Cannabis Culture Has Deep Roots in Santa Cruz

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With a reputation as a laid-back hideaway and surfer’s paradise that stretches back to the 1950s, the identity of Santa Cruz has been shaped by counterculture artists, spiritual seekers, nature-lovers and cannabis fans who have chosen to make homes here between the mountains and the sea. While this freewheeling, creative spirit has changed throughout the years, the support for cannabis legalization has been something of a consistent theme, with residents of Santa Cruz county overwhelmingly approving Prop 64 in 2016 with more than 70% voting yes. It’s one of the few places in the U.S. where weed enthusiasts can enjoy being comfortably in the majority, with a local culture that blends artisan crafts, eco-friendly living, progressive activism and social experimentation with some of the world’s greatest cannabis.

Going back to the Summer of Love in 1967, many hippies were drawn to the counterculture scene flourishing in San Francisco, Marin, La Honda and Santa Cruz. During this heyday, the Grateful Dead was playing clubs up and down the coast, author Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters created an infamous scene around the Acid Tests, and people like the Haze Brothers were revolutionizing cannabis genetics forever.

According to legend and lore, the first people to grow and smoke Original Haze did so in Santa Cruz, creating a pure sativa strain by crossing “a selection of superb females with different imported males: the first year with Colombian and Mexican hybrids, the second year with a male from South India and the third year with a Thai strain,” says researcher Kushka at DinaFem. The people behind this marijuana miracle are known only by initials—R. L. and G, who together created a poster, “Original Haze Poster, The Cosmic Boogie, 1976” documenting the soil recipe, strain characteristics and best times to plant.

 The first marketing campaign for a cannabis strain, back in 1976.

The first marketing campaign for a cannabis strain, back in 1976.

“The Haze Brothers,” were really three brothers from New Jersey known only as Joey, Bobby and Petey, who began to move the Original Haze to the East Coast, popularizing this soaring sativa, while a Santa Cruz local with the moniker of “Sam the Skunkman,” took the genetics worldwide. Sam (whose real name has been revealed as Dave Watson) went on to become a legendary cannabis breeder in Amsterdam and co-founder of Sacred Seeds. Once established in Amsterdam, the Original Haze genetics went into many hybrids, including Jack Herer, Neville’s Haze and G-13.

Cannabis culture evolved again in 1993 with the establishment of the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana, one of the very first medical collectives in California. Described as “the gold standard of medical marijuana” by a federal judge, WAMM was founded by Mike and Valerie Corral, a couple in Santa Cruz who were growing cannabis to treat Valerie’s epileptic seizures.

 Valeria Corral in WAMM's compassionate cannabis garden.

Valeria Corral in WAMM's compassionate cannabis garden.

After being arrested several times, local jurors proved unwilling to convict someone with a medical necessity defense, so the sheriff stopped arresting the Corrals. Soon, other people with medical needs started seeking them out, and Valerie and Mike began growing cannabis and giving it away to needy patients, marking the beginning of a compassion movement that legitimized cannabis use for many thousands of sick Californians under Prop 215.

In 2002, the Drug Enforcement Agency raided the WAMM garden and destroyed the collective’s entire crop, igniting a stand-off between the law enforcement and patients on the remote mountain road leading up to the garden. With the media on site, people in wheelchairs blocked the road and prevented agents from leaving the property until Mike and Valerie were released from jail. In response, less than two weeks after the DEA raid, WAMM gathered on the steps of City Hall, alongside Christopher Krohn, the mayor of Santa Cruz, and other local officials, to defiantly distribute free medicine to members. With support from the ACLU, this determined group was able to successfully sue the Federal government and defend medical access.

The University of California Santa Cruz also plays a role in cannabis history, with one of the first spontaneous 4/20 celebrations occurring on Porter Meadow, much to the chagrin of the administration. While the phenomena of 4/20 started out as a private code between a group of friends in San Rafael, the idea spread through the Grateful Dead scene in Marin and took hold nationwide. Currently, 4/20 is going mainstream as more parties and festivals pop up every year, with society embracing a countercultural holiday where every adult is encouraged to imbibe.

 KindPeoples founders opening the dispensary to all adults on Jan. 1, 2018, under new laws legalizing commercial cannabis sales and use.

KindPeoples founders opening the dispensary to all adults on Jan. 1, 2018, under new laws legalizing commercial cannabis sales and use.

Today, local strains including perennial favorite Blue Dream, Lemon Tree and Golden State Bananas crowd our shelves, along with products from homegrown businesses including Big Pete’s Treats and Utopia. Operating for five years in Santa Cruz as the premiere dispensary, KindPeoples was proud to take part in cannabis history on January 1, 2018, when the first legal sale occurred at dawn in Santa Cruz county. As the first local business to obtain a license from the Bureau of Cannabis Control, KindPeoples looks forward to entering a new era where widespread support for cannabis leads to this plant taking its rightful place as an accepted source of fun, medicine, relaxation and happiness for countless people.