the weed-trimming graphic novel

One Tray at a Time, a new graphic novel by the artist writing as Charlotte Burnam recounts the misadventures of a young woman who spent ten years as a weed trimmer and harvest coordinator on black market farms in Northern California. Drawn with clean lines and peppered with characters such as the hippy couple, “Mandusa” and “Sprinkle Galaxy” who promise to work poorly for a high wage, the graphic novel paints a humorous picture of life on the farms from the perspective of Burnam herself—a Chicago-born, hardworking child of Italian immigrants, whose background in no way prepared her for what she experienced in the Emerald Triangle.

Photo by Xochitl Segura of Charlotte Burnham's One Tray at a Time.

Charlotte Burnam is the pen name of the artist, who includes photos from the grow industry, hand-written grocery lists, journal entries, and other mixed media to flesh out the narrative. Though massive cultural gaps existed between her and the hippies she met on the farms, she ultimately left the industry with a certain affection for the lifestyle, and for the people in it. Burnam spoke with bud.com about her graphic novel and about her insider-outsider perspective on the cannabis industry.

How’s the launch of your graphic novel?

I’ve been having loads of fun with the novel, showing it to people and hearing them laugh. I invited a lot of farmers that I’ve worked with to the book launch.

Everyone has been saying, “That’s so true, that’s hilarious.” I thought some of the people (portrayed) in the book would be upset about it, but they weren’t. They were like, “You nailed it.”

What was the process of writing this graphic novel?

I’ve always been artistic, where I tape things into my journal—bus tickets, articles, doodles, all kinds of stuff like that. I brought new journals to fill up when I moved from Chicago to California in 2008 to work as a trimmer.

It was culture shock for me on the farms—everything was so different—and at that time in northern California there wasn’t good cell phone reception and I didn’t have social media or even a computer. No way to talk to my friends back in Chicago about what I was witnessing. So, this was how I got it down—all the crazy things I was seeing and living.

Photo of Charlotte Burnham by Xochitl Segura.

After working in the industry for about ten years, I realized that my job was becoming obsolete, and my owner was selling the property, so I had to make a plan. I started writing the book and finished it in about five months. It was fast, yes, but I had all the characters and stories in my journal already.

I drew my character specifically for the book, and so I had to face my own issues, like, “What do I look like? How am I representing myself?” I had never drawn myself before because I had always been in my journal doodling about what was going on around me.

Were the über-hippy characters in your book exaggerated?

Everything in the book happened. Like we would hire a caretaker and after a few days he would say, “Oh, I don’t have a driver’s license.” And I was like, “What?! That’s an essential part of the job!”

In Chicago, I worked at a bank for six years. You could be whoever you wanted to be at home, but at work—people came in, and maybe they had the sniffles and you’d be like, “Hey are you OK?” And they’d say, “Sure.”

But in California, if someone had the sniffles and you’d ask if they were OK, they would respond with, “Mercury’s in a really bad place right now, but I feel an overwhelming sense of belonging.”

How do you talk to someone you’re working with about their celestial place in this world? I just wasn’t used to how personal it was.

In the book, you show some of the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated industry. Can you talk more about that?

Women in the industry have to prove themselves so much more than men. I had to work harder, know more, show up earlier, be the last one to leave the site. If you’re a girl, people will think you’re just sleeping with someone, or you’re just good looking, and that’s why you have this opportunity. And I had to say, “No, I’ve been doing this a long time. I know what I’m doing.”

Once the industry started becoming more mainstream, men were like, “You can work my booth at the conventions.” When I had more experience than them, more knowledge than them, more money than them,they reduced me to the role of being a model because they just needed a pretty face to sell product. I was like, “Are you kidding me? I taught you how to make hash.”

What were the conditions like for you and other workers in the black market?

Work conditions are farm conditions. You’re working in the rain. The roads aren’t regulated, stuff like that. Farms can also be a dangerous place for women because if there is a sexual assault or rape, you can’t report it.

A lot of farms had outdoor showers, so if you were uncomfortable being nude in public—like let’s say that you were some Italian, Catholic immigrant child coming from Chicago to California—and you wanted to take a shower, you would know that seven dudes were about to see you naked. Also, men get up and pee right in front of you.

I was always in fear of being groped, touched, spoken to inappropriately. It happened a lot and there’s no one to talk to about it, no HR department to complain to.

Can you talk more about the theme of not belonging that pops up often in the book?

My parents are Italian immigrants, and they taught me to work really hard. It was important to them that I get a job and a mortgage and a car payment and a marriage and a child. And my friends started having children early, and I always—for some reason—didn’t want to have children. And I think that, right off the bat, for any woman to feel that way is radical.

With immigrant parents who didn’t speak English at home, I didn’t fit in with my friends growing up, either. I was eating different foods, doing different things. When I was with my friends, getting high or getting drunk, or whatever, I would also be in my journals drawing.

In 2008, when my boyfriend at the time asked me if I wanted to move to California, I said, “Yes! Let’s go!” But when I got there, I was like oh my god, what have I done? Go back!

In northern California, I didn’t look like anyone, I didn’t dress like anyone. I felt totally out of my element.

I was also inspired. I saw women who didn’t have children, who ran their own stores, owned art galleries. And I thought, wow.

But right off the bat, no one liked me. I didn’t like Burning Man. I was definitely an outsider in the hippy, weed-growing world.

I think it was my Chicago attitude, mixed with the artsy and creative side, mixed with my fiery female side. It scared a lot of people away from me. I would have a lot of women, especially in northern California, tell me to calm down, to be quiet.

But, not fitting in all those years has also inspired me. In the face of being alone, it made me say to myself, “You can do this, you got this.”

When did you realize that things were changing in the cannabis industry? 

In ‘09 or ’10, I started getting concerned about how fast the laws were changing. I witnessed dispensaries opening, being raided, closing, opening again.

I knew right then that it was going to be like alcohol. Weed wasn’t going away, and people were willing to spend money on it. The government was going to sniff that out, find a way to regulate it, control it in a way that was more beneficial to them.

And I knew that when California went recreational, that would be the end of the road. I knew I couldn’t compete with big business. Just like with alcohol (at the end of prohibition), the bootleggers’ work dissipated. And that was going to happen to me.

Photo of Charlotte Burnham by Xochitl Segura.

What do you think about the state of the industry today?

A lot of my friends are dwindling out of farming because of the price of permitting. The price of weed is also dropping dramatically. You can’t compete with the big dogs, because now it’s about quantity—just producing as much weed as possible.

I am proud that social media is bringing women together more. Organizations like Women Grow, Tokeativity, Grow Sisters, and safe spaces for women to get high.

I’m hoping that the safe spaces for women moves across the country, because it shouldn’t just be about fixing our dreadlocks and doing yoga and getting high. Where’s the stuff for my girls working 60 hours a week in Chicago? There are moms working their asses off just to get food on the table and they need to be able to relax and medicate in a safe space, too.

All photos by Xochitl Segura.

 

 

Danielle Simone Brand is a writer and a yoga teacher. Her articles and essays about cannabis, parenting, or spirituality (and sometimes all three) appear across the web. She lives in San Diego with her husband and two children.

 

 


mc flow, the weed rapper

Wearing a crown and a cape, MC Flow took the stage at the Backdrop in San Diego on November 17th. The weed rapper, known also as Her Highness, Queen of Westonia, was hosting High Court—a recurring variety show that brings in local musicians and comedians alongside her own performances. Gifts of pre-rolls and tinctures were bestowed on Her Highness by members of the court, aka audience, in a comedic ceremony that brought tons of weed to the princess trope.

In her music, MC Flow blends intelligent rhymes about weed with a beat that makes you want to bob your head and light up a joint. The evening was a lot of fun—so much so that I can’t remember exactly how MC Flow ended up in a nun’s costume on stage by the end. But it was the kind of night that made you just want to go with the flow—pun intended.

I caught up with MC Flow to chat about her music, her passions, and—of course—weed.

Does cannabis help you creatively?

MC Flow: For some reason, lots of ideas have come to me when I smoke and get in the shower. That combination is magical. It’s about getting into a space that’s open to receive—whatever it is, whether it’s lyrics, or a concept, or an idea for a show.

I’ve heard people say smoking weed can freeze them, that they get too critical of what’s coming out, but for me, it’s definitely a creativity tool.

I’m curious to learn about some of your musical influences.

MC Flow: Growing up just outside of Manhattan, my parents took me to a lot of musicals—and I loved them. My brother got me into classic rock. Then I went to Jewish sleepaway camp and certain folk songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s were part of camp culture. We sang them every year, and those songs were a formative part of me falling in love with music. Ani DiFranco is a big influence—and has crossed the line into rapping sometimes.

Going to high school near New York City—that’s where hip hop came in. A Tribe Called Quest. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Redman, the Beastie Boys. The classic stuff.

I’ve always been a person obsessed with lyrics. I remember as a kid coming home and reading all the lyrics—either on the cassette or the album cover. It was with me from the get-go.

You rap mostly about cannabis. Has it always been this way in your musical career?

MC Flow: I did a song about marriage equality, Created Equal in 2008. Obama had just been elected, but Prop 8 went through. [The measure that declared same sex marriages unconstitutional but was later overturned in the courts]. I was involved in the “No on 8” campaign and went out to polling places on the day. So, when it passed, it was just crushing. Writing is just the way I processed it. There was so much coming out of me.

I write and rap about weed these days, but I’m not going to rule out writing on other topics in the future. Rap is all sorts of things. It’s a social justice movement, and a way to tell stories. Those things go hand in hand.

In addition to coffee shops around San Diego, you’ve performed at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre with Jason Mraz, the Women of Cannabis Conference in Las Vegas to kick off MJ Biz Con, and the Ganja Goddess Getaway. How do people react to your performances and your songs?

MC Flow: I’ve had some incredible reactions to my songs. Pot in the Latkes is the fan favorite, but the biggest emotional response has been to the Oh, Charlotte song. It’s about a 12-year old girl with severe epilepsy—Charlotte Figi. Medical cannabis oil has changed her life, made it possible for her to grow and enjoy being with her family. And the outpouring of love and appreciation from people who hear the song is amazing.

Everywhere I go, people talk to me about weed now. If that’s a side effect of my music, then great!

Like you said, Pot in the Latkes is the song that people know you for. Do Judaism and rapping about cannabis come together for you?

MC Flow: Well, they definitely came together for me in that song!

There are a lot of Jewish rappers, comedians—entertainers. Even though I’m not observant, being Jewish is still important to me and I think one of the ways I can connect with it is through humor.

It all came about because I participated in a holiday show called Feeding the Soul for four or five years straight. I was one of the only Jewish people on the cast, so I felt like I was responsible for writing the Hanukkah songs so that Hanukkah would be represented. So, it put me on this trip of writing Jewish songs.

Do you have a favorite weed for writing—or life?

MC Flow: I had to stay away from sativas for a while because I felt that they would give me so much energy—it almost bound me up. So, I was smoking mostly indicas for a while. But after meeting friends locally who grow the most beautiful weed, I’m smoking sativas again, too.

Really, I don’t know if the indica-sativa difference is actually legit. It seems to be more about finding the strain that helps you feel good.

Does anything surprise you about the new business of cannabis?

MC Flow: It seems like a natural meeting of retail and weed! But I feel mixed about it… I want to support dispensaries and small businesses doing good things. Some dispensaries mix education in, and I’m into any place that’s gonna do something like that.

But I also know people growing and making products who have been shut out of dispensaries due to the huge cost of getting fully licensed.

I’m the first one to say that it’s super fun to go to a swanky boutique. But it’s just as important, if not more important, to educate people on products that can improve their health and change their lives—not just on the prettiest, fanciest packaging.

What are you noticing about the changing landscape of cannabis since full legalization in California?

MC Flow: I’m feeling attitudes change. More people are talking to me about it—talking about it in general. There’s lots of interest in CBD. Pretty soon we’re gonna see CBD in Whole Foods, I think, and it’ll be really mainstream. The other thing I’ve noticed is seniors—baby boomers—coming back to cannabis. A lot is changing, and fast. It’s an interesting time.

Photo credits: Sharisse Coulter

 

Danielle Simone Brand is a mother of two, a die-hard idealist, and a breaker of conventions. She holds a BA from Dartmouth College and an MA from American University and has worked as a staff writer, an academic editor, and a researcher on issues of international conflict resolution.


For Seniors, CBD Topicals Are Gateway Cannabis Products

CBD, one of many compounds found in cannabis, can be used therapeutically for a wide variety of symptoms affecting mind and body. Its most common uses include help for anxiety, inflammation, pain, insomnia, and other sleep issues. Lesser known benefits of CBD include supporting bone health, controlling epileptic seizures, easing the symptoms of glaucoma, slowing the progression of dementia, and stimulating appetite. Some people who use CBD are even able to depend less heavily on pharmaceuticals.

Cannabis educator and industry consultant Emma Chasen says that for seniors, “CBD is a great compound to introduce first due to its very limited psychotropic effects and almost-unheard-of uncomfortable side effects.” In other words, the many benefits of CBD can be had without the “high” associated with THC.

Because those aged 60 and up suffer in the highest numbers from the conditions CBD can treat, it should not be surprising that seniors are the fastest growing demographic to be using cannabis. Dr. Mikhail Kogan, a geriatrician and medical director for George Washington Center for Integrative Medicine in the District of Columbia, sees growing interest in CBD among senior patients. CBD, he says, is helpful for those suffering from the common symptoms of insomnia and anxiety. Though human studies are still needed, he states that preclinical data shows CBD’s anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory benefits. Plus, Dr. Kogan says, it’s exponentially safer than opiates.

CBD topicals

Martin Lee, co-founder and director of the California nonprofit organization Project CBD and author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana, says that because many seniors today are baby boomers who came of age during the ‘60s, they may have “sufficient experience,” with cannabis dating from their youth. However, there are “others encountering it for the first time who might be dealing with some taboos or concerns.” For that group, says Lee, “Topicals can break the ice.” A positive experience with a topical can provide “a very easy, very non-threatening way to get into the world of cannabis therapy.”

Although human studies are still limited, a 2016 study on rats showed that topical CBD reduces joint swelling and pain associated with arthritis. Many people find that CBD topicals also relieve pain from muscle soreness or muscle injuries, plantar fasciitis, and headaches. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, the right topical CBD product can be helpful for certain skin conditions like itchiness, acne, flaky skin, and bug bites.

Earl LeMond, owner and operator of Paradise Organics in Newburgh, Indiana, sells topicals to people with temporary, localized pain. “If you’ve pulled a muscle, hurt yourself, or have something very particular going on, then CBD topicals are helpful,” he says. But for those with more generalized pain, such as that caused by osteoarthritis, he says that ingesting CBD oil in conjunction with applying topicals seems to work better.

Increasing mainstream acceptance

LeMond finds that younger and older customers alike are increasingly comfortable with ingesting some form of CBD. Medical marijuana, including any product containing more than .3 percent THC, is not yet legal in Indiana. However, he finds that in the short period of time that CBD has been officially legal, “nearly everyone has heard something positive about it.” Local news coverage has increased awareness, but word of mouth, says LeMond, contributes the most. “When you have someone who’s taken it successfully, you’ll find them talking about it.” Just over a year ago, he says that few of his customers knew about CBD. Today he refers to a “whirlwind” of interest in its uses and benefits. “I sell more CBD than anything else right now,” LeMond says.

Full-spectrum products

Dr. Kogan agrees that stigmas and taboos are lessening, and for that reason—as well as its legal medical status in the District of Columbia—he recommends a combination of CBD and THC products to senior patients when their condition indicates it. “We have so much data now on the safety of medical cannabis containing THC that it is not really a big issue. I simply use what is most appropriate for a given patient.”

Lee, based in California, says that many seniors he’s worked with do eventually try other cannabinoids. “CBD and THC work better together than apart,” he says, citing what is often called the entourage effect. For many seniors’ health needs, “a full-spectrum product is going to be even more effective.”

Amanda Reiman, Ph.D., a drug policy reformer who has taught at UC Berkeley and currently serves as VP of Community Relations for cannabis company Flow Kana, says that when it comes to seniors, “because it addresses a myriad of issues, reduces dependence on pharmaceuticals, and lessens the risk of dependence and accidental overdose, cannabis is perfect for this stage of life.”

Sidebar: My Personal story

I have found CBD topicals as the perfect entry point to a wider range of health-supporting cannabis therapy. Full disclosure: I am not a senior, but a 39-year old mother of two who’s been using topical CBD on the bottom of my feet to relieve chronic pain from plantar fasciitis for over a year. Before turning to topical CBD, I tried different shoes and special inserts, stretches tailored for my condition, as well as massage—but nothing relieved the pain and inflammation like topical CBD. When I use it regularly, the condition hardly impacts my life. When I forget to replenish my supply, I’m hobbled with pain, limping from couch to chair to bed.

In time, I became interested in taking CBD oil internally to help relieve anxiety and difficulty staying asleep. This, too, has proved effective. More recently, I’ve begun to expand my interest to tinctures and flower containing low levels of THC, both for therapeutic and relaxation purposes. It makes a lot of sense that others might follow a similar trajectory, and that CBD topicals can provide a low-risk entry point for those who can benefit from its use.

 

Danielle Simone Brand is a mother of two, a die-hard idealist, and a breaker of conventions. She holds a BA from Dartmouth College and an MA from American University and has worked as a staff writer, an academic editor, and a researcher on issues of international conflict resolution.


is the show disjointed more than just stoner stereotypes?

Disjointed, the 20-episode Netflix show co-written by Chuck Lorre and David Javerbaum, is a comedy full of contradictions. It’s genuinely entertaining in some moments, asinine in others. The actors do a wonderful job—except when they don’t. And the joke writing is patchy. Still, I highly recommend watching it.

The show takes place in a fictional Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensary, where Ruth Whitefeather Feldman (Kathy Bates), proprietor, aging Jewish hippie and cannabis activist, presides over a cast of young budtenders. At the beginning of the show her son Travis (Aaron Moten) has recently returned from “the dark side” as Ruth describes it, aka business school. With full recreational sales on the way in the state of California, Travis hopes to modernize the operation and create an online presence via YouTube videos like, “Strain ‘O the Day.” Travis’ desire to align the business with more corporate values versus Ruth’s attachment to the good old days when weed was synonymous with rebellion provides most of the conflict in the first several episodes.

There are plenty of strange contradictions embedded in Disjointed. The word “fuck” punctuates much of the dialogue, but it’s accompanied by a cheesy laugh track that trails every joke. The show takes place almost exclusively inside the dispensary, Ruth’s Alternative Caring, and its set appears straight out of a 90s sitcom (with a lot more weed). Yet short animations are periodically sprinkled in, transporting the viewer out of the sitcom and into the interior life of a character. This adds depth and nuance to a show that could otherwise become too repetitive. Social media also plays a big role in the narrative, offering a meta view of the characters and their place of work.

Disjointed traffics in a number of annoying stereotypes. There’s Dank and Dabby, played by Chris Redd of Saturday Night Live, and Betsy Sodaro. Yes, they’re occasionally really funny, and they’re just about the dumbest, crassest stoners you’ve ever seen on TV. The very fact that they’re stereotypes is called out on the show. But they continue to act as extreme stereotypes, albeit ones that occasionally surprise you (such as when they announce that they make close to six figures each on their YouTube channel described as a show, “by stoners, for stoners, by stoners”).

Other stereotypes include Pete, a millennial super hippy who grew up on a commune in Humboldt and grows the best bud. At one point he asks another budtender, a Chinese American character named Jenny, “Are your parents OK with you working here? Because most of mine are.” Jenny’s parents are, of course, very not OK with her smoking weed and working as a budtender. That is, they wouldn’t be OK with it—if in fact they knew. Jenny has them believing that she hasn’t dropped out of medical school and keeps up the charade by comically faking cadaver dissections while on the phone with her mom.

Even Ruth herself is somewhat of a stereotype with her long gray hair, flowy purple dresses, and desire to “stick it to the man.” Still, Kathy Bates is a strong actor who brings depth and nuance to the role, even when delivering the one-liners on which the show heavily depends. She pulls off a combination of empathy and apathy, bossiness and the ability to empower her employees and patients. She is both a warm mother goddess figure, and a childish complainer. In other words, a real person. The character adds gravitas to a show that could otherwise feel too frivolous.

Perhaps the most compelling character arc features the security guard, Carter (Tone Bell), who suffers from PTSD as a result of his time in the U.S. army in Iraq. His slow path to healing is helped along by his coworkers in the dispensary, and—of course—weed. The show does a good job illustrating how cannabis can be about medicine, and it can also be about fun. It’s used by people who need it for serious symptoms, and people who just want to get high. Or those who use it for a little of both.

In my view, the show does an OK job with representation. The core cast has gender parity—three women and three men. Of the ten most frequently-seen characters, three are black men and one is an Asian woman. It would feel more right to see a black woman in a recurring role, in addition to a Latinx character. The lack of any non-binary, trans, or even gay or lesbian main characters seems like an oversight for a show whose audience is, presumably at least, socially progressive.

Even with all its problems, I found myself laughing more than eye-rolling while watching Disjointed. It dips into powerful emotions and loss enough of the time to make it feel emotionally resonant, while still throwing the one-liners and ludicrous situations of a comedy. Just like those Cheers fans who compared their real-life bars to the fictional one, I found myself watching Disjointed and wishing I could patronize a dispensary like Ruth’s Alternative Caring. It’s a warm place with a boutique vibe filled with chatty and personable folks. It’s interesting and well-attended, but not too busy. Comfy couches in the middle of the space invite people to sit, talk, and medicate if they want. It feels dreamy, and as Tina Fey says in 30 Rock, “I want to go to there.”

Netflix has cancelled Disjointed, but its 20-episode run continues to stream. It’s easy to enjoy and will almost certainly make you laugh. Or get high. Probably both.

 

Danielle Simone Brand is a mother of two, a die-hard idealist, and a breaker of conventions. She holds a BA from Dartmouth College and an MA from American University and has worked as a staff writer, an academic editor, and a researcher on issues of international conflict resolution.


how legal cannabis hurts compassionate care

Sweetleaf Collective is a charitable organization founded in 1996 to provide free medical cannabis to those in need throughout the Bay Area. Primarily serving low-income HIV/AIDS and cancer patients via bicycle delivery, Sweetleaf was originally founded and run on a volunteer basis, using excess flower and shake donations from farms in Humboldt County. For the first ten years, Sweetleaf’s founder Joe Airone did the bulk of the work—accepting donations, communicating with patients, and organizing volunteers.

Recipients of Sweetleaf’s free medical cannabis face such severe health and financial challenges that many would not be able to afford both food and medicine. Patients like Ed Gallagher, a 67-year old blind veteran diagnosed with HIV, rely on Sweetleaf’s free medical marijuana for the three most common needs among seriously ill patients: appetite stimulation, pain relief, and mood elevation. For many patients, the cocktail of medications they must take to treat or control their condition robs them of quality of life. Medical cannabis helps.

In the early days of Sweetleaf, there were moments when Airone’s paying job demanded more from him, and the efforts of the organization slowed. But despite the challenges of running a charitable organization in one’s spare time, during the first decade, Sweetleaf Collective was able to build and serve a clientele of ten to twelve, mostly terminal, patients. In 2006, bigger donations started to flow in, and Sweetleaf was able to increase the number of patients served and hire part-time workers.

It was the 1996 Compassionate Use Act, or Prop 215, that allowed Sweetleaf and other compassionate care providers to begin operating. But recently, these charitable organizations have run into unexpected trouble. In 2016, voters approved Prop 64, legalizing cannabis for recreational use. Sales began in January of this year. Though counted as an overall win for the industry, the sale of cannabis is now regulated in such a way that makes all cannabis transactions—even donations-based ones—taxable at 15% of market value, in addition to all local taxes.

The permits required by Prop 64 in order to obtain cannabis from legal growers are costly as well. All of this puts undue financial burden on organizations like Sweetleaf that run on a small budget and do not produce revenue. Under the new tax regimen, Sweetleaf could be responsible for $50K-$200K in taxes and fees per year—an untenable situation. Cultivators, too, would be responsible for taxes on the product they donate—making them less likely to do so. Reducing the flow of free medical cannabis available to Sweetleaf’s recipients comes with a human cost. “We’re concerned,” said Airone, “because our patients are already terminal.”

According to their website, in 2017, Sweetleaf Collective was able to provide over 100 pounds of free cannabis to more than 150 patients. But since legal sales began in January 2018, Sweetleaf has distributed only 10-15 pounds of medical cannabis. Airone has said that while there are a few workarounds, the situation is complicated. For instance, cannabis cultivators can still donate product that was grown before 2018, but not after.

Airone has said that he believes the burden on charitable organizations was an unintended consequence of Prop 64. But remedying that burden has not proved easy.

Jeff Sheehy, former Supervisor for San Francisco’s District 8, authored amended regulations in the city to allow tax-exempt status for charitable organizations. However, SB 829, a bill introduced by Scott Wiener (D) earlier this year that would have exempted charitable organizations statewide from the new taxes passed both houses of the California legislature but was vetoed by Governor Brown on September 30th.  It was a blow for compassionate care advocates across the state.

The fight for separate, non-commercial regulations for compassionate cannabis providers continues. Twenty or so organizations, such as the Weed for Warriors Project, Caladrius Network, and Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana, have joined with Sweetleaf to form the California Compassion Coalition in order to lobby toward that end. Today, Sweetleaf is raising funds to help offset the cost of legal fees, as well as their advocacy and education efforts.

Hopefully, the compassionate care and the recreational sectors of the cannabis industry can one day soon coexist in a way that makes sense to voters, legislators, and people in the industry. The people of Sweetleaf Collective want to be able to provide relief—both legally, and manageably. For Airone, the struggle is worthwhile. As he was quoted earlier this year: “These people have been counting on Sweetleaf and the compassionate cannabis that we provide, free of charge, to sustain their lives.”

 

Danielle Simone Brand is a mother of two, a die-hard idealist, and a breaker of conventions. She holds a BA from Dartmouth College and an MA from American University and has worked as a staff writer, an academic editor, and a researcher on issues of international conflict resolution.


trying cannabis and yoga

I stopped using cannabis recreationally around the same time I became a yoga teacher, which was in late 2005. I’d only ever been an occasional user, and yoga’s classical recommendation for purity and clarity of mind influenced me in the direction of abstinence.

But that changed with recreational legalization in California at the beginning of this year. Now that I’m a parent, legal status absolutely matters to me. And I particularly appreciated the increasing availability of precise doses, and the proliferation of science-based explanations for the effects cannabis has on body and mind. As I began replacing a weekly glass or two of wine with a hit or two from a vape pen, I found myself relaxed while under the influence, but functional. I wouldn’t drive or go to work in that state, but I would cook dinner or watch a movie with my family. It felt like an easy—and healthy—addition.

But along with the increasing visibility of cannabis in our culture, classes and retreats like those offered by Dee Dussault of Ganja Yoga and Yogi D of 420 Yoga Retreats, are proliferating. What would happen, I wondered, if I brought yoga and cannabis together?

There is in fact another stream in the yoga tradition: the use of mind-altering substances, including cannabis and hashish, to open a window into spirit. Lord Shiva is sometimes depicted smoking a chillum. Some early yogic sects used cannabis as a sacrament, and there are sadhus (or wandering, ascetic spiritual seekers) in India today, who still do.

I consider myself an open-minded person. What is yoga, if not continual discovery? Yogis are experimenters, inventors, people who probe the depths of consciousness. So, in the comfort of my own living room, on a day with few responsibilities and at a time when my kids weren’t home, I gave it a try.

Here’s what happened:

I laid out my mat, powered off the laptop, silenced my phone. With some peaceful Indian instrumental music playing in the background, I took a hit from my vape pen.

A few minutes of sitting meditation segued into a flow of spinal undulations. I languorously moved my spine in the six directions: left and right side bends, forward bends, backbends, and twists. A particularly satisfying sensation arose when alternating between organic movements and longer holds. Vocalizations and sighs escaped my lips. Normally, my good old American inhibitions prevent this kind of release. But I was alone, and it felt good.

In the absence of excessive thought and analysis, I followed my body’s impulse to recline on my mat, soon finding myself engrossed in a fascia-releasing sequence for legs and hips. Again, through a series of movements and longer holds, I stretched my hamstrings, glutes, piriformis, adductors, groins, quadriceps, and psoas. My lower body felt alive and glowing.

I didn’t want to get up for a long while.

But the urge to stand did eventually come, so I practiced sun salutations, lunges, warrior poses, and plenty of squatting variations, like malasana. I found the same satisfying alternation between organically moving in and out of postures and holding them. Holds anywhere between thirty seconds and two minutes challenged my stamina and elevated my heart rate.

Even as my legs began to shake in horse pose, I didn’t feel the need to stop; instead, I enjoyed what felt like a powerful movement of energy. In Kripalu Yoga, teachers are known to say, “your issues are in your tissues,” and at that moment the connection between my body, heart and mind felt clear and palpable.

For a little while, I felt like a goddess having a deeply embodied yoga experience.

Things got a bit funny as I attempted headstand, sirsana, because the moment I went upside down, my dog bounded over to cover my face in sloppy kisses. I giggled and lost the posture. But instead of stressing about it, I let it go.

I then practiced some pranayama, or breath work, and melted into a blissful savasana. To the extent that I remember thinking, my thoughts flowed somewhere along the lines of: I should seriously do this more often.

The timer that I had set at the beginning sounded and I emerged from the practice, feeling deeply relaxed but a little less altered. The whole experience lasted about 90 minutes, the duration of a long yoga class. I ate lunch (which tasted delicious), returned some emails, and went about my day feeling pretty great.

Benefits:

I found sensations heightened, pleasure magnified. I also felt less goal-oriented in my practice than usual, and more willing to meet my body as it was. While experiencing less inhibition and self-consciousness, I felt increased self-awareness. From the spread of each toe, to the workings of individual muscles as I lengthened and contracted according to what the postures required, I truly inhabited my body.

While I can’t report any deep insights during the practice, I can say that I felt more of the sense of connection so many of us who practice yoga hope to receive. For me, it was both a spiritual moment and a physical one.

At a certain point, I found myself becoming preoccupied with planning the postures to come next, as well as with the list of to-dos that awaited the end of practice. But I felt easily able to recognize these thoughts and consciously set them aside. I kept a yellow pad next to me during practice, and during it jotted the notes: NOW. THIS. THAT’S ALL. And it felt true.

In addition, I felt no soreness or stiffness the next day, which substantiates my experience of paying close attention to my body.

Drawbacks:

For me, strength-building postures felt much more challenging than sensuous stretches. Peaceful, languorous energy can slip quickly into tiredness. While my physical and spiritual senses were heightened, I felt diminished mental acuity.

Conclusion:

I had a deeply-embodied, deeply-enjoyable experience combining cannabis and yoga. For those people who tend to get stuck in their heads, or to become pushy with themselves in an overly goal-oriented practice, my intuition says cannabis can help. However, those who are already well-grounded in the body might find it too sedating.

I plan to try it again, and possibly to incorporate it in my home practice once in a while. Though I won’t partake and practice often, I am now much more open to discussing cannabis and yoga, and to attending a class guided by a skilled teacher.

Om, shantih, shantih, shantih. Peace out.


does cannabis make you more creative?

From peyote to acid to alcohol to weed, artists have a long and storied history of using substances to alter perception, access different emotional states, and enhance the creative process. A 2003 study showed that around half of cannabis users believe it promotes creativity. Another study suggested that one of the effects of THC on the brain may be to help generate thoughts in an improvisational, free-flowing way, a process called divergent thinking.

Examples abound. The late comic George Carlin, known for his provocative humor, said in an interview, “Pot opens windows and doors that you may not be able to get through any other way.” Carl Sagan wrote anonymously that he found cannabis stimulated his thought process in areas other than his primary field of astrophysics. For instance, he described a series of inspirations while using cannabis that led him to write essays on what he called the “origins and invalidities” of racism. From the ancient Egyptians to contemporary musicians, countless artists have gotten high. There is even some evidence that Shakespeare smoked.

Cannabis can add color and depth to otherwise ordinary experiences and thereby help magnify the creative eye. It also relaxes the inner critic. Charlotte Burnam (a pseudonym), a comic book writer and visual artist who has worked for ten years in the cannabis industry, describes her first experiences with pot: “Smoking weed in my teens helped me relax around people and drop my hang-ups … I felt more free to be imaginative while stoned.” She goes on to describe how it was easy to compare her work with others and to perpetually fear that she fell short. But comparison only led to despair; weed has helped Charlotte remain focused on her own work instead.

Others report a subtler effect. The enhanced patience and absorption that smoking can induce may come in handy; even making art can have its tedious moments. Dave S., a Bay Area photographer who works for a nonprofit says, “Sometimes I kind of know where I’m going, but cannabis helps me get a little closer. It puts me in a different head space and, for long tasks like editing and sequencing my photos, it keeps me company.”

A British study from 2012 backs up the idea that THC’s effect on creative processes can differ widely from person to person. Gary Walker, a culinary producer, private chef and former co-star on Bravo’s Around the World in 80 Plates, says, “It relieves me from anxiety and depression and provides some pain relief. I sleep better, and I have a great appetite. All of these things contribute to a higher—pun intended—quality of life, which in turn, leads to increased levels of creativity.”

He describes a moment when he realized that incorrectly stored kale chips easily turned to “kale dust.” But instead of trashing the batch, he sprinkled it on a dish and enjoyed the flavor in a different form. “After that pot-induced revelation I was using kale dust on everything. I now call brainstorming on pot my ‘medicated meditation.’” Though many people recommend sativas like Kali Mist and Jack Herer for the creative edge, Gary finds his inspiration in indica-heavy hybrids like Girl Scout Cookies or Gorilla Glue.

It’s worth noting, however, that a 2015 study from Leiden University in the Netherlands correlated consuming higher doses of THC with lower levels of creativity. And some of the creative types interviewed also note that they felt their creative edge diminish over time with frequent use. Charlotte Burnam says that when she hit a period of unproductivity in her work she took a break from smoking: “I needed to set boundaries with my marijuana relationship... I went back to smoking flower after I accomplished something on a list of daily goals I made. Now,” she writes, “I have created a healthy balance between marijuana, creativity, and productivity.”

Others also suggested that taking a tolerance break, as well as finding new ways to shake up the creative matrix—like spending time in nature, reading outside of their usual field, or trying their hand in a new medium—may offer the needed boost.

But Charlotte hasn’t given it up altogether. On her recent project of writing and illustrating a comic book about her experiences in the marijuana industry, she says, “I prefer weed to be a part of the process. I really believe marijuana has helped my creativity by relaxing myself out of what society told me I should be as an artist.”

Danielle Simone Brand is a mother of two, a die-hard idealist, and a breaker of conventions. She holds a BA from Dartmouth College and an MA from American University and has worked as a staff writer, an academic editor, and a researcher on issues of international conflict resolution.