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Once literally demonized as “the Devil's lettuce,” and linked to all manner of deviant behavior by the establishment's shameless anti-marijuana propaganda campaigns, cannabis sativa has lately been enjoying a long-overdue Renaissance. So now that the squares at long last seem ready to rethink pot's place in polite society, how, exactly, can members of this vibrant, innovative, life-affirming culture proudly and properly emerge from the underground—without forgetting our roots, or losing our cool?
In How to Smoke Pot (Properly), VICE weed columnist and former High Times editor David Bienenstock charts the course for this bold, new, post-prohibition world. With plenty of stops along the way for "pro tips" from friends in high places, including cannabis celebrities and thought leaders of the marijuana movement, readers will learn everything from the basics of blazing, to how Mary Jane makes humans more creative and collaborative, nurtures empathy, catalyzes epiphanies, enhances life's pleasures, promotes meaningful social bonds, facilitates cross-cultural understanding, and offers a far safer alternative to both alcohol and many pharmaceutical drugs.
You'll follow the herb's natural lifecycle from farm to pipe, explore cannabis customs, culture and travel, and discover how to best utilize and appreciate a plant that's at once a lifesaving medicine, an incredibly nutritious food, an amazingly useful industrial crop, and a truly renewable energy source. You'll even get funny and informative answers to burning questions ranging from: How can I land a legal pot job? to Should I eat a weed cookie before boarding the plane?
In two-color, with charts and illustrations throughout, How to Smoke Pot (Properly) is truly a modern guide to this most revered herb. And remember, marijuana has the potential to help us live more meaningful, satisfying and authentic lives, and create safer, happier, more harmonious communities, but first we must learn to consume this miracle plant properly.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
DAVID BIENENSTOCK is the former West Coast editor of High Times magazine and has more recently grown a following as a journalist and video host/producer at VICE, where he writes the Weed Eater column and produces a video series called Bong Appetit. He’s appeared as a weed expert on NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, CNBC, and HBO, and has been quoted in Salon, Fast Company, AdWeek, Playboy, and The Nation.
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Then, in 2010, after seven years working out of High Times headquarters in midtown Manhattan, I relocated to Northern California, and took on a new role as the magazine’s West Coast editor.
Seeking the true heart and soul of the California cannabis movement, I made WAMM one of my first stops upon reaching the left coast. I’d already heard and read much about the collective’s politics—how for twenty years they’ve focused on low-income, seriously ill patients otherwise unable to afford medicine; how they helped pass America’s first statewide medical-marijuana law; and how they survived a DEA raid, then turned around two weeks later and defiantly distributed marijuana to the terminally ill on the steps of city hall—but I had no idea how they managed to plant, tend, and harvest a garden productive enough to supply their hundreds of members with cannabis for an entire year with only a skeleton crew and a small, dedicated team of volunteers.
On the chilly spring morning when I visited WAMM for the first time, the collective’s fledgling seedlings were just getting transplanted into five-gallon pots. Valerie put my wife, Elise, and I to work right away, digging holes and mixing soil. She also welcomed us into an amazing community of reefer revolution- aries, and encouraged us to come back for more. So over the next year (and the years to follow) I got to closely follow the crop’s natural life cycle—from seed to harvest—for the first time, while making a lot of new, kindhearted friends, learning the art and craft of outdoor cannabis growing, and at long last, getting some dirt under my fingernails.
“Growth is so obvious in the garden—you don’t have to wait long to see it,” Valerie once told me, explaining that many seriously ill and even terminal patients find the process of producing their own medicine to be highly empowering. “The garden gives us an opportunity to build something bigger than ourselves. That not only helps the healing, it puts us more in touch with the cycles of life.”
So let’s begin by understanding how the cannabis plant germinates, grows, flowers, and reproduces, and then we’ll explore the many ways clever cultivators seek to optimize this process in search of higher potency and heavier harvests.
In nature, each plant begins life when a previously dormant seed begins to germinate in early spring. Only the strongest and most viable of these seeds manage to throw off their seed casings, stretch into seedlings, grow into mature plants, and prop- agate the species. The rest, at some point along that journey, fall by the genetic wayside, helpfully winnowing the herd through natural selection.
Seedlings grow faster and heartier than these cuttings, but only after a long, delicate germination period. So most cannabis cultivators opt to start each new crop not from seed but by plucking healthy leaves from the lower branches of a special “mother plant” kept for this purpose, and then replanting those leaves in soil or a medium to take root—a technique that saves weeks of growth time on the front end, and also ensures a genetically uniform set of plants moving forward, which is especially important when trying to manage a tightly packed indoor grow.
Another big advantage of using cuttings is that all of your plants will be female (assuming you start with a female “mother plant,” of course). Only females produce THC and marijuana’s other medicinal and/or psychoactive components in appreciable amounts, so taking clones saves the trouble of waiting for seedlings to show their sex (at about six weeks) and then culling all the males.
Male cannabis plants also flower, but unlike females, their flowers don’t produce significant amounts of THC-laden resin, so savvy marijuana cultivators either grow all females from clone or, if growing from seed, kill off all their male plants long before they reach maturity. Either way, the resulting all-female crop, if effectively shielded from pollination, will reach maturity without seeds (or sinsemilla, as the technique is commonly known).
Now, as anybody of a certain age can tell you, there’s nothing wrong with smoking seeded pot, once you remove the seeds, but it’s also, assuredly, less than ideal, because all of the unique compounds in cannabis, collectively known as cannabinoids— including the ones that get you high and help prevent Alzheimer’s—are predominantly found in the trichomes. And once a formerly virginal female comes in contact with the wind- blown pollen of a male plant, she immediately curtails cannabinoid production in favor of literally “going to seed.”
Whenever harvest happens, it takes weeks after cutting down a plant to properly dry, trim, and cure its flowers. Start by strip- ping off the large fan leaves and hanging the buds from their stems in a cool, dark place with steady air circulation for seven to ten days. Trimmed leaves can be saved to make hashish (see page 53), while smokable flowers, once sufficiently dry, are carefully manicured with scissors to remove the smaller, higher- potency “sugar leaves.”
“It’s a lot like the aging of a fine wine,” legendary cannabis breeder DJ Short, creator of Blueberry, Old Time Moonshine, and other popular strains, told me once for a High Times story. “The benefits of properly cured cannabis include even moisture content and a complete breakdown of chlorophyll, which allows the full, clear expression of taste and aroma to emerge.”
Most growers cure buds by carefully stacking as many as possible into an airtight container without damaging them. Over time, trace amounts of moisture inside the buds will evaporate. Periodically opening the container and turning the buds over releases this moisture and allows more to sweat out until the buds are perfectly and evenly dry (usually about a week).
At which point, at long lost, the herb is ready to blaze.
Still legal in most states until the mid-1930s, in part due to its obscurity, the herb counted among its earliest adopters migrant Mexican farmhands, who grew marihuana at home and brought it with them when moving north in search of work, and New Orleans’s freewheeling jazz musicians, who got their hands on Caribbean-grown ganja from sailors freshly arrived at the city’s bustling port. Both groups eagerly spread the practice to outsiders they encountered, but it was the jazz cats who turned gage into a national phenomenon, literally scattering cannabis seeds far and wide during their travels on the music circuit, and figuratively doing the same by inserting sly, appreciative references to reefer into their recordings and radio appearances.
As Cab Calloway sang on his 1933 hit “Reefer Man,” which doubled as a somewhat impractical guide to finding a pot dealer, “If he trades you dimes for nickels, and calls watermelon’s pickles,” he’s probably the reefer man.
Of course, no good turn goes unpunished in America, especially if you’re black or Mexican, and so once the establishment caught a whiff of this fragrant new cultural trend, the government and the media started cooking up a scare campaign designed to turn marihuana into a terrifying menace. Then they used the resulting public panic as a way to seek authoritarian control over both the cannabis plant and the undesirable people consuming it.
“I consider marijuana the worst of all narcotics, far worse than the use of morphine or cocaine,” Judge John Foster Symes declared in 1937 while sentencing Samuel Caldwell, the first person arrested under federal marijuana prohibition, to four years of hard labor for dealing two joints in the lobby of a seedy Denver hotel. “Marijuana destroys life itself. I have no sympathy with those who sell this weed. The government is going to enforce this new law to the letter.”
Maybe so, but soon enough, a loosely knit black market sprouted up to supply marijuana to the masses despite this new prohibition, headed by an iconoclastic, decentralized corps of small-time international pot smugglers—a system that remained largely in place until 1973, when Richard Nixon created the DEA, and tasked them with stopping the steady flow of foreign weed into the United States.
Within a few years of that first salvo in the modern War on Drugs, imported herb became expensive and hard to score, due to massive interdiction efforts on the borders, and the long prison sentences handed out to those who got caught. Eventually, the little guys wouldn’t take the risk anymore, and the real criminals quickly discovered that cocaine brought in much higher profits, and so a market vacuum opened that didn’t make people stop smoking pot but did inspire large numbers of them to start experimenting with growing their own.
A lot of high-paying jobs were thus created right here at home by transforming the nation’s underground marijuana sup- ply line from an import business into a cottage industry. Which made everyone happy, except the smugglers, and the human paraquats running the DEA, who decided to respond to the scourge of people growing unauthorized plants on their own land, or out in the middle of nowhere, by recruiting a bunch of combat helicopter pilots who were battle-hardened in Vietnam and ordering them to fly sorties all over the country, seeking out marijuana plantations from the air and terminating them with extreme prejudice.
And so, in a classic case of unintended consequences, the DEA basically invented indoor marijuana growing. Not by secretly designing and selling the high-intensity discharge lights required to cultivate full-potency pot indoors (unless you believe some seriously far out conspiracy theories) but simply by creating a set of incentives that unleashed a massive wave of American ingenuity on the question of how to transform cannabis into a hothouse flower.
As a result, once again, our nation’s incredibly resourceful cannabis community went a little further underground. In many cases literally underground, as a large, unfinished basement is often the ideal place to grow indoor marijuana away from the prying eyes of Big Government’s black helicopters. At least, that was the case ten years ago, when even the world’s most skilled indoor cannabis cultivators typically helmed operations of just a dozen 1,000-watt lights, most often concealed within their own homes. Nowadays, of course, state-licensed marijuana cultivation facilities can be truly industrial-sized operations, employing dozens of people, and producing hundreds of pounds of usable bud or more per month.
A few days before Colorado’s recreational pot stores opened to the public for the first time on January 1, 2014, I visited one such operation, the awe-inspiring cultivation facility of Denver’s Medicine Man, which ranks among the state’s leading marijuana dispensaries. Seeking background for a trilogy of VICE articles (Tomorrow, I’m going to buy legal weed; I just bought legal weed; I just smoked legal weed), I took a guided tour of a grow room the size, scale, and professionalism of which I could have scarcely dreamed possible just a few years earlier.
Medicine Man features a sleek, modern retail space up front, with 40,000 square feet of dedicated cultivation and processing space housed in the same building—albeit behind locked and heavily secured doors. Andy Williams, Medicine Man’s principal owner, told me he’d rather not put a number on the amount of marijuana they harvest on-site every month, lest any nefarious characters start to get ideas, but let’s just say it’s more than enough to make Snoop Dogg blush.
Andy, however, never blushes. He’s a former military officer and aerospace executive with a hard nose for business and an unshakable determination to build his family-run enterprise into an industry leader. Only he doesn’t smoke pot, and doesn’t know a thing about growing it. So he leaves all that to his green- thumbed brother Pete.
“People think it takes a lone mystical grower, some guru, to produce top grade marijuana,” Pete, who most certainly does get high on his own supply, told me, “but it doesn’t. It takes a standard operating procedure.”
Of course, Pete didn’t start from scratch when designing and building Medicine Man’s state-of-the-art cultivation system, but rather took a scientific approach to scaling up and refining a series of techniques and procedures long developed by under- ground growers. Because whether you’re cultivating just four illicit plants in a closet for head stash and extra cash, or tending to an “indoor acre” of fully legal commercial cannabis, the objective remains the same: to yield the largest amount of high-quality marijuana possible, as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Unfortunately, many of the methods developed to meet this goal resemble the agribusiness world of monocropping and factory farming far more than I’d like to admit, with the added drag of running all those energy-intense grow lights eighteen to twenty-four hours a day. Which means the dirty little secret of the cannabis industry is that a product typically identified with “green values” can have a shockingly high carbon footprint, and other serious environmental consequences, depending on where and how it’s grown.
From a purely technical perspective, however, indoor growing offers several clear advantages, which explains why it retains market dominance even in states with fully regulated cultivation. For starters, skilled indoor growers can achieve total mastery of their plants’ environment, including consistently providing the optimal temperature, humidity, nutrients, air circulation, and irrigation needed to promote rapid growth. Indoor growers also decide exactly how much artificial sunlight their plants will receive, including when to induce flowering by low- ering the photoperiod below twelve hours per day. So while outdoor gardens produce only one harvest each year (typically in late September/early October), indoor growers usually start flowering their plants a mere two to four weeks after they take root as clones, with the entire clone-to-harvest cycle taking just ninety days or so.
My good friend and cannabis colleague Danny Danko, senior cultivation editor at High Times, believes that, closely examined, indoor marijuana isn’t just a different process from outdoor, it’s in many ways a different product.
Excerpted from "How to Smoke Pot (Properly)"
Copyright © 2016 David Bienenstock.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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