There were gold streamers and strings of blue lights in Lux Pot Shop's parking lot in Ballard. There were people shoulder-swaying to roller disco beats, ping-pong players in the corner, and a giant Connect Four game.
It was the store's third birthday, and Lux had gone all-out in transforming the outdoor space into a play place any stoner would love. There was free barbecue and coffee ice cream, a pop-up art sale, and a DJ set by the Seattle electronic hiphop trio the Flavr Blue.
Inside the store, a fresh strain of weed was premiering, also called the Flavr Blue. A brand-new hybrid you currently can't buy anywhere else in the world, it was the reason I'd made the trek out to Ballard.
As a fan of the Flavr Blue's music, learning they had a self-titled, sativa-heavy hybrid coming out made me eager to try it. The strain is a cross of Purple Lemon Haze and Blue Dream, its chemical compounds coming in at 20.2 percent THC and 1 percent CBD. (Blue Dream is also the name of the band's fourth album, released last fall.) I purchased two of their pre-rolls at Lux that day, to be tested once I got home.
It wasn't just out of curiosity. The coolest thing about this strain is that all net proceeds will be used to fund reparative-justice projects within the cannabis industry. It is the result of a collaboration between the band, Lux Pot Shop (which also has a store in Lake City), Fine Detail Greenway (the grower), and an organization called Cage-Free Cannabis (which started in LA but recently expanded into Seattle).
Lux's birthday bash doubled as the release party for the strain. Unfortunately, when I arrived that evening, I'd just missed the Flavr Blue's DJ set, but I got to catch up with the band a few days later.
"For us, plugging in with meaningful community engagement is something we're really keen to do," said Hollis Wong-Wear, the group's lead singer. "Social justice acts as an important framework of mind for our artistry."
Her bandmate Parker Joe, a vocalist and producer, said: "Marijuana has always been a thing that we use intermittently in a functional way as part of our creativity. This particular strain reflects a strong sativa lean. We like to be a little more bright and active when we're smoking, so it fits pretty well with who we are."
The idea for the strain came from the third member of their band, Isaac "Lace Cadence" Porter. "I'm from the CD, and I've seen so many people locked up for weed," Isaac said. "I have a friend who's still serving prison time. He had four pounds of weed and he got 10 years. That's a lot of weed, but it's not worth 10 years of someone's life."
Isaac thought up the idea for the strain in conversation with Brandon Franks, the vice president of sales and acquisition at Fine Detail Greenway.
"Brandon and Isaac go back a long time," said Hollis. "It was really just them shooting the shit over some cannabis, and having the idea of maybe naming a strain after the band. It seemed really symbiotic with our music, our brand, our messaging."
Community service is integral to the band's dynamic. All three musicians have contributed to and performed for several Seattle nonprofits, including Youth Speaks and the Apex Agency.
Fine Detail Greenway managing director Karen Baker told me: "We're realizing that this opportunity for [cannabis] to be legal in Washington has some responsibility that goes with it. For us, some of that is to make sure we're giving back into our community, or beyond."
Even before the collaboration with the Flavr Blue, Fine Detail was working in-house toward reparative justice in the industry.
"We hire a lot of people who have faced barriers in their employment, with [criminal] charges," Baker explained. "We have 16 employees, and I would say a good 11 of them have had difficulties with the law on cannabis." Pre-legalization, many had lost their jobs or driver's licenses, leading to additional financial difficulties. "Those people are all with us, working, and we've been helping them go back to school, pay off their fines, do all that stuff."
While Fine Detail began the growing process, the band app-roached Lux public-relations director Kalie Sandstrom, whom they knew from previous projects. Their timing couldn't have been better. Sandstrom had recently been contacted by Cage-Free Cannabis, a group originally started in California but currently expanding, which has the goal of righting the wrongs of the war on drugs.
"I believe there's a lot of systemic miseducation about this plant used specifically to target certain demographics," said Sandstrom. As opposed to reparative justice, "restorative justice doesn't really work, because there was never a time period in which people were treated equally surrounding it."
She points out that drug policy has been racist since the beginning, and that following the abolishment of slavery, "it was used strategically as a tool to incarcerate those same people who had been freed. What we need to focus on doing is repairing the damages that are under all of this."
Cage-Free Cannabis was quickly receptive to the idea of working together. Cofounders Adam Vine and Andrew Epstein both have backgrounds in working with nonprofits that focus on reentry after incarceration, violence prevention, and youth empowerment.
The name Cage-Free Cannabis is meant to be "confrontational and aspirational at the same time," Vine told me. "The Cage-Free Cannabis name connotes both sustainability and quality. But at the same time, we didn't want to sugarcoat the fact that this plant, cannabis, has been used to put people in cages for decades. So we envision an industry in which people are no longer incarcerated because of this plant. An industry that helps repair the harms done to them."
Lux was one of several stores Vine contacted during a trip to Seattle this past spring to meet local cannabis entrepreneurs. "A lot of things drew me to Seattle," Vine said. "I visited because I wanted to see for myself what the cannabis industry looked like there—especially what changes it had created in different communities."
He added, "It's even clearer to me now that the benefits from the emerging above-ground cannabis industry need to be going back to the communities of color that have been devastated by the war on drugs."
WOUNDS FROM THE WAR ON DRUGS
Just a glance into the booming marijuana business reveals a sick, unsurprising truth: Both locally and nationwide, it's primarily white people getting rich from selling weed, while many people of color are still being punished, still languishing in jail, and still unable to get work even after their sentences are up.
Over the past few decades, for every four black people arrested for pot possession, one white person was—wildly disproportionate to usage rates, which are roughly the same. And the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board looks at criminal backgrounds to determine eligibility for pot licenses. So the licensing rules dependent on the lack of a criminal record are an extension of the unfairness.
While Washington's 2012 legalization of recreational marijuana has helped many, Parker noted that it created "a turning point where the entire industry started creating all these barriers of entry for people who were benefiting from it in the past, who actually created the market."
Elevating people who do grasp these issues is the first order of business for Cage-Free's Seattle branch. They're using the strain's initial proceeds to establish a reparative justice council.
"As of now, it's going to feature nine people who have been directly impacted by the war on drugs," said Vine, stating the council will be multigenerational to reflect the decades-long battle.
"We also want it to be geographically diverse, so that different parts of the city are represented. Beyond that, it needs to be multiracial, but with an emphasis on the black and brown communities that have been disproportionately harmed."
Vine said the council "will have a mandate to foster equity, justice, and repair." Possible tasks include fostering reentry programs and voter registration. He also noted support for the way Seattle is nationally "taking the lead" on automatically expunging previous cannabis convictions.
During his trip here, nearly everyone Vine spoke to mentioned Nikkita Oliver, who ran for mayor of Seattle in 2017 but didn't make it past the primary. Both Wong-Wear and Sandstrom worked on Oliver's mayoral campaign, which included pledges for social justice programming.
Vine and Sandstrom confirmed Oliver will be working with Cage-Free to assemble the council. Those interested in applying for the council are encouraged to contact Cage-Free Cannabis for more information (cagefreecannabis.com/contact).
"In my mind, it shows who's really down," said Hollis about projects like these. "Which farms and which stores are really about leveling the playing field for people whose livelihoods were hurt by participating in the cannabis industry pre-legalization. And then you see who's about it for the money, and are actually totally OK with perpetuating the racism and the inequality that the current industry presents."
A NEW FRONTIER
As for the money raised, where exactly will it be going? Vine said that the nine members of the Seattle Cage-Free council will "be empowered to make decisions not just about how the money flows, but how they themselves are constituted."
Hollis said, "What I really like about Cage-Free's model is that, like any reparative justice group should, it gives agency and authority to the people who are most directly impacted."
Sandstrom said Lux is "totally open to any other accountability measures that people would like to see." They want to make sure everybody feels comfortable and knows that the money from their purchases is going to the place they say it is. She also encourages other organizations to start working with Cage-Free Cannabis. While the Flavr Blue strain is now available at Lux's two locations, she'd like to see companies across the state carry it.
"I just hope this helps other brands and retailers see the potential here to generate funds to help some of the issues we know are very real in Washington State," Sandstrom said. "That's my favorite part of this project—even beyond its shelf life, it's something that continues to give."
In addition to pre-rolls like the one I bought at Lux's party, the strain is available in 1-gram or 3.5-gram recyclable glass jars. "Normally I don't like sativas, but because of this hybrid, it's really a mellow but creative strain," Sandstrom told me. "I don't get any anxiety from it. It kinda has a fruity flavor, so it's a really enjoyable, smooth smoke." (After trying out the strain, and as a fellow anxiety sufferer myself, I concur.)
Hollis noted that we have the chance "to model what conscientious consumption looks like as recreational cannabis users. We have an opportunity to be led by those who were most impacted."
She added, "I think this is a really exciting time to frame what justice can look like in the cannabis industry. It's a totally new frontier."