I was taking a stroll through a flea market in Jamaica recently, and as sometimes happens in Jamaica, someone asked me if I wanted some ganja. I asked if it was an Indica or Sativa. How was it processed, was it grown inside or outside, was it vegan, flavored, and which celebrity or investment fund was backing the grow?
The kind fella looked at me, laughed, and said “It’s just ganja! Americans — you people know how to complicate everything!”
Since I was with my 11-year-old, I passed. But it did make me think, “Was the weed-toting stranger right? Have we taken the fun out of the cannabis industry?”
One of my favorite cannabis-induced memories was back in college. My then-roommate Tim VanThiele (not his real name) had scored some weed (that’s what we called it back then).
We put on the brand new Van Halen album OU812, invited a few friends over, and played a righteous game of “Bong Monopoly.” Think Monopoly, but instead of using money, you had to take Bong hits (1 hit = $100 and so forth).
If you couldn’t take a hit but really wanted a property, you had to eat a mouth full of Cheetos and hold it in your mouth for the amount of minutes that equaled the amount of money ($300= three minutes). Trust me, there’s nothing worse than Cheeto-encrusted cotton mouth.
At some point Tim’s brother, let’s call him Scoffy McNofun, came into our room, looked at our Cheeto dust shenanigans, and called us “stoners.” After that it gets pretty fuzzy. I bought Boardwalk.
An epic night with great friends, laughing and playing board games. No $300 cover charges, no trade shows full of $250,000 video screens and dudes in branded golf shirts, just fun and camaraderie.
We were “fringe, counterculture, breaking the law,” and free. Fuck the establishment, we’re playing Bong Monopoly in Waukesha, Wisconsin!
Somewhere along the way the fun part of pot became “stonery.”
“Weed” became “cannabis” and in the desperation to be seen as a legitimate business, cannabis lost some of the innocence that made us fall in love with it.
Lighthearted revelry has been replaced with medical benefits, monetization, and Zoom meetings — at least in the marketing.
I am not here just to preach but to testify, because I have also been sucked into the commoditization of pot.
Recently at MJBizCon, I waited in line for an hour to go to an after party that was no different than what you would find at any other club, in any city, anywhere in the world. Insanely loud music, selfies popping off everywhere — and branding, so much branding.
As I stood in line trying to talk with my friends, I realized if I had a time machine and my 20-year-old self was able to travel to that moment, he would have kicked me for being such a sellout. “Waiting in line for a party full of posers? Dude!” I could hear my younger self say.
Then younger me would travel back to watch the Chicago Bears win the Super Bowl again, because, you know — it may never happen again.
Weed used to be social, fun, and funny. Now, for many of us, it’s spreadsheets, sales quotas, M&A, and PowerPoint presentations.
At MJBizCon, like many trade shows, it’s $25,000 for a 10×10 booth. Add another $5,000 if you want carpet and electricity for your space. That’s $30,000 just to kick things off. The cannabiz is becoming big business and not leaving any room for the music makers and dreamers of dreams.
As I walked the floor, I met amazing smaller brands who couldn’t afford the $30k, but were doing what they could with what they had. Shout out to Blunt Style for helping veteran’s charities by donating 10% of their sales. And props to a minority-owned business from Tampa, giving back to their neighborhood with every sale — Black Mule Coffee! Good to the last drop.
I am not dissing the many gracious hosts who spend a great deal of money to keep the party going, can you imagine a trade show without an afterparty? Thanks to you all.
As I stood at a party in a hotel, that would be a three star in Tulsa, I hit my line in the sand. No mas, count me out. No more massive parties, VIP lines, and hordes of beautiful people. It’s not my thing. Or it’s not any different than something I could find anywhere else, it’s the same party, night after night, the same show year after year. So why go through the trouble and stress?
If there was a party lined with couches, great music, Cheetos, frozen grapes (trust me on this), I would be there. Pinball machines, Atari, pizza, and bean bags everywhere, I will be there. I am a “stoner” and I am proud. I like great memories, good conversation, getting to know people and friends.
Yes, we need regulation, growth, and to be recognized as a legitimate industry. I am not arguing that. But has the desire to be recognized made the industry into a bit of a Margaritaville? Stay with me here.
As I am departing Jamaica, my 11-year-old is hungry — we walk the length of the airport and stumble upon a Margaritaville restaurant. When I ask how long the wait is, they tell me an hour … for a Margaritaville in an airport in Jamaica!
God bless Jimmy, his music made many of my weed-ventures (copyrighted by me and to only be used with my permission) better, but it too was once a mythical place that only existed in our minds, different to every person.
Now it’s a very real place full of obese, sunburned tourists all too eager to plunk down $28 for a burger and $30 for a yard-long margarita slurped out of a plastic cup in an airport.
As we looked at the long line, I smiled at my 11-year-old and said, “Let’s go buddy. There has to be something better, something easier.” Because as a wise man once said, “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.”