Beyond 420

Pub date April 19, 2011
SectionGreen City

GREEN CITY When the clock or the calendar hits 420 — and particularly at that magical moment of 4:20 p.m. on April 20 — the air of Northern California fills with the fragrant smell of green buds being set ablaze. But this year, some longtime cannabis advocates are trying to focus the public’s attention on images other than stoners getting high.

“I hope the house of hemp will replace the six-foot-long burning joint as the symbol of 420,” says Steve DeAngelo, executive director of Harborside Health Center, an Oakland cannabis collective, and one of the organizers of an April 23 festival in Richmond dubbed Deep Green that offers an expanded view of cannabis culture.

In addition to big musical acts, guest speakers, and vendors covering just about every aspect of the cannabis industry, the event will feature a house made almost entirely of industrial hemp. That exhibit and many others will highlight the myriad environmental and economic benefits of legalizing hemp, as California Sen. Mark Leno has been trying to do for years, with his latest effort, SB676, The California Industrial Hemp Farming Act, clearing the Senate Agriculture Committee on a 5–1 vote April 5.

Public opinion polls show overwhelming support for ending the war on drugs, particularly as it pertains to socially benign substances like industrial hemp, a strain of cannabis that doesn’t share the psychoactive qualities of its intoxicating sister plants. Yet DeAngelo said that after 40 years of advocating for legalization, he’s learned to be patient because “unfortunately, our politicians are lagging behind public opinion.”

In San Francisco and many other cities, marijuana dispensaries have become a legitimate and important part of the business community (see “Marijuana goes mainstream,” 1/27/10), spawning offshoots like the edibles industry that provide more safe and effective ways of ingesting marijuana (see “Haute pot,” 1/25/11).

But the proof that the medical marijuana is about more than just getting people high also continues to grow, from the endless touching tales of cancer, AIDS, and other patients who have been saved from suffering by this wonder weed to the lengths that the industry is going to cultivate cannabidiol (CBD), a compound found in marijuana that doesn’t get people high but offers many other benefits, including acting as an antidepressant and antiinflammatory medicine.

CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive compound in marijuana, generally have an inverse relationship in cannabis plants, so the efforts by generations’ worth of pot cultivators to breed strains with higher THC content have almost completely bred the CBD out of the plants. “In the underground markets, it didn’t have any value,” DeAngelo said.

When Harborside Health Center first started laboratory-testing marijuana many years ago, DeAngelo said that of 2,000 strains tested, only nine had “appreciable quantities of CBD.” In addition to efforts by Harborside and the San Francisco Patient and Resource Center (SPARC) to work with growers on bringing back CBD-heavy strains, modern scientific techniques are allowing CBD to be extracted from the strains that do exist.

“It’s not psychoactive, but let me tell you, it is mood-altering,” says Albert Coles, founder of CBD Sciences in Stinson Beach. “A lot of people, when they smoke pot go inward, but that often isn’t good for social interactions.”

His company makes laboratory-tested cannabis tinctures called Alta California that have been increasingly popular in San Francisco, offering three different varieties: high THC/low CBD, low THC/high CBD, and a 50-50 mix. “It’s good for creative thinking because it just clears out all the noise,” Coles said of CBD.

But even when talking about THC, many in the industry dispute the criticism that most marijuana use is merely recreational drug use. Vapor Room founder Martin Olive has said most pot use isn’t strictly medical or recreational, but a third category he calls “therapeutic,” people who smoke pot to help cope with the stress of modern life.

DeAngelo agrees, although he puts it slightly differently: “The vast majority of cannabis users use it for the purpose of wellness.” 

DEEP GREEN FESTIVAL Saturday, April 23. Performances by The Coup, Heavyweight Dub Champion, and more; speakers include pot cultivation columnist Ed Rosenthal, Steve DeAngelo, and business owner David Bronner. $20 advance/$30 door ($20 for bicyclists and carpoolers, $100 VIP).

Craneway Pavilion, 1414 Harbour Way South, Richmond.