It would take a great deal of hibernation to miss the (r)evolution in cannabis policy, industry and products happening nearly everywhere one looks. A new gold rush is on, and, this time it’s green. As the political landscape changes we are seeing thousands of people attempting to capitalize on the emerging licit market, many of whom were (and still are) part of the waning illegal market in cannabis flowers, oils, tinctures, edibles, and other products. I too am joining this evolution, for here is a place I can employ my hard-earned credentials as a bona fide chemist.
When I left prison in early 2013, after serving nearly ten years for making LSD, 2C-B and DMT, inter alia, I ran for the hills to air out my mind and exercise my body in that purer mountain air. This last summer at the Grateful Dead Fiftieth Anniversary shows in Chicago, I was talking with Rick Doblin of MAPS fame and he asked me: “So, when are you coming out of the wilderness?”
I found Rick’s question unsettling, for I had settled in and I had no plans on emerging from my cocoon. Yet, here I was being called forth; and, by a man I completely respect for his heroic commitment to making this world a safer more empathetic place.
I’ve always wanted to make a difference, that’s why I made psychedelics, yet prison had left me a little shy of raising myself too far above the parapet. I knew I could not make psychedelics anymore: indeed, I thought that I would not find an area of chemistry that I could sink my mind into lawfully, certainly not in the conservative state of Idaho. And, thus, skills I passionately developed for 22 years of my life would wither on the vine.
After pondering Rick’s words for several months and experiencing some beautiful and unexpected life changes I realized that I was no longer a part of the solution. In Timothy’s words “I had dropped out”. But now it was time to “drop in” again. It was time to leave the wilderness and return to action. So, with an aching in my heart for the wide open country I was
leaving behind, I packed my bags and headed to California and the frontiers of the new gold rush, excited for the journey that lay ahead. Thankfully, I didn’t need a Prairie Schooner.
The first thing I noticed about this nascent quasi-legal, nearly unregulated, wild west of medicinal cannabis is the surprising dearth of chemists, botanists or other people of science in the industry. Every Jack and a few Jills are trying their hands at it, and yet most are struggling in the dark without fundamental principles like note-taking, literature searching, a dedication to the rules of evidence and a commitment to fresh observations. It has been mayhem nearly everywhere I look.
This has been a bonus, as suddenly I have had a number of people seeking my assistance. I could stretch my mind again and practice chemistry. I like helping those striving to make quality, organic cannabis products for the “people in their care”. And, I can also be involved at the level of making regulations: I can put the years of legal training I undertook in prison to good use.
My my, times have changed. When I went to prison, California was not yet the free-for-all it currently is regarding medical cannabis. Today, I can talk freely with anyone in the industry. Recreationally lawful cannabis is on the horizon. It feels like Cognitive Liberty is being realized with respect to this alleged tree of life. I can consult with individuals striving for good manufacturing practice, good laboratory practice and the creation of quality products for their customers. I can work openly to improve the cannabis industry and not have to look over my shoulder in expectation that the jackboots will knock my door down. And that feels fucking awesome.
So while we are all here feeling groovy, I would like to convey to those of you in this industry, especially those of you moving from the illicit to licit market, that moving toward regulation, licensing and compliance with the law will leave you feeling freer. Law is not our enemy, those who enforce and administer it poorly may be, but the law is not. Law is a tool for us to use, just like we did at the turn of the twentieth century with regard to standardizing “medicine”: just like when we overturned alcohol prohibition. Regulation will allow fine products to emerge from the milieu of charlatans, profiteers and corner-cutters (you know who you are): in short, the market and thus the people will decide.
Speaking of the market, it’s not hard to spot the top-down capitalists looking to get in and out of the industry with a huge profit margin. Many of their investors don’t appear to give two hoots for the consumer: they’re in it for the gold-rush. Many of these folks didn’t earn their stripes on the battlefields of the “war on some people who use some drugs”. And many of them will never use the products. I’ve been chased down by a few of these venture capitalist firms and I recognize that they desperately want the info in my head. As a result, I feel pretty darn powerful.
I’ve spent 12 years at laboratory benches and another 9+ thinking about it in prison, where I often imagined I could still walk into my old lab and pick up where I left off. Unfortunately, this would have resulted in more imprisonment, and the lab is now only a memory preserved by evidence photos.
Still, the skills I learned along this psychedelic road—at the side of a former Franciscan nun who headed a Local Emergency Planning Committee; assisting a brilliant theoretical chemist in putting his ideas into action; as the mentee of Darrell Lemaire, a friend and colleague of Sasha Shulgin; and finally on my own as a lone lobo living honestly outside the law—are invaluable.
In short, as a result of solving psychedelic chemistry problems, I’ve been developing my skills. I’ve learned techniques directly applicable to cannabinoid chemistry: extraction, isolation, and purification. In 1999, I wrote a Biochemistry paper on the “Biogenesis of Cannabinoids in Cannabis sp.” I’ve also built six laboratories from scratch.
When I showed up in California to get involved I began to systematically chase down the best chemists in this field. I wanted to see their processes. I wanted to confirm some of my intuitions on the way forward. I attended the Emerald Cup, California’s annual Weed-Off, and found what I thought were the best products. And when, to my surprise, the road I was on ran smack into a few of my old psychedelic chemistry friends making their way lawfully in this post-prohibition world, I knew I was back on my path.
Currently, I can’t decide whether to consult for the top-down capitalists, to considerable financial benefit, or to forge my own way one step at a time from the ground up, building on my quasi-folk-hero status in the process. An added bonus of this route: I really enjoy the camaraderie of my friends and associates who have earned their wings the hard way as we walk forward into this newfound freedom.
It feels really special to finally breathe easy on cannabis. Those in the collared shirts have scant experience of this metanoia. They want my experience but a lawyer from one of the firms thought my past “a PR disaster”, rather than the PR boost I’m sure many of you would consider it.
Let’s not forget that it’s mostly the top-downers who will build the rapport and legitimacy with the politicians and local authorities, after-all, money talks and they too understand that prohibition is anti-free-trade. The top-downers will also build the logistics and distribution networks that I will, of course, piggyback on no matter which course I take. Others will build service industries and ancillary products necessary for all our successes.
I believe in the calming power of cannabis, on myself, on my community and on my country. The displacement of alcohol-fueled violence with more laughter and ease, and a little paranoid psychedelicism, will be good for this world. Maybe a few more politicians will get stoned and see that we are all one. Maybe from that perspective the world will become safer for children, safer for me, safer for my friends and family.
In the meantime, our relentless substance race marches on, and I with it.