The week of February 15, 2015

Upscale marijuana moves online

By Leslie Anne Jones

The parking lot at Wonderland Nursery is often full of Ford F-150s belonging to area growers, who have come to pick up clones—stem cuttings of cannabis that have been replanted—and glean advice for their crops. The airy, two-story facility sits on the outskirts of Garberville, Calif., a little hub of civilization and commerce amid the far-spread farms shrouded in the hills.

When I visited, a few nursery workers, in the process of making more clones from plant cuttings, passed around a joint in the unassuming manner workers in a different place of business might gather at the watercooler. Owner Kevin Jodrey says they’re actually not supposed to smoke in the shop, but “you know how it goes from time to time.”

If you want to get wonky about cannabis cultivation, Jodrey’s nursery has a vast genetic library, and he has helped people with everything from arthritis to late-stage leukemia find the right strain and cannabinoid ratio to treat themselves.

Jodrey has logged 33 years in the weed business. These days, the fit, long-haired 48-year-old is working to shed some sunlight on his local, long-sequestered Humboldt County farming community with his website, the Ganjier, in the hopes that digital exposure for the historically secretive industry will help shape law and policy in the era of legalization.

Kevin Jodrey

A living history

Jodrey’s career reads like the history of the cannabis industry distilled into a single biography.

Even after many years in Northern California, he retains the New England accent from his childhood spent in the neighborhood of Oakland Beach in Warwick, R.I., which today he calls “a neighborhood full of criminals.” Lots of commercial fishermen lived in the area. To supplement their catch, Jodrey says, some of his neighbors would take their boats out of the harbor at night and putter out to meet ships that would offload marijuana from Colombia and Panama, with the occasional Afghani or Thai coming in, all bound for sale all throughout the East Coast.

Jodrey’s first gig was helping one of his neighbors break up pounds for distribution. “I wasn’t an anomaly,” he said. “I was one more soldier in the ranks.” In ninth grade, he started dealing joints. The following year, he and a buddy decided to attempt a grow on some of Jodrey’s family’s land, though neither had ever seen marijuana actually planted. When his mother found out, she alerted police. “I went from eating lunch at the high school to eating dinner at reform school,” Jodrey recalls.

He spent six months in a juvenile facility. Upon graduating high school, he joined the Coast Guard. Spending five years as an enlisted diver, Jodrey got a firsthand look at the amount of drugs flowing into the United States when the Coast Guard loaned him out to the Department of Justice for high-seas drug interdictions—that is, busting loads arriving on ships into the country.

If you want to get wonky about cannabis cultivation, Jodrey’s nursery has a vast genetic library.

“Once you see a hundred tons of dried cannabis in person, you understand everyone is secretly smoking pot,” Jodrey says.

He left the Coast Guard in 1990 and drove straight to Berkeley Indoor Gardens to pick up supplies to start growing again. Over the next decade, he mainly worked as a mid-level distributor. Then, due to his cultivation knowledge and a construction background, he started consulting a number of large-scale growers in Northern California.

In 2007, he took over a medical dispensary in Arcata, Calif., which he ran for about five years. Interfacing with the sick and the dying energized Jodrey around the humanitarian side of cannabis. His nursery today also operates as a dispensary, and he’s adamant about putting medicine in the hands of the needy, regardless of ability to pay. “I don’t have time to see you working some old lady for five bucks more than you need,” Jodrey says of those who use medicinal labeling as a shield for personal enrichment. “You have no balls if you do that.” These days, Jodrey can usually be found at Wonderland Nursery.

How do you describe Jodrey’s passion, his career? Criminal? Stoner? Dope grower? The ready labels feel reductive and dated. In a moment of reflection, Jodrey posed the question to his teenage son: What am I?

Off the cuff, his son replied, “Ganjier”—with a silent r, like sommelier.

The Emerald Triangle

Although California has yet to legalize recreational marijuana use, the estimated annual cannabis harvest in Humboldt County alone is greater than the yearly demand in Colorado several times over. And that’s not counting Mendocino and Trinity Counties, the other two tips of California’s Emerald Triangle. Seeded by the hippie back-to-the-landers who moved into Humboldt in the 1960s and ’70s, the local dope trade grew into an economic juggernaut in the following decades as the War on Drugs sent the price of a pound rocketing above $5,000 in the mid-’90s.

While Colorado and Washington are having their moment in the spotlight as the pioneers of recreational legalization, California-grown marijuana still supplies much of the black market across the country, and that’s unlikely to change before the end of federal prohibition. In 2010, all three Emerald Triangle counties voted against the state’s failed Prop 19, which would have made marijuana legal for commercial sale—a development widely characterized as protectionist, with growers embracing the black market to forestall outside competition and keep prices up.

It would be a mistake to characterize Humboldt culture as a monolith, but the illegality of the mainstay industry fuels skittishness and a wariness of outsiders. Humboldt’s outdoor grows are tucked away in the hills on converted logging land, with lots of locked gates and “No Trespassing” signs. A visitor would be ill-advised to go exploring unaccompanied.

Jodrey, like many others in Humboldt, feels that hunkering down and protecting the old ways instead of preparing for legalization and exposing the Humboldt model to the outside world will only allow the future of the cannabis economy to be defined elsewhere. Jodrey doesn’t want that. That’s why he’s moving online.

“We need to bring out the real talent in this region and all the rest of the U.S. to see it. Otherwise, they’re going to do the commercial model like in Colorado,” he told me. “We really tout sustainable agriculture.”

Jodrey’s career reads like the history of the cannabis industry distilled into a single biography.

A farming trade journal of sorts, the Ganjier follows a long local tradition of community-centric organization and media in Humboldt. Unable to pay taxes on their illegal gains, growers have donated over the years to programs and services for public benefit, such as the community radio station KMUD.

The Ganjier website

The site’s layout is spare and white, lending a sense of seriousness apart from its predecessors in the cannabis media sphere. Topics range from soil cultivation to legislative issues. The day-to-day editorial is handled by chief editor Allison Edrington, who moved to the Ganjier after working in communications for activist group California Cannabis Voice.

So far, the website has published pieces from chemist Samantha Miller, who runs a cannabis testing laboratory in Santa Rosa and policy scholar Dominic Corva, who heads up the Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy in Seattle, plus farmers, alternative healing practitioners, agriculture technologists, and other industry-types. Jodrey sees the Ganjier as a platform to help shape the industry in the Humboldt way—that is, in a manner that keeps revenues local and supports small businesses.

As marijuana mainstreaming progresses, so too does cannabis-focused digital media. The Ganjier enters a space where, beyond vanguard publication High Times, there now exists Denver Post–backed news site the Cannabist, business site Marijuana Investor News, and a whole host of advocacy and medicine-focused blogs and portals. Before long there are sure to be publications and people representing marijuana in the vein of lifestyle consumerism, at the front of this movement appears to be branding maven Cheryl Shuman, who calls herself the Martha Stewart of Marijuana.

Entrepreneurs in Colorado and Washington are complaining about entry barriers that are onerous for cash-strapped startups, and in Nevada (a medical state for the moment), would-be entrepreneurs need to prove they have $250,000 in liquid assets. With the emergence of equity firms like Privateer and ArcView, the era of big marijuana appears imminent. It seems likely that marijuana media, with much deeper pockets than Jodrey’s, will emerge in the near future.

Inevitably, change is on the way in Humboldt. Jodrey likened legalization and the pot boom to a giant, unstoppable balloon moving through the room. All he hopes to do is push it in the right direction a bit, but ultimately it makes its own course.

In conjunction with its publishing, the Ganjier hosts community events like a spring kick-off for the outdoor harvest season, where purveyors of seed and gardening products can ply their wares, and the Golden Tarp Awards, a cultivation competition where submitted strains are lab-tested for their cannibinoids and then sampled for quality and character by a judging panel.

Can the Ganjier and its wonky approach to the digital world of marijuana affect the future of mom-and-pop farmers in California and beyond?

“I have hope,” Jodrey said. “I just want to be a good link in the chain. I want a nice community life.”

Photo via r0bz/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)