CVIndependent

Sun06242018

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Charles Drabkin

For about 162 years, marijuana and hemp were commonly and legally grown in the United States.

Hemp fiber, although derived from a cannabis varietal, contains little to no THC—0.3 percent or less in both the European Union and Canada—and it cannot get a person high. It has been used for centuries to make things like rope, cloth, paper and food. Our founding fathers grew hemp; the Model T was partially made from hemp, and hemp was even used as animal feed.

In the 1930s, the cultivation of hemp was curtailed in the U.S. A combination of big-money interests, including Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon—a major investor in DuPont—sought to make hemp illegal to make room for the synthetic (plastic) fiber industry—which, of course, also benefited the oil industry. Hemp paper posed a threat to the timber industry, too. However, since hemp was such a part of the American consciousness, it needed to be rebranded and demonized.

Enter the term marihuana (marijuana), then a rather obscure Mexican slang word for cannabis containing THC. The government and its allies in big business were able to use what we would today call “fake news” to create horror stories about cannabis use, including movies like Reefer Madness, a 1936 film that shows “reefer” driving people to become murderers.

In 1937, the Prohibitive Marihuana Tax Law was quickly moved through Congress. Because the public did not understand that hemp and “marihuana” had been looped together as the same thing—this was well before you could fact-check news on the internet—there was virtually no public outcry, despite opposition from the American Medical Association.

In the 1970s, the Controlled Substances Act further criminalized cannabis, even classifying industrial hemp as a Schedule 1 drug, making it illegal to grow or even research the uses of hemp.

The war on cannabis has now been going on for more than 80 years. For most of this time, the hemp industry has been working to decriminalize the growth of industrial hemp by actively working to decouple it from marijuana. However, that’s changed, as states have legalized medical and recreational cannabis—meaning the hemp industry is now in the process of re-hitching its wagon to a star.

As recently as 2015, the Hemp Industries Association (HIA), a leading industry trade organization, estimated that retail sales of hemp products in the U.S. totaled $573 million—largely using imported hemp. Hemp can be used not only for food, textiles and personal care, but also car parts, biodiesel, construction materials and many other things. From an environmental prospective, hemp just makes sense: One acre of hemp plants, grown in just three months, can yield as much paper as four acres of trees that have been planted for years. One acre of hemp can also provide as much fabric as two to three acres of cotton—while using a fraction of the pesticides. Hemp can also be carbon-neutral, as carbon that is released from burning hemp as fuel is reabsorbed by the next crop of plants as they grow.

Good news is on the horizon: A provision in the 2018 Farm Bill—legislation totaling more than 1,000 pages dealing with everything from farm subsidies to food stamps—paves the way for the legalization of industrial growth. The bill is due to be voted on by the full Senate before its July 4 recess, and although it would only block federal authorities from punishing hemp farmers and researchers in states where industrial hemp is legal, it is the first meaningful reform we have seen in decades. Even ultra conservatives like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnelll, a Kentucky Republican, are pushing for hemp legalization.

“I know there are farming communities all over the country who are interested in this,” McConnell said about hemp as the bill passed through the Senate Agriculture Committee via a 20-1 vote on June 13. “… Younger farmers in my state are particularly interested in going in this direction. We have a lot of people in my state who are extremely enthusiastic about the possibilities. As we all know, hemp is very diversified.”

This is huge news. America’s attitude toward cannabis production from both an industrial and recreational/medical perspective is rapidly evolving—and we may finally see a light at the end of the tunnel regarding the commercial cultivation of hemp.

I have long proclaimed the greatness of using local produce grown and picked at the height of ripeness—something I learned after working in the restaurant industry.

I visit the farmers’ market in Palm Springs every week. The example I use to justify the extra expense and time it takes to shop at a farmers’ market is a tomato: Imagine those little red bags of water on the shelf of every grocery store. They have almost no smell, very little flavor, and often a mealy texture; they seem barely worth the effort. Now … think about the tomato you can get at the farmers’ market, or better yet, fresh out of a garden: They smell slightly acidic and rich with accumulated sunshine. All you need is that fresh tomato and a little salt, and you have a perfect lunch.

So … why shouldn’t I apply these same values to cannabis? If it makes sense to buy a fresh tomato from a local farmer, why wouldn’t I buy marijuana from a local grower?

Although the Coachella Valley is becoming a hot bed of the cannabis industry, our … shall I say, harsh summers mean most local growing is being done indoors. However, marijuana can be grown outdoors here; after all, plenty of farmers in northern climes have farms that are dormant at least three months of the year, so why can’t we? Cannabis is a hearty plant and has been cultivated by humans for eons, and to grow it commercially with success, one needs hot days, warm nights, lots of sun exposure and low humidity. That sounds like a perfect description of the Coachella Valley to me.

When I was growing up, indoor-grown cannabis was considered vastly superior, in large part due to prohibition: Outdoor growers couldn’t grow in optimal conditions, as they needed to keep their plants shaded to protect them from both the feds and organized crime. (If this sounds familiar, yes, it is the plot to every Cheech and Chong movie.) However, shade-grown cannabis produces lower yields, with lower THC content, than plants grown in the full sun.

With the huge amount of money to be had on the black market, indoor growers developed technologies to grow their crops quickly, with high THC percentages. However, the amount of energy it takes to control indoor-grow operations is phenomenal: Between heating, air conditioning, lighting and fans for airflow, published estimates have said cannabis is responsible for 1 percent of the total U.S. energy consumption—and 3 percent of California’s energy consumption! This means sun-grown cannabis has a much smaller carbon footprint. Even with the marijuana industry taking advantage of solar power and other sustainable technologies, sun-grown plants will always win by comparison.

Pest are another concern for both indoor and outdoor growers, although sun-grown cannabis has a natural resilience to many insects, meaning outdoor grows can be kept healthy with minimal cost or hassle. Indoor grows are also much more susceptible to mites, as well as mildew, which the grower must then control with a variety of chemicals—chemicals I personally do not want to consume. They also must utilize a larger variety of commercial fertilizers to optimize their investment.

Terrior is important, too. Sun-grown cannabis, much like a sun-grown tomato, has a much more complex flavor—and, I think, more interesting effects. After comparing the tastes and smell of indoor versus sun-grown product, I am finding sun-grown to be a much more enjoyable experience.

For these reasons, I am making a conscious choice to seek out sun-grown cannabis for my own consumption. Of course, I will never turn down cannabis when it is offered to me, but I want to use my purchasing power to support a sustainable industry. Unfortunately, since most sun-grown cannabis is coming out of Northern California as of now, there is the associated environmental cost of transportation to think about.

The best solution for me would be to grow my own plants, outdoors in my yard. Proposition 64 allows households to grow up to six plants at any given time. With an approximate three-month growing period, I could probably harvest three times a year. If each plant yields a half-pound of smokable product, that is about 9 pounds per year—plus all the extra bits that can be used to make oils.

There is only problem with this: I have the exact opposite of a green thumb. I have killed every “easy to keep alive” plant I have ever gotten. Luckily for me, I have several friends with green thumbs who have offered to give me hand.

As soon as summer ends here in the Coachella Valley, I plan on trying to cultivate a few plants. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Spending an afternoon or evening cooking with friends feeds both hunger and the soul—and adding cannabis to the mix can add a whole other layer of sociability and relaxation.

For many home cooks, the idea of first creating cannabis oil or butter, and then making edibles, can seem daunting. In theory, you could simply throw some raw flower into any dish—but doing so would not fully activate the THC, and it would probably leave you with some funky-tasting food. Beyond the time and work involved, the inconsistency of marijuana strength and the amount (and, therefore, the expense) of marijuana it can take lead most people to decide to consume only prepackaged edibles. I think is a shame.

If you have never cooked with cannabis, there are a few things you need to know before you begin. Let’s start with how much cannabis you want to use: A limited amount of cannabinoids—the active ingredients in the marijuana plant that include both CBD and THC—will dissolve in the oil. (By the way, in this piece, we’re using the words oil, butter and fat interchangeably.) By adding too much weed to your oil, you are simply wasting money and product. An ounce of cannabis infused into 16 ounces of butter or oil will give you a potent product that can later be cut with more fat as necessary. For my favorite lemon loaf, for instance, I use about two tablespoons of cannabis butter, and four tablespoons of regular butter.

Before using cannabis oil in a recipe, it must first be decarboxylated, a process that makes the THC into a substance that has intoxicating effects—not unlike how fermentation changes grape juice into wine. Heat is the fastest and most-effective method for creating this effect. So, when making cannabis-infused oil, temperature is vital: If your oil is too cool, the cannabinoids will either not all be released, or not released at all. If it’s too hot, you will vaporize your cannabinoids, losing potency and money.

Many people begin this process in a low-temperature oven (245 degrees Fahrenheit) for about 30 minutes, mixing the buds every 10 minutes or so, before coarsely grinding and transferring the buds into a slow-cooker with the oil, at 160-200 degrees, for three hours. But honestly … I hate this method. The time in the oven makes the entire house smell, which is not a major concern when we can have our doors and windows open—but come summer, when the house is shut up tight in 110-degree-plus temps, this is just not acceptable. Also: The amount of “active cooking” time is not practical for someone with a busy life. Finally, the unknowns around temperature make it difficult to get a consistent product.

Luckily, there is a great solution: the consumer grade sous-vide machine. Home cooks everywhere are discovering the joys of the precise time and temperature offered with this bath-cooking method. A sous-vide machine—several great brands are on the market for less than $200, including the Anova, which I use—allows you to place a sealed bag or canning jar in a water bath, with that water holding within a degree plus or minus, for as long as you need. Obviously, there is an initial cost, but once you have the cooker, you can use it for all sorts of cooking projects—and you’ll save money in the long run, because you’ll be making better, more-consistent oils.

You can “decarb” your flowers using a sealed bag under water, set to 203 degrees, for one hour. Then you coarse-grind the product, and place it and the fat in a sealed canning jar; put that in a water bath set to 185 degrees for four hours—and you are done. The beauty of the sous-vide system is that it can run without being monitored, so feel free to run errands or take a nap.

Once you have infused your cannabis oil, you will need to strain it. If you aren’t fond of the herbaceously green flavor of most homemade cannabis butters, I recommend lining a fine-mesh strainer with cheesecloth, and letting gravity do the work. Don’t worry about getting every drop of oil out of the plant material; if you squeeze the cloth too hard, you will only succeed in getting lots of plant dust and chlorophyll in your oil, which gives it an off-putting flavor.

Even if you use the sous-vide machine, you’ll have spent a lot of time and energy making your lovely cannabis oil. Now it’s time to use it—but first, I recommend consuming a quarter-teaspoon of oil before you really start cooking; wait about an hour, and see how it affects you. You can then make some educated guesses about the dose that works for you.

Check out sousweed.com for lots of recipes. The lemon cake mentioned at the beginning of this article is delicious when made with fresh lemons; I skip the medicated bitters and use limoncello.

Enjoy!

The month of April (and the final weekend of March) just got a whole lot more entertaining here in the Coachella Valley: The Copa Room Palm Springs is hosting the immense talent of Varla Jean Merman, the naïve yet bawdy drag chanteuse with a heart of gold and razor-sharp wit, on Fridays and Saturdays over five weekends.

Although Merman—created and portrayed by Jeffery Roberson—has performed to sold-out crowds before in Palm Springs, most recently with her Bad Heroine show in October, she has never had a residency here like this. Over the 10 shows, she will both workshop new material and bring back old favorites in what she describes as a roulette wheel of shows where audiences never know what they’ll get.

For the uninitiated, Merman is purportedly the illegitimate daughter of Ernest Borgnine and Ethel Merman, who was shipped off to a Louisiana convent after their real 38-day marriage—because she had Borgnine’s face. She is mannish minx, a raunchy physical comic with a rich, powerful singing voice.

I chatted with Roberson while he was in New Orleans preparing for an upcoming show. (Merman was unavailable, Roberson said. Why? “Varla lives in the storage unit, not in the house,” he said.) I’ve seen Roberson in action before as Merman, and his ability to engage an audience is indeed impressive. He said he’s too desperate for approval to ever let an audience go quiet.

“I’m like a dog with a bone when performing, and I always get lots of bones when in Palm Springs,” Roberson said.

Merman’s upcoming Palm Springs shows—titled Warm Sands, Cold Heart—will pay homage to the town and the neighborhood she stays in while here. Her opening number, which she describes as a love letter to Palm Springs, recalls the era when men used to walk the neighborhood at night, looking for Mr. Right Now. Although Roberson is what I’d describe as “Palm Springs young,” he understands that Merman’s material skews to a slightly older demographic—which is exactly why she loves playing here.

In fact, Merman has been performing in Palm Springs for at least 15 years, and she just unearthed a videotape from a show she did in 2003 at Heaven Night Club (now Zeldas) called Under a Big Top. She is resurrecting some of that circus theme for her upcoming shows … now that the world is being run by a clown.

Taking inspiration from the works of John Waters, Roberson started doing drag on video well before he stepped onstage; his shows used to feature six or seven videos, each up to 10 minutes long. However, since more and more of his audience spends large portions of their days staring at video screens, he feels people need to see Merman live onstage.

Roberson credits Merman’s role in the 2003 cult hit film Girls Will Be Girls with cementing the Varla we see today. That film—about three actresses navigating Hollywood, love and aging—was the first time someone else had written for his character, and seeing someone else’s perception of her helped Roberson solidify the beautiful character.

Roberson said he can’t believe he’s been performing as Merman for more than 20 years.

“Young people can get away with a lot more than some old lady,” he quipped about the challenges of aging.

As Merman and Roberson have aged and changed, so, too, has their comedy. Roberson watched the arc of the HIV epidemic, and when he first started, he said, jokes about promiscuity were just not seen as very funny. Today, he said, in contrast, jokes about using condoms seem dated.

“People just don’t see the humor in condoms filled with mayonnaise like they used to,” he observed.

Varla Jean Merman will perform Warm Sands, Cold Heart at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, from Friday, March 30, through Saturday, April 28, at the Copa Room Palm Springs, 244 E. Amado Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $25 to $35. For tickets or more information, visit www.varlaonline.com.

The passage of Proposition 64 not only decriminalized the adult use of marijuana; the Adult Use of Marijuana Act created a path for people to have prior pot convictions reduced—or entirely cleared from their records.

The legislation specifies that people can initiate this process on their own, but in some counties—most notably San Francisco and San Diego—district attorneys have taken it upon themselves to review cases and reduce or dismiss convictions.

Those who oppose relief from prior convictions often say that since a crime was committed—marijuana was illegal then, after all—people need to face the consequences. But this same argument did not hold water for alcohol Prohibition—and should people continue to pay for a crime that was the result of misguided government policies?

This is a social-justice issue—one that all of us who care about our democracy should pay attention to. Why? People of color were much more likely to be arrested and convicted under the old laws. In fact, recent studies have shown that although whites and people of color use marijuana at about the same rate, black people are almost four times as likely, and Latinos two to three times as likely, to have faced arrest—even for possession of a small amount of marijuana. An old pot conviction can negatively impact a person’s ability to vote, get a job, rent an apartment and get student loans—and it can affect child-custody and immigration decisions. Therefore, it is particularly important for the government to ensure everyone is treated fairly under the law.

Prop 64 makes it clear that not everyone is eligible for conviction reductions or dismissals: The law specifies that this relief is reserved for those with relatively low-level offenses. A person with a history of violence, multiple convictions or convictions for selling to minors is not eligible to have his or her records expunged or reduced. In other words, hard-core drug dealers and people working for drug cartels are unlikely to somehow be set free.

Here’s hoping that other district attorneys around the state choose to follow the lead of San Diego and San Francisco counties and review old convictions—because it can be expensive and intimidating for people to initiate the process on their own. If someone can’t get a job or student loans because of a past marijuana conviction, it’s unlikely that person can afford a lawyer. The Drug Policy Alliance and other organizations are hosting free expungement clinics, where lawyers and paralegals are present to help, but they tend to happen in and around larger cities—with none planned here in the Coachella Valley that I could find. (If you know of any, please let us know.) That means someone from here would need to drive into Los Angeles on the chance they might get to speak to a lawyer about possibly having an old conviction reduced. Also: This is not the most well-known piece of the law, and the government is unlikely to publicize this information—so spread the word.

San Diego has already reduced the records of more than 700 people, and has identified more than 4,000 people who may be able to access this relief—yet Riverside County so far has reminded silent. Although a great number of people in the county have applied to have their records reduced or cleared, as of this writing, the office of District Attorney Mike Hestrin has made no public comment, nor did anyone from the office respond to my inquiries about plans to relive this burden. As a community that prides itself on progressive values, it’s incumbent upon us to put pressure on our local elected officials.

Legislative help may be on the way: Assemblyman Rob Bonta, a Democrat from Alameda, introduced Assembly Bill 1793 in January to “to allow automatic expungement or reduction of a prior cannabis conviction,” but the legislative process is a slow one. The bill went through its first reading in early January, and there has been no movement since. One possible reason for inaction: The Legislature would also need to provide financial resources to assist the counties in doing this work.

Real people continue to be harmed by old laws that the voters of the state of California have thrown out. Old felony convictions that today would be, at worst, misdemeanors—and possibly not even worthy of arrest—are keeping a disproportionate number of African Americans and Mexican Americans from fully participating in our democracy. After all, a right delayed is a right denied.

The Palm Springs Cultural Center accomplishes a lot in the Coachella Valley. In addition to doing the programming at the Camelot Theatres and running the area’s Certified Farmers’ Markets, the center produces several film festivals.

And now, the Palm Springs Cultural Center is getting involved with weed—by producing the first Palm Springs Cannabis Film Festival and Summit, taking place largely at the Camelot Theatres April 17-22.

Giacomina Marie and Paul Palodichuk are the festival directors, as well as the directors of the Palm Springs Farmers’ Market, which they founded 10 years ago. (Full disclosure: I work with the Palm Springs Cultural Center as the volunteer coordinator.)

When asked why they decided to start the festival and summit, they talked about their connection to farmers, coming from Northern California and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. They’re used to working directly not only with produce farmers, but also with local cannabis growers. With the Coachella Valley becoming a mecca for cannabis production and tourism, they felt the area was ripe for a public discussion about what we want the legal cannabis industry to look like. They also want to educate consumers about responsible consumption, both medicinally and recreationally—and clear up some of the confusion regarding the country’s split personality regarding legality.

The film festival and summit are designed to help ease apprehension regarding marijuana use. Taking a lesson from the gay-rights movement, many in the cannabis industry are working hard to get people to “come out” and tell their stories.

Programming and films are still being finalized for the conference. “Talking to Your Teens” will be led by Dr. Marsha Rosenbaum, director emerita of the San Francisco office of Drug Policy Alliance and author of the booklet Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens and Drugs. She will help parents and grandparents have informed discussions with young people about how to make good decisions in the recreational market. Although it is illegal for teens to use or possess marijuana … if teens today are anything like I was when I was in high school, they’re experimenting with marijuana.

Most of the films being chosen for the festival are documentaries exploring marijuana culture, both nationally and internationally.

While Marie and Palodichuk have more familiarity with small-scale operations due to their farmers’ market background, they said they’re taking great pains to invite representatives from large companies as well as boutique producers. Marie made a comparison to a person’s decision on where to shop for groceries: Some people are going to shop at farmers’ markets; others will only shop at large-scale grocery stores—but all of us are trying to make informed choices.

Looking at the schedule so far, there really is something for everyone, from first-time users to experienced cannabis entrepreneurs. If you are someone who hasn’t smoked a joint since the ’70s, or perhaps spent your entire life following the “Just Say No” message, there are talks specifically designed to help you overcome your understandable worries. Seniors are the fastest-growing segment of cannabis users, and Dr. Jonathan Bechard, from Eisenhower Medical Center, will lead a talk on the safe and effective uses of cannabis for pain and stress relief—and he’s coming to the discussion with a healthy dose of skepticism regarding the belief that cannabis is an all-encompassing cure-all. On the other end of the life cycle, the summit will look at how children with autism, epilepsy and life-threatening diseases might be helped. There is even a veterinarian coming in to talk about the benefits of cannabis use for your pet. As the owner of a hyperactive Pomeranian, I will be checking this out.

For those who are part of the lucrative cannabis industry—or who want to be—there are two tracks that might be right for you. A “Green Rush Series” will investigate the opportunities in marijuana retail, tourism, culinary businesses “and beyond”; and a “Business Case Industry Series” will explore the quickly changing federal, state, county and city legalities, as well as insurance and banking considerations when opening a cannabis related business.

Interested in learning to grow your own? Brooke Sinclair, founder of Sierra Bloom Collective, will lead a workshop on getting the most out of the six plants an individual can grow for themselves. Concerned about social justice? Check out keynote speaker Dr. Lori Ajax, chief of the California Bureau of Cannabis Control.

But what if you just want to come and have fun? Sexologist Nick Karras, creator of the “The Passionate High” project, will present on how pot’s psychotropic and physical effects can help people to experience greater creativity and passion in their intimate relationships.

For more information or festival passes, visit pscff.jackalyst.com.

Disco queen France Joli is coming to the Copa on Friday, March 9—and the singer, known for her disco hits “Gonna Get Over You” and “Come to Me,” plans on debuting a brand-new gay-anthem medley that evening.

Joli said she had just finished recording the new 10-minute-long medley, which will feature current and classic dance-club hits, when we spoke over the phone. She asked me not to reveal the songs she will be covering—but I will say there wasn’t one hit she mentioned that didn’t make me want to dance. During her show, she also plans to sing her disco hits, while showing off her vocal range with some ballads—all while telling a few stories.

This won’t be Joli’s first time in Palm Springs—in fact, the Montreal native performed last year at the Desert AIDS Walk, early in the morning with the sun in her hair. She also shot the video for her 2012 hit “Hallelujah” in the High Desert.

“This place grounds me, and I hope to move here when I am ready to slow down on my performance schedule,” she said.

A precocious child, Joli said she never had any doubts about her ability to take the world by storm. At age 15, she invited producer Tony Green to produce her first album. He took her up on it, and “Come to Me” was written for her the next day. Her fearlessness is something she attributes to her mother, who encouraged her to always “get on the bus and see where it takes you.” She was just 4 years old when she told her mother she was going to be a singer—and took on Barbra Streisand as her first vocal teacher, listening to her records, learning every song and practicing nightly.

I asked Joli if she’d ever met Streisand; she said she hadn’t, although she did get to meet another of her musical heroes: Michael Jackson, on the set of the video for “Beat It.” She said he called her over, leaned in and started singing “Come to Me” in her ear; she describes it as one of the greatest moments of her life.

Commemorated in the 2003 documentary Where Ocean Meets Sky is Joli’s breakout performance at Fire Island Pines. Donna Summer had to cancel her show due to illness, and Joli was brought on as her replacement—and so began her love affair with the gay community. In her first American performance, the 16-year-old went onstage at 2 a.m., with 5,000 gay men opening their arms and hearts to her.

Joli said she was deeply affected by the AIDS epidemic. She said, with a shaky voice, that most of the people she sang for on Fire Island were taken from her and the rest of the world. She talked wistfully about the people she lost personally—as well as the long-term survivors who are thankfully still in her life.

Although she said she didn’t want to get political, Joli said she couldn’t help but be concerned about the backward direction in which the world seems to be heading.

“My mantra is: ‘The only time it’s necessary to go backward is when you are about to jump forward,’” she said.

France Joli will perform at 8 p.m., Friday, March 9, at the Copa Palm Springs, 244 E. Amado Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $25. For tickets or more information, visit www.eventbrite.com.

With the repeal of marijuana prohibition—at least as far as the state of California is concerned—comes lots of choices for those of us who have not been part of the medical-marijuana community.

Yeah, Attorney Jeff Sessions is still speaking out against marijuana. Luckily, the state is fighting the current presidential administration’s reversal of Obama-era protections for recreational use, so we probably don’t have much to worry about—at least for the moment.

How we ingest recreational pot is just as important as what types of pot we choose to consume. Each method comes with pros and cons—and everyone reacts differently, so take it slow at first. After all, you can always have more pot, but once you’ve ingested it, you can’t have less.

The most common and the easiest way to ingest cannabis is the old-fashioned “smoke up Johnny”—most of us first encountered marijuana by joint, bong hit, or a pipe fashioned out of something like an apple. Partially because of the nostalgia, and partially due to the shared experience, this is still my favorite way to consume “leaf.” It’s simple, effective and easy control the dosage—and to come down if you have been a bit overserved.

Although smoking leaf does come with health risks (yes, smoking’s bad for you!) this low-commitment method is the way many people will probably be consuming pot, at least initially. For about $10, you can buy a small glass, wood, metal or stone pipe. Crumble up some leaf; light it on fire; and inhale. You will feel the effects almost immediately … and you will most likely start coughing. Ignore the old axiom—“If you don’t cough, you don’t get off”—as it only takes about three seconds for your body to absorb the THC. If you’re feeling extra-high after a harsh coughing fit, it’s probably because the coughing deprived your brain of oxygen for too long.

I love a joint, and although you can roll your own, the dispensaries have pre-rolled joints available for sale, either in six packs or individually. A joint is also the most forcibly social method of consumption, because one joint is too much for a person to consume alone. For me, there is nothing better than sitting with some friends and passing a joint around as we discuss the meaning of life, or the latest blockbuster movie.

Many people I know are now vaporizing, or “vaping,” their cannabis. This gives a similar consumption experience to smoking, without many of the detrimental side effects. Vaporizers heat pot to a level that releases the THC and cannabinoids, but not so hot that it actually burns the product; the theory is that the toxins and carcinogens that would normally be released in smoke stay in the product. I say “theory,” because more research is needed to confirm this—and the federal government’s hostility toward marijuana also extends to scientific studies.

There are many different vaping methods, from pens that vaporize marijuana concentrates (upper right) to the PAX, which vaporizes leaf. The manufacturers of the various cartridges have luckily decided to make their connectors universal; this means you can easily buy one of the rechargeable “pen” bases and use a variety of different oils. Personally, I find the “Heavy Hitter” brand to be an excellent product with good flavors and lots of different strain options. These pens are easy to use, produce almost no smell and can provide the social interaction that smoking creates—without the time commitment of a joint. One drawback, at least for me, is that the disposable cartridges create quite a bit of waste, in both packaging and the cartridges themselves. That being said, this has become my primary method for cannabis consumption.

The PAX—some call it the iPhone of vaporizers—is sleek and fairly easy to use, plus it doesn’t create as much waste. Just get favorite leaf strain; grind it up; fill the hopper; and you are good to go. It’s more work than the pens and can be a bit messy, but it is a very good option. Plus, if you save the “spent vapes,” you can use them to make your own pot butter and create your own edibles.

We’ll discuss edibles in a minute … but first, let’s talk tinctures. Oral delivery methods are all the rage, and in terms of avoiding lung problems, this is probably the safest way to consume cannabis; in fact, my previous doctor—who helped write the recreational marijuana bill in the state of Washington—advocated for this method of consumption.

Tinctures contain THC that has been dissolved, usually into alcohol (although vinegar and glycerol can also be used); a few drops are placed under the tongue, and you get an immediate effect without the dangers of smoking. However, this is about as non-social as marijuana use can get, and it has never really resonated with me.

Edibles (below) are another safe way to consume cannabis, and they come in just about every snack form you can imagine. From the well-known brownie to goldfish crackers, and from candy ropes to popcorn, it’s all out there for your consumption pleasure. Cannabis has usually been infused into either olive oil or butter; that is then used to make or coat your favorite foods. Dosage guidelines are included on all edible packaging, but keep in mind that effects may vary depending on your tolerance.

Because edibles need to pass through the digestive system, it can take between 20 and 45 minutes for you to start to feel the effects—if not longer. The danger here is that you may think you aren’t experiencing any effects and take another dose—or that you may consume too much in the first place. Once you have consumed edibles, it is difficult to “sober up” quickly—and the high you get from them is much more full-body and less cerebral than the highs from the other ingestion systems. These two factors can lead to some difficulty if you are not careful. Personally, I don’t use edibles; I’ve had one too many experiences that were simply no fun.

No matter how you choose to ingest marijuana, take it slow at first; do it socially; and have fun.

So with legal recreational marijuana just around the corner, you want to buy a joint … but the last time you bought “the pot,” you were at the crossroads of pimples and AP algebra.

Well, medical marijuana, legal weed and even your old-fashioned pot dealer have all matured since then to compete in an ever-growing market.

Over the last few years, marijuana has become specialized, and pot heads have become cannabis connoisseurs, as exacting as any oenophile. Three basic words—indica, sativa and hybrid—make up the lexicon of the aficionado, with growers creating specialized varietals that vary in strength, taste and affect to satisfy demanding customers.

Let’s explore the difference between the strains—keeping in mind that within each classification, there are hundreds of sub-strains with their own flavor profiles, effects and fans. We have seen these classifications around for a long time, but in the last few years, users have started coming out of their basements and enjoying their herb casually in social situations—in much the same way they enjoy a fine wine or hand-crafted cocktail. Also, remember that your own life experiences and body chemistry will inform the way any strain affects you.

Sativa strains are believed to have originated in temperate growing regions between the equator and the 30th parallel (around the top of the Gulf of Mexico); they grow tall and have a thin leaf. If you are looking to grow your own plants outdoors here in the desert, these are the ones for you.  

Sativas tend to make the user feel more energetic, creative and happy. Going out with friends for the evening, embarking on a hike or taking a painting class? Sativa is the way to go. From personal experience, I can tell you this is what I prefer when I sit down to write during the day or want to be out and about with people. One of my favorite sativa strains is Tangilope, a super-tasty, citrusy strain that really helps me with creativity. But remember: It is always a good idea to test out any new strain in a small amount before making a commitment.

Indicas, on the other hand, originated further north, probably in the area around Afganistan. The plants tend to be short and bushy with a relatively short maturation time. If you are looking to grow inside your home, you will probably want to look for one of these.

Indicas tend to be more relaxing and act as a sedative for their users, while at the same time making a person feel somewhat social. Planning an evening of Netflix and chill? Have a lot on your mind and need to spend some time processing? Or are you planning a quiet evening at home with friends? If so, indicas are a great choice—but they do tend to make you hungry or sleepy, and they just may fuse your tush to the couch. I am fond of the Grape Ape strain of indica; I find its grapey smell and flavor really tasty. If I have had a tough day and just need to relax, I will often reach for some Grape Ape—not too much, though, or I may not move for the rest of the night.

As the name implies, hybrids are cross-bred plants with both indica and sativa genetics. Growers do this for a variety of reasons, including yield and growing time. Of course, they also want to produce plants with the benefits of both parent strains, and they are experimenting with hybrids that will create very specific effects. A grower may, for instance, breed some indica into a sativa to make it better-suited for an indoor grow operation, or decrease some of the associated paranoia; perhaps they’ll add some sativa to an indica to help the consumer stay awake.

Hybrids tend to be broken down into either sativa- or indica-dominant verities. (Truth be told, most strains these days have at least some hybridization in their ancestry.) Depending on what strain you choose, you will find a wide range of differences in both effect and flavor. One of my favorite hybrid strains is the sativa-dominant Blue Dream, a fairly mellow strain that will help you relax while still giving you the creative effects of many sativas. Blue Dream’s ancestry involves the indica Blueberry strain, which carries through to give you a lovely berry flavor.

With so many strains to choose from, it is important to both experiment and get guidance while you are discovering your favorites. Always talk to your friendly neighborhood budtender, as they are sure to keep abreast of the latest and greatest. When figuring out what strains work well for you, consider keeping a notebook with your favorites and how they each make you feel.

Whatever strain you choose … enjoy!

I lived in Washington state in 2012 when voters passed Initiative 502, making Washington one of the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for people 21 and older.

Although the process took a year, Washington was able to implement a well-thought-out system to fairly tax recreational users, ensure public safety and create distribution methods.

Three years later, I moved to Southern California, where recreational prohibition was the law of the land—even though anyone with access to the Internet, $45 or so, a California state driver’s license and the ability to say the words “trouble sleeping” could easily obtain a medical diagnosis via what amounts to a Skype call.

While marijuana does have numerous medical benefits, I find it difficult to believe it is the panacea that many of its proponents suggest it is—and the medical dispensaries don’t do much to maintain the illusion that they are anything like pharmacies. Imagine going to a drugstore … with a happy hour? Would you get 2-for-1 antibiotics to help clear up that rash?

I was relieved when California voters last year followed the lead of Washington (and, by then, three other states) and passed Proposition 64. As a person who tries to lead an honest life, it pained me to participate in this fiction. When Prop 64 fully takes effect on Jan. 1, 2018, California will join the ranks of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska and the District of Columbia in acknowledging that marijuana is as safe, if not safer, than alcohol when used by adults.

Of course, California has been at the center of unlawful or semi-lawful marijuana cultivation for decades, and bringing the growers into the legal market will help control quality, eventually bring down prices, take power away from the gangs and cartels, and help influence the movement to end prohibition entirely on a national scale. (Of course, given the state of our federal government as of now, that last part may be delayed a bit.)

California cities have a great deal of leeway in deciding where pot can be sold, and how many licenses to issue. Palm Springs, for instance, is currently expecting to have approximately six shops—the same number of legal medical dispensaries that are now operating in the city; during season, I’m sure this will give locals yet another chance to talk about how long the lines are. (Remember: Wednesday is our slow day here, so you may want to plan your recreational shopping trips accordingly.) The city of Palm Springs also just passed a law that will allow Amsterdam-style cafes. This is particularly important, given the number of tourists we attract; it’s also important for renters, as most hotels and apartments have strict “no smoking” policies. Remember: It is still illegal to smoke in bars and restaurants.

Palm Desert only recently lifted its ban on any sort of dispensaries—and will even be allowing one recreational shop in the tony El Paseo shopping district. On the other end of the spectrum, the city of Coachella maintains an outright ban on the sale of marijuana, although cultivation is OK, and there are at least two churches where congregants can go and, for a donation, receive the sacrament in either brownie, flower or vape form.

Tourists and nonmedical users will need to be aware of a few things before showing up at one of the new recreational shops. Most importantly: As with alcohol, driving while under the influence will be illegal, and if you have anything in the car, it must be in a closed container. The best practice would be to keep it in the trunk so there can be no doubt if you are pulled over.

Also of note is that adults over the age of 21 can carry up to an ounce of marijuana flower, or eight grams of concentrate. That is a lot of pot to have on you. Private citizens can also grow up to six mature plants for their own use; although it will be illegal to sell the pot you grow without a license, you are welcome to give it to friends or perhaps your favorite Independent marijuana columnist. 

Initially, at least, prices will probably rise. Although commercial growers are eagerly preparing for the first post-legalization harvest, demand may surpass supply in those first few months, if what happened in other states is any indication. Also: An additional 15 percent state tax combined with local taxes and other fees virtually ensures that prices will be higher at first. However, as growers get a handle on demand, we should see prices drop.

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and our current attorney general, Jeff Sessions (at least he is as of this writing … you never know with the Trump administration) has vowed to crack down on enforcement, so bringing pot into national parks could land you in some real trouble: State and local law enforcement will no longer assist the feds, but you still need to be careful if you want to bring a joint along with you when you, say, go hike in Joshua Tree. Plus, with our long history of drought here in Southern California, you don’t want to risk being responsible for the next round of wild fires. Try vaping or a brownie instead.

Come Jan. 1, nearly a quarter of the U.S. population will be able to use pot in much the same way they currently enjoy a glass of wine or cocktail—and as states and municipalities wrestle with the implications of this brave new world, the Coachella Valley Independent will continue to be here with news, reviews and stories to help you make good, responsible decisions around marijuana use.