civil penalties against unlicensed cannabis businesses, with the “most egregious” illicit operators facing fines of up to $20,000 per day. The law also makes it a crime to sell cannabis or cannabis products without a license.
The legislation also gives the OCM new powers to conduct regulatory inspections of businesses selling cannabis and cannabis products, including so-called gifting shops that provide cannabis in return for inconsequential merchandise. The agency will have the power to seize untested cannabis products from unlicensed businesses and will seek court orders to close unlicensed shops and evict commercial tenants engaged in selling cannabis without a license.
Additionally, the DTF is now empowered to conduct regulatory inspections of businesses selling cannabis to determine if the appropriate taxes have been paid and levy civil penalties on businesses not paying taxes. The legislation also establishes a new tax fraud crime for businesses that willfully fail to collect or remit required cannabis taxes, or knowingly possess for sale any cannabis on which tax was required to be paid but was not.
“Strengthening tax laws as they pertain to the cannabis industry and providing for robust and fair enforcement will help the industry to be successful over the long term,” said New York State Acting Commissioner of Taxation and Finance Amanda Hiller.
Elliot Choi, counsel and chief knowledge officer at the cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente LLP, said that while the new measures passed into law are good news for the regulated cannabis industry, some of the governor’s measures will likely not have an immediate effect on illicit operators.
“Illegal dispensaries continue to proliferate in New York, especially in the City, so any movement on enforcement is welcome,” Choi wrote in an email to High Times. “The enforcement legislation in the state’s budget includes the ability for the Department of Tax and Finance to levy some hefty fines. We suspect those fines will have a deterrent effect on new illegal dispensaries. However, the tax department is going to need time to staff up and the Office of Cannabis Management will need to draft some regulations before there is a crackdown on existing ones.”
Hochul’s efforts to protect licensed cannabis retailers also include measures to lessen the demand for illicit marijuana. Last month, she unveiled a consumer ad campaign to encourage consumers to purchase cannabis from licensed dispensaries.
In a paradox, New York authorities are finally unleashing the long-anticipated crackdown on the state’s legion and proliferating unlicensed cannabis retailers—while the licensing program continues to be slowed by obstacles, including legal challenges.
The free-for-all in the cannabis market that has ensued since legalization in New York State two years ago has been dubbed the “Wild East.” But with authorities long threatening a crackdown, there has been a sense of waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. Now, that boot is starting to come down.
The official statement on the April 27 deal included this bullet point: “Expanding the enforcement powers of the Office of Cannabis Management and Department of Taxation and Finance to further grow the legal marketplace for cannabis, including levying fines on illegal retail operations and closing those shops down.” Hochul’s plan jacks up the fines for retail outlet violations—$10,000 per day for illegal sales, and up to $200,000 if unlicensed cannabis is found in a store’s inventory. A crackdown had already been underway at the local level—especially in New York City, where upwards of 1,400 unlicensed outlets are said to be operating.
At a press conference back on December 15, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced the creation of a Cannabis NYC Interagency Enforcement Taskforce—bringing together the New York City Sheriff’s Office, the NY Police Department and the state Office of Cannabis Management. At a January 18 City Council hearing on the matter, NYC Sheriff Anthony Miranda testified that “teams will be dispatched to all five boroughs on different days of the week. We’re conducting long-term and short-term investigations.” In February, Adams’ administration announced a related effort in partnership with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. In a first action, Bragg sent letters to more than 400 landlords warning them to evict unlicensed cannabis outlets before marshals were sent in to do so.
Raids Across Five Boroughs
And there have indeed been results on the ground. The most recent shortly followed the unofficial international day of cannabis celebration, April 20—which saw joyous crowds happily and openly toking in the iconic Greenwich Village park, Washington Square, a de facto HQ for marijuana lovers. Four days later, the “Happy 420” balloons were still on display in the front window of the Myrtle Smoke Shop in Ridgewood, Queens, as investigators from the Task Force and cops from the 104th Precinct swooped in for a raid. Two store clerks were arrested, and the outlet was slapped with 63 violations, totaling some $45,000 in fines.
March 28 saw a major raid on Staten Island, with authorities reporting the seizure of nearly 100 pounds of cannabis, as well as 69 “magic mushroom candy bars.” Staten Island’s conservative District Attorney Michael E. McMahon apparently acted with local cops independent of the Task Force and took the opportunity to opine in a statement: “No one is naïve enough to believe that these establishments are financially thriving exclusively from snacks and soda alone. Yet, with NYPD manpower at historic lows not seen in a generation and a toothless Office of Cannabis Management designed by idealistic and unrealistic legislators, a black market has been allowed to balloon across the five boroughs posing a threat not just to our children but to legitimate customers as well.” He added on Twitter, with photos of the haul: “Unlicensed shops selling illegal drugs & THC products are a stain on our communities & undercut law abiding businesses.”
On January 5, the Task Force raided several smoke shops on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, seizing more than $200,000 worth of “unregulated THC vapes, edibles, untaxed cigarettes and flavored vapes.” Some $16,000 in fines were issued to the offending outlets. City Council member (and former Manhattan borough president) Gale Brewer boasted that she “rode along” for the raids.
A December 14 raid on a mobile dispensary dubbed Beach Boyz Budz in the Queens neighborhood of Rockaway Beach similarly became a politician platform. Councilmember Joann Ariola was on hand as the two men operating the van were arrested—charged with criminal sale of cannabis in the second and third degrees, and criminal possession in the third degree. “Crime doesn’t pay in District 32,” said Ariola. “The owners of this unlicensed operation were thumbing their nose at local law enforcement for months as they peddled their goods.” Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz added: “Stores, trucks and other outlets currently selling recreational marijuana are doing so illegally.”
This was just as the Task Force was beginning its work, and over the past two weeks, the Sheriff’s Office had announced more than 600 pounds of cannabis confiscated in raids on unlicensed outlets across the city’s five boroughs. Gov. Hochul has also unveiled a “Why Buy Legal New York” media campaign to encourage New Yorkers to only purchase from licensed dispensaries—emphasizing “the potential health risks associated with purchasing cannabis products from unlicensed businesses and why regulated cannabis products are safer.”
Is The Crackdown Itself Illegal?
However, there was a little glitch to the well-publicized crackdown, which unfortunately won little media coverage. The New York City Deputy Sheriff’s Benevolent Association on February 2 wrote a letter to Corporation Counsel, the mayor’s legal office, demanding clarity on how the Sheriff’s Office has authority to carry out cannabis raids. “We’ve been unable to find any legislation related to the inspection of unlicensed retail locations, or any cannabis legislation mentioning the Sheriff as an enforcement officer,” the letter stated.
The Sheriff’s Office, an arm of the city’s Department of Finance, is officially authorized to inspect stores that sell cigarettes or tobacco, to ensure compliance with tax and licensing requirements. The city regulations establishing its powers haven’t been updated to include cannabis.
There may be a much more fundamental legal catch at work, however. While official press releases treat “unlicensed” and “illegal” as basically synonymous, many of the unlicensed dispensaries maintain that they’re actually operating within the law—parsing the meaning of the word “sale.” If no profit is made on the cannabis transfer, and the real money is made on club membership fees, it’s not a “sale” under New York state law. Outlets operating on this model haven’t been touched by the crackdown. The most prominent, Empire Cannabis Clubs, still operates three locations around the city—openly. A bill by Liz Kreuger, the same Manhattan state senator who shepherded through legalization in 2021, would close this “loophole” (a word rejected by the cannabis clubs). But it hasn’t passed yet. Empire Cannabis also pledges that all its products are lab-tested, and that standards are being developed for the unlicensed sector’s self-regulation.
Not Just Cops, But Also Robbers
In addition to the pressure from law enforcement, New York’s unlicensed cannabis operators face another challenge—they’re apparently being targeted by the city’s increasingly audacious criminal element.
On January 18, a worker was shot in the leg in an attempted robbery of the Smoke City store on Ninth Ave. in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen. Media reports were unclear on whether the establishment was selling cannabis or just pipes, papers and such. But it was only the most recent of three such incidents that month. On January 4, an employee was shot in the lower back and gravely injured during an attempted robbery of Exotic Convenience smoke shop on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The shop was apparently selling bud and edibles as well as paraphernalia and is located on Clinton Street, a neighborhood hub for unlicensed cannabis sales. And on January 11, the Rainbow Smoke Shop on Sixth Ave in Greenwich Village was the scene of stick-up by two robbers, one brandishing a handgun. Nobody was hurt, but the duo got away with an estimated $1,800 in cannabis candy, and some $600 in cash.
Is Gov. Hochul Keeping Her Equity Pledge?
Meanwhile, the unfolding of the still very limited licensed market has also met with various controversies that are slowing things down. On one hand, advocates are accusing Gov. Hochul of betraying her promises on social equity in the licensed market. A little more than a year ago, Hochul announced that those who had been impacted by a past cannabis-related criminal conviction in New York State would be the first to get retail licenses. Yet the state’s first licensed dispensary which opened December 29, at a primo location on Broadway and Astor Place in the East Village, is run by a nonprofit organization, Housing Works. It does indeed do good work, advocating for housing and healthcare for people living with HIV-AIDS. However, 28 holders of licenses slated for entrepreneurs with past pot convictions were still stuck in what The City news site called a “bureaucratic holding pattern.” Specifically, the Office of Cannabis Management was tweaking its regulations on what kind of storefronts they could lease—and applicants complained about lack of communication and clarity.
At the same time, plans to open a first dispensary in Harlem are being held up by a legal challenge brought by a neighborhood business alliance. The 125th Street Business District Management Association brought suit in state court on April 26, seeking to block the opening of an outlet on West 125th Street, across from the historic Apollo Theatre—Harlem’s cultural heart. The challenge argues that the process regulators use to choose dispensary locations is improperly opaque.
“This is a naked, intentional and bold attempt to avoid community opposition,” the lawsuit charges. It argues that the 125th Street location is “irredeemable,” saying it would add to the crime, congestion and “open drug use” already upsetting merchants in the area.
Brooklyn Back in The Game—For Now
In some good news for would-be entrepreneurs, the federal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan on March 28 narrowed a temporary restraining order that had blocked licensed dispensaries from certain designated areas of New York state. The appeals court ruling allows dispensaries to finally open in Brooklyn, as well as the Mid-Hudson region, Central New York and Western New York (including the state’s second city, Buffalo). The Finger Lakes region remains barred, for the moment. This means 108 dispensary licenses in those administrative regions no longer under the injunction may finally start to move ahead. But 18 licenses in the Finger Lakes remain in legal limbo.
The case was brought by a would-be entrepreneur with a past cannabis conviction in Michigan, who argued that New York’s equity measures favoring those only with in-state convictions violate the US Constitution’s interstate commerce clause. However, many smelled a ploy by out-of-state money to break into the Empire State’s lucrative market—even if it means undermining the state’s equity program.
And while this case remains pending, there are other legal challenges in the works. A group called the Coalition for Regulated & Safe Access to Cannabis brought suit in state court on March 16 against the Office of Cannabis Management. The coalition represents large outfits already licensed in New York under the medical marijuana program and now seeking to enter the adult-use market. The complaint charges that the equity program is unconstitutional and contributes to “neglect of the medical program.” The coalition is calling on the state to immediately open licenses to the public at large—with no priority for those impacted by past prohibition—and to crack down on unlicensed operators.
As of now, there are only nine licensed dispensaries operating statewide—five in New York City (four in Manhattan and one in Queens), and one each in Albany, Schenectady, Binghamton and Ithaca. So, crackdown notwithstanding, the licensed sector still has a very long way to go to catch up with the unlicensed guerilla capitalists—and the obstacles still abound.
A growing chorus of dog parents are complaining about the scourge of joint roaches littered on New York City streets, less than six months into adult-use cannabis sales.
KTLA 5 reports that dog parents and veterinarians are concerned about dogs eating littered roaches throughout New York City, which they say is a public nuisance.
Dr. Amy Attas, a New York City veterinarian, told KTLA 5 that she’s been getting more and more calls about concerned dog parents when their dogs sniff up and eat roaches left on the sidewalk.
“The reason we’re seeing so many cases is that people are using marijuana on the street and then discarding the unwanted ends of their joints,” Attas said. “And that’s a real problem because dogs will eat those.”
According to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center, (APCC) recreational drugs including cannabis are part of the organization’s annual list of top toxins for pets, which was announced during National Poison Prevention Week last March 19-25.
In 2022, the APCC team received nearly 11% more calls related to potential cannabis ingestion than in the year before, and they have seen a nearly 300 percent increase in calls over the past five years. “To me, it is unbelievable how prevalent this now is,” said Attas.
According to the APCC, most calls involve pets ingesting edibles which are more dangerous than ingesting plant material, sometimes combined with ingredients like chocolate, another dog toxin. Eating edibles can result in symptoms such as stomach upset, urinary incontinence, and ataxia in pets like dogs.
Colleen Briggs is one of the dog parents in New York who is concerned about roaches on the sidewalk, after her 8-month-old toy poodle ate some cannabis. “He was just doing his usual—exploring everything, sniffing everything,” Briggs told KTLA 5.
Sue Scott, whose 9-month-old pug ate a roach, is also concerned. “I don’t know if you know pugs—they’re constantly on the lookout for their next morsel,” said Scott. “But sometimes it’s pretty tough to control them because they are so fast. They’ll just dart at something.”
Dr. Helen Rudnick of Austin Urban Vet toldHigh Times in 2018 that anecdotal reports suggest CBD can be beneficial for dogs. One claim is that CBD can be helpful for dogs suffering from seizures, as it has been reported in children.
Professional British Boxer Anthony Fowler, for instance, posted a video of a dog having a seizure and how fast CBD oil stopped the dog from shaking. Another viral video shows CBD oil stopping a seizure in another dog in less than one minute.
In 2022, the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) launched a petition against Idaho’s ban on CBD for animals. The NASC believes CBD bans are more dangerous because CBD products need certificates of analysis and need to be vetted under a regulatory program.
There are several ways to salvage the weed leftover in a joint roach.
You can make a grandfather joint, using emptied out roaches and re-rolling several of them into a new joint. The cannabis left in roaches typically contains extra resin that is collected while the original joint was smoked.
First or second generation roach joints are best, though some users say they’ve smoked five-generation roach joints before. Another option is getting a roach clip so you can smoke all the way to the end.
Another option is to make roach butter, or infuse the leftover weed into a butter using the same general guidelines you’d use with unused cannabis. Most likely the weed has already been partially decarboxylated.
If you don’t want to smoke roach weed, then throw it out somewhere so that it won’t end up on the sidewalk where dogs will inevitably sniff them down and eat them up.
A battle is underway to fight a new dispensary from opening in Harlem at a site known for its place in music history.
CBS2 reports that plans are unfolding to open a dispensary in a building on 125th Street, across the street from the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York.
The 125th Street Business Improvement District (BID) filed a lawsuit with the New York Supreme Court. “We’ve taken this action to really create transparency and to create a channel of communication to understand why this location,” Mukaram Taheraly, chairman of the 125th Street BID, told CBS2.
According to the BID, state regulators colluded in secret in order to avoid pushback from the Harlem community, especially considering the importance of the location. “We just wanna know why the decision was taken really without consulting us,” Taheraly said.
The lawsuit also accuses the state of violating its own regulation barring dispensaries from opening within 500 feet of a school. In this case, they say the dispensary is too close to Touro College, a high school-aged school in the area. The lawsuit lists a total of 47 businesses that serve or cater to minors.
For a solution, the BID recommends that the dispensary opens inside the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building, which is owned by the state, so patrons can have a secure and a safe environment.
Crain’s New York Businessreports that a sign hangs at the proposed location, indicating it was recently a COVID testing center.
Residents Recognize Apollo Theater in Music History
The Apollo Theater is no ordinary location: Since the swing era, it’s been synonymous with legendary Black musicians and performers.
Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and comedians like Richard Pryor performed often at the theater. Other artists’ careers launched at the theater including Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis Jr., Diana Ross & The Supremes, Parliament-Funkadelic, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Jackson 5 and later Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Patti LaBelle, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, Luther Vandross, The Isley Brothers, and the list goes on.
This could add to the reasons locals don’t want a dispensary directly across the street.
Some residents gave a balanced response when asked about the dispensary location.
“They will have customers that feel like this is an establishment I can really go in and feel safe,” Harlem resident Breeze Fabre said.
“If they’re giving people jobs, I might come there and work,” another Harlem resident said.
“This is perhaps [a] situation where there is no right answer, but before we go forward, I think all the major stakeholders, their positions, should be considered,” Harlem resident Muna Heaven said.
Other residents are not so happy. “That’s the worst thing they can do,” Harlem resident Brenda Balthazar told ABC7. “Like right now a lot of things are happening on the train, and not only on the train but in neighborhoods.”
While the location is a few doors down from the Lazarus Children’s Clothing Store, there is also a tattoo parlor next door, and no one’s complaining about that.
The New York Cannabis Control Board approved 99 new licenses on April 3, increasing the total provisional retail dispensary licenses for Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensaries (CAURD) to 165.
The Cannabis Control Board wrote in a press release that the “licenses included four for Western New York, one for Central New York, five for mid-Hudson, and three for Brooklyn, marking the first provisional licenses to be issued in these regions following last week’s modification of a court injunction that had prevented the Board from issuing them.”
Let go of some of the nuanced or specific issues some of these big box canna brands have. Let go of the spiritual relationship ideology we have with plants. (Honestly most people create romantic mythics around relationships between living things, like humans and plants, while still lacking a detailed understanding of the mechanisms behind them. The order of it all.) The mythos becomes nuanced the more it stands as a placeholder to reality, a shadow on the cave walls. It doesn’t mean that the relationship between human and plant isn’t even more critical, but the early mythos has placed humans above plants in the hierarchy of order and complexity. Does that change the critical role of plants? No, of course not, and in all of our scientismo and mythical stories, plants preceded humans. They are older in existence and because of that fact, they will exist before and after human life, always. Does that make them a god? No. They are an element in the symbiotic order of all life here, in this moment, on this planet. All connected in some way by the life that preceded them. We were and are here to benefit by their position in existence, play our role as caretakers and give them a name. Perhaps go even deeper and reciprocate thought and intention so like us, that form of critical life is also evolved.
Zoom back in a little.
What’s going on in the cannabis space?
Here’s my guess. Things were going south prior to COVID. The pandemic created a false world in many industries. Cannabis was one. Operators in the cannabis space are gamblers. It’s in the blood. Every run is a gamble, every sale, every call or meeting. When you clean up the odds it’s an incredible high. Also, like most gamblers, degenerate behavior is concentrated. Some of it we can live with, some of it we can’t. And almost everyone in this space has been guilty of creating terribly muddy deals where the space for ethically faded behavior can thrive and grow. Those two elements collided with the pandemic false world. Now we are back where we were and everyone is scratching their heads like the last three years wasn’t a sugar laced death pill.
If you’ve been on the sidelines just watching and not participating or if you have entered the space in the last ten years it would be easy to think that all of these bad deals are the result of some newly maligned precedent. I can tell you, it is not. It is the same behavior from back in the medical days just amplified by more money and the majority acceptance of the people. That can change. Big time. There are already pushes for that and the current state is volatile. Things are chaotic in the overall world, and new trends or ideas from another world view can easily emerge.
So if we are watching the old guards’ degeneracy bloom into a self eating parasite, there needs to be a quick shift with whoever is still operating and isn’t planning to sell their company to big pharma, tobacco, AG, beverage, or worse, investment groups like Blackrock. Those of us who still have gas in the tank, still love the craft and have some equity in the industry, we have to bury the hatchet, clean up the mess and move forward with a new mission statement and an evolved order of how we work with each other.
I’ll provide an example of how this is not happening and the cost. New York is coming online and the clandestine growers of New York are now stepping out. Some of the best weed I’ve ever smoked was grown in New York. What’s happening is that products from flooded markets are hitting New York at flooded prices rapidly reducing the early value that existed in early markets prior. The New York growers are now sitting in the same world as many small growers in California but without the time those growers have to at least make an attempt using early market pricing to build and grow. The resentment is there and it will grow. Another tribe will form.
The possible value that Cali growers supporting New York growers would have for the overall global market has now been reduced. The advantage lost to territorial pissing.
On the licensed end it wouldn’t surprise me if some NY conglomerate sues the state of California for utter negligence in managing their program. They have a case. It’s an ugly one.
So my proposal to everyone is that we at the very least begin to try something else. We can start by letting go of this Pinky and the Brain pursuit and make choices that benefit more of the whole and less for the one. The benefit for the one is also not a good look or flex. In fact if your persona is based on material gain and wealth you are not reading the room well. That is a dead way. So table the degeneracy, the one-upmanship, and the motley-crew-meets-death-row trajectory. Stop practicing the role of the predator and start practicing the role of the caretaker. In service to the people (your customers), the future of the industry and the enjoyment that comes from working with this plant. The drama is tired. It used to have a bit more humor, but it’s hard to laugh because the humor of it all is what’s supposed to initiate the change in behavior. It’s not funny when it doesn’t fire off. This era has fucked all our heads up. It’s becoming a black mirror.
The garden is the mirror of our actions.
This tech world is a mirror of self-centered illusions. Which isn’t surprising. It was built by nerds obsessed with fantastical superheroes in fit forming tights.
Happy belated 4/20 y’all! I hope you enjoyed the special print version of the Cop List that went up last week. That one originally ran in the magazine but I figured since it was the holiday, and I didn’t want to rush a new one out just yet, that was a safe one to let rip. We could call it 35.5 – it was intended to have a more national feel, focusing on products rather than dank specifically, but I’m not pretending that was a suitable replacement for this month. We’re back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Last week, for the second year in a row, players from across the country (and globe, even) descended on New York City to celebrate our favorite holiday. Just like last year, this was another one for the record books. Between the East Coast’s Zalympix unbelievable showing at Terminal 5, to First Smoke of the Day’s Family Ties Brunch, Zushi’s Lower East Side Pop-Up Store, to the classic Washington Square Park celebration, I’m still trying to recover from the marathon of events that went on across the city. We sesh’d in an abandoned mall in Chinatown, ate insane meals at 2:30 AM regularly, and even watched them film a scene for the new Penguin show for HBO Max. It was pretty excellent by just about every measure.
So, in honor of the trip, #36 is compiled entirely of dank I found last week while stumbling around the city and it’s various events. I mentioned on social a few weeks ago that I wasn’t going to bring any bud with me on the trip, and the city more than provided. Shouts out to all the homies that came up to me throughout the week with some flavors to try, or just some kind words about our efforts over here. I was not expecting as many of you to recognize me as you did, and I’ll be honest, the love you showed in the city that raised me was incredibly special. Thank you. Also to Sasso – appreciate your hospitality as always my guy!
Like usual, you don’t gotta be a stranger. Finding the flame takes a village, and I want to hear what’s getting you up too. Hit me on just about any platform here: @joncappetta
I’ve been hearing rumblings about this guy for awhile now, so imagine my surprise when I run into bro on the other side of the country, outside the Player’s Ball – I mean, the First Smoke of the Day Brunch. My homie CGO (who you’ll hear more about soon) was talking to him while I was waiting for the car, and called me over to check it out. While there are a lot of people growing great weed right now, I could immediately see why so many heads were pointing me in that direction. These flowers are special. Although I only got to check out their Pink Lemonade, which was clearly outstanding, I’m declaring right now that I’m going to make a dedicated trip to wherever they are once I get back to California to stick my nose in more of their bags.
I’m not going to lie, I’m abnormally rooting for these hometown heroes. Cultivating out on Long Island, where I spent most of my formative years, not only are these guys sweethearts, but the flower they’re cultivating really shows they not only know what they’re doing, but that they care about the details. They got a trophy at the East Coast Zalympix for having the Heaviest Hitting cut in the competition, with their rendition of Cap Junky, but it was their Biscotti – which I’m affectionately referring to as the ‘Barbecue cut’ because the nose has these hints of almost woody-ness that reminds me of an outdoor BBQ (not the chip flavor) – that really hooked me. I’ve smoked a LOT of Biscotti in my day, and it’s an excellent strain to begin with, but this rendition rekindled that obsession with what feels like a whole new swag.
Another true New York brand, All Kings were a totally new name for me, but boy am I glad we met. Actually grown in the state, they had two cuts to show me: their OG and a ‘Grape Head’. While the OG was definitely a dope varietal, it was the Grape Head that I’ve got to let you know about. This had exactly the nose you’d expect from a cut with grape in it’s name, but the taste of the smoke gave pure grapeade, which I wasn’t expecting. I’m talking that sweet artificial grape flavor, and just like the OG cut this one seriously drooped my eyelids.
A new discovery from the homies at Good Pizza and his breeding partner Exotiks916, I’m really excited about this stash of Torrone I got blessed with last week. Although these guys are based out West now, GP’s a native New Yorker like me, and about as Italian as they come, so all of his cultivars have some sort of Italian American theme – like his initial Carmela, affectionately named after the Sopranos matriarch. This new cut, named after the honey almond treat popular in the motherland, is delicious. While I have no idea how much it actually smells like the dessert, it’s got this wonderful pine-y menthol nose that I can’t get enough of, and it smokes like a dream.
This is another one whose name had reached me before the flower, and I’m happy to report that from my perspective, the hype here is real. The second chapter in the Book Club Cannabis’ story (although I admittedly missed the first one), Osi illustrated to me that this is truly a connoisseur driven brand, with a cut that hits from pretty much every angle. And while you often hear me rave about the nose and flavor, it was really the effect on this one that shined. It genuinely felt heavy – which is appropriate, as it was on Trevy’s page that I saw it first. It’s worth acknowledging here that basically anytime Trev says something’s worth checking out, you should listen.
If you’ve read even one of these in the past you’re likely aware I’m a big fan of Doja and the flower he brings to market. I’ve raved about several cultivars, as well as his parties, but perhaps his most impressive move yet has been the developments he’s made out of state. While having pumped out some truly next level gear out of Michigan already, his latest collaboration with The Mechanic in New York has me super geeked. You see, The Mechanic’s been popping several of Doja’s beans, and while I foolishly missed the tasting party and didn’t get to see the majority of the new cuts, the Cherry Runtz he grew is as good as I’ve ever seen it – Cali or otherwise.
While these guys are not from New York, they’re also not from Dallas. Well, at least not that Dallas. Hailing out of Oregon, these guys pride themselves on cultivating ‘uncommon cannabis’ and I’ve got to say, they’re true to their tagline. I got to see four different varietals from them, and while they were all delicious tasting, both their Pure Michigan and Strawberry Driver were worth writing home about. My favorite of the crop was definitely the Michigan cut, as it had this weird almost cheese kush nose on it. I don’t know how else to describe it, but it’s a descendent of Mendo Breath, and the flavor is consistent, so if you remember that, add just a bit of sweetness to it. What’s not to love?
Another out-of-towner in for the holiday that I met this trip was Surf’s Up Exotics, and they had their new star, ‘The Wave,’ in tow. I instantly saw what they were excited about, as both the nose and look of these buds were certainly top tier. That said, it was actually the flavor of the Wave that ultimately hooked me. Though the nose was initially a sort of minty runtzy expression, this one’s got an almost licorice undertone in the smoke, and it gets stronger as the joint progresses. It’s just a delightful smoking experience you’ll continue to crave long after it’s cashed. The high’s pretty great too, and not as drag-y as you’d expect from something that dark and candy, but the flavor!
I can’t complete this list without mentioning the big winner of the East Coast showdown, Gotti. Bringing home the 1st place trophy for the best overall, 1st place for best tasting, and 3rd place for best smell, their Zkittlez x Zoap selection deserves all the praise it’s receiving. I will admit this is my first time hearing of these guys, so while they’re clearly off to a great start, this is a brand I will certainly be keeping a close eye on as the market develops. Their flower smelled exactly how you’d expect it to, but the judges were right to award it so high on flavor – it’s probably the most delicious tasting smoke from a Zoap cross I’ve ever tried.
Out of all the new brands I met last week, this one was probably the most unexpected, and weirdly exciting out of the bunch. Dubbed Conchiss, this guy’s got some really good weed, but it’s the uniqueness of the whole experience that really resonated with me here. With insane cultivar names like ‘Green Eggs & Ham’ (shouts to the Dr.) and ‘Cape Cod Saltwater Taffy’, it was his ‘Pineapple Chroma’ that stopped the show for me. With a true pineapple nose that also holds this weird menthol behind it, this was one of the best tasting new flavors I found this trip. I didn’t dislike the crazy sounding strains either, but the Pineapple, man… there’s some real magic there.
Now I can’t front and pretend this is the first time I’ve heard of DeLisioso. Founded by America’s longest-serving nonviolent cannabis prisoner Richard DeLisi, and his son Rick, DeLisioso is the American Dream version of turning lemons into lemonade. Launching the brand less than a year after Richard was freed, this was my first time getting hands-on with their flower and I’ve got to say, I’m very stoked on what they’re working with. I tried two cultivars (the purple and yellow bag, although they weren’t labeled beyond that) and while they were both delicious, there’s something really special in that yellow bag. I don’t even know how to describe the nose because it’s just so different from the majority of the market right now, but the smoke was incredibly clean and the high motivated me to knock out half of this list immediately!