The Willy Wonka of Pot

To get to Hempfest this year, you started in downtown Seattle on a humid, cloudless Saturday. You walked toward the waterfront until there were buskers on every street corner and the foot traffic thickened and you could smell sweat and weed smoke on clothes and skin. Police were everywhere, directing traffic. Men and women with their backs to the cops guarded portable coolers and hawked brownies in low voices. Up ahead, a man was shouting through a crappy amplifier. Something religious. Hellfire.

You got closer. You began to pass little encampments on the side of the road, rawboned kids with face piercings and red sticky eyes and loose tan clothes that hung from their limbs like the jowls of senators. One held a jagged piece of cardboard with a note that read I’VE GOT A HOLE IN MY BOWL AND NEED A NUGGET TO PLUG IT. The noise from the amp grew louder and more distorted, and as you approached, you saw him, the evangelist, planted in the middle of the sidewalk with a microphone. A man with a 6-foot wooden cross offered you a flyer. Someone had spray-painted READ BIBLE on a large rock. Someone else had crossed out BIBLE and written BOOKS.

But then the police blew a whistle and waved you across a set of train tracks and you came through the gate of the public park where Hempfest happens and it was like swimming through the muck at the shore of a lake into clear water beyond. It’s illegal, of course, to grow or sell cannabis under federal law, but the citizens of Washington state (and Colorado) voted last year to allow the sale of pot in recreational quantities, making this the first Hempfest in the 22-year history of the event to sprawl out under the pale sun of quasi-legalization. In the park, in patches of grass between tented booths that sold sausages and hemp burgers and bongs, people were lighting bowls with the impunity of U.N. diplomats. Weed funk came down like a Broadway curtain. Cops with perplexed smiles rode around in golf carts, handing out free bags of Doritos along with stickers advising festival attendees that, yes, smoking pot in public is an infraction, but no, the police weren’t here to write tickets and would “rather give you a warning.” Everyone seemed to understand that the world was different now, even if no one was quite sure where the new lines were, or how long it would be until they shifted.

Meanwhile, inside a large white tent, an influential and semi-anonymous figure was getting ready to speak about his work.

He looked to be in his early fifties. Plain black shirt, jeans, sandals, dark sunglasses. The hair that poked out from under his fedora was light gray. He sat at a dais on a makeshift stage next to three other men, all gathered here for a discussion panel titled “Growing Your Own Medicine: Tips From the Pros.” A hand-lettered card in front of his microphone said DJ SHORT. He gazed out at 120 people in folding chairs, nodding.

There are no pictures of him online.1 There are no videos. Unlike several prominent cultivators, DJ Short, arguably the most skillful and creative American cannabis breeder of the last 40 years, has never embedded himself with a film crew from Vice magazine.2 He does teach the occasional class at the Medical Cannabis Caregivers Institute in Pasadena, and he appears sometimes at cannabis rallies and festivals, but you really have to know what you’re looking for to catch a glimpse of DJ Short. He doesn’t have a website. His Internet presence consists of a handful of long comments on the weed-culture site International Cannagraphic, where he drops in from time to time to tell stories about his decades in the trade and to interact with fans who’ve smoked his stuff: Blueberry, a ubiquitous, lavender-tinted strain of weed that actually does smell like fresh blueberries; Flo; Blue Velvet; Cocoa Kush; Azure Haze; Whitaker Blues; Vanilluna. These are specialty plants, the weed equivalent of high-end wines, bred not for volume production or elevated THC content but instead for rich aromas and interesting highs. The entry for Blueberry on Urban Dictionary reads: “The most wonderful form of marijuana to date … Although it is not the most powerful, it will still knock you on your ass.” According to High Times, which has honored Short with a spot in its Seed Bank Hall of Fame, Blueberry and the rest represent an “arsenal of great ganja genetics.”

– Read the entire article at Grantland.

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