Mama Sailene Promotes Health

California cannabis patient Sailene Ossman’s journey with the plant came after a horrific car accident when she was just 19 years old. Her injuries included a spinal fracture at the C2 vertebra, a fractured sternum, five broken ribs, a compound fracture of her right leg—nearly resulting in the amputation of her foot—as well as chronic pain, arthritis, and neck degeneration.

“It took months to learn to walk again, with my dad dubbing me his ‘walking miracle baby,’” she told High Times. “I had a tracheotomy and was in traction on my back in the ICU when a respiratory therapist compared cannabis to other medications as a bronchodilator or a productive cough that would loosen the phlegm, preventing my lungs from filling up and causing pneumonia. That’s when I realized she was telling me that cannabis was medicine.”

Once she returned home from the hospital, she dove headfirst into learning more about cannabis remedies, which continue to quell her pain to this day. Since then, her journey with cannabis has led to careers she never dreamt of having.

The Queen of Abbot Kinney Boulevard

The one-mile stretch hosting some of the hippest shops in Los Angeles makes up Abbot Kinney Boulevard in the eclectic town of Venice Beach, California. This is where Ossman began her career as owner of Abbott’s Habit, a community hub where she gained the title “The Queen of Venice” in the mid-1990s.

She had a secret life, however, establishing the first cannabis delivery service with no name in the beach town and branching out to found the Privee Social Club, which hosted infused gatherings and dinners around the country, including a soiree for P Diddy. The web series Smoke in the Kitchen with Mama Sailene found her cooking side by side with Snoop Dogg for his website, MERRY JANE. Merry Jane dubbed her “Mama Sailene” when they produced her video series with the tagline, “Mama Sailene, a mother to none, mama to all.” Ossman then went on to found the Glowing Goddess Getaways, a traveling cannabis camp-out for women.

Rolling Stone wrote that Ossman was “the goddess earth mother you always wished you had… Mama Sailene, the nurturing and cheery feminist cannabis guru of Southern California, really specializes in making sure everyone else is having a wonderful time—and always has enough weed.” 

In 2020, Ossman published the book CBD Cocktails encouraging readers to “take the edge off with over 100 relaxing recipes.”

The book is unique in that each recipe incorporates various CBD (cannabidiol) tinctures made by different companies, available nationally either in dispensaries or by mail order. The idea is a novel one. How many times have you stood looking at the sea of CBD tinctures at a dispensary and wondered what else you could do with them besides simple dosing?

Courtesy Cider Mill Press

Cali Sober

Ossman is an admitted California girl through and through. Since she doesn’t consume alcohol, she was only too eager to incorporate cannabis mocktails into her recreational and medicinal dosing regimen. One section of her book is devoted to mocktails. The trend of using cannabis, but not alcohol, has been called “Cali sober,” and Ossman has included beneficial and tasty recipes for those who prefer this lifestyle.

“As the plant loses its historical [negative] stigma, cannabis and CBD products have begun to flood the market, making the healthful benefits derived from CBD accessible to all, whether marijuana has been legalized where you live or not,” Ossman wrote in her book. “If it hasn’t, it soon will be, as everyone has begun to learn of the incredible health benefits derived from this miracle plant.”

In the book’s introduction, Ossman also offers a brief overview of the history of the plant and its origins dating back to ancient times in countries we know today as China, Tibet, and India. She expounds on the plant’s use as medicine and its place in shamanistic rituals. While the book is all about CBD, she also highlights the medicinal benefits of cannabinoids working in synergy.

“Cannabinoid receptors in the body need higher levels of THC to be activated than those present in CBD products alone,” Ossman wrote. “This is why users find that the products containing only CBD are less effective, and why products using the entire plant, THC and all, work best, especially when it comes to pain management.”

Today, Ossman is the founder and owner of the Brewja Elixir in Joshua Tree, California, where she makes her home in the high desert. In her shop, you’ll find mocktails and elixirs made with a variety of CBD products, herbs, plants, and fruits, including a myriad of medicinal mushrooms.

The cannabis plant has forever changed Ossman’s life.

“The benefits from plants, and the healing I’ve witnessed for myself and others from CBD and cannabis in general, are too numerous to detail,” she said. “This experience in witnessing the healing caused me to step up to the plate for this female plant, and there’s no turning back. Cannabis has been my life, all of my adult life now, for a good reason. She’s added so much to my life, and I’m honored to work for her.”

Courtesy Sailene Ossman

Recipe: Martini

This is the ultimate form of sophistication in a glass. If you like a simple drink, reach for a simple CBD add on like a neutral tincture.


4 parts gin

1 part dry vermouth 

1 lemon twist

Neutral CBD tincture, to taste

Glassware: cocktail glass 

Place the gin and vermouth in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously, strain the mixture into a cocktail glass, and garnish with the lemon twist and the tincture.

Excepted from CBD Cocktails by Sailene Ossman

This article was originally published in the October 2022 issue of High Times Magazine.

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D.I.Y. Edibles Essentials

Christina Wong is a culinary cannabis educator, recipe creator, and self-described “baked baker” whose expertise making her own edibles has garnered widespread attention throughout the industry. From beautifully decorated shortbread desserts, elaborate cakes, and a wide variety of other delicious creations, Wong frequently celebrates the intersection between culinary art and cannabis.

Through her creative media company Fruit + Flower Co., Wong teaches others how to properly understand the process of making their own edibles by demystifying the terminology, reviewing the methods of infusion, discussing correct dosing, and providing numerous recipes to put all the learning into practice. High Times took a moment to chat with Wong about tips for beginners, which infusion methods are best, and what’s trending in the edibles scene.

The Art of the Home Edible

To Wong, food and cannabis are a perfect combination.

“If you like cannabis, you love food, because the best thing in the whole world is to get high and eat,” she says.

Despite this, many people miss out on the enjoyment of homemade edibles because cooking with cannabis can be intimidating.

“When I first started looking [for information], there was this mystique and mystery to making edibles,” Wong says. “For me, there was definitely a fear of messing up or making it too potent, getting too high, or giving something to somebody that gets them too high. I want to challenge people to rethink that we can make cannabutter and edibles at very low doses, it doesn’t have to be all super high dose.”

Buying edibles at the dispensary is convenient, but it can be cost prohibitive, she says. 

“I think that cannabis is such an important plant medicine that the more people know how to cook and bake at home so that they can give themselves and their loved ones medicine, the better.”

Photo by Cherrnor Malekani @visualsbychern

Understanding Infusion

Wong shares that one of the most primary essentials to creating edibles is understanding proper dosing. Instead of decarbing flower and infusing a fat like cannabutter she recommends beginners try adding an oil-based tincture in which the THC dosing is already measured. Once confidence is established, home cooks can start to learn how to decarboxylate their flowers or trim. All of the recipes Wong posts online use whole flower infused with either cannabis-infused butter or oil, and include directions to dose at 5 mg per serving or less.

For first timers, Wong recommends going for an easy decarboxylation method: Mason jars in an oven.

“Everyone has a Mason jar, everyone has an oven, and it’s foolproof,” she explains. “It’s smell proof. There’s less smell. And even if it’s not the most efficient way of getting all of the cannabinoids to convert and to infuse, at least that’s the place to start. And then they can get their confidence, and then try something new.”

Wong explains in more detail on Fruit + Flower Co. that her usual process to decarb cannabis includes placing cannabis flower in a pint-sized Mason jar and sealing the jar with a lid. After setting the oven to 240 degrees Fahrenheit, she heats the cannabis an hour, shaking the jar every 20 minutes. After it is left to cool, the decarbed cannabis can be infused to a fat such as butter or oil.

Courtesy Fruit + Flower Co.

Expanding Expertise

While Wong has made it her goal to educate and inspire others to learn how to make their own edibles, it is but one facet of her expertise. In the past, Wong worked with brands and organizations to create unique desserts, such as Source Cannabis and Stündenglass. Most recently, she helped host the AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) 3rd Annual Mogu Magu party (Mogu meaning mushroom in Chinese, and Magu is the name of a Chinese hemp goddess) held in September to celebrate the mid-autumn festival.

Although she recommends using whole flower for beginners, Wong sometimes branches out to use a variety of other types of cannabis ingredients in her more elaborate creations.

“I’ve been experimenting more cooking with concentrates just because I love the pure flavor of that,” she says. “You can get so much flavor and terpene profile and high potency using concentrates.”

Making edibles at home offers unlimited potential, but edibles sold in dispensaries are usually more limited. But recently Wong has noticed an increase in edibles infused with solventless concentrates as well as savory edible offerings.

“I’m seeing more solventless edibles coming out onto the market because I think people are caring more about the quality of not just the ingredients of what goes into their edibles, but also the quality of the cannabis that goes in,” Wong says. “But I think if you are a plant enthusiast, and you want to appreciate all flavors, and everything the plant has to offer, solventless is absolutely the way to go.”

Courtesy Fruit + Flower Co.

Recipe: Brown Butter Vanilla Bean Shortbread Bars

by Christina Wong

Soft and crumbly, these luscious browned butter and vanilla shortbread bars are glazed with a creamy vanilla bean icing. Infused with 10 mg of cannabis each, strains such as Wedding Cake and Biscotti with doughy, creamy aromas, would pair well with the nutty, vanilla notes of this edible. 

The showstopper decor is my signature “botanical bandit” style, made with pressed cannabis leaves and organic edible flowers. Inspired by my friend The Velvet Bandit, who spreads positive art through wheatpasting.

Time to Prepare: 55-60 minutes

Makes 20 approximately 3” x 1.5” bars dosed at ~10 mg each


3 cups all-purpose flour

⅓ cup cornstarch

1 ½ cups cannabutter (200 mg THC total), softened*

1 ¼ cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon choice of milk (whole, oat, hemp, almond)

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or 1 vanilla bean pod, scraped

½ teaspoon salt

Vanilla Glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar

¼ teaspoon vanilla bean paste or 1 vanilla bean pod, scraped

¼ cup choice of milk 


Small cannabis fan leaves and edible flowers for decoration, rinsed and pat dry (Optional)


1. In a medium saucepan, melt the cannabutter over medium high heat until the butter starts bubbling and turns golden brown. Butter browns at 250 degrees F, a low enough temp to prevent cannabinoid and terpene burnoff. Remove from heat to cool to room temp, then refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour to chill until the butter has solidified from liquid to softened state. Stir occasionally. Can be made ahead and stored until ready to use.  

2. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with parchment paper. In a small bowl, stir together flour and cornstarch. Set aside. 

3. In a large bowl, beat together softened cannabutter, powdered sugar until creamed and fluffy. Beat in 1 tablespoon milk, vanilla bean, and salt on medium speed until combined. 

4. Slowly stir in the flour and cornstarch mixture a little at a time until combined. Continue beating until a crumbly dough comes together. It should feel like crumbly soft sand that holds together. Press together and make sure any crumbly flour bits are mixed thoroughly into the dough. If the dough is too dry and crumbly and not holding together, drizzle and mix in a little more milk until the dough can press and hold together. 

5. Press the dough evenly into the prepared baking pan. Place into the oven and bake on the center rack for 40 minutes. Turn the pan halfway through baking to bake evenly until slightly golden brown on the edges. Remove pan from oven and place onto a rack to cool. 

6. Make the Vanilla Glaze: In a small bowl, mix 1 cup of powdered sugar with milk and vanilla bean until you get a smooth, thin, runny glaze that just coats the back of a spoon with a thin film. If it’s too thin, add more powdered sugar a little at a time until you reach desired consistency. Set aside. 

7. Glaze + Decorate: Place the small cannabis leaves and edible flowers (optional) each scattered across the top of the cookie. Pour glaze evenly on top of the entire cookie pan and over the cannabis leaves and flowers. Using a small spatula or pastry brush, gently spread to evenly distribute the glaze and coat the decoration. The leaves should look like they’re covered with a sheet of ice.   

8. Let the cookie and icing cool completely in the pan until the glaze hardens, three or more hours. Using the sides of the parchment paper, lift the uncut cookie out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut into 20 rectangles. Store covered in a cool, dry place.

This article was originally published in the December 2022 issue of High Times Magazine.

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Pot in the Pantry

Long gone are the days when cannabis edibles were limited simply to sweets like brownies or gummies. Brands like Potli are bringing cannabis into daily meal routines with infused kitchen pantry staples, making cannabis consumption more welcoming and accessible to consumers of all ages and experience levels.

Potli was co-founded by CEO Felicity Chen, along with her college roommate Christine Yi, with a goal to bring cannabis-infused ingredients into the kitchen. The company began with selling infused raw honey (the “Dream Honey” won first place in the CBD category at the 2021 Emerald Cup), followed by other unique cooking ingredients such as a cannabis-infused extra virgin olive oil, as well as a cannabis-infused sriracha (which also won first place at last year’s Emerald Cup in the Edibles/Savory category). More recently, the brand has begun an expansion of ready-to-eat products with its cannabis-infused shrimp chips as well (made with Potli’s infused olive oil), which won first place in the Edibles/Savory category at the Emerald Cup in 2022.

Potli products offer a fresh new way to use cannabis as a condiment. 

Courtesy Potli

From Pot to Potli

Chen, a Bay Area-native, met her Potli co-founder Christine Yi when they were randomly paired as roommates during their freshman year of college on the East Coast at Boston University. During that time, Chen recalls experimenting with cannabis in their dorm room, causing the hallways to smell strongly of herb. But ultimately, she discovered how cannabis helped her on a more personal level.

“I have always been someone that has been you know, a more anxious teen and going into my college years to someone that just had a lot of energy and didn’t really know how to calm my brain,” Chen says. “It just was something that was interesting to me and calmed me.”

After graduation, Chen returned to the Bay Area and Yi remained on the East Coast, and their transition from consumers to entrepreneurs began as they worked together to develop Potli.

Although Potli became a way to keep Chen and Yi connected remotely, it was also founded as a method to help treat Chen’s mother’s asthma and allergies. When Chen returned home, she discovered that her father had learned how to keep bees in order to harvest honey for her mom. 

Chen explains that her mom’s daily routine usually starts with honey and lemon. Raw honey can be added to a variety of different dishes, such as tea, oats, or smoothies, and contains beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Add cannabis into the mix, and it becomes even more useful as part of a healthy regimen.

Courtesy Potli

While Chen’s mother was not interested in smoking cannabis, adding it to her honey allowed her to partake in a format that she found more familiar and comfortable.

“I’m a second generation Chinese American, meaning that like, there’s no way my mom would ever smoke weed with me. That was just a given, right?” Chen says. “But she understood the benefits of cannabis. And all of its anti-inflammatory effects through the lens of ‘This is medicine.’ And so, medicine typically is consumed with edibles. And it’s also truly the healthiest way to consume cannabis, through an edible.”

One of Potli’s main goals is to create and promote food as medicine, a philosophy that has led the company to create its best-selling infused honey products. The company’s honey harvest operation includes anywhere between 30 to 50 hives, depending on the season (honeybees are more active in spring and summer). Currently, Potli sells different infused variations of infused raw honey, such as one that contains THC, CBD, and CBN, while another contains just CBD.

Cannabis as a Condiment

The company has continued to expand its line of pantry essentials to include other useful ingredients as well.

Potli’s Cannabis Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil is sourced from the same region that the company gets its cannabis—Lake County, California. Their olive oil comes from Campodonico Olive Farm, among a few other local olive farms, while their cannabis comes from Aster Farms, which is well-known in the region for its dedication to transparency and organic growing practices that produce high-quality sungrown cannabis flower.

Chen believes it’s crucial to promote and work with local producers in order to spotlight some of California’s agricultural products.

“That’s the reason why we create what we create, because our products are pretty much products that you can only find in California. And it is grown with such intention, and created with such care, and it tells a story about all of these different farmers that make it and are behind it,” Chen says.

Following the success of Potli’s cannabis-infused extra virgin olive oil, its cannabis-infused sriracha took the stage, offering a spicy kick to a variety of meals.

Between offering infused honey, olive oil, and sriracha, Potli already covers a wide base for experimentation.

Courtesy Potli

“But these are the types of things that [you] really can make any recipe with it, right? And that’s what I love, is that you can make a salad dressing to like, fried chicken, and you can use every single ingredient and make wildly different products. You can make a soup that’s really Chinese style, so like [with] tofu. So all of these things are just really, really different,” Chen says.

Chen explains that she personally enjoys experimenting with different cannabis-infused dishes in the evenings.

“I love making food. That’s also one of my ways that I de-stress,” Chen explains. “And part of that journey is also making food with Potli goods that get me high, and then I have the best sleep ever.”

In the past, Potli carried infused chili oil and apple cider vinegar products as well. Chen shared that there are plans to re-release these products soon. Chen also hinted at a new, exciting product coming in the near future. While she couldn’t divulge the details just yet, she explains that it’s something she’s confident that the Potli community is going to love.

In the meantime, Potli’s dedication to creating versatile food items will continue to lead the way in infused home cooking and healthy eating.

“We really think that through edibles and through things that you eat, health is just something that is based on what you eat. And, you know, that’s the age-old adage,” Chen says. “And that’s really what the company’s main values are, is that we’re correcting people’s health and helping people feel better through the foods that they eat.”

This article was originally published in the November 2022 issue of High Times Magazine.

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Women’s Wellness Brand Holief Taps into the Healing Powers of Hemp, Backed by Science

IGC Pharma unveiled its wellness brand, Holief, with a focus on targeting women experiencing premenstrual syndrome and menstrual cramps. The medical science community is barely scratching the surface of what hemp-derived cannabinoids can do for women, and that sociodemographic is poised to continue its unstoppable climb into the mainstream.

“We stand for quality and safety in our products, not just our gluten-free, but also non-GMO products, as they are lab-verified, and also have the certifications of paraben-free, and cruelty-free,” Women’s Wellness Specialist and IGC Pharma Marketing Manager Kenia Andrade told High Times. “So we actually prioritize quality and safety to ensure that our customers receive the best products out there.”

Not only does IGC Pharma develop advanced cannabinoid-based formulations for treating period cramps (dysmenorrhea) and premenstrual syndrome (PMS), but it also targets other conditions including Alzheimer’s disease and chronic pain for men and women. IGC currently has two investigational drug assets targeting Alzheimer’s disease, for instance.

Noticing the growing market of cannabinoid-based women’s wellness products, IGC developed the Holief line. “We rebranded last year, and then I took over the role of marketing manager,” Andrade said. “So I work very hard with science and operations to get the brand out and also to get the medical information on point.”

IGC Pharma Marketing Manager Kenia Andrade

Holief provides lab reports on the products they sell, on a yearly basis. “Not because it is a restriction but because we are very transparent in what we use in our product,” Andrade said. “And we like that.”

Holief’s award-winning Holi-Wonder Muscle + Skin Relief Cream, for instance, combines lavender, aloe vera, coconut and Jojoba seed oil to effectively relieve persistent muscle stress while hydrating the skin. It contains hemp extract—with industry-leading levels of hemp—at 4000 mg.

“We have a very comprehensive product range,” Andrade said. “Holief offers wellness products addressing various aspects on women’s health and well being whether it’s managing menstrual symptoms, or dysmenorrhea, or promoting overall wellness. One of our main goals is to have products that support the stage of a woman’s life or a person’s life overall.”

Backed By Science

Holief’s formulations are backed by evidence, not just anecdotal reports. 

“I’m a medical doctor, and also an epidemiologist,” said Juanita Arbelaez, Clinical Research Physician at IGC Pharma. “And I’m pursuing a master’s degree in Public Health right now. And I’m a medical researcher. So I’m part of the team of IGC Pharma.”

Dr. Juanita Arbelaez, Clinical Research Physician at IGC Pharma

Arbelaez explained that hemp extract has shown to soothe and manage the emotional symptoms associated with PMS, as well as sleep regulation and mood-stabilizing effects. Evidence suggests hemp extract can have a calming effect on the central nervous system.

Holief provides topicals that use menthol, which is commonly combined with hemp-derived cannabinoids to really get into the skin. 

“One of them I have at hand is the Holi-Cramp Plus Menstrual Relief Cream with Menthol, because it has 5% of menthol with its main formulation at the base of the cream,” Andrade said. “And what it gives you is a hot and cold sensation, that really is almost immediate. It is only for external use, but it’s usually recommended to be applicable in the lower part of the abdomen.” The Holi-Cramp Plus cream contains vitamin E, MCT oil, and olive oil, as well as 2,800 mg of hemp extract. 

“For men, you can actually even though the name is Holi-Cramp, men can actually wear it because it is a hand cream that has menthol in it so it allows any part of your muscles, any part of your body that has contracted muscles to relax.”

Again, the formulations are backed by evidence. “Menthol is well known and studied,” Arbelaez said. “And it helps a lot with pain sensation … so that combination is much better than just CBD.”

Holi-Cramp Plus Menstrual Relief Cream with Menthol

Using the Broad Spectrum of Hemp

Some of the products use broad spectrum hemp extract while others use full spectrum. Broad spectrum typically means the CBD is enhanced with compounds such as cannabichromene (CBC), cannabinol (CBN), and terpenes such as myrcene, limonene, or pinene.

“Broad spectrum means that it has no THC that can create psychoactivity in your brain,” Arbelaez said. “[It] can pass through the blood-brain barrier, but it cannot produce psychoactivity. So you are not going to be high. While you’re going to have some other benefits, like pain relief, you are going to feel not as stressed or maybe relaxed, but you are not going to be paranoid, you are not going to feel high. That is what it means it doesn’t have any THC at all. That is the compound that makes you feel high or to have some psychological activity.”

Full-spectrum CBD products, on the other hand, may also contain up to 0.3% of THC, but in insignificant amounts that won’t get you high as well.

“The cannabinoids we have include CBD, CBG, and CBN,” Andrade said. “But we also use Ashwagandha, blueberries or Jojoba seed oil and lavender. Our range of products or our range of ingredients are mostly plants and fruits. That’s why our gummies have their natural flavor and natural colors. We do not depend entirely on hemp extract, but the fusion or the mix of hemp extracts with other ingredients.”

The Holief catalogue is divided in four categories:  PMS, Sleep, Wellness, and Fitness. Our range of products go from creams to tinctures, to gummies to topicals, which can also help with issues like headaches. The Sore Head Roll-On, for instance, is meant to ease migraines and it has herbal extracts that help ease the nerves. It contains 500 mg of hemp, eucalyptus, lavender oil, peppermint, Spanish sage oil, ginger, sweet fennel, camphor, and Menthol. 

Sore Head Roll-On

IGC Pharma will be presenting at the 13th Annual LD Micro Invitational at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel, California June 6-8, 2023.

“Authenticity is the main pillar of what we have to build the community and to create safe spaces so that people can actually interact with their own issues,” Andrade said. “At the end of the day, we would like to be like a platform so that more people can be out on their own journey.” 

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Cookies’ VP of Retail Crystal Millican Discusses What It Means To Be a Woman in the Cannabis Industry

Moving from a position in a consulting firm advising Fortune 10 companies to VP of Retail for one of the world’s leading cannabis brands may seem like a daring career transition for some, but for Crystal Millican, a former U.S. Fulbright Scholar to Mexico, it was a no-brainer. When Millican’s company took on globally-recognized cannabis brand Cookies as a client and the cannabis giant offered her a chance to come on board, she took the opportunity and never looked back.

Founded in 2010 by rapper and entrepreneur Berner and Bay Area cultivator Jai, in 2021, Cookies became the first cannabis brand to be named one of America’s Hottest Brands by AdAge. In addition to boasting more than 2,000 products and 58 retail locations in 18 markets across 6 countries, the company prides itself on its work to help communities disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs. High Times sat down for a sesh with Millican to talk about her journey in the cannabis space.

To start out if you just want to talk a little bit about how you got into the industry, and then how you started working with Cookies and what your journey has been.

I was an executive at a management consulting firm and [I] was the executive who was like “We need to be studying the cannabis space.” Also [I] notice[d] all the intellectual and regulatory hurdles that companies and brands were going to have to jump over and through in order to be successful. I really thought the businesses that could turn those challenges into opportunities were going to get head starts in the cannabis industry. And [I] really felt passionately that brands would win at the end of the day, true, authentic brands. Thankfully, Cookies became a client and, pretty soon after that, offered me an opportunity. [I] knew it was going to be a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to make that leap and [I am] grateful I did every day.

I know that for you—and I know this is true for Cookies in general—it’s really important to make sure that BIPOC people have a seat at the table when they historically have been behind the scenes of cannabis. So why is that so important to you and what do you do to try to make sure things are more equitable?

I think that really starts with [our] founder, Berner, who’s Mexican-American and, thankfully, has one of the most commanding and compelling voices in cannabis. As I think about it—as Cookies thinks about it—I think what we do and how we ground ourselves is all about honoring the plant. The people who grow it, the people who pack it, the people who sell it, the people who experience it, that’s really our focus. And BIPOC people touch every aspect of that seed-to-sale process. 

And, of course, I think the same can be said for women and femme-identifying people that were involved with every process in cannabis as well. So how do you try to make sure that’s included as well and how do you feel as a woman in the industry that you’ve been received and the challenges you still face?

As a woman in the industry, I feel incredibly bullish and inspired. Still, there’s plenty of work to do in the future. I see the cannabis industry having the opportunity in front of us to leave behind glass ceilings, leave behind pay gaps, leave behind bias and stereotypes and other constructs that have made it much more difficult for women and femme-identifying individuals to achieve their dreams. 

Executive teams, board rooms, investors, we’re all on the hook for growth when it’s not easy in cannabis. I think we have this unique opportunity in cannabis, where there is time to take DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] and put it as a core value. That’s something we grow upon which is an opportunity that we have now versus other industries that have been in play for decades or hundreds of years.

I’m very grateful that, probably for the first time in my career, I can come to work as my authentic self. That’s a big thing for Berner, whether it’s a budtender or me and my role, that you are you and that you’re not trying to be anyone else. What it means as a woman [is] I’m not having to expend energy and time bending myself like a human pretzel to get my voice across. 

But I’d be lying if I said I never feel bumps and bruises, because that can exist in every industry. I’ve got two daughters. I have to leave work trips early to change diapers and put my kids to bed. Am I feeling so great and inspired about womanhood that that doesn’t register in my mind as something I’m having to do? No. I think there’s more work for all of us to do. Every woman and femme-identifying person I’ve had the privilege and honor to interact with and work with in the cannabis industry is seeking the same thing, which is to smooth out that path so that, with each generation that comes after us, there’s less bumps and bruises along the way. We’ll just keep that cycle going.

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The Royal Highness of Hash Making

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.

High Times Magazine, November 2022

“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.

dank duchess
Courtesy The Dank Duchess

“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. 

dank duchess
The Oakland rooftop grow.

“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.

Photo by Nate Hammer, Homegrown Cannabis Co.

“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.”

This story was originally published in the November 2022 issue of High Times Magazine.

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The CAM Come Up

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.

High Times Magazine, November 2022

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.”

CAM Owner Anna Willey

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.

La Paleta

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.”

Mystery Machine

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.”

This article was originally published in the November 2022 issue of High Times Magazine.

The post The CAM Come Up appeared first on High Times.

Angela Pih Is a Master of Brands

Angela Pih knows how to market to consumers because she’s perceptive and sensitive to her audience’s unique needs. Coming from an advertising and fashion background, Pih understands that branding is all about understanding the consumer. She now works as the head of marketing for StateHouse Holdings, which may sound like the name of some sort of hedge fund but is actually one of California’s leading cannabis companies and home to such brands as Dime Bag, Kingpen, and Urbn Leaf. High Times sat down with Pih to talk about how she helped build some of The Golden State’s most recognizable brands.

So if you just want to talk about how you got into this field and how you got to where you are today.

My current trajectory came from two decades of being in the global advertising agency world, predominantly working on Fortune 500 tech brands. Brands have always been a part of my career in terms of what inspires me. I’m not sure if you are familiar with a woman by the name of Christina Wong of Fruit + Flower. She is a cannabis culinary writer and influencer. She and I were having breakfast one day before she was in cannabis, and she goes “There’s a job at Papa & Barkley and they’re looking for a CMO. Why don’t you go get that job and hire me because I really want to get into the cannabis industry?” And I remember saying to her, “What is it about this company that you really love and that you think that I should look at?” And she goes “Well, it’s one of the really well-respected companies. It’s education-first. And it creates and develops really wonderful products that have helped people.” And so that was my hook. I reached out directly and really fell in love with the brand story of helping those who you love the most with incredible products. Six weeks later, I was hired and then four weeks after that I hired Christina.

Being in the industry with a Chinese background and being a woman, do you feel accepted? Or do you feel like the industry still has a lot more work to do when it comes to treating people who just aren’t white men as equals in industry?

I’ve been pretty lucky that I’ve not experienced any level of discrimination from being a woman or being Asian. I do notice that BIPOC [are] not as well represented within the cannabis industry. A seat at a table to be a decision maker, to be a leader within the industry, should not [be] tied to what you look like and what the color of your skin and your origin [is]. It should be tied into what you contribute to that conversation.

One of the things we’re starting to feel here in Colorado is the boom busting with cannabis. Which can be scary, but I also know it’s inevitable as more places legalize and there’s not necessarily the same type of market for tourists. So what advice are you giving brands currently that you’re working with when it comes to this unprecedented time in cannabis?

You need to understand who your core customers are. Continue to make sure that you’re taking care of them. And really be able to look for affinities with underserved consumers who you may not have had conversations with or invited into certain events. Be able to speak to their needs so that you have a wider, addressable market. [Cannabis is] very much a boots-on-the-ground type of business. [It requires] conversations, education, understanding consumer behavior. 

I know another big thing that you advocate for is sustainability. So how do you work that in when you’re working with a brand and making sure that they’re successful, but also sustainable?

Here at StateHouse, since we’re fully vertical on our farms, we’ve switched over a lot of our power usage, working directly with PG&E in terms of using less electricity in our cultivation practices. Looking at packaging, which often is wasteful, how can we reduce that? And we’re looking at ways of being able to make sure that we are conscious in terms of how we’re making all of our products.

Do you have anything that you want to specifically make sure we highlight or talk about?

We have recently opened our West Hollywood Urbn Leaf dispensary right on the Sunset Strip. So someone was asking me, “Why are you so excited about having a cannabis store on the Sunset Strip?” It’s [a] prime location. First generation cannabis retailers have been in industrial areas and zoned in places [that are] hidden somewhere [and] kind of difficult to find and look a bit shady even though it’s a legal, properly licensed facility. Being right on the Sunset Strip, we’ve really come a long way. [The store has an] open shelf shopping experience, so you can just pick up a little basket and drop your products in and actually shop as if you were in a grocery store. I love the experience of self-select where you get guidance with a budtender and have one-on-one conversations, but more importantly, you can actually pick up a product, look at the label and not feel that you’re being rushed.

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Kiva Confections Co-Founder Kristi Palmer Talks Inclusivity in the Cannabis Industry

Kristi Palmer, along with her husband Scott Palmer, founded Kiva Confections in their home kitchen in the early days of cannabis legalization when it was easier for smaller, mom and pop companies to find a place in the market. Today, Kiva has a foothold in several different states where cannabis is legalized. Kristi Palmer sat down with High Times to talk about her company’s journey from its humble beginnings to the booming business it has become, as well as about what the industry is currently doing for women and why that inclusivity is important.

Let’s start off with how you first got into the cannabis industry and how you eventually became co-owner of a cannabis company.

I got my start in the cannabis industry back in about 2008. My now-husband and I started a cultivation in our garden shed here in the Bay Area, trying to make ends meet when the economy was completely crashing. That got us exposed to the market to see what consumers were really demanding. We were like “Okay, I think edibles is the place where we can stand out.” First, we thought, “We need a product and a package.” We met with some designers and brand builders that we knew from our photography days, and they were like, “You need a brand.” So we sat down and [asked] what would Kiva stand for? Kiva would be professional, honest, information-forward, holistic principles that we’ll stand by today.

So this is truly a story of scaling the brand from a tiny startup to a huge company versus getting a job at a company that was already huge. As a woman in this industry, do you feel like it would have been much harder to join an existing company like that?

I think there was a lot of opportunity, even in the early days [of the cannabis industry], for women. When we were building on our sales team in the early days, we had hired a sales director and he pointed out that all of the sales reps were women. The culture of including women was just written in from the get-go.

We’ve gotten feedback in the past that Kiva used a female marketing company to appeal to women. That wasn’t explicitly the intention; that was the rumor. That was the vibe that the company was giving off: We were very approachable. We didn’t exclude anyone. We didn’t look like we were designed for the cannabis connoisseur. Our brand was just friendly and welcoming, and I think that got interpreted to mean that we specifically had women in mind.

Kristi Palmer / Courtesy Kiva Confections

What have you continued to do to make sure that the brand is inclusive and accessible for everyone?

Information-forward is huge for us. Now it’s required for regulations, but just simply displaying THC content on the front of the label [and] the specific attributes of the product. We have products for sleep; we have products that [have] uplifting effects or relaxing effects. Products like that, when they’re use-case specific or tailored to the realities of your everyday life, those tend to be easier for female consumers to get on board with.

Is there anything specific you wanted to promote and highlight right now?

We’ve got five items in our sleep lineup now. The newest ones are the Camino Sours sleep product. That one is 10 milligrams of THC, and three milligrams of CBN. It’s our blackberry flavor, and it’s incredibly delicious. 

Why do you think that’s such an important thing to highlight?

Sleep is the number one reason that consumers are looking to use cannabis. We want to put sleep front and center because so many folks are looking for help with sleep. We were in the cannabis industry 12 years now so we have a bit of experience launching items but, man, you launch a sleep product and people just flock towards it.

Courtesy Kiva Confections

Looking 5-10 years down the line, what are some of the broader goals for the brand that you hope to see come to light?

We’re continuing our out-of-state expansion efforts. There’s just incredible demand for safe, tested, trustworthy, edible products. New York is such an interesting market because it hasn’t truly opened up quite yet, but Kiva products can be found there because consumers are carrying them in their suitcase.  And then [we’re] also looking at other types of cannabinoids [such as] THC-V and CBG that offer consumers a more targeted effect than you get with THC. 

There’s a lot of women in the industry, but when you go to the conferences you don’t necessarily see women. You don’t necessarily see women around the boardroom table or in those executive-level roles. That’s something that we’re working on at Kiva. So if you have this job in marketing, what are the other jobs that you can have that you can work up to? What skills do you need to progress your career? So that would be something I would like to encourage the rest of the world, in cannabis and outside of cannabis, to try to do. In cannabis, we need to do better at moving people up and creating diversity at all levels.

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Tending the Garden

Directed by Claire Weissbluth, aka La Osa, and Jesse Dodd, Tending the Garden follows the lives of the people behind three regenerative farms—Briceland Forest Farm, Green Source Gardens, and Radicle Herbs—up close and personal. The film revolves around regenerative farming practices in cannabis, food, and beyond.

Regenerative farming goes beyond organic and sustainable gardening; even when a farmer uses organic products and nutrients, it isn’t necessarily good for the environment. Regenerative agriculture utilizes natural cycles with processes like remediation that work in tandem with the surrounding environment. This might include sequestering carbon for soil, using closed-loop systems, preserving beneficial native habitats, and other ways of farming that don’t drain natural resources.

The core goal behind the film is to dispel myths and show that regenerative farming is relatively easy to do; it doesn’t necessarily mean more expenses—making it a logical choice for both farmers and the environment.

“We filmed it in 2021 in the spring and then followed the farms over the course of the whole year,” Weissbluth says. “And then we’ve been editing it this year. But the idea for the project started when I began working with my co-director, Jesse [Dodd], in 2018, when he started the Regenerative Cannabis Farm Award at the Emerald Cup.”

Green Source Gardens won the Emerald Cup Regenerative Farm Award in 2016, Briceland Forest Farm won the award in 2017, and Radicle Herbs won in 2018. Other similar awards also make these farms shining examples of regenerative farming: Green Source Gardens, for instance, received the 2018 Regenerative Farming Award at the Cultivation Classic.

High Times Magazine, November 2022

Weissbluth and Dodd share the same ideals when it comes to documenting these unique farms.

“It’s been an honor to work with such a talented and professional filmmaker as Claire to bring these ideas in beautiful farms to the light of the big screen,” Dodd says.

Dodd is also the creator of Biovortex, a living conceptual art piece designed to stir conversations about the future of regenerative farming. The art piece is portrayed via photography, writing, social media, conversions, and in-depth presentations and provides information on gardening, soil building, and breeding.

Weissbluth started making short videos about regenerative cannabis farms and then focused Tending the Garden on three that she believed were positive examples of regenerative cannabis farming practices. She decided to follow each of them for a whole year.

“[Regenerative farming is] the concept of giving back to the earth,” she says. “And industrial agriculture really has only the industrial model, which only focuses on extracting resources from the Earth, which is really harming the planet. Industrial agriculture is a huge contributor to climate change. And, you know, tilling is releasing a lot of carbon into the atmosphere. And so regenerative farming is thinking about: How do you sequester the carbon back into the soil? How do you use practices that leave the Earth better than you found it every year?”

To truly understand a farm, you have to put yourself in the shoes of a farmer.

Claire Weissbluth at Sun Roots Farm / Courtesy Tending the Garden

Becoming One With the Farms

When working with cannabis farmers, they often end up becoming almost like family, Weissbluth explains, and that happens the longer you stay around them.

“The [people on the] farms are what I would consider good friends of ours at this point. They really, you know, let us stay at their house and cook amazing meals for us and like to hang out with their kids,” Weissbluth says. “I think that is a unique part of this film is that we really went. We were part of the whole thing. And even Radicle Herbs, which is in Covelo, they have sort of extreme temperatures. So yeah, we were waking up at 6 a.m., when there’s still frost on the ground, to go and film, you know, get close-ups of frozen plants and stuff. And then in the summer. It was around this time last year. I remember it was 108 degrees, which was really intense.”

Part of this process involved first-hand exposure to the daily labor that these farmers undergo every day.

“You get a window into what these guys do and how hard they work,” Weissbluth says.

Weissbluth was surprised at exactly how much work goes into farming, work that expanded beyond growing cannabis. Two farms featured in the film also participate in community supported agriculture (CSA) boxes growing farm-fresh vegetables.

“I got insight into how much labor it actually takes to harvest vegetables and make a CSA box and take it to town,” Weissbluth says. “Two of the farms are also at a farmers market—vegetable farmers—and they’re just working so hard all the time. And we wanted to tell that story, but also make it fun and entertaining. And yeah, just capture the beauty of farming this way.”

By following the growth of cannabis from popping seeds in the spring to the harvest—showing the plant in all of its glory—the film became a joyful celebration of a year-long process of creating healthy cannabis while also healing the Earth.

“It’s about caring for land beyond the farm,” Weissbluth says. “There’s a scene in the film with Daniel [Stein] from Briceland Forest Farm. He has experience as a local volunteer firefighter, and also he did some training with the indigenous people in our area, and they’re trying to do intentional prescribed fire and actually burning in a specific way at a specific time of year, but using fire as a tool, like indigenous people have always done for thousands of years.”

In one scene, viewers see Stein using his chainsaw, cutting tree limbs down, taking dead trees out of the forest and burning them. Weissbluth explained that while that might seem a little alarming—not something that would seem “regenerative” at first glance, it is part of the practice.

“We do want to talk about how the concept of regenerative farming is really just kind of a new word for ancient practices,” she says. “The people in the film, none of them are indigenous, but they are very, you know, tuned into these ways of living with the cycles, the seasons. And giving back was kind of always part of the way that people survived on this planet before we switched. Before colonization and before the industrial [era]. Like seeing the Earth and seeing everything as a resource that we can just take and take.”

Radicle Herbs / Courtesy Tending the Garden

Educational & Inspirational

Regenerative agriculture can be inexpensive if you know how to recycle materials and take advantage of abundant natural resources. In one scene, Stein of Briceland Forest Farm chops down huge cannabis stocks, grinds them up and makes them into a pile. Then the chips go back into the compost pile and become part of the fertilizer providing nutrition for next year. The farm also uses goat manure from their herd of goats. On each of the farms featured in the film raising animals and growing vegetables becomes a sort of interconnected activity.

“We’re just trying to sort of show that there are ways to do this without buying stuff from the store, even if it’s organic fertilizer or organic soil, that there are ways that you can really produce it yourself,” Weissbluth says. “And for lower costs, lower impact on the environment, not using as much plastic. And that it is possible. We’re trying to make it educational and also inspirational for people to use some of these tools themselves.”

Dodd hopes that, similarly to the wine industry, the film will help people start to care more about the art, the terroir, the places, and the practices that go into growing cannabis. Once people know that they want to connect with those things, he says, then cannabis becomes more valuable.

“The practices themselves are closed-loop systems where you’re actually utilizing the environment, the resources that you have around you to create more thriving, and fertile abundance in your soil and your farm as a whole,” he says. “So the more people learn from native wisdom, the more they learn permaculture practices, the lower their cost of production becomes, and the higher quality their flowers become.”

Utilizing the surrounding environment is practically the opposite of what large grow operations do.

“All of that cost reduction leads to a higher-quality product that, I believe, is just so much more valuable than something grown in a more industrial-type model,” Dodd says, noting there are benefits in the quality of regeneratively-grown cannabis and its effects. “The much more robust, biochemical development with the living soil grown outdoor flower is huge.”

Part of being profitable also involves fighting overbearing tax burdens. Over 300 cannabis farmers and allies gathered at the Humboldt County Courthouse on Jan. 18 ,2022, to rally and support their request to the Board of Supervisors asking them to Suspend Measure S, the county’s cannabis cultivation tax. Humboldt County Growers Alliance hired Weissbluth to document the rally in a separate project.

Weissbluth explains how it’s been disappointing to see how the regulations in the adult-use marketplace have not made it easy for the small farmers and the supply chain. She hopes the Jan. 18 rally in Humboldt County will create lasting change.

She also acknowledges steps to help farmers, such as California’s cultivation tax, which was eliminated in July, and local efforts.

“Those are, I think, steps in the right direction, but the supply chain is still a really big problem for the small farmers who are trying to get their freshly harvested cured product,” she says. “They want to get it to consumers, in the best form possible, the best quality, and because they have to send it to a distributor because they have to send it somewhere else, the quality degrades by the time it gets to people a lot of the time. We want to use the film to talk about that too.”

Briceland Forest Farm / Courtesy Tending the Garden

Female Representation

One thing that sets Weissbluth’s film apart from other cannabis films is that it supports the message of why the small farmers are important, but there is also a conscious representation of female cultivators and the roles they play.

“Liz [Mahmood] from Green Source Gardens, she’s an amazing artist,” Weissbluth says. “And she actually drew the triangle logo that we’re using. She created that and she does all kinds of art for their farm, Green Source. Blair [AuClair] from Radicle Herbs is just like an amazing cook. And just like multitasking all the time… they’re all moms, they’re all raising animals, they’re all like, managing a million things at once.”

For Weissbluth, the contributions of women in the cannabis industry haven’t always been highlighted. So to her, it was important to give them equal representation.

“In the trailer, actually, it’s even more female voices. We didn’t set out to do that intentionally. But somehow, yeah, it just happened. Having that perspective on caring for the Earth and creating medicine for people is important.”

For Weissbluth and Dodd, the problems they saw in the cannabis industry gave them the courage to tackle regenerative farming and spread the message.

“I do a lot of genetic work with cannabis and breed seeds for lots of different outcomes, whether it’s for good hash or certain terpene profiles or certain cannabinoid profiles, certain resistance or strength, all of that,” Dodd says. “And so I ended up going to a lot of events around the world and I just saw this like, the way marketing was happening, and all this crap that’s not really good for the plants or the Earth that people are being sold on. And I just kind of wanted to figure out a way to flip that and make environmentally thoughtful and community-minded mutualistic ideas cool.”

A 20-minute screening of the film was unveiled at the National Cannabis Festival in Washington, D.C., on April 23 [2022], with another screening at Ecology Center in Los Angeles in August [2022]. Private screenings are set to be announced soon.

This story was originally published in the November 2022 issue of High Times Magazine.

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