Cannabis Heavy Hitters: ‘Pass That Hors D’oeuvre’

Article and Photography by Sam Burgess

Chef David Yusefzadeh

When attending a soirée that doesn’t advertise the address and adheres to a strict guest list, there is an air of mystery reminiscent of a prohibition-era party. Walking up the stairs of a historic theater into one such event revealed a scene of laughter, snacking, and the celebration of cannabis cultivation. 

Bags of cannabutter-dressed popcorn were available at the door and cocktail waitresses circled the space with a variety of delicious infused small bites. Since cannabis was legalized for adult use in Rhode Island in December, 2022, the future of the herb has never looked brighter. 

The culture surrounding marijuana and food has always been a funky space. Traditionally, amateur cooks play around with cannabutter or you pick up lab-made gummies or chocolates – not a culinary experience. As marijuana edibles gain mainstream popularity, consumers are more particular about what and how they consume – and it’s not just about getting high. 

Back in the kitchen, chef David Yusefzadeh orchestrates all of these delicious hors d’oeuvres. Chef Yusefzadeh, who has worked around the world in fine dining restaurants and hotels, sees marijuana as an enhancer to his cuisine. “This is not a party trick or trend. My team and I do not hide the flavor of the herb but find specific uses for each specific strain,” Chef Yusefzadeh explained.  

Dishes included braised pork shoulder with herb-infused breadcrumbs and creamy polenta, herbaceous chimichurri on grilled shrimp skewers, caramel pot de creme, carrot cake, and much more. The bar served blood orange & rosemary soda with sunset sherbert terpenes, a refreshing beverage to keep the vibes flowing. 

This transition from hardcore chef to cannabis pioneer didn’t happen overnight. For  Yusefzadeh, using marijuana was initially a way to treat Crohn’s Disease, a disease he developed in 2011. “The chemical treatments put my body through hell. The best relief always came from CBD oils and edibles,” he recalls.

“My pivot into infused cuisine is to share my improved health by using the herb. That’s why I’m dedicating this chapter of my career to pushing the boundaries of it as a flavor”

This passion for elevated cuisine led him to start his own culinary group focused on the pungent herb, pushing it to reach its maximum potential. Plant Jam is his catering brand born to celebrate marijuana as a flavor centerpiece, utilizing its rich aroma and diverse flavor profiles for a wide array of infused parties, brunches, and cannabis retreats.

David and the Plant Jammers have developed an original line-up of infused ice cream under the brand Cloud Creamery. “The research and development process is one of my favorite parts of the job – when we analyze the flavor and decide what to pair it with for the best end product,” Chef  Yusefzadeh explains. The Framingham, Massachusetts-based brand uses full-spectrum cannabis to implement aromatic top notes for flavors like Piña Colada, Chocolate Truffle, Caramel Apple Crumble, and more.

For anyone who has experimented with edibles before, dosing is one of the most important aspects to ensure you and your friends don’t get lost in the sauce. Chef  Yusefzadeh stressed this as one of the most crucial points for anyone hoping to get into infused cuisine. “Watch Bong Appetit or read a cannabis cookbook, there are so many good resources out there,” he explains. “Or wait until I release my cookbook, coming soon!”

Stepping out of the kitchen, the walls of the event were packed with industry leaders, dispensaries, and cultivators. The attending cannabis brands showcased their extracts, known by the kiddos as dabs, in a tasting bar setup. This honey-like substance is made by pressing fresh or frozen flower, to extract the oils, terpenes, and psychoactive ingredients in a pure form. The result is a clean puff of terpene-rich flavor with a significantly higher concentration of THC. One taste is all it takes!

For cultivators Livity LLC, based in Pawtucket, cannabis is a family affair, as most of the operators were cousins or immediate family members. What started as a grow operation for worms and compost turned into the perfect fuel for growing incredible cannabis. They turned a dilapidated mill building into one of the fastest-growing marijuana operations in the state.

The event wrapped up with a comedy routine and raffles for the guests. Incorporating more arts, music, and performances into events like these grow the culture and sophistication surrounding cannabis. It might be one of the first of its kind, but definitely not the last. Check out Green Lite Entertainment for more of their events later this year. 

As cannabis connoisseurs become more mainstream, these types of gatherings will move away from the shadows and become more celebratory. The Rhode Island heavy hitters know how to throw a party!

Budding Local Industry Kickoff: Squid’s Ink Special Edition

December 1

Wake and bake it wasn’t.

On RI’s recreational marijuana opening day, scads of reporters swarmed the several buyers who turned up at 7am at the spanking new Mother Earth Wellness Dispensary. With microphones and cameras stuck in their faces, the buyers kept their mouths shut even as they opened their wallets and collected their weed.

That said, everyone grinned on this momentous day. At last, anyone over the age of 21 could finally legally buy cannabis without paying off a doobie doctor or committing a felony by crossing state lines with a gram of indica.

We arrived 10 minutes late, expecting crowds and were thrilled to score the third legal recreational eighth in Pawtucket history. Something to tell our grandkids about? Maybe not. Over the course of the day, we hit three sites and found all of them less crowded than Northeast Alternatives on a random Thursday. Still, it was sweet to cough up the cash and still walk out with enough boo to get comatose.

Pawtucket: 7am

Mother Earth Wellness is swanky and spacious. Dealing from a 130-yearold restored mill building, the showroom blends exposed wood pillars and ceilings with glitz, glamor, and shiny marble countertops courtesy of their neighbor, the Kitchen & Countertop Center of New England.

“This shop, physically, is beyond anything I could have imagined,” said State Senator Josh Miller, who has spent a dozen years leading the legalization effort at the Statehouse. They’re still working out the kinks. Smiling young things behind the counter answered questions, but then had to run to a back corner to collect the orders.

“The approach of cannabis,” said Jon Leighton, the store’s manager “is really about being very in tune with your health. Being very in tune with what you’re looking to get out of life at the end of the day.”

He went on for a while, talking about the “normalcy of wanting to bring a natural thing into your life…”
“It’s not about getting high?” we asked.
“It’s not just about getting high,” Leighton said with a smile.

Over at the olfactory “Flower Bar,” where a discerning customer can enjoy a sniff of more than a dozen varieties, we heard someone say that the Mayor of Pawtucket was in the building! Unfortunately, we didn’t see whether he made a purchase.

Providence: 7:59am

There was a line out the door at the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center, mostly because the door was still locked. Actually, there were only seven people split in two lines – one for medical and one for recreational.

The dude behind us smoked to manage back pain. He could have gotten a medical license, but didn’t like the medical card system. He was thrilled because now he could get his medicine and walk home.

When the doors opened at 8:01, the lines merged. Soon we were making our way to the counter and… ordering on an ipad, which just isn’t fun. If you’re going to do that, you might as well just order online and go to the drive-through, which is a cool idea in itself!

“It’s important for us to prioritize and maintain our patient base and our patient focus,” said spokesperson Chris Reilly. “If you look at our facility, we’ve designated an area specifically for medical patients. They’re prioritized upon entry. We want to make sure that the medicine we’ve provided for nearly 10 years is still available to them.”

The oldest dispensary in the state, Slater, is showing its age with cracked windows and a bit of a funky (not weed) scent. The clients were a bit more jaded, and the staff wouldn’t let us take pictures inside. Nevertheless, they had one of our favorite edibles, The Bomb Bar, which is like a cannabis Twix, on special with five for $10!

Central Falls: 4pm

It was quiet, almost deserted, at Aura of Rhode Island. The smallest of the three sites we visited was most similar to dispensaries we’ve visited in Mass.

“It’s been fairly busy,” said bud tender AJ Lessa. “I think all around, people are just excited to get their hands on a little bit of everything.” The Aura bud tenders were happy, and since there were fewer choices, the weed was ready at hand, making the whole process quicker and more personal.

Unlike Slater and Mother Earth, Aura wasn’t pushing their own product. It was a happy place with some kind bud.

Closing Factoids

One of the best reasons to shop local is that everything sold in RI’s dispensaries is home grown. Yes, there are probably huge businesses pumping money into the system, but at least a big chunk of the revenue and salaries are circulating in-state.

YES, you can get Hapi’s infused Del’s regular or pink lemonade in 6-oz bottles, infused with 10mg THC. Be careful out there!

RI Recreational Cannabis Sales Begin Dec 1: Five retail venues licensed to open

Recreational cannabis sales begin Thu, Dec 1, under a new state statute signed into law on May 25. “Five licensed medical marijuana compassion centers have been approved for hybrid retail licenses, which allow them to sell both medical and adult use marijuana products in retail settings,” the office of RI Gov. Daniel McKee said in a statement Nov 22. The governor’s office confirmed to Motif that as of Nov 30 the venues expected to commence retail sales of recreational cannabis to the public on Dec 1 are:

These venues have been granted “hybrid retail licenses” allowing them to add recreational sales to their existing medical sales. Buyers must be adults at least 21 years old.

“This milestone is the result of a carefully executed process to ensure that our state’s entry into this emerging market was done in a safe, controlled and equitable manner,” McKee said in the statement. “It is also a win for our statewide economy and our strong, locally based cannabis supply chain, which consists of nearly 70 licensed cultivators, processors and manufacturers in addition to our licensed compassion centers. Finally, I thank the leadership of the General Assembly for passing this practical implementation framework in the Rhode Island Cannabis Act and I look forward to continuing our work together on this issue.”

“We were pleased with the quality and comprehensiveness of the applications we received from the state’s compassion centers, and we are proud to launch adult use sales in Rhode Island just six months after the Cannabis Act was signed into law, marking the Northeast’s fastest implementation period,” Matt Santacroce, interim deputy director of the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation (DBR), said in the statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with the state’s cannabis business community to ensure this critical economic sector scales in compliance with the rules and regulations put forward by state regulators.”

Part of DBR, the Office of Cannabis Regulation issues four classes of cannabis licenses to retail sellers such a dispensaries, to cultivators, to handlers of industrial hemp, and to sellers of non-psychogenic cannabidiol (CBD) products.

Taking Back American Hemp: The Indigenous farmers leading “The New Green Revolution”

“I didn’t get into this for money. I got into this for love.” It was the end of a long and rainy primary day here in Rhode Island, and renowned environmental advocate and indigenous organizer Winona Laduke was the first speaker to be featured at URI’s Honors Colloquium. The theme for this fall is ‘Just Good Food,’ and Laduke’s ardent callbacks to a time “when America [truly] was great” (think clean water, millions of buffalo, and biodiverse food systems – not old men in red hats) felt like a fitting way to start the long-running lecture series. Given the topic, I was pleasantly surprised when the projector screen advanced to a photo of Laduke standing tall amongst an even taller sea of green – the hemp fields she has been cultivating on tribal land in northern Minnesota stretching above her head and beyond the frame of the photo. 

For indigenous farmers welcoming cannabis seeds back into American soil, hemp may be one of the missing links in a “pre- and post-petroleum” agricultural model — one that could empower tribal nations to seek social, economic, and environmental justice through the unique opportunities of a versatile crop like hemp. Or as Laduke calls it, “a magical plant for the future.” Hemp is widely known to be a forgotten hero of the past, as well. I can recall hearing that at some point in modern American history, farmers were actually required to grow a quarter acre each of hemp and flax, but I did not learn until now that the word “canvas” is actually derived from the word “cannabis” — that’s how commonly used the fiber was in the past. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 legally separated hemp from marijuana as a crop, and hemp production was encouraged by the government during the 1940s as part of agricultural efforts during World War II. However, under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, hemp was officially classified and criminalized alongside heroin and marijuana as a dangerous, addictive drug. If only we had continued to embrace hemp as the amazing renewable resource it is, instead of rejecting it as a narcotic that would be inaccessible to farmers for decades… According to Laduke, “We had a choice between a carbohydrate economy and a hydrocarbon economy, and we made the wrong choice.” She believes that everything we have done with oil, could have been done with hemp — a regenerative crop that can remediate soils and sequester carbon faster than any other field crop.

Winona has partnered with the Anishinaabe Agriculture Institute in Minnesota to cultivate and test fiber hemp varieties for textile processing on tribal land, as well as provide community programming and hemp seed stock to other tribes with an interest in the crop. The vision of their Tribal Hemp Initiative is clear – “We need a New Green Revolution, which deconstructs industrial agriculture and rebuilds soil and community. At the center of that revolution in this region is industrial hemp, which can transform the materials economy…we are working to restore food ways, rematriate seeds, and make a new economy; one based on local food, energy and fiber.” By the end of her talk, the significance of Winona’s Hemp as a key component of her talk on “Restoring Indigenous Foodways in a Time of Climate Change” became abundantly clear.

Growing hemp can also be an act of defiance. At least it must have felt that way for Alex White Plume, a tribal leader who has been growing hemp on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota since the nineties, long before it was considered legal or lucrative. Despite an ordinance passed by the Oglala Lakota in 1998 legalizing the cultivation of hemp on Pine Ridge, White Plume’s hemp fields were raided multiple times by the DEA between 2000 and 2002 (sound familiar?!), and he was finally ordered to stop growing in 2004. It would be another 12 years before the federal ban on hemp was lifted and Alex could pick up where he left off. Alex’s experience is “illustrative of the way indigenous people have been stymied in their attempt to use hemp as an economic driver for themselves and their communities.” (northeastern.edu) After the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized hemp production in the United States, states and tribal nations were encouraged to submit individualized hemp programs, as long as minimum requirements set by the USDA were met in each plan. 

These days, with the USDA finally back on the hemp train, over two dozen tribes have now had their hemp plans approved, but there are still plenty of barriers that can present challenges for indigenous farmers entering the hemp space. In order to strengthen the economic multiplier effect of the hemp industry for tribal nations, there will need to be an integrated network of producers, manufacturers, and ancillary businesses working together to create a diverse and competitive industry. That’s why Chickasaw Nation member Aaron Fournier started Native American Hemp, an Oklahoma-based company that offers support services to assist tribes across the country in navigating the various points of entry into the hemp industry. Similarly, other organizations like the Native American Cannabis Alliance, and the Indigenous Production Trade Alliance, work to build community and industry support among tribal nations. 

*URI Honors Colloquium lecture series takes place on Tuesday evenings at 7pm, through Dec 13 – located at Edwards Auditorium in Kingston and streaming online

Opinion – Cannabis Bans on 31 of 39 Local RI Ballots: Revenue implications could be substantial

See how this turned out.

Prohibiting licensing of cannabis-related businesses directly defies the underlying principle of the new Cannabis Act that legalized adult recreational use, which is to regulate it like alcohol. Allowing local bans of cannabis-related business was a necessary political compromise to get the legislation passed after well over a decade of stalling and obstruction.

As Sen. Joshua Miller (D-28), the prime sponsor of the Cannabis Act in the RI State Senate, told Motif  in 2020*, “The idea with us not putting limits on it is that we do have free enterprise, and the market will at some point limit it. Let the market limit it rather than the state regulating the limits. As an example, I think there are 1,500 liquor stores in the state by the amount of licenses available. At any given moment, there’s probably a few hundred of those dormant and the market expands into those or shrinks based on the retail marketplace, and alcohol is an example of something that was considered at one point something that should be prohibited and is now virtually regulated not by the state but by free enterprise.” As with the failed national experiment of alcohol prohibition in the 1920s, bans are likely to provide incentives and encouragement for a black market, foregoing benefits of quality control and tax revenue.

“Municipalities not already hosting medical compassion centers may by referendum opt out of allowing sales. Municipalities currently hosting licensed cultivators or testing laboratories may opt out for the future, but existing facilities will be grandfathered in. A procedure is provided that allows communities to revisit their decision to opt out in later years, should they choose to do so. Municipalities may by local ordinance ban use of cannabis in public places.”**

Because the new act only allows municipalities to opt out if they have not already licensed cannabis-related businesses in the past, larger and urban communities will not see a referendum question like this: “Shall new cannabis-related licenses for businesses involved in the cultivation, manufacture, laboratory testing and for the retail sale of adult recreational-use cannabis be issued…?” Such a question is on the local ballot in 31 of the 39 municipalities in RI:

Barrington, Bristol, Burrillville, Charlestown, Coventry, Cumberland, East Greenwich, East Providence, Glocester, Hopkinton, Jamestown, Johnston, Lincoln, Little Compton, Middletown, Narragansett, Newport, New Shoreham, North Kingstown, North Providence, North Smithfield, Richmond, Scituate, Smithfield, South Kingstown, Tiverton, Warren, Westerly, West Greenwich, West Warwick, and Woonsocket.

(The eight cities and towns not voting on bans are Central Falls, Cranston, Exeter, Foster, Pawtucket, Portsmouth, Providence, and Warwick.)

While local bans are being considered primarily in less-populated areas, these would cover a large amount of real estate, possibly making it difficult for their residents to lawfully access retail cannabis products without traveling halfway across the state. Of course voters may shoot down a lot of these bans: It is difficult to imagine that such cities as Johnston, Newport, North Providence, and Woonsocket, which are certainly not rural at all, would really expect that a local ban could succeed, and it would be downright strange for South Kingstown, the home of the state flagship University of Rhode Island, to think that banning retail sales would be a step forward.

Aside from surrendering tax revenue for cannabis-related businesses, proponents of bans would be shifting whatever problems might be associated with such businesses to neighboring municipalities or even to neighboring states. It is obvious that forcing alcohol purchasers to drive for a half-hour each way to reach the nearest liquor store would have undesirable consequences. Why such NIMBYism (“not in my back yard”) is acceptable with cannabis but not alcohol is mystifying.

How the election results shake out will determine the consequences, and there are a number of different possibilities that could emerge. If only a few rural areas adopt bans, they will turn themselves into isolated islands among a sea of retail commerce that passes them by, and the practical effects will be minimal. If a large fraction of the proposed bans are adopted, especially in populous urban communities such as Newport and Woonsocket, then much of the benefits of the Cannabis Act will be lost to the existing black market that will not be brought under a regulatory and tax structure, and widespread defiance of the law will simply continue as it has for decades. If the middle ground occurs and there are many bans enacted but not too many, then the state will have a patchwork of permissive and restrictive areas scattered essentially at random, and customers will take their patronage to nearby retailers who pay taxes to neighboring jurisdictions.

Where local bans pass, as the black market and loss of revenue become apparent, there will be pressures to reconsider the bans through referenda at nearly every election in the future, until almost every such ban is repealed. In the meantime, the last vestiges of prohibition will keep struggling, zombie-like, against their inevitable demise.

UPDATE Nov 9, 2022: Of the 31 municipalities considering bans, 25 voted to allow and six voted to deny licensing of new cannabis-related businesses (“RI Election 2022 — Magaziner, McKee, cannabis sales win big: Democrats sweep all state general offices”, by Michael Bilow, Nov 8, 2022).

*(“News Analysis: Cannabis Proposal Focuses on Medical as Lead-In to Recreational“, by Michael Bilow, Apr 1, 2020)

**(“Pot in Every Pot: RI Legalizes Recreational Cannabis”, by Michael Bilow, May 25, 2022).

Changes, Challenges, and Opportunities: Cannabis business summit on legal cannabis industry in RI

As I clipped on my name tag and walked into the Cannabis Business Summit on a recent crisp September morning, every table seemed to be filled to capacity with business professionals, hot coffees in hand and pockest full of business cards at the ready. Alongside the networking opportunity, those in attendance were surely hoping to get the latest scoop on the state of legal cannabis in RI, and what that might mean for their professional lives.

One panel focused on the emerging adult-use cannabis industry in RI, featuring local legal and financial experts in the space, as well as familiar faces like Senator Josh Miller, one of the foremost legislative champions of cannabis policy at the State House. Among the issues facing cannabis businesses in RI, it seems that complications related to banking, zoning, and business insurance remain the foremost concerns for cannabis entrepreneurs. Beyond raising capital, Miller said, “security was the biggest priority” for the stakeholders he met with, including the many “private security” services offered by retired law enforcement professionals looking to make a second career out of creating and managing security protocols for legal cannabis facilities. 

All irony aside, there are very detailed regulations for security when it comes to medical marijuana facilities in RI, according to Matthew Santacroce of the Department of Business Regulation, and those requirements will remain the starting point for the adult-use industry, due to the hybrid licensing approach that will allow existing medical dispensaries to be the first to serve both the medical and adult-use markets. 

While strict regulations can certainly be costly for business owners, it doesn’t help that the RI cannabis market has been shrinking, at least according to those who spoke on the second panel, addressing challenges and opportunities in the nascent industry. Spencer Blier, CEO and Co-Founder of Mammoth, Inc. echoed the frustrations of many cultivators in the state, who have watched helplessly as wholesale flower prices in our state have fallen to less than half of those in neighboring Massachusetts, where more retailers and fewer cultivators create a market dynamic that is much different than in RI. According to Blier, advertising restrictions as well as packaging and labeling requirements can make it difficult for a small business to develop brand recognition in traditional ways, and social media marketing has been critical for companies like Mammoth, even in smaller markets such as RI.

Cannabis is really “an agricultural industry at heart,” according to Dr. Jonathan Martin of Pure Vita labs, who compared  it to that of traditional wine production — so building a strong brand identity is even more important for small businesses that hope to stand out among corporate competition and out-of-state operators. Senator Miller shared a similar sentiment during his panel, advising that “[to] preserve the personality and vitality of the industry… smaller is better.” The future cannabis commissioners “will have a lot of work to do,” he said, “[in order to] avoid takeover from big finance.”

While “a well-funded group could easily control the entire market,” Santacroce admits, the new adult-use industry also presents an “opportunity to bring a diverse and competitive market array” to the table, and he, too, will be looking to the Cannabis Commission to create a solid framework for licensing — one that deals with any loopholes that favor corporate competitors, as well as designates new and innovative license types that will help create a diverse and competitive industry in our state. 

While I always welcome increased and ongoing public discourse around these issues, as I looked around the event I couldn’t help but wonder what (or whom) it was all for. Perhaps it was a combination of the $65 ticket price (hot continental breakfast included, don’t worry), the overwhelming lack of demographic diversity in both the panelists and audience alike, and the noticeable absence of any substantial dialogue around cannabis equity issues, but the event felt like more of the same old tropes when it comes to business, the cannabis industry, and RI in general – it is more about money, connections, and “who you know” than anything else. As it happens, the Business of Cannabis Summit was actually reflecting the present and future of the RI cannabis industry – if we don’t commit to doing better, that is. 

Ed note: There is also a Cannabis Entrepreneurial Workshop by the Cannabis Career Institute coming up, either Sat, Oct 8 or Sun, Oct 9 for $299 for a full day of tips, strategies and tactics. cannabiscareeninstitute.com

The Wonderful Women of Weed: Locals defy gender trends

While national figures show that the number of women in leadership positions within the cannabis industry is on the decline as the industry expands, some locals have defied this trend, becoming trailblazers in the Ocean State’s newest (legal) industry. Here are the stories of just a few of the wonderful women of weed in Rhode Island:

Emily Cotter, Lovewell Farms

A lifelong Rhode Islander, Emily got her start in the cannabis space as President of the University of Rhode Island’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a youth-led network dedicated to ending the War on Drugs. During her time at URI, she was involved in the campaign to decriminalize cannabis in Rhode Island, and also helped organize Hempfest, a yearly musical festival on the University Quad that helped raise awareness about the damages caused by marijuana prohibition. 

Since leaving college, Emily has stayed heavily involved in the RI cannabis space. In addition to her work with Yes We Cannabis RI – where she helped encourage the legislature to pass cannabis legalization and automatic expungement of cannabis-related offenses – Emily is also Co-Founder and COO of Lovewell Farms, a hemp farm and wellness company based in Hope Valley that uses sustainably grown CBD to make high-quality products. Despite the intense competition in the CBD space, Lovewell’s use of locally grown cannabis and commitment to using only the best ingredients has allowed the company to gain a dedicated customer base. [ed note – Cotter is also a regular contributor to Motif]

Tanya Luongo, Cannalytics RI

As a strong believer in the benefits of medical cannabis and as someone who previously spent 15 years as the director of an environmental lab, Tanya Luongo was the perfect person to help start a cannabis testing laboratory in Rhode Island. Unhappy with the quality of the cannabis testing lab she previously worked at, Tanya and co-founder Mike Pytell fled to start Cannalytics RI in 2021.

As one of the three licensed cannabis labs in the state, Cannalytics RI helps ensure that medical cannabis used by patients is free of contamination and properly marked for potency. 

Rhode Island only implemented mandatory third-party testing for medical cannabis in 2021, so Cannalytics RI has been a key player in helping the state’s testing scene get caught up with cannabis markets in other states, including the implementation of low-level beverage extraction procedures and analysis methods that had not been previously available at other labs in the state. 

Despite the fact that the company was founded only a year ago, Cannalytics RI has already become an important player in improving the quality of RI’s cannabis industry. 

Jessica Gorman, Seawitch Medicinals

In the early days of the medical cannabis program in RI, Jessica Gorman and her friends were constantly lamenting the lack of available products on dispensary shelves. Determined to rectify this situation herself, she founded SeaWitch Medicinals in 2014. The company has since grown into one of the leading providers of cannabis infused products in the state.

The Newport-based company makes a variety of tinctures, topicals, teas, and other non-smokable cannabis products in small batches, using only the finest ingredients. SeaWitch has even gotten into the cannabis beverage game, releasing a line of infused tonics that come in tantalizing flavors such as white grape and spiced apple. 

Medical patients can currently find SeaWitch products at Greenleaf, Summit and Sweetspot Dispensaries.

Adina & Sasha Birnbaum, Talaria

Talaria is a Providence-based cannabis cultivator that specializes in growing small-batch, craft flower, and is one of the few women-owned licensed cultivators in Rhode Island. After spending some time in the Pennsylvania cannabis industry, Adina Birnbaum moved to Rhode Island and started Talaria with the help of Brent VanZile, a local cannabis grower and consultant. The business is truly a family affair: Adina’s daughter Sasha also works for Talaria. 

When asked if she had any advice for women looking to get into the cannabis industry, Adina told me, “GO FOR IT!  Women are needed in this industry and there are very few of us in Rhode Island. The percentage of women cannabis consumers is growing significantly, but the number of women in C-level positions in cannabis is falling. In Rhode Island Talaria is one of the only women-owned cultivation businesses. We make up less than five percent of the industry here.”

Talaria flower is available at all four of the medical dispensaries that are currently open in the state, and Adina is excited for the opportunity to sell their products to recreational consumers once sales begin in the state.

Hemp, The Real Fabric of Our Lives: Why hemp fabric makes cotton look so last season

You guessed it – we’re back with another reason to love the cannabis plant, and this time it’s for one of the seemingly infinite useful applications of industrial hemp: spinning high quality fabrics out of the strong, sustainable fibers naturally produced by the plant. Read on to learn why this fast-growing (literally!) fabric may be here to stay, how it disappeared in the first place, and why hemp is better than cotton in almost every way.

Environmental Impact

As agricultural crops go, industrial hemp has many benefits and few downsides. Relatively fast-growing and high-yielding, hemp practically defines “renewable resource” in most climates, producing 5-10 tons of cellulose fiber pulp per acre in four months – more fiber per acre than trees! 

The fast rate of growth creates a dense canopy that helps shade out weed competition, and the same compounds that make cannabis a powerful plant medicine also make it relatively resistant to pests and diseases, as compared to other field crops. Its long root system allows it to thrive on less water, all while helping to improve soil structure, retain topsoil and even remove pollutants from deep within the soil. These characteristics, along with the plant’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide (also at a greater rate than trees) will become increasingly important as we confront the reality of our changing climate. In fact, hemp is one of the only carbon-negative crops, meaning that it sequesters more carbon than it generates per growing cycle. If that weren’t enough, it’s also an extremely versatile crop, with a high diversity of usable material yield with each harvest. The “hurds,” or tough inner parts of the hemp stem, can be used to make a variety of biocomposites and building materials — in fact, hemp “plastics” are already widely utilized in the automotive industry, as its high tensile strength and scratch resistance make it an ideal material for auto body paneling and interiors.

You have to admit that hemp is outstanding in its field (pun most definitely intended), but what about cotton – the so-called “fabric of our lives”? In terms of environmental impact, there is no comparison — cotton production requires a longer growing season, twice the land, and four times the water as the same amount of hemp. In fact, manufacturing one cotton shirt uses 2,700 liters of water, which is equivalent to the amount an average human drinks in two-and-a-half years! Furthermore, cotton’s susceptibility to pests and diseases creates another ecological problem – in the United States alone, cotton crops occupy 1% of farmland, but account for 50% of all pesticide use (per the Stockholm Environment Institute). With most of our country currently either on literal fire or experiencing excessive heat and drought, it’s pretty clear that we need to actively protect the clean water we have left, as well as reducing water use overall. If hemp production is superior to cotton in all of these ways, why is hemp fabric still so rare in the fashion industry? And why are we still so comfortable wearing cotton? Comfort is certainly one reason, but turns out there are a few factors at play when it comes to the battle of the fine fabrics.

Woven into History 

Since the first hemp stems were processed by humans more than 10,000 years ago, the resulting high quality fiber has been used for food, rope, oil, paper, and various textiles for domestic and industrial use. Hemp was spun into cloth around 8,000 BC, and until the 1920’s (when the prohibition of cannabis began), 80% of clothing was made from hemp textiles (hempfoundation.net). Since then, there has been a significant decline in both production and demand for hemp-based fabrics and other products, at least in the United States. The majority of industrial hemp grown and sold today is from Europe, China, and Russia, although the 2018 federal legalization of hemp in the United States should help bolster our domestic hemp fiber market. 

Cotton also has “deep roots” in the United States. The so-called “Cotton Belt” – a line of southern states stretching coast to coast – still produces 16 million bales a year, second only to China, and generating the greatest revenue of any United States crop. As the transatlantic slave trade and its associated industries spread their ugly tentacles across the nation, RI’s textile mills became instrumental to the flourishing cotton economy. Over 167 textile mills were producing goods from cotton by 1815, and the quaint villages and townships that popped up around them are still admired today (worldhistory.us).

Fiber Quality Over Quantity

Due to the natural length of the fibers (up to 5 ft!) hemp fabric boasts three times the tensile strength of cotton, meaning it won’t stretch or lose shape — in fact, hemp fabric gets better over time! Its longer lifespan (20-30 years as compared to 10 years for cotton cloth) allows hemp clothing to be worn for far longer before it is recycled — a far cry from the “fast fashion” fabrics that can become literal trash after just a few wears. In addition, hemp fabric is naturally UV and microbe resistant (thanks again to the antimicrobial nature of the terpenes and cannabinoids in the plant) making it ideal for those with sensitive skin or allergies. It’s also lightweight (weighing one third less than cotton or wool, which makes it more sustainable to transport as well) and breathable, due to the natural thermoregulating properties of the fiber network of hemp. Because hemp can absorb up to 20% of its own weight in water while still feeling dry to the touch, the fabric retains less moisture and less odor-causing bacteria, meaning more wears between washes. Lastly, because it is not made from petrochemicals, hemp fabric is biodegradable and will not shed microplastics like other modern fabrics.

The long history and economics of cotton are not the only reasons it remains so popular today. Cotton fabric is known to be soft, comfortable, easy to dye, and relatively resistant to wrinkling. Processing hemp fiber into fabric does not yield the whiteness and softness of cotton fibers, so it tends to wrinkle a bit more easily, and colors may be slightly less vibrant. These perceived disadvantages, alongside decades of anti-cannabis stigma and the limited availability of the fabric, have resulted in lower demand from consumers for hemp fabric, at least in the United States. Couple that low demand with a limited supply chain due to the prohibition of marijuana, and it’s no wonder the hemp fabric market is so behind the times. 

On the other hand, our well-established cotton infrastructure allows a large amount of domestic production of cotton fabric, which keeps the price low, and that doesn’t even begin to account for the economic impact of hundreds of years of “free” agricultural labor by enslaved peoples. Despite being less expensive and resource-intensive to farm, the cost of hemp fiber is still twice that of cotton, and American consumers are often hesitant to pay a higher price point, even if the quality is superior.

The good news is that as demand for hemp fabric (and our ability to produce more of it) increases, the price will inevitably come down for consumers. The legalization of industrial hemp in 2018, coupled with increasing awareness and social pressure, has resulted in more brands than ever before offering hemp-based fabrics and fashions. Fortunately, the versatility of hemp fiber also means that it is easily blended with other fabrics like cotton and silk, so consumers hoping to reduce their fashion footprint can actually have the best of both worlds. Plus, because hemp fabric is basically a stronger version of linen (a similarly sustainable fabric made from flax fiber), so if you don’t mind dropping a little extra dough on higher quality fabrics to stay cool, comfortable, and climate-friendly this summer, consider choosing hemp fabric for your family, and make the comparison yourself!

A Slice of Cannabis History: The prohibition of outdoor cannabis

The very first cannabis arrests in RI were of three Black men in 1934. Two weeks after these arrests, the State Narcotic Board began its nearly two-year crusade against the outdoor growth of the plant, eventually resulting in the prohibition of outdoor cannabis throughout RI. 

In the weeks immediately following this incident, the Providence Journal reported that the arrests had done nothing to prevent the continued sale and consumption of cannabis in the state. In fact, even though the previous field of cannabis had been destroyed at Field’s Point, two weeks later another field was quickly discovered. They wrote; “Since the arrest two weeks ago of four Negroes said to have been gathering and selling dried leaves of a large growth of the weed over several acres of city-owned land at Field’s Point, the State Board is understood to have received complaints that traffic in the drug was still being carried on in other places.” 

In direct response to the discovery of at least five more cannabis fields on public land and continued “traffic in the drug,” the State Narcotic Board proposed a state law that required landowners, lessees and tenants to report and destroy any cannabis plants found growing on their properties. Board Secretary Dr. Frederick Cole was quoted in the Providence Journal saying that “the arrest last November of four men and the destruction of the Allen’s avenue growth of the weed scarcely more than ‘dented’ the traffic in hashish in RI.” Thus, according to Cole, further action needed to be taken to prevent the traffic of “hashish, the narcotic drug which can wreck a human being as thoroughly as the European corn borer ruins crops.” Cole “asked for united action by social service and welfare organizations to put an end to the traffic in the weed, which he described as ‘the greatest danger that has threatened our youth in recent years.’”

 The Providence Journal made sure to remind its readers of the origin of this threat; “The general nature of hashish came forcibly to public notice last November when a Negro floater, taking temporary shelter at a Federal transient bureau, went for a walk along Allen’s avenue.” For the State Narcotic Board, this man was the only logical conclusion for the origin of the fields of cannabis throughout the state, which, according to their own research, was one of the only locations on the East Coast where it could grow naturally outdoors. 

As the gears of making statewide policy slowly turned, more RI residents took the opportunity to write to the Providence Journal to express their opinions on the proposed law. In a clever article titled “Every Man a Botanist,” an unnamed author expresses concern that landowners throughout the state have no legitimate ability to accurately identify the plant on their property, and that a more reasonable alternative would be to employ experts and to proceed in a “businesslike way.” The author then recognizes that this option would be both costly and time-consuming, and that “the evidence of [its] necessity,” in the first place, “is insufficient.”

The author proceeds, in true tongue-in-cheek fashion of the era, to voice their ultimate concerns with the proposed bill; “We have a feeling that there are many other things better worth doing, such as stamping out boot-legging, crime in general, the corn borer, bovine tuberculosis, Bang’s disease, the elm-leaf beetle, illiteracy, expectorating on sidewalks and automobile accidents. These are crusades begun but not ended. To start another will but diffuse our energies, which in all truth seem unequal to the responsibilities already accepted.”

Perhaps this feedback halted the policymakers in the moment, because no law was introduced or passed that year. However, a year later, a bill was introduced, “That ‘hashish,’ a habit-forming drug, be included in the State narcotic laws.” The Providence Journal noted that it was because of “an oversight” that “it was omitted from the model law enacted last year.” 

In the end, about a year and a half after the first cannabis arrests for possession in RI, the state passed H747, which placed “hashish” in the list of narcotics banned in the state, and thus required all landowners to eradicate any growths on their property. Cannabis was not legal to grow outdoors again until 2016, when the state passed the Hemp Growth Act, and then created its industrial hemp program, which began in 2019.

Slay Slater Slay: A review of Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center 

The day I finally received my medical marijuana card was one I’ll truly never forget. I remember brimming with excitement as my license was being scanned, with my GPS already set to the only dispensary I knew of at the time, the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center. I remember the feeling of wonder and disbelief as I entered the building, with the sweet smell of flower perfuming around me as I handed over my still warm card to be checked in. I remember the staff, clearly recognizing how bewildered I was, guiding me through the process and answering any questions I had.

Years later, and many more dispensaries visited, I find myself constantly returning to Slater Center. Located right off 95 in PVD, it’s easily the most accessible in the state, with plenty of parking. After checking in at the front, you move on in and take a number. The space has ample room to wait as well as plenty of seating for those that can’t stand for too long. Once your number is called you make your way to the counter where a Patient Advisor is there to talk you through their lengthy menu which is displayed on a tablet for you to peruse. There’s also a display case for all the visual learners out there.

Now if you’re in more of a rush, or just don’t feel like talking to people, Slater offers a streamlined online ordering system where you can pick up in-store or through curbside. When the pandemic first hit in 2020, I was astounded at how quickly they converted to this system, making purchasing safer and more convenient for customers. I may be biased, but I’m pretty sure they were quicker and better at this than most other businesses in general.

When it comes to selection, few can beat the variety of products at Slater. Whether you’re looking for your standard flower and pre-rolls or something more out of the ordinary like their micro-dose inhaler, there’s certainly plenty to choose from. The best part is that many of their products are made in-house with a focus on quality and accessibility. Whether you’re a long-time stoner or a bit of a cannabis newbie, the Patient Advisors will always help guide you towards the best purchase.

Speaking of those Patient Advisors, one thing I have to note is that the staff are always super friendly, and everyone seems to be having a good time. As someone who’s worked in a lot of different fields over the years, if the staff is having a good time, chances are the customers will be joining them soon. I can’t stress enough how friendly and accommodating each staff member is.

Now let’s talk about some product. One thing I’ll mention are their infused sauces (Hot Sauce, BBQ, and Olive Oil). Each one is respectively delicious and adds just the right amount of kick to any dish. I also have to give a special shout out to their wide range of house-made Canna-Brews. They have a variety of flavors (my personal favorite being the grape) and are perfect on their own or with a splash of seltzer.

When it comes to flower, one thing I appreciate is the wide range of both prices and potency. As many of us are learning, THC percentage is not the end-all/be-all for deciding how high you’re going to feel, and the staff there are always happy to point you in the right direction. I personally enjoy a sweet, vanilla flavor with my herb, so the Do-Si-Dos was perfect for me and definitely had me hankering for some actual cookies.

I could write forever about all of the stuff I like at Slater Center, but one important factor I’ll emphasize is how they’ve made their products accessible to their patients. Not only do they design specialized products for patients with specific ailments (especially pediatric patients), but they offer special discounts (called compassions) to patients suffering financial hardships, helping them get the medicine they need.

With recreational cannabis now legalized in RI, dispensaries are looking at a much larger market than ever before. I think Slater Center is up to the task with its sheer size and proven record of making customers a top priority. I believe this methodology and their convenient location are the ultimate set up for success.