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The Highest Bidder

How Much Would You Sell Your Values For?

A Critical Take on The State of The Industry and What’s Next

It was 3:21 am when I shot upright out of a dead sleep, clutching my hatchet in preparation to defend myself and praying someone wasn’t going to make it into my camper. It had just violently shaken left to right as if someone had jumped onto it, and for the next few hours, as my adrenaline wore off, I couldn’t put together what had happened. It wasn’t until I spoke to folks in the daylight hours that I experienced a 4.2 earthquake. Traveling alone is not for the faint of heart, but for the mission to discover and tell the stories of values-driven brands making a difference in the cannabis space, I’d do nearly anything (within my values, of course). 

Five states, sixty days on the road, one earthquake, and countless stories of perseverance culminate to make the pilot series of Highly Recommended – A Canna-Travel Docu-Series. When I set out to create this documentary, I knew one thing to be true – we could all use a source of good news. With so much corruption and unrest, we could all be reminded that some people would never and could never be bought in exchange for ditching their values; honoring the plant, planet, and people. The folks, their brands, businesses, and farms we highlight are doing things differently. 

The cannabis industry is facing a huge morality issue; more and more reports of corruption in the cannabis space make doing business a minefield. In my opinion, it stems from a much larger national and global epidemic of greed, selfishness, violence, and a total lack of empathy or values. Between the intentional skyrocketing price of nearly everything and the government subsidization of large multi-billion dollar corporation full-time workers, the top earners in this country are stealing from every taxpayer and gaming the system at the deepest levels. It shouldn’t be news to corporate “leaders” that maximizing profits for shareholders is not a value. Prioritizing individual wealth at the expense of entire populations’ livelihood, wellness, environmental safety, or happiness is not “living the dream” or “making it in the big leagues.” 

Stealing land, AKA “colonizing” through acts of genocide, murder, rape, torture, and starvation, is not rooted in some righteous prophecy or storied entitlement to a region. No matter how you put it, we are all in the purgatorial test of humanity. And so many people – particularly those in power – are failing that test. The question remains – to each and every one of us – is my life (and livelihood) rooted in values?And at what price could my values be purchased courtesy of the highest bidder?

Bri Smith with organically grown cannabis in the Santa Rosa Mountains

Highly Recommended Cannabis Brands

This was not originally my opener to discuss the Beard Bros U.S. Tour. In fact, this project is rooted in the reality that the doomsday news machine – and the barrage of negative content on social media, does a great job of showcasing the horrors of modern-day capitalist inhumanity. Many of us need a mental health break. At the same time, everyday activists must expose the white-collar gangs running our governments, the schemes, corruption, and collusion that make all of us suffer while a handful of rich men take far more than they could ever spend. It would take 220 years for the richest man in the world to spend his entire fortune at a rate of one million dollars per day. All that while homelessness has reached an all-time high – with over half a million Americans living on the streets. 

By showcasing the brands in this series, we hope consumers will feel inspired to support their efforts with every dollar they spend in the cannabis space. While some in the industry will consume this content, our goal is to reach consumers where they’re at. When we vote for ethics with our dollar, we move the needle in the right direction and pull money away from large, money-hungry corporations.

Grower, Joey Berger, at Thrive Homestead, where products are made for Heal Thyself products. Photo: Bri Smith

The State Of The Industry

Over half of the States in the U.S. have cannabis programs. Today, in the remaining prohibition states, people are still discovering cannabis in private exchanges and hushed parking lot handshakes – inherently risking their safety and freedom. Meanwhile, in legal states, some have the luxury of walking through the doors of a well-built, intricately designed dispensary with every modality one could fathom. In Minnesota, and especially in the twin cities, you can purchase a THC-infused beverage with dinner. 

While the experience feels unique and special, there’s a missing link. Who is behind the dispensary, the brands, the flower, the farms? What do they stand for? How does the dispensary treat its employees and the brands that stock their shelves? Where do they give back within the community and State? How are they contributing to the fight to make cannabis more equitable, accessible, and just? 

Some may scoff and say, “It’s not that deep.” But accountability is the birthplace of fairness, transparency is the starting point for trust, and empathy is the prerequisite to morality. Without any of those things, you have a corporate machine that does much more harm than good. The part we all need to recognize is that we have a choice in perpetuating an unjust and greedy system or supporting good people in our communities with our dollars.

Joey of Fallen Oak Farms shows his organically grown flower in Salmon Creek, Humboldt County. Photo: Bri Smith

The Connection Between Farmer And Consumer

For many Americans and people all over the globe, knowing how and where their food is grown and what ingredients are used in the making of it is of utmost importance. With 60-70 million Americans living with diagnosed gastrointestinal diseases, the quality and source of food could be life or death. Eating in-season farm-to-table foods has many other benefits, like more flavor and nutrition than mass-produced fruits and vegetables. In a similar fashion, artisanal growers all over the globe tout similar benefits – richer aromas, more complex terpene profiles, an entourage of cannabinoids – of small-batch, organically grown cannabis and encourage people to know their farmer. With this level of consumer attention, large producers must answer these questions and may be influenced to shift their practices if the dollar demands it. 

In an age when knowing the farmer is crucial in understanding the quality of the food you eat and the connection it has to the community, cannabis consumers would benefit from this same approach to choosing their medicine. Instead of looking at THC percentages or searching based on outdated misconceptions around indica or sativa categorizations, there are other questions we can ask ourselves as we choose our products. 

Who grew this, and how? What is their stance on inputs? Are they using organic amendments or pesticides and chemicals in their process? What are they doing for their community? Do they extract using solvents, or are they solventless? How are they participating in necessary activism around reform? Are they employing formerly incarcerated cannabis professionals? How do they pay and treat their employees? Essentially, Is your cannabis the means to a financial end, or is your cannabis someone’s life mission to advocate for and provide terpene-rich, full-spectrum, medicinal herbs to its community and its loved ones?

Wendy Kornberg teaching Ganjier students about soil health at Fallen Oak Farms

How Do We Participate?

As Peter Drucker projected, we are in an era of late-stage capitalism where every service and skill (including artistic skill) has been co-opted for profit, and the system of capitalism is crumbling beneath us. If we want to see late-stage capitalism enter a phase of degrowth and radical reduction of production and consumption, the economic revolution must occur, and it happens by the hands of the proletarians – or working class – and that means you and me. 

So, why, in light of these facts, is the Beard Bros U.S. tour important to the cannabis industry, consumers, tourists, patients, and those who remain behind bars? Storytelling is at the heart of social and political change. When we know the stories behind small businesses, we see the humanity behind it all. Instead of supporting the corporate machine, we can support our communities – and send a signal to politicians and MSOs that our community must come first. 

Catch previews of the Highly Recommended Canna-Travel Docu-Series on Instagram. To receive updates and to watch the documentary series when it goes live, subscribe to the Beard Bros Friday Sesh Newsletter.

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