One day Althea & Donna dropped in on their good friend and mentor, Mikey Dread, and brought him a half-dozen of Lord Sassafrass’s certifiably scrumptious chewy molasses Durban Poison cookies. They surveyed Mikey spinning discs, flipping switches, and dialing knobs in the dee jay booth at JBC studios, Kingston’s capital radio home of the eponymously named, “Dread at the Controls“. MIkey Dread (aka Michael Campbell) was the reggae heart and soul of Jamaican Broadcasting Company’s regular transmissions, and deserved big respect and love (RIP). He greeted the generous pair and thanked them for the kind treats, then recounted to them, as if reading from a book, his meteoric rise to the top of the Trench Town radio ranks:
Even though he wasn’t permitted to talk on the air, Mikey’s “Dread at the Controls” radio show was immensely popular and made him a household name. The program was a non-stop mélange of music and sound effects. Mikey would add echo and wild, animated sounds to the records he played. But he didn’t add effects randomly. He used them to accent the records. Mikey knew when the singer was going to stop and take a break – that’s when he would add the gong or rewinding tape or cartoonish boing. His audio enhancements were so popular among listeners that people would go into Randy’s (VP Records) or other vendors asking for the records with all those effects on them. It was the most imaginatively produced radio show Jamaicans had ever heard, yet listeners rarely heard Mikey’s voice. He cleverly worked around his boss’ directive that he never open the mic himself or make live announcements. In fact, in retrospect, the order probably worked in Mikey’s favor. Rather than coming on himself to do a standard ID, Mikey recorded a variety of jingles by superstars such as Big Youth saying things like “who is the man that play roots rock reggae? Michael Campbell…. to thrill your soul.”
Mikey was the first dee jay to break the hot-hot reggae-pop debutantes, Althea & Donna, and they loved him for it. He was a big reason for their success. They recalled how it all went down, also as if reading from a book:
The producer Joe Gibbs came across a song by Reggae star Trinity called “Three Piece Suit” and he decided to record a female response as a companion. His engineer Errol Thompson came up with the backing track and the Jamaican female duo 17-year-old Althia Forest and 18 year-old Donna Reid supplied various local slang words for the lyrics. Mikey Dread featured the record on his program Dread At The Controls, and it was a hit in Jamaica. John Peel started to promote it on his BBC Radio 1 evening show and then the daytime Radio 1 DJs started to play it.
By the time they were done reminding each other of their paths to success, the trio had devoured their ital snacks and were now overwhelmed with the love and positive vibrations enwrapping them. The Durban Poison put them in a happy, energized mood, and as Mikey’s last track was about to fade, and without a segue cued up, the dee jay flipped a few switches and turned a few dials, bringing up the backing track to the duo’s smash hit, “Uptown Top Ranking”. As if on cue, Althea & Donna burst out with a dubble vocal homage to Mikey & JBC studios, freestyling their fierce love for their good friend and the studio that broke them and made them famous. They were feeling much nostalgic love, and when Mikey asked them what they wanted to call the take, they told him it could only be called one thing: “JBC Days”.
“JBC Days”, Althea & Donna’s homage to their mentor, Mikey Dread (RIP) & JBC Studios
The 13th Floor Elevators’ inception narrative is anything but immaculate. The group reconstituted the best of two pre-existing Texas bands: The Spades, featuring front man, Roky Erickson, and The Lingsmen, including Stacy Sutherland on guitar, John Ike Walton on drums, and Benny Thurman on bass. The Spades were a typical 1964 post-Beatles/Stones/Kinks Austin garage band holding “residency at Austin’s Jade Room club” (scarletdukes). The group’s single, released the following year, featured the original version of “You’re Gonna Miss Me” (and an early version of the Elevators’ “Don’t Fall Down”, called “We Sell Soul”). The Lingsmen were not of the Austin scene and were not a recording band. They were “a jug-oriented club band” hailing from a small West-Central Texas rural enclave called Kerrville, about 100 miles from Austin (scarletdukes). The future 13th Floor Elevators would later retreat to this hill country refuge whenever Austin “was no longer regarded as a safe haven” for their illicit activities (Eye Mind, 215).
Future 13th Floor Elevators Tommy Hall and Stacy Sutherland met twice before they’d established an enduring connection that would lead to their collaboration in both musical and marijuana-oriented endeavors. Both of these meetings happened informally, and perhaps providentially. The first meeting occurred at an Austin bar when Stacy was still a high school student and Tommy was an undergrad at the University of Texas. Stacy was trying to set up a marijuana score for five Austin university students and ended up chatting with Tommy while making the exchange. Their second encounter was by chance, happening down at the beach in Port Aransas. Stacy and John Ike ran in to Tommy and Clementine and were invited to join the Halls in partaking of Tommy’s Acapulco Gold , which almost got the group arrested. Those first two meetings connected Sutherland and Hall and solidified both their mutual interest in musical collaboration and their dedication to ensuring marijuana’s availability to the Austin underground, no matter the risks.
Tommy and Stacy smoked marijuana to enhance and uplift whatever they might be doing at a given time, whether hanging out with friends, contemplating the meaning of existence or making music. Cannabis procurement was their shared goal, but it was music that became the essential link in the pair’s association. Stacy was a skilled guitarist with “kaleidoscopic range” , while Tommy was an esoteric poet and underground music enthusiast. His budding friendship with Stacy and John Ike brought him into the fold and afforded him the opportunity to become a “fringe” member of The Lingsmen (scarletdukes), which was enough to assure Tommy’s place in the future Elevators. Although he wasn’t a natural musician, Tommy envisioned music’s potential to communicate important ideas and information to his peers, fellow travelers, and the world. He also understood that this communicative potential was inescapably dependent upon a rock and roll band’s teen appeal, so Tommy sized up The Lingsmen’s potential. While he and Clementine were “impressed” with both the music and The Lingmen’s sizable, enthusiastic crowd (Gathering of Promises, Ch 7), they found the band members lacking crucial teen appeal and felt that a line-up change was necessary (scarletdukes).
Tommy envisioned music as a the ultimate platform from which to communicate his deep and animated engagement with esoteric philosophy, the occult, and consciousness expanding, mind altering, psychedelic drugs. He wasn’t a musician per se, but he wrote poetry and was “clued in to the advantages of combining meaningful lyrics with volume, electricity and mind expanding drugs” (GoP, Ch 7). Tommy was a a truth-seeking intellectual above all, deeply engaged in transcending conventional experience through spiritual exploration and chemical experimentation. As a University of Texas undergraduate, Tommy “took an active part in campus life, which had a strong bohemian undercurrent, including drug experiments, underground newspapers and literary parties”(scarletdukes). He decided to form a band as a vehicle for his poetry but “had no experience with electric music, much less organizing or leading a band” (GoP, Ch 7). When Tommy announced to his friends that he would be starting a rock and roll group, he was clear about the group’s mission: “…proselytize for the acceptance and general use of psychedelic drugs” (GoP, Ch 7). To help get a band together, he developed an ad hoc method of blowing jug that produced sounds more like a didgeridoo than a trombone and which was an effective accompaniment to his lyrics.
Sump N Else TV show early 1966:
Host – Ron Chapman Ron: “Who is it that is doing the ‘doo ga doo ga doo’ Is that you?” Could you do that for me again ’cause that’s a wild sound you get there out of that jug – I thought that was an electric bass doing that all the time – let me hear…try it again” Tommy: (tests out the jug on the live mike and performs a brief run) Ron: “Give me a whole run on it.. give me a few runs on that thing” Tommy: (goes nuts and does a cool 10 second run live on TV but is encompassed by feedback) Ron: “I thought we had a bass playing doing that.. that was going like crazy… that is wild! Where did you come up with this idea?” Tommy: “oh about six months ago I just hit upon the idea” Ron: “You were just sitting around with a jug in your hand one day and decided maybe I can make music with this thing huh..I see, well you’ve come up with a great sound – this next thing is called Fire Engine I have a feeling maybe you have something to do with that do you?” Tommy: “Yeah, I wrote it” Ron: “You wrote that?” Tommy: “Yeah I wrote the words” Ron: “And do you also have a part of the jug on there?” Tommy: “Mmmhmm, yes sir” Ron: ” Ok let’s turn it back to them once again to the guys from Houston who will rock any place let’s turn it back to the 13th Floor Elevators and this thing called Fire Engine and I imagine it will be – the 113th Floor Elevators!”
from Sundazed – Pychedelic Microdots-Texas Twisted CD
Tommy & Clementine Hall (photo: helioschrome)
The Kerrville-conceived Lingsmen were a band designed specifically for live performance. Stacy and the rest “had invented the band on the spot in order to secure a summer residency at a club in Port Aransas called The Dunes” (GoP, Ch7). Music was the Lingmen’s ticket to gaining a stage and securing a residency at a club where drinks and women were within arm’s reach. All of the members had played in other bands, with other musicians, but Stacy and the Lingsmen’s lead singer, Max Range, “had played together since they were both 16…and had even backed up San Antonio’s Doug Sahm in the early stages of his career” (GoP, Ch 7). Stacy, in particular, played such a powerful role in both the 13th Floor Elevators’ sound & musicianship, and in their near existential attachment to marijuana, that it is worth quoting in full Ben Graham’s almost poetic characterization of the troubled young man who was so different from Tommy:
“Even as a teenager, Sutherland cut a dark, brooking presence, and was continually torn between a strict Baptist upbringing that appealed to his introverted, troubled soul, and a predilection for the rock ’n’ roll life, with all of the hell-raising and chemical abandon that it entailed. In Sutherland’s inner life he was literally walking between God and his angels on one hand, and Satan and his minions on the other. He seems to have felt that he was damned from birth, and if drugs like peyote and marijuana didn’t offer salvation, he used them to try and gain some kind of understanding of the supernatural forces that were controlling his destiny. All of this came out in his guitar playing; by turns haunting and savage, tender and tormented, born deep in the blues and the western twang, but ringing out with its own eerie sorrowful yearning.”
(GoP, Ch 7)
In Port Aransas, thanks to Clementine Hall’s quick thinking, they’d dodged a potential career ending bust for possession of Acapulco Gold before they’d even conceived a musical partnership. The downside of the dodge was the birth of an overextended notion that their cleverness and stealth would suffice indefinitely to protect them from the law. After meeting Stacy for the second time, Tommy “extended [the family] vacation and hung out with the band” (EM, 26). Although Tommy was writing poetry and desperate to play in a band, he had not been invited to participate in the music just yet. Stacy and Tommy were “mutually impressed by each other” (EM, 26), however, and saw promise in forging a friendship. The Halls departed Port Aransas with the intention to reconnect with Stacy, John & Benny back in Austin. The truth was that Stacy hadn’t yet sized up Tommy as a musical collaborator because he was focused almost entirely on the potential for his new friend as a “new source of marijuana” (EM, 26).
After Tommy and family left for Austin, “Stacy and Benny acquired a pound of weed for $100 and became so blatant in their dope smoking that John Ike banned any marijuana from the living quarters” (EM, 26). The riskiest moments for Stacy and his roommates generally came when there wasn’t a safe and secure hideaway for their stash, so once John Ike forbade holding their herb in the house, Stacy and Benny were perpetually on edge and beginning to panic. The Lingsmen’s guitarist and bass player became so paranoid that their fear of discovery led them to try to get rid of the stash altogether. They were planning to sell what they had left to assuage their well-founded fears until “Stacy spotted a solution.” (EM, 26). Stacy was well-aware that The Lingsmen had a reputation for “turning on” (EM, 26) and was clued in that a few cops were watching closely. He and Benny would head up to the Port Aransas gunnery each morning to smoke out and enjoy their view of the entire island. From their perch, they also spied the police parked below and were convinced that the cops knew they were getting high. When they saw the cops heading up after them, Stacy and Benny would hide their stash in the sand. The police would probe the sand for the illicit stash while Stacy and Benny trolled them by asking them what they were doing. The marijuana panic finally eased and was transformed into a lighthearted cat and mouse game. Stacy recalled, “It was a big sport in a way” (EM, 26), and wrote a song about it called “Tried to Hide”.
The Lingsmen’s next run-in with the police was similar to the first in that the cops were, by Stacy’s telling, easily outsmarted. Clementine Hall proved this on the beach with the near bust, and Stacy and Benny were having similar success in their daily morning sessions up on the gunnery. The downside of the apparent ease of deceiving law enforcement was that the boys could be lulled into complacency. One mistake, one oversight, could lead to their discovery and arrest. It was inevitable that as long as the cat and mouse game continued, there increased the chance of getting busted. But Stacy and Benny were young, rebellious, clever, and felt freer and less paranoid while away from the city. Stacy couldn’t help but write a song about their cops and robbers adventures he called “Tried to Hide”, which became the b-side to their first single and later a highlight of the first 13th Floor Elevators LP. Musically the track evoked Stacy’s love of The Kinks and their wild beat sound “and bastardized the riff to ‘Come On Now,’ the B-side of their current U.S. hit ‘Tired of Waiting for You’” (EM, 26). The Elevators’ version of “Tried to Hide” retained a portion of the original lyrics, this verse evoking Stacy’s initial paranoia:
You blew what you had and tried to sell it
You thought what you were and you tried to tell it
And when I got near
All I saw was fear
And I know you tried to hide
And you cried ‘cos you lied about it…
“Tried to Hide” The Lingsmen / 13th Floor Elevators
The song cut both ways vis a vis Stacy’s recognition of what was at stake if he were busted. On one hand, it was explicit acknowledgement of the outsized role the hide and seek game had taken in their lives, but on the other hand, it was almost a taunt, mocking the police for their failure to catch them in the act. If it was a taunt (hard to know without the original lyrics), it was a recipe for carelessness that could lead to their being caught. To wit, one night while getting ready to play their regular gig, “John Ike got talking to a man at the bar that reminded him of Johnny Cash” (EM, 29), after which a few of the security guards, who happened to be policemen, informed The Lingsmen’s drummer that he had been speaking with “the head of the state narcotics commission” (EM, 30). As if under the protection of a guardian angel, the boys were again saved the fate of incarceration, this time by cops moonlighting as security. After revealing to John Ike the identity of his interlocutor, the guards told him unequivocally, “‘You boys better get out of here. You’re talking to The Man. He wants you guys’” (EM, 30). John Ike thanked the officers sincerely and went to inform his bandmates.
The Lingsmen beat a hasty retreat and began breaking down their equipment. Meanwhile, back up musicians Danny and Bobby Galindo, called in by Lingsmen vocalist Max Range for that night’s show, were just pulling up to the club and “witnessed the old band loading their equipment and Bonneville motorcycle onto the back of a pickup truck” (EM, 30). The Galindo brothers immediately turned tail and drove back home. The following morning, “the vice squad raided the ‘Lingshack’…hoping to find them still sleeping, but found only a scattering of marijuana seeds and stems” (EM, 30). Stacy, John and Benny were gone, back to Kerrville or Austin, as far away from the vice squad as possible. This was the closest call yet and their escape from certain incarceration was dependent on the unlikely kindness of a few off duty cops. As far as near busts went, this was about as near as one could be without getting caught. The Lingsmen were done for good, and in their place Max Range gathered a new back-up band dubbed “The Laughing Kind”, who continued to play the coastal circuit until 1967, when Danny Galindo left to take his place as an one of the Elevators (EM, 30).
Dick Clark: Alright. Well let me just stay loose with you for a second.
In all my 50 years, I’d never given much thought to those in legal jeopardy for cannabis. In California in the 1970s and 1980s the penalty for simple possession was a misdemeanor citation and a fine, and I didn’t know anyone risking more than that. Then at some point in the last decade I read Eye Mind, the superb oral history of the 1960s Texas psych-punk band, 13th Floor Elevators, written by Paul Drummond. While the Elevators’ contemporaries in New York (Velvet Underground, for example) and California (The Doors, etc.) never faced a truly existential crisis over simple marijuana use or possession, the Elevators were constantly harassed by Texas law enforcement, specifically for cannabis. Ironically, marijuana was not the band’s main psychoactive indulgence, as they were more notably passionate believers in LSD’s potential for spiritual enlightenment and elevated consciousness. Marijuana simply kept the guys prepared to act upon their psychedelic ambitions as they created and performed their soul stirring music. As Paul Drummond discusses in Eye Mind, “all of the members of the band, minus [drummer] John Ike, would ceremonially take LSD and ‘play the acid’” (PD, 31).
Led by Roky Erickson on vocals and by jug-blowing spirit guide, Tommy Hall, on all matters esoteric, the 13th Floor Elevators synchronized their ambitions as musicians with their individual and collective yearnings for spiritual enlightenment. Tommy and Roky together midwifed a vision for the band’s purpose: Channel the elevated consciousness and cosmic spirituality of an acid trip into the listening audience though music, especially when performing live. As Jon Savage notes in 1966, his exhaustive analysis of the cultural and social transformations happening in that pivotal year, the 13th Floor Elevators “explicitly formed to broadcast LSD consciousness” (JS, 110) and their first LP was “designed to act as an acid guide” (JS, 518). Although acid became the band’s modus operandi vis a vis their art and their audience, cannabis remained the drug of choice in their day to day activities as it did for many of their counter-culture peers. For the Elevators’ generation, marijuana signified a rebellion against their parents’ clumsy, conformist boozing, and became for them and their peers the drug of choice for daily use.
Cannabis was a training ground that readied the band for a new perspective on life and opened the musicians’ minds to Tommy Hall’s calls to explore the intellectually esoteric and spiritually sublime underpinnings of acid. Their first album, The Psychedelic Sounds of…, included liner notes written by Tommy that reflected his vision of “using a hallucinogenic catalyst to transcend the barrier of the stage and evoke synesthesia…with the intention of extending the effect to the audience through their performance” (PD, 31). The Psychedelic Sounds of… achieves this in both form and substance, featuring a wildly colorful cover containing occult images (pyramid, third eye) and a manifesto penned by the band’s jug-blowing philosopher that reads in part:
Recently it has become possible for man to chemically alter his mental state and thus alter his point of view (that is, his own basic relation with the outside world which determines how he stores his information). He then can restructure his thinking and change his language so that his thoughts bear more relation to his life and his problems, therefore approaching them more sanely.
It is this quest for pure sanity that forms the basis of the songs on this album.
(Tommy Hall, Psychedelic Sounds of back cover notes)
REVERBERATION is the root of all inability to cope with environment. Doubt causes negative emotions, which reverberate and hamper all constructive thought. If a person learns and organizes his knowledge in the right way — with perfect cross-reference — he need not experience doubt or hesitation.
(Tommy Hall, Psychedelic Sounds of back cover notes)
The 13th Floor Elevators’ close association with LSD and use of heavy psychedelics in the creation and performance of its music would seem to suggest that hallucinogens had the most profound influence on the band’s trajectory and ultimate fate. In one sense, particularly when considering the band members as individuals, this is true. It was clear in the end that chronic ingestion of hallucinogens took a toll on Roky, Tommy and the rest (except for drummer, John Ike), though it was Roky, institutionalized as the band disintegrated, who was the most damaged. As a group, existentially speaking, the Elevators faced a much more imminent and severe threat than LSD could ever pose. After all, LSD was legal until the end of October 1968. The band members might have lost their minds, but for the majority of the time the group was together, acid trips weren’t going to get them busted by the overzealous Texas detectives and prosecutors. Cannabis use, on the contrary, did get them busted on several occasions. Notably, LSD was made illegal at about the same time Roky was committed and the band imploded.
The State of Texas had been battling the scourge of cannabis for fifty years and featured the first city in the United States to pass an anti-cannabis law, which was in effect when the Elevators hit the scene. According to Martin A. Lee in his detailed history of cannabis, Smoke Signals, “Smoking grass became commonplace among dispossessed Mexicans in border towns such as El Paso, Texas, which passed the first city ordinance banning the sale and possession of cannabis in 1914” (ML, 41). Texas was caught up in a nativist, anti-immigration fever at the time and many of its lawmakers blamed Mexican immigrants for trafficking marijuana into the state. In fact, it may have been cannabis’s association with Mexican immigrants that fueled popular anti-marijuana animus, rather than having much to do with marijuana per se. As Lee notes, “Public officials and newspaper reports depicted marijuana, the Mexican loco weed, as a dangerous, vice, an alien intrusion into American life” (ML, 41). Texans viewed anti-cannabis legislation as one of many legal means to regulate the lives of Mexican immigrants and “keep the newcomers in their place” (ML, 41).
Cannabis had been unregulated for much of American history and hemp was viewed ubiquitously as a strong, reliable, adaptable, fibrous material ideal for use in clothing, tents, sails, and a myriad of other products. Its seeds could be used to make oil or consumed as a nutritious dietary supplement. Marijuana was widely smoked during the Jazz Age and seemed to reach a high point in recreational use, which is what probably caught the attention of authorities seeking a soberer society who viewed marijuana as “a dangerous drug with no therapeutic value” (ML, 54). By 1937, the U.S. Congress had been convinced by anti-cannabis crusaders that marijuana’s medicinal benefits were outweighed by its potential for corrupting American society and thus needed to be placed out of public reach. Consequently, in 1937, Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act, which Franklin Delano Roosevelt duly signed, effectively taxing all forms of cannabis and hemp out of public reach.
The Federal government has continued to classify cannabis as a schedule 1 narcotic over the decades, deeming it devoid of any medical use, its possession punishable by fines and imprisonment. In spite of legalization in a number of states, cannabis continues to be criminalized at the Federal level, and remains illegal in Texas. The only difference between the 1960s and today vis a vis cannabis law in Texas, is that today medical CBD use is allowed. There are still enough who view marijuana with the same moral indignation as their forebears, however, to keep anti-cannabis laws on the books. Possession of marijuana in Texas still carries with it legal ramifications if caught, but there is reason to hope that eventually Texas will join in decriminalizing herb. The generation gap is so much narrower than it was when the Elevators were an active band that it is safe to assume that many lawmakers have had some experience with cannabis, even if only indirectly. It is far too clear that cannabis is not the scourge so much propaganda sought to make it out to be.
Medical marijuana has been “legal” in California for so long that it is hard to remember what it was like to buy cannabis in the pre-legalization days, let alone attempt to fathom what it was like in Texas in the mid-1960s. Cannabis became the Elevators’ cause célèbre in large part because Tommy and his wife, Clementine, regularly smuggled ounces of sinsemilla from Mexico, supplying themselves and their friends with abundant, potent herb. It earned the band respect and adulation from their cannabis smoking fans, increasing their profile in a competitive regional teen garage-rock scene. That was the positive effect of their smuggling operation. Unfortunately the operation played an equal role in attracting attention from the authorities, who had been after them before they’d even become the 13th Floor Elevators, and who would not cease their pursuit until Roky’s last days as a free man.
Clementine was Tommy’s wife and smuggling partner. The pair routinely drove across the border to score ounces of potent Mexican sinsemilla which they would share with their many friends and fellow travelers in Texas.
One might argue that Eye Mind is both a band biography and a recitation of cannabis bust after cannabis bust, and further, that the Elevators’ story could be told simply in terms of those busts. Paul Drummond takes great pains to excavate each of these incidents and contextualizes them in terms of how they affected the band dynamic. It beggars belief that the band was able to create and record so much groundbreaking material while constantly under the watchful eye of the fuzz. There are far too many busts recounted in Eye Mind to include in a single blog post, so best to start at the beginning and move on from there in future articles. The first bust of note was actually a near-bust resulting in no arrests, but it set the tone for the ensuing years and the unavoidable paranoia that would take hold as a result. This was their first cannabis-related encounter with Texas law enforcement, and they hadn’t even formed the Elevators yet!!
The Roky-less original line-up was called The Lingsmen and included future Elevators Tommy Hall, playing jug, and Stacy Sutherland, the band’s lead guitarist. A quick search of the web doesn’t turn up any Lingsmen recordings and if recollection serves, there may not be any. They were a working band playing gigs in Port Aransas on the Gulf Coast. The earliest Elevators-related recordings that my feeble fingers were able to unearth are the two sides of a 45 by Roky’s first band, The Spades. Their single included an early version of “You’re Gonna Miss Me”, which would later become the Elevators most well known track. The b-side contained an early version of what was later dubbed “Don’t Fall Down”, called “We Sell Soul”.
Stacy Sutherland would later write or co-write many of the Elevator’s songs, occasionally accompanying Roky on vocals. Stacy had already been smoking cannabis in high school and recalled that “’the easiest way to score grass was to order, from a certain bartender, ‘a brandy, with a little something in it’” (PD, 25). The little something, would be just that – a little. But Stacy did not want a little. Stacy enjoyed smoking marijuana and wanted a big score, something he could hold, that would last, that he could sell to friends to make a little cash (PD, 25). It was on one of these runs, when Stacy was trying to coordinate a score with five university kids in Austin requiring “several exchanges”, when he “ran into [Tommy] at the Shamrock Bar, and we stood there and talked a while, you know, and that was it. I never saw him again” (PD, 25). This was the first crucial link in the Elevators’ chain, taking place in the middle of a score, and would have come and gone unnoticed if the Stacy and Tommy hadn’t run into each other a second time, just as randomly.
Like a year or so later we ran into him on the beach one day and just got talking. And like he had some Acapulco Gold with him, we got stoned, we drank some Romilar (cough syrup with codeine)…and I had a really bum trip. It was too much . . .
This ready willingness to indulge made for quick comradeship even if their first trip together was a bummer. They were still a ways away from starting a band together, but they’d already laid out a blueprint for the Elevators in that one afternoon. Future Elevators’ drummer, John Ike, was along for the ride and recalls meeting Tommy, his wife, Clementine, and her kids, at a gas station. They knew Tommy was hip by his “long hair and Beatle boots” as both groups “knocked each other off as heads” (PD, 26). Ike elaborates on what Stacy felt was a bad trip:
I was ripped beyond belief, man, I was hallucinating, houses were turning into monsters and walking across the land. We went to this stand called ‘Custer’s Last Stand,’ but I don’t remember being able to talk, and they asked us if we were from Russia because we were talking like wah, wah, wah, and they couldn’t understand us. We couldn’t understand each other.
What’s funny about Ike’s telling is the further association of marijuana with an alien, invading culture. Early 20th century anti-marijuana crusaders and the laws they helped pass targeted the drug in part because of its association with Mexico and “alien” Mexican immigrant culture. During the cold war 1950s and 1960s, Russians represented the invading force, with science fiction movies casting them as alien intruders, often to the legato wailing of a theremin. Ike’s casting of the group as speaking in alien-like wah wah language links the Acapulco Gold and communist infiltration with a bizarre musical wah wah code. Ironically, the 13th Elevators guitarists didn’t really utilize wah wah pedals.
In the end, Stacy, Tommy and Clementine were fortunate they weren’t busted. Clementine, perhaps acting on maternal instinct given that her children were with them, knew she had to work fast or they’d all be going to jail. John Ike recalls:
The cops came up, but Clementine jumped out of the car and said, ‘What’s wrong, officers? We’re a family and we’re camped here.’ And they left us alone. If they’d rolled down the window and smelled the Acapulco Gold we’d still be in prison.
This was only the beginning. The Elevators hadn’t yet been conceived and Roky wasn’t in the picture, yet the narco squad was already hassling future band members about cannabis. This scene would be repeated time and again and again and again . . . ad infinitum. The band would be like a comet, hurtling out of control, propelling itself forward without thought of slowing down, let alone stopping, almost like a scorched earth strategy. The Elevators were a one way force majeur, speeding through Texas with the throttle wide open, fueling themselves with copious amounts of cannabis and LSD. It comes as no surprise then, that the band inevitably would run headlong into the big blue wall. They might bounce off and head in a different direction, but that wall always had a way of arising, to silence the music and stop the fun. It was only a matter of time before the band’s impact on that big blue wall would bring everything crashing down around them.
Watch out for more stories about the 13th Floor Elevators’ marijuana mayhem here at Swedish Flying Saucer.
I was planning to start writing a review of my new 710 life micro mini enail as soon as I returned home from yesterday morning’s dispensary visit. The enail – my first! – was a 3rd night Hanukkah (Marijuanukah!) gift from Mrs. Swedish Flying Saucer, who has grown leery of the butane torch and the harsher high temp dabs it tends to produce. I’ve enjoyed using the nail for the past few days and want to spread the word in a new review on the blog, but yesterday’s superlative return to NoHo’s Green Valley Collective left me racing home to jot down notes reaffirming the positives I’d experienced on my first visit there. The enail review could wait.
Each enail session brings me further along the learning curve, giving me greater insight into both the 710 life product and the enail dabbing process. The longer I wait to write a formal 710 life review, the more enail information there will be to discuss. But an enail won’t produce any vapor without some sort of wax to heat, and enail users, like all other serious cannabis users, benefit from thoughtful, detailed dispensary reviews directing them to sellers of safe, potent and affordable products. As a newly converted enail user, I wanted to preempt my 710 life review by highlighting an east valley storefront I’ve reviewed here previously that has helped me and can help others. A dispensary employing friendly, knowledgable budtenders and staff, selling reasonably priced, quality, tested waxes.
Realizing I might not have time for cannabis shopping for a few days, I shuffled my morning’s itinerary to make room for a dispensary run. Best bet was to go early, so I pulled up Weedmaps to see which shops were open before 9am. There were a few in my vicinity that opened at 6am, but they weren’t ideal due to either poor inventory, high prices, recreational only taxes, or any combination of the three. After spending 30 to 40 minutes scanning and re-scanning menus for inventories, price points, discounts, and hours of operation, I decided that a return trip to Green Valley Collective was my best bet. Based on my impressive first visit there, it was long overdue.
Of the dispensary menus, deals & details I perused online yesterday, GVC’s were the most balanced across the board. Some other local storefronts open earlier, others have lower shelf prices or bigger discounts, and there’s at least one local dispensary that still does not charge tax. But for every one strength possessed by any of these other storefronts, there are downsides and mitigating factors that tend to negate the positives and undermine the overall experience. As I scanned GVC’s menu for the third or fourth time and considered my prior experience there, I realized that I had been remiss in waiting so long for a return visit.
I reviewed the menu and recalled the highlights of Green Valley Collective’s offerings, the Flavor wax varieties, both familiar and affordable, some shatter and a handful of connoisseur varieties. I also took note that yesterday, Thursday, was their regular BOGO 15% off concentrates discount day (I would later learn that the discount is now BOGO 20%!). I navigated to GVC’s webpage to see if there was anything else to glean and remembered that recently I registered at their website and received an e-mail with a 15% discount coupon. This was a good sign.
The time was quickly approaching 9am, when Green Valley Collective opens its doors to cannabis consumers. I wanted to get there as soon as possible to be back home and out of the rain before the weather worsened, so I grabbed an umbrella and hopped in the car. The ongoing downpour had the streets lined with slow-moving vehicles sloshing through rivers of sitting rainwater. I drove down Magnolia and passed the dispensary, hoping to grab some cash from the Chase bank branch next door. I pulled into the waterlogged lot only to discover that the neighboring branch had closed and that I would have to navigate through heavy rush hour traffic to another. I kept my cool and took the diversion as a challenge, doubling back in the rain to another ATM. Cash finally in wallet, I found my way back to GVC through street-streaming rivulets and a few unmoored autos.
Rain continued to deluge North Hollywood and I was again thankful for Green Valley Collective’s huge back parking lot. My Vasques kept my feet warm and dry as I plodded through a few pools of water and headed towards the front of the building. I pulled open one of the entry doors and walked straight into into a very welcoming warmth and coziness. From the lighting to the temperature to the friendly people who greeted me, this was an amiable invitation to escape the gloomy, inhospitable weather outside. There was no doubt that this was where I wanted to be.
With the doors closed behind me I took the opportunity to confirm an observation I’d been unsure about after my last visit. I recalled that there was no wall partitioning the dispensary area from the front desk. Most dispensaries separate the inner, cannabis-dispensing areas from the exterior waiting and front desk areas, using solid walls and locked doors. The walled-off, compartmentalized feel can be claustrophobic and anxiety inducing. But not at GVC. Green Valley Collective’s lack of such a barrier gives the entire dispensary a haimish feel, with staff appearing relaxed and at ease, setting a positive tone, leaving customers feeling calm and happy. They seem to realize that happiness is contagious, and that customers will not only appreciate it, but will respond in kind.
I noticed from afar a couple of customers already working with budtenders and I wasn’t sure how long my wait would be, but I was buzzed in right away. I situated myself between the stanchions in the middle of the inner dispensary and took advantage of the opportunity to peruse the panorama of varieties on display. It was an impressive sight, but as soon as I’d begun to take a closer look, a third budtender appeared behind the counter and welcomed me. We walked to the wax shelves and Kcee, my budtender, proved just as knowledgable, friendly and patient with me as Jessica had been on my first visit.
The waxes in stock reflected what I’d seen on Weedmaps and as I expected, I chose some Flavor crumble & live resin sugar as well as a few half-grams of shatter made by TerpX, a brand I’d not yet tried. All items were competitively but reasonably priced. None of my selections packed a potent THC punch as is found in other saps and sauces that reach well into the 80% level, but the waxes I took home are all of excellent quality and are terpene treats when dabbed on quartz with the enail set at that magical 710-720 range.
Kcee and I talked about a variety of topics including THC tolerance levels, the patrons of $80 and $90 grams of wax, and most importantly, Green Valley Collective now taking debit and credit cards for store purchases. I recently learned of another local dispensary also just beginning to accept credit and debit cards. This is good and an encouraging sign for the industry and perhaps for national legalization, especially if the current system succeeds. GVC charges a modest $3 fee to use these methods of payment, the same fee charged at non-bank ATMs everywhere. It is a small price to pay if you’re short on cash.
We continued chatting as Kcee rang me up and I mentioned my previous Green Valley Collective review, which I wasn’t sure if they’d seen because I hadn’t heard back after sending them the link. Before I was finished asking, I spied a happy look of recognition on Kcee’s face as she tried to recall the name “Swedish Flying Saucer” and motioned to Jessica, my prior budtender, who was standing just next to us. Jessica was smiling as well and we exchanged greetings. I was really pleased to know that they were aware of the superlative qualities that defined my first visit and I appreciated that my review was received so well.
A first impression can either be the best impression or a total fluke. One never knows for certain until testing that first impression over time. I’ve been thoroughly impressed on first visits to some dispensaries only to be disappointed on subsequent trips. In contrast, my return trip to Green Valley Collective was an unqualified success and validated all the positives I experienced on my initial visit. I really like the folks who work at GVC, the products they sell, the prices they charge, the discounts they offer, as well as the building’s interior design, lighting, parking, location and hours of operation. It appears a fun and positive environment in which to work, and I can only hope to land a cannabis job in a setting like that when the opportunity arises. In the interim, I’m going to look forward to my next trip down Magnolia to visit the kind folks at Green Valley Collective as a customer. It’ll be soon, but it’ll have to be a Thursday BOGO 20% day, or a Friday “choose any daily deal of the week” day, or if I’m making a large purchase coz I’m somehow rollin in the dough, a Saturday spend $200 get 15% off day. Green Valley Collective isn’t just a storefront I enjoy patronizing; it is an environment that lifts my spirits and feels a little like home.
Swedish Flying Saucer has from inception intended to reach beyond the confines of wordpress blogdom and expand our scope and potential. To that end, we gleefully announce the creation of Swedish Flying Saucer’s music production arm. To celebrate our expansion, we’re announcing our first release, from a recently discovered group called Bob O.G. & The White Widow Glookiez. Their sounds evoke the space rock, psychedelic, cosmische musik stylings of 1970s German groups like Neu! and Faust and heavier English analogues like Hawkwind. The group takes their name from a variety of strains, flower and concentrates, and features Screamin’ Diz on lead & electronics and Fudgie Tajentu holding down the rhythm like a fine tuned pendulum. Budd’r Crumble Flower Bowl is available to stream or download on Bandcamp, here :
It was a chance encounter between Althea and Donna, two erudite and enlightened educators enrolled in a summer Shakespeare seminar here in the City of Angels that sparked a successful cannabis-converting collaboration between the legendary Lord Sassafrass and the powerful Prince Jazzbo. Althea and Donna would become widely known and beloved for their 1977 reggae-pop hit, “Uptown Top Ranking”, which versioned many earlier reggae hits including Trinity‘s “Three Piece Suit and Thing” and Alton Ellis‘s original / Marcia Aitken‘s cover of “I’m Still In Love with You”:
Their musical collaboration and success would come later, but in the interim both women were very pleased to connect their spouses, also future reggae notables. Donna’s partner, Lord Sassafrass, would eventually find commercial success, but his earlier records would prove the best. His work with the great Lee Scratch Perry on his Upsetter produced 1978 single, “Green Bay Inquest”, a version of Perry’s earlier production of Debra Keese & The Black Five’s “Traveling”, would become a highlight of his early career :
Althea’s better half, Prince Jazzbo, had already been producing his own records and would in 1976 work with Channel One‘s Bunny Lee in King Tubby‘s studio on the LP “Kick Boy Face” (a name later assumed by the French-Los Angeles punk denizen and Slash magazine scribe, Claude Bessy) and with Lee Scratch Perry and the Upsetters in Black Ark Studios on Jazzbo’s classic album, Ital Corner. “Natty Past Through Rome”, which Perry would also dub up for the b-side, “Rockstone Dub”, would be considered a classic track from this latter LP.
Althea and Donna were yet to join forces for musical fame; they first had to find common ground for a friendship. As it turned out, the two top-notch teachers lived in almost perambulatory proximity, which was particularly productive because shortly after the start of their seminar, the pedagogical pair readily ride-shared the course’s first field trip. During the drive the duo casually conversed about their better halves’ present preoccupations. The revealing repartee coaxed out a core commonality in their partners’ philosophies indicating a keen interest in cannabis. Donna gave Althea some rhetorical reconnaissance about Lord Sassafrass’s emergent enterprise, a privately built virtual spacecraft of the mind called Swedish Flying Saucer, just then climbing celestially towards a cosmic perch from which to capture the current character of the California cannabis industry. Althea was animated in acknowledging Sassafrass’s activity and advised Donna accordingly about Prince Jazzbo’s parallel penchant for homegrown herb and cannabis confections. For the rest of their ride, Althea and Donna related to each other their respective spouses’ commitments to cannabis.
Donna described Sassafrass’s tried and true talent for converting fresh cannabis flower into carefully crafted comestibles, and Althea readily rejoined that her roommate, Jazzbo, had a green grow happening at the homestead and was feeling out for a fellow traveler to convert his cannabis into a connoisseur’s cornucopia. In no time at all these two inspired instructors constructed a prospective collaboration between the two men that would engage their effusive interest in herb and commence correspondence between them.
Jazzbo cabled Lord Sassafrass about his grow and mentioned his mission to find someone to make marijuana medibles. It was a fine and inviting bit of outreach, but Sassafrass declined the offer, lacking confidence in his cannabis cooking skills. He had made batches upon batches of pungent and potent cookies that most folks couldn’t choke down, jar after jar of bitter, sweet and powerful honey slides that only Neil Young would appreciate, and hundreds of medical maricaps that lost their THC qualities far too quickly. In other words, out of respect for cannabis and for his new contact, Lord Sassafrass at first declined Prince Jazzbo’s offer and suggested contingent considerations, because he did not feel his cannabis cooking skills could be called competent.
In the ensuing days, Lord Sassafrass was at a loss for having missed an opportune moment so closely married to the Swedish Flying Saucer mission. He felt even more morose for missing out on a meeting of the marijuana-minded. Sassafrass continued to compose about and correspond with others in the cannabis industry and was convinced he’d not hear from Jazzbo again. Then one day, a few months later, Prince Jazzbo was back. He messaged Lord Sassafrass a new missive reiterating his reasons for contemplating this cannabis cooking cooperation and announced most modestly an absence of expectation about Sassafrass’s baking. Jazzbo had never met Sassafrass, had only once corresponded with him, and yet was willing to entrust this questionable quantity with a plentiful portion of his planted pakalolo. This was a second chance for Sassafrass to honor the outsourced opportunity and he joyously jumped at the chance to dry, cut, grind, decarb, convert to cannabutter, and then bake the imminent harvest into enticing edibles.
Within days Lord Sassafrass had ascended the hilly heights to Prince Jazzbo’s palace to inhale the sweet, aerated aroma of many mature, verdant, sticky and particularly resinous cannabis plants, still potted and soon prepared for harvest. Jazzbo had patiently plotted and nurtured the plants’ potential for particularly serious potency and as the days grew shorter and the weather grew volatile and somewhat unhinged, he knew harvest time was here and began to prune. The plants had persevered through a ransacking by rain and a weakening by howling winds that harassed the city in the preceding days, and Jazzbo took swift action, sectioning off stems of the strong sativa strain and bringing the weather-beaten buds inside to begin the drying process. Jazzbo thoughtfully hung these stems in his home to have ready for Sassafrass’s haul back to the ‘burbs where he would soon begin his big bake. Jazzbo proved his professionalism with his proactive management and maintenance of his marijuana plants. Jazzbo’s care and concern for cultivating consumable cannabis was clear.
Time passed quickly as the two talked music and marijuana while Sassafrass acknowledged the affable advances of Althea’s and Jazzbo’s sweet and convivial canine. Just as Jazzbo was waxing wisely on the wild musical ways of Pharoah Sanders, his sonorous soliloquy was suddenly superseded by the sound of the dinging doorbell. Prince Jazzbo had invited the good Dr. Alimantado to join in the proto-harvest cannabis pruning and was expecting him. It was clear to Sassafrass at once that Jazzbo’s friend was a true fellow traveler for whom music and marijuana meant more than many other matters. Jazzbo introduced Sassafrass to his good friend whom Sassafrass would soon learn was also a lover of retrogrademusical movements. Dr. Alimantado would one day delight denizens with his own percussive patois on tracks such as “I Killed The Barber” from his classic 1978 LPBest Dressed Chicken in Town. Alimantado’s “Barber” was a vamped version of John Holt‘s “Ali Baba”. But for now this trio was but a gathering of a few new friends focused fully on the Prince’s plants, the kind that would inform and influence their future forays as musicians.
After giving his guests a chance to greet each other, Prince Jazzbo paraded Dr. Alimantado around the plants on the patio and broke a few budded branches off of the bunch for Alimantado to dry and trim. Jazzbo then took his visitors up to the den to display to them his box of freshly dried and trimmed flower. Jazzbo generously bagged up a bouquet of buds for both Sassafrass and Alimantado to take home. Jazzbo then proffered Dr. Alimantado and Lord Sassafrass a pipe and the trio sat satisfyingly out above the courtyard and continued their compelling conversation. Sassafrass thought he’d heard Jazzbo say that he’d ceased smoking, which was the reason he wasn’t wafting it up with them, and also the reason he’d offered Lord Sassafrass the edibles enterprise. For the next hour or so, Jazzbo, Alimantado and Sassafrass sat in the shaded sun soaking up all the sounds and stories they could share. The banter was an absolute blast, and Lord Sassafrass left Jazzbo’s princely palace looking forward to future encounters with his new friends.
Lord Sassafrass flew over hill to home in Prius power-mode, with stemmed buds strewn across the rear seats in a wide-open 30-gallon trash bag. Windows down and climate control engaged, the sweet and powerfully pungent scintillation of freshly cut cannabis permeated the Prius. Sassafrass enjoyed the aromatic envelopment almost as much as he sought to be certain that the smell would be silenced in time for the school bell in sixty minutes. Fortunately, Lord Sassafrass stocked particularly potent packets of odor eliminator in his car to aid in ameliorating the olfactory onslaught of odiferous malodorousness.
Once home, Sassafrass took little time to tease out a tactic for drying the deciduous detachments. He located and lashed twine to metallic rods and cardboard sockets in his garage and ably affixed each of the twelve shimmering bud- and leaf-bearing branches to the twine to dry. After hanging the twelfth branch, Lord Sassafrass stepped back to gaze and gawk at the terrifically trichomed brilliance bound up in each bursting bud. A moderate yet steady drying process precluded any further planning, so Lord Sassafrass found a fan, flicked the switch and sealed the saplings in to deter unwelcome eyes from pursuing the pungent aroma to its present position. There was nothing more for Lord Sassafrass to do than sit for five or six sunsets until the hanging hemp was dry, but not desiccated. While he waited, Sassafrass studied up on the strain and seeds Prince Jazbo had planted to produce such a stunning sativa. Lord Sassafrass sought to understand the strain’s strengths and subtleties and use them as a source of inspiration to coax out his culinary capabilities.
Sassafrass knew that Jazzbo had obtained the seeds for a pure sativa strain native to Africa called Durban Poison. He started digging and discovered on the website Westword that Durban Poison had been voted in 2015 one of the three most popular cannabis strains in Colorado. This piqued Sassafrass’s interest in the Poison and he pondered Westword’s pronouncement that Durban Poison was a legendary strain, inspiring bootleg imitators and wannabe seed bankers to germinate fakes. Sassafrass was suddenly susceptible to becoming skeptical about the seeds sewn by Prince Jazzbo, but then he recalled Jazzbo’s assertion of the seeds’ African authenticity. Once convinced of the cannabis’s proper provenance, Lord Sassafrass pondered the potent flower’s effects and how its edible form would foster different feelings because of the high concentration of THC.
Lord Sassafrass was grateful for the additional multiple grams of dried Durban Poison he’d gathered at Jazzbo’s house thanks to Jazzbo’s generosity and goodwill, and he gladly engaged Jazzbo’s ganja in the days following that first visit. The acrid aroma of uncured herb had dissipated decidedly from Jazzbo’s dried Durban Poison and in its place Sassafrass sensed was the Poison’s more commonly encountered pungent-cum-earthy palette. Sassafrass had detected a diesel flavor when he and Dr. Alimantado bonded over the bowl they smoked at Jazzbo’s and now sensed it again. Lord Sassafrass also ventured to vest a ground up half-gram in his compact vaping unit known at the AirVape X. He first filled his failsafe four-stage grinder full and finessed the fudge-like stickiness of the full flower finally to furnish him with the right dimensions for the device. Next he dialed the digital thermostat to four hundred and twenty-eight degrees and waited a few minutes for full heat before finally filling his lungs with fresh vapor tasting of pine and earth. He did not detect the diesel in the vaped Durban as much as he had when they’d smoked the sativa.
Lord Sassafrass continued to vape and smoke the Durban flower and gauged the potency and effects produced by Jazzbo’s happening harvest as he awaited the drying process in his garage to be done. He was so accustomed to indica’s comatose couch-lock that he was caught off-guard and pleasantly surprised by the sativa’s sublime cerebral stimulation. Daytime doses of Durban Poison kept Lord Sassafrass focused, energized and on-task, and often found him forgetting he was high. When Sassafrass paused from a task to rest, the high returned rapidly and he was reminded right away that he’d already readied himself with a round of rips from Jazzbo’s homegrown harvest. Lord Sassafrass’s research revealed that the most manageable and meaningful manner in which to master this motivating marijuana was to maintain mental focus and find fun or fascinating activities and follow-thru with them. The effects of Jazzbo’s exotic strain would surprise Lord Sassafrass even more in subsequent days, as his motivation to make explicit the most accurate description of the strain’s full effects encouraged an encounter with flower in a more concentrated, edible form.
Prince Jazzbo’s Durban Poison gave Lord Sassafrass an entirely new experience with cannabis. Sassafrass was a long time indica loyalist who suffered from insomnia and medicated with marijuana to support sleep. Indica, especially in concentrated form, induced relaxation, comfort and occasionally, couch lock. Sassafrass had sampled various sativas in the past, but many were sativa-dominant hybrids, and others were simply unremarkable. Jazzbo’s Durban Poison, on the contrary, was a one hundred percent sativa that affected Sassafrass in ways he was totally unused to. Jazzbo’s poison was almost completely cerebral in effect and left his friend free of languor or limpness in his limbs. Sassafrass sought to summarize the sativa’s superlative high, particularly after consuming the strain in concentrated form, but was unsatisfied with what he’d scribbled down. Fortunately he found a finer account than his own on the Westword website that mirrored his experience and made explicit the effects produced by Jazzbo’s Durban Poison:
The classic sativa hails from southern Africa as a landrace strain, meaning its original genetics were pure and free of anything indica. After being smuggled out of Africa in the ’70s, Durban Poison gained popularity in Amsterdam because of its heavy smell and short flowering period, and it didn’t take long for word to cross the Atlantic. Today, Durban Poison makes a legitimate argument for a spot on the Mount Rushmore of strains, having fathered popular children such as Cherry Pie, Girl Scout Cookies and many more with strong sativa effects.
In other words, Prince Jazzbo had dialed in to a Durban Poison landrace-linked seed source and generated a good three or four mature marijuana plants, a portion of which he had passed to Sassafrass to convert into cannabutter.
Back at home, Sassafrass checked on the drying stalks at least a couple of times a day, until after six days and nights in the fully fanned garage, the proverbial flowers were ready for plucking. The stalks were removed cautiously by Sassafrass, who wore light blue nitrile, powder-free, gloves and was ever so careful not to jar or knock the stalks and lose any of the precious, twinkling trichomes. The sleek, tight-fitting examination gloves more than managed to maintain resin-free hands, however the sheerness of their simple design allowed for many random rips requiring re-gloving. Lord Sassafrass self-handicapped his hands even more by missing the message on the massive box of gloves specifying these were for small-sized hands only. Lord Sassafrass’s large hands had no other option than to stuff themselves like sausages into the almost unmanageable prophylactics.
The buds were so ripe for plucking that they practically parachuted from their poky stems without Sassafrass’s prodding. The flower wasn’t especially dense, but it was thick and resinous and very sticky, with trichomes covering all visible trim and leaf as well. The cuttings’ floral aroma was pungently piney, but the fresh and very verdant, concentrated chlorophyll in the just harvested hemp caused a greatly enhanced, cascading aroma to claim olfactory authority in the room. Lord Sassafrass had made a modest move to suss out a screen box to aid in the collection of dislodged trichomes, but the boxes weren’t stocked in storefronts. He grabbed instead a glass baking pan over which he carefully pulled the bursting buds free of their branches as his handsome handling of the harvested hemp helped hold the trichomes in place. Sassafrass found almost none in the glass pan when finished. Lord Sassafrass told Prince Jazzbo about the tasks undertaken and took pictures during each phase of the process to provide Jazzbo with photos of his progress. When the cutting was complete, Sassafrass filled up five overstuffed half-pint jelly jars and sealed, bagged and stored them away in a dark place to cure until the next step.
Within a few days of pruning and jarring the potent plant material, it was time for further preparation and processing. Lord Sassafrass retrieved his metallic red four-stage grinder and began loading it with buds, leaf and trim, twisting and pulling the sectioned cylinder back and forth until all resistance to the rotating had been removed. The pungent plant perfume was pulled through the porous grinder portholes and filled the air and Sassafrass’s senses with floral freshness. The sticky, resinous sativa sap kept causing the grinder to get stuck and required patience and persistence to punch through. Lord Sassafrass continued to remove stubborn stems and bits of wood from the buds as he channeled the cannabis into the grinder chamber. Once all the grinding and cutting was complete, Sassafrass consulted his computer to confirm the calculations for countering the carboxyl group in the cannabis, done through a process called decarboxylation. This process converts the carboxyl group, the THC-A, into a cannabanoid the body can consume and integrate psychoactively. Decarboxylation activates automatically when cannabis is consumed by smoking or vaping, because it is heat that causes the THC-A conversion, however it is a manual process necessary to prepare cannabis for consumption in food if the consumer craves the effects of a complete complement of cannabinoids.
Lord Sassafrass preheated the oven to 230 degrees and let it warm while placing parchment paper on cooking pans and putting on the freshly pulverized Poison, spreading it thinly and evenly across the paper. There are multiplicities of heat-time ratios made manifest in magazines, books and on the internet, describing many different decarboxylation methods for converting THC-A. Sassafrass had blogged about the decarbing method and ratio he’d debriefed from EdRosenthal’s detailed instructions delivered in his book, From Trash To Stash. Due to the multitude of decarboxylation methods, Lord Sassafrass attempted to assimilate an alternate approach to the elimination of the THC acid and for this conversion considered a course cited at the website Merryjane. Lord Sassafrass previously pivoted away from pulverizing the pillow-like flowers prior to placement on parchment paper, but in this preparation chose instead to churn up the choom before potentiating it. In short, the baking sheets would each portage ground up ganja and occupy the oven for forty minutes at 230 degrees, allowing enough time for the heat to transform the THC-A and further dry the fresh flower to make it favorable for food use.
Days prior at Prince Jazzbo’s palace, Dr. Alimantado and Lord Sassafrass had eagerly eyeballed the sumptuous green stalks geared for grinding and gastronomic engorgement and attempted to gauge the weight of the gangly green limbs. After drying, cutting, pruning, grinding and decarboxylating the ganja, Sassafrass could now engage his simple yet sleek food scale and measure the marijuana. Whatever the original weight of the wetter wampum, the net poundage of the fully nurtured and reduced plant nuggets was nearly two and a half ounces, give or take a few grams. There would be more than ample Durban Poison to make several cups of canna butter for Sassafrass to apportion in preparing potent edibles. Although Lord Sassafrass had much experience cooking with cannabis, he had never concoctedcannabutter, nor had he snapped together sweet cookies from scratch. He used to include ground indica as an ingredient rather than filtering the flower finely through cheesecloth, which he now admitted was a preferred path to potency. Lord Sassafrass was determined to downshift the manic medible-making momentum and take care to concentrate on each component of the cannabis conversion rather than contemplating the cookie construction comprehensively. The first course in the conversion was the creation of cannabutter, and Sassafrass courageously cantered up to the counter to commence cooking.
As with the decarbing, Lord Sassafrass consulted a number of competent sources to create his own personal plan. The recipe combined instructions from the myrecipes website, Ed Rosenthal’s “From Trash to Stash” and other sources, to create a formula that balanced butter potency and yield to make the most efficient use of the Durban Poison’s penchant for cerebral stimulation. Two and a half ounces was far too much cannabis to convert in one cook in a home kitchen with limited space and equipment, so Lord Sassafrass began with an ounce of decarbed, ground flower and completed the recipe confidently. Although myreicpes instructions called for four sticks of butter for each ounce of flower, Lord Sassafrass used seven sticks, or three and a half cups, of high quality, unsalted butter. He added the blocky butter to an accommodating cooking pot and with it a quart of water, or at least enough water to keep the plant material an inch or so from the bottom. He then turned on the burner to a very low setting and set the pot to sit there for three hours, simmering but never boiling, then stirred steadily in a regular rotation. Lord Sassafrass carefully concocted his cannabutter by keeping close watch on the temperature and by steering the sativa stew around the pot regularly. Sassafrass scraped the sticky suds from the sides of the pot, keeping the slow-cooking cannabis squarely in the barrel of the buttered water basin.
Lord Sassafrass marveled at the minimal marijuana odor emitted over the three hours his sativa sat simmering. He worried it would be much worse. He watched the pot as the watery surface became increasingly shiny and viscous while more buttery bits of the Durban made their way to the turgid top and started to brown. Sassafrass was serious about his first turn at the cannabutter wheel and took the time to monitor most every moment in the merging of cannabis and butter. Finally, after three hours on the stove, the sativa stew’s color had grown dark green and featured golden butterfat floating freely on the surface. Lord Sassafrass liked what he was looking at and found its appearance compared favorably to images found amidst the few recipes he favored. He brought out a large bowl with a broad lip around the edge that would keep the covering cheesecloth from collapsing into the cannabutter. Sassafrass remembered reading in one of the recipes that double layers of cheesecloth were required to remove remnants of the plant while recycling only the buttressed butter into the bowl. He kept the cloth folded to leave the two layers in place and covered half of the bowl with it, then repeated the ritual around the other side of the bowl. Sassafrass retrieved two big rubber bands and slowly stretched them out and over the top of the lip and let them snap around the underside, capturing the cheesecloth and putting it firmly and completely in place.
Lord Sassafrass placed the glass bowl in the empty sink to situate it strategically in preparation for the pour. The cannabis and butter concoction had cooled slightly but merited moderation in handling the still hot and viscous stew. Sassafrass gloved his determined digits and gathered the calming cauldron, then shuffled slowly across the kitchen, keeping the viscous liquid from lurching over the sides. When he sidled up to the sink, Lord Sassafrass steadied himself and ever so patiently prepared to pour the pottage, tipping it tentatively just above the center of the clean cloth covering the bowl. The green translucence of the liquid first leaving the cooking pot poured right through the cloth, though not quite quickly enough to speed the process. Lord Sassafrass took his time, never allowing the butter to pool atop the cloth. As the pot emptied, more plant parts poured onto the cloth and Sassafrass was careful to keep these pieces in place. He soundly scraped the scraps of sativa along the sides and bottom of the pot and pushed them at last onto the warm and potent buttery pile. Lord Sassafrass let the stew sit atop the cloth, allowing butter and water to drip into the bowl before finally, and with much finesse, gathering up the corners of the cloth and collecting them, along with the rubber bands, to put together a kind of poultice. He held the swollen cheesecloth poultice above the bowl while butter and water steadily dripped from the bottom, then grabbed the ball of the poultice with a gloved hand and determinedly squeezed out more of the translucent liquid, careful to keep the cannabis inside the cloth. After the final plant-free drops fell into the bowl, Lord Sassafrass left the spent poultice in the sink and retrieved a silicone lid to fit around the bowl’s lip. He cleared out the back of a refrigerator shelf and before putting the bowl to bed noted the dark green and cloudy white layers that had already formed there.
Lord Sassafrass waited at least twenty-four hours before returning to the refrigerator to check on his creation. He was particularly pleased to see a much clearer layer of water with an almost fluorescent olive layer of butter floating atop it. The first-time butter maker breathed a sign of relief and readied a knife to insert around the edges. He culled the cannabis-infusion carefully, keeping it round and whole, set it on a plate and perused it. He was very pleased with his handiwork and after pausing for a picture, proceeded with the process. He wiped all excess water from the surface of the sativa butter, set down three half-pint jelly jars and secured a sharp knife. Sassafrass broke up the butter into half- and quarter-stick sizes and stuffed the bright green chunks into the jars and sealed them, then replaced the chunked butter trio in the spot formerly occupied by the cooling bowl. He did not know how much butter he bore but knew that there would be enough for a range of recipes. Lord Sassafrass turned to the internet for information, finally finding a familiar resource, the Nestle Toll House baking website, which contained a host of confection how to’s. Sassafrass had a hankering for chocolate chips but had become bored with characterless chocolate chip cookies. He read reviews and reviewed recipes and the result would be even better than he then realized.
Lord Sassafrass chose as his first cannabutter cooking contest a divine and delicious recipe for chewy chocolate chocolate-chip cookies. The recipe called for one cup of butter – in this case, cannabutter – so he took a jelly jar from the fridge and let the butter sit and soften. In short order, Sassafrass was pressing and tugging and squishing the chunky green butter into a stainless steel measuring cup until full. He followed the recipe faithfully and was finally rewarded with almost five-dozen cookies. Lord Sassafrass was unable to utilize any of the methods for measuring potency he knew other than eating and waiting to feel the effects. Due to the wide range in THC content in different Durban Poison grows it was impossible to estimate the effects. so after the cookies had cooled Sassafrass picked up an average-sized treat and began to eat. His first bite sent a chocolate shockwave to his core, stimulating his senses to such an extent that Sassafrass forgot about the cannabis infusion. He was about to succumb to a second cookie but the remaining cannabutter caught his eye and convinced him to reconsider. Lord Sassafrass did not want to wait but knew there was no other way to sample the strength of the sweets.
Lord Sassafrass commenced clean-up operations in the kitchen and by the time he was done with the dishes sensed a sort of cerebral stimulation that he could only source to the sativa strain. Sassafrass had always been interested in indicas to help him handle his insomnia, so the sativa sensation felt unfamiliar to him and made it harder to unpack the potency. Still, the single cookie effect struck him as suggestive of a more substantial high were he to consume a higher count of cookies. Sativa was new to Sassafrass and he liked the focus on the frontal lobe rather than the lugubriousness of couch lock that experienced with indica strains. Consuming a single chocolate chocolate-chip cannabis cookie put him in a good place, but Lord Sassafrass was a special breed belonging to a secret society that sought superior experiences with sensimilla. To that end, he also had a high tolerance for THC and could not be the true guide in gauging the ganja’s potency. Sassafrass knew he must eat more – multiples, in fact – to truly measure the cookies’ ability to ameliorate all unwelcome aspects of existence. Lord Sassafrass was a committed cannabis consumer and believed in the power of cannabinoids to counter life’s many challenges.
Sassafrass contacted Prince Jazzbo to convey to him the completion of the first batch of cookies and call him over to collect his half of the comestibles. Jazzbo was jazzed to drive down to receive delivery and found himself in familiar territory, down the street from a dearly departed denizen Jazzbo designated as a former close friend. The visit validated Lord Sassafrass’s initial impression of Jazzbo as a genuine guy who happened to grow ganja and who was happy to gift it to friends, generously, as he had with his Durban Poison and as he would with his half of the cookies. Sassafrass was downright stunned, yet somehow not surprised, to discover the Prince’s punk past and his palling around with people about whom Sassafrass had only heard stories. Jazzbo’s past was populated with many musicians who’s music Lord Sassafrass loved and still listened to loyally, and Sassafrass felt he couldn’t have been more lucky than to have linked up with his new pal, the Prince. Before leaving, Jazzbo collected his cookies and promised to call Sassafrass with his comments. Jazzbo reported right away that a quarter of a cookie did not render the right results, but that a half of a cookie had him high and happy as a hescher, and he mentioned Metallica as the music that matched his sativa sojourn.
The following day found Sassafrass in the kitchen to concoct another count of cookies. Prince Jazzbo preferred an oatmeal raisin recipe for this round and Lord Sassafrass, though he did not like raisins alone, did like them in oatmeal cookies and opened a new jar of cannabutter to commence cooking. The recipe retrieved by Sassafrass called for a cup and a quarter of cannabutter and he again let it sit and soften before stuffing into measuring cups. Lord Sassafrass also allowed himself the opportunity to combine his chocolate chocolate-chip confections with his current cookie-making by eating three of them before beginning to bake the new batches. The chewy chocolate cookies crumbled in his mouth and cascaded across his tantalized taste buds. Prince Jazzbo warned his unwitting cookie comrades not to be deceived by the delightful taste of the cookies or there would be unwelcome consequences. This caution did not concern Sassafrass or his high tolerance, which is why he eagerly ate three cookies before commencing the oatmeal cook. Lord Sassafrass buzzed along while beating ingredients in a mixing bowl and soon began balling up dough and dropping it on the pan. After an hour or so of adding ingredients and dealing with dough, Sassafrass started to feel the serious effects of the sativa cookies. He was energized and focused, and his head felt like it was about to float off of his body. He was eagerly euphoric and enhanced his kitchen activity with an energy he’d never previously entertained. And at the same time, there were many moments he had no memory that he was milling around on marijuana. Sassafrass saw this when gabbing with the gardener only to recall, half way through the conversation that he was currently of a chronic cannabis consciousness.
Lord Sassafrass was determined to describe the effects of the Durban Poison concentrated in the cookies but found his words fell short of supplying a full story. Sassafrass searched others’ accounts of the strong sativa and went back to the Westworld website, where he discovered the perfect description:
Feelings can include an uplifting buzz that makes sitting on the couch difficult. Although this is a powerful sativa, paranoia is relatively rare for Durban Poison users, who are typically too busy riding a bike or working around the house to notice much else — making it a possible treatment for depression and drowsiness.
Sassafrass, too, had been buzzed by the strain’s stimulating effects to the extent that he had to keep moving around the kitchen, totally occupied by cooking. When he waited a few moments between mixing ingredients he suspected that his head was halfway to Hungary because it would not halt when he did. During the ensuing days, Sassafrass would sample a few sumptuous cookies and feel fully capable of completing all the cleaning and caretaking of his castle and would then write at his waiting work station about the wonderful way he felt. The Durban Poison did much to dismantle any depression and make the day undeniably delightful. And the concentrated cookies complemented his morning coffee in form and substance. Lord Sassafrass was quickly converting his cannabis compulsion away from indicas and straight to sativa strains.
Prince Jazzbo had invited Dr. Alimantado to accompany him to the Lord’s manor but the good doctor was on call and couldn’t attend. Jazzbo was planning a party, however, and hoped to include all of his cannabis crew in the celebration, so Sassafrass could expect to encounter Alimantado in the months to come. Jazzbo took a second trip overland to retrieve his half of the oatmeal raisin cookies, and Sassafrass still sought stories from Jazzbo about his Hollywood punk heyday. The Prince was again all too affable and accommodating in answering with intriguing anecdotes. Both men were very agreeable with the arrangement and anticipated future association with the aim of converting cannabis into cannabutter, and cannabutter into cookies. Jazzbo grabbed his goodies and headed for higher ground while Lord Sassafrass contemplated the half-cup of cannabutter he still kept in the refrigerator, which was required to be cooked or risk losing its concentrated cannabinoids. He and Jazzbo both felt the refrigerator squeeze and the space taken up where their cookies were situated. Both cooling containers were at capacity and could not accommodate more cookies than they currently were. But the cannabutter could not continue to cool in the fridge and had to be factored into a fresh batch or cookies or be frozen. Lord Sassafrass rounded up his recipes and planned to prepare a brand new batch, this time making mouthwatering old fashioned soft molasses marijuana cookies.
Drying and decarbing flower, converting it to cannabutter and baking cookies had all been much easier than Lord Sassafrass had first thought. In the past he’d prepared his potent cookies using a cheap cookie mix and bottom barrel butter and he’d kept the cannabis in the cookies. Assembling cookies from scratch required some additional shopping steps, but Sassafrass succeeded in finding the ingredients he sought. The molasses cookie recipe called for dark molasses, with more enhanced molasses flavor but less sweetness than regular molasses, and with less barbecue intensity than the blackstrap variety. Lord Sassafrass set out to snag a bottle of dark molasses and stopped off at Pavillions to shop, but the market only had regular molasses. Sassafrass made it to many more markets that morning including two different Ralphs, two different Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Smart & Final. Lord Sassafrass thought he’d got what he needed at Vons, but as he was beating the butter he opened the molasses bottle and looked at the label and lo and behold, it was blackstrap. Lord Sassafrass stayed stoic and stopped the assembly so he could step out to seek out a simple bottle of regular molasses, since dark molasses had disappeared from store shelves. Sassafrass left home and at long last found himself in line at Sprouts, where he’d finally folded and figured the mundane molasses would work well because of its sweetness.
Lord Sassafrass still couldn’t tell how much cannabutter remained in the jar. He stuffed the softened cubes into a measuring cup and came up short. There were approximately one and one third sticks of cannabutter – two thirds short – so Sassafrass substituted some chunks of regular butter to complete the cup. Lord Sassafrass’s patience and persistence finally paid off, as he was able to put all the ingredients together and after rolling the large dough balls in sugar, placed them atop parchment paper on the baking pan. When complete, the chewy molasses cookies were larger in size than the last batches and promised a potent punch even with only the partial infusion of cannabutter. Lord Sassafrass smiled at the gingery smell of the generously apportioned cookies and contemplated consuming one. Sassafrass couldn’t keep away from the brownish-bronze bites covered with crystalline, sparkling sugar, and scooped one up and stuffed it into his open mouth. It was delicious, without a doubt the best batch yet, and within the hour Sassafrass was soaring. He packaged his and Jazzbo’s halves and housed them in the cooler, which now contained cookies in all available compartments. And buried deep in the back of Lord Sassafrass’s freezer still sits a jelly jar containing an ounce and a half of decarbed Durban Poison destined for conversion into cannabutter once the current cookies have all been consumed.
I have driven up and down Magnolia Boulevard in North Hollywood, CA, and passed Green Valley Collective for longer than the dispensary has been in business. I would see it clearly almost every day yet never seriously consider patronizing it even though I was a medical marijuana patient in need of a reliable medical dispensary. I can’t account for this avoidance, for there is nothing about the dispensary at all uninviting or worrisome. In fact, in the years preceding medical marijuana legalization, an exotic and woefully under-patronized Jamaican restaurant called Coley’s occupied the spot, and I had dined there in the 1990s. In other words this was familiar territory, inside and out, and yet after six months of reviewing local dispensaries I hadn’t even perused their Weedmaps menu. Why?
The answer is that sometimes the things we want or need most are right before our eyes. And yet because they are so close to us we fail to see them. I’ve spent generously in time and money surveying different dispensaries and products and publishing reviews of my experiences. The upside of all that investment has been my discovery of dispensaries with good customer service, quality-tested cannabis and cannabis products, reasonable supply and pricing, organized displays, well lit & clean store environments, friendly, knowledgable and supportive budtenders, easily accessed locations, and adequate parking. Although I had already discovered a handful of dispensaries possessing most of these characteristics, the industry’s product uncertainties and pricing inconsistencies were negatively impacting the most important of these qualities: supply and affordability. If I could not find nor afford my meds, the rest would be moot. I began searching Weedmaps in earnest, extending my travel radius to allow for dispensaries further from home. Then one day last week I passed Green Valley Collective in my car for the thousandth time and finally, out of necessity, made the connection that I could be one of those happy-looking customers I saw going in and out of the dispensary’s front doors.
As cannabis businesses on the grey or black market finally feel real pressure to either comply with the law or close down their storefronts, quality dispensaries are revealing themselves to the cannabis-consuming public and setting a positive standard for the industry. These compliant storefronts are like hunks of potent cannabutter separating from water and floating to the top and must be recognized and supported by cannabis consumers or they will vanish, the industry along with them. Compliant cannabis producers and manufacturers similarly require the support of discriminating consumers to survive in the long term. If compliance conforming businesses and high quality products finally succeed in eliminating all unregulated competition, it is safe to assume that consumers will benefit from more standardized pricing and greater product consistency. Cannabis customers at last will be empowered to make rational, informed, economically sound decisions about how to acquire their meds. Once the black market is all but vanquished (it will never be eradicated completely) the leveled industry playing field will enable cannabis businesses to compete fairly for the ultimate prize: repeat customers. It is that simple.
Taking black market dispensaries out of the picture will enable the industry to establish realistic price points for particular products based on supply and demand, affording the consumer a reasonable expectation of paying about the same fair price for a given product at any nearby dispensary. Although recent months have seen the gradual disappearance of black market storefronts and non-compliant items locally, consumers like myself continue to experience significant price-outs and shortages of certain cannabis varieties and products. Compounding the financial burden on consumers are the incredibly hefty recreational use taxes, themselves another set of hurdles that have the potential to sink the entire industry if prices don’t come down in the long term. Shrewd dispensary operators have recognized their customers’ financial limitations and have made the very smart decision to offer consumers regular daily and weekly discounts. There are a few dispensaries I like very much but which I tend to avoid because they only offer a first time customer discount, or no discount at all. It is also unfortunate when a storefront is well stocked with quality items but is not licensed for medical sales, meaning no break on taxes for medical patients such as myself. Marijuana businesses seeking repeat customers and company growth – if not industry survival – would be wise to offer incentives like daily discounts while differentiating between medical and recreational taxes.
Because I purchase dabbable waxes and concentrates primarily, I am often faced with high prices and short supplies and consequently must patronize a handful of local dispensaries to acquire the best possible meds at the lowest prices. When a storefront is able to keep in stock even a small variety of products made by brands I trust at prices I can afford, I tend to stick with that dispensary until things change. To wit, after patronizing a certain local dispensary regularly over the past month I last week finally experienced the inevitable shortages in their supply of dabbable concentrates. What remained on their shelves was of good quality, but they were the same three items I had purchased on my last two trips. Lack of choice can leave a customer feeling like he is settling mindlessly for remnants and not obtaining the precise meds he needs. This runs contrary to the spirit of medical cannabis use. And yet there I was lacking options, feeling a bit like a captive audience. I could have left empty-handed but since I knew the three available items were of excellent quality and reasonably priced, I purchased them again without regret while realizing I needed to shop elsewhere in the short term. The plain truth is that the most successful businesses find ways to circumnavigate distribution shortages or bottlenecks, doing whatever possible to meet consumer needs. These businesses understand that when a customer shows up and a dispensary is out of product, he may go elsewhere. And if another storefront has the products he needs on the first visit, the customer will most likely return to that other dispensary for his future meds.
I try to be a loyal customer to businesses that treat me well because I value good customer service and appreciate the recognition as an essential partner in commerce. Businesses would see no profits and cease to exist without dedicated customers, and yet there are far too many businesses that take shoppers for granted. I won’t return to a dispensary with impatient or discourteous staff – such behavior should not be rewarded with anyone’s patronage. But the last dispensary I’d visited had treated me well and thus before moving on to a new dispensary I felt it appropriate, if not honorable, to give the old storefront another shot. One of the budtenders there affirmed to me that the staff maintained up-to-the-minute accuracy on their Weedmaps menu, so I duly scanned their list one last time and was again disappointed, noting that the dispensary’s concentrates supplies were even more depleted than on my previous visit. I decided that returning to a shrinking supply of waxes would not only be disappointing, but would also rob me of the enjoyment I experience as a consumer taking stock of the different brands and varieties available. I needed to know if there was a comparable, local alternative with a larger selection of reasonably priced dabbable concentrates. I needed options. I did not want to become robotic and habitual about my meds, buying the same products on each visit. And then I remembered that Green Valley Collective was just around the corner, and my prospects suddenly improved.
I looked up Green Valley’s Weedmaps menu and was impressed right away with the wide array of products and varieties they carry. The detailed list included a number of items meeting my particular cannabis consumption needs including several wax concentrates and varieties for dabbing, a selection of Pax ERA pods for vaping, and a robust palette of flower with an emphasis on hybrid strains. Their prices were reasonable, no higher than other local dispensaries and in some cases lower, and they offered different daily discounts. My discount day would be Thursday, when there was a buy one / get one at 20% off regular price (limit 2). I was both relieved and encouraged by the wide selection of concentrates carried at Green Valley Collective and planned my Thursday trip accordingly. Before heading over, I took another long look at Green Valley’s menu and noted a few affordable concentrates of interest to look for. I wasn’t exactly sure about how the dispensary’s first time customer discount worked, but I was confident I’d at least be able to take advantage of the daily deal. I also noticed that they opened at 9am, an hour earlier than most other dispensaries. This was a plus, as I like to do my cannabis shopping in the mornings.
As they were already open, I immediately put on shoes, got in the car and reviewed my mental list of products to look out for at Green Valley Collective. Five minutes later I was driving into the dispensary’s uncharacteristically large rear parking lot recalling my lunch at Coley’s many years prior (jerk chicken, black beans and rice, and bottle of Red Stripe). That sweet and savory memory was the perfect tonic for my usual first time customer jitters, and as I walked across the lot toward the front of the building I felt very much at ease. I noted security cameras posted strategically on the side of the building and appreciated the dispensary’s concern for customer and staff safety. I walked around to the front of the building and approached the entrance. I can’t recall if I was buzzed in by the front desk or if I just walked in through the front doors, but as I entered the lobby, I was almost breathless at the welcoming warmth and openness of the interior. It was not at all what I’d expected and on the whole was unique from other dispensaries I’d patronized. Where other dispensaries were compartmentalized, largely in deference to security concerns, Green Valley had an open floor plan that flowed from front to back and side to side. My recollection is that there was no glass window separating the intake administrator from the lobby, no metal grill through which customer and security were forced to communicate, and most stunningly, part of the wall at the rear of the front desk opened up into the dispensary interior, giving customers a glimpse of their destination while conveying a sense of transparency and trust. Within moments of stepping into the lobby, it was clear to me that whomever designed this dispensary paid especial attention to how energy would flow through the building in a manner resembling feng shui.
The openness and internal flow of the building at Green Valley Collective, as I would discover, are as much a product of the spatial orientation as they are of the warm, luminous lighting that facilitates movement and enables customers to connect freely and transparently with staff and with whatever items of interest they spy in the cases or on the shelves. The thorough array of lights placed thoughtfully throughout the store reveals to the customer a very well organized, uncluttered, clean and functional dispensary. Customers who can see the full field of products and varieties arranged in an orderly, logical display enjoy the ability to compare all options and, with the aid of an informed budtender, make the best possible individualized choices. Customers will also notice new products, brands, and varieties and ask about them, affording budtenders the opportunity to introduce these new items into the mainstream while educating customers and making sales. That kind of thinking is win-win, and the openness and transparency I experienced at Green Valley Collective was a strong statement about the company’s integrity and purpose as well as its commitment to building positive, trusting, long-term relationships with its patrons.
As I entered Green Valley Collective, a friendly intake admin welcomed me with a smile and processed my paperwork while I directed my attention to an iPad stand on my right. Whereas at other pre-ICOs or collectives I’ve had to sign and initial digitally in multiple places, scrolling down past clause after initial-requiring clause, Green Valley’s customer agreement required only a single signature. This small but appreciated simplification of the sign-up process reiterated to me a higher level of trust in the dispensary-customer relationship matching what I’d been struck with as I entered the lobby. I’ve found it somewhat stressful at other dispensaries standing and reading through page after page of a patient/member agreement, initialing each paragraph along the way. It makes me feel like they’re going to bust me for breaking a rule. “See! See!! You initialed clause 8 right here!!” No thanks. Green Valley’s single signature agreement was just right. After I entered my e-mail address on the iPad to complete the sign up, the friendly admin returned my paperwork and handed me a discount card and slip for the budtender, who would be ready momentarily. As I turned for a moment to look at the spacious waiting area I heard my name called and was then buzzed in to the passageway connecting the lobby and the inner dispensary. This passageway is more like a portal of sorts and the only completely sectioned off area in the shop. It is actually kind of cool to walk through because it feels like you are transporting from one part of a spaceship to another.
I walked through the exit door at the south end of the portal and into the dispensary’s inner sanctum to see up close what I had moments ago gazed at from across the building. The openness and transparency I had experienced in the antechamber was magnified all the more now that I was in the midst of the dispensary’s wares. In the second or two after I opened the door I noted again the totally illuminated warmth of the room and its cleanliness and orderliness. Not in a sterile, antiseptic way, but in an open, inclusive, warm and trusting way. The dispensary’s thoughtful design says to the customer, “We want to be sure you have the very best opportunity to see clearly what your product choices are and know everything about that product that the packaging and our budtenders can communicate to you.” As a regular cannabis consumer and dispensary patron, I couldn’t imagine a more welcome message.
As those first few impressionistic seconds faded, Jessica, an engaging budtender with a kind countenance and affable demeanor, greeted me enthusiastically as a first time customer and asked what I wanted to see. I mentioned concentrates and clarified that I was seeking the dabbable variety, not cartridges, and Jessica directed me to the north-west corner of the shop. There are glass cannabis product-containing counters on three sides of the dispensary interior as well as cases and shelves along the walls. Patients await their turn in the middle of the room, giving them a 360 degree view of the items on display. Because I was the only patient at the time, there was no wait. Jessica walked along the perimeter to meet me at the showcase housing various live rosins, shatters, crumbles, bubble hash, diamonds and other dabbable concentrates ranging in price from under $20 for half grams of Flavor crumble to almost $100 for high end extracts like 710 Labs water hash.
I’ve written much about the price of dabbable concentrates and the challenges this presents to consumers, dispensaries and manufacturers. I still hold out hope that as the black market disappears and the industry begins uniformly to adhere to regulatory standards, the price of extracts and distillates will diminish. In the current market, however, the dabbing consumer is left on his own to navigate dispensary menus and weekly discounts in search of the best possible wax products for the lowest cost. I was encouraged by the selection appearing on Green Valley’s Weedmaps menu and thought the prices looked fair and comparable to other dispensaries atop my list. I was extremely pleased to discover that I had been incorrect in my understanding of their first time customer discount, because the Collective gives patients a 20% discount on their first and fifth visits in addition to offering different daily deals. Customers receive a punch card at their first visit to track their progress. It isn’t clear whether customers receive a new punch card after their fifth visit – I will ask next time. I also discovered that if you navigate to their website and provide your e-mail address, they will reply with a coupon for fifteen percent off the customer’s next purchase (I have not confirmed whether this promotion is still valid – it may be old).
With my new customer discount card in hand I surveyed the different waxes and resins on display and tried to correlate them with what I’d seen on Weedmaps. Some items rang a bell, while others did not, and there were a few items listed on the menu that I did not see on the shelves. It is easy to envision the challenges inherent in maintaining up-to-the-minute accuracy on Weedmaps menus, particularly while the industry remains in flux. If the industry survives and grows, there is little doubt that dispensaries will ably maintain fully accurate menus via their own websites and apps, giving customers live updates on stocked items. The good news is that Green Valley’s Weedmaps menu was accurate enough to have previewed the kind of choices I would see there, even if those exact products were no longer in stock. In other words, there were options. I perused the dabbable offerings on display and recognized something I’d seen on the menu: Flavor brand live resin sugar. I’d enjoyed Flavor’s potent and affordable crumble wax previously, having purchased it several times around the corner at the also excellent Zen NoHo dispensary, and was pleased to have the opportunity to try the sugar, reasonably priced at $45/gram (and less with my discount). By reasonably priced, I mean comparable to the lowest prices I’ve seen at similar local dispensaries for tested, labeled and pre-packaged dabbable concentrates. I chose (50/50 hybrid) Cherry OG and (indica dominant hybrid) Mango Sherbert (Sorbet?) grams of sugar while continuing to eye the shelves for an additional pick.
My eyes tracked over to a few varieties of Neutron Genetics live rosin shatter half-gram packages on display and Jessica brought them out of the case to give me a closer look. I found a few strains I liked, but when Jessica searched for the sale product she discovered they had sold out. Jessica was extremely contrite about the mix up and genuinely at a loss for it, assuming all responsibility and assuaging any disappointment on my part, and I continued my search, gazing inquisitively at the shelves’ remaining wax offerings. The 710 Labs badders, rosins, and water hash were priced far out of my league at $80-$90/gram, so I kept my eyes roaming until I noticed items I hadn’t discovered on the Weedmaps menu. On a lower shelf in the case I spied grams of bubble hash by Nasha and considered my options. I’d never tried bubble hash and wasn’t sure about its dabbability. Jessica advised that if I wanted to dab it, I should first grab some wax on the dab tool and then dip the sticky end into the hash to coat it before hitting the banger. The gram of hash cost $35 ($28 with the discount) and Jessica guided me toward the (indica cross) Blue Cheese to meet my nighttime relaxation needs. I continued to peruse the shelves and wondered to myself which customers were those able to afford $90 grams of concentrate. Not me. Jessica was extremely patient while I considered my options and gave me ample time to deliberate while also suggesting alternatives like Nasha’s hash temple balls (I may try next time.) Jessica did not rush me at all and asked if there was anything else I needed even though there were now customers waiting in the mid-store line. I can’t emphasize enough how important Jessica’s patience with me was to my positive first impression of Green Valley Collective.
Patience with cannabis consumers isn’t just good customer service, it is an acknowledgment by the dispensary staff that cadillac concentrates and connoisseur cannabis are not cheap and that consumers should be afforded a reasonable amount of deliberation before making a final choice. Realistically, this principle of budtender-customer patience applies to all dispensary exchanges, because affordability is so relative to a customer’s means, and those budtenders who show the most patience make the most lasting impressions on customers. Green Valley Collective recognizes not just the high cost paid by customers for quality compliant cannabis products, but also the impact of taxes imposed by city and state, which the dispensary responsibly differentiates for its recreational and medical consumers. Other storefronts I’ve patronized have not been clear about taxing customers, and I’ve on a few occasions reluctantly paid recreational taxes even though I am a medical patient. No surprise that I return to these businesses only when other options are unavailable.
Satisfied with the three grams I’d chosen, I tracked Jessica along the length of the counter to the nearest cash register and asked if she wouldn’t mind giving an overview of the store since we had only so far focused on waxes and concentrates. Although another budtender by that time had begun to help waiting customers, there were others still in line, and yet Jessica nonetheless accommodated my request and causally yet methodically identified where in the store they stocked different categories of products. As I followed her description of the room with my eyes I caught a glimpse of the waiting customers, all of whom seemed engaged by the 360 degree view from their perch in the middle of the store. This reconfirmed my initial impression about the wisdom of placing the line in the room’s midpoint – that it is very customer-centered thinking. My recollection is that the last product section described by Jessica contained their CBD selections, and as I took mental note of what I could, Jessica processed my discount card and explained that my savings would offset the taxes plus a little more. My budtender’s thoughtful tax/discount explanation was itself another acknowledgment of and respect for my financial concerns as a customer, and I again appreciated it. To top it off, as she packaged my purchases and wished me well, Jessica explained that I would receive a $1 discount if I brought back the child-proof meds bag on my next visit. Some other dispensaries provide a bag gratis on the first visit and charge a fee if the customer fails to bring the bag back on subsequent visits. This punitive approach has always struck me as in poor taste. Thankfully, and unsurprisingly, Green Valley Collective conversely offers customers an incentive to recycle their meds bags. As a customer, I always prefer carrots to sticks. Every. Single. Time.
Since bringing my meds home I’ve had the joy of sampling them all. The Flavor sugars, although moderate in THC content at around 65%, are so terpene-rich that a single pea-sized dab will envelop your body, glaze your eyes and in some ways feel as potent as concentrates 30% higher in THC content. Jessica’s advice about dipping a dab of wax into the bubble hash didn’t pan out, as the hash granules were hardened and compacted. The hash was fresh, having been made only a month prior, but it was not for dabbing. Instead, I’ve at times enjoyed chunky scoops of the Blue Cheese atop crumbled Tangie moonrocks in a glass pipe, at other times atop hybrid moonrock bits in an iced beaker bong, and I’ve also sandwiched scoops between layers of Durban Poison grounds for dry vaping in my AirVapeX. This last method has proven the most enjoyable, as the bubble hash’s incense-like sweetness complements and balances Durban Poison’s piney, diesel taste, while the heavy indica qualities of the Blue Cheese moderate the Poison’s overstimulating tendencies. I’ve looked further into the dabbability of bubble hash but decided that it would be better used with flower or by itself either in a pipe, bong, or in the AirVape X. I look forward to checking out Nasha’s other products, its temple ball hash in particular, and will keep an eye on Green Valley’s Weedmaps menu and hope that they’ll add Nasha to their inventory. And I’ll look forward to returning to Green Valley Collective on Thursdays and Fridays for their daily deals – on Friday’s customers can pick their own deal from the other daily offerings – and will be a very satisfied return customer if what I experienced on my first trip is matched from visit to visit. My superlative first trip to Green Valley Collective this week tells me I have every reason to expect it will.
Canada is the first of the G7 nations to legalize cannabis nationally. Medical marijuana was initially approved for use there in 2001 and made available to patients via doctor’s prescription or a patient’s doctor-approved application. Rules regulating medicinal cannabis remained in place until 2014, when Canada’s Health Ministry overhauled the original Medical Marijuana Access Program with a new package called Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR). The MMPR addressed cannabis production and licensing and provided a way for producers to legally conduct business with approved patients. Full adult recreational legalization was introduced in the Canadian Parliament in spring, 2017, and, now approved, allows for use by all adults (age to be determined by each province) and limits an individual user to possessing no more than thirty grams of cannabis at any given time (sales regulations are also ultimately left to provincial governments to determine).
After fifteen years of success with medical marijuana, and as neighboring populations in America began to enjoy sanctioned recreational use, a majority of Canada’s citizens expressed strong support for a viable, government-regulated national adult cannabis industry. A 2017 MacLeans poll confirmed popular approval, which had swollen to an overwhelming 68 per cent at the time parliament was debating cannabis legislation. The final bill’s passage began a months-long waiting period before going into effect, and as Canada’s National Post reported, a summer, 2018, survey found that “55 per cent of Canadians want legalization delayed, and 69 per cent are worried that the black market will continue to thrive because legal cannabis will cost more”. What happened to public approval over those intervening months? Why did so many want to delay? The answers are moot at this point, as recreational cannabis is now legal north of the border and the cannabis industry there is frenetically working to build itself into the national economy.
On the eve of national legalization, Canada had 116 licensed cannabis producers in the country. Currently only two of those 116 producers are certified organic growers. One of those two is a company called The Green Organic Dutchman (TGOD). TGOD proudly cites in support of its brand and business model the unequivocal results of a 2018 Hill & Knowlton study which found that “57% of Canadian medical cannabis consumers and 43% of recreational cannabis consumers prefer organic cannabis”. With a built in client base representing roughly one-half of all Canadian cannabis users, The Green Organic Dutchman’s certified organic products are well-positioned to capitalize on a supply chain that claims only one other producer.
In addition to its 36 organic flower strains, The Green Organic Dutchman also produces CO2 extracted oil cartridges “derived using a super-critical CO2 extraction process that uses no harmful solvents or additives”, and has detailed plans for expansion into all areas of the Canadian cannabis industry. Products envisioned include “organic cannabis oils & organic capsules, concentrates, including vape pens and cartridges, edibles, including beverages, topical including body butters, sublingual sprays, intensive skin repair, body oils…CBD cosmetics, CBD sports drinks, CBD whey powders, CBD vape pens/oils and CBD topicals”. TGOD is currently seeking patients for their beta testing program, which offers preferential pricing and priority service to customers willing to provide targeted feedback about its products.
The production of so many different cannabis products requires not only start-up capital but also infrastructure. The Green Organic Dutchman is growth-minded and envisions the company’s incorporation of four distinct production facilities, one for oil extraction, another for genetics and breeding, and the last two “for Research & Development, analytical testing and conducting clinical studies on cannabis” in Quebec and Ontario. These facilities are currently part of their long term business vision and will require the company to attract new investors and additional capital while nurturing the commercial growth of its current operation.
The Green Organic Dutchman envisions a global reach for its cannabis production and distribution and in August of this year “signed a definitive agreement to acquire 100% of the issued and outstanding shares of privately-held Hem-Poland”. According to TGOD, Hem-Poland is “a leading European manufacturer and marketer of premium organic CBD oils led by founder and CEO, Maciej Kowalski, one of Europe’s most widely recognized CBD experts”. The Green Organic Dutchman also plans to expand its growing capabilities internationally and will eventually build a third cannabis cultivation facility in Jamaica, where it is a fifty per cent partner with Epican, the island’s premiere vertically integrated cannabis company, controlling means of production, extraction, distribution and retail dispensaries.
Before it can expand in earnest, The Green Organic Dutchman must succeed at home, and to that end has partnered with one of Canada’s largest medical marijuana producers, Aurora Cannabis, Inc. Unfortunately for all, the Canadian cannabis industry is experiencing growing pains and scaring away new investors with week-long stock market losses. Aurora suffered a whopping 12 per cent drop last Tuesday, its first day on the New York Stock Exchange. And in spite of TGOD’s meticulous operational planning, yesterday’s trading took almost eight per cent off of the company’s stock value. TGOD is doing so poorly, in fact, that Aurora has decided to forgo any future contract options and direct its finances elsewhere. The poor performance of these two stocks is representative of the Canadian industry as a whole, as cannabis shares across the board have lost value throughout the first week of recreational marijuana legalization.
The Canadian cannabis industry offers economic opportunity to those willing to take the risk. Investors and users alike share a clear interest in fostering a well-functioning, profitable, growth-oriented industry. Creative and ingenious minds must continue to apply their talents to develop cannabis products and brands that attract investment and build trust and loyalty through customer satisfaction. Let’s hope our Canadian neighbors achieve the kind of success that sets an example worth emulating. These are frenetic and adventurous time for all of us as we watch Canada’s newest cultural phenomenon churning and gasping itself into a viable national industry. America and the rest of the world are taking note.
For this week’s field trip, I checked out a local, compliant dispensary called Zen NoHo pre-ICO. This was my first time shopping for meds at Zen NoHo and it was an impressive experience. Their customer service was excellent, the interior was clean, roomy and orderly, the inventory was just the right balance of quality and quantity, and the location is easily accessible.
Zen NoHo’s storefront is conveniently situated in North Hollywood, CA, at 5142 Vineland Ave., just south of Magnolia Blvd. There is a very small lot for cars to the north of the building and plenty of parking on Vineland and in the surrounding neighborhood. Just remember to check street-cleaning signs so you don’t get ticketed.
Zen NoHo was ranked 5th on Leafly’s fall, 2017, “Leafly List”, featuring the highest ranked dispensaries in all of Southern California “based entirely on objective customer feedback.” Zen didn’t earn this coveted spot due to gimmicks, novelties, design or specialty offerings, but was recognized simply for providing its customers with the most basic and essential dispensary services. Leafly puts it quite succinctly:
In the world of dispensaries, great service means nothing without great cannabis. Luckily, Zen NoHo has both. Serving North Hollywood since 2006, this community staple’s loyal following raves about the generous deals for new patients and returning customers, as well as their large selection of quality cannabis.
In other words, Zen NoHo exemplifies the qualities I’ve come to appreciate in the best of the dispensaries I’ve patronized here in the east San Fernando Valley over the past several months. It sounds simple, but it is amazing how many dispensaries fail to grasp the core concept that excellent customer service and quality inventory are the foundations of profitable cannabis commerce.
When I buzzed in to Zen’s lobby, the first thing I noticed was how spacious and relaxed it was, and it hit me that the lighting had something to do with it. I’ve appreciated the bright lights at other dispensaries as a gesture of transparency, reassuring customers that there aren’t any unwelcome surprises lingering in the shadows. But bright lights can also make a customer feel “on the spot” or “under the microscope” which can add stress and anxiety to the experience. The lighting in Zen NoHo’s lobby was mostly natural, from the west-facing window, and if there were lamps lit, they were very muted. The diffused light and recessed shadows of the lobby had a calming effect on me, and they also made the room temperature feel cooler. As a result, I was quite at ease as a new customer.
Zen’s intake administrator greeted me warmly as I entered the lobby and she finished up with a prior patron. With a smile and a few questions answered, the admin directed me to an iPad on a stand a few feet away. This is the second dispensary I’ve visited that uses an iPad for all the legal paperwork, and it is much easier than pen and paper. After digitally signing and initialing the customer agreement, Zen’s friendly admin directed me through another door to the dispensary’s inner chamber and wished me a happy weekend.
Lacking windows, the dispensary interior was bereft of natural light, but the muted, warm glow of the sparse ceiling bulbs maintained the relaxed vibe I’d felt in the lobby. I was greeted right away by a friendly security guard with an awesomely bushy beard and then by Ryan, the budtender on duty. There is a red rope behind which customers line up to take their turn at the counter, but as I was the only customer, I walked straight through to meet my budtender, who greeted me affably and asked me what I was interested in, then walked me over to the dabbable concentrates.
Zen NoHo’s inventory of dabbable concentrates is currently about the same that I am seeing elsewhere. As the industry continues to find its legs, dispensary shelves continue to ebb and flow with tested, compliant cannabis and cannabis products. One of the reasons I wanted to check out Zen NoHo is because their Weedmaps menu listed Brite Labs jelly wax, which seems to have sold out at a handful of other dispensaries I occasionally patronize.
An accurate, up-to-date Weedmaps menu is a positive indicator of a dispensary’s commitment to organization and professionalism and is crucial to providing superior customer service and to ensuring repeat customer visits. My budtender, Ryan, explained that Zen NoHo maintains an accurate, real-time, Weedmaps inventory by updating its online menu the moment a product is stocked or sold out. I explained to him why this is important to me, especially now, when there is so much production uncertainty. Zen NoHo’s dedication to accuracy and organization underscores their clear commitment to providing superior customer service and instilling customer confidence in the midst of a rapidly changing cannabis industry.
I asked Ryan about the jelly wax and he listed the four or five strains they had in stock. The only other dabbable concentrate variety they carried was their house crumble. At first I was hesitant about the crumble, because other dispensaries that haven’t become fully compliant sell untested, cheap, “house crumble.” But then I remembered that this was a fully compliant dispensary selling only quality, tested products, and became interested in hearing more from my budtender about their house brand.
Ryan showed me a sample of the crumble, which looked much more like premium budd’r than other “house crumble” I’ve seen. This was also the first time I recall a dispensary providing a house concentrate brand name (“Flavor”) or THC percentage. Although California cannabis law requires that all cannabis products are tested and labeled, not all dispensaries respect the rules, and Zen NoHo’s commitment to compliance and to transparency is reflected clearly in the way they market their in-house brand. Although I haven’t yet dabbed the crumble, Zen NoHo has given me every reason to expect it will deliver as promised.
Ryan packaged the crumble jars in labeled, sealed, pouches, grabbed the Brite Labs boxes, and brought them to the counter. As a new customer, I was eligible for Zen’s first time customer discount, which allows the patron to apply any one of the dispensary’s daily deals to his purchase. As I was buying wax, I chose their Wednesday deal, which discounts by 25% all “wax, shatter, sap and hash.” Just before making my purchase, I mentioned to Ryan that I write dispensary reviews and asked him for a brief overview of the store.
Ryan did a solid job talking about the cannabis brands they stock and where some are from, showed me the wall display of their extensive supply of vape cartridges, told me a little about their pre-rolls and edibles, talked about grower conglomerates made up of small, individual farms, and of course, about the dabbable concentrates drought we seem to be in. I asked about twax joints, which they’re currently out of for reasons similar to the wax drought, but which they will restock, and about moonrocks, of which there are currently no known compliant brands, and consequently, which they do not stock.
I paid for my meds, thanked Ryan and the security guard and wished them well. I left feeling really happy about my purchases and about my experience as a customer. Cannabis compliance is still so much in flux that a customer-patient has to patronize more than one dispensary to be able to access the rich varieties of strains, products and brands that make up the ever expanding breadth of the industry’s offerings. Zen NoHo pre-ICO is already on my short list as a reliable, quality, affordable local dispensary with excellent customer service and knowledgeable budtenders, and when one-stop shopping and steady, consistent inventories become the dispensary norm, Zen NoHo will be the go-to storefront for committed, responsible cannabis users like me.