Musings

The Emerald Cup

Northern California. A place of towering trees, over-priced real estate and a passion for cannabis, and this weekend was the Nor-Cal cannabis community’s biggest party: The Emerald Cup.

fullsizeoutput_6aWhat is the Cup? It’s a contest for the best products and strains, it’s a B2B marketplace with new cannabis strains, resin extractors, trimmers, soil bags etc on display, it’s a brand showcase where every farm with a logo, instagram and enough cash on hand to afford a booth show to off their Glues and their Blues and their OGs and their Lemons and on and on. It’s also a dab fest, vendors offer unlimited free dabs to any and all people allowed into the 215 Area.

Emerald Cup 2017 revealed a subculture in transition. Classic Emerald Triangle full season flower farms were relegated to a secondary tent and had the feel of a darker, danker scene than the brightly lit brands in the Canna-Craft Pavilion of Pot. Flow Kana, one of the most well known and respected of the artisanal flower farm collectives was along the back wall. Moon Made Farm’s Tina Gordon handed out pre-rolls from a leather bandolier sash, proudly pointing to the QR and bar code on the plastic vial packaging “the first seed to sale track and trace!” The track and trace program is vital to preserving the value of cultivation area appellations, applied wine-like, to local cannabis. The Emerald Triangle is fighting to maintain its reputation, by statute and by brand. The traditional signifiers of Northern California weed culture were in this tented area: dreadlocks, balloony pants, semi-precious gemstone necklaces done in wire wrap settings, vegan edibles, a heavy downbeat from the speakers, and of course, the implied rejection of disposable corporate culture…

The Canna-Craft Home of the High, on the other hand, was an explicit grin at Big Pharma. One CEO told me that he could easily see his brand on the shelves of CVS. I told him about the branding of one company, Leef, that I could easily see being sold at Anthropologie. It’s all easy to see. Anyone sticking to muddy greens and swirly organic shapes looks like old news, it’s the clean look now. Black and white, with Pantone sanctioned color blocks, crisp like a tennis skirt and about as edgy. These companies are the rich white kids in the 80s Brat Pack movies. They may be getting high, but they’ve got bright futures in pharma boardrooms. It’s antiseptic and cool for the capitalistic set.

Photo from trychemistry.com

Chemistry, a small outfit out of Oakland, has a lovely white vape pen with a polygon rainbow in vogue tones for their logo. At nearly 80% THC this is a seriously mind-altering substance. You get just as high sipping on the pen as hitting one of those e-nail rigs, but boy you sure look a lot sharper with the pen. It’s not all optics. Chemistry won 3rd place in the Distillates category, vaulting into the rarified echelon of companies that a consumer (and investor) might recognize. They went from a tiny shared booth in the back corner with a product they launched last week to Cup-wide (or at least, distillate interest-wide) notoriety. Things can happen very quickly. The question for the fast-paced companies is: are they ready to scale when it happens? Being exciting now is great, but if you’re one year in with a five year exit and a nine figure valuation in mind, you had better time your top salability right.

 

fullsizeoutput_6b

Rebel Grown at Emerald Cup 2017

While Chemistry is a new company finding commercial success by dispensing with the stigma of the grimy black market days, Rebel Grown embraces it. Self-described “rebels of the past with a lifelong dedication to our craft”, they’re known for breeding top-of-the-line Diesels, and to stray too far from butch would have been out of step with their product. What they managed to do was create (craft?) a brand that stays loyal to the posturing of guerrilla growers in Humboldt, without alienating new consumers or women. Rebel Grown presents a muscular brand that manages to be tough without being intimidating. It’s not an easy row to hoe. They needed to sell a badass brand for their B2B products (the seeds and clones of high gas plants), to their commercial cultivator customers, but one that also worked on a retail consumable product. If Leef is selling CBD to rich girls in boutiques, and Chemistry is getting young professionals high, Rebel Grown is #rebelasfuck, and they’re what’s up at the rock show.

The mood of the Cup was upbeat. This is a sales event, after all, and many of the attendees were there for the party. Never mind the disquieting news that flower cultivators are struggling to get $800 per unit (one unit = one pound) that went for 3 times that just a few years ago, and just the cultivator’s tax to the state alone is $44 per unit. Never mind that next year there won’t be free dabs. Never mind if Cannabis gets rescheduled to Schedule II things might get really bad.

“It makes me sad”, said one entrepreneur I spoke to. We were standing in the middle of the fair grounds, watching the cheerful, slow moving crowd cluster around food carts and filter into a beer garden. Despite his success, he was wistful for the old days. “The new folks just don’t understand what this is like for us!” exclaimed a long-time cultivator, to a round of amens and head shaking. “I just got off 12 years of federal paper”, a lawyer I’d guess to be in his 60s said to me. “I did 6 years of federal time, I’ve been on federal paper for 12 years, I just got off this week. I kept my law license though, and my daughter is my paralegal. We are going to keep going, keep fighting. I’m going to hire a bunch of empty heads and strong backs right out of law school and litigate the hell out of these statutes.”

Prices are plummeting, but business is booming. There is still a sense of community and common cause, but the truth is that subcultures will remain subcultures, and the mainstream will remain anodyne. Is one wrong and one right? Can they coexist and support each other in a market? Will the Nor-Cal Spirit win out over East Coast avarice, Middle West sensibility, and Silicon Valley-style funding and business models? I sure hope so. There are a lot of good people working hard to keep the Northern California economy afloat in these uncertain and increasingly automated times, and we should all be in that together. The Emerald Cup felt united and excited, but fundamentally uncertain about how the next few years will go.

 

Competition and the Introvert Girl

Back when I was a just an idealistic young thing, I told my mother I wanted to go into publishing. I wanted to be an editor, after all, my friends all came to me to edit their work. I’d be a good editor! I edit!

“It’s very competitive”, she warned me, “Why not go to law school, you can always get a job if you have a law degree.” Job security seemed nice, but it was that fear of competition that sent me scuttling towards a career I am deeply unsuited for. If my mom though it was too competitive for me… well, it must be? Right?

Competition is scary for the confrontation phobic. And when people say, “it’s very competitive…” and then sort of trail off… It feels like they’re saying, “You’re not good enough to compete in that field.”

For those of us who go to absurd lengths to avoid confrontation, competition is terrifying. It means setting oneself against another in public. For introverts the arena is the last place we want to be. We only like to perform if it’s a) anonymous or b) among people we already trust.

This is a real challenge to doing anything outside our comfort zone. We will believe your doubtful tone, maybe more than you do. We take that shit right to heart.

So, to the friend of the venturing introvert:

Don’t tell your friend that what they want to do is highly competitive. It is not a helpful critique. It is a negative statement. Your friend is hearing: “I don’t think you’re good enough.” Ask about your friend’s strategy, and give constructive criticism from your own experience. Your introvert friend will respond to a discussion about pros and cons, and will appreciate your listening and your input. They will NOT appreciate your stomping on their idea with a dismissive, empty comment. Also, they will never forget it, whichever direction you take. If an introvert tries out an idea on you, they are handing you their heart, you only get one chance to show you respect that.

To the introvert:

Just ignore them. They don’t know you. Don’t bother to grow a thicker skin, your skin is so thick nothing gets out. You listen and give supportive advice, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be rewarded with the same. Everything is competitive now, even eating, so just cancel out that noise.

Here is my advice (based on my attempts to not be scared out of a new venture (see last post)):

Make a list of people whose opinion you value. Look at your phone, who do you text with? Who do you feel safe with? Ask them. You don’t ask an electrician to fix your plumbing, don’t ask a steamroller to plant seeds.

Be open to partnerships. I was lucky, I was approached by an old friend who needed a business partner. Part of the reason he asked me is because we’re so different. He’s as energetic an extrovert as ever bought a round for strangers at a bar.  He can walk into a room of strangers and walk out with a wedding invitation. I can go to a wedding and not meet a single person.

My partner has all the ego and confidence I need to fight my natural diffidence. He is not intimidated, and I trust him because he’s always respected my input. He is intelligent enough to value my process, for instance, he needs someone to take notes while he spouts out ideas, and then to read them back in a cogent, critical manner. I need time to write down my thoughts, and then present them to someone who has the good sense hear them with positivity, and to discuss them openly.

It’s not easy, but easy was never a part of the deal. Competition can be beaten without a Tarzan-yell, it just takes dedication, smarts, and hard work. And yes, I am at all times wondering why the hell I didn’t become a librarian. And maybe I will. But let’s see where we get in this competition first.

No sense giving up without a quiet, determined fight.

 

 

 

 

Is Voting for Bernie Anti-Feminist?

 

The following is a adapted from a letter I sent out to some women who have long been feminist touchstones for me. One was my mother, a weaver and retired early childhood educator, the other is a former Dean and retired professor at the University of Vermont and the third a friend-from-childhood who teaches high school English. 

 

I just read an article (see below) and I thought you might find it interesting as well. I’m not sure how much any of you have been following, but Gloria Steinem really put her foot in her mouth the other day by saying (on late night TV) that young, female Sanders supporters are only supporting him because boys are, and girls “want to be where boys are” and then she was followed up by Madeline Albright at a Clinton rally, who essentially told women they’re going to hell for not supporting Hillary, because there is “a special place… for women who do not help each other.” There is certainly a gap here, and I’m curious what you all think about it.

I’ll never forget my Women in the Law professor YELLING at us, slamming her fists on the table, when the 8 women taking her class all agreed that a woman who chose to “stay in the home”, as long as it was her free and clear choice, was exercising her rights as a person and that it was not problematic for us to see such a woman as a feminist and we certainly didn’t think she was rowing the wrong way down the river. She was horrified that we felt that way, and insisted that any woman “in the home” had essentially counted herself out of the fight for equality, and worse, was actively working against women.
I think that a similar disagreement is before us. I believe that many young women feel that it’s their right as equals to NOT have to consider the gender of our leaders as pivotal, and that tokenism is dangerous and leads to a false sense of progress. Even as “thought leaders” declared that we live in a post-racial society because we have a black president the plague of police brutality against black people went on unchecked. I don’t mean to say that Hillary, a tireless leader and warrior for herself and women, is a token politician, I mean to say that I do not believe that voting her into office will result in a balm of equality to finally soothe our suffering.
I also believe that the intersection of class has become far more prominent for young women. My peers have (thanks entirely to the fighting of women before us) very few stories of slap-on-the-ass sexism but have many examples of class inequality as well as the experience of the 2008 Great Recession. It is college loans that women point to when talking about why they haven’t bought a home or new car, not a chauvinist mortgage loan officer who wants a man to co-sign. Because both Bernie and Hillary are feminists, and he supports a woman’s right to choose and pay equity it’s harder to see what women lose by electing Bernie. Bernie’s no-holds-barred attacks on Wall Street resonate with an angry and disenfranchised population who see the 1% as the oppressor. A gendered oppressor certainly, but not one that is pointedly anti-women.
The article:

If you’re still interested, Camille Paglia on Hillary: http://www.salon.com/2016/01/27/camille_paglia_hillarys_blame_men_first_feminism_may_prove_costly_in_2016/

My mother and the professor both said that Paglia’s article “made them puke.” Her name is everywhere right now, anyone have any ideas on why she’s striking a chord?
And The Great Gail Collins with a short history of Hillary and women running for president: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/08/opinion/sunday/hillary-in-history.html