Brendan and Ryan of Crainn

Crainn (the Irish word for ‘trees’) are a cannabis advocacy group who boast Ireland’s largest online cannabis community, with over 30,000 members on their Reddit page alone. They started life there, but have since expanded their presence to Twitter and other social media outlets. Recently, on April 20th (‘420’) they organised a team of volunteers in Dublin to provide information on the benefits and potential of cannabis. In this interview, Richard is joined by Brendan and Ryan, who are both Crainn moderators.

When was Crainn first planned and what aims had you in mind for it originally?

Ryan: This is a bit of a complicated question actually, because the subreddit has been around since 2010 and I would’ve been around nine years old when it started. Richard laughs We don’t actually know who set it up originally. Someone set it up and it was sitting there with a couple of hundred members for a while. Then it got passed down to a Reddit user called Golden161 and he was running it with two guys who are still with us now. Golden161 became busier with responsibilities, so he stopped moderating the subreddit and it was left for a while. In 2017, we started rebuilding the subreddit a bit and we began to moderate it and put guidelines in place.

For a while, it was just a little forum that was a kind of free-for-all. From around 2018 onwards, we started to see a growth in engagement. That’s when members started to come in and moderating had to be taken more seriously. A little under a year ago, after a Covid lockdown when we had a really big spike in users, we said: ‘There’s a lot of people here. There’s a lot of demand for change. People want something to happen, let’s get organised.’ And that’s where we are now. Is there anything you’d like to add to that, Brendan? Brendan: Ah no, not really. I first became aware of Crainn through Reddit around 2016. I’m not a big Redditor, so I was mostly lurking, keeping my head down so to speak. During the lockdown, I got heavily involved in the history of prohibition in Ireland and that’s led me down a rabbit hole and on to political campaigning, so here I am.

Why was the name Crainn chosen?

Ryan: Are you aware of the subreddit, Trees? It’s a general cannabis subreddit. There’s different offshoots of that, like UK Trees and Canadian Trees. The lads who set it up originally wanted to make an Irish Trees, but they didn’t want to call it Irish Trees, so they called it Trees ‘as Gaeilge’ [in Irish], which is Crainn. So that’s where the name comes from.

Your subreddit was created back in November 2010. How long was it before it really started gaining recognition? Was there a point before the pandemic where mods started noticing much pickup? Ryan: I could speak to this a little bit. There’s a graph [see below] showing the subreddit subscriber growth, from when it was set up until today. It was gaining slow growth from 2010 up until Covid but when the lockdown hit in 2020, the subscriber rate went up exponentially. It doubled or tripled, it went from around 15,000 to 30,000. I think the subreddit really grew during the lockdown.

Did you focus much on promoting the subreddit to gain members yourselves, or has it mainly been an organic growth in your experience? Ryan: We’ve never promoted the subreddit, bar the stickers we did a while ago. People just come to it. It grows organically on Reddit. I think it’s the only significant thing that’s on Reddit for cannabis in Ireland, to be honest. Reddit is probably one of the few social media channels where people can publicly talk about cannabis without fear of being banned. It makes sense that it would gain a large following there. Brendan: My intro to the Crainn subreddit stemmed from my involvement on Discord with people in the US and Canadian cannabis scenes. Things have been largely normalised in those regions for a while. Lockdown left me looking for what’s there in terms of an Irish cannabis community. It’s one of the things that brought me on to Reddit

Do you guys feel that Reddit going public has had any effect on how subreddits are moderated? Do you feel that site mods have come down more harshly on cannabis-related content? Ryan: It’s funny that you mention that. We’ve always been on Reddit’s good side because of how well we moderate according to the terms of service there. On the subreddit, you’re not allowed to ask: ‘Where can I buy cannabis? Can I sell you some cannabis? Can we meet up and trade cannabis?’ It’s illegal, so we don’t allow it. We’re always on top of that. But recently, in the States, there’s been a ban on sending vapes out in the post. This includes dry herb vapes, CBD vapes, all of that. Any subreddit relating to vaporisers has been wiped out or put on lockdown, we noticed that straight away. We have to put new rules in place whenever Reddit clamps down.

We’re now not allowing people to buy, trade or sell vaporisers on Crainn. If they do, we have to remove their posts. We need to keep on top of Reddit’s terms of service and make sure we moderate within those limits – then we’re on their good side. Reddit going public has had an effect on moderation, because we increasingly need to keep an eye out [for updates to the terms]. We actually have a bigger problem with Instagram. Our Instagram was taken down for posting about cannabis. We never posted a picture or anything like that, only infographics and we still got taken down. And we haven’t heard anything back. Luckily, Reddit isn’t that bad. If it was, we would be long gone, because people like posting their bongs and everything like that. If you posted that on Instagram, you’d be gone in an hour.

How was Crainn’s experience of partaking in 420 events this year, in Dublin and online? Ryan: On April 20th, we were in town volunteering and the experience was great. It was our first time actually getting out there doing an event like that, in person. Roughly how many people were involved in the volunteer team? There were about eight to ten people at any given time, because certain individuals were also getting involved in other things. I’d never met a lot of them in my life, but I knew a lot of them for a long time online. I was meeting them in person and getting the high vis [jacket] on and talking to people and seeing everyone’s different knowledge bases, ‘cause everyone was into different things. One of the lads was really into the medical side of things, one of them was really into hemp. It was good to get out there and see that and connect with people, not just from the cannabis community. The older generation were a lot more receptive to our campaign than I thought they’d be. They were really into it. It must be because of CBD interest nowadays. They were saying, ‘I’d love to try that, people are telling me to try it.’ I was surprised by it, because you often hear from the community online that the older generation are holding us back, and that is true to an extent, but when we were out on the streets campaigning, they were really into it. To be honest with you, it was an excellent experience and it was eye-opening in some ways. 

We were at the picnic as well, which was hosted by the Major Group for Cannabis Reform [on Saturday the 23rd]. We just went to that as civilians, I suppose you could say. Brendan: It was my second year at it. I went to their event last year as well, which was under much more restrictive terms. But it was during one of the gaps in the [Covid-19] lockdowns, so it was all sort of manageable. The turnout this year, I thought, was a bit down on last year. It was a good event, although it was a little chilly, in my mind. As Ryan was saying, you’d get to put eyeballs on people you know online. We might have known each other for years, but it was our first opportunity to meet in some cases, so it was really good in that way. And I think that this sort of thing is very important actually, because it’s beginning to normalise [cannabis use] within our own community. Self-stigma is holding us back a lot of the time, we’re afraid to talk about it. This is a perfectly normal thing for grown-ups to do in a lot of parts of the world, to consume cannabis.

Did you notice any growth at all in media or political attention relating to this year’s Irish 420 events? Brendan: Yeah, I definitely did. I think the attendance was down a bit because Dua Lipa was in Dublin on 420 and the following day, while Ed Sheeran was on the 23rd and 24th. There was a lot on that week. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan was at the Major Picnic, as was Gino Kenny. Luke gave a really good speech, there was some beat poetry on the day. It was good, it was well-ran, they marshalled it well, the park was left tidy. The guards weren’t in evidence, but I’m sure they were there. The organisers had clearly gotten the necessary approvals because there was a PA system and various other things that couldn’t be facilitated last year when they were there. I think more of these kinds of events are necessary actually, to bring people together, out of their shells. In some ways, as well, if you’re looking at drug use in general – it’s better that it’s a shared experience, in terms of health and attitudes and understanding what you’re doing and safe consumption.

Ryan: I noticed RTÉ covered the Major Picnic, which was good to see. Brendan: Yeah! It actually made the news, which I think was a first. It hadn’t been covered the previous year, even though there was a substantial turnout. Ryan: I think overall, there was a lot of media coverage on 420-related events this year. There was the Crainn info day, the protest and the Major Picnic. So there were different outlets picking out different parts of what was going on, which made it a little bit more spread out. There were a couple of articles on the info day that were put out pre-empting it, by District and Buzz, who did great coverage. Then, after the fact, RTÉ was there doing their own little bits and bobs. So it was actually quite good.

We were hyping the info day up for a while as well, to try and get it out there. I think that if events like this are happening, especially on 420, do a lot of planning and try to get the word out there and the media are gonna follow. They need stories to cover. Cannabis stuff is a kind of fringe topic and it’s exciting to cover and it gets clicks. So I think the more events there are, the better. Brendan: Yeah. I think Ryan’s hit on a really important point there, actually. One of the problems we’ve got is that cannabis reports of busts and raids and things generate huge amounts of clicks for the media industry, so they want to cover stories in a certain way because they get a lot of page impressions. But cannabis in general will get you the page impressions at this stage, so give them good content that’s not necessarily somebody having their life changed for half a gram and the coverage will follow, I hope.

Have Crainn got any interesting campaigns in the works that you’d like to share with us? Ryan: I can speak to this a little bit. I don’t want to give too much away, but we are planning to do some more events in person. We’d like to do another info day and we’re having a few more online events as well, but we’re not going to announce them just yet. We’re just gonna wait till we have everything ready, but there is stuff for the cannabis community in Ireland to keep an eye out for, we’re looking forward to it. We’re taking part in the Patients for Safe Access national conference [June 11th], as speakers. That’s not our project, but we’re happy to get up there and speak and try to help give them a voice. We have our own things planned as well, so just keep an eye out for some more things we’ll announce, hopefully in the near future. Perfect, looking forward to that!

How do you see yourselves helping to increase support for cannabis reform in the future? What’s next in the development of Crainn? Ryan: I think to help to increase support you just need to have the facts on your side. One of the pillars of the Crainn organisation is education, we place major importance on it. We try our best to make sure we’re talking facts and making sense. We always have a study or a source if we’re making a point on Twitter or on Reddit, so we can refer to it. Because sometimes you will have people saying, ‘That’s nonsense’. But you can say: ‘This is where we got it from. Feel free to have a look at it and come back to us if there’s anything else.’ We need to have education, because it is an emotional topic. You feel like you’re getting wronged with the current laws. But at the end of the day, you need to have the facts, because the people you’re up against have qualifications, sometimes.

People such as Bobby Smyth and the Cannabis Risk Alliance. They have the qualifications, but oftentimes they don’t have the facts. So we need to present the data and say: ‘What can you say about this? Teen use is dropping in various legalised states in America. This is how we protect young people – not by banning it, by legalising it.’ That’s just one example. Brendan: I think we’ve all heard our various government advisors speaking in radio interviews and things in recent years. And quite often, when it actually comes to facts, they will tell you stuff with their professional hat on. When questioned by the journalist about it, they’ll say: ‘Oh, well just Google it.’ But we need better than that. There’s a huge amount of harm being done, I think, in the teenage to early college years age group at the moment, particularly post-lockdown.

The supply chains have been very badly damaged. Synthetics, which were a problem prior to lockdown, are now endemic across pretty much everything, except for [cannabis] flower. And even flower is contaminated at times. These are really genuinely dangerous substances that are harming people, so we have to educate. This shouldn’t be our role. A health-led policy should mean that we are making moves in the right direction, but we’re not at the moment. Another thing I personally find shocking is that the Director of Public Prosecutions delegates all the small case stuff completely to the Gardaí. Where is the public interest oversight that this Director is supposed to have? It looks like we’ve got a bunch of laws that are running on autopilot because it suits certain people. And politically, there’s an utter unwillingness to touch them.

Where would you see the development of Crainn happening in the short to medium term future? Ryan: We have projects that we’re working hard on. One of the things that Brendan touched on is synthetics. We want to become an educational force on what’s going on in Ireland. There’s a big problem with Spice edibles going around, which you’re probably aware of from social media, but it’s being completely under-reported. This is what the government should be doing. ‘There’s synthetic cannabis here, this is what it looks like. This is what it does to you, avoid it.’ And we want to just keep doing what we’re doing – educating, normalising, developing a great community that’s collaborating and helping each other out. We want sensible reform.

Brendan: Normalisation is, in effect, what the current drugs policy is fighting against. It’s got its targets on that. It’s like trying to hold a tide back though, because the forces of normalisation are coming from everywhere now. They’re coming from Canada and the US and soon from Malta and Europe and other places. Ireland will look like a backwater. I’ve tweeted about the original debate on the [Irish] Misuse of Drugs Act and it has got some real gems in it. It wasn’t a black and white debate at all. The people who made certain decisions that have left us where we are now were told by senior politicians of the day what the outcomes would be, including the negative impacts on the justice system. There’s actually quite a contrast if you look at the debate that took place around Ming’s [2013] Bill. The government didn’t read it, they just ridiculed it. But I’ve a feeling they won’t get away with that again when Gino’s Bill goes forward.

We’ve seen under a freedom of information request that the government has been trying to keep cannabis entirely out of the Citizens’ Assembly [on Drugs] process. There’s not a chance of that happening. It feels again like there’s some tyre-kicking going on. Ryan: When this Bill comes to the Dáil and it’s debated, I don’t think politicians will get away with spouting misinformation anymore. I think that the climate’s changed. If they come out talking rubbish, people are going to call them out on it. Brendan: I don’t know, I think they might well carry on talking rubbish for a while, It’s hard to say.

Something you touched on earlier, Ryan, was that the older age group seemed a lot more open to cannabis than expected. With my age group, starting with people slightly younger than me, that’s when the bullshit in terms of drug education really began. The ‘Just Say No’ stuff. And the people who are a little bit older than me come from a time where we had quite a different justice system that wasn’t so focused on prosecuting – it was much more focused on diversion. There was a different culture towards justice at the time. Really, the war on drugs weaponised everything. And if you look at what various Ministers of Justice have done with it over the years, it’s revitalised the careers of many a failing Minister, by giving them something to ‘be tough on’.

Let’s hope Ryan is right and that politicians won’t get away with ignoring cannabis data and misinforming the public any more. Thanks so much for your time this evening gentlemen. All the best with Crainn moving forward!

 

Eoin Long of The Cannabis Review

In The Cannabis Review, Eoin Long talks with leading figures in commercial cannabis. The show has a stated aim of educating viewers while clarifying ‘some of the sectors and topics of interest in the global cannabis industry’. The YouTube channel launched in February of 2021, where he has interviewed the likes of Dr. Peter Grinspoon, Mitchell Osak, JP O’Brien of Little Collins CBD, Jim Weathers of Puff N’ Stuff, Matthew O’Brien of The Green Paper and many others from around the globe.

What inspired you to start The Cannabis Review?

It was initially set up two years ago as a project for one of my companies, and it ended up turning into a great source of data and information and a way to connect with industry leaders.

I got to realise, ‘I don’t need money to pay for this to be made and I know how to do everything myself’, so I just started cherry-picking people of great knowledge in the industry I wanted to learn from. I thought: ‘What do I want to know about the sectors that are going to be the areas of interest?’ Over the course of time, I’ve built up a pretty strong global network and an ability to see what’s coming around the corner. The aim of The Cannabis Review is to help educate and inform both the consumer and the entrepreneur in the industry, in any way I can.

In your view, how strong is cannabis activism in Ireland?

Activism in Ireland is very strong. The folks that do it need to be commended; Martin, for example, who does Martin’s World, Natalie O’Regan, Cork Cannabis Activist Network, JP & Íde at Little Collins, Jim at Puff n’ Stuff, the Crainn folks plus a host of other determined people. There’s a lot of work they are doing now where they are putting themselves at risk, and most are not getting any financial reward for doing this. They are doing this because they believe it is the right thing. That has to be commended, no matter what side of the fence you sit on. For a businessman like myself who wants the industry legalised, you need more people like that. I would like to point out the likes of Luke Flanagan [independent], Gino Kenny [People Before Profit], Neasa Hourigan [The Green Party], and Lynn Ruane [independent]. These politicians will be remembered and appreciated for a long time for the work they are doing to help our community.

I find The Cannabis Review more accessible than many other shows of a similar nature, due to its length. Was that a strategic decision on your part?

It was, yes. I had looked at a lot of the shows and felt this was a more suitable model for educating myself and fellow entrepreneurs. You manage to get straight to the point this way. The guests have also commented on how nice the short time frame is and that it doesn’t become boring or over-complicated. There are very few good cannabis shows or podcasts out there and I aim to build TCR up over the coming years. The way you get good at something is by talking to people who are very knowledgeable in specific disciplines and that helps you round off your structure of knowledge. That is the way I have treated this show for myself. If other people are benefiting from watching the episodes, then that is great. I’ve been doing The Cannabis Review for two years and talking to some of the biggest CEOs in the world. And I’m only scratching the surface of how big this industry will be.

If you had to choose a few guests from The Cannabis Review who you found to be the most interesting personally, who would they be and why?

The number one is definitely Dr. Peter Grinspoon, who is a medical GP. The episode I did with him was Cannabis and Pain, and I think everybody seems to have liked that one. That one had the most knowledgeable medical professional I have spoken with to date. Somebody who is bonafide. His father [Lester] was in this space as well. He was just one of those people where you couldn’t not respect or be in awe of the information he possessed. There’s another gentleman then called Matt Lamers, who covers international business for MJBiz Daily. Matt, to me, is the best source of cannabis information and knowledge in the business world, especially when it comes to the Canadian MSOs. He’s one of the smartest and nicest guys, I had him on the show as well and everything that he posts is pretty much always on point. 

For you, what have been the most exciting developments in the cannabis industry over the past few years?

I think biotechnology will change the game to a degree, with the use of microorganisms capable of fermenting cannabinoids in bioreactors, exactly how they make beer. I think that’s the future for a lot of the ingredients side of the industry – a lot of the activity is going to end up being in that space, due to potential scalability, purity, safety of the end product, IP-able methods and the price per litre versus a farm grown method. The second thing I would probably say is, New York. One cannot underestimate how important New York’s legalisation is for Ireland. Whatever about Germany and Malta starting their processes, you still see unclear language from the three coalition Parties in Germany trying to get this over the line, but New York has moved swiftly, with stores opening in Autumn or earlier. They have enacted a lot of public service projects, in terms of people with weed-related convictions who are now allowed to apply for cannabis licences.

There is a lot of good being drafted into their Bills and the people in charge of the various departments seem to be very smart. Plus, Ireland and New York have a special relationship. I think the more it grows over there, where you will start seeing that it’s four to five billion a year in turnover, you are going to start seeing moves being made here. The capitalist model is to expand and to grow and to acquire new consumers and new markets. We are in a good space. Germany is going to legalise recreational use and New York is almost ready to open with their industry. Slowly but surely, those big companies will begin to want to take more territory and to start moving towards Ireland.

I see Ireland being a gateway into Europe for a lot of the North American companies and I think that’s the way Ireland should be positioning itself. We have got a very skilled, intelligent young workforce over here. There’s a reason Google and all major North American companies operating in Europe are headquartered here and I don’t think the cannabis companies will be any different. That is not to say we won’t have our own hugely successful global cannabis companies. That is for certain, in my opinion. Who those entrepreneurs will be is still up for grabs.

Are there any stand-out cannabis companies you see as having especially exciting potential, in Europe or further afield?

There are a good number of exciting cannabis companies, and you kind of need to fine-tune it down into each sector – is it the edibles market, the vape category, hemp and construction? There’s Hempflax. They are a pretty amazing company that I think is going to revolutionise industrial hemp in construction. BioHarvest Sciences can make the cannabis plant in a bioreactor without using cultivation methods. You have Prūf Cultivar in Oregon and The Werc Shop in California. Bhang is another, Cann Drinks will be a global brand. For Europe, the market is so early that I believe the most exciting companies are still to come. What I’m looking forward to seeing is the first real brand that comes out of Ireland. I think Ireland has got a Kerrygold or a Guinness [of cannabis] in it, and I’m looking forward to seeing who gets that up and running. Look what we did with alcohol, do you think we cannot do the same in this industry?

Yeah. It’ll be interesting to see how soon that can become a reality. It often feels like our government drags their heels with all of this.

Yeah, but this is another thing that people are getting annoyed about. People are getting annoyed at politicians who know nothing, you know? Richard laughs I feel sorry for Frank Feighan [Minister with responsibility for drug policy] now at this stage, with the amount of abuse that he seems to get on Twitter. But at the same time, they’ve signed up for this game. They’re public servants, so everyone’s within their rights to be contacting them and telling them how they feel about a specific topic. And that’s just tough, they have got to take it. But at the same time, I think there needs to be a level of realism about who the decision makers are. You hardly think Stephen Donnelly is going to be the Minister for Health in three, five years time? When the next election comes, there will be a shuffle in the cabinet and he won’t be in that same position. So, to waste all the efforts on that individual.. he’s not doing it within three years, not from what I can see.

Barring it becoming this new piece of their election campaign, where one of the smarter Parties picks it up. Until we get to the next election, we won’t know. And that’s why a Citizens’ Assembly can be pushed off until then, because the election campaign comes around mid-2023 for the 2025 election. You’ll have a good year and a half of whether they are going to bring that into a campaign that they will go around trying to get the young vote with, or if it will just be disregarded by the Parties again. I reckon that by 2025, New York will be three years legal. There will be [cannabis industry] people chomping at the bit to get into this country. Anybody with any sort of common sense in our government will support this industry then. We know the Revenue people would love to have the tax revenue from this. We know a lot of the people in the Department of Justice would like to lessen the petty crime cases, which are a nonsensical waste of time and resources for Gardaí. And it appears that a number of influential individuals in politics who are outdated in their thinking process are able to hold this whole process back.

How do you think cannabis misinformation in the media can be more effectively tackled?

The mainstream media really have no clue about the cannabis industry outside of 420 and the munchies and the usual stereotypes. They just write pieces based on second hand information. People on both sides react to it and they have succeeded in their job as a modern journalist, which is to get a reaction, good or bad. Journalism used to be about informing the public with real information. Tell me when have you ever seen a real investigative journalism piece on cannabis in Ireland? The other day, RTÉ posted an article about seized plants that were not even grown, which Gardaí claimed had an estimated value of €200,000. It was so embarrassing to see that. Who in their right mind cleared that article? It was a downright lie, published seemingly without question by our national broadcaster.

There are a number of good sites popping up to help with cannabis misinformation and one of my recent guests, Professor Dan Bear, has a new site & Twitter account – I would suggest that people check those out. Ireland definitely needs a source which calls out misinformation in this manner. 

When do you see cannabis being fully legalised in Ireland, realistically?

How far down the line do you think that will be?

I would say 2027/2028. If you go to the next election, let’s say that is in 2025.. Let us say there is a Party going: ‘Right, we’re legalising cannabis.’ And they win. It’s at least one to two years of paperwork and taxation laws being constructed. What department is it under? What are the taxes and laws? So, they’re going to have two years of politicking, and everybody figuring things out. They are going to need a cannabis board, they are going to need professionals in all the different sectors, they are going to need to start the licensing process. Cannabis Compliance Ireland, the lobbying firm that I co-founded – we already have all that built and ready to go. We sent a proposal document to all the government officials, about three years ago, for how to develop and enforce a legal cannabis industry in Ireland. I have talked to all the Department heads over in Colorado, California, Oregon, New York plus many more about how to design licensing and taxation systems. So we have all that information already, in our pocket. 

Cannabis Compliance Ireland, when everything gets legalised… There won’t even be a company close to the amount of information, data and connections that we’ll have built up over time for our country. You’ll be ready at the outset. That’s five years experience so far, we’ve got multiple databases built out and we have already designed numerous types of industry policy and taxation papers that could be used in Ireland. If the government decides to legalise cannabis we will have everything ready for them to utilise from taxation to licensing and duty, to import, export, financial support and social equity programmes. We have all the boring information and policy that will make the Irish industry ready to go. I believe Ireland has some of the best entrepreneurs in the world and our island will be the gateway to Europe for all the North American companies in this sector. It is up to us to build the companies and services to compete.

Beyond contacting local TDs, what else would you advise people to do to get the cannabis discussion off the ground properly in Ireland? 

Well, first and foremost, I think we need to start having good events. And that’s hopefully something that we’re going to start looking at at the start of 2023, maybe starting with some of the great guests we have already had on The Cannabis Review. I am going to bring over a select few from a couple of different industries and disciplines and invite a number of politicians and policymakers along as well. It will show everybody that this is how you create a company in this industry and these are the experts within a couple of different disciplines who are going to give a brief presentation and outline what needs to be done to be successful.

Because this is business now. It’s not the cannabis industry, it is business. And to run any business you need to know your product, your consumers and the rules and regulations. You need to be researching and developing your ideas and your products continuously, because there’s no guarantee for success in anything. But the harder you work at something, the better a chance you’ll have of it working. I can’t wait to hear your updates on those events. By the way, I am going to be turning The Cannabis Review into its own media website soon. It will have its own bi-weekly newsletter. It will be a source of news and information on the New York, Irish and European industries, with a section for stocks, op-eds, top weekly stories and all of that sort of stuff.

That’s what we need more than anything in Ireland, a de facto source of information that is consistently up to date. That sounds great, best of luck with that! It sounds like you’ve got very exciting plans for the future. We’re looking forward to hearing about those as they develop. Thanks again and take care! See you!

My Introduction to Cannabis

Richard reminisces on his year in San Francisco, where he embraced cannabis use as part of the cultural experience and realised what he had been missing out on for years. [All photos below were taken by the author]

In my teens, I bought into the ‘cannabis as a gateway drug‘ myth. I was hesitant when it came to drinking alcohol as well. When schoolmates began dabbling with booze, I wondered why suddenly they always felt the need to be seen with it, getting drunk at every other get together. I wasn’t really religious, but in my head I thought I’d probably keep the pledge I’d made on my Confirmation not to drink alcohol, as a discipline thing. That fell by the wayside at age seventeen, when I got sick of abstaining during a music festival. But my lack of personal interest in weed would continue through college. Certain school friends and acquaintances became very interested in it during those years and were harder for me to get a hold of socially, although this was partially due to differing life circumstances and social circles. When I was with them I had no issue with the smoking, but it often felt like we were on different wavelengths (which of course, we were!) This was partially because I was still a bit wary of weed, as I had been taught to be. I once had a foreign roommate on a work placement abroad who was fairly annoying a lot of the time, and he was more or less always stoned. On one of his first days there, he lay despairing on his bed for ages because he was out of ganja. It must’ve been a rare supply gap for him, but being around him for months didn’t necessarily sell me on smoking weed either! (If you were curious, he got hooked up with more through a workmate later that day).

Flash forward some time to a year where I was living in San Francisco, California. I worked at a few bars within a larger bar company. Seemingly everyone in the industry there enjoyed a regular smoke and those who partook often had such positive, upbeat auras that I was beginning to think that maybe I should try some! One night as we were cleaning and closing a bar I worked at, it came up in conversation that I’d never tried weed and my workmate promptly told me that I’d be smoking with him and the manager after work. After a while, we stood around chatting on Columbus Avenue and passed a joint around. I’ll always remember a faintly tingly, numb sensation I started feeling along my upper neck to where it connects with the head, as the high began kicking in. It was a pleasant little signal I’d anticipate every time I smoked. As it hit me, my enthusiasm for our conversation was amplified and I felt a general sense of calm. Gradually, I found it harder to make sense of all that was being said in conversation and I felt concerned that I’d start sticking out like a sore thumb. I probably made a few semi-relevant remarks and jokes as vain attempts to stay part of a conversation that suddenly felt alien to me. It got to a point where I decided I was too confused to keep track and that I’d order an Uber home. I must’ve toked too much, too soon… Regardless, I loved the relaxing, cerebral new buzz I gained from cannabis that evening and I looked forward to getting high again.

I discovered it was fairly commonplace at work for staff and managers to enjoy cheekies (half shots of tequila, mezcal, whiskey or other spirits, but seldom upper shelf stuff) to keep morale high, particularly during busier shifts. We’d do a toast, knock ’em back and get right back to work. A few nights each week after closing time, staff would hang out at a company bar after hours with the music up really loud, often with workmates from other company bars stopping by. We’d drink Millers High Life stubbies, smoke weed and perhaps indulge in more cheekies. When she heard I’d developed an interest in weed, one colleague who would become a close friend of mine gave me a number, saying to text it with my first name and to explain that it was she who gave me the number, before asking: ‘What’s on the menu today?’ Upon doing so, I was sent a menu du jour with the flower strains and concentrates on offer and how much they’d cost in different amounts. This menu changed each day and I’ll never forget placing my first order and asking where I could meet the dealer, only for him to say: ‘Where can I meet you?’ How considerate! These weren’t shady, dodgy-looking guys either – they were ordinary-looking fellas on bikes. It really says something about how widespread cannabis is there, when buying from the black market guys is that convenient!

Though not without its social issues, San Francisco is a beautiful place (as are the breathtaking natural parks and coastal drives of greater California, but that’s another story!) Whether you’re trekking around Ocean Beach and the Sunset district, eating out in North Beach or Chinatown, browsing the hippie-themed Haight-Ashbury district or exploring the beautiful, vast Golden Gate Park (20% bigger than New York’s Central Park), there’s a lot to it. Cannabis gifted me another level of appreciation for these places. There are scenic views from parks and hills there that I’ll always think back on fondly. But I didn’t just smoke up sociably – getting high at home to derive more wonder from my introvert pastimes had great benefits too. I’d really zone in on the ambience of music and all the intricacies of its production. Music such as Anderson Paak‘s soulful Malibu album, which I got to see live at The Fillmore theatre, or A Tribe Called Quest‘s long-awaited comeback album, We Got It From Here I would become super-immersed in YouTube, films and handheld video games, and I’d feel so grateful for all of the marvellous, complex visual art humans have created. Food would taste more mouth-watering than ever before. Add to all of this the agreeable weather and the generally friendly people of the Bay Area and it’s an ideal place to develop an appreciation of cannabis.

Because I never liked cigarettes, I had no experience rolling papers and was therefore terrible at it, so I opted to buy a pipe. I never felt any urge to mix tobacco with my weed and to this day I still don’t use it; even if it does extend the life of a limited weed supply, or allow for a less potent smoke. Sadly, here in Ireland the weed is criminally expensive (forgive the pun!) and you never have any knowledge of what it is you’re buying. This is thanks to the Irish government and their insistence on upholding prohibition, where weed and many other drugs are left completely unregulated! I’ve heard horror stories about the weed here too. One example would be weed being sprayed with an unknown ‘hairspray-like’ chemical to make it extra sparkly, as a false indicator of quality…

I don’t want to smoke that!!

If there’s anything I took from my year in San Francisco, it’s the realisation that countless kind, intelligent, productive, ambitious, hard-working and athletic people live their lives successfully while benefitting from cannabis, often using it on a regular basis. While I was there, it began dawning on me how ridiculous and immoral it is for authorities to continue demonising this plant and making it out to be a dark, nefarious substance that will somehow lead you down a road of self-destruction. In my experience, this plant helps people to connect. It helps people to tolerate and get through difficulties. It can help mentally, physically, medicinally. In essence, it helps with our enjoyment and appreciation of life. Because of this, I’ll always be thankful of San Francisco for such an enlightening introduction.

The Green Party, Social Democrats & Drugs

The Green Party‘s manifesto, Towards 2030: A Decade of Change, opens its page on drug policy with a promising summary of affairs: ‘The criminalisation of drug consumption is a counter-productive policy that perpetuates business models of organised crime and fails to address the public health impact of drugs. A more compassionate policy based on international best practice can be introduced within existing constraints under international law‘. They say they’ll introduce reforms that move drug policy away from a criminal justice approach, into one of public health. Some reforms include ‘removing criminal penalties for possessing less than a week’s supply of a scheduled drug‘, ‘pardoning and releasing non-violent, minor, drug offenders‘ and ‘allowing medically-supervised safe injection facilities‘ (in accordance with what the Minister for Health deems appropriate). Sadly, none of these reforms have been seen yet. As with the other parties I’ve covered recently (along with the Social Democrats), they support a dual diagnosis system, ‘so that the health system can address issues behind drug abuse‘.

More stated reforms include ‘rescheduling cannabis and its derivatives from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule IV drug‘ and ‘decriminalising the possession of small quantities of cannabis products and plants‘. These goals have not been realised either. The nearest thing we have to that last reform mentioned is a half-hearted measure that was implemented in mid-December last year, where being caught with a small amount of cannabis for the first time can mean a warning in place of criminal prosecution. Receiving that adult caution isn’t a given. It’s at the discretion of the Garda at the scene, who decides what constitutes a small, personal amount. While the Greens have also published a more comprehensive drug policy document online, this looks to have originally been published online in August 2019 (see the URL), with edits made as recently as September this year.

I’m not going to outline that document in this post, but it includes interesting proposals like a Dutch-style tolerance system for coffeeshops (which strangely, would not allow edibles), decriminalising possession of under four plants on private properties, and advocating a domestic cultivation sector for hemp and cannabis. The Social Democrats Invest in Better manifesto first discusses drugs on page 22, where the party states an intention to restore the funding for drug and alcohol task forces to pre-austerity levels. Under Tackle Addiction and Substance Abuse, they sensibly summarise their view on drugs and addiction: ‘We understand that addiction requires a health-based approach, with a focus on harm-reduction and prevention based on international best practice. We need a holistic approach to tackling the issue of drugs in Ireland, taking both health and socio-economic factors into account‘. Various points are listed, such as the introduction of drug-testing facilities across the country, ‘ensuring they are present at festivals and areas with high concentrations of night life‘. This would certainly reduce a lot of tragic, unnecessary deaths.

Others mention the need for medically-supervised SIFs (Safe Injection Facilities) and for strengthened Joint Policing Committees, to ensure that Councils and Local Area Committees can hold meetings with Garda representatives about how best to address issues such as low-level drug dealing. The Soc Dems express an interest in decriminalising small amounts of drugs for personal use, ‘in line with the Portuguese model‘. It’s shocking in this day and age that all Irish political parties aren’t suggesting this, at the bare minimum. Like Fine Gael, the Social Democrats would like to expand pre and post-natal substance addiction supports. Uniquely among the manifestos I’ve covered, this one specifically states an intention to expand the availability of anti-overdose drugs. A strong emphasis on increased availability of drugs like Naloxone should be a priority for all parties by now. Such drugs are an invaluable addition to harm reduction efforts, as they can bring someone who has overdosed back from the brink of death.

Keeping in mind everything the Social Democrats said in this manifesto, it is laughable that they seem to have cowered away from taking a stance on the subject of cannabis, specifically. Below is a screenshot showing about three quarters of page 24. One line about supporting medicinal cannabis via prescription, followed by blank space for the remainder of the page.

It’s as though someone was considering a more in-depth page about the party’s thoughts on cannabis, before thinking: ‘No, we’re better off not demonstrating too much vision here’. I suppose they saw it as rocking the boat a little much, so they backed out of making any bold proclamations on weed. Don’t get me wrong though, overall, the Social Democrats seem to have their heads screwed on right in terms of advancing progressive drug policies.

With everything said and done, there are political parties in Ireland who show some intention of taking baby steps toward ending prohibition [see Labour, for example, with Aodhán Ó Ríordáin’s #DECRIM campaign]. But none seem willing to outright express the need for society to do away with prohibition, the root cause of a majority of evils connected to black market drugs and drug abuse. Until that time comes, it seems we’ll have to put up with continued false promises of ‘tackling’ drug-related crime and magically eradicating illegal drug use. The 2020 election manifestos featured on this blog pointed to various modest improvements to our nation’s drug policies, but the reality is that next to nothing has been done by any of those parties since. In this day and age, that is an unacceptable lack of progress for a supposedly modern country, and it is time for everyone who wants to see these changes made to make their voices heard.

Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil & Drugs

The opening line of the drug policy section in Fine Gael‘s GE20 Manifesto proudly ends with an emphasis on more of the same: ‘continuing the relentless pursuit of drug dealers.‘ This is a clear sign that they just don’t get it. How does Fine Gael not know by now that the 50-year-old global war on drugs is a proven failure? The second line develops on their commitment to doing more of the same, by saying they’ll reduce crime and rebuild lives by continuing with the current National Drugs Strategy. They say they’ll utilise ‘key law enforcement strategies to protect people from the harm of illegal drugs‘, seemingly oblivious to the fact that legal regulation is the only real way to eradicate most harms linked to illegal drugs, for good! The dogs on the street can see that drug prohibition causes ever-worsening damage to our society. If drugs were regulated, it would remove the total control of the market that’s currently enjoyed by violent organised crime gangs.

Wording is important. While mentioning the need for awareness programmes in schools, they utilise the tired old phrasing of ‘drug and alcoholmisuse. When phrased like this, it appears to imply that alcohol doesn’t really count as a potentially dangerous substance, unlike black market drugs! This makes it seem less worthy of concern, when in fact, alcohol is believed to be the most dangerous intoxicating substance there is. Fine Gael say they intend to open a ‘pilot medically supervised injecting facility in Dublin City‘, but thanks to a recent High Court decision, that has not been able to happen yet. Irish governments have been talking about opening Ireland’s first SIF (safe injection facility) since 2016. Fine Gael in particular don’t seem to be making much progress with getting this over the line, given the fact that they’ve been in power since 2011.

They plan to ‘expand services available’ to pregnant and post-natal women affected by substance use, as well as their children, but they don’t bother detailing which services will be expanded in what way. Like Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil, they say they’ll develop a dual diagnosis programme for people who suffer from both addiction and mental illness, who often can’t access adequate care. They state their support for harm reduction (you know, resources like safe injection facilities!) and education campaigns surrounding drug awareness, but bafflingly they also mention ‘the contribution of drugs to criminality‘, offhand. This suggests that using drugs will always lead to addiction and by extension criminality, which for the vast majority of drug users is a ridiculous notion. Fianna Fáil state that ‘complacency on drug policy has allowed more problems to take root‘, without a shred of irony, in their Manifesto. That’s something we can all agree on, regardless of your stance on Irish drug laws!

One of their goals is said to be a ‘justice system that is fit for purpose and commands public trust‘. Arresting a 58-year-old woman for 2.5 grams of weed is probably not a great way of maintaining public trust. Especially when one considers the fact that various public polls about cannabis or drug legalisation in the media have been strongly in favour of decriminalisation or legalisation! Let’s not forget the other stories of shameful treatment in our courts that have emerged over the last year-plus. As with Sinn Féin‘s manifesto, Fianna Fáil aim to have a ‘16,000 strong’ Garda force. They inform us of their intention to improve the Gardaí and their resources, across the board. They continue to show zero self-awareness with this summary of illegal drugs in Ireland: ‘Sadly, towns all over Ireland have massive drug problems with illegal drugs being sold, bought and injected openly on our streets and on public transport. Gangland criminals are operating with contempt for law and order and are destroying the fabric of communities‘.

There’s a universal solution to vastly improve many of these issues which we’ve mentioned ad nauseum on this blog. It’s one enormous elephant in the room, staring all political parties right in the face. And yet, it seems that the imagination and leadership needed to sort this mess out is just not present at Dáil Éireann. They go on to mention more measures intended to curb drug-related crime and to lessen the damage caused by black market drugs – increased funding for drugs taskforces, ‘fully’ implementing the National Drugs Strategy, and strengthening international policing ties to help fight organised crime across Europe. The two main parties in power may feel that their largely status quo efforts are good enough for ‘tackling’ illegal drugs, but it is obvious to anyone with half a brain that this is not the case.

Sinn Féin, People Before Profit & Drugs

According to the Party’s 2020 Manifesto, Sinn Féin believe that drug ‘and alcohol’ misuse (can we please start including alcohol under the umbrella of ‘drugs’?) are primarily public health issues. Harm reduction is stated to be a guiding principle for future ‘drug and alcohol’ strategies for Sinn Féin, but then so is ‘prevention’, which suggests that they still hold a mainly prohibitionist stance when it comes to drugs. Moving on from this, they make the very important point that mental health and addiction are almost exclusively treated as separate conditions in Ireland. They mention how currently some people seeking mental health care are being refused that care due to an existing issue with, or even a history of substance abuse’. They talk of how harms in society ‘by drugs’ and the criminal gangs that control their distribution must be tackled, which to me looks like Sinn Féin don’t appear to fundamentally understand the root cause of virtually all drug-related woes in Irish society – prohibition resulting in unregulated, unpredictable, and unsafe black market drugs! Notably, among their list of priorities in terms of drugs is a ‘No Wrong Door’ policy, to ensure that nobody is refused treatment because of an addiction.

I would sincerely hope that no medical professional in this day and age would turn someone away without some form of treatment when they’re in need, just because they’re a drug user. It feels strange that this should have to be introduced as legislation, but it highlights the stigma that’s still faced by drug users in Ireland. Alongside this, Sinn Féin importantly suggest amending existing legislation surrounding the dual diagnosis of mental health and addiction. They suggest investing an extra 12 million euro in drug task forces and the national drug strategy, as well as dramatically ramping up recruits for An Garda Síochána, bringing their numbers to over 16,000. This, to me, sounds a bit like throwing money at a problem and hoping it’ll go away. The reality is that people will always use drugs, the illegal drugs supply will never go away and drugs will remain dangerously unpredictable so long as gangsters are in control of an unregulated illegal supply.

I could not find a 2020 Manifesto document on the People Before Profit website, but they did have separate policy documents available, including one on drugs policy. Although this file was created five months after last year’s February election, I’m assuming that it’s fairly unchanged overall from the drugs policy they published prior to it. Among the bullet points on their opening summary page is ‘Education to replace criminalisation as a method of deterrence’. This seems to be in line with Gino Kenny‘s proposed Bill on cannabis legalisation, which is expected to be introduced in Dáil Éireann next month.

Crucially for harm reduction, PBP mention the establishment of safe injection rooms, pill testing centres, and a State body to scientifically examine drugs that people take socially. In addition, they suggest highly regulated and supervised State-run distribution services (i.e. needle exchange programmes), which to me would make a lot of sense. ‘A move towards the Portuguese Model to undermine criminal gangs‘ is stated as an aim, which is a significant step down from Gino’s aim of full legalisation. I’m not really sure how decriminalisation would undermine organised crime gangs, because after all, they would retain total control of the drug supply in that scenario. I wish Irish political Parties in general were more courageous about having the conversation about full legalisation, rather than aiming only for the half measure that is decriminalisation.

PBP rightly mention allowing medicinal cannabis use for chronic pain conditions; countless people suffering with chronic pain can attest to its importance in their lives. As has been the norm in Irish politics they don’t dare to mention non-medicinal use, which is underwhelming in my view, given all the scientific data globally that shows that legal recreational weed is perfectly safe and reasonable. It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that some people argue that all use of cannabis is medicinal, regardless of whether it has been labelled recreational or not, and they are welcome to hold that opinion. Ending page one, PBP say: ‘Criminalising drug users is a failed approach. People Before Profit favours a healthcare approach to drug taking and education rather than criminalisation.’ They proceed to explain how the current system of policing of drug users is inequitable in the sense that people from poorer communities are monitored, sentenced and punished more often and more severely than others are. They also point to how students in schools are educated very poorly about drugs, where among other things, cannabis is still said to be a good ol’ fashioned gateway drug.

Vitally, People Before Profit discuss the need to closely monitor and regulate the influence and power of large corporations from the pharmaceutical, alcohol and cigarette industries, so that they won’t unfairly dominate future legalised drugs industries, or obscure any concerning information which may arise regarding effects on health.

Allison of Her Highness | 09.09.21

Allison Krongard runs Her Highness with her friend and business partner Laura Eisman in New York, where they sell a lifestyle collection of ‘THC and CBD products designed to increase joy in women’s lives & remove the stigma of cannabis use’. They sell stylish high end products across three channels, to accommodate different regions with varying degrees of legal weed: hemp-CBD, high design paraphernalia, and THC (to expand as legalisation spreads). Their product range includes accessories like the Thigh High stash jar, pre-rolls, vape pens and highly orgasmic pleasure oils. While their THC products were initially available in California only, they have since expanded this range across several US states. Recently, Her Highness announced plans to begin launching products in the Canadian and Mexican markets.

When did a women-oriented cannabis company come up first, in conversation with Laura? How did she initially pitch the idea to you? Both of us came from businesses – where she created a website, I created products for women. So we both came from the standpoint of creating luxury female products. But she came to me with an idea to do cannabis accessories. As cannabis was becoming more and more popular, she was looking for some beautiful rolling papers and ashtrays and accessories for people who like to smoke; female-oriented, design-oriented. I, being a cannabis user for 30 years, have collected beautiful ashtrays and things from my cannabis use over the years, coming from design and interior design. And I totally agreed, there’s a real gap there. But really, my passion was to make cannabis products and touch them; really get in there, and feminise them. Which she loved too. So when we got together, we both did this really beautiful paraphernalia collection; marble rolling trays and ashtrays, the stash box, our fun lips ashtray… They definitely stand out compared to typical accessories, they’re very unique. Yeah, so for her that was what was driving her and I of course loved that. So I jumped right on board with that.

But then we took it further to design beautiful pre-roll boxes. We really feminised that, like our pre-roll with the extra long crutch, so you don’t melt your eyelashes and ruin your nail polish. Once we got together, we knew we were gonna do something for women. We then developed a bigger idea, with the mission of creating a CBD version of every THC product, as well as the paraphernalia. That really allowed us to enter many markets and talk about THC while we’re talking about CBD. Mainstream media would not profile our THC business, but they would profile our CBD business. And when they’re asking questions, we can always answer with something that includes this concept of normalising something that contains THC. If we can get it on that type of magazine and on that type of media, we can accomplish that. So that’s where we came from and how we started this company.

You’ve said in previous interviews that Her Highness is keen to eradicate stigma associated with cannabis use and sex. Have you noticed a significant cultural shift away from the stigmatisation of both in America? Yes. I would say that, especially during Covid, when things like Only Fans became mainstream, but there’s still a long way to go. But even when things like sex and cannabis become less stigmatised for women, it always takes longer. To accelerate that process, we’re making accessories that you want to display in your home and creating cannabis products that are designed for gifting. For example, a pre-roll and lighter set. On the back it has a ‘to’ and ‘from’, so it’s like a postcard. It’s a very cool feature, actually. Yeah, it’s just fun. It reminds people that this is not only a gift to ourselves, but if you’re meeting a bunch of friends for dinner instead of picking up a little candle for everyone or whatever, this is really a super fun gift, and something to be shared. And that’s sort of a very female characteristic. When we find something really good that we love, we love to share it with our friends.

In terms of destigmatising cannabis through products meant for sharing and gifting, another example of that would be our Get Lit Kit *Richard laughs*. It’s just a lighter, ashtray and grinder, meant for hostess gifting. Instead of bringing wine, to bring cannabis. To bring actual cannabis, we have another gift set (which we also do in CBD), where you get your box of pre-rolls, an ashtray, and a lighter. We’re really trying to encourage people to gift cannabis instead of alcohol, or with alcohol, but instead of it always being the go-to to bring a bottle of wine or something to a party, to make cannabis gift-able. To answer your question about sex as well, there’s not just sex stigmatised, but female pleasure stigmatised.

The idea of prioritising women’s orgasms when sex in popular media is so much about the male orgasm. And by really shining a light on the importance of a female orgasm, and creating a product that we feel really enhances the depth and size of a female orgasm. The Pleasure Oil is a product that is so shared and so gifted because when women discover that, it’s like: ‘Oh I’ve gotta tell my best friend about this, this is major!’ Game changer. Game changer! And then we’ve created this product around it, these packs. They’re called Cum on the Go packs. With the idea that if you’re going to your boyfriend’s overnight, women typically will bring heels and lingerie. But you know, it’s like you’re thinking about planning for them, but you’re not planning for your own orgasm. Right, so you’ve got little handy sachets to bring with. Exactly, right! And it’s subtle, and each one is ‘one orgasm amount’. They’re also gift-able and it’s such a fun thing to share. And in making things that are kind of fun, you know it’s silly but it’s not silly, it’s actually useful. We’re just trying to stimulate conversation and make it something that people want to tell their friends about and share.

For our full bottle of Pleasure Oil, we tried to make it beautiful. And we tried to make the experience of using it beautiful. We don’t want you to hide it. If you leave it out on your bedside, you’re gonna use it. If it’s something that looks weird or ugly, you’re gonna hide it and use it less. So you’ve designed it kind of like a designer perfume box. Exactly, yeah. Your packaging designs are fantastic, I have to say. The Thigh High ashtray, the way it’s got the marble and the legs sticking out, it’s really cool. Thank you. In an interview with the Cannabinoid Connect podcast, you credited weed as being a consistent source of inspiration to you in previous ventures, whenever you were designing products. Why do you think many people continue to perceive cannabis as being detrimental to productivity? I think many people are stuck in that Nancy Reagan Just Say No moment, ‘cannabis is bad’. Rationally, people know that cannabis is ancient medicine. It’s such a clean product. I don’t know any young people who are stuck in that mindset. Yeah.

It seems like that generation that was raised on ‘cannabis is a drug and it’s bad’ and ‘alcohol is not a drug and it’s okay’.. Rationale is out the window and those are just accepted as facts and it’s really hard to break that. Although, what’s interesting is something I learned with my father, who is certainly a very conservative person. What happened, when he got cancer and he started using cannabis medicinally, it helped him for a long time. Now he’s better, but during that time he realised that it actually was a great healer. So I think there are a lot of older people who are starting to use it for arthritis and sleep and other reasons, and they’re starting to see it. Yeah. Slowly but surely. Right, slowly but surely. It’s just old tech, old thinking. Everyone I know who uses cannabis regularly is athletic, works out regularly. For me, I find it gives me access to my creativity in a way that when I’m not stoned, I still get the ideas, but it’s like I shoot it down before I develop it. But when I’m stoned, it’s like the idea flows and keeps going to fruition, I get to a place where I can use it. It gets you in the zone more. Yeah, yeah.

I saw you mention before that Her Highness tries to avoid cannabis that causes ‘couch lock’, and that you display rankings for the strength of each product’s high and so on, to keep your customers informed. Now, you already gave me the example of the way your pre-rolls are designed to bear nails and lashes in mind. Do you have another example of tailoring your products to your customers’ needs? Yes. Our vape, which you mentioned, sort of looks like a Tiffany pen, looks like a piece of jewellery. It doesn’t look like drugs and there are two formulas inside. Giggle, which is perma-smile energy with extra humulene to kill off ‘the munchies’. Okay. And High Priestess, which is pure euphoria, it’s 93% THC..Oh wow..With extra humulene to kill off ‘the munchies’. And the reason why we developed these two is because we were speaking to the two most prevalent, distinctive, memorable highs that women tend to like. It’s ‘going out with your friends and laughing so hard your face hurts. And then not going home and having twelve bowls of macaroni and cheese.’

And the other one is when you’ve sort of passed from mildly stoned into super stoned and it becomes more about the body high and this introspective feeling.. Mindfulness. Yeah. That is the perfect sex high, it’s the perfect yoga high, I think. For me, it’s also the perfect ‘walking down 5th Avenue and window shopping and looking at people’ high. That’s that other feeling that’s sort of like the high when you want to be by yourself more. Yeah. Taking it all in. Yeah. It’s that other kind of high that’s so great and so useful. A great example would be our High Heels, which are trans-dermal pads that go in your shoes when you’re wearing high heels. Because that’s when women need pain relief. And so many trans-dermals, it’s all about back pain, which is great, and boring. *Richard laughs* But women have foot pain. We all have shoes in our closet, where every woman sort of has a mental checklist of how many hours they can go in that pair before it’s too unbearable. So, judging the evening ahead gives you a selection of what’s possible. So this really extends that time. I must say, I think that’s a particularly clever item to sell. Because that’s a major annoyance for a lot of women out there. It’s a real issue, so I’m sure they’ll be eager to pick that up. Yeah, it is.

That’s sort of the premise of our company: ‘How can we bend cannabis to suit women?’ There’s such a rich, amazing assortment of cannabis products out there. But they’re often either delivered in a way that doesn’t suit women, or dosed, or… A million things that give us the opportunity to tweak them to make them more female-friendly.

In that same interview with Cannabinoid Connect, mentioned earlier, you said that at one time in the past you used cannabis to help you combat depression. And you noticed that many women were self-medicating with pills and alcohol, and you felt that more of them should know about the benefits of weed. Did this take place long before you had that discussion with Laura that led to Her Highness? It did. It happened after my previous venture was acquired, and the deal was I had to work for them for two years. And I went from running my own business and being in a very creative, positive-spirited environment, to a sort of Wall Street, 100-year-old company. A really, really corporate environment where the people.. It was like a job. Before that, we went to work because it was more fun than being home. *Richard laughs* And I moved into a company where it was hard to get out the door, really hard to get out the door. And I think a lot of people suffer with that. Plenty of people hate their job and they really look forward to that after-work drink.

I really felt like there was a better way and I wanted to do something. Initially, I was thinking after I sold my last company that I wanted to do something in cannabis. But it was just too early on the East coast and I was just worried about federal laws. And I’m a single mom, the last thing I need is to get in trouble. But then more time passed and Laura came. This idea of being in the cannabis industry and being part of cannabis has really been a part of my life forever. When I was eighteen years old in New York City, when I could finally register to vote, I picked the Cannabis Party. And I didn’t even smoke cannabis, but I just thought it was so stupid that it wasn’t legal that I wanted to support it. I didn’t even get into cannabis for many years after that. But I guess I was just meant to do this. It seems like it! *Allison laughs* How do you market your brand towards women who don’t know much about weed or its effects, or who only have a vague interest in learning more about cannabis? How do you get them on-side?

Through low-dose products and non-psychoactive products. By making the CBD foot pads, even if you’re not sure about cannabis, that’s a great on-ramp product. We have low-dose mints. Even if you wanna mix it with alcohol, a 2.5g mint just takes the edge off, if your body’s completely clean (for me I could eat the whole bottle). But for an on-ramp or canna-curious person, just one will give you the idea that it’s safe, it’s small, but it’s noticeable. So between low-dose products, non-psychoactive products, the packaging and the accessories (‘cause it’s still a great gift), we’re trying to open up all these doors for women to just come in and take a look without getting stoned. Do you believe Her Highness is getting much closer to that original aim of being able to bring cannabis to women everywhere? Well, yeah! I mean, we started in California. And then we added Nevada, and Massachusetts, and we’re gonna add Ohio and Pennsylvania. Colorado, Canada, working on Mexico, starting to talk to someone in Venezuela. Oh. Yeah!

I think between the CBD that we can ship legally, the smoking accessories that we can ship internationally anywhere, and getting THC licences in any state and country that we can, licensing our brand so that it can be done locally, as laws allow… that’s how we’re gonna do it. We’re about five years ahead of anyone who’s specifically targeting women. It’s like all the other companies split it down the middle and are targeting just everyone, but make some female products.

But when you split it down the middle, it’s not 100% for women, it’s like, ‘Oh this is the best thing I could find’, but it’s not 100% there. Yeah, you do strike me as being considerably ahead of the curve there. Having a lifestyle collection, rather than just having a single product, really sets us apart. And our mission, where we raise money for female cannabis prisoners. The idea is to shine a light on female prisoners, because as an industry, we all do a pretty good job of talking about cannabis prisoners and raising money for them. But it mostly goes to men, because they’re the most known and vocal and the largest population. But when a woman goes to prison, a family falls apart, typically. It’s very destructive. We have a mission with The Last Prisoner Project, where we ‘Help our sisters doing time for cannabis crime’. Where we feature an actual former cannabis prisoner, and 50% of our proceeds go to these women and to a fund to help more women. That’s fantastic. Yeah.

Our mission as a company is ‘to reach all women through cannabis’. So, to your point, through our product, which is obviously bent towards women… Through our mission helping the women in the cannabis industry who came before us, pre-legalisation, who are in prison. And also, future women coming into cannabis. I end every presentation with buyers by reminding them that with our lifestyle collection, you can anchor a female section in your store and finally have room for those single-product women-owned companies, ‘cause there are a lot of them. But it’s hard for them to get shelf space, because it’s just one product. If we can make buyers mindful, in every meaning, that ‘I should have a female section’, we hope that we’re helping future female entrepreneurs in this space to find shelf space more easily. Are there any New York-based personalities you and Laura look up to, in terms of people who have had a significantly positive influence on society’s attitude towards cannabis? Hmm. It’s funny, because in terms of consumption, New York is the largest consumption state in the country, and has been.

So, I’m sure there’s tonnes of fabulous celebrity New York stoners, but I can’t really think about a specific New Yorker who’s influenced us. Really, we’re most driven by the love of the plant. Yeah. I believe in its benefits. I can’t even think of a single person. I would say, we both come from design so our inspiration is probably designers. Florence Knoll said: ‘Form follows function and good design is good business’. Those words really are integrated into our products. If the product is beautiful and not comfortable, if it’s beautiful and not perfectly functional, it’s a ‘fail’. It has to be both. According to Filter magazine, New York marijuana possession arrests fell from 3,700 in the first quarter of this year, to just eight in the second quarter, although there were still ‘racial disparities’ in those eight arrests. The legislation in New York for legal weed expunges the criminal records of anyone previously convicted of actions involving cannabis that are no longer considered criminal.What more do you feel can be done in New York to have a more equitable legal cannabis market? That’s a good question.

The regulations haven’t really been rolled out yet, so we don’t really know. But what we are hearing is that they’re very heavily weighted to people that have been heavily impacted by the war on drugs, to women and minorities. I think New York is really making a grand effort to tilt the scales, and we’ll see. A lot of people are trying to get licences. We’re gonna try and get a retail licence in New York, to have our flagship store. So, I would love to answer that question once I get intimately involved in that process of getting a licence and then I’ll really learn. Because it’s still early in the market. To your point about cannabis arrests and racial disparities, that is something that I’ve certainly seen growing up in New York City and smoking pot in New York City my whole life. I’ve seen that so much and I’m so happy to see that arrests are down and that that time is over. It’s just so disgusting and unfair. It must be an amazing feeling to know that your state has changed for the better, at last. At last, I know!

I mean, I cannot believe how long it took. I cannot believe how many conservative states legalised before New York. Right, yeah! *Richard laughs* Ireland is definitely taking its sweet time with legalisation. I know, the slowest, right? It’s painful. Here’s hoping we’ll get somewhere within a year or so, if we’re lucky! Well, I hope so. Speaking of Ireland, if you could present your elevator pitch to the Irish government about the benefits of legalising weed, what would you say to win them over? Certainly, the Irish government is okay with alcohol at high levels. Yeah. I would say, we know that alcohol overdoses happen. Alcohol causes violence, deaths, car accidents. The amount of suffering caused by alcohol compared to cannabis, really makes the argument. And the fact that it has antidepressant, calming, anti-anxiety attributes, as well as natural medicinal attributes, like anti-inflammatory.

People who use cannabis regularly have a lower BMI [Body Mass Index] than the rest of the population. I mean, that is an amazing thing, despite ‘the munchies’. Yeah. I just don’t understand people saying that it should be illegal now, and there’s so much evidence pointing to it (being beneficial). To the Irish government, I would say, when you compare the death and destruction statistics of alcohol to cannabis, to not want your population to have this safer, healing, more human-friendly alternative available is just unconscionable. That’s about as good of an answer as I could’ve wished for! Thank you so much for sparing your time, I wish you and Laura all the best with Your Highness! Take care, Allison! A pleasure, thank you so much.

Weed of Wonder | Review

Weed of Wonder is a stylish coffee table book released earlier this year by The Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum of Amsterdam and Barcelona. It was mostly written by Jules Marshall (Ken Tarant wrote chapter 13), with photography by Floris Leeuwenberg and input from Ben Dronkers, the museum founder, and Gerbrand Korevaar, the museum curator, who served as the book’s Editor-in-Chief.

‘Why use up the forests, which were centuries in the making, and the mines, which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the hemp fields?’Henry Ford

The book kicks off with a foreword from Ben Dronkers, where he states that the role of his museum (which houses over 9,000 artifacts) is to safeguard the history of cannabis, and to be ‘a source of information, inspiration and wonder for generations to come.’ He summarises some of the changes that have come about since he opened the Amsterdam site in 1987, and how attitudes and knowledge about the plant have changed with the ebb and flow of time. One fascinating and likely surprising example of this is credited as being renowned activist Jack Herer‘s archival discovery; a 1938 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine, in which industrial hemp is touted to be the next big thing in America, beneath the headline: ‘New Billion Dollar Crop’. The second opening passage in Weed of Wonder comes courtesy of former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Dries Van Agt, who says: ‘The demonstrable danger [of cannabis] to society is much smaller than those of alcohol and tobacco, which cause much more human suffering.‘ He proudly recalls the 1976 amendment to The Netherlands’ Opium Act, causing their revised approach to cannabis sales to become internationally known as ‘the Dutch toleration policy’.

The book’s introduction laments the beginning of the twentieth century, when ‘just as it seemed cannabis would be an equally useful crop in the era of internal combustion and petrochemicals, it was plunged quite deliberately into a veritable dark age.’ One remarkable discovery (among others) by Professor Raphael Michoulam and his team in Israel is highlighted by the book. Naturally occurring cannabinoids, and receptors for them, are produced inside the brains and bodies of all multicellular animals. Such receptors ‘boost or dampen processes that operate in nearly every part of the body’, regulating pain relief among other crucial functions. This is truly remarkable when you consider that cannabis itself is the only plant which produces cannabinoids. Because of this, cannabis is thought to be at least as old as the last common ancestor of all vertebrates and invertebrates, dating back over 500 million years ago. Aside from helping our bodies maintain homeostasis, the plant has countless industrial uses. Towards the end of the book, author Jules Marshall reminds us that hemp is ‘capable of producing paper, textiles, building materials, food, medicine, paint, detergent, varnish, oil, ink, plastics, and fuel‘.

Formal discoveries and classifications of the Indica, Sativa, and Ruderalis plant species are covered, alongside some general history and information in chapter one. The next chapter covers the early history of cannabis around the world, starting around 12,000 years ago with the first traces of domestication in what is now Mongolia and southern Siberia. This fascinating historical tour takes in Japan, Central Asia, India, Egypt, China, Greece and the Roman Empire. The Indian Sanskrit poem, Atharva Veda, lists cannabis as one of five sacred plants. A Hindu work called the Raja Valabba claims that the gods provided cannabis for the human race to ‘attain delight, lose all fear and have their sexual desires excited‘. China’s name for itself was once ‘the land of mulberry and hemp’. Cannabis and silk (produced in part by feeding silkworms mulberries) were both commonly traded on the famous Silk Road routes, stretching from China to the Mediterranean.

Exodus 30 of The Bible describes an anointing or sanctifying oil for people such as kings and priests, which includes the ingredient q’neh bosm. It’s believed this is probably derived from the word ‘cannabis’. The oil Jesus used to heal sick people is thought to have been based on the same mixture. Hashish was popular in the medieval Arab world, where the prophet Mohammed did not ban its use, despite alcohol being strictly forbidden. Arab Doctors of the time used cannabis (or kannab) as a medicine. Hemp fibre was vital for ship construction during The Age of Sail. Johannes Gutenberg‘s revolutionary printing press used hemp-based paper and ink. [If I keep listing early historical tidbits, you’ll start wondering whether this is a proper book review or an endless list of facts, so I’ll move on!]

Suffice it to say, the Western world took much longer to really begin understanding and embracing cannabis, which gained popularity thanks to the likes of visionary Limerick man, Doctor William Brooke O’Shaughnessy. By the late 1800s, Western cities such as New York, Paris and London, began to see the plant as exotic, stylish, intellectual and enlightening. The book goes on to detail connections being formed in the imaginations of influential racist Americans in the early 1900s, who started to associate weed with brown and black people from various ethnic groups. It was therefore to be feared and shunned, according to authority figures of that period. The strong link between cannabis and cultural movements like jazz music, beatnik ‘brotherhoods’ and ‘flower children’ hippies is described in fascinating detail. Sadly, by chapter seven of the book, we’re moving on to growing global prohibition efforts. ‘The Forbidden Plant’ mentions the horrendous injustice of sentencing African-American Roger Davis to 40 years in prison for the possession and sale of eight ounces of cannabis, in 1974. It’s accompanied by a haunting High Times magazine cover of Davis peering at the camera through prison bars.

‘I have been involved with cannabis all my life, and the plant keeps surprising me. People deserve to be educated. There are so many misconceptions, misleading and inaccurate stories, as well as blatant lies, spread by the media. Terrible propaganda against a plant.’ – Ben Dronkers

Perhaps most importantly for modern historians and drug reform activists, this chapter covers all of the key conventions, treaties and laws which made a life with cannabis, including medicinal use and the growing of hemp, increasingly stigmatised and forbidden. The medicinal value cannabis was understood to have was suddenly struck off the international record by a UN ruling in 1951. Generally, such monumental decisions made by politicians of the era were made out of an irrational sense of racist paranoia and fear, based upon no real evidence. It is also thought that they were made with the vested interests of certain industries that competed with cannabis in mind. Figures like Harry J. Anslinger are highlighted as key prohibitionist influencers. Some of their attitudes appear to have remained ingrained in the minds of certain people to this day, including Irish Minister and human barricade to progressive drug reform, Frank Feighan. The book guides us through different areas of pop culture that cannabis left its mark on over the years, before examining Dutch tolerance and its policy changes over the decades in finer detail.

We’re presented with some of Rotterdam and Amsterdam’s finest coffeeshops. Prominent coffeeshop pioneers are profiled; Henk de Vries, the late Kees Hoekert, and ‘The Hash Queen‘, Mila Jansen. Following this, we delve more into cannabis as a part of modern Western healthcare, where at its peak it had ‘at least 2,000 products from over 280 manufacturers’. This would decline immensely in the twentieth century, with the rise of synthetic drug production and less corporate interest in variable plant-derived medications. Chapter 13, by Ken Tarant, is a biography of Ben Dronkers and his life’s work, as seen through three branches; the museum, Sensi Seed Bank, and hemp cultivation and processing company, Hempflax. It also profiles Ben’s family and his most notable museum collaborators who contributed over the years, and in many cases, still do.

‘The Sensi Seed Bank is the most comprehensive cannabis genetics bank in the world… It is a little like preserving the rainforest because we know there are potential medicines there which must not be destroyed.’

– the late Dr. Lester Grinspoon, of Harvard Medical School

Overall, including introductions and credits, Weed of Wonder amounts to 288 pages. It’s packed with information across areas too numerous to cover in this review. It is a high-quality labour of love, formatted in an approachable way that invites readers to dip in and out of reading. It’s full of gorgeous, eye-catching photography and illustrations, and can be bought in either a green or purple hardback cover, with metallic silver or gold title lettering, respectively. It’s unlikely to alienate those with a more casual interest in things, as it avoids overly lengthy or complicated passages. Although ordering the book to Ireland raises its price from €34.50 to a steep €48.75 with mandatory tracked shipping, it is a pleasure from cover to cover and can be thought of as an eye-catching high end investment. Personally, I consider this book a treasure, as well as a testament to the continued passions of Ben Dronkers, his friends and family, and cannabis advocates everywhere by extension.

* The Green Lens would like to thank Gerbrand Korevaar for providing us with a review copy of this book.

Kyla Cobbler | Barcelona, Spain | 21.08.21

Kyla Cobbler is an Irish comedian and cannabis advocate living in Barcelona, Spain. She has built up an audience of 53.6 thousand followers on Instagram over the past two years, as her comedic ‘Stories’ have gained popularity. Recently, she announced that she would step back from social media for a break and some time to reflect. Earlier this month, she officially began working in a Cannabis Social Club in Barcelona, called Club Guru.

Hello Kyla! Hi! I’ll start the recording now, if you don’t mind. *Robotic Zoom voice confirms the recording has started* Oh, there you go… Did you hear that? ‘This meeting is being recorded.’ That was cool, I didn’t know it did that. The robot? I sorted that out from my side for the meeting, I wanted it to seem professional.

Excellent! How long have you been living in Barcelona? I’ve been living in Barcelona since February 2020. Right on time for the pandemic. I got here on the first, and then it went into lockdown. But I was living in Milan previously, for seven years. So, I literally went from the fire pot into the pan, or whatever the expression is. You had quite the experience with the post package that one time, and the threat of prisonYeah, you did your research, yeah! That was a mental situation, glad you got out of that one. Yeah, it was. It was quite an experience. Especially when it was an experience with drugs, that weren’t my drugs. I don’t take cocaine or ecstasy, I was like… *shocked expression* ‘Nooo!’ So it was a little bit hurtful. But yeah, I got here in February 2020 and then we went into lockdown Friday the 13th of March. And then we stayed in for sixty days, so that was fun. That was exciting. I bet it was, yeah. How did you manage to get the gig at The Comedy Clubhouse? Basically, I came in to do stand-up and there was an open mic and I met one of the owners.

The two owners are Dr. Matthew Murtha and John Allis, they’re both comedians, from America and New Zealand. I came in to see stand-up and I saw that they are absolutely hilarious and brilliant comedians, but terrible bartenders! So, obviously, with the Irish background, I slipped in, as an opportunity, and asked if they needed a hand, even just on weekends. Because I was waiting on Club Guru to be open, it was still under construction. But I was very lucky, because one, it was fun, and two, just to be around comedians and writers and creative people, it’s very stimulating and it’s just a good time. You know what I mean? It doesn’t feel like work, ever. I consider them my friends, for sure. Would you have a background in writing? Because I got the impression from an older post once that you were having a bit of a creative block. Yeah. I’ve always written. I’ve always done, we’ll say, more background work. So I’m very much happy to be the right hand man, or the wingman. That’d be more my kind of role.

Because I love writing jokes, and if someone comes to me with a thread or a sketch I am more than happy to write with them. I mean it depends on what the premise is, or what platform you’re using to perform the joke, ‘cause it always changes. I did stand-up comedy in Italy as well, in Milan, but in Italian. Oh wow! And I was always writing, you just always do write. If you see comedians, they always have notepads, they always have stationary shit in their hands, (stuff) written in their phones. It’s an observation, it’s a constant comic thread. And I write as well for pleasure, just to journal, for my business. Very impressive that you did stand-up in Italian, that’s mad! It is impressive. I’m glad you said that, it is impressive, I’m surprised myself (that) I did it! *Laughter* Do you know what it is? I wasn’t great at school. In the Leaving Cert, I got 225 points only. So I barely, barely passed. And then I didn’t go on to third level education. I did foundation maths. You know, I wasn’t necessarily an academic student or someone that would’ve thrived in that situation. But with languages, I love talking. I love chatting, I love expressing myself.

I’m very, very curious about other people. I think that’s one of my passions, just humans, you know? Yeah. And going to Italy and being forced to learn the language, it was just such an easy way to learn, for me. That’s how I learn, how my brain works. After about two or three years, I became fluent. Their sense of humour is very different from the Irish, and it was very curious to me. Because, you know in Ireland, it’s like.. Not ‘dog eat dog’, but they’re merciless like. If you go to the pub with a new hat, or new runners.. Oh my God, when it’s your night, Richard, you know yourself (slang translation – ‘you know how it is’). It’s fucking depressing. So, it was great to go to a different culture and just immerse (myself) in that way of joking. And they have a very stupid sense of humour. Yeah, clowning around. People walking into doors, or slipping on floors, and I love that. I love Dumb & Dumber, I love Jim Carrey. I love real expressive comedy, where it’s a lot of body, and there’s metamorphosis body-wise, you know? That would be right up my street. And then, Bud Spencer, do you know Bud Spencer? I don’t, I’ll look him up.

He starred in Spaghetti Westerns, that was a whole new world to me. I had never seen any of them and that was really fun. And then I just said: ‘Fuck it, I’ll give it a go!’ And then as well, I think because I speak another language, I was more confident, because it was almost like.. Not a mask, but I suppose you’re almost ‘in character’. I’m not expressing myself in English, I’m a very different person when I speak in English to when I speak in Italian. Which I think is true for everyone, they speak in their own way, in a different language. It was really, really fun. I got a good response as well, which was great. That’s mad! Were you involved with the comedy in Milan for a long time? Not the way I am here. The comedy I did when I was in Italy was more, with other comedians online, or in English, ‘cause a lot of the writing I do would’ve been in English. But there it was just stand-up. It wouldn’t be great, the scene (in Milan), to be honest. And they’re kind of up their own asses when it comes to women. Like, people would say: ‘Oh you’re SO funny, for a girl.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, thank you. What a compliment.’ *Kyla laughs*

How generous of you’, yeah. Yeah, yeah. ‘Fuck off’, d’you know what I mean? But I think that was a learning curve for both myself and them. Then I was working in fashion and I had a lot of jobs and I made a lot of money. I paid off my Credit Union loan, which, as an Irish person, you know.. They were hawkin’ you for that, yeah. So yeah, I didn’t do that (comedy) much. I’m a lot more involved with this one here. Is The Comedy Clubhouse at Pub Limerick, or am I mixing things up? It used to be called Pub Limerick, that was the original name. And then it was, PCP, The Piña Colada Palace, because our Piña Colada shots are.. I don’t wanna say ‘world renowned’, but I’m gonna say ‘world renowned’. And now it’s called The Comedy Clubhouse. We were very lucky, ‘cause we had Michelle Wolf in recently, Matteo Lane… These are big, top notch comedians coming in from the States and doing open mic and practising new material, which is an absolute honour. When did you first become interested in cannabis? When I was in Ireland, I used to smoke hash. But I didn’t have any idea about the plant.

And then when I got to Italy, I started smoking weed. I would suffer with anxiety quite badly. And I was prescribed pills and medicine from a Doctor. And although I didn’t feel anxious, I didn’t feel anything.. at all. Yeah, I’ve heard that before (about anxiety medications). And for a creative person, it’s just depressing. I’d prefer to feel a little bit anxious than (feeling like) a zombie, you know? Of course. So I started experimenting with marijuana and different strains and growing when I was in Milan, for myself, just to feel better. And it just grew from there. I’m really big into nature. My grandfather was a fisherman, my dad was always outside too and I’d be with him. Plants, and flowers, and trees. I’m an absolute hippie, Richard. I love it. I love being outside, I love being around it, I love watching it blossom. I find it very fascinating. And for me it began from that. The difference when I realised marijuana is a flower, that it’s actually a flower that comes from the Earth… And it can help me in my physical form, my mental form, my emotional state, my spiritual state.

That, for me, was a very, very interesting and new way of looking at a drug. Because it’s so stigmatised at home. You know, like coke and marijuana are the same thing! And I was so afraid of it, I was so ashamed that I liked it. But then, I’ve worked in Irish pubs my whole life. And I can serve you sixteen pints till you get sick on yourself, and that’s fine. And you can come back the next day and drink again, and that’s fine. But me smoking a joint is a problem. So it’s very confusing as well, when you start to get into the drug itself. Yeah, it’s hypocrisy. It’s not even hypocrisy, it’s just absolute ignorance. And I think people are terrified of that word, ‘ignorance’, but it is. If you’re missing information, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You just don’t know. And I think that’s very, very apparent when people start the debate of ‘drink and drugs’. And ‘the drugs’, that’s what they say, you know? Marijuana, ‘the drugs’. *Kyla laughs* 

Do you have a preferred way to consume cannabis? I love the art of rolling a joint. I absolutely love it. I love being able to roll, I think it’s really cool being able to roll. I know it’s a very basic thing, but for me it’s flex. I think I look cool when I roll a joint. And as well, in Ireland, because we come from such windy places and everyone’s smoking outside, we can roll in any conditions. We’re made for it like. Right, you’re like a hardened joint roller. This is it! Rain or shine, Easterly winds, let me know and I’m gonna fuckin’ get this doobie done, you know? Yeah. What I started doing recently, since I opened Guru, is smoking with a sorrel mix. And it’s actually (supplied by) lads from Dublin, Herbernia they’re called. They sent me over a mix, they’re brilliant. They’re beautiful. I opened it in the club last night and I smoked it with Lemon Kush and Lemon Zkittle. So, anything (with) D-limonene will really stimulate your creativity, and having that lemony taste with the Purple… I can’t remember the name of it. It’s got CBD in it as well though, the tobacco mix. It’s fucking amazing. It’s a really lovely smoke. And it gets rid of the tobacco buzz too, which is always a plus, you know?

Do you see the cannabis debate developing in Ireland much over the next few years? To be honest, I haven’t been following the cannabis debate, because I do think that the divide in Ireland at this point of the marijuana journey in the Western World and in America.. I mean, you cannot sit there and be angry about it. People are so unwilling to listen. I’ve been asked to come on and talk online for activists in Ireland, and I’m like: ‘With all the love and respect in the world, I’m in a place now where it’s progressive and I’m doing something with it.’ But to sit and try and convince Biddy, who’s 55, that a joint isn’t gonna do any harm, it’s just.. I dunno, I haven’t been following it. But I know the stigma. You could have vodka (and) Red Bull for the whole night, right? You could drink shots of vodka and get so, so sick and be so hungover. And you’ll go back to it the weekend after. But people, unfortunately, because of the stigma attached to marijuana, they have one whitey, one time where they feel sick or paranoid when they smoke… They never go back to it, and they have this horrible idea of it that terrifies them.

Instead of trying to fight that stigma, over here, I take another approach. I make sure that whatever I’m giving to people, whatever I’m putting in that they’re consuming, I know exactly what’s in it. And I know why everyone has been like that, and I know what it’s gonna do for your brain and your body and what high you’re gonna get from it. I don’t know how it’s going in Ireland but I do think, personally, that once America does it, we’ll all do it. Can you fucking imagine Ireland with coffee shops? It would be incredible, and it would change our society for the better. Because, let’s face it, we’ve had our issues with drinking. In so many families… Alcoholism has destroyed so many of us, and it has caused so many problems. And I’m like, ‘Why can you sit there and this be socially acceptable for you, because you’re used to it, yet be so closed off to the idea that something comes from the ground. A flower that grows from the ground causes all these problems?

It’s causing problems because the shit that you’re buying off streets and putting into your body now isn’t regulated. We don’t know where it’s being grown, we don’t know what strains are in it. We don’t know if it’s Indica or Sativa, what cannabinoids, what terpenes.. There’s just nothing, there’s no information there. And they’re so angry about it. And I don’t follow it because it annoys me. Prohibitionists will go on all day about all the harms, and the danger it has for our children and communities. But the whole reason it’s like that is because it’s prohibited to begin with. Of course, even decriminalise it! I’m not saying legalise it, just fucking decriminalise it, it is a plant! When I see people getting shitty with me about it, or they try to open dialogue about it, like: ‘Yes, well my nephew smoked weed and then he had schizophrenia!’, I’m like, ‘Do you think if your nephew, who suffered from mental health issues, drank sixteen vodkas, or went out on an Irish night out (and you know what they’re like), or an Irish wedding, you think that wouldn’t have happened?’ The more you demonise it and put it as The Boogeyman, the scarier it becomes. You know what I mean? It’s so frustrating.

And you know what, there’s so many fuckin’ people (and I’m) like, ‘You need to fucking smoke. You need to have an edible and you need to fucking chill.’ *Laughter* You need to calm down. You just need to chill, you need to take it a step back, you know? What resources and supports were available in Barcelona to help set up Club Guru? It wasn’t easy at all. It was probably one of the most difficult things. Now, if you go to Italy, or Spain, anywhere in mainland Europe that’s not an island, the bureaucracy side of things is a fucking shit show. I remember applying for my Passport in Ireland, and after every page they would say, ‘Well done! Next page.’ And I was like, ‘This is so lovely.’ *Laughter* ‘This is so nice, being talked to nicely.’ But here, it’s just an absolute fucking shit show. It was very difficult, very time consuming, it was very expensive for the licenses and stuff. But I think it’s the best thing that’s ever happened (to me).

To be able to experience marijuana the way I’m experiencing it now, in such a calm and tranquil environment, is such a different smoke. You get high differently. Yeah. You’re with people who love it, you have these insane conversations. And of course, there’s a bit of stupidity there, because it’s still a drug, it’s still fun. But it’s been great, it’s been so worth it. Did you ever hike up to a hill and it’s a cloudy day and the view is cloudy and you’re like, ‘Fuck this’? *Kyla laughs* Well, it was the opposite of that. At times, it was like: ‘Fuck this hike’. I don’t know how to put it into words, but sometimes I know when something is gonna work. I have a good business mind and I thought: ‘This is gonna work. This is gonna change my life, and I know it is.’ Which is a gift. I’m beyond grateful, it’s something else. I had a group of people yesterday that were trying the non-tobacco Herbernia stuff. I was reading some of your blog posts for people and they were shocked at the things you have to discuss on it, because of the idea in Ireland of marijuana.

I was like, ‘Yeah, these are writers who have to dance around something, dance with the Devil, hide their names.’ It’s fucking insane. And they were shook from it, it’s such bullshit. They were like, ‘Irish people are so fun though!’ And I’m like, ‘No.’ We ARE, but.. It is odd, ‘cause we are a fun-loving people, but we’re just so afraid to embrace weed. I remember the last time I was home before the pandemic, and I met another Instagrammer, she’s a really famous blogger. And I was at about 20k (followers), and she was like: ‘I’m gonna give you some advice. You’re doing really well on Instagram, but you need to stop talking about weed.’ And I said, ‘I absolutely won’t. It’s helped me so much on my journey in life. It’s really, really changed my life and I won’t not talk about it.’ And then the same night, we were out, and she asked: ‘D’you want a line?’ And I was like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me? You’re gonna sit there on your high horse and give me fucking advice and you’re shoving that shit up your nose that’s been smuggled in in someone’s ass? Fuck you.’ It’s such hypocrisy, such bullshit. 

Can you give our readers an outline of how a typical Cannabis Social Club works? You come into the reception to become a member. You have to be recommended, you can’t just walk in. You give me your ID and I put in your ID details. You top up there, so you give a donation to the social club. We’ll say it’s €12 or €15 a gram for the good weed, and you’ve got, whatever, €30 on your membership. And then you’ll say, ‘I’d like to collect four grams of Lemon Haze.’ And then I’m like, ‘That’s absolutely fine, thank you for your donation.’ But it’s all non-profit. You have to say ‘collect’, and ‘receive’, and ‘donate’. There’s no buying, there’s no selling, etc. Why do you think Catalunya, and Spain in general, has a more tolerant, open-minded attitude about weed? In Ireland, there’s about 4.5 million people. And about 2 million are in (Greater) Dublin. So, the rest, there’s no one. We’re living in a place here where there’s shitloads of people. When you have that many people, no one gives a shit if you want to smoke a joint or not smoke a joint, once you’re not causing any distress to anyone.

I think that it’s just, having the amount of people that are in the city, and having that diversity. I’m sitting in the club now and Kobe Smith is from Hawaii, and Matthew Murtha is from Ohio, and there’s another comedian downstairs from Berlin. John (Allis) is from New Zealand. There’s just other shit to do! So it’s not just any old comedy club there, it’s an awesome place! Oh no, no, we are the crème de la crème of European comedy. And I know what you’re thinking: ‘You’re sitting there, licking your own nipples.’ I’m not, this is what other people have said. *Kyla laughs* I love Ireland to the ends of the earth and back again, I really do, it’s my soul. But, in Ireland there’s this thing a lot of the time where we talk about other people, a gossip culture. Whereas here, people just have their own lives, and they’re fulfilled in their lives, and you talk about stuff. About different things. And I know that sounds silly, but I think this society’s way of being and their relationship to marijuana is very hand-in-hand. And the fact that no one gives a fuck. It’s a different thing, it’s just a completely different relationship to the drug.

And people have been around it longer, and they’ve seen the long term effects and realise that it’s nothing. If you have a boyfriend or a girlfriend of a life partner that is a stoner, you are guaranteed they won’t do the dirt. And not because they’re some amazing human being, but because they couldn’t be fucked. It’s a different buzz, you know what I mean? It really, really is. So I don’t think it’s tolerance, I think it’s just not giving a fuck. I think they just have bigger fish to fry than a plant that grows out of the ground. What do you think the Irish government can learn from the Spanish system of Cannabis Social Clubs? I think the Irish government can learn that you can have it in your society and amongst the general population, without it being in your face. Here, it all has to be under recommendation, you have to know someone in the club. So, if you don’t want to have this Amsterdam vibe, where everyone goes to get high, you can do it in a smart way. You can do it in a discreet way, which is fine.

The other day, I was in the club and this guy came in. Fucking ride, gorgeous. He’s a Doctor. But an actual medical Doctor, not a fuckin’ voodoo guy, an actual Doctor. He works in Germany as a GP and they’ve legalised medical marijuana. So, he comes in and he’s telling me about all this stuff. And as I’ve said, when I’ve suffered with anxiety, weed has gotten… Like, I would never say now, ‘I have anxiety’. Or, ‘I’m anxious.’ Nah. I just have this little thing that I can fix with a flower the Earth gives me. That, in itself, is incredible. If we just legalised it for medical reasons, it would be amazing. It would. And I think the only reason that we’re not is ‘cause the big pharmaceutical companies would be out of business, because it would just be so much easier to manage, and so much cheaper to heal people from what Mother Nature gives us. Rather than producing things in labs and putting pills into our bodies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete hippie. I know that medicine is great and thank God for it.

What I put into my body on a daily basis is so important, because (cannabis) is my medicine. It’s the same with food, drugs, liquids. I think that’s just how it has to be. Everything in balance, in moderation. I can’t imagine going home and having that stigma on me, not being able to talk about weed. Being with my family and not being able to go for a smoke. It just seems so silly to me now, you know what I mean? It’s fucked up, but fair play to you for doing what you’re doing. You can talk about it, but many people seem indifferent unless they smoke. People often don’t seem to want to learn more about it. It’s not on their radar. It’s strange to me. I think, if they did know more about it, they’d be all about it then! They’d love it! Me and my mom used to argue over weed all the time. When I first started doing Instagram, and I used to post things about weed, she was like: ‘You’re not gonna get a job, you’re not gonna get an agency, you’re not gonna get a brand.’

And I said: ‘I don’t wanna work for someone who doesn’t believe in what I believe in.’ Yeah. I can make money, I’m a hard worker. I don’t need to make money quick and give up who I am and what I think and what I stand for, for a little bit of extra cash. I’m not willing to do that, you know what I mean? Yeah. And I think that that could be a big reason why Ireland isn’t progressive (with cannabis). Because we are very, keeping up appearances sometimes, ‘cause we’re a small place. If you go on to the gossip websites, about me, ‘cause obviously now I’m a big Instagram guy, (they say) ‘Oh yeah.. Yer one, the slut, with her waccy tobaccy!*Richard giggles* Sex and weed! They’re not insults! The fact that I have good sex and I smoke good weed, that’s not an insult.. You’re not getting it! *Laughter* Thank you so much, Ms. Cobbler! My pleasure! Thanks for everything. I wish you all the best with Club Guru and indeed your comedy career! Thank you so much, bye!

Debating the Drug War: Race, Politics, and the Media | Review

Michael L. Rosino is the Assistant Professor of Sociology at Molloy College in New York State. In his book, Debating the Drug War: Race, Politics, and the Media, he explores the following areas of debate on the War on Drugs: ‘the history of the relationship between racism and drug policies, the role of the media as a place where people debate these policies, how the debate reflects popular ideas about race, crime, and politics and even commonly held ideals like justice, equality, and freedom, and how people construct and reinforce identities through their participation in these debates and what that means for society’.

In order to get a clear breakdown of the views held by people in this debate across the media, he ‘conducted a content analysis of over 30 years of US newspaper content that focuses on the War on Drugs, including 394 op-eds, letters to the editor, and news articles.’ He also examined ‘3,145 comments on the internet’, gathering them from the comments sections of relevant online news articles, published from 2009 to 2014. Including the Introduction and Conclusion, there are six chapters, which include questions for academics to discuss, as well as additional notes. To emphasise the ongoing legacy of systemic racism in the United States, Rosino begins the Introduction by detailing the fatal police shooting of unarmed eighteen-year-old African-American, Ramarley Graham, in 2012. He mentions that this was only one of three killings of black men that week by the New York Police Department.

A plain clothes NYPD Officer shot Graham in the bathroom of his home, which he shared with his grandmother and six-year-old brother, after the cops involved broke down both the back door and the bathroom door. Graham was trying to flush a small amount of newly-bought cannabis down the toilet. The officers involved had seen his purchase through street cameras and had decided to follow him home, entering without a warrant. Before the young man’s home was breached, Officer Richard Haste announced that Graham had a firearm, ‘perhaps misrecognising the young man adjusting the waistband of his pants’. A gun was never found at the site. This gives readers a sample of the racist police violence that is so prevalent across the US. Rosino covers the racist origins of American drug prohibition, which relied on the creation of moral panics, exaggeratedly defining activities, events or people as ‘a threat to societal values and interests’.

The powerful would manufacture such hysteria, linking minority ethnic groups to the supply of drugs and the corruption of the innocence of white moral values. The author begins by outlining the suppression of Chinese opium dens in the 1870s, eventually leading to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first law excluding an entire ethnic group from entering the United States. Anti-Catholic sentiment and growing antisemitism against Jewish immigrants in the alcohol trade, by groups like the Ku Klux Klan, led to a demand for alcohol prohibition in the 1920s. Popular and influential media depicted European migrants who identified with these religions as threatening to the dominance of white Protestants in America. Mexicans, blacks and Native Americans were all presented by the Temperance movements as engaging in criminal and immoral activities, particularly when using alcohol. Rosino provides examples of how historical prohibition has had a lasting effect on racial discrimination in policing and the legal and criminal justice systems.

One study from 2006 stated that, ‘although a majority of drug transactions involving the five serious drugs under consideration here involve a white drug dealer, 64 percent of those arrested for drug delivery in Seattle from January 1999 to April 2001 were black.’ A 2016 study said: ‘Overall, in comparison to blacks, whites receive shorter prison sentences for the same drug crimes in the United States.’ A 2007 study into the effects of felony convictions on employment, found that white applicants who had felony convictions received more callbacks than blacks who had no criminal record at all. A groundbreaking sociological study of crime carried out by W.E.B Du Bois in 1889 gets a mention too, where he showed that ‘racial differences in crime rates were a product of residential segregation, disproportionate policing and surveillance, the impact of slavery, racial discrimination, lack of economic opportunities, and lack of government investment in black communities.’

Rosino mentions two response tiers which began to emerge for problem opiate drug use in America during the 2010s. One of harm reduction, treatment and empathy, and one of surveillance, punishment and incarceration. Statistically, the former tends to be the approach for white people with drug issues, while the latter is how black people with the same issues are dealt with. Although the Obama government began moving away from severely punitive drug laws, former Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III of the Trump administration re-introduced regressive drug laws and narratives, positing that cannabis use is linked to violence and that it is addictive and dangerous. Rosino discusses media agenda-setting, via frames, which present coherent narratives of a complicated War on Drugs. By examining digital copies of local, regional, and national newspapers containing the term ‘War on Drugs’, from the ’80s onwards, the author was able to break down exactly how arguments have been framed in the media over the years.

He presented four primary frames: Fiscal, Freedom and Justice, Functionalism and Racial Unfairness, each of which was further broken down into sub-frames. They were given percentages based on the frequency they appeared. The frame of Racial Unfairness was the least common to appear, at almost 9%. Additional frames were included in the author’s breakdown of internet comments, such as Racialized Victim Blaming, which had sub-frames like Denial of racism. Racial Unfairness was acknowledged nearly 12% of the time by commenters. According to Psychologist and Sociologist, William J. Ryan, victim blaming involves ‘justifying inequality by finding defects in the victims of inequality.’ Racialized Victim Blaming took place when commenters ‘interpreted racial disparities in arrest or mass incarceration as a natural or legitimate outcome of inherent differences in traits between whites and blacks.’ Such comment authors ‘saw clear evidence of systemic oppression as instead serving as evidence of moral inferiority or social deviance.’

For me, chapters four and five were the most eye-opening sections of the book, as they covered important terms like racial silence, coded language and identity construction. Racial silence involves the implicit silence of whites (including white-dominated media) regarding the ongoing legacy of systemic racism, which is a central issue of the discriminatory War on Drugs. Because whites are dominant in positions of power and influence, their perceptions of themselves, other ethnic groups, and so-called cultural norms in behaviour and thought are imposed on society, promoting their interests as being legitimate, natural, or common sense. Coded language is explained by the author as ‘enabling claim makers to construct racialized subject-positions while maintaining surface-level racial silence.’ Code words for ethnic minorities range from crack babies and welfare recipients to terrorists, cartels and thugs. Words such as these are used to ‘conjure racial imagery, yet avoid the direct evocation of racial categories.’

In this way, age-old myths about an intrinsic superiority of whites compared to other ethnic groups who are threatening, dysfunctional, and morally-inferior are reinforced to some degree in the public psyche. Rosino states that identity construction and reinforcement are an integral part of responding to, understanding and debating a given issue, such as the War on Drugs. People are inclined to identify themselves as being part of a particular group, while excluding others via symbolic boundaries. The categorising of racial groups, dominant traits associated with them, and differences between them, are just some symbolic boundaries. Such notions are highly influenced by those with the most power and influence in society. Michael L. Rosino’sDebating the Drug War..‘ is more informative and enlightening than this review can truly communicate. It’s packed with sociological and racial concepts and data which underline the urgency for drastic racial justice and drug reform in America (and by extension, the Western world and beyond).

Many uncomfortable truths of systemic racism are laid bare in this book. Often, those truths are ignored, undermined or denied in the media and in public discourse. It seems that a significant amount of white Americans prefer to imagine that their society is fundamentally fair and equal and that those complaining about social inequities have simply failed in life through poor personal choices, or were born into an inherently inferior culture with lesser moral values. The reality is that this is nonsense. No ethnic groups are less morally sound or more naturally prone to dysfunction, violence and crime.

* The Green Lens would like to thank Michael L. Rosino for providing us with a review copy of this book.