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Roy visits Chris Yang’s Pop Cultivate to explore the emergence of a new culinary landscape since the advent of legalized recreational marijuana. Roy tackles the gentrification of cannabis culture by visiting Med Men, the leader in upscale legal weed retailers in Los Angeles. An interview with Virgil Grant, a formerly incarcerated weed dealer now seeking to run a legal distribution business, sheds light on efforts to build cannabis equity for those hit hardest by the War on Drugs. The episode also features interviews with actor/activist Cheech Marin and Shep Gordon.

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Transcript

- We are on the brink of cannabis being legal across the country, to it being a part of our natural, normal lives. - I want people to understand what cannabis can be, and not just the stigma. As I was developing my cooking skills, I started realizing that there's a place for all this with my love for cannabis. - It was always very discreet and clandestine, hand-to-hand, so there was that whole era, and then there's this. You can just walk in this store. - There should be not an ounce of stigma for people coming here and browsing through these products and walking away with something that is gonna make them feel well. - I never wanted to sell weed illegally, but I never thought it should have been illegal. - I never imagined that the day would come where I could sit in a room and smoke cannabis on TV. - It would be hard to imagine that. - Yeah, really hard to imagine. - We still don't know if this is gonna get aired. - [Roy] I'm a street cook. Even before I was a street cook, I was a street person. I'm out there doing things whether it's approved or not. My whole existence in this world is to nourish and feed people. I want this show to be about the power of us as humans to come together again. Let's not make assumptions. Let's not make stereotypes. And from there, we can start to talk about these things and maybe understand each other. Whether your beliefs differ from mine, we're breaking bread. Today's cannabis culture is not what it used to be. What was criminalized is now fair game and good money. Weed is gentrifying all around us. There are boutique shops selling weed on Broadway, and pop-up dinners infused with cannabis. For old-school smokers like me, it's taking some getting used to, but I'm trying. So, this is the spot. In the old days, I'd be knocking on a door, picking up a baggie. Hey, how you doing? - Hey, what's up, man? - Chris Yang is a chemist who became obsessed with the potential of cannabis while doing research on cancer treatments. Now he's the chef behind PopCultivate, a culinary group creating cannabis dining experiences. Chris uses cannabis extracts as a garnish on his fine-dining cuisine. It's a brave new world. I love smoking weed, and I love eating while I'm high, but the idea of cooking with weed seems totally foreign to me. Maybe Chris can change my mind. - So we're gonna make some oil concentrates for later tonight. So this is what you get after you take dry weed, put it into that process machine, it'll spit out the concentrate. This has everything full-spectrum in there. - Do you need all the chemistry equipment to make this? You've been making it at home, or can you make it with a Robot-Coupe, or? - You would need some chemistry equipment, but if you start with this, that's not bad at all. - Yeah. So now we're melting this down. - So we're kind of heating it, and it's converting from THCA, which doesn't get you high. That's why when you eat straight bud, you're not gonna get high. - [Roy] Okay. - 'Cause it's missing this step of heating. So the reason why homemade edibles get you high for, like, three days, because you overheat it. You're basically burning it, and it converts THC into CBN, and that puts you to sleep. - So it's not the strain. It's not Indica versus Sativa. - No, it's the processing. It's the chemistry behind it. - [Roy] All right, so now this is just olive oil, or? - [Chris] This is an olive oil. - Okay. - You have to measure exactly how much oil this is so you can understand how many drops is to one dose that you can eat. Basically, it's a calculation of, okay, I want one dose to be five drops. - Okay. - And then I reverse it to say, okay, well how much THC is in there? How much oil do I have to put in to get to that ratio? - [Roy] Okay. - So I've completely separated the process of cooking food and putting cannabis into it. - So you cook the food. - Separately. - You cook the food as food. - Yes. - And then you treat the cannabis. - As cannabis. - As cannabis, and then you decide from there how to infuse. - Yes. - Okay. - [Chris] So now we have a THC cannabis olive oil. - [Roy] So this is just your straight-up, - [Chris] So I'm just using-- - [Roy] Chris, Chris oil. Like, your signature oil. - Yes. - Okay. - And this oil is for, I'm making it at a concentration that I want, that's friendly for plating fine-dining plates. - So then that's coming like a cracked pepper, like a waiter, right? - Absolutely. It's a garnishing, almost, that we're doing. And we're gonna start make some manouche. - Do you need the roots picked? - Yes, that'd be great. - So why are you doing this? Are you, is this a money-making venture? Is this - It's. - Are you doing it for the good of the future of marijuana? - PotCultivate is a way of merging my two passions, science and food. - Okay. - And forging that path of how do we change the perception, and understanding what people think about what cannabis is. It's responsible, recreational consumption of cannabis. The people enjoy it, they consume it in a way that is very responsible. They can control how much and they don't leave too high. - So this is really something important to you. You really want. - Absolutely. - People to understand. - I want people to understand what cannabis can be, and not just the stigma of you know, back alley pick up from a dealer, roll up the joint, blunts, somewhere in Orange County smoking in secrecy. - Hey why are you talking shit about my life? - No, man. That's what it is. And now, I think there's more to it now. - Go for it. - So now, once I get that texture kinda down. I kinda like it and, the flavor is nice. That you can kinda infuse it. - You're gonna infuse this whole thing? - Yeah, I'm gonna infuse this batch of it. - Okay. - And so are you measuring the amount that goes in? - I'm counting the number of drops that go in. - Counting the number of drops. - And that's how I measure it. - How many drops do you put into this batch, which is about. - This batch is, I put 20 drops in there. - Two cups of baba ganoush. - Yes. So traditionally I think any cannabis cooking concept that you see right now has one goal in mind. And that's kinda adds to the stigma that people can kinda see is, how do I get as high as possible, and that's not what PotCultivate is about. It's like, enjoy a glass of wine. It's about the flavor profile of this wine. What does this wine go with? How do I feel at the beginning of the note, and the end note? I guess, it's a much more refined approach and appreciation for cannabis. I'm gonna make some ice cream. Dry ice cream. So we desserts, we always serve it with CBD. Because at the end of the night, you know, we kinda go in this journey of, kinda little high like that. You got a couple waves, and at the end of it we kind of bring on back a little bit, kind of close out the night a little bit, and we want them to get home safely, but really, I'm on this journey of you're kind of coming up and down, up and down, and at the end of it, kind of come down, and that's kind of the wrap up for the whole night. - Nice. - Now we have our ice cream. In college, I was studying biochemistry. I was originally on the fast track to medical school. My understanding in biochem and organic chemistry was the fundamental in working with cannabis foods because without that understanding and knowledge, and education, I wouldn't be able to solve the problems I need to solve to be able to merge these two things together. - All right. Got like a mint-chocolate chip cookie almost. - Yeah, but with raspberries. - With raspberries. - Yeah. - With weed later. From the food lab to the beat lab, I'm heading to the legendary Village Studios, where the titans of rock and roll and hip hop have laid down tracks, frequently on and about marijuana. I'm here to meet two pioneers of pot and pop culture, comedy icon and social activist, Cheech Marin, and rock and roll's most beloved manager, Shep Gordon. - The first time I met Cheech, now this was '72, it was amazing, Cheech and Chong came walking in with a five foot joint. Carrying it like a canoe. - Ahh, the good old days. - [Shep] It was like a cultural wave. - Yeah, we had this bit of two guys riding in a car, - [Roy] Okay. - Smoking dope, the basic construction of that. But, it was just two guys. And so we were here in L.A. and we were playing at the Buffalo Bill's club. It had a big Buffalo Bill statue, that you walked in through the legs. In between shows, we were standing out in front of the club, and this car full of low-riders come by, and says, "Hey man, you know where Reseda Boulevard is?" Yeah, you're on it. "Oh, see I told you ." - And it was born. - And the windows went up and they drove off, and Tommy goes, "Hey when we go back in the thing, you do it as those guys, and I'll do whatever." - And that's how it started. - And it stopped the show. - And so you're talking about a time where no one had really been exposed to it. - Well, it was just starting to break. - This was '72, '72 police didn't even know what cannabis was. It was unknown. It wasn't even on their radars. It was something that jazz guys had done in the 50s. - Yeah. - Right. It was a real cultural revolution that they led. - If there's one strain that cuts through American culture, it's this, it's marijuana. It invades every single segment of our society. - Wow. - And I've seen it for all these years. - [Roy] Not only did I never think I'd be smoking weed on TV I never thought I'd be able to walk into a shop and buy it like a quart of milk. Now that weed has gone mainstream, boutique shops like MedMen have become ground zero for the commercialization of cannabis. - MedMen is in the business of mainstreaming marijuana, making marijuana part of regular day life in America. It's not a quote-unquote pot shop. This looks like a store-- Not even it looks like a store anymore. - You're right, it's a store. - And it doesn't have any of the clandestine tropes of having to go through a double-door. - There's nothing in the ordinance that "Thou shall have metal bars," "Thou shall tint the windows." Again, the legacy of decades of decades of prohibition. If you wanna come and buy cannabis products and make cannabis a part of your lifestyle, this is the way to do it. There should be not an ounce of stigma for people to come in here and browsing through these products and walking away with something that is going to make them feel well. You have access, you have information, you have somebody who's supporting you through the process. - [Shopper] It's a cute little bag. - Okay, I'm gonna go shop. - Edibles are always good, cookies are delicious. I love these. These are mints. So, this is very popular. - Yeah, the Bliss. - Yeah, the Bliss pen. Grab a couple of pre-rolls here. Why make it hard? Sunblock here. - [Roy] So, we have eight, ten products. This is a good day? - That's a good day. - It's a good day. All this came out to about $360. An eighth is like 65, so half-ounce Chef's do math. Okay, all right - All right man, you're receipt is in the bag. Thank you so much. - And I get a receipt. Weird thing is, like it still doesn't feel real. Did I just walk out with two bags full of cannabis? I'm standing here on Broadway and Seventh Street. Like no one's following me. And that's retail, that's 2018, that's cannabis. How was it getting it in 1971 and 72. - Tough, really tough to get it. - Yeah. - It wasn't so much, I don't think any of us thought about he jail part. You just couldn't find it. - It's a weird juxtaposition because we talk about the time where people were smoking everywhere, but it was hard to get. It's kind of weird. - Human beings are amazing, they'll find a way. - In my era, it was knocking on apartment doors, sitting on the couch, having to wait it out a little bit. - And have the fear of going to jail. - As we sit here, 32 states have some form of legalized marijuana, whether it be recreational or medicinary. That boulder's rolling downhill right now, so anybody that wants to step in and sway, does so at its own risk. Every governor of every state that has the benefits of the taxes of marijuana, is absolutely for the legalization of marijuana. There's more of those people than there are of people that are gonna throwing boulders in their way. It's inevitable. - I hope that at some point, they do what Canada is doing, which is let the people out of jail that are sitting in there for not doing anything to anybody. - [Roy] While entrepreneurs and chefs are safely selling cannabis, thousands of men and women are still in prison for non-violent cannabis related crimes. Virgil Grant came up selling weed out of a liquor store in Compton. What started as small over-the-counter sales quickly turned into a large scale distribution network, making Compton the capital of the chronic movement. You take it back like hip hop does to Cool Herc. There's a corner, there's a block, there's a light post, where it all starts, this is where it all starts. - There were always spots in Compton prior to me. Weed was being sold in Compton prior to me. It's just that when I grabbed hold to it, my thought process was I'm not gonna be on the street corner selling a bag a weed. I'm gonna sell to the ones that's on this corner, or that's supplying the corners that is selling the weed. - Transactions and everything all happened right here? - Behind that counter. - Behind that counter. - Yeah, so how things worked was that you don't talk to me, you don't ask me for nothing. It's all, just like that. Of course you just can't come in and buy weed and go. You have to come in and purchase something. So, I got mine, the store had to get theirs. That was golden rule. Come in, probably get you a half-pint, bag of chips, whatever, soda, whatever. Next thing, you know it's, okay I got you. Slide it right on in the bag. Twenty under the thing, boom, boom, boom. When you look at what we did, it didn't look like drug dealing. And I never called it drug, we always called it the herb movement. Yeah, it was the herb movement. - Like any beat movement or dance movement. I was a taco movement, it's that. - It helped take care of the family. So, I never looked at it like I was a drug dealer. I wasn't out here selling crack or anything. - You're selling vegetables. - Vegetables. - All of that stuff lies in the language too. It lies in the way people talk about each other. - The narrative. - Not only the narrative, but the legalities of what happened is it created the image of a drug deal, but it wasn't. By 2008, Virgil owned six medical marijuana dispensaries licensed by the state of California. But those days where still the wild west for cannabusiness, and the feds raided his stores and locked him up for six years. - People think that in black communities that everybody wanted to sell drugs. No, that's what was available. You walk up to any person, and you tell me who wanted to do something illegal. I guarantee not one will say, "Oh yeah, I wanna go do something illegal." That's not how it is. I never wanted to sell weed illegally. But, I never thought it should've been illegal. - But, let's talk about legalization. What's your perspective on everything going on right now in the world. - This was something that I was sitting in federal prison, and I was watching TV, so you see Channel 7 and everybody behind the counters of their marijuana store. And they're happy and they're showing their jars of weed and I was sitting there like, "Damn, I'm sitting here doing six years for the same thing that they're on TV, smiling and cheesing about behind the counter." So my goal coming out was to jump back into the industry and I gotta let everybody know what's really going on. I went and opened up my first shop. I just took a lot of the money that I had, got me a lease, opened up business. So, we're not just a retail store, we create our own products. These are my three proprietary strains. Now this is a nice one, this is our Crucial Candy. - Other shows show you peach angels. We're showing you some other stuff. - We are intimately involved in the production of our product. So we know the goodness that we're giving. Our organic tea that we make. When you drink it cold, it works as a Sativa. If you take it and warm it up, it works as an Indica. - I see where you're going, wow. It's a shape-shifting tea. - Exactly. - Crazy. - I always looked at my product as growing, I'm growing, and I'm helping. I never got into what I do for the money. My thought is if you focus on the money, you lose what you're here for. - This created a whole industry of branding, marketing, and packaging. - [Virgil] Absolutely. - You're creating jobs on top of jobs on top of jobs. - [Virgil] Absolutely. - And it's legal now, so it's like the old arguments need to just go away. - How many opportunities do you create? How may start-up companies can become major companies? This is a new industry and people are getting rich off of it. - The future of cannabis is not just one thing, it has many tentacles, from business to subsidiary businesses to improving concentric circles of life around it. - You know, you got a lot of empty store fronts here. You're talking about the economy. And three, four people that have a job here now in the community. At the edge of south L.A., in downtown, in the shadow of billion dollar buildings, Virgil is growing his business enterprise to include cultivation, manufacturing, and education. I mean, obviously I know where I am, the iconic Sears building. - Exactly, downtown right there, arts district. To see it gives you a different understanding of what is getting ready to truly take place on this corner. In six months, this'll be a brand new building. And it's where I'll be cultivating, manufacturing, teaching class. So this is California Cannabis Campus - Well, if I'm looking at my GPS and it's red for another two miles, and I see you, I'm pulling over. - I'm a bright spot. - In a tough situation. - Bleak situation. - Bleak situation. - So this'll be the dispensary. All the product will be displayed there behind the counter. We come into here, this is distribution. So what I have here is a micro-business. Cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, the whole nine yards. This right here will be full-blown cultivation, turning and burning 24/7. - This whole starts the moment you got out of jail? - When I came home, I didn't have a dime in my pocket. Because I was fresh out of jail, I could only get a job making nine dollars an hour, regardless of my education. But I did what I had to do in order to help bring money to my family. And not having any money, as a person who come from hustle side, I know how to get it. - Figured it out, yeah. - One thing you not gonna see me is sitting on a corner with a cup in my hand, trying to beg somebody for something. I won't do that. I will figure out a way-- - So the job was the means, the end, but you knew where you were going. If you strip away all of the stigma and the rhetoric that has surrounded and clouded the marijuana-cannabis industry for so long, you can see that this is not some diabolical-evil scheme, this is a business man, who is flipping and creating business and providing a product that people want, in a good way, and employing people, and doing everything the right way. Where do we go from here? You experienced one moment, movement, or revolution where it wasn't around, no one knew anything about it, and everyone's smoking it. - I think for most of us who have been smoking for 30-40 years, the attraction has been the unlocking of our brains, which is a powerful thing and a tough thing to do and we do it without an opioid, without liquor, without things that really damage you. We haven't yet really seen the powers that have come unlocking your body. We're starting to get it. - And as it becomes more part of the culture, infused in the foods that we eat and grains, in all those kind of things. - This may change our lives. - In ways that we cannot say. You are what you eat. - Thank you guys. - Thank you so much. - Hey, my pleasure, brother. - Gonna do a mini pow-wow. All right guys, we have ten guests tonight. - Do you guys get high while you cook or do you wait til after? - PopCultivate to me has changed, the first few times that we did it, we were like, "Yeah, let's put on a dinner and get everyone high." And now, it's so much more experienced-based, it's done in a more tasteful way. So, why shouldn't people be able to experience it. - I can't wait to experience it tonight. - What's up man? - I'm curious to see what this whole thing is about. It's a whole crowd I've never really mixed with before. Do you guys smoke a lot outside at all? - No, we're actually doing just CBD. - Just CBD. Never really been stoners you're whole life? - No, always wanted to like it and never have. - There are two people that say they don't like weed. You know, my old younger punk rock self, this guy right here on the shoulder. Are you even down with the shit or you not? This guy over here's telling me, "Open up your mind a little bit," and maybe it's not only one gateway to weed anymore. - We just take CBD and all of those. That's great for your body, and it won't scare people. - So guys, thank you so much for being here. This is a special dinner, it's PopCultivate Chef's Table. Everything is optional infusion for anyone who wants and doesn't want any infusion. Please let me know and give them time, we can switch. You can opt and opt-out the whole night. This is our first course. It's a shrimp toast with sesame seeds, a sun-dried tomato aioli, some curried scallions and wedge of lime. Enjoy. - I saw him dosing it, most of it is towards the front right here. - [Man] This is good. - We have a cream miso soup, a salmon mi-cuit, with somewhere between salmon sashimi and smoked salmon. Cream of miso stock, so you just pour it over into your soup, and then you can kind of enjoy it, and kind of mix in all the flavors. - [Woman] I am so excited. - [Man] Amazing. Designing a experience is very different than just designing a menu. Designing a menu, your job is done as soon as the plate is set on a table, and the diner takes a bite of food. In designing a full experience, there's a whole new dimension of time that happens. From the first hour, to the second hour, to the third hour, to three hours after the dinner, is all considered part of that design that has to be accounted for. It's like looking at art. What differentiates one piece of art to another piece of art? It's how you feel about it. Part of you are gonna have a red thai curry yoki with padagonia and mussels. - Wow, it's really incredible. - [Woman] I can definitely feel more of a body high. - [Roy] Really. - [Woman] It's a whole other experience. - Herb crusted tri-tip with a celery root fennel puree fried garlic, Chinese broccoli. With a mint chimchurri on top. - [Woman] This one's so good. - [Man] It's on point. - So tasty. - I'm walking away from this thing reallly, really impressed. It's like being a kid again. It feels like the night is forever. That's what I'm really appreciating about what Chris is doing here. I could easily walk away from today not with a good feeling or a bad feeling, but a confused feeling. But, walking away feeling like I connected to the spirit of it. Chris, whether he intended it or not, has created that moment within me, probably for each of them as well in their own different ways, and being energized and inspired by it. This guy is chilling now. He's kind of got both feet up on the couch and he's like, "All right. I let this one pass. "You guys won me over today." Cannabis is like an old friend whose been through a lot. But it's found a new lease on life. Whether it's expanding our culinary experiences, encouraging good fellowship across generations, or creating a billion dollar industry in the process, there's still so many questions to be answered about what comes next and who will ultimately benefit from it. Let's just hope that cannabis never forgets where it came from. And most importantly, those who paid the price to get it where it is today.