The clock was encroaching on 10pm, but the sun still shone bright across the frigid waters of the gulf. A small group of 40 or so revelers gathered in the tiny airmen’s lodge outside Anchorage, Alaska, eager for the feast being prepared in the adjacent kitchen. Michele Larissa, local canna chef, was busy prepping her troops as we arrived.
“The Bombshells,” an all-women, ‘50s-themed cooking group led up by Miss Larissa, buzzed around the small kitchen in full regalia, plating and preparing a six-course infused feast for the participants of the third annual Northwest Cannabis Classic. This delicious event was set to begin the following morning.
Christopher Chicoine was on hand representing his Fairbanks-based company, Yeti Extracts, excited to see full legalization in his home state of Alaska. “We’re Alaskans,” he explained as we took dabs together, “and when we come together to make regulations, we think about what’s best for the people.”
Anchorage has long been the center of cannabis controversy. Back in 1972, attorney Irwin Raven was pulled over by Anchorage police and arrested for carrying a small amount of cannabis. In true Alaskan style, Irwin didn’t take the charge lying down, and instead fought his case all the way to the Supreme Court. He eventually won a landmark decision for the state of Alaska, granting citizens the right to grow and possess small amounts of cannabis.
As day one of the NWCC kicked off, growers from around the giant state came together to see who would claim the title for best weed in Alaska. We got to catch up with our friend and, owner of Cheeky Monkey, Andrew Campbell outside his booth. “We’ve had the right to grow here since the ‘70s,” Campbell said. “It’s been a long, long road for cannabis. We are a small state in terms of people and a large state in terms of land, so it’s a spread out community of activists moving this thing forward.”
We asked Samantha Rodgers, an attendee from Valdez, a small town east of Anchorage, what Alaskan cannabis meant to her. “To me,” she immediately responded, “Alaskan cannabis means family and community, this is the last frontier. We have something special up here. Being home-grown and being so far away [from the rest of the states] has made such a huge difference. It’s the way we grew up.”
As day two closed and the awards were handed out, it was time for us to get out of Anchorage and see what Alaskan cannabis was about—first-hand. There’s a saying here that goes, “Anchorage isn’t Alaska, but Alaska is 30 minutes in any direction.” We headed into the hills to meet Houston, Alaska local producer/processor Ron Bass, owner of Houston’s Calm N Collective.
“I was diagnosed with MS 20 years ago and told I was going to die,” Bass revealed. “I had never smoked pot in my entire life, but I became a grower and I started to get better with nothing to blame it on but cannabis.” He opened a giant steel door, leading to a spacious metal warehouse in the middle of the Alaskan woods. The buzz of 90 bulbs flickering to light, filled the large flowering room. Our first visit to an Alaskan grow.
Large-scale commercial growing came to the state in 2015, and Ron and his wife were among the first to apply for a license. They refinanced their home to begin renovations on a remote machine shop that would eventually become their new HQ. “We’re in a good mood because we have careers now, and we’re growing pot,” Bass exclaimed, smiling, proudly leading us up and down the rows of cannabis plants. “Other growers need to step up. This industry is real.”
Everyone we met in Alaska seemed to carry the same rugged determination to succeed as Ron and his wife; a community hardened by rough country and brutal winters, but united behind a common cause. Cannabis in Alaska was something for the people, by the people.
As we boarded the plane for Seattle and took one last look out the window, I couldn’t help but wonder if legalization would be good for all the people we had met, and what would be next for cannabis in the land of the midnight sun.
For more of Jonah Tacoma, visit: www.dabstars.com | Instagram: @jonah_tacoma