California Cities Seeing Cannabis Industry Workers Unionizing

Northern California’s South Bay now has its first cannabis union. Representatives from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) announced on Friday at San Jose City Hall that workers at the town’s MedMen dispensary location would organize.

Employees at the dispensary will enjoy wages that come in at $3 above Californian minimum wage, two weeks of vacation pay, 40 percent employee discounts, and time and a half overtime holiday pay, among other benefits.

As cannabis becomes legal in more and more jurisdictions, advocates and lawmakers are grappling with how to make the industry economically just, especially when it comes to individuals who were penalized under marijuana prohibition by racially biased law enforcement. Labor advocates say that unionization of the cannabis industry is one way to ensure that social equity for workers is not forgotten in the Green Rush.

“I think there’s a greater responsibility for advocates like us and others to ensure that this happens,” said UFCW strategic campaign director Jim Araby, who gave props to MedMen for its role in the process.

UFCW has been working to represent marijuana workers in California as far back as 2007 and now counts 10,000 cannabis workers union members in 14 states. The union started its first nationwide cannabis organizing campaign in 2011. MedMen’s workers are already represented by UFCW at MedMen’s Pasadena location and in New York.

The move to unionize in the marijuana industry is protected under California law, specifically the Medicinal and Adult Use of Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act of 2017, which states that labor peace agreements — briefly, an accord stating that unions won’t encourage strikes, but that management won’t stop workers from organizing — be instituted in any state-licensed cannabis business with 20 or more employees.

San Jose Council member Magdalena Carrasco said she was happy that the cannabis industry was making good on its promise to voters. “While the cannabis industry is taking a turn from infancy to a billion dollar business in California, I’m happy to see that our workers will be sharing in that process,” Carrasco said. “We’re delivering on a promise made to our voters, that those employees would be under labor peace agreements.”

MedMen has entered into serious problems over the last year. In December, former employees filed a class action lawsuit over what they alleged were serious labor law violations. Then at the beginning of 2019, former CFO James Parker filed a lawsuit alleging that top executives regularly used racist and sexist language, not to mention committing bank and financial fraud.

But MedMen San Jose employee Hannah Bass is heartened at her employer’s openness to labor organization in its dispensaries, and put the word out to other workers that unionization could be a positive force. “The union is there to help you,” she said. “It’s more about stability and a standard of care to let you know that your voice is being heard.”

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Health Officer Issues Warning After 7 Californians Hospitalized for Vaping

A public health official issued a warning about the dangers of unlicensed cannabis products following the hospitalization of seven Californians who fell ill after vaping. In a notice released last week, Dr. Milton Teske, health officer with the Kings County Department of Public Health, said that those stricken had been taken to the hospital in the Central California community after experiencing pneumonia-like symptoms.

“Since June, seven cases of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) have been identified, requiring hospitalization and respiratory support among previously healthy adults,” reads the notice. “Some of these patients’ conditions were so severe they were admitted to the intensive care unit and required respiratory support through mechanical devices.”

Initial symptoms of ARDS include the feeling that one can’t get enough air into the lungs, rapid breathing, low blood oxygen level, low blood pressure, confusion, and extreme tiredness.

Six of the patients are in their 20s and the last is a 60-year-old experienced cannabis user who had tried vaping for the first time. Teske noted that all seven patients had recently used THC or CBD oil vape cartridges that they had purchased at unlicensed marijuana “pop-up shops” and urged consumers to purchase cannabis products only at regulated retailers.

“If you’re going to vape THC, get it from a licensed dispensary where you know there’s a certain amount of testing required to do,” Teske said. “It’s going to cost twice as much as the stuff on the street, but you don’t want to end up with a life-threatening respiratory condition.”

Similar Cases Across US

California isn’t the first area to see people experiencing lung problems after vaping, although it appears some cases may involve the use of nicotine vaporizers. Health officials in New York warned health care providers on Friday to be on the alert for pulmonary disease caused by vaping. The New York Department of Health is currently investigating 11 cases of lung problems related to vaping, most in the western part of the state.

“While many people consider vaping to be a less dangerous alternative to smoking cigarettes, it is not risk free,” state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said. “These latest reports of pulmonary disease in people using vaping products in New York and other states are proof that more study is needed on the long-term health effects of these products.”

Dr. Melodi Pirzada, a pediatric lung specialist at New York University Winthrop Hospital, said that she has seen two cases of patients who experienced lung problems after vaping, including an 18-year-old athlete.

“We’re all baffled,” Pirzada said, adding that the only common factor was that they had been vaping.

On Thursday, health officials in Wisconsin reported that 15 cases of lung trouble brought on by vaping had been confirmed and 15 more were being investigated. Health officials in Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota are also investigating cases of lung problems potentially caused by vaping.

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The Winners of the 2019 Seattle Cannabis Cup aka DOPEland

This weekend, we had the pleasure of hanging out and toking up with growers, business owners, artists, and enthusiasts at the Cannabis Cup, also known as DOPEland. Here are the winners of the 2019 Seattle Cannabis Cup:

Indica Flower

Jesse Faatz/ High Times

First Place: Doc and Yeti Urban Farms – Forbidden Fruit
Second Place: Premier Cannabis – Wedding Cake
Third Place: Freddy’s Fuego – LarryCake

Sativa Flower

Jesse Faatz/ High Times

First Place: Premier Cannabis – Mtn Trop
Second Place: Doc and Yeti Urban Farms – Dutch Treat
Third Place: Secret Gardens of Washington – Lemon OG Haze

Hybrid Flower

Jesse Faatz/ High Times

First Place: Premier Cannabis – Premier Glue 4.0
Second Place: Freddy’s Fuego – Guava Jelly
Third Place: Secret Gardens of Washington – Wedding Cake

Sungrown Flower

Jesse Faatz/ High Times

First Place: Lazy Bee Gardens – Powder Hound
Second Place: Canna Organix – Zkittlez Sungrown Flower
Third Place: Grow Op Farms – Sun Grown GMO

CBD Flower

Jesse Faatz/ High Times

First Place: Millennium Green – Ringo’s Gift
Second Place: Liberty Reach – Canna Tsu 
Third Place: Artizen Cannabis – Critical Mass


Jesse Faatz/ High Times

First Place: Secret Gardens of Washington – Baller Candy Pre-Roll
Second Place:
Oleum Extracts – MAC Sugar Cone
Third Place:
Freddy’s Fuego – Larry Cake Pre-Roll


Jesse Faatz/ High Times

First Place: Baked BLVD – Sky High Ranch
Second Place:
Mr. Moxey’s – Sativa Peppermints
Third Place:
Craft Elixirs – Pioneer Squares Black & Blueberry THC Fruit Nom

CBD Edible

Jesse Faatz/ High Times

First Place: Craft Elixirs – Pioneer Squares Black & Blueberry CBD Fruit Nom
Second Place:
Journeyman –  Berry CBD Jellies
Third Place:
Marmas – Sour Watermelon CBD Soft Candy 

Vape Pens and Cartridges

Jesse Faatz/ High Times

First Place: Dabstract – Orange Zkittlez Live Resin Pax Pod
Second Place:
Tiger’s Blood Crystal Clear Distillate Vape
Third Place:
Refine Seattle X Exotic Genetix – Bonkers

CBD Vape Pens and Cartridges

Jesse Faatz/ High Times

First Place: Blue Forest Farms – Lemon G CBD Vape
Second Place:
Nerdie Birdie –  CBD Revival Vape
Third Place:
Vital Roots by Puffin Farm – CBD Lemon OG

Indica Concentrates

Jesse Faatz/ High Times

First Place: Sub-X – Cold Smoke – GMO
Second Place:
Oleum Extracts – Blueberry Cookies Live Resin
Third Place:
Gabriel Cannabis X Sub-X – Sherbet Live Resin

Sativa Concentrates

Jesse Faatz/ High Times

First Place: Sub-X – Cold Smoke – Jah Goo
Second Place:
Refine Seattle x Royal Tree Farms- Mojito Loud Resin 
Third Place:
Oleum Extracts – East Coast Sour Diesel Live Resin

Hybrid Concentrates

Jesse Faatz/ High Times

First Place: Sub-X – Cold Smoke – Zkittlez
Second Place:
Refine Seattle X House of Cultivar – Lemon Butter Loud Resin
Third Place:
Oleum Extracts – Pineapple Express Live Resin

CBD Concentrates

Jesse Faatz/ High Times

First Place: Blue Forest Farms – Cherry Pie CBD Shatter
Second Place:
Skagit Organics –  Amazing Grace CBD Crystals
Third Place:
Rogue Raven Farms – Avi Shatter

Non-solvent Hash

Jesse Faatz/ High Times

First Place: Premier Cannabis – Premier Glue 4.0 Live Rosin
Second Place:
SKöRD – Hidden Pastry
Third Place:
Sixth Fifths x Phat Panda – Point Break Live Rosin Batter 


Jesse Faatz/ High Times

First Place: Verdelux (Verdeloo) – Salvation Mercy
Second Place:
Fairwinds – Flow Roll-On Regular Strength
Third Place:
Bellevue Cannabis – The potion

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Residents in Michigan Cities to Receive Incentives to Enter Cannabis Industry

Residents of 19 Michigan cities are gearing up to take part in the state’s cannabis social justice program. The business licensing discount system is designed to prioritize entrepreneurs in the new industry who are longtime residents of economically underprivileged areas, who have been adversely affected by the war on drugs, and who have a demonstrated interest in facilitating access to cannabis.

Residents of selected local jurisdictions have been invited to attend one of a series of public meetings orchestrated by the state’s Marijuana Regulatory System. The events are being held in the eligible cities themselves, which include Albion, Benton Harbor, Detroit, East Lansing, Ecorse, Flint, Highland Park, Hamtramck, Inkster, Kalamazoo, Mount Morris, Mount Pleasant, Muskegon, Muskegon Heights, Niles, Pontiac, River Rouge, Saginaw, and Ypsilanti.

Applicants will be able to submit their paperwork for the program starting November 1, the date when the state will open up to recreational cannabis business applications of all stripes.

The social equity program stems from Section 8 of 2018’s Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, which laid the groundwork for a recreational marijuana industry in the state and was approved by 56 percent of voters. That measure calls for “a plan to promote and encourage participation in the marijuana industry by people from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition and enforcement and to positively impact those communities.”

The system will be based on three tiers of eligibility. People who have been residents of the selected cities for five years or more can receive a 25 percent discount. If they also have a marijuana conviction on their record, they’ll get a 50 percent discount, and if in addition to those two factors they have been a registered medical marijuana caregiver in the state between 2008 and 2017, they’ll get a 60 percent discount.

In addition to the fee discounts, the state will also be offering the social equity program participants educational resources about the cannabis industry, and expedited access to government agencies that control business registration, environmental law compliance, and other kinds of red tape.

The program is designed so that small recreational businesses will have a better shot at longevity. Its stated goal is to make sure that after five years, 60 percent of participating firms will still be operational.

Michigan’s recreational marijuana business social equity program is not the only tool the state is using to prioritize small businesses. Earlier this month, officials announced that medical marijuana business licenses will be given out via a three-tier system. Smaller businesses will be subject to lower fees, a key step towards making sure that the state’s industry stays friendly to independent cannabis firms.

Not all the towns selected are large in size. Albion, for example, is home to less than 10,000 people. But the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association’s Josh Hovey told a local news site that doesn’t mean that the program won’t have a big impact on the town’s residents.

“Clearly, the city of Albion has been disproportionally affected by marijuana charges,” he said. “So despite the size, the hope is for the people of Albion to take advantage of this.”

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Florida U.S. Attorney’s Office to Continue to Prosecute Marijuana Cases

Those hoping for a respite from cannabis possession-related charges in Florida shouldn’t get too comfortable, even after top prosecutors announced that the state has limited technology to pursue such offenses. The Northern Florida US Attorney’s office sent out a press statement saying that it will continue to prosecute marijuana possession cases, and that it will even review cases that have been set aside by state attorneys.

The feds have even considered the staffing concerns that could arise by prosecuting cannabis crimes. The US Attorney also announced that its office would be looking into the possibility that assistant state attorneys could be sworn in as federal attorneys in order to pursue marijuana cases. Attorney General Ashley Moody and Statewide Prosecutor Nicholas Cox have already given their permission to have some of their assistants temporarily sworn in as these “Special Assistant United States Attorneys.”

The move is in response to State Attorney Jack Campbell’s July announcement that his office will not be prosecuting cannabis possession cases going forward. Campbell said that the state is not equipped with tests that can tell the difference between marijuana and hemp, the latter of which is now legal. There is a chance that this policy will change if the state gets its hands on testing technology that is capable of making the distinction.

“There’s literally no state lab in the state of Florida that can do testing and say ‘this is hemp,” or ‘no, this is marijuana,’” Campbell told a local news site. The US Attorney also suggested that Campbell himself could participate in the “Special Assistant United States Attorneys” program.

Martin County Sheriff William Synder has also told officers that they will no longer be arresting people on charges of cannabis possession.

Campbell’s announcement is not the only recent political movement away from prosecuting cannabis-related crimes in the state. In July, the Florida Police Legal Bureau sent a memo to the press clarifying the fact that marijuana odor would no longer be deemed a reasonable criteria for police traffic stops. Rather, cops will have to be able to identify other factors to justify stops and searches.

That’s certainly not to say that the state has erased cannabis stigma. Earlier this month, South Florida’s Homestead Hospital diagnosed a patient as a drug abuser after he told doctors that he is a licensed medical marijuana user, and consumes the drug as part of treatment for his epilepsy.

In August, Representative Shevrin Jones introduced HB 25, a cannabis decriminalization bill that would render the possession of less than 20 grams from a first-degree misdemeanor to no longer be a criminal offense. Currently, such possession charges can be punished with up to a year in jail, a year of probation, and a $1,000 fine.

But even if such decriminalization measures are passed, it’s important to note that Florida residents will still need to watch out for the US Attorney. A reminder: federal prosecutors can go after individuals for cannabis-related federal offenses, even in cannabis-legal state or local jurisdiction. In fact, they can do it even if the individual has already been charged or punished by their state or local jurisdiction.

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CBD American Shaman

Founded in 2015 by hemp-entrepreneur and CEO Vince Sanders, CBD American Shaman is based out of Kansas City, Missouri and is one of the largest hemp derived CBD companies in North America. Using a team of dedicated researchers and doctors, the company has developed a series of organic, all-natural industrial hemp-based products with increased bioavailability aimed at improving people’s quality of life and promoting an overall healthier lifestyle for patients.

After Sanders’s uncle Dennis was diagnosed with an aggressive form of stage IV lung cancer in 2012 and given six months to live, Sanders identified what was important to him and became inspired to discover a solution that would prolong his uncle’s life. Curious about the medical benefits of cannabis, Sanders began his research, which led him to CBD. Although there wasn’t much U.S.-based information about the market, there was a plethora of scientific reports from Israel and Spain that gave him a starting point. Armed with knowledge, Sanders developed a crude CBD extract and after administering it to his uncle for 90 days, Dennis was in full remission. Despite his efforts, Dennis passed away due to unrelated complications, but the experience started Sanders down a passionate path of helping people that he would not turn back from. “It’s addicting,” he says.

Vince Sanders/ CBD American Shaman

Over the next few years, Sanders poured himself into the industry with the intent of “changing lives and turning people on to a homeopathic, plant-based option that is natural, therapeutic and far superior to pharmaceuticals, [without] any of the side effects.” Thus, CBD American Shaman was born.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of 113 known naturally occurring chemical compounds, known as cannabinoids, found in cannabis and hemp that imparts a sensation of calming relaxation and has no psychoactive properties. CBD is usually derived from Cannabis Sativa, which has two species, hemp and marijuana, although hemp generally carries a much higher percentage of CBD and extremely low levels of THC (less than 0.3%). Associated with a cascade of remedies, CBD has become well known for treating conditions including pain, inflammation, severe stress/anxiety, epilepsy, cancer, and a laundry list of other disorders.

In an effort to create a more affordable and shelf stable product, Sanders and his team harnessed the science of nanotechnology to improve their full spectrum, terpene-rich CBD emulsion. This process breaks down molecules to a billionth of their original size, making it easier for the body to absorb the compound into the blood stream, retain the microparticles for longer periods of time, and penetrate deeper into the body. This is known as bioavailability and is currently the most effective way of introducing a compound into the body, specifically the endocannabinoid system (structure of cannabinoid receptors located throughout the body). It produces a more uniform effect with greater surface area, making the product more consistent and predictable, which means you can take less of the product while retaining more of the benefits. Shaman specifically breaks its particles down to 50 nanometers, known as the goldilocks zone, using their particle size analyzer to ensure it connects to your receptors.

Vince Sanders/ CBD American Shaman

Shaman has infused this ‘cornerstone’ tech into all its products including water soluble products, tinctures, skin care/beauty products, edibles, capsules, pet products, and more—all created in their manufacturing facility and overseen by lead chemist, Jade Mitchell. Responsible for R&D and quality control, Mitchell uses a High-Pressure Liquid Chromatography System (HPLC) to accurately break down, analyze, and quantify every batch of CBD before processing, ensuring the compound is consistent, of the highest quality, and free from pesticides, heavy metals, and other impurities. “We’ve manipulated it as softly as we can […] ensuring the integrity of the plants profile is upheld,” says Sanders. “Our goal is to be as close to nature as possible.” 

CBD American Shaman also works with medical director and chief medical officer Dr. Jesse Lopez, a traditionally trained trauma surgeon who has over 27 years of experience in the medical field and has long incorporated holistic treatments and natural supplements into his practice. Based at one of the two Shaman clinics, Dr. Lopez educates and advises leadership of the company on questions and concerns regarding the clinical benefits of CBD while lending expert support and documented validation from the medical perspective.

Inspired by the demands of his patients seeking a more natural remedy to support a healthier lifestyle, coupled with the company’s progressive transparency, Dr. Lopez joined forces with Shaman at the beginning of 2018 with the intention of regulating their CBD treatment from a supplemental perspective. “CBD is a health supplement like any other, like vitamin D or C, and an individual should have access to it from a supplemental perspective,” says Lopez, adding that “personally, I believe in plant medicine. I believe that plants have healing properties […] but from the traditional, practical perspective, we need to get back to calling it a supplement, rather than a medication.”

Vince Sanders/ CBD American Shaman

Through this lens, the company can provide therapy assistance and preventative advice to patients, looking at the entire aspect of their condition, “yielding immediate results by utilizing natural holistic supplements that can support their overall health and homeostasis,” says Lopez. And although “CBD is one of the main tools in our tool belt […] the team prefers to take a more scientific approach to narrowing down symptoms in order to create a treatment plan based on the individual needs of each patient.” This is what truly sets CBD American Shaman apart from other companies in the industry: understanding the concept of modern-day wellness and the desire for people to naturally combat ‘dis-ease’ in their lives.

Of course, there are still a host of challenges in today’s CBD industry. From untested, uncontrolled production of inferior products with limited bioavailability, to overpriced merchandise, to misinformation and negative stigmas, CBD is in a limbo of authenticity and honest information. “The biggest challenge facing the CBD industry today is that it is associated with THC […] CBD does not have the psychoactive components that THC does and is not marijuana,” states Lopez. Once this misconception is overcome, more people will have access to the miracle of CBD, with the potential to improve their lives using natural, homeopathic, plant-based remedies that have been part of our culture throughout human history.

In addition to both of Shaman’s physician staffed Kansas City clinics, the company has over 300 franchise locations throughout the country with more on the way. They also offer online ordering, ensuring availability to any and all in search of alternative relief they can trust, with the science to back up the results. So, if you find yourself reading this article, it is not a coincidence: it is the synchronicity of connecting with the right information in the right place at the right time. This is the Shaman Way.

“Changing lives and turning people on to a homeopathic, plant-based option that is natural, therapeutic, and far superior to pharmaceuticals, [without] any of the side effects.”

—Founder and CEO Vince Sanders, CBD American Shaman


Cannabidiol is a phytocannabinoid found in both hemp and marijuana that connects with naturally occurring receptors spread throughout the human body and is clinically proven to assist in pain management, anxiety, cognition repair, seizure reduction, and so much more.


Nanotechnology refers to molecules broken down to a billionth of meter in size, making it easier to be absorbed by the body. Imagine a basketball on your floor full of BBs. Alone the basketball has little surface area, but if the BBs spill out, your floor would be covered by them, allowing for a greater surface area to be covered.


Bioavailability refers to the percentage of a substance that can be absorbed by the human body, and measurement of the rate it reaches its area of activation.

Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system is a biological system composed of neurotransmitters and receptors spread throughout the central nervous system that regulates cannabinoids and the effects of cannabis/hemp.


Homeopathy is a medical alternative based in the belief that the body can heal itself with the aid of natural supplements, minerals, and organic substances.

Vince Sanders/ CBD American Shaman

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Maryland Court Rules Pot Smell Not Enough for Police to Search Person

Bob Dylan wrote his indelible classic “The Times They Are a-Changin’” at a moment of enormous political and cultural upheaval in the country. Nearly 60 years later, the lyrics have been invoked—in a court of law, no less—to capture the winds of change in marijuana policy.

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled 7-0 this week that the smell of pot alone is not sufficient grounds to search an individual. The court cited the state’s five-year-old law that decriminalized marijuana possession for 10 grams or less. And it also cited the king of folk. At the very top of the opinion, Maryland’s highest court placed the iconic lyrics from the song, which Dylan released in 1965 as an anthem for the Civil Rights era.

The case dealt with the arrest of Michael Pacheco, a 26-year-old who was approached by a pair of Montgomery County, Maryland police officers in his parked vehicle in May of 2016. The officers testified that they smelled freshly burnt marijuana emanating from the vehicle and that they could see a joint in the center console. After ordering Pacheco out of the vehicle, the officers searched and found cocaine in one of his front pockets.

Pacheco and his attorneys contended that the cocaine was the result of an illegal search, arguing that the officers had no probable cause that he was in possession of more than 10 grams of marijuana. After entering a conditional guilty plea, Pacheco took it to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, where he lost.

But the Court of Appeals reversed that ruling this week, saying it was based “predominantly on pre-decriminalization cases.”

“It is by now well known that the laws in Maryland and elsewhere addressing the possession and use of marijuana have changed,” the court wrote in the opening of the opinion, just after quoting Dylan. “Those changes naturally have compelled examination of how the affected laws are to be interpreted and applied consistent with the dictates of other law including, here, the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

“The same facts and circumstances that justify a search of an automobile do not necessarily justify an arrest and search incident thereto,” the court said in the conclusion of the majority opinion. “This is based on the heightened expectation of privacy one enjoys in his or her person as compared to the diminished expectation of privacy one has in an automobile. The arrest and search of Mr. Pacheco was unreasonable because nothing in the record suggests that possession of a joint and the odor of burnt marijuana gave the police probable cause to believe he was in possession of a criminal amount of that substance.”

In the concurring opinion, two members of the panel sought to emphasize the “limited nature” of the ruling, saying that driving under the influence is a “matter of growing concern.” Those judges said that the ruling “should not be read to preclude a conclusion that an officer has probable cause for arrest when the officer comes upon an individual alone and awake in the driver’s seat of a vehicle with a marijuana joint at hand and the pungent odor of marijuana in the air.”

The Maryland legislature decriminalized marijuana possession for 10 grams or less in 2014, and it was signed into law by then-Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley.

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Flashback Friday: Yagé, Psychic Vine of the Amazon

Each Friday, we’re republishing an article from the High Times archives. This week, the topic is yagé, otherwise known as ayahuasca. Originally featured in the “Vagabond” section of the August 1979 issue, the article was written by none other than celebrity physician and erstwhile High Times contributor Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D.

Excerpt from the August, 1979 issue of High Times/ Timothy Plowman

Every Saturday in a remote region of south-western Colombia, sick people make their way to a hut in a jungle clearing. The hut is a two-to-three-hour walk over a rough trail from a little port town called Mayoyoque on the River Caquetá, a tributary of the Amazon. Some of the people are very sick with high fevers, infections and chronic diseases that have not responded to medical treatment. The goal of their pilgrimage is an Ingano Indian witch doctor named Luis Nutumbahoy. He is a yagero, a man skilled in the use of yagé (yah-HAY), the powerful psychedelic drink of the Amazon, and every Saturday he cooks up a batch of it to use in curing ceremonies.

I have been interested in yagé for years and have visited a number of yageros in the western Amazon. Last January, on the recommendation of a Colombian friend, I made the long and difficult trip to see don Luis and his ceremony.

To get there I flew from Bogotá to Florencia, capital of the Caquetá Territory, a large province of Colombia mostly consisting of steamy jungles and large rivers. In recent years, intense colonization has resulted in ugly clear-cutting of the jungle and the growth of rowdy frontier towns noted for their violence. At the moment, the Caquetá is officially considered a war zone because of guerrilla activity, principally of a group called the FARC, the Colombian Armed Revolutionary Forces. In my travels from Florencia to Mayoyoque by bus and boat I was stopped frequently by soldiers, asked for identification and sometimes searched for weapons. Considerable drug traffic comes through the territory as well, mostly cocaine shipped by river from Peru.

Last January it was hard to get around the Caquetá because it was the middle of an unusually hot “summer,” a period of drought and high temperatures that had dried up the territory, making river travel uncertain and causing spontaneous forest fires that filled the skies with smoke and turned the sun an ominous copper color.

I took an uncomfortable bus from Florencia to a port called Curillo on the River Caquetá, then caught a motorized canoe downstream to Mayoyoque. Mayoyoque is in a lawless zone with no police or authorities. The town has seen a number of murders in the past months, and I was not eager to stay there long. The morning after my arrival I set out on the trail to don Luis’s house.

Freshly cut tanks of yagé, showing pattern of “hearts”/ Diego Léon Giraldo

The first part of the trail led through blackened, devastated fields, recently burned for new growing and grazing land. Then the forest began, dark and lush despite the lack of rain. I saw many kinds of mushrooms on the ground and on dead logs. There were some spectacular flowers, one a giant red bloom from a tree called palo de cruz. Parrots sang in the trees. I crossed deep ravines on crude log bridges. Normally, these ravines are roaring torrents on their way to the Caquetá. Now they were still, with a few disappearing muddy pools.

My companions on this trip were Diego León Giraldo, a well-known Colombian film maker who had visited don Luis before to make a documentary movie about yagé; his wife, Silvia Patiño, a professional photographer; and Carlos Rangel, an Indian guide who knows the territory well.

In late morning, we emerged into a sunny clearing with a large palm-thatched house. Luis came out to greet us. He is a 56-year-old, small, active man with an unusual face that sometimes appears very old, then changes into the face of a young child. His wife and children were there, and they showed us inside to the cool part of the house. Hammocks were strung up, the air smelled of woodsmoke from a kitchen fire, and a noisy parrot strolled about the rafters. Chickens paraded inside the house. Outside was an arrogant rooster that I grew to hate during the week I stayed there, also a family of ducks, some scrawny dogs and a few pigs.

The Inganos are descendants of ancient Incas who migrated north. Some of them live in villages in the mountains near the Ecuadorian border, but most are spread out through the hot lowlands along or near rivers. Like don Luis, most of them live in houses in isolated clearings in the jungle. They hunt, fish and grow a few staples like yuca (tapioca root). They sometimes wear colorful costumes, and they use a number of drug plants, especially yagé, which they call huasca in their own dialect.

Yagé is a gigantic liana, a woody vine that climbs up the huge trees of the jungle. In many parts of the Amazon it is a rare plant, and some Indians have to make long journeys to collect it. But Luis had many wild yagé vines within walking distance of his house. Some of them were the biggest I have seen, with heavy trunks six inches in diameter, so tall that I could not make out the leaves at the top.

Among the Inganos of this region, yagé is a sacred plant, used only in ceremonies for specific purposes such as healing and divining. There are certain taboos around it. For example, women are not allowed to see the living vines or their preparation, although they may consume the drink. If a woman sets eyes on a living yagé, that vine is useless and cannot be prepared.

Beaten sections of yage ready for cooking/ Diego Léon Giraldo

On the day after my arrival Luis cooked up a batch of yagé for me to drink. He began by felling a giant tree with a vine coiled about it, then hacked the yagé into eight-inch lengths with a machete. He carried these back to a small ramada about five minutes from the house. The ramada is only used for cooking yagé, and no women are allowed near it. Luis half filled a large fire-blackened caldron with about two gallons of water from a nearby water hole. He added about a quart of finished yagé from his last batch, cooked the previous Saturday. Then he brought fire from his kitchen and kindled a blaze underneath the pot, arranging long pieces of wood so that he could push them in and keep the fire going.

Next he sat down on a log and began to smash the pieces of yagé with a heavy stick. He beat each one until it split apart, exposing the inner fibers. When Luis finished this operation, he stood up, went to a post supporting one edge of the ramada and unfastened a net bag. From the inside he extracted handfuls of fresh green leaves. He called these chagrapanga and said they were the other ingredient that went into his version of yagé.

Each yagero has his own recipe for the drink, and some use various additives, including toxic plants like datura. In the western Amazon the basic mixture is simply trunks of yagé and leaves of chagrapanga. The botanical name of yagé is Banisteriopsis caapi, and it owes its hallucinogenic power to two chemicals called harmine and harmaline. Chagrapanga is a related plant, Banisteriopsis rusbyana, also a woody vine, whose leaves are rich in DMT, dimethyltryptamine. Luis says that these leaves “brighten the visions” caused by yagé, that with yagé alone “you will get intoxicated but not see anything; chagrapanga shows you pictures.”

Selecting chagrapanga leaves from banana-leaf-lined bag/ Diego Léon Giraldo

He put two large handfuls of these leaves into the pot and adjusted the fire to bring the water to a boil. I wanted to see the chagrapanga vine because I had never met Banisteriopsis rusbyana in the wild, but Luis said the plants were scarce, and he had gone a long way through the jungle to collect these leaves.

When the water came to a boil, Luis added the smashed yagé, two big bundles of it. He stirred the mixture with a stick, adjusted the fire till it was simmering, then sat back to wait. He told me it was important not to make the fire too high or the liquid would cook down too fast without extracting the power of the yagé.

The cooking took three hours. It was a scorching day, and the fire made things even hotter, but it was not unpleasant to lounge in the ramada, watching the caldron bubble, stirring the brew occasionally. When it was done, Luis unhooked the pot from its support and poured the liquid into two containers fashioned from the sheaths of flowers of palm trees, discarding the spent yagé. He covered the containers with fresh banana leaves. Then he repeated the process from the start, with water, chagrapanga and yagé, and cooked this second batch for the same amount of time.

Adding Chagrapanga leaves to hot water/ Diego Léon Giraldo

When the second batch was done, it was late afternoon. Luis combined the liquids from the two cookings and put them back in the pot. He then boiled the mixture down for an hour more to concentrate it. The finished product was muddy brown. When it was cool, Luis poured it into two containers: a large glass jug that had once held whiskey, and a plastic motor-oil bottle. These he carried up to the house, ready for use.

You never drink yagé until dark. And you are not supposed to eat anything after noon on the day you are going to drink it. I had not eaten since breakfast. Expectantly, I waited for sunset and for the heat to subside, watching the animals hunt for food around the house. As it got dark, Luis made things ready inside. He arranged some objects on a little altar, lit candles, got out cups and poured himself a few shots of aguardiente, the fiery anise-flavored cane whiskey that Colombians love. Luis says that aguardiente increases the effect of the yagé and also kills its bitter taste.

Luis’s brother-in-law, named Jorge, had come by to help. It was the middle of the week, not a regular yagé Saturday, and no sick people had come. Only Luis, Jorge and I were going to drink. Jorge prepared a large bowl of water with several aromatic leaves and barks. He called this mixture fresca and said it would be used in the ceremony.

Beaten age sections added to pot/ Diego Léon Giraldo

Unhurriedly, Luis poured out a portion of his brew into a large gourd. He set this down and began chanting over it: a strange, half-whispered chant, interrupted by puffs of breath. He took down from the wall a kind of noisemaker of bunched, dried palm leaves and rattled it over the bowl of yagé while keeping up his quiet song. This blessing ritual lasted ten minutes. Then Luis dipped out a four-ounce coffee cup of the brown liquid, raised it to his lips and drained it down, chasing it with a quick shot of aguardiente. He then dipped out a cup for me.

I followed Luis’s example and drained the cup quickly. The yagé tasted bitter, rusty and unpleasant, though not as bad as peyote. It was not very hard to get the first dose down. Since I do not care for aguardiente, I sucked on a slice of lime instead.

After Jorge drank his cup, Luis settled into a hammock and was quiet. Jorge lay down in another hammock. I was lying on a bench. It was dark except for a few candles, and the night was still hot. We listened to the jungle noises and watched some spectacular fireflies, which the children trapped and put into a jar.

I had taken yagé once before in the mountains of the Putumayo Territory southwest of here. But that drink contained datura and other additives and was violently intoxicating. I lost all power of movement, experienced complete physical and mental chaos and received no help from the yagero, who did nothing at all after a few minutes of chanting before pouring out the dose. My mind ran back to that adventure of a few years before. I was apprehensive, waiting to see what would happen.

Waiting for the yage brew to finish cooking/ Diego Léon Giraldo

In about 15 minutes I began to feel an uncomfortable heaviness in my stomach. It intensified over the next ten minutes, till I had to roll around in search of better positions. Eventually I got up and walked outside the hut to vomit.

Vomiting is the first stage of the effect of yagé. It is not fun, and I say that as someone who likes to vomit in certain circumstances. I held on to a tree and brought up a small quantity of intensely bitter liquid with wrenching spasms. Yagé tastes much worse on the way up than on the way down—so bad that it left me shuddering for a few seconds. But I felt much better immediately after, and as I straightened up I noticed the stars for the first time. It was a beautiful night with a new moon over the dark forest. I felt high, not the chaotic acceleration of datura-adulterated yagé, but a calm, floating, detached feeling. Breathing deeply I headed back into the candle-lit hut. Luis was still sitting in the hammock with a serious expression, and Jorge was still lying down.

After a few more minutes I had to answer another call of nature. The second action of yagé is to purge the intestine. The effect is spectacular and painless. When I went back in, Luis asked me it if had been “a good purge.” I told him yes. Eventually, he and Jorge also made trips to the jungle. I lay down on my bench, feeling very disconnected from my body and the external world. I was in a dreamy, trancelike state, not at all speeded. When I closed my eyes I began to see things: plants mostly, what looked like rows of sugarcane against a black background. I felt as if I were floating in a velvety liquid. The plants became undersea plants, waving in a gentle current.

My visions were interrupted by an unwelcome sensation in my stomach, and I shuffled out into the night to my tree for another episode of vomiting, worse than the last. There followed several walks into the fringes of the jungle with diarrhea. Yagé cleans you out thoroughly from both ends, and that is probably one reason why it helps sick people. It has been shown to be an effective treatment for amebic dysentery, for example. Anyway, in a short time there was nothing left inside to come out.

Simmering brew of yage and chagrapanga/ Silva Patiño

Back in the house Luis poured me another cup of the bitter brew. This time it was hard to get down. The association of the taste with the terrible vomiting was too strong. But I did swallow it.

Now Luis began chanting in earnest. A yagero’s chant is his most precious possession. It comes to him in dreams and stays with him all his life. Until a man receives his chant from the spirit of the vine, he cannot conduct ceremonies. Luis’s chant was strangely hypnotic, a mixture of sounds, tunes and words. There were Spanish words, Ingano words and words of a sort I had never heard before. I asked him what one particular word meant. “It is yagé speaking,” he answered. “It doesn’t mean; it is yagé speaking.” He resumed the chant. At times the sounds turned into the grunts and snorts of a big cat, and his face assumed an animal expression. He looked up and grinned at me. “I can be a jaguar when I want to,” he said.

I vomited a few more times, then came in and collapsed on the bench. Luis went out to vomit, too, but I could barely hear a break in his chanting. From now on he chanted nonstop and would go on until dawn. At times it was quiet, at times loud, always fascinating and powerful. Under its influence my visions of plants became more elaborate with huge forest trees and vines. But all was calm and peaceful: a world of plants with no animals.

Luis told me later that yagé visions come in stages with practice and increasing dosages. First come patterns, then plants, then animals, then fantastic architecture and cities. If you are fortunate, you see jaguars. Though he has been no farther from his home than Mayoyoque, Luis says that under yagé he has left his body and visited distant towns and cities, including Florencia and Bogotá. In the visions he sees the causes of illnesses and the cures. He sees what plants a sick person should take or what pills if plants are not strong enough for a particular illness. People consult him about missing persons, too, bringing photographs if they have them, and in the visions Luis discovers their whereabouts. Recently he saw one missing relative in the army in Bogotá.

First batch drains while second batch cooks/ Diego Léon Giraldo

I saw only plants after two cups of yagé except for a brief period of suspension bridges. These looked like the beginnings of fantastic architecture but did not progress to cities. And I saw no animals. Luis wanted me to drink more of his brew, but I could not. My body rebelled at the thought of consuming more. In the course of the evening Luis drank nine cups of the stuff. Each one sent him to the jungle for further purging, but his animated chanting continued without pause. With each cup he became more energetic. Finally, Jorge helped him into a heavy necklace of jaguar teeth and a fantastic headdress of parrot feathers. Then, palm-leaf rattles in his hands, Luis began a stomping, turning dance around the house, all the while uttering the sounds of yagé.

After a time he sat down and had me sit in front of him. He chanted over me, shaking the palm-leaf rattles loudly over my head, and finally he took a big mouthful of fresca and sprayed it all over me. It felt wonderfully cool and revived me from the dreamy trance with overtones of nausea. Jorge explained that fresca brings you down if you are too high and calms you if you are having anxiety. All you have to do is sip some. I took a little because I was thirsty, but I felt no anxiety. I just wanted to stay curled up on my bench, float among the visionary plants and listen to Luis’s sounds.

As the night wore on, Luis kept up his dancing. From time to time he would pick up a harmonica and turn into a one-man band. He would dance out the door and we would hear him chanting and singing off into the jungle, circling the house, disappearing into the night. Then he would burst through the doorway in an explosion of feathers and palm leaves, growling like a jaguar.

This performance continued till sunup, long after I had crashed on my bench. I got little sleep because the rooster started crowing well before dawn. (It did so every night, and I thought of many different ways I would enjoy cooking it.) As soon as I woke up, Luis took me outside for a purification ritual. He instructed me to wash my face and hands with the clove-scented fresca and had me rinse my mouth out with it, too. Then he waved some branches of stinging nettles around me as if to drive off any lingering bad energy. I felt refreshed and hungry. Luis slept some in the morning, then went about his daily chores, including chopping up more yagé for the weekend.

Don Luis chanting with palm-leaf rattle/ Diego Léon Giraldo

Luis has been using yagé for 22 years. He learned how by serving as apprentice to masters who came from the Putumayo Territory. “The old people knew much about the secret power of yagé,” he says. “Now they are gone.” But he is passing his knowledge on. As the weekend approached, a man named Victor showed up—an Ingano chief who lives half a day from Mayoyoque and has been Luis’s apprentice for three years. Victor is a fine-looking man with parrot feathers in his ears. He explained to me that few people know how to use the vision vine these days, and he wanted to be able to serve his people as a yagero.

On Saturday, Luis cooked up more yagé, and he, Victor, Jorge and a patient drank it at nightfall. I participated, too, but only took a little. Victor and Luis sang and danced all night, periodically going out into the jungle to sing under the trees, then returning to the candle-lit house. Victor congratulated Luis on having made a really strong batch.

Luis gives yagé to anyone who wants it: to young and old, men and women, sick and well. He says it cannot hurt anyone, and, though he gives it to pregnant women, young children and people with high fevers, no one suffers bad effects. Victor and he are both in good shape after taking enormous doses for years. Luis has seen hundreds and hundreds of people trip on yagé and knows all the ins and outs of the experience. He knows exactly how to minimize negative effects and encourage people to interpret their experiences in good ways. And many of the patients say they are helped. I talked with people in Mayoyoque who say that visits to Luis cured them of various ills.

Yagé is a strong drug, rough on the body physically when you take it but not harmful in any serious way. Used casually it might cause all sorts of bad trips. But treated with respect, made carefully and consumed in these elaborate rituals, it becomes a power for good in the hands of men like don Luis and his colleagues.

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New Documentary Explores the Origins of Woodstock

50 years after nearly a half million people descended on a New York dairy farm for the three-day Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, the event has taken on a near-mythical place in our collective imagination, one that’s rooted far more in nostalgia than reality. Creating Woodstock is a feature-length documentary that goes beyond the overly-enchanted impressions the festival has garnered over the years, examining some of the less glamorous aspects of the monumental happening that nonetheless remains the defining event of a generation.

A drummer and Woodstock attendee, Emmy Award-winning TV producer Mick Richards wrote and directed the film. The story unfolds through rare archival material and three decades’ worth of interviews with the organizers, many who have since passed away. Judging by the models of the computers in the interviews, a lot of the recordings are on the older side, which makes the film feel as though it’s been around awhile, even though it’s only being released now. There’s also a lot of talking, which makes it more likely to appeal to die-hard music-industry geeks and rock historians than the average layperson. It almost feels like Creating Woodstock is pieced together from the recollections and reminiscences of wistful relatives who are continuously reliving the 72 hours between August 15-17, 1969. Still, what they have to say is interesting.

John Sebastian at the 1969 Woodstock Festival/ © Henry Diltz

Spoiler alert: By all accounts, Woodstock had all the defining characteristics of a potential disaster. The organizers had trouble securing a venue until Max and Miriam Yasgur offered their property. Then, with barely a month at their disposal, roughly a thousand people hurriedly worked on the festival’s infrastructure—preparing roads, digging wells, and installing electricity. Most days, it rained.

Originally intended only for about 20,000 people, Woodstock eventually required 500-plus acres for parking alone. Hundreds of thousands of audience members braved 20-mile traffic jams and a five-mile hike just to arrive to the festival, which lawmakers threatened to shut down by sending in the National Guard.

Richie Havens at the 1969 Woodstock Festival/ © Henry Diltz

Eventually, the organizers pulled it off. The permit came through only hours before the event officially began, and though a health inspector was called to the scene, because he brought his 15-year-old daughter who promptly disappeared, he went looking for her over the course of three days and never got around to inspecting.

Money is one of Creating Woodstock‘s recurring themes. Since the spirit was one of positive energy and goodwill, the festival went from being a ticketed festival to a free event. Even so, the film reveals that the Who wouldn’t play onstage until they got paid in cash, and at $35,000, Jimi Hendrix was the highest paid act, though he had trouble getting in. The rain fell and the stage started to slide down the hill, but Hendrix continued playing into the morning after what was supposed to be the end of the festival.

A view from the stage of Woodstock, 1969/ © Henry Diltz

Creating Woodstock doesn’t end there. Interviewees look back on the aftermath as well, including the massive cleanup effort, the dicey finances, the “tremendous smell,” and even a dead body or two.

While it’s very much a behind-the-scenes look at the festival, Creating Woodstock is full of interesting tidbits that make for worthwhile viewing. Plus now, a half century later, Woodstock’s role in American history is even more apparent, and therein lies the real value of the film. As Arlo Guthrie says in the documentary, “It’s a singular event in history.”

The aftermath of the original Woodstock Festival, 1969/ © Henry Diltz

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La Corte Suprema de México ordena al Ministerio de Salud regular marihuana medicinal

Los largos retrasos en las directrices han dejado a los pacientes y productores del país en la oscuridad.

Los jueces de la corte suprema de México están impacientes con la demora de dos años del Ministerio de Salud en la regulación del cannabis medicinal. El miércoles, el tribunal le dijo al ministerio que tiene seis meses para emitir reglas sobre el uso del paciente, emitidas como parte de su fallo en el caso de un niño que busca tratamiento de THC para la epilepsia.

El anuncio se produce casi un año después de que el gobierno del político izquierdista Andrés Manuel López Obrador, también conocido como AMLO, propusiera una legislación para regular tanto las industrias de marihuana medicinal como recreativa, pero ese plan no ha visto mucho movimiento desde su anuncio.

No es la primera vez que el ministerio recibe instrucciones para elaborar los reglamentos para la industria médica. En 2017, cuando el cannabis medicinal se legalizó por primera vez en México, se le dijo al ministerio que tenía medio año para codificar la distribución y el uso de la droga. La demora ha dejado a los pacientes y proveedores de cannabis en gran medida en la oscuridad sobre sus derechos para comprar y vender hierba medicinal, no obstante algunas compañías han comenzado a ofrecer sus productos en el país.

México se ha quedado mucho tiempo en una zona gris con respecto a las políticas hacia la marihuana. Muchos tenían grandes esperanzas de que AMLO legalizara rápidamente el cannabis. Aunque el presidente promocionó la reforma del cannabis como un aspecto de su plan para combatir las tasas de criminalidad que se disparan en el país, los mexicanos han visto pocos movimientos tangibles hacia la regulación.

La mejor esperanza del país para la legalización parece ser el plan que la ministra del Interior de AMLO, Olga Sánchez Cordero, propuso el otoño pasado. El proyecto de ley cruza la línea entre las fuerzas del libre mercado y las preocupaciones de salud pública. Prohibiría la publicidad de marihuana y establecería el Instituto Mexicano de Regulación y Control del Cannabis, una agencia para manejar las licencias, los límites de THC y CBD, y dictaría qué tipos de productos de marihuana podrían estar disponibles para los consumidores.

La legislación propuesta de Sánchez Cordero también permitiría operaciones de cultivo doméstico registradas, con individuos autorizados a cultivar 20 plantas para un rendimiento total de 480 gramos cada año. Incluye subsidios para cooperativas de cannabis, grupos autorizados para proporcionar hasta 480 gramos de marihuana a un total de dos a 150 miembros por año.

El año pasado, la corte suprema del país dictaminó que la prohibición del cannabis viola el derecho del individuo a desarrollar su personalidad. Ese fallo declaró que los legisladores tienen hasta octubre de 2019 para aprobar una legislación que regule la marihuana tanto recreativa como medicinal.

En previsión de ese plazo, el gobierno convocó sesiones de “parlamento abierto” en la Ciudad de México los días 12, 14 y 16 de agosto en las que se invita a los ciudadanos a que intervengan en el proceso, lo que implicará la consideración del plan de Sánchez Cordero y Varias otras propuestas legislativas que se han introducido en los últimos años.

El gobierno también ha publicado un sitio web donde los ciudadanos mexicanos que no pueden asistir a las sesiones puedan dejar su opinión sobre la legalización de la marihuana, que será utilizada por las cuatro comisiones parlamentarias a cargo de la creación de legislación reguladora. El sitio enfatiza los aspectos de los derechos humanos y la salud pública del debate, así como la necesidad de evitar el abuso de drogas.

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