When Author, Screenwriter and Los Angeles Times contributor Mark Haskell-Smith set about writing his first non-fiction book, he likely had no idea just how incredible a journey he was about to undertake.
Venturing deep into the underground cannabis industry, Heart of Dankness, sees Haskell-Smith follow a group of botanists, farmers and cultivators on their search for the perfect cannabis strains, culminating at the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam.
5 years on from publishing Heart of Dankness, we spoke to Haskell-Smith to ask about his experiences of writing the book and his opinions on the ever-changing cannabis industry of today;
You have mentioned before that you like to explore sub-cultures, and the majority of your books delve into sub-cultures. Do you believe that cannabis is becoming less of a sub-culture and simply just part of popular culture after plenty of recent legal changes?
MHS: Cannabis has always been a part of popular culture. Look at the movies: Up in Smoke, Pineapple Express, Super Troopers, The Big Lebowski, Friday, Harold and Kumar, I mean the list goes on and on. The entire music industry is built on a foundation of cannabis. And smoking seems to be a rite of passage for almost every high school student. That was the one thing that really surprised me when I was researching the book. Almost everyone smokes it, even if it’s just once a year at a party. I think the general public has been tolerant of recreational use for a long time. But when I talk about subculture, I’m really talking about the people who grow the best cannabis, the strain hunters and connoisseurs.
Has your interest in cannabis lessened as a result of its more mainstream position in culture?
MHS: As a writer who explores diverse subjects, I’m not interested in writing another book about cannabis, (my last book Naked at Lunch: The Adventures of a Reluctant Nudist is about the subculture and history of nudism), but as a recreational user, I still follow what’s going on. I’m especially interested to watch Crockett and DNA Genetics, I mean, I never imagined that they would explode the way they have. It’s really exciting to see.
Where do you stand on current laws surrounding cannabis? Should it be recreationally legal, medicinally legal, legal to cultivate etc?
MHS: I have always felt that cannabis should be regulated like wine. It should be legal for anyone over 18. And, it’s a plant, so it should be as legal to grow as basil or marigolds.
A lot of your work centered around Cannabis Cup winning strains, which are usually high in THC. Do you believe that high-CBD strains could generate as much popularity?
MHS: Good question. I’m still not that up to speed on all the high-CBD strains, but I was doing a tasting with Caitlin Podiak of Certified Dank and she’d brought a couple of strains that had won the Emerald Cup – Guava Chem and one called In the Pines – and I’d brought some Durban Poison from Cornerstone Collective in Los Angeles. The THC levels were up there and suffice to say we got really fucking high. Like uncomfortably baked. Caitlin told me that if we’d had a high-CBD strain we could get some equilibrium with the THC and kind of mitigate the uncomfortable factor. She’s a big advocate of balancing CBD and THC. So yeah, I think they’re gaining popularity. Still, I like my landrace sativas.
What were the most bizarre stories from your adventures with various breeders from around the world?
MHS: Well, I put all the bizarre stories in the book, but there’s a funny thing that happens when long time growers get together and start sharing their stories. They all have scars from being burned by lights or conked on the head from falling fans or slicing their fingers on a harvest. It is sort of like watching Marines share their war stories.
Are modern strains different totally different from the strains of the 70’s and 80’s in your opinion?
MHS: I think there were more heirloom strains back in the 70’s, before everything got cross-bred to death. And, of course there were more sativas because the indoor indica market hadn’t taken off as much. But I really think that with the work that Franco Loja of Greenhouse did, and the current work of strain hunters and people like Don & Aaron, we’re kind of in a golden age of cannabis. There are just so many flavors and effects.
What are your favourite strains in today’s market?
MHS: My go-to strains are Lamb’s Bread, a Jamaican sativa; and then Neville’s Haze or Durban Poison. I like the old school strains.
How could you explain the High Times Cannabis Cup to someone who has never been? Crazy?!
MHS: Like I say in the book: it’s just like a wine expo or a cheese convention, it’s a group of enthusiasts and fanatics celebrating what turns them on.
What difference did you notice between American and European Cannabis Cultures?
MHS: It used to be a bigger difference, but I think that California and Colorado have surpassed Holland in acceptance. Of course Uruguay is interesting. I think we’re in a good time, despite the throwback idiocy of the Trump administration, prohibition is crumbling.
Heart of Dankness is available to buy now!