Featured : Joe Dolce
Former Magazine Editor and Author of “Brave New Weed.”
The best adventures usually start with a simple question – just ask Joe Dolce. He was sitting at lunch with a friend one day when cannabis entered their discussion. After puzzling over his friend’s genuine interest in the industry, he decided to launch his own investigation – and thus began the fascinating tale that is “Brave New Weed.”
We found this book under the Christmas tree last year as a gift from the mother of one of our Cannabis Magazine editors. Halfway through reading the book she insisted that we reach out to Joe for an interview, and we are so grateful that he obliged.
After experiencing Joe’s energy in person it IS evident why reading Brave New Weed feels like a journey through the cannabis industry led by your lifelong best friend. Joe does an amazing job of guiding readers through the world of cannabis. As you flip through the pages, you’ll be introduced to the fascinating history of the cannabis plant, meet some of the major players in the cannabis industry, and learn about some amazing scientific discoveries. It is a refreshing look at the impact cannabis has on our society – and I highly recommend it!
I got the chance to catch up with Joe and talk about his journey through the depths of the cannabis industry. Here’s what he had to say…
CM: Joe, thank you for doing this. I really appreciate it. I started reading your book, Brave New Weed: Adventures into the Uncharted World of Cannabis right before I found out about this interview actually. I’m really just into the first quarter of it, but I love it and have been told exceptional things about it so I really appreciate having you on today. Thank you.
Joe Dolce: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
CM: Before we get into the book itself, I’d like to talk about the details that led up to your adventure. I’ve found that the journey itself is usually the best part right?
There was a part in the beginning of the book where you were talking about how you were with your cousin in 2012. Do you remember that part?
Joe Dolce: I remember rather well. Yes.
CM: I remember reading about you being at his house. He’s telling you about his hobby. He started showing you what’s going on with the first plant that he’s doing. What were your thoughts when that happened? Did you have an epiphany moment where the wheels just started turning and something was going on, or were you still just starting to understand the new industry?
Joe Dolce: Well, I hadn’t really been involved in cannabis for about 15 years. I had smoked a lot when I was younger – a lot – but by the time I hit a certain age I just stopped. It had gotten too strong and it was making me paranoid and it just wasn’t fun anymore.
By the time he showed it to me people were just starting to bubble again. You’ve got to remember, we live on the East Coast here, so we’re not nearly as progressive as the West Coast.
He showed me the stuff and then he gave me a sample and it was great. It was exciting and energizing. My mind was ticking away forward and laterally, and I still am full of thoughts and full of energy. I thought, “Wow, maybe I better get a little more acquainted with this thing.” That’s sort of how it began. It was that accidental, really.
CM: Up until that point you were still a magazine editor or had you already started making that change?
Joe Dolce: I had stopped magazine editing and I was a little lost, actually. I was having one of these midlife moments where, “Okay, now what am I going to do?” Because this is what I had been doing my whole life and I had hit a wall with it.
I was bored by the process and sort of felt the world had moved on beyond magazines and I wasn’t part of it anymore. You move from being the center of the universe to sort of the periphery and I didn’t know what to do, really.
Anyway, I was at that point and I was having lunch with my lawyer one day and he said, “What are you doing?”
I said, “I don’t know, I’m a little lost but I have been smoking weed again.”
He said, “Damn, Joe, I’ve been smoking weed for 50 years. It’s really interesting what’s going on in that world.”
I said, “Come on, it’s pot. It’s ubiquitous. It’s always been around. What’s interesting?”
He said, “No, you got to go find out. I’m telling you, it’s really, really cool.”
CM: So that was essentially the start of your journey?
Joe Dolce: Essentially, yeah. I didn’t really know what he was talking about so I started reading and learning and it just so happened that it was my birthday coming up was November. There was the 25th anniversary of the “High Times” Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam. I had never been to anything like this and I sort of thought, “Maybe that’s a place to start. Maybe he’s right. I’ll go look,” so I went to Amsterdam and I had a terrible experience in Amsterdam actually. I was the only guy with no beard. I was walking around with a pad and taking notes, asking people questions. They thought that I was a narc, basically.
It was a very disorganized event. “High Times”, it was sort of the end of an era in Amsterdam for “High Times” and the energy wasn’t there. The coffee shops were really depressing. The weed was sort of boring really. They’d been working the same strains over and over again and they’re sort of genetically played out. I didn’t know any of that at the time. I was just like, it’s damp. There’s no heat in this hall. The music sucks. There’s no food.
I met a guy at the end of the conference actually, who said to me, “How are you doing here?”
I said, “I’m having a shitty time.”
He said, “Yeah, man the lights are really going out on Amsterdam. You got to come to Denver. I moved to Denver. I was in Amsterdam for 12 years.”
He was an exile of prohibition – American guy. He said, “But I moved back to Denver a couple years ago. Man, it’s blazing. It’s 100 watts. Come there,” so I did.
That introduced me to the world of dabs and oil making and concentrates – and this was just as it was taking off, just as it was about to legalize in Colorado.
CM: Did you end up visiting him in Denver?
Joe Dolce: Yeah. My source is a great guy. His name is Adam Dunn and he runs a hemp clothing company and he’s very much the forefront of cannabis – and has been for many years. He’s a grower, he’s an entrepreneur. He’s a very, very bright guy. He took me all around Denver. I went to edible makers and factories and manufacturers and they all suffer from one problem which is a lack of oil.
I figured, you know what, maybe we’re at the beginning of a boom. Maybe these guys hanging out here who are growing pot and making concentrates, maybe they’re like the Steven Jobs and the Steve Wozniak of the cannabis era. Maybe I’ve sort of stumbled into something and I think I did actually. It was the right time.
CM: You really did and it still is an infant industry. This product started out illegal and now that it’s legalized it has to be highly organized. Do you think that the cannabis industry has struggled to create it’s regulations more so than other industries?
Joe Dolce: Yes and no. What was interesting in Denver at the time was that people were really trying to work things out. There were community meetings where people would come together, lawyers and policy makers and growers and everybody and advocates and opponents and they were trying to figure out, for example, how do we DUI with cannabis?
How are we going to figure this out? It’s in the bloodstream for 30 days. That makes it a challenge. Can the cop just pull you over and arrest you if you have it in your bloodstream? How do they even verify that? It was quite interesting to hear this sort of almost democracy in action happening, really. Everybody trying to figure out how do we make this work and I think it’s true.
Colorado – the guys that wrote those laws – they really are snap crack lawyers and they did an amazing job on the Colorado laws, but when you get to California where it’s been a gray area for 20 years it’s really funky. There’s no regulation in California which is why I think a lot of people were opposed to the proposition that just passed there.
It’s like suddenly it’s going to get real. It’s going to get serious so different states have different ways. It took Washington a year to get their stuff together. Washington laws were very vague. They’re still trying to figure things out. It’s much slower but it’s all working interestingly enough.
CM: You know, one thing that I have to mention is that I really appreciate how you break things down. With this industry especially, there’s a lot of science involved that is not always easily explained. How did you decide what segments of the industry you wanted to focus on and which industry professionals to connect with?
Joe Dolce: You’re right. My book is a travel log. It’s not a scientific book. There’s a lot of science in it, but it’s a travel log. I used to do travel writing for “Travel and Leisure” and “Departures” and “Gourmet.” That was the sort of thing I did as a journalist. I’m sort of a natural in that way.
What I tried to do is in each different location discuss a different area of the industry. For example, in Amsterdam, I talked a lot about the prohibition and the history. In Denver, I talk about oil making and the beginning of a boom. In Israel, I met with Doctor Mechoulam in his lab, and I went to nursing homes there to see the world’s largest state-supported medical cannabis program in action, see how it works, feel it, experience it, see what the humanity is like in it.
I chose characters I felt were interesting and topics that I was personally interested in like the dispensary is like, “What’s life like in a regulated environment?” That was my question or in Israel, it was like, “What is the chemistry and the biochemistry of cannabis, and why do we have an endocannabinoid system anyway? What’s the greater purpose of this system? What’s it actually doing in the body?
[CM Note: Cannabis led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system. It is one of the most important systems involved in establishing and maintaining human health. Endocannabinoids can be found in the brain, organs, tissues, glands, etc. They function differently depending on what part of the body they happen to be located in, but they all work towards balancing the internal environment of the body.]
CM: It was interesting. I didn’t know the 10,000 year old history when you referenced Kazakhstan in your book. I had no idea that the way in which it spread across the world was so intricate.
Joe Dolce: Yes, it is very interesting. Birds are very useful at propagating plants so they eat it and then they poop it. You basically poop little seeds in your migratory trail and it’s spread. Human beings also helped because they would carry the seeds with them and they went basically into two different directions. They went to the east towards India and Pakistan into the Kush which is why we have a lot of Indica varieties. Or they went the other direction to the west into Africa and Southern Europe where things were hotter and drier and those grew into the tall Sativa varieties.
When the slave trade began they started capturing people in Africa horribly and bringing them to the New World and what did they take with them? They took some seeds with them and they planted them in the new world and that’s how it sort of spread all around the world, interestingly enough.
CM: That is interesting! I think your book helps to fill in the blanks for a lot of people. It shows them that yes, cannabis has always been with us and this is how it got its introduction to our world.
How are industrial professionals responding to “Brave New Weed?”
Joe Dolce: Everybody in the book really likes it. I learned people really like to read about themselves. Even if you ding them a little bit they don’t really care. They’re in the book. They’re happy. I’ve heard great things. I get good feedback from doctors and people in the industry and just users all the time. I’m lucky.
“I’ll tell you, I really sort of felt that prohibitionists have had their way for 85 years, and what have they given us? They’ve given a lot of misinformation – a lot of fiction masquerading as facts.”
Think about it really. If it was supposed to cause so much brain damage, we would have generations of brain addled people, right? Millions of them – for three or four generations. We don’t have that. When I was growing up there was the myth that cannabis made men’s breasts grow – englarged men’s breasts. You know, look at mine.
CM: (laughs) That seems to be a go excuse for anything people want to be perceived as bad but can’t explain.
Joe Dolce: It’s just crazy. All the stuff that it was supposed to do, it hasn’t ever done. I sort of felt they had their stay, they’ve had their laws, they’ve had policy, they’ve had the full force of the government, the DEA, the FDA and it’s all crap.
Let’s give this era to another viewpoint, and I want the viewpoint to be based on science. Let’s look at what we really know about this plant, what we know about the endocannabinoid system, what we know about the healing aspects and the high – let’s really explore that a little more. That’s what I want to do.
CM: You came at it from a very positive standpoint. I like how you explained your previous views on it, and that you did believe the old stigmas, but started realizing that there was a lot of credibility within the industry. You decided to examine the issue versus just making assumptions and I really appreciated that approach.
Joe Dolce: I wanted to come at as – I mean I am an advocate. I state that quite clearly but I really wanted to know the truth. That’s what I really wanted to find out. I had some shitty experiences with pot in the reporting of this book and I detailed them. You’re probably not to that point yet but I’ve had some really unhappy, uncomfortable experiences and most people I know have, and I’m not shying away from any of that, okay?
I had to really find the people that were doing what I thought were good things. That’s what I was looking for. It’s very easy to tell the story of a criminal. It’s not that hard, especially when the laws are so weighted against people. It’s very easy to be a criminal right? Get caught with something in your pocket and you’re a criminal, and if you’re black you have 10 times more chance of being a criminal. We can’t forget the racist overtones of prohibition.
“I wanted to tell the truth as somebody who’s used the plant, who seems to have a few brain cells left.”
My brain seems to be working still. My body really works still. None of the bad things ever happened to me so I wanted to explore that.
CM: Have you noticed a difference between interacting with people in the cannabis industry versus just other industries? Are people more open in the cannabis industry?
Joe Dolce: No
Joe Dolce: Not at all. There’s a lot of closed minded people in the cannabis industry. What’s really interesting though, is if you come out about cannabis or support the use of cannabis suddenly your entire professional circle comes out to you.
I’m a presentation and media trainer by day – that’s what I do for a living. All of my clients were like, “Okay, where have you been for a year?” I tell them, “I’ve been writing a book. It’s called ‘Brave New Weed,’ and it’s about the new world of cannabis,” and I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know if any of them would drop me. But it turned out that most of them, I would say 99% of them, were really interested in the topic whether they used it or not.
Everybody has the story now of, “Oh my god. My grandmother is suffering from pain. We think medical cannabis can help her.” Honestly, they all want to know, “Is it true, is it not true? Or they’ll ask “I used to use it, I don’t use it anymore. What should I tell my teenager?” These are very real issues that happen because there’s been a cover put on the topic really. There’s been a stigma around it. Lots of people still feel uncertain about it but a lot of people want to talk about it.
CM: It’s a hot topic and the people who aren’t in the industry are trying to understand it. And I’m sure the people in the industry have a lot of exploration of their own.
Joe Dolce: That too. Everybody’s trying to understand it. I really like the industry, I have to say, because I have met some of the smartest, most engaged, diverse group of people. People in the business come from all different backgrounds. They come from everything – from technology, to writers, to philosophers, to graphic designers and doctors.
I just had a meeting with two brilliant doctors this morning who read my book and it’s like, “Hey, we want to know more. Can you introduce us to this?”
Doctors are in the dark just as much as anybody. It’s not taught in medical schools [the endocannabinoid system] and a lot of doctors, they want to actually heal their patients and they know that standard opioids or pharmaceuticals aren’t doing the job. They’re just not doing the job.
CM: Are doctors becoming more open to alternative means and alternative medicine?
Joe Dolce: Certainly, no. Not all doctors are becoming more open. That is the truth. As information spreads the word is getting out there. The two doctors I met this morning were both gentlemen in their 60s and 70s. They just got certified in New York to be cannabis physicians and their mission is they started an organization called “Cannabis Doctors of New York”, something like that and their information is to spread awareness, to both patients and doctors.
We live in a very dark state here in New York. We have a medical cannabis program but it’s very sub rosa. The governor, Andrew Cuomo is just – he thinks it’s a gateway drug still. He’s got a lot to learn. The program is really small. It’s tiny. There are only 700 licensed cannabis physicians in the entire state of New York. It’s pathetic. They don’t even sell flower in dispensaries here.
CM: Versus California?
Joe Dolce: It’s sad. It’s so sad like going into a little closet in New York as opposed to going into Bloomingdale’s in California, you know what I mean? One’s joy and one’s sort of dull and dreary as they can make it.
Anyway, so these guys [the doctors], they wanted to work on feeling more. They wanted to work on diseases that regard aging and one of them is looking into brain trauma and concussions. There’s no information in the US about this. I was lucky enough that I met one of the experts in this field in Israel and reported it in my book, so I introduced him.
It’s going to be peer to peer and eventually, there will be a big movement. It was just voted. We have 29 medical cannabis states and nine states voted for medical cannabis. Some of them were red states and some were blue states. It seems to me that right now it’s about the only topic that red and blue America agree on.
CM: Imagine that. That leads to my follow up question. Do you think all 50 states will get there?
Joe Dolce: (laughs) Is Mississippi ever going to get there? I don’t know. Look at these people. Look at Jeff Sessions. He’s from there. His thinking is so primitive. “People who smoke marijuana are bad people” – literally he said that. And this guy is going to be the Attorney General? Is that representative of the state of Mississippi?
I can tell you this much. The farmers in Mississippi really want to be growing cannabis hemp. That they want to do. To deny these people an income stream is really sad.
CM: Yeah, it is. You’d think that every state, one way or another, could find a way to adapt to the industry – even if it was just medical use.
Joe Dolce: It’s a political issue at this point. Of course there’s an economy to be had in every state. They’re growing it in Alaska. If you can grow it in Alaska you can certainly grow it in Mississippi or Arkansas or Texas. Why would you not?
It’s purely political nonsense and very unenlightened politicians from my point of view. Look at what happened in Colorado. In 2015 they predicted the tax revenue was going to be about 100 million, right? Turned out that year they generated 134 million – 30% more.
“30% more in a state that only has 5 million people.”
I think we can see the vast possibilities. Look at California, which just voted right? 40 million people. It’s bigger than every other state in the US that has a recreational program currently.
You look at that and then you think Canada’s supposed to legalize in 2017. You have California, Oregon, Washington, all of Canada, Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts. You’ve basically got this lid around the Northern area of America and 80 to 85 million people suddenly have access to legal cannabis.
How do you even think about stopping it, and then why? The minute you try to put an end to that it’s going to be black market again, you’re going to lose all the tax revenue and people are going to still be smoking good smoke, right?
CM: Right. I think one way or another they’re going to have to conform to it. It not only has medicinal benefits, but also is very profitable and economically sustainable.
Joe Dolce: Alcohol prohibition lasted for a decade. People were still opposed to alcohol when they undid alcohol prohibition in 1933, I think it was. You know, people still thought it was an evil, terrible thing but I think we’ve managed to find our balance with alcohol as a society. And god knows every corner in New York has a bar on it. We figured out how to put it into public use and create public space around it and you know …
CM: People adapted.
Joe Dolce: (Nods) Walk around on a Friday. Basically, every sign outside of a bar says, “Hey, forget the week. Come in and get drunk.” That’s just our norm, right?
CM: Right. And then there are services that develop in order to fix issues that can be caused by irresponsible use of products like that. Think about Uber. Obviously, it’s used for a lot of different things, but one of them is to help keep people safe when they’re intoxicated. It just goes to show how industries like cannabis can benefit other industries as well.
Joe Dolce: In San Francisco, they were trying to create a delivery service that used Uber drivers to deliver the meds when they weren’t on a call. It’s sort of an interesting idea. It didn’t work but it’s an interesting idea, I thought.
CM: Yeah, that is interesting.
Moving away from regulation, in the next three years what parts of the cannabis industry do you think will have the highest focus?
Joe Dolce: I don’t know the answer. I’m not a predictor type of person. It’s not what I do. But, I have met people who are making amazing products, incredible infusions, mixing different terpenes and different spices with the terpenes to make the plant more bioavailable. There’s a product out of Colorado. It’s called Sexy Time. Have you ever heard of Sexy Time?
CM: No, I don’t believe I have.
Joe Dolce: It’s a personal intimacy oil. In other words, it’s a cannabis, THC infused lubricant which is just fantastic. It’s by a company called Apothecanna and it’s infused with jasmine, coconut, argan and of course cannabis. I’ve used this and it’s fascinating. They call it an intimacy oil and it actually has that effect of really increasing feelings of intimacy in sex. That’s a really interesting product.
And then technology of course is going to provide interesting applications. A client of mine is producing a machine that allows patients and doctors to create their own blends of oils and terpenes so they can recreate a strain or recreate the effects of a medicine consistently. You can’t do that today. It’s very hard. Even if you go to buy the same strain, there’s no way of knowing it has the same complex concoction of cannabinoids and terpenes and all the various active ingredients in the plant. It’s like a wine, basically. Cannabis is like wine. It’s dependent on climate. It’s dependent on soil. It’s dependent on altitude, lots of things.
CM: That sounds like a great product for people who don’t want to use cannabis because they’re not sure of what they’re going to get even though they like what it’s done for them overall.
Joe Dolce: I think for medical patients in particular, the consistency issue is a big one that’s going to come up. These clients who’ve come up with this machine – it’s a brilliant idea, you’ve got to admit. That is the result of creative thinking, incredible engineering, fantastic brains and patient people. It’s not easy to create a quality medical device quickly and have it come in at market at a price that people can afford. That’s a big lift. That’s the kind of innovation that I think is interesting.
CM: What are your hopes for how the cannabis industry will impact the future?
Joe Dolce: You know, I don’t know.
Hopefully the future is fewer prison guards and fewer private prisons filled with patients and people who are caught with possession of cannabis. That's one future that I hope for.
Hopefully the future is fewer prison guards and fewer private prisons filled with patients and people who are caught with possession of cannabis. That's one future that I hope for.
CM: If you were able to do a TED talk on something like this, what message would you want to share with people?
Joe Dolce: The idea that it’s coincidence that there’s a plant on Earth that creates chemicals that are bioidentical in the human brain. When I was in Israel at the end of my journey, I had a couple days with Doctor Mechoulam, you know who he is?
CM: Just from reading the book. Will you explain who he is for our Cannabis Magazine readers?
Joe Dolce: Okay, so he is the man who discovered THC in 1964 with a colleague and has been researching the plant and the human endocannabinoid system ever since. He’s the godfather. He is the god of cannabis research. He’s now about 87 and wildly intelligent and highly decorated and world renowned basically, not to be taken lightly, very brilliant scientist. After lots of discussion I finally put it to him. I said, “Why on Earth do we have an endocannabinoid system?”
He says, “Hey, look. See that picture over there? That’s my granddaughter and I see her running towards me and I feel happy. Why do I feel happy? What’s the chemistry of human emotion?”
Honestly, this is a thought that never occurred to me. My very small brain doesn’t think in these terms. I said, “I don’t know, doc, why?”
He said, “It might just be that our brains produce 200 chemicals akin to the THC, CBD chemicals, okay? 200 and our genetic makeups are wildly, each on of us is slightly different. So is it possible that 200 chemicals times all of our genetic variants could just be the emotional center that is driving the chemistry of our emotions? Could these chemicals actually … Are they the chemical motivators of our emotions?”
I looked at him and I said, “That’s a big theory.”
He said, “Yeah, it’ll take another 50 years to prove but what else am I going to do with my time?”
He’s that charming and he’s that humble but he’s that smart and that’s a very interesting proposition to think about, right? That’s the TED talk I would do – is it a coincidence that this plant exists or is there a higher purpose? If so, what might it be? That’s what I would explore because that’s the question that always keeps my mind ticking away.
CM: That’s fascinating! When I hear things like that I always reflect on how crazy it is that we have to fight to get this product legalized. I don’t understand why pharmaceutical companies don’t want to endorse the cannabis industry. Really, when you think about it, they could be making more money by doing the right thing and using ingredients that would help their patients.
Joe Dolce: Yeah, there’s a couple issues here. One thing is a lot of scientists and doctors are predicting that cannabis will be reinvented as a wellness medicine, that we will be using cannabinoids. Some people think we’ll be wearing them as transdermal patches all day long to sort of up our wellness, our health. It helps us thrive as human beings. The other fact is, too, is that the laws are way behind the culture here and they’re way behind the science. The laws and politicians are really the ones who are lagging. It’s not that the investigation hasn’t yielded really interesting possibilities.
The third thing I want to say is in the US ever since Richard Nixon started the war on drugs it’s been illegal, literally illegal and bureaucratically almost impossible to research anything other than the harmful effects of cannabis. There has been very little research in the US on the wellness aspects of this plant. Think about that. We have a law actually, by congressional mandate, says you cannot investigate the wellness possibilities of this plant. What’s that about? That’s pathetic. It’s just pathetic.
CM: It makes you wonder why they put so much effort into giving people misinformation.
Joe Dolce: That’s the war on drugs. If you think the government can’t do anything efficiently the war on drugs will change your mind because they created so much misinformation about cannabis. I had to really study it. I couldn’t believe how effective it was.
CM: That’s crazy. I’m going to change topics here because we have to wrap up here soon, but I want to know where you’re going to go from here. Do you want to continue on your journey with cannabis, or do you have other ideas you’d like to investigate?
Joe Dolce: I think I’m a troubadour. That’s it. I’m here to find information and hopefully share it in a way that people can enjoy and that it’s fun and interesting. I think that’s my role. I’ve ended up here by sort of accident, but it’s not stopped being interesting and compelling. I want to keep learning. That’s what I want to do. You know what I mean?
Life brought to a place and here it is and I happen to feel very lucky because I think I’m in one of the most privileged positions which is that I can ask people questions and I get answers, which is great. It’s a really interesting industry on so many different levels. The people I’ve met are so sharp – almost scary smart.
CM: Yeah. There are a lot of amazing people in the industry that I’ve gotten to talk to, and I’m glad that you are now one of them. This was fantastic – and I’m going to finish your book.
Joe Dolce: (Smiles) You better!
CM: I definitely will! It’s the best read I’ve had in a long time. I really appreciate you taking the time to interview with us today. It matters. Hearing from people like you makes a really big impact on how people view the cannabis industry.
Joe Dolce: I have a lot of opinions and I’m happy to share them anytime. And thank you for your time as well.