Underground Botanists, Outlaw Farmers, and the Race for the Cannabis Cup
Sadly, due to misguided Federal policies, today is the last day for one of the Bay Area’s best run medical marijuana dispensaries. In their honor, I’m posting an excerpt from Heart of Dankness part of the chapter “Organoleptic in Berkeley” which is a profile of BPG.
The Berkeley Patients Group is housed in a former pancake
restaurant. It’s a peculiar structure, with colossal floor- to- ceiling
windows that sweep out in a large semicircle on the street side
of the building. It’s a style I call “early IHOP,” and it gives the
architecture a vaguely sci- fi vibe— the same aesthetic that gave
us Googie drive- ins and cars with giant tail fins. With the addition
of a chain- link fence topped with sharp looping coils of
razor wire, high- tech surveillance cameras, and armed guards
in the parking lot, the dispensary took on an ominous look, like
a heavily fortified former pancake restaurant.
Once past a guard in the parking lot and another checkpoint
at the front desk, I was met by David Stogner, a friendly and
gregarious young man sporting cool glasses and a seemingly
non- ironic blazer— sort of a hipster version of Mr. Rogers.
True to BPG’s mission statement— “to provide the purest,
most effective, and affordable medical cannabis along with integrated
holistic health services”— Wednesday is free acupuncture day at BPG, and David introduced me to a couple of the acupuncturists
who provided the treatments. Other days are devoted
to cranial sacral therapy, massage, legal assistance, and a
hospice program. All are provided free of charge. They even
offer arts and crafts.
David smiled. “We try to offer fun activities for our patients.”
Just like Mr. Rogers, it’s all about being a good neighbor—
although, now that I think of it, if I had to weave a lanyard or
make a macramé planter, a cannabis dispensary might be the
best place to do it.
David and I were joined by Brad Senesac, the communications
director— one of the few men I’ve ever met who can wear
plaid pants and actually make them look cool— and Debby
Goldsberry, the director of the operation. Brad has a scathing,
sardonic sense of humor and is so energetic it wouldn’t surprise
me if he just started running in place; he’s the perfect foil for
Debby’s easygoing charm.
Unlike the stereotypes of stoners and potheads often portrayed
in the mainstream media, these three are all reassuringly
professional— there’s not a dreadlock or stitch of tie- dyed clothing
in sight— and look as if they could just as easily be pediatricians
or executives from a Silicon Valley startup.
I hear the same wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth every year around this time. People want to know what to serve at their April 20th fete. You don’t just want to boil up a pot of lentils and make multi-grain bread. You want to do something special. You want to celebrate the semi-underground international hemp appreciation holiday in style. It can be intimidating, I know. So let me help you with some advice for sure-fire dinner party success.
What do you pair with a dry Cava from Spain and a starter of, say, carpaccio of diver scallops? You’ll want something fresh, with a distinct flavor. And you’ll want something that will be enlivening, good for conversation; this is no time to clobber your guests with something heavy. I’d recommend a varietal like Super Lemon Haze - with its sharp citrus-meets-sandalwood aroma, it will add some dimension to the scallops and not overpower the sparkling wine. Of course you could go in a totally different direction, maybe a something fruity and sweet like Pineapple Thai or Cannalope Haze.
These are exciting times for dinner party planners. The variety of flavors and effects available to the modern cannabis (only high schoolers and politicians call it marijuana anymore) connoisseur is more diverse and interesting than it has ever been, and underground botanists are concocting new combinations of cannabis genetics all the time.
Of course it’s illegal, but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone. The Feds have tried for forty years to win the war on drugs and all they’ve done is make Mexican cartels and private prison corporations immensely wealthy while driving innovative botanists like Don and Aaron of DNA Genetics and Swerve of The Cali Connection to move their operations overseas. That’s a multi-million dollar talent and job-creation brain drain for those keeping score at home.
But despite dumping billions of dollars into the war on drugs, almost half of all Americans admit to having tried cannabis and some sixteen million smoke it on a regular basis as either treatment for a medical condition or for fun.
Which brings us to the antipasto.
A salad of roasted beets with baby greens and dollop of burrata demands a crisp Italian Arneis and perhaps a vaporbag hit of something robust and slightly funky. I’d go with the dirty menthol scent of a Jamaican sativa like Lambsbreath. You can tell your guests that it was Bob Marley’s favorite strain and you won’t be lying.
Cannabis can be divided into to distinctly different groups. So far you’ve only served strains that are mostly sativa, the kind of cannabis that provides an energetic, uplifting and mildly euphoric effect. Sativas get you giggling and are perfect for breaking the ice.
But maybe there’s been enough hijinks and frivolity and you want to tone things down a bit for the main course. An indica strain will do the trick and stimulate your guest’s appetites. But a pure indica might be too much at this point; indica is the flip side a sativa, it’s the type of strain that’s good for pain relief, muscle relaxation, and getting the munchies, but it can also make your guests profoundly stoned.
Fortunately there are dozens of interesting hybrids - crosses between sativa and indica - that can stimulate your guest’s appetites while keeping them feeling up. How about some Holy Grail Kush from Colorado? It was the High Times Cannabis Cup winner in the hybrid category this past November and its fresh pine scent will bring a breath of mountain air to your roast chicken. Pair it with a yummy Pinot Noir from Oregon.
Usually around this time - at least at my dinner parties - talk invariably turns to politics. We’ve heard the same arguments over and over for years and they’re getting tiresome. Yes. Cannabis should be rescheduled by the DEA. Yes. It is blatant hypocrisy that the U.S. Government holds a patent on cannabis as a neuroprotector for treatment of Alzheimer’s and dementia while the Drug Enforcement Agency lists cannabis as having “no medical value”. We know. We know. Why is the Federal government cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries when there is so much anecdotal and scientific evidence proving the effectiveness of the drug? Who can say? It’s obvious to any rational person that these policies are misguided and harmful. Even the United Nations says the war on drugs is a failure. Why don’t the politicians listen?
It’s a mystery.
But before your guests begin with the same old conspiracy theories, bring out the cheese course.
The Cheese course would be, well, a strong indica called Cheese. Although you might mix it up and serve Blue Cheese which is Cheese crossed with a strain called Blueberry. (and, yes, it does smell like blueberries). Throw your guests a curveball with the wine and serve a Mavrotragano from Santorini with some strong Stilton and gooey Epoisse.
By now your guests may be getting a little sleepy. Either that or they’ve started playing Twister in your living room. Bring them back to the table with a rich slice of chocolate cake, hot espresso, and a nice fat spliff of a California classic like OG Kush.
I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t this all vaguely illegal? Yes. Yes, it is. But people have had enough of this prohibition. In fact they’re way ahead of the politicians. Seventeen states - and the District of Columbia - have some form of medical marijuana law on the books; fourteen states have decriminalized cannabis possession; and eight states have legalization initiatives on the ballot in the coming election. So while it might be wise to exclude law enforcement types from your 420 festivities - and be sure to call a cab for your guests who overindulge - history is on your side. If you look at bar guides from the Prohibition (of alcohol) era, you’ll find that the Sidecar, Old Fashioned, and the classic French 75 were all served at that time and, yes, they were served with real booze.