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    High Country: A Mind-Melting Journey Through the Silicon Valley of Weed (Part 2)

    Written by

    Brian Anderson

    Features Editor

    David Bienenstock doesn't just smoke weed. He is weed. Cannabis is his mantra, his well-being and raison d'être. Hang around the guy long enough and by mere association complete strangers will start handing you weed.   

    No, really. Total strangers will give gift you free weed, as if by mere virtue of the fact that you're in close proximity to Bienenstock, an unassuming and sweatered weed Yoda who acquaintances simply call Bean. I guess that's what happens after you've put in 10 years at High Times--you become a magnet for stunningly dank marijuana, pulling in oftentimes rare and sought-after strains for you and those around you to, you know, sample.


    What's rich about the whole thing is that Bean has to be one of the more soft spoken, if articulate humans I've ever met. So it could've been the din of thousands of attendees at the first annual High Times US Cannabis Cup last April in Denver over which some unbeknownst budtender couldn't hear Bean. Or it could’ve been a thickening head buzz off some of the best weed in America (if not the world) made it tough for him to hear Bean. Maybe it was both. Either way, the pardon was almost poignant.

    “Where y’all from?” asks the tender, a bouncy rep for one of dozens of dispensaries and paraphernalia vendors casually doling out dabs, vape hits and flower to the masses in the outdoor grounds at what you can think of as the Super Bowl of Strains.  

    “I’m from Cali,” Bean responds. 

    “Where?” the vendor asks once more, this time looking up from the vaporizer he's been loading before giving Bean the all-clear.  

    “California. We used to be at the forefront of cannabis legalization,” adds Bean, a veteran journalist and author of Legalized It!. “Remember us?” He takes a pull off the vaporizer, gives the tender a thumbs up--high sign for When--and exhales. 

    Yeah, remember California? California. The Promised Land, where it all started back in the 1960s. From behind Mendocino County's Redwood Curtain, as they say, in Northern California--where land-race strains made landfall on US soil--cannabis would begin winding a long and complex path out of the shadows and into the public spotlight, with no shortage of experimental crossbreeding, cultural clashing and grinding politics along the way. In 1996, the Golden State become the first in the Union to decriminalize cannabis for medicinal purposes, a historic measure still looked back upon by pot advocates as a sort of Eureka! moment Ah, California

    It isn't just Cali anymore, of course. Almost two dozen states have caught up with the Golden State, and another 11 are currently considering legalizing medical pot. And then you have Washington state and Colorado, both of which have since surpassed California in the march toward legalization--and, arguably, in the bongs race of high tech highs.

    Here's Professor Dale Chamberlain of the High Altitude School of Hydropnics and myself. Foregrounded is a home-grown bud of what the Professor calls Skittles. Photo: Chris O'Coin / Motherboard.

    So Dale Chamberlain, a former NASA botanist who designed zero-gravity plant chambers that flew a number of missions aboard the Shuttle Endeavour, probably summed it up best as he showed us his unique, closed-loop grow system. He calls it the Colorado Grow Box, and is marketing the automated system (which runs on bubbleponics--Chamberlain's home box is fueled by live tilapia--and can apparently be optimized for weekly harvests) as an off-the-shelf grow kit for everyday folks who want to grow really good weed really efficiently without wasting money and racking up energy bills. 

    When the gold rush hits, Chamberlain told me, sell picks and shovels. Or do what Chris Walker is doing, and see the light.

    This is the L4A, the latest in Radiant LED's line of smart lights. A boutique dispensary in downtown Denver is one of a handful of domestic weed operations beta-testing the new lights.  

    As director of Radiant LED, a US-based smart lighting firm, Walker basks in the thought of a coming future of weed growing that isn't beholden to energy-sucking high-pressure sodium lights, long the industry standard. It's part and parcel of a growing green-green movement dedicated to bringing agriculture (as with Chamberlain's chamber, precision grow LEDs aren't at all limited to just growing cannabis) into the 21st Century. 

    The same goes for Dr. Bob Melamede, a cannabis researcher at the University of Colorado-Springs and CEO of the biotech company CannabisScience (CBIS:US). In a moment when it's politically unpoular to oppose bud in Colorado, Melamede, who speaks of our internal endocannabinoid system as the never center of human existence and progress, is pushing his idea that the age of cannabis-rich FLIPs--forward-looking people, in his words--is fast approaching.

    It sounds a bit heady, sure. But when you reach a point where you start pulling half ounces of top-shelf bud out of your pockets and have no idea where any of it came from, only that everyone around you is really nice and smiling; when weed literally starts materializing on your person without rhyme, reason, or warning, well, the prospect of a FLIP world, isolated and unfortunate shootings aside, no longer feels like a long shot. 

    Time will tell whether that plays out. More questions than answer remains. Even if public approval ratings for weed enjoy majority support among Americans, how will Colorado roll out comprehensive weed taxes? Will the price of free weed hold steady, plummet, or sky rocket? And who's to say the novelty of legal, readily-available cannabis won’t wear off

    For now--and for all we know--the future of cannabis, and all the money wrapped up in Weed 2.0, is a mile high. Just don't say the Silicon Valley of weed isn't bowling over into a state of mind. 

    Watch Part I of High Country here.