Where There's Smoke
A primer on pot's new golden age.
Huddled underneath an open-air yurt on a windy Saturday afternoon, the participants of Elevate + Flow are doing all they can to stay warm. Colorful blankets are stretched tight across multiple laps while spirited conversations ensue between friends who first met only hours earlier. The daylong yoga retreat, set in the quiet splendor of a private ranch in Geyserville, is nearing its end, but thanks to one special ingredient, no one seems terribly eager to head for the shuttle that will eventually bring them home.
Proudly displayed in wooden holsters throughout the space is a generous selection of plastic pens that have helped to ensure the “elevate” portion of the day’s activities. Each pen contains one of six tailored recipes designed to induce different sensations — sleep, relief, calm, passion, bliss and arousal — and they all contain varying amounts of THC. Yes, the added element that sets Elevate + Flow apart from the competition is a plant that humans have consumed for nearly 3,000 years: cannabis.
As event organizer Nielma Hock surveys the gathering, she points to the moms and lawyers, software engineers and teachers, now all sheltering underneath a swath of canvas.
“Does this look like a group of stoners to you?”
For much of its history, marijuana has been viewed as an illicit substance on par with drugs like cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, LSD and even heroin. However, in recent years a green revolution has taken place. We’ve come a long way from hysteria-laden public service propaganda like Reefer Madness, which debuted to the American public in 1936. Thanks to the success of Proposition 64 in 2016, recreational cannabis is now legal to purchase and consume in California.
If the last time you ingested marijuana came courtesy of an unlabeled magic brownie purchased in the shadows of Golden Gate Park, you may not realize that the modern-day cannabis shopping experience is more like a visit to Whole Foods than a drug deal in the alleyway.
January 1, 2018, marked the official beginning of adultuse sales in California, allowing anyone age 21 or older to set foot in locations previously only accessible to those with valid medical cannabis cards. While not every dispensary is licensed to offer recreational sales, a number of San Francisco retailers have succeeded in obtaining permits. What exists beyond their doors is simply staggering.
One of the main complaints of casual marijuana consumers has long been an inability to discern exactly how high a product will get them. While most can probably gauge the effect of a single puff of a joint, things get exponentially murkier when it comes to baked goods and other products that don’t involve smoke. With strict new regulations established in conjunction with Proposition 64 now in place, the mystery of dosing is finally being solved. A visit to a dispensary will reveal that chocolate bars now come pre-portioned into breakable bites — with each square guaranteed to have a specific amount of THC (the psychoactive component of cannabis).
Not looking to satisfy your sweet tooth? In the days before legalization, finding edibles that weren’t saturated in sugar was a difficult task, but the trend of eating healthy has at last penetrated the cannabis industry as well. While there are still plenty of cookies, brownies and other decadent laced treats to be had, many companies have opted to expand into more wholesome products like granola, nuts, broths and oatmeal. There are also now teas, tinctures, balms and dried fruits available in assorted doses. There are even vegan and gluten-free options.
Another concern — flavor — has also taken a leap forward. No longer are edibles doomed to taste primarily of marijuana, thanks to the efforts of Michelin-caliber chefs like Michael Magallanes and Mindy Segal, two of the numerous celebrated cooks who have left the restaurant world behind in favor of cooking up cannabis confections. Discussions surrounding flavor have extended far beyond marijuana-laced food. In the past several years, the entirety of the cannabis industry has become obsessed with one element specifically: terpenes.
For decades, the distinction between sativa and indica — the two primary species of cannabis plant — was the argument that ruled the day. However, research has shown that it is terpenes — the aromatic oils that distinguish strains of cannabis from one another — that truly differentiate varietals of the plant from one another.
Indeed, it is terpenes that now aid consumers in selecting which strain best suits them. Linalool is known for its sedative properties and flavors of lavender and birch, while pinene unsurprisingly carries a taste of pine and is also recommended as an aid for combating inflammation. Naturally, some enterprising cannabis chemists are designing hybrids and extracting terpene elements to create even more refined options. Last year, Northern California’s AbsoluteXtracts actually teamed with popular Bay Area brewery Lagunitas to create a line of cannabis oils infused with terpenes extracted from beer hops.
Yes, even beer is not immune from the green touch.
Many grocery stores now feature wellness sections, and the marijuana industry is no different.
Instead of homeopathic powders and root extracts, though, the star of this show is cannabidiol — more commonly known as CBD. Just as THC is but one of over 100 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, CBD is an extract that has recently taken the spotlight for its profound and varied medicinal applications. Unlike THC, CBD has no psychoactive properties, meaning consumers of pure CBD products can safely ingest without fear of getting “stoned.”
The benefits of CBD are numerous. A 2017 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found the product successful in treating epilepsy in children. Another study from the same year conducted by the National Academy of Sciences suggests that CBD may be a viable treatment for autism. One vocal group of supporters is military veterans, who have found both CBD and THC to be helpful in treating post-traumatic stress disorder and numerous other ailments incurred during active duty. Groups like the Veterans for Cannabis and the Weed for Warriors Project are both leading the fight in Washington, D.C., to demand safe and affordable access to marijuana.
Their efforts have only gained more traction as an opioid crisis continues to ravage the U.S.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there were more than 63,000 opioid-related overdoses in 2016 alone. Meanwhile, science has proven over and over that it’s simply not possible to overdose on cannabis.
A study authored by Paul Armentano, deputy director for leading cannabis advocacy group NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), summarizes the situation succinctly: “The consumption of marijuana, regardless of quantity or potency, cannot induce a fatal overdose.” These findings were echoed by a 1995 World Health Organization review, which conclusively asserted that there is “no record” of an individual ever suffering from a fatal cannabis overdose.
As individuals continue to learn that consuming cannabis does not carry acute or adverse health risks, the culture surrounding marijuana is expanding to encompass a variety of new converts. However, the jury is still out when it comes to driving under the influence. While California has made it clear that operating a vehicle while stoned is illegal, a reliable methodology for testing cannabis inebriation has yet to be discovered.
Where once people imagined all marijuana smokers resembled the always-stoned duo Cheech and Chong, the demographics now reveal that the typical pot smoker is, in fact, hiding in plain sight. They are your neighbors, your teachers, your bosses — even your grandparents. According to data obtained by the popular online delivery service Eaze for its 2017 “Modern Marijuana Consumer” survey, 51 percent of cannabis consumers polled held a college or postgraduate degree. In addition, 91 percent of respondents were employed full-time, and 49 percent reported an annual household income of at least $75,000.
The cannabis industry is adapting to this news, collaborating on a diverse array of events that introduce marijuana into popular everyday activities. Exercise was a natural choice, and the prevalence of “ganja” yoga and events like Elevate + Flow reflect the public’s interest in combining cannabis with activities that encompass a spiritual or meditative component.
However, other options have targeted everything from viticulture to video games. North of Marin, Sam Edwards of the Sonoma Cannabis Company has taken to offering weed and wine tastings, while last fall, California event organizers Grassfed hosted an event in San Francisco where patrons donned virtual reality headsets after a visit to one of several “medicating” stations.
Where the market goes next is anyone’s guess.
On a blustery ridge in Geyserville, a woman from AbsoluteXtracts is chatting with a man offering nonmedicated samples of Atlas Edibles. While state law currently prohibits offering cannabis samples, both express hope that AB2020 — a bill currently under consideration in California — will rectify the issue. It is but one of many problems still in need of comprehensive solutions.
Other factors, like government-sponsored banking options and a compounded tax situation that has left many former dispensary customers returning to unregulated sources, continue to hinder the assimilation of cannabis into the mainstream. Of course, no issue looms larger than the fact that marijuana remains a controlled substance by federal law, but even that Goliath is finally at risk of being slain by the likes of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other members of Congress.
Meanwhile, a change in perception surrounding cannabis continues. It’s happening every day, on a level so personal that it sometimes escapes the headlines.
“Most guests are blown away that the stereotypes maligning cannabis’ reputation could not be further from the truth,” Nielma Hock notes. “Guests come away feeling energized to be part of a movement breaking down the stereotype of the cannabis user. Let’s face it: none of our guests lives in their mother’s basement playing video games all day while smoking out of a bong. That is just not the reality of cannabis.”
KNOW YOUR TERMS
Depending on whom you’re speaking with, you may hear any number of words used to describe the buds of the Cannabis sativa plant. From slang to science, the origins of these terminologies are a fascinating glimpse into the history of pot itself. Here is a quick vocabulary lesson on some of the most popular marijuana monikers.
4/20 This popular shorthand for marijuana (and the onus for cannabis celebrations on April 20) was actually first coined by a group of San Rafael High School students in the 1970s who would meet outside the school at 4:20 p.m. to toke up.
CANNABIS The preferred way to reference marijuana these days is to simply use its genus name.
GANJA A Sanskrit term for hemp, popularized in Jamaica. The word was first introduced to the Caribbean by British colonials.
MARIJUANA The origins of this word remain somewhat murky. Some think it comes from the Aztec word mallihuan (prisoner), while others believe it derives from the Chinese word ma ren hua (hemp seed flower). Many feel the term has unattractive racial connotations, given that it has been used extensively since the 1930s by those who oppose cannabis, as a way of making the plant sound more exotic or foreign.
POT A contraction of potacion de guaya, a drink from Spain and Mexico that combines cannabis and wine.
WEED Often attributed to marijuana’s tendency to grow quickly and with ease, although Cannabis sativa is not, by definition, a weed.