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Ricky Williams: His Journey from Pro Footballer to Pro Healer

Cannabis Aficionado spoke exclusively to Ricky Williams about his Real Wellness range, being a healer and his role as a cannabis advocate.

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Ricky Williams
PHOTO | Courtesy Ricky Williams

Since leaving the NFL, Ricky Williams has studied herbalism and alternative holistic therapies. Williams was suspended multiple times during his NFL career for his cannabis use but has spoken repeatedly about the benefits and effects of the plant.

Former running back Williams, who won a Heisman Trophy at Texas before spending more than a decade in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints, has founded Real Wellness by Ricky Williamsa new line of cannabis-based products that also feature herbal extracts like lavender and turmeric.

 We spoke to Williams about Real Wellness, his role as a cannabis advocate, and his new path as a healer.

Cannabis Aficionado: You’ve gone from being ostracized for your cannabis use, to being applauded for your advocacy. Now, you’ve redefined yourself again by helping shape the industry. How does it feel to be in the situation you are now compared to five years?

Ricky Williams: It’s definitely more stressful. I think to put your name and your passion behind something, especially something as controversial as cannabis, is risky. But it’s rewarding, you know? I feel like what I’m doing is meaningful and is changing people’s lives for the better. It’s a really good feeling. I find my purpose more in the healing work that I do.

My vision for cannabis is way beyond where I am right now. I’ve just realized that the steps I’m taking now feel like what’s required to get to where I’d like to get to in my advocacy. But it’s that tension between where we’re headed and where we are and I think that’s why we need people to advocate to help us move in that direction.

One of the most important things I’ve done in my advocacy is being honest about my experiences. As more people come out and be honest the stigma will naturally start to erode. The fact that people kept their cannabis consumption a secret, I know people that give me a hard time in the media that are consumers themselves.

I did a paper in school a couple of years ago about the effect of cannabis use on the relationship between parents and adolescents and it was mindblowing how many parents and kid relationships are torn apart because of the stigma [around cannabis].

The first time I spoke publically, I was shocked by how many people came up to me afterward and told me how touched they were not only by my words but my story, and how it gave them the courage to be honest about their journey and not be ashamed, and advocate for their rights to feel better.

It just shows you that anything is possible. If you believe in yourself and stick with it. Things are always changing.

Since leaving the NFL, you’ve become a certified holistic healer. Have you always been interested in alternative therapies?

I started by becoming a licensed massage therapist and other healing work I did while I was still playing football. I’ve just had more time and energy to devote to it now. It’s become pretty much the sole focus of what I’m doing — I’m still studying Chinese Medicine!

Playing football, being in a lot of pain and having injuries… I tried pretty much everything and certain things worked and I stuck with them, became curious and it took me down a path where I started to become a practitioner. Because I realized football is tough! So, you know for me, anything that can help me with this can have some use for a lot of other people as well.


What made you start your own line of cannabis products? Was it for healing and what you were doing with the herbs?

Yeah, that’s exactly what it was. I retired for the first time in 2004 and started traveling and that’s when I found Ayurveda. I went back to the states and I started studying Ayurveda in school. It was in California where medicinal marijuana was legal at a state level. And so I got my prescription recommendation and at the same time I was learning about Ayurvedic herbs and it just clicked. I started playing around in my kitchen putting together herbal formulas and combining cannabis. That was almost 15 years ago.

When I returned to play football in the NFL for another five or six years, instead of going to doctors when I got banged up I would go to my acupuncturist, I’d go to my herbal product store. You know, I’d just take care of myself. So, when I started thinking about doing something in a cannabis space, I looked around and realized people are talking about medicinal marijuana but you’d go to a dispensary and it’s just THC and CBD and there are no herbs in there. When they are combined, their synergistic effects they can be more powerful and more specific. I realized there’s a void in the market for truly medicinal herbal supplements with cannabis. So, let’s see if we can fill this void and that’s how we started.

Why do you there think there was a gap?

I think there was a big gap because of the stigma around cannabis, you know? Most people stay away from it because of the legal implications. With my background and the resources that I have access to, I was in a unique position to be able to start this conversation and start to bring products to the market that can serve as alternatives to the pharmaceuticals.

I started [playing football] early, in high school taking pain pills so I would be good to play sports. And by 18 years I had my first ulcer from taking too many pain pills. When I got into the NFL I had further difficulties taking pharmaceuticals. And so I started looking to find alternative ways to take care of myself that would serve me in the long run. And you know, in that same vein I found yoga, tai chi, and herbal medicine. I found a lot of different ways to take care of myself in ways that were kinder and gentler on my body.

You were able to turn your experience into a product that is able to help so many people.

And we’re working on it, you know. In my mind, I’ve really been benefitted by Chinese herbalism, you know? The Chinese have formulas for pretty much everything. And so in my mind, I have all these ideas of things I want to create. And on the other side of it, I’m working with my wife who handles the business side of it. That’s the other side of it and so, working together to find a way, especially with all the regulations in different states and finding other partners that match our philosophy and have the same commitment to quality and finding ways to get people interested in this.

There’s still a big stigma, you know? I mean people are more open now to CBD but my bigger mission is to point out to people that true healing doesn’t occur from taking a substance like a pharmaceutical. It comes from a changing consciousness a change in the way you see things and the way you handle your life. And one of the things about THC in altered states is that consciously, it has the ability to change our lives on a deeper level. And when you mix that with the herbs and the chemicals that work with our body, it becomes a powerful medicine that has lasting change and lasting healing.

That’s been my personal experience. The person I was before I retired from football for the first time and went on this healing journey was very different from who I am today. I look at all the change I’ve been through, the healing and growth and it’s really been quite remarkable.

I feel really good about my journey and I feel like I’m onto something and if I can find a way to share this message and get it out to the world, I can offer that same kind of healing and change and happiness for a larger group of people.

Being able to offer something that can offer relief to people that are suffering and using your power for good.

Yeah, like when I was a kid and I thought about wanting to be a football player it wasn’t so much about the fame for me it was about realizing that it would give me a platform. And as a kid, I didn’t know what I would use that platform for but I’ve always had a gentle heart. Always had a lot of compassion for people, and in my own life, I’ve suffered a lot. And learning about herbs, you know… simple things that tortured me as a kid. I realized there are simple remedies available that I just didn’t have access to. So, if I can stop people from suffering as much as… as I did.  You can use that energy for more growth instead of having to recover or suffer.

If you remove the bad stuff you’re left with a focus for the good things.

Yeah, and even the good things are still challenging but at least the challenge puts your further on your path and you’re not just going back to feeling decent, you know? The first part of my life, I spent my energy just trying to feel ok. Since I’ve learned and grown, I use my energy to feel better. I feel like my cup is running over, and I feel like I have excess resources, excess time, excess energy to be able to share with other people.

I feel like I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of personal success at a young age and so I kinda checked that off my list and I truly only get happiness or benefit from sharing what I know and sharing what I’ve learned and also being touched by people who’ve been willing to share things about themselves and about their journey.

How have the Real Wellness products been received?

They’ve been received really well. We have a topical that people seem to really love. We think our most interesting product, we call it the Optimized Tonic and it’s an herbal formula I got from one of my herbalist teachers. My herbalist has a story with it and says the monks who practice martial arts, the Daoist monks, they studied herbs and acupuncture and so they started creating formulas for their training processes. So, Optimized Tonic is an herbal formula that is used to increase flexibility.

What I love about it is the Daoist and the Chinese didn’t separate the body from the mind. They realized herbs that improved flexibility in the body also improved the flexibility of the mind. So this formula is really great for anyone who feels stuck, whether it’s physically stuck like arthritis or stiff joints or whether they feel emotionally stuck, you know it’s the herbs really get the energy moving and the CBD helps the body hold on to and return to homeostasis. Its really powerful medicine and people are having really positive effects.

I think what’s been the most pleasantly surprising experience is what I see reflected in other people. The first time I took an herb to help myself, I’d broke my arm while playing football.  they gave me morphine after surgery to repair my arm and it made me kind of sick. My neighbor told me about arnica. I took a little bit, not that much, and I literally was pain-free a few days after surgery. It dawned on me how powerful herbs can be. As CBD becomes more popular and people who have experiences with herbs are having the same realization, and people who have used our products are surprised how effective herbs can be in making them feel better.

Any plans to extend the product line?

It’s something we talk about on a daily basis. In the US right now, we have a big opioid epidemic so first on our priority list is creating pain capsules that will give people an alternative to opioids. Also, I was at an event in Toronto a couple of years ago and I met these women, sisters who were suffering from eczema. They had tried everything and I made a promise to them that we would come up with a topical that would help [with their eczema], so that’s something else on my list. another thing people are really struggling with is sleep, and the Chinese have some amazing formulas that will calm their mushin and calm their mind and help them get to sleep.

We’re also currently in talks with different manufacturing partners in different states to have our THC products available in other states.

You’ve probably sampled everything that cannabis has to offer. What’s your preferred method of consumption?

I’m old fashioned, I still like to inhale, I like to smoke. There’s something about the raw herb that feels very natural and deep.

When it comes to the NFL’s current stance on cannabis, do you see it changing anytime soon?

The NFL gets a hard time but they test players once a year in the offseason and players are free to do what they want as long as they pass that test, they’re pretty lax.

It would be nice if they were more advocating for player wellness but at least they don’t give players too hard of a time.

Have any current or past NFL players reached out to you for advice on cannabis or using your products?

I’ve had a player reach out and ask about his mother who was looking for an alternative to alcohol for relaxing and her anxiety, so we sent her a care package and she says it’s going well.

To access THC, although there are delivery services, most people have to visit a dispensary, which people can be uncomfortable with. So we’re trying to find creative ways to make the whole experience less intimidating.

As a health advocate, how would you convince the average person to accept and try your products and cannabis-based medicine?

I think about this a lot. I go straight for the mind-altering effects and I say we have a vape cartridge called Serenity. it’s 3:1 CBD/THD and infused with six other herbs that are known for working in partnership with the nervous system. I would say think about an issue in your life that’s been causing you issues. Take a puff of Serenity and sit there and allow yourself to start brainstorming about possible solutions. It’s cliche but its true; when you can relax and let go of preconceived issues you can find creative ways to look at things and deal with them.

So you want your products to give people hope?

Yeah, hope is extremely important and sometimes just a ray of hope is enough, it supports our perseverance.

Real Wellness from Ricky Williams is available in dispensaries across California. The CBD only products are available online.

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Aficionados

Brands and Buds: Matt Morgan and His Cannabis Empire

Matt Morgan, a sixth generation Montanan farmer, exclusively tells Cannabis Aficionado how he grew one of the cannabis industry’s most successful companies.

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Matt Morgan
PHOTO | Supplied

In a week I’ve become something of an expert in all things Matt Morgan. He’s a fascinating read and is achieving rock star status as one of the first cannabusiness celebrities in the short time that weed’s gone legal.

If you’re one of his 777k followers (at press time) on Instagram you know that Morgan lives something of a fantasy lifestyle, photos of beautiful grow rooms with mountains of colas and bags of buds piled sky high—and even though he makes his cannabis business lifestyle look easy, you better believe it’s not. His hard work and tremendous drive are beginning to pay dividends, but only after years of growing his personal empire.

Matt Morgan is a builder of cannabis companies and they’re more than just uber successful. They’re powerful, game-changing, and visionary. In little more than a decade of hard and determined work, Morgan has carved out a comfortable niche.

For Morgan, a sixth-generation farmer from Montana, leaving the family’s fields of alfalfa and wheat to pursue cannabis meant more than breaking with tradition, but changing his parent’s perception that stoners were stupid, lazy, and wouldn’t amount to anything.

“My family was very anti-cannabis, actually. They would much rather have me drink alcohol growing up versus smoking cannabis. They had all the propaganda shoveled in their mouth for so many years about how cannabis was basically the devil, right? The last thing my family wanted me to do was to be involved in that sector — from a personal consumption standpoint as well as a business standpoint,” says Morgan.

“I’m still carrying the torch as far as farming goes, but its just in a completely different way. I’m a much bigger fan of the cannabis plant versus alfalfa!”

Despite Morgan’s family attitude, he wouldn’t change a thing about his childhood explaining how growing up in Montana “just gives you a certain set of core values” that have shaped and guided him in his pursuit of success in the States and beyond.

“I think people pick up on it very quickly when you have small-town roots,” says Morgan. “You shake peoples hands, and when you shake people’s hands, that’s your word. You follow through on everything that you say you’re going to follow through on.” He adds emphatically, “Honesty and integrity, all those things are instilled in you growing up in a place like Montana. People automatically trust you more or less based upon how you act, how you’re raised, and I think that goes a long way in business.”

Morgan’s moral code would soon pay off as he got his first taste of success selling real estate in his early twenties. What followed in 2008 is probably Morgan’s biggest game changer as the financial collapse left him to do some serious soul-searching.

That need to land on his feet and find the next big business opportunity led Morgan to settle on cultivating cannabis after months of online research. After getting his Montana medical marijuana card, Morgan blindly started growing; — expecting his first crop of six plants would produce High Times-worthy buds.

“In my head, I was like, ‘Man, if a bunch of hippies can grow up plants from seeds and grow some good buds, there’s no chance I’m not going to pull this off.’ But of course, my first couple attempts were epic failures,” Morgan laughs.

“I had no idea what I was doing. You name a branch, I hit it on the way down.”

Lucky for Morgan, he’s a fast learner and recovered quickly from his mistakes. Over a ten-month period, he scaled his grow operation to one of the largest in the state. Everything was going well for Morgan in Montana’s medical program where a caregiver could grow up to six plants per patient, with no cap or limit on size. Morgan’s hometown of Missoula was booming with more than 60 dispensaries in a town of 60,000-plus people.

“The ratio was ridiculous and Montana doesn’t really like change all that much,” says Morgan. “Once they saw all these dispensaries popping up and everybody growing cannabis, legislation came in and put a halt to everything. They limited each share grower to three patients and that’s when I started looking at other opportunities to scale the way I wanted to scale.”

In 2010, Arizona was crafting some of the most favorable cannabis laws for building a large-scale operation with unlimited plants, weight, and growth — and if he could secure one of the licenses from the state — it had everything Matt Morgan was looking for and more.

Moving to a new state where you don’t know anyone could seem daunting and intimidating, but not for Morgan who immersed himself by building a brand of hydro stores that would soon service the states large grows. With three Ugrow hydro stores under Morgan’s leadership and making steady gains, Morgan knew the key to scoring one of the 121 state licenses would be seeking out the who’s who of Arizona’s cannabis culture.

“Since I really didn’t know anybody the hydro stores gave me a chance to really get involved. I’d meet and greet with everyone in the space, which was very helpful early on.”

And his strategy worked. Knowing that the licenses would be highly competitive, Morgan’s intrepid networking led him to an influential senator’s son and indeed, they won a license in the first round of applications, quickly acquiring their second within a few months of being in business and Bloom dispensaries was born.

In as little as ten months that Morgan and his partner had grown Bloom dispensaries, they were now employing 120 personnel and earning revenues in excess of a million dollars a month. It’s here that I learn that Morgan has as huge a heart as he does a mind for business. As a difference in Morgan’s life is created, or as he experiences a certain level of success, he makes sure that the wealth is spread around.

“You’re literally seeing people, hiring them, and they’re driving to work in a car that barely runs and then six months later because of this job they’re driving a new car. Things like that are just so fulfilling in general. Helping and seeing all these people that you’re making their dreams become reality. The larger you can scale, the more people you can help,” says Morgan.

Morgan recalls how his mentors, most of whom were CFOs, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and Fortune 100 companies gave him the “playbook on how to be a monster in the business space” because they understood the business from A to Z. Without them, he says, it would “take me forever to figure out how to recreate the wheel. They really turbocharged everything for me.”

To create Morgan’s own personal game-day book of business moves, he relates taking a lot of pages from other industries playbooks and “globbing them into a hot soupy mess” and navigating his way through to make sure he avoids all the common pitfalls or as many as he can.

Morgan quickly expanded the business to include more properties and turning over a million dollars a month in sales. It wasn’t long until his success attracted the eye of an investor who within hours of meeting Morgan wanted him to immediately fly on the company jet to meet his boss in south Florida. It didn’t take long for Morgan to meet and get a feel for the family company and know that he’d be a better fit working for them — but that was only after a “grueling six-hour interview process where they hammered me with questions and it felt like an interrogation,” says Morgan.

“In their defense, they should be asking as many questions as they want. The family office put up an absurd amount of money to build out the cannabis company and gave me a huge injection of capital to scale to sizeable proportions.”

But things didn’t go as smoothly as expected for Morgan when Bloom’s investors couldn’t come to terms with the family office. In the end, the family office would make an offer to start a new company leaving Morgan to walk away and completely divest himself from Bloom. In March of 2014, Tryke and Reef dispensaries were born.

To get started, Morgan created his temporary corporate headquarters in Tempe, Arizona, hired his executive team, and after receiving a license in the state he quickly set up three dispensaries in the somewhat remote Queen Creek. Morgan knew he had to attract the younger generation of trendsetters, the 21 to 30-year-old segment who he describes as the “cool kids who want to a part of this movement.” So he made it the “cool place to be” and brought in Wiz Khalifa, Berner of Cookie’s fame, and the Jungle Boys. Soon enough Reef dispensaries had 500 people a day driving 30-60 minutes out to the sticks because Reed wasn’t just a dispensary, it was a destination.

With a proven track record in Arizona, Morgan broke into Nevada and was awarded all of the eight applications submitted. “We won the most licenses in the state of Nevada, built our flagship store next to the Strip, built the 24/7-hour dispensary in North Vegas, popped up two more dispensaries in the Reno area and popped up one more flagship in Arizona with a large cultivation.”

Preparing for Nevada’s first day of legalization on July 1st, 207, found Morgan buying as much weed as humanly possible. “I was gobbling up product left and right in preparation because I knew that consumption would be a five to seven multiplier on what it currently was — and no one believed me,” Morgan says incredulously. “They thought we’d be lucky if we got a two multiplier, but all I could think was ‘You guys are nuts!’ and I was actually right. I ended up stocking several thousand pounds of cannabis in anticipation for rec sales.”

 

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To say the first day of Nevada’s legalization was a pivotal moment for Morgan would be as big an understatement as saying the Apple iPhone didn’t change the course of telecommunications. Standing on top of a building the size of two and a half football fields at 11:30 pm the evening that Nevada went rec, Morgan was scratching his head wondering just how he got there,  “There were all these news outlets trying to interview me and so many cameras in my face. Looking around I wondered ‘how in the hell did I get 1200 people to stand in a line at midnight to buy weed?’” says Morgan.

“This massive line wrapped all the way around the building. This was a wow moment.”

Everything that Morgan had worked for over the past two and a half years in Nevada was culminating in that very moment. The fruit of all his labor was paying off and as he watched the fireworks go off at the stroke of midnight, Morgan knew that what he had accomplished was next level.

By the time that Morgan was exiting Reef, the company that he had built was running at over $100 million revenue run rate on an annual basis. It was common while he was there to hear comments about the strength of the culture instilled within the company — which Morgan equates back to his chief human resource officer’s core values and company culture.

“When I left Reef, we had 430 employees and every single one of them had a very similar culture and core values,” said Morgan. “You’d have a contractor, for example, come in and you’d ask someone for a broom and four people would be running as fast as they could to get a broom. I think that’s partly because they saw the CEO taking out his own trash, or I’d be picking up garbage all the time in the parking lot.  I just don’t care. I’m not above any job, you know what I mean.”

No matter what size of the job, or even what job needs to be done — Morgan is not afraid to roll up his sleeves, dig in, and get dirty. That must’ve been what led Dan Bilzerian to come calling on Morgan. “Bilzerian’s been a good buddy for a long time and he approached me to help him build out a cannabis brand, be a brand ambassador and one of his advisors. We recently launched his new brand Ignite, and I’ve been intimately involved with helping him get that started as well,” says Morgan.

“Business is like a full-contact sport,” says Morgan. When it comes to big money, all bets are off, and it brings me back to survival of the fittest. You’ve got to do whatever it takes to be successful… and always go to bed being the hardest working guy that day.”

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Cannabis

Willy G: Sowing Lebanese Seeds in Humboldt County

As well as having high CBD content, the Willy G Lebanese landrace strain offer a unique leaf structure and enticing nose on the flowers.

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PHOTO | Humboldt Seed Company

Humboldt County has been a magnet for wayward and wandering souls for decades, and with its remote mountains and plentiful sunshine, it’s also been a haven for cannabis growers and enthusiasts. Willy G left Massachusetts about five years ago looking to immerse himself in the Humboldt lifestyle, and he was also on a mission to seek out the best medicine to help him manage the symptoms from his cerebral palsy.

“I wanted to be in a place where marijuana was more accepted and part of the culture,” he said. What Willy likely didn’t anticipate when he moved to the cannabis mecca of California is that he would play a leading role in the proliferation of a “landrace” strain of cannabis that originated in Lebanon thousands of years ago.

NorCal Rebirth for an Ancient Strain

Willy G inspects his strain with Beau from HSC. PHOTO | Mike Rosati Photography | rosatiphotos

Humboldt Seed Company (HSC) has been breeding and propagating some of the finest cannabis seeds in California for the last 20 years, and its founders are experts in the art of breeding and stabilizing new strains for commercial growers and hobbyists alike. When HSC’s CEO and founder Nathaniel Pennington first met Willy G, he was impressed with his knowledge of cannabis, and in particular his appreciation for landrace strains, which are the original indicas and sativas that have been grown in the wild for thousands of years in different parts of the world. Generally speaking, these strains are a pure representation of the original cultivar, have never been crossed with another variety, and are still growing in their native environment.

Not long after Willy moved to Humboldt, his cousin sent some seeds from a landrace strain that he had singled out as a special variety after touring several cannabis farms in Lebanon. “Lebanon has the oldest hash culture in the world, and my bet is that this is some really old strain that they’ve been cultivating for a long time,” said Willy.

When Pennington heard the story behind Willy’s seeds and saw some of his first efforts at growing it out, he was immediately intrigued by the unique leaf structure and enticing nose on the flowers — rare for a landrace strain, he says. He soon decided to help Willy in his quest to propagate this exotic cannabis plant, and it wasn’t long before Willy G was sprouting shoots on the company’s farm, in isolated greenhouses where its pollen could be captured and released for breeding purposes.

Willy G and Nathaniel Pennington from HSC during the Pheno Mega-Hunt. PHOTO | Humboldt Seed Company

After submitting some of the first Willy G plants for lab testing, Pennington confirmed that the strain was rich in CBD – anywhere from 10-20 percent, depending on the phenotype – and low in THC. For a landrace strain, he says, it also displays an unusually high variety of cannabinoids and terpenes, which give cannabis plants their seductive smells and flavors. Pennington said the company had a huge demand for the Willy G seeds last year, and it plans to make the seeds available at about 60 dispensaries throughout California this year. Ultimately, he hopes to see it thrive not only as a smokeable flower, but also in extracted formulations.

“Willy G really stands out because of all of its terpenes and flavonoids and large-scale producers should be interested in that for full plant extracts,” he says. “Using the whole plant (for extraction) is one of the best ways to get the full benefit of the CBD and the plant’s other medicinal properties.”

Willy G Puts CBD Flowers Back on Track

Willy G

PHOTO | Humboldt Seed Company

Since most growers and breeders have focused on developing cannabis strains high in THC, to maximize potency, CBD levels have been on a downward slide for decades. However, as consumers become more aware of CBD’s potential therapeutic qualities — anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, neuro-protector, and more — the demand for CBD-rich flowers is on the rise. Willy G is somewhat unique because it has a high percentage of CBD and a low percentage of THC, making it an ideal product for people who want to smoke without the mind-altering effects that most cannabis strains deliver.

Pennington and Willy G are both strong believers in the “entourage effect,” which refers to the complex combination of cannabis compounds interacting with our brain and endocannabinoid system, creating myriad physical and psychological responses. Researchers, scientists and medical professionals are only beginning to understand the medicinal value of these interactions and the various ways to utilize them in treatments.

PHOTO | Humboldt Seed Company

The Willy G plants (aka, phenotypes) that are growing at Humboldt Seed Company garden late in the season exhibit different characteristics, which is not unusual as cannabis plants within the same strain often vary in structure, smell and potency. Looking across the garden, however, the Willy G plants are notably different than their hybrid cousins, with long, stretched-out stalks – reaching 15 feet high in some cases — and jumbo colas weighing them down. As Willy G navigates his wheelchair through the rows of imposing cannabis bushes, he stops to admire one of his namesake plants, dunking his nose in a Coke-bottle-sized cola that’s popping out through the lattice.

“The taste and smell is different than any strain I’ve ever smoked…it reminds me of Train Wreck but has other things going on too,” he notes. More importantly, he says that “it produces a very medicinal product that has a good effect on my muscle spasms, which is one of my main symptoms.”

PHOTO | Mike Rosati Photography | rosatiphotos

Willy primarily uses THC-heavy products (bubble hash, oil extracts) to manage his pain, but CBD-rich flowers can be effective for controlling spasms and reducing inflammation, sore muscles, and stress. “It’s about understanding about what to use when you need it, that’s what I like about cannabis and creating my own medicine,” he said. “I am very involved with what I’m treating myself with, so that’s a lot different than having a doctor tell you to take 200 Oxy 30’s (OxyContin), and then that’s the end of your appointment.”

In addition to growing out and selecting the best Willy G phenotypes for seed production, Pennington and Willy are also crossing it with other strains to develop new cultivars that are rich in both THC and CBD. “It takes a while to see where you’re at with these landraces, but I believe there is a lot of potential with Willy G,” says Pennington.

PHOTO | Humboldt Seed Company

Aside from his interests in breeding and landrace strains, Willy is excited about the potential to help other people with his namesake strain and its offshoots. “If we don’t seek new strains, we’ll just end up with different types of OG, Sour D and Cookies, which is not ideal for medical patients,” he argues. “I need new and diverse medicine for myself, so will keep making it and sharing with my community.”

While he doesn’t know where his exploration of cannabis medicine will end, Willy does know the possibilities are vast.

“It’s a personal dream of mine to go to the Himalayas and pick landraces from the fields,” he says. “It’s crazy to think about cannabis in other countries because we think we’re big balling over here with 10-acre fields. Over in Nepal in the mountains, there are plots that are 10 hectares and vast fields of wild strains that are yet to be bred.”

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Culture

This Cali Company Wants to Light Your Bowl with Space Lasers

The B-LAZE laser bong by SiliconCali is a highdea so incredibly inventive that only true stoner ingenuity could bring it to life.

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B-LAZE
PHOTO | SiliconCali

You know those ideas you get when you are really high? The ideas you think could actually be something. You stay up all night smoking more weed, planning every little detail only to wake up the next morning and realize you can’t remember half of what you planned. The great highdeas.

This isn’t one of those highdeas. This vision burns much brighter. So bright in fact that you need safety glasses to properly utilize the technology SilconCali is producing. The Bay Area startup is building a more exciting future and they’re doing it by combining the mechanics of a conventional glass bong with app-enabled, laser technology and other exciting approaches to firing up a bowl.

B-LAZE Laser Bong: Never Smoke a Boring Bowl Again

The flagship technology from SiliconCali is the B-LAZE Laser Bong; a hand-blown, glass bong lit by LEDs that uses a laser to ignite the bowl while leveraging other automation to optimize the experience. The battery-powered laser bong uses wireless induction charging to recharge the device using an electromagnetic field from a charging dock. The B-LAZE is a highdea so incredibly inventive that only true stoner ingenuity could bring it to life.

So why would you ever need a laser bong? To find out why you would ever need a laser bong and what inspired its creation I sat down for a chat with SiliconCali founder and B-LAZE creator, Justin Zelaya.

“It’s simple!” Zelaya explains. “I was tired of boring products.” He wanted to create a fun, unique way to enjoy cannabis but more than anything this project is about creating an exciting future. It’s less about getting high or jumping into the booming cannabis industry.


Not long ago, Zelaya was operating a headshop-technology shop hybrid in San Francisco’s renowned Haight Ashbury. In a city known for disruptive technology, in a neighborhood rooted as the epicenter of the counterculture. What better place could cannabis and technology collide so fantastically?

Zelaya’s passion for the project and company comes from his enthusiasm for all things tech. He’s a self-taught electrical engineer who wanted to learn how to build drones. So he studied ways to engineer everything from microcontrollers to batteries and more. He explains that “learning how to make drones taught me how to build pretty much every electrical component I could imagine.”

To secure funding and build a proper foundation for the company Zelaya got his idea backed by bitcoin billionaires. Which is necessary because combining modern laser technology with traditional functional art glass is no small feat. Innovation like this takes heavy investment in time, energy, and resources. The different glass designs alone cost thousands of dollars and countless hours devoted to building functional versions of different concepts.

Zelaya has spent the last year and a half iterating on different design prototypes. He shared his vision with fifty or sixty different glassblowers before finding one willing to give it a shot. All of them saying similar things. ‘It’s too complicated.’ ‘It can’t be done.’ It wasn’t until he met N3rd Glass that he found someone to work with. “N3rd was the first to say, ‘It won’t work, but what if we redesign?”

Since finalizing the initial the design with N3rd, SilconCali has turned to Santa Cruz Glass to efficiently scale production and help them bring the B-LAZE to market. Zelaya does some of the glasswork, too. Adding abrasion, sandblasting, and other final coldworking details during the final stages of production.

How Does the Laser Bong Work?

Just like any other bong… sort of. You load the bowl with your flower of choice like you normally would but then instead of sparking a lighter, you use the mobile app to fire the specially-tuned laser. But not before you put on the safety glasses that the B-LAZE comes with. Once the laser is engaged the bowl slowly spins thanks to a small set of gears; spinning and combusting the material as it turns. Using a wider optical setting you can diffuse the pinpoint heat of the laser to effectively vaporize flower.

How hot the laser actually gets is somewhat impossible to answer because it only gets as hot as the material it interacts with. The heat from the 2w laser is designed for flower and programmed to target cannabinoids specifically. The color and consistency of your flower can affect the way the laser works. Zelaya gave the example that red lasers don’t burn red material well. Luckily for us, good weed is mostly green and purple.

It’s not a lightsaber either, so it won’t slice your limbs off but you still should be careful with it. The laser can sting if it hits your skin and the bright spectrum of light is not good for your eyesight. Hence the need to use safety glasses.

Using the mobile app, you can fire the laser and control its color, choosing from over six million color combinations. You can adjust the speed the bowl spins and with constant updates to the firmware more features are on the way.

When asked how to clean it, Zelaya claims it’s the first thing people want to know and that keeping the piece clean is simple. It is essentially the same as any other bong except you don’t ever want to put it under running water to flush it out. Instead, drain the water chamber from the small cap on the bottom of the bong and give it a  simple rinse with isopropyl alcohol or whatever cleaner you prefer for your glassware.

To Infiniti and Beyond

With a bong so technically advanced, the only thing left to do is tackle the final frontier, space. Zelaya was excited to share that in a way they are already working towards that future.

Currently, you can only fire the laser on the B-LAZE using Bluetooth technology. But soon you’ll be able to engage the laser using WiFi. To take it one step further, SiliconCali is building a satellite internet hub for their new facility that will allow them to centralize all signals being sent to and from laser bongs from around the globe.

So, anytime a B-LAZE is fired the activation signal will be sent to satellites in space and beamed back down to the precise location of the laser bong. That means even if you’re a world apart you’ll be able to fire a friend’s laser bong with the tap of your phone screen by beaming the signal off satellites as they orbit the planet. Which basically gives you the most futuristic way to enjoy cannabis. What a time to be alive!

Innovative Additions

Beside bong tokes from space, SiliconCali is making ongoing updates to the B-LAZE as well as designing other new, exciting laser-powered products. Some of the new features they are working on include full gimbaling of the bowl which will you more control over where you want to fire the laser as well as play with shapes and messages as you burn your herb

Other application and firmware updates like voice command are on the horizon, too. Zelaya’s excitement peaks as he imagines coming home to a pre-packed bowl and saying the command, “SIRI, light my bowl.” His laughter trailing off as he describes some additional games and data capabilities he’s building so that you can compete with friends for the longest rip and other data measuring competitions.

Right now, the required safety glasses block out the intense laser beam altogether, but soon the mobile app will give you the ability to view the laser in full color directly on your phone’s screen.

Currently, the laser bong is not designed for concentrates. That would require a different and more powerful laser but SiliconCali is already working on a version that will make laser dabs a reality.

Development is also underway to essentially turn any bong into a fantasy future bong with the use of their plasma bowl — a plasma-powered bowl piece that functions like the B-LAZE and fits most standard size glass fittings.

Want Your Own Laser Bong?

You can preorder your own B-LAZE on the SiliconCali’s website and for $2,400 you can get one of the 45 originals from the first production run. After they’re gone new models will be released but this is your chance to get the laser bong as it was originally designed. You can also find them in a few headshops sprinkled throughout the states.

If you want to check out some of the features for the B-LAZE you can download the app for free in the Google Play and Apple App stores. Download it now to control the laser bong and new devices as they get released.

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