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Ophelia Chong: Why We Should All Grow Cannabis at Home

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Ophelia Chong
PHOTO | Josh Fogel

In the space of four short years, Ophelia Chong has become an indomitable force in cannabis. The founder of StockPot Photography came into the cannabis industry through family illness and quickly realized there was much work to be done around changing the stigma of cannabis and its users.

A stunning amount of poise and grace adorn her razor-sharp eye and wit. These characteristics have led her through an illustrious career in design advertising and imagery for top-level clients.

She is one of those pushing for all of us to grow cannabis at home — and she leads with her actions. So when you read her words, know that it is preceded with plenty of action.  

Cannabis Aficionado: Tell us, who is Ophelia Chong?

Ophelia Chong: Let’s start with the physical. I was born in Toronto, Canada. I became an American citizen in 2000 which I’m very thankful for. Considering our political climate right now, I might not have been able to get in and it would be a harder road today to becoming a citizen. I came down here and graduated back in ‘89 from the Art Center College of Design.

I went into photography to support myself and was hired by David Carson at Ray Gun. I shot for them for about three years. I followed him after he left Ray Gun and worked for about a year for his clients. Because I was in that business of shooting bands and art I was hired by many other labels as well and eventually came up on the radar of some film companies.

One in specific was Strand Releasing, and they are a niche. It was right around the time of Sex, Lies and Videotape… Sundance just started bursting out. I was involved with that because the company I was at acquired a lot of films for Sundance, Toronto Film Festival, Berlin and New York, Outfest, that were in our niche. We were always on the fringe. Plus, a lot of LBGTQ.

What was the majority of the work you were doing at this time?

I was a creative director, so marketing films, designing and we were a very small company, so everyone did a lot — but we did a lot. We either released on DVD or video and also theatrical, probably about 50 films a year. Because of that, I joined Slamdance film festival, which runs congruent with Sundance, for 10 years as their creative director. Releasing and directing their film festivals and all that. Chris Nolan had his first film with us at Slamdance.

Then let’s fast-forward to Jennifer Aniston where I got snagged from a film company to design her website, which no longer exists. And I’m not going to say the URL because if you go there, it’s all porn. Someone snagged that all of her real quick. Then from there to publishing; I designed monographs for about 10 books over four years. So, a large monograph. Then I went to magazine design and a lot of illustration as well. Book covers, for Simon & Schuster and I am featured in about 10 books with my illustration work. A lot of work by hand and letterpress. I’ve had many gallery shows, my work is at Saatchi and Saatchi in letterpress. Everything I do, I love it, it just seems to get out there.

 

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Popping seeds this weekend #growroom #DNAGenetics #PRHBTD 🙏🌱🌱🌱🌱🌱🌱🌟

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What was the catalyst for your transition into cannabis?

I discovered cannabis in 2015 so I’m a very late comer. I’m not an OG. I’m not one of those people that are out there with Dennis Peron. I’m not going lay claim to that.

I got involved in it for personal reasons. My sister is very ill, she started to use cannabis to relieve some of her issues. She is still on it she is on CBD. And that’s why I came into weed, so we can fast forward to all of this.

So, you didn’t really have interactions with cannabis younger in your life as a designer and an artist?

No, because on March 18 I just celebrated 14 years being sober. That’s sobriety from alcohol. Because of that, in those 14 years, I had to abstain from everything. Because if you are in AA, you can’t say well I can do this, but I can’t do that.

In the last five years, I had to really make the decision to be in this industry. If I’m going to be consuming this, what do I do? So, I made a plan for myself; “OK, so you can start by trying an edible. Then you can only have it at night after your work.”

I have to set up these boundaries for myself. And I still adhere to it now. I only will have one joint at night after I finish working. Usually after eight or nine and if I need to, I’ll take an edible to go to sleep. Because I know my own habits and how I operate and if I don’t control it in that way, it can get out of hand.

What is it about edibles that you like?

It’s going back into working with how your brain works. An edible is not food, but it can be considered food because you’re chewing and tasting. So, I went that way at first. It took me about six months after I was in cannabis to actually smoke a joint. Because there was an inherent fear of falling off the wagon. That was my biggest issue because I had worked so hard to stay sober, so I really needed to work a way that I can smoke and still manage my obsessive compulsiveness. Because alcohol is that. It’s about drinking so much or telling yourself you’re not an alcoholic because you don’t drink on weekdays but you do get flipped on weekends. But that still an alcoholic, it’s the mindset that you use to justify something. I needed to work my way through all that.

So now I really do enjoy smoking and ingesting an edible or a tincture. But in public, if I am driving, I will not smoke because I know the effects of driving under the influence of alcohol. With cannabis, I know how it affects me, I get very tired, basically, it helps me sleep, so I know I can’t do that when I’m driving.

I don’t need to show someone I am in the business by smoking in front of them. They need to understand my reasons why I can’t. I do believe though if you are in this industry, you do need to smoke. I’m not going to hold it against you if you’re not smoking it right there in then. I’m not going to use it as a litmus test like that. Hopefully, people don’t use that on me when I say, “Hey, I would love to, but I just can’t right now.”

PHOTO | Josh Fogel

Could you speak a little bit more to what you’ve noticed about the ability to use cannabis and have it not affect your alcoholism? What is that discovery like?

Part of alcoholism is the need to disentangle yourself from reality. I use cannabis to fall asleep. I’m not using it to leave where I am right now to a different reality, right? I’m not doing it to get that high. I’m getting high so I can fall asleep. That is the difference.

With alcohol, I was using it to just get out of my own head because of the pressure I was under. I was at the end when I stopped drinking. I was with a company that was very high pressure and also the people I worked with were alcoholics and previous cocaine addicts. I was in this environment with people who had no filters and no boundaries. Being a people pleaser, I would drink along with them and at one point I just couldn’t do it anymore. I looked at my behaviors and I realized I just had to stop.

With cannabis, when I’m around people that are high it’s different because it is a different type of behavior. As you know a drunk is way different than someone who is stoned. What I’m getting at is for my use I see it differently. I see my use with cannabis as a way to relax and fall asleep not to black out and leave reality. When I’m high, I am still in reality, I am still experiencing everything as it is, and I am able to experience it on a level that alcohol wouldn’t let me.

There must have been some trepidation the first time you use cannabis having been an alcoholic?

A little. By the time I did try I had done enough research because I was also creating Stockpot at the same time. I did a huge dive into what cannabis is, the history. I bought a lot of books. I did a lot of research online plus I did a lot of cold calling and ask people “Can you help me?”

It seems like you took your first cannabis consumption on as a design project, doing all the research before you even took one step?

I wanted to know what it was and get past the propaganda. The reason I started Stockpot was to get away from how we viewed cannabis consumers. Because my sister was a consumer, I looked at her and I thought “Man, she’s a stoner” but then again, after I thought that in my head, here I am, a person of color stereotyping my sister, who is ill and about 80 pounds and calling her something that was derogatory in my head. That is the moment I created Stockpot to change my perception of who my sister is… basically that was it. Because how can I do this to her and then I realize it’s because this is the image that I have been fed? So then going into it, if I were going to sell this, then I needed to know what it was.

I did all the research and considered my habits and dipped my toe in. Then I did the foot and then the whole body. Then my whole bucket list. Now also I have images of psilocybin. So now I’ve been microdosing mushrooms because I need to know the effects. If I’m going to sell these images I need to be able to talk about it authentically. Plus, I’m going to be growing them too.

 

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Good morning ladies #dnagenetics #joecanna

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Speaking of growing, you’re vocal about people growing their own plants?

When I first started Stockpot I went to see a woman up in San Luis Obispo. I call her a white witch, she has an amazing house that almost looks like Goldilocks. Or Hansel and Gretel. But she doesn’t make kids into cookies, she makes weed into cookies. She opened up this mason jar and she said “Open up your hand,” she gave me a few seeds. “They are not feminized and what you were going to do is you are going to go home and you’re going to grow this. This is the only way you’re going to know what this is.”

That first year I grew 23 plants. Probably only had three males. I brought them all the way up to harvest, cured, trimmed. I did everything so I knew this whole friggin plant. I even would call people and say “Can you bring over your magnifying glass to see if she’s ready to harvest yet.” He would say “Ophelia, look at the resin, look at the color look at the trichomes, this is when it’s ready.”

After that I didn’t do that many, I do about ten now because that’s what I can manage. But it was growing a plant all the way from seed to smoking it that made me appreciate what it is. Also learn every part of it, because if I’m going to sell this I need to know everything about it. Convincingly right? So that’s the story of that part of where I am now to destigmatizing my sister to growing the plant plus opening up Stockpot.

How are you getting the message out?

I made three posts on Facebook. First one was if you were going to be in this industry you should be growing a plant. A plant, right? I got a lot of blowback from that. The second one was you should at least smoke it. I got some blowback from that. And the third one after getting a lot of feedback I posted well you don’t have to smoke it or grow you just have to have a really great marketing plan which was capitulation. First I poke the bear but then the whole leg goes up his ass.

It was interesting reading the comments such as “I can’t grow but I still love the plant” and “I live in an apartment and I can’t grow,” which is fine. Or “I can’t grow because I don’t want to get arrested because I have kids.” But when I see these comments I’m kind of thinking well the people who grew had all the same reasons. They have been growing since before Prop 215 and I’ll have the same reasons. But they did it anyway to get you here, to where you are now.

It was slightly ironic in that point where I can’t do this because I have these excuses yet they are trying to build a business off the people who had all the same excuses but went ahead.

One guy even asked me who is Dennis Peron and Prop 215? And he claims to have been growing since fleeing to Colorado so that his kid, who unfortunately did pass away, could get hemp oil right. He asked me who is Dennis and why are you saying LBGTQ is behind this? Then I realized we are even in worse trouble than I thought.

One of Chong’s infamous Facebook posts.

There is a serious lack of education about the history and the heritage upon which this whole thing is built.

Exactly. And probably those three posts brought out a lot of that. The fact is, if you have great marketing then you can get away with it. There are CEOs of cannabis companies who don’t smoke or have never touched a plant. I just really believe if you were going to be a fervent advocate of cannabis at least know the stages of the plant or just learn what it is.

I’m not expecting someone who wants to take pills to go and make Tylenol from scratch, that’s unreasonable. They are not scientists. But to grow something is human. That is how we feed ourselves. It’s from day one of the human race that we had to grow to eat. The fact that you can’t or you don’t want to grow something that you are involved in really speaks to me about why are you here. Because humankind grew to eat right? And to feed their animals, that they then ate as well, or they got milk from. So, it is natural for us to grow something because we have to feed ourselves.

But now we are in this consumer society where you could just go to the store and get some nice package in a nice styrofoam dish with some plastic wrapper that’s containing an animal that’s been slaughtered that you never came in contact with. It’s just a piece of them. Or a bag of carrots, we have no connection anymore to our agrarian roots.

Also, I’m really observant. I was a very shy kid growing up, so I would just sit in the back of the class and just watch everybody and everything. I learn how to be very observant and also watch body language and be that. Now just observing the people in our industry — and again, I’ve only been in it for five years — is very interesting. It is divided into certain groups. And those memes I create talk about those groups. I try not to be too mean. What I do see is the ones that come in for monetary reasons. And then the group that has been in it for at least ten years that are seeing this new group come in and making money, or at least trying to make money. And then you see the group that was 20 or 30 years ago basically working on and living on handouts. Or no one knows their name.

The group now that is making the 18 karat gold vapes get all the media play because they are shiny, they are new, they are young, they are fun. But there are people that have been in it for a long time, like Pebbles Trippet right? She’s not young, she’s not blonde, she doesn’t post the side boob on Instagram. I would say not a lot of people know who she is, but they should. She is one of the few reasons why they able to sell 18 karat gold vapes.

What really ticks me off is that they don’t have any respect for this or where it came from. Of course, I’m involved with some of those people but I’m always taken back when they don’t at least acknowledge where it came from. Especially looking at many of the comment online from people in the industry saying who is Dennis Peron and what is Prop 215? I had to basically send the guy a Wikipedia link to it and say this is the group that made the way for your CBD company. Have some respect for it. Because it didn’t begin with you. So that’s a big issue. Respecting the elders, because they are almost gone.

You are asking the cannabis world to learn how to use design thinking in their process. And the first thing you do in design thinking is you understand history and do research.

Exactly. So well put. We need design thinking in our industry. And I’m not talking about great looking packaging. I am talking about the design thinking of fundamental empathy for the customer and the product. Did you do your research? Did you do your homework? Did you get in and dig in the dirt? Did you throw down and pay tribute and understand whose shoulders you’re standing on, and then, start standing? It’s fine to stand on the shoulders of giants as long as you know and respect who those giants are.

There’s a great designer that I respect whose name is Mau. He put out a book called Massive Change. There is a great quote in there which I feel really reflects cannabis is this one. “Most of the time we live our lives within these invisible systems, blissfully unaware of the artificial life of the intensely designed infrastructures that support them.”

So, for me, this is about cannabis. These people that are coming in now are blissfully and intentionally unaware of what built it, and what supports them. That ignorance, this is what happens when the ignorance hits. When they see that it’s invisible, that’s when their businesses are going to fail.

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Why Jay-Z’s Stand on Social Justice Makes His Move Into Weed Important

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jay-z
PHOTO | @JayZ

Rap superstar Jay-Z has announced his partnership with California-based cannabis company Caliva, serving as their Chief Brand Strategist on a multi-year deal.

Per a statement released to detail the partnership, Jay-Z’s duties on the job will include outreach efforts, brand strategy and creative decisions, giving him a further outlet to focus his efforts in “advocacy, job training and overall employee and workforce development.”

In his new role, Jay-Z plans to shine a spotlight on social injustices when it comes to cannabis, particularly in the realm of criminal justice, cannabis use and legalization.

“Anything I do, I want to do correctly and at the highest level,” said Jay-Z in the statement. “With all the potential in the cannabis industry, Caliva’s expertise and ethos make them the best partners for this endeavor. We want to create something amazing, have fun in the process, do good and bring people along the way.”

Jay-Z’s Push for Justice

While it’s clear that the billionaire musician has always been about good business and making money, this is more than just a financial choice for Jay-Z.

Having long been dedicated to social justice initiatives before entering the cannabis business, this is another outlet for him to advocate for and boost the black community in an area they’ve suffered disproportionately, the criminal justice system.

This isn’t his first foray into addressing such issues either.

Jay-Z was named as an executive producer on a series about Kalief Browder, a young black man from the Bronx who died via suicide after three years of imprisonment without a trial, has been outspoken in his support for fellow rapper Meek Mill during his legal troubles and partnered will Meek Mill to launch the Reform Alliance, a group dedicated to criminal justice reform.

When it comes to social justice, this isn’t the rapper’s first rodeo.

A Closer Look at Caliva

Already big fish in the ever-growing legal cannabis pond, the San Jose-based company has a tight grip on the Bay Area’s legal cannabis industry. Carried in over 250 retailers in California and in charge of about 150,000 square feet of space between their cultivation, manufacturing and retail facilities, it’s no wonder the company is Jay-Z’s pick when it came time to ink a deal.

Caliva was all for the opportunity to bring the rap mogul onboard, with CEO Dennis O’Malley heaping praise on the rap superstar in a statement.

“For Jay-Z to seek out Caliva as a partner is humbling and confirms our mission of being the most trusted name in cannabis,” said O’Malley. “To find that we were in complete alignment around our values and ethos was just a home run. We believe this partnership is unparalleled in this or any business and we could not be more pleased to be working with him and have him as our Chief Brand Strategist.”

Celebrities and Cannabis: A Likely Match

While this deal is huge for Caliva, Jay-Z isn’t the only high-profile celebrity to play ball with them. Earlier this year, Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Joe Montana was among a group of investors who locked in an impressive $75 million in fundraising for Caliva.

Montana said at the time that he hoped “Caliva’s strong management team will successfully develop and bring to market quality products that can provide relief to many people and make a serious impact on opioid use and addiction.”

Jay-Z is also one of the many rappers that have jumped on board the legal cannabis money train, joining the likes of Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa, Juicy J and Cypress Hill. Smart investors all have their money in the legal cannabis market, and Hov seems to be no exception.

After all, the guy who rapped “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man,” seems like the type of guy who knows a good deal when he sees one.

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76-Year-Old Calvin Robinson Has Terminal Cancer — and is Still Behind Bars

In 1988, Calvin Robinson received a sentence of life without parole for his involvement in a Bay Area drug smuggling conspiracy.

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Calvin Robinson
PHOTO | Supplied

I don’t know if you can remember where you were or what was going on in your life 31 years ago. Most of us would have to stop and think about it. But Calvin Robinson remembers it well.

In 1988, Robinson was a tugboat captain on the Intrepid Adventure in the San Francisco Bay. In the spring of that year, under the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge, he was arrested for pulling a barge loaded with 43 tons of hashish and 15 tons of marijuana. At the time this was the largest marijuana arrest in U.S. history.

For Calvin Robinson, time stopped that day.

Crime and Punishment

When the dust settled after a drama-filled trial, Calvin Robinson received a sentence of life without parole for his involvement in the drug smuggling conspiracy. Calvin spent the next 34 years working, without any outside help, sending appeal after appeal to the courts. To no avail.

He watched murderers, rapists, and thieves come and go, all of them serving less time then he had been given for a non-violent marijuana offense.

From inside the walls of the federal penitentiary in Victorville, CA, Calvin watched the world change. The marijuana industry was booming. Laws were changing. Public stigma was slowly fading and people were beginning to understand that marijuana is not a harmful drug. The public could even go into a store and legally buy marijuana and hashish!

Yet Calvin remains behind bars.

The Calvary

In 2014, I saw a Facebook post about four men, all part of the same marijuana conspiracy, all serving life without parole sentences for marijuana: Calvin Robinson, John Knock, Claude Duboc, and Albert Madrid.

I decided to send them each a card to cheer them up and let them know they were not forgotten. At the time I had no idea how that one card would change my life, and how it would lead to an enduring and deeply meaningful friendship with Calvin Robinson.

I made a Facebook page for Calvin and asked him to send me a picture. That was when I saw the miracles start to happen.

Soon after I met writer and activist Cheri Sicard, and Calvin not only received more exposure, he found a new friend. Then, attorney Cait Boyce began to help. Then Tracie Gloor-Pike, whose son Lance Gloor’s incarceration for cannabis had turned into a prison activist, joined in.

Calvin was still incarcerated, but for the first time since he had been locked up, he knew he was not alone and he was not forgotten.

Calvin had been battling cancer for five years without medical treatment and it was spreading and getting worse. We started protesting and through a letter writing campaign were at least able to get him transferred to the prison hospital at Butner Federal Medical Center in North Carolina.

Sadly, it might be too little too late, as after having gone untreated for so many years, Calvin’s doctors at Butner predicted his cancer would take his life within 18 months. But if anyone believes in miracles, it is Calvin, whose rock-steady spiritual conviction and large stature earned him the prison nickname of “The Gentle Giant.”

The New Prison Reform Act

In 2016, President Trump passed the new First Step Act. Calvin meets the requirements because of his age, declining health, and the amount of time he had already served. He should have been first on the list for a reduction in sentence.

In reality, Calvin has been stonewalled by the prison system. Despite countless letters and pleas to prison staff, they have done everything in their power to keep Calvin from coming home.

Calvin and I have spoken many times. He knows that the fight for freedom is not just about him. It is about the stigma of marijuana and a judicial system that makes money off every marijuana arrest and conviction.

The bottom line is, Calvin, and every prisoner like him is worth at least $35,000 a year to the prison. They don’t want to lose that money.

There is some hope, however, as Mary Price of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) just wrote Calvin to let him know that his new request for a reduction in sentence is currently in the DC office of the General Counsel. We pray the counsel does the right thing and quickly.

I don’t know what will ultimately happen to Calvin. Maybe he will die in prison. Maybe he will be released, although that would have to happen soon.

What I do know is that over the last five years I have been a first-hand witness to the incredible strength and resiliency of the human spirit and how that spirit can come alive and thrive when its flames are fanned with love.

In essence, at this stage of the game, Calvin’s story really isn’t about Calvin any more. It is about all of the activists and members of the public who have reached into prison to give the only real thing they own: their time, their love, and their concern. That and his unshakable faith in Yahvah is what has kept the Gentle Giant going, even through times of utmost adversity.

Write to Calvin Robinson

If you would like to send a letter of encouragement, please address it to:

Calvin Lyniol Robinson # 83327-011
FMC Butner
PO Box 1600
Butner, NC 27509

Please note, BOP rules only allow for ink and paper in white (only) envelopes. No greeting cards, nothing can be stapled, attached, or glued to the letter, ink and white paper only. Photographs are OK.

We encourage you to follow Calvin Robinson’s Facebook page and support Families Against Mandatory Minimum’s work.

Brad Schluter is an advocate and activist who remains committed to those serving prison time for marijuana.

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Blunt Talks Brings You the Best and Brightest in the Industry

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Blunt Talks
PHOTOS | Courtesy Blunt Talks

Legal cannabis is big business. The post-legalization boom following California’s passing of Prop 64 in November 2016 has seen rapid growth in cannabis business opportunities.

With the “Green Rush” have come an unprecedented increase of brands, businesses, and products around the world. In fact, it is predicted that the global cannabis market will be worth $16.9 billion this year.

Events like Blunt Talks bring together the best and brightest minds in the industry to help you navigate these new and exciting waters.

Each month, Blunt Talks host Sam Zartoshty is joined by industry innovators who present insightful “Ted” style talks that focus on networking, education, and creating community. Tonight’s event, in partnership with L.A. Weekly, is set to be the biggest so far.

“We are looking forward to bringing together both newcomers and veterans of the cannabis industry to learn and network in a historical venue in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles,” Sam Zartoshty told us. “With over 350 confirmed attendees, this is going to be our biggest Blunt Talks yet!”

To date, 33 Blunt Talks have taken place in eight cities, with 95 speakers imparting their knowledge. This month’s speakers are Mario Guzman aka Mr. Sherbinski of SHERBINSKIS, Jackee Stang of Quarter Brands, Nichole West of Inclusive Cannabis, Ted Lidie of Alien Labs and Bill Levers of Beard Bros Pharms.

“Blunt Talks is a vital tool to the success of the emerging industry for a multitude of reasons,” said Bill Levers of Beard Bros Pharms. “We feel like it provides a safe, inclusive space that helps networking, education, and collaborative efforts to flourish in a social setting. It gives operators who’ve had to hide for years a chance to tell their stories, and new entries a unique perspective on the industry that you don’t get at large trade shows.”

Head to Blunt Talks tonight, 7 PM – 11:30 PM at Exchange in Downtown Los Angeles. Chef Rudy of Cannabis Catered Events and Chef JJ of Ayur Ras Healing Foods will be serving up delicious (non-infused) treats while Jeff Welsh plays some sweet tunes at the afterparty.

Get your tickets now from Eventbrite.

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