Russ Hudson is a cannabis consultant and author of the children’s book What’s That Weed?, which helps parents provide a normalized perspective of cannabis to their children, and the autobiography Weed Deeds: From Seed to Sage.
Russ recently joined our podcast host TG Branfalt in his Burlington, Vermont studio for an interview that covers the inspiration behind his books, the state of cannabis policy in his home state of Maine (and his other home in Barcelona, Spain), why strain names aren’t the best way to categorize cannabis, which subjects we can expect his future books to tackle, and more!
You can listen to the interview via the player below or scroll down to read a complete transcript of this week’s Ganjapreneur.com podcast episode.
Listen to the interview:
Read the transcript:
TG Branfalt: Hey there. I’m your host, TG Branfalt and you are listening to the Ganjapreneur.com Podcast, where we try to bring you actionable information and normalize cannabis through the stories of ganjapreneurs, activists, and industry stakeholders. Today I’m here with Russ Hudson. He’s a cannabis consultant and author of the children’s book What’s That Weed? and autobiography Weed Deeds: From Seed to Sage. We’ve been hanging out for a little while, man. How are you doing? It’s nice to see you.
Russ Hudson: Thanks for having me, Tim. It’s really good to be here in Burlington.
TG Branfalt: Yeah. You’re only my second guest that has been actually in my studio, so welcome.
Russ Hudson: Cool. Thanks.
TG Branfalt: Let’s get right into it, man. First, tell me about yourself. You have a very interesting background. It’s really cool to get to know you. Tell the listeners about yourself and how you ended up in this space, man.
Russ Hudson: Well, basically I spent 20 years in the black market side of cannabis. I was a street kid. Ran away from an adoptive home when I was about 11 years old and went on the streets and started surviving. And one of the ways that I found that was easy to survive and fairly safe was selling weed as a street-level dealer. Over the years, that blossomed into trafficking of all different sizes, smuggling, growing, special projects, brokering. And then about seven years ago when the legal movement really started to gain ground, I started doing some legitimate writing work in the cannabis space and eventually that blossomed into a consultancy, where I could provide advice on lots of different areas related to cannabis.
TG Branfalt: So you’re really open about your past, which is a little surprising, I think for maybe a lot of people, to even hear you say that. Why are you able to talk so freely about the illicit dealings before you became legitimate?
Russ Hudson: I don’t really see that there’s any risk to me now. I mean, in my book, Weed Deeds, I detailed quite a few things that are obviously highly illegal, interstate smuggling, but I checked with attorneys and it’s not illegal to say that you did these things, but there’s no evidence or no crime that was ever actually committed in the eyes of law enforcement. They have nothing to prosecute me on. So it was a risk in the sense that I faced some alienation from people who don’t work in the industry, or people who are not supportive of cannabis legalization, but I was looking to cut them loose anyway.
TG Branfalt: Now that you’re legit and have been for quite some time, you’re a cannabis consultant. So explain what you exactly do.
Russ Hudson: A lot. A cannabis consultant is a general term, and I think most cannabis consultants do specialize in certain areas, especially those who specialize in areas of the law, those who specialize in setting up new canna-businesses, and I do a little bit of both of those. But I also advise small, medium, and large grow operations, cannabis clubs, on how to produce better quality marijuana, how to produce better quality members, and marketing, bringing new cannabis products to different international markets. So there’s a lot to it. And I also offer a fixer service for the media and I write my own content for my own websites, so cannabis consultant is a very general sort of term.
TG Branfalt: Of the many hats that you wear, most sort of recently, you’ve been wearing that author’s hat. Your first book was … When did you write your first book?
Russ Hudson: This summer.
TG Branfalt: The Weed Deeds.
Russ Hudson: Yes.
TG Branfalt: Going into that with your sort of history, when’d you sit down and decide, A, that you were going to write the book, and B, what you were going to actually include in that work?
Russ Hudson: It all progressed over the years. My exact position now was an accident that developed through evolution of my life. I’m sorry. Can you narrow the question just a little bit?
TG Branfalt: When was it that you decided to sit down and write the autobiography and tell your story?
Russ Hudson: After the VICE documentary. There was a documentary about me by VICE Media came out. I started getting thousands of emails from people, and most of those emails, the content was positive. They were supportive of what I did, but more importantly, they wanted to know how they could do that too. And I didn’t have any easy answers for them, because for me to do my job took the use and learning of a lot of different skills over a long period of time and thinking of clever was to utilize those skills to make something happen. It wasn’t an easy message where I could just say to people, “You need to go to school and get a degree in cannabis medicine,” because also that doesn’t exist.
I had always wanted to be an author and I’ve been writing for a long time. And I discuss in Weed Deeds how I used to write essays for people, which of course, as we know, is very illegal and wrong. But I always wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write books. When I realized that the biggest question that people had for me is: How did I become a cannabis consultant? That’s when I realized that I can’t give them a straight answer. I need to give them a long answer, and here it is. It’s a 263 word book.
TG Branfalt: Page book.
Russ Hudson: Yes. 263-page book. Excuse me.
TG Branfalt: Then recently you’ve written this children’s book, What’s That Weed? And you feature your daughter in the book. It’s definitely a far cry from an autobiography. Right? You didn’t follow up your autobiography with a, “you want to be a cannabis consultant” book. Right? You followed up with this children’s book. How does that transition happen, man?
Russ Hudson: I don’t know how that happened. I’m working on other books. I’m working on a book right now about terpenes and I’m working on a book about the history of the Spanish social club model, which is a really fascinating story. So there’s going to be a factual history text coming from me. There’s going to be a research text coming from me, and possibly some other things. But the reason the kids’ book came now is because my daughter is six years old. She can read now. She couldn’t read before. Now I can give her a permanent record of anti-cannabis lies. All children up until this point have basically been fed a bowl of lies about cannabis and marijuana, and this is my chance to set the record straight. This is a permanent record now. She has this forever. And other parents who want to help set the record straight have this tool that they can use to do that. If I waited a few more years as my daughter gets older, it’s not quite as appealing to her, so I think now was the most logical time. And she was begging me to write a kids’ book.
TG Branfalt: So you have read this with your daughter.
Russ Hudson: Yes.
TG Branfalt: Did she ask you questions afterward? If you mind telling me sort of about that interaction.
Russ Hudson: The reality is, this book didn’t discuss anything that she didn’t already know. I’ve been honest with my daughter since the day that she was born. I’ve never lied to her about anything, including Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and all that stuff. When she asks me a question, I tell her the truth. And so she’s already seen me working in the industry. She’s seen me growing. We eat weed leaves in our salad. And she’s seen me help very sick cancer patients figure out how to treat themselves, and she’s there with us when we have these conversations. I don’t exclude her from anything, so she’s always been a part of it. She’s always known that cannabis is not a bad thing and it’s very useful. And her only real question to me has been: Why do other people think that it’s wrong? So that has been the focus of our conversation, why other people think it’s wrong. And this was our fun way of doing a daddy, daughter thing together. She’s the star of this book, and hopefully other parents and kids will get that message that it’s okay to use cannabis for all the different things that it’s used for.
TG Branfalt: How does she feel about being the star of the book?
Russ Hudson: She loves it. The artist of the book actually has never met her, but he did a really good job portraying her, and she’s a very fun, free spirited, super intelligent girl, so she likes it. On the first book tour that we did, she went with me as we went to libraries giving the books away to libraries in Maine, and she really liked that too.
TG Branfalt: When you take this into retail outlets, or to sell, what’s the reaction of the people that you show it to?
Russ Hudson: If they’re cannabis related, the reaction is invariably good. In fact, most people where I’ve gone into retail establishments, they have agreed to start selling the book in their establishment, including here in Burlington. Outside of the cannabis industry, the reaction is slightly different. In Maine, at most of the libraries that I went to, they were very enthusiastic about accepting the book and stocking it on the shelves for people to read in the children’s section. A couple of libraries were very cold and resistant, and I don’t expect to hear back from them about stocking it. But I understand it’s a sensitive issue and I just hope that anybody who is considering it actually takes the time to read it and see what it’s about before they pass a judgment.
TG Branfalt: A lot of what you’ve done is worked to normalize cannabis and even sort of people who might’ve been on the other side of it. Right? Not of the legal industry and the illicit market. Why has this sort of fueled you? What is it about the normalization aspect of it that appeals to you so much?
Russ Hudson: Because I just want to live a normal life. I want to raise my daughter. I want to be a good human being. I want to contribute to society and not have the fear that I’m going to go to jail because I don’t like to drink beer. I like to smoke a joint. And I can maintain myself and function and be a responsible member of society and not be ostracized or in threat of law enforcement for that. So it’s important to me for this to be normalized because I’m sick and tired of worrying about it. Also, I feel sick and tired for other people that they have to worry about it.
I’m fortunate, I live in Barcelona. I live in Maine. It’s legal in both places. I’m fairly free. But for instance, this summer when I traveled down to Georgia and New Mexico and some other places in the South, I was scared because it’s not accepted there. They would never entertain the idea of a children’s book about cannabis because they can’t understand the first thing about cannabis, that it has many different uses. And the one use that they’re worried about, getting high, is totally okay and doesn’t cause any problems, really for anybody. And that’s the message that is important to me because cannabis is a huge part of my life. If I have to hide and lie about it to everybody all the time, I’m just going to go to my grave early dealing with stress, because I smoke weed all day.
TG Branfalt: It’s interesting because we’re both in … We’re in Vermont, which is decriminalized, and you’re in Maine. But you go a couple of hours, you end up in the Adirondack Mountains in New York and they’ll arrest you and they’ll give you a misdemeanor charge. I just want to say how frustrating that is living on the East Coast.
Russ Hudson: It is. Yeah.
TG Branfalt: I want to talk to you more about … You mentioned Barcelona. You mentioned the VICE documentary. I want to talk to you definitely about that. Before we do that, we’ve got to take a short break. This is the Ganjapreneur.com Podcast.
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TG Branfalt: Hey. Welcome back to the Ganjapreneur.com Podcast. I’m your host, TG Branfalt, here with Russ Hudson, a cannabis consultant and author of the children’s book, What’s The Weed? and autobiography, Weed Deeds: From Seed to Sage. And also according to VICE, the guy who gets paid to smoke weed. When I found out I was interviewing you when we touched base a while back, I started looking at a variety of things that you’ve done, which is a lot. Obviously, the VICE documentary is something that sort of stuck out because of the narrative and the catchy sort of title. And when I saw that I was like, “Oh. Well, this will be interesting.” This is like the most interesting guy in the world on weed. Right? Tell me about how that came about. How did you end up the subject of this VICE documentary?
Russ Hudson: Well, I was doing a lot of work in Barcelona and making a name for myself. I’d earned a lot of trust from the industry there, and a lot of positions of trust amongst various cannabis clubs and their related grows and transport operations.
TG Branfalt: Briefly, can you just sort of inform people about what the deal is in Barcelona to who might not know?
Russ Hudson: Okay. Yes. In Spain and particularly in Barcelona, cannabis is legal through liberal privacy laws and through a constitutional right to association, so there are cannabis clubs all over the country. There’s around 200 in the Barcelona area alone, and in general it’s a fairly accepted and pretty well-entrenched industry.
So I was working in this industry and one club in particular, La Mesa, was considered the best club in Catalonia, and possibly in all of Spain. VICE producers were talking with the club about what’s going on in the industry. And what’s a really interesting story that we could do? And the president of La Mesa said, “You should talk to Russ Hudson. He’s sitting right over there,” because I spent a lot of time in the club working and playing chess and hanging out. And that conversation with VICE took course over about a year and a half, different angles that we could approach on different types of content. And in the end, through talking to me sort of in a fixer, a media fixer capacity, they decided that they wanted to do a feature specifically about me and my work. And that’s how that came about.
TG Branfalt: Are you the guy who gets paid to smoke weed?
Russ Hudson: I mean, that’s like saying you’re a guy who gets paid to eat because you work a job and you get money, and then you buy food and you eat it. I was a little disappointed to see that VICE had produced certain versions of that documentary with the title Meet the Guy Who Gets Paid to Smoke Weed, because it’s really not true. I do evaluate strains. I’ve evaluated strains for my own website. I’ve evaluated strains and products for clients, so the clients pay me for my professional opinion and experience. Sometimes part of my function includes smoking the actual product that they have developed, but I’m not getting paid to smoke weed.
TG Branfalt: But still, it’s pretty awesome what you do.
Russ Hudson: Agreed.
TG Branfalt: Can you tell me? Can you pinpoint the best strain that you’ve ever smoked or one that particularly stands out to you?
Russ Hudson: I mean, that’s such a loaded question. There’s so many strains. They have so many different purposes and smells and types. It depends on what I want. If I want to be intellectual and social and kick your ass in a game of chess, I’m probably going to go with a Haze, Super Lemon Haze, Super Silver Haze, Neville’s Haze, Amnesia Haze, anything along those lines. If I want to kick back with my wife at the end of the night and get really deep into a movie, I’ll go for an indica like Zombie Kush, is probably my favorite indica. OG Kush and Tahoe OG and all those heavy hitting Kushes I also like for those same more chilling kind of purposes. But to say what’s the best strain, it depends on who you are and who you are at that particular moment.
TG Branfalt: You have a five-step process for reviewing strains.
Russ Hudson: I did.
TG Branfalt: You did?
Russ Hudson: Yes.
TG Branfalt: What was that process?
Russ Hudson: The process was basically to evaluate the cannabis from the outside first. Looking at it under the microscope to see if I could detect any contaminants, mites, or mold, dirt, anything like that, fibers, clothing fibers. And then from there to continue breaking into the bud, examining the smell of exterior, the smell of the interior, how it feels in your hands when you break it up, whether it’s cured properly, and really examining all of the pieces of information that you can get about looking at a piece of weed before you actually smoke it.
And then of course, the reviews have progressed to smoking the cannabis, usually in a water bong, and then evaluating the effects that I felt from that strain in a set timeframe, and doing this repeatedly with a particular strain for a period of about five days to seven days.
But I don’t publish cannabis strain reviews anymore. I also own the site cannabastard.com. My most recent post talked about how marijuana strains don’t really mean anything. And so I’m no longer doing reviews because I never really know whether the strain that I think I have is the strain that it’s being marketed as, or if scientifically that’s even really a discernible thing, which we’re not 100% clear on that yet. So I’m no longer doing the five step process and I’m working on looking at a scientific analytical process that combines the reporting of the effects and I’m not there yet.
TG Branfalt: That’s really interesting that you sort of don’t believe that strains… The way that they sort of, from state to state, you see something in California. You see something in Colorado. They’re called the same thing, but a lot of times there’s variances.
Russ Hudson: That’s right.
TG Branfalt: Whenever I get some trees, I basically … I don’t care, as long as it smells good, as long as it tastes good, it does what I want it to do at that time. And people, they’ll ask the name, just like I asked you the name a bit earlier. At the end of the day, did it really matter?
Russ Hudson: No. The other thing, and this is the ultimate bottom line about strain reviews. I believe a title of my article was Why Marijuana Strain Reviews Are Worthless, and the reason is, Tim, if I give you right now Amnesia Haze seeds from Sensi Seeds, a very established reputable grower, and I take some of those same exact seeds for myself. And you go and grow them, and I go and grow them, we are going to produce two radically different finished products. And all of the variables along the way, from lighting, nutrients, air quality, knowledge, skill level, utilities used, curing methods, all of that has a massive impact on the finished product that you’re smoking. So why does my review of some weed that I got in Michigan, called Bubba Kush, have any bearing on Bubba Kush that you might get down in Florida? Could be totally different plants. And then you have different varieties and phenotypes. There’s so many reasons why strain reviews right now are definitely worthless.
TG Branfalt: If we were to sort of change the culture, if there was the opportunity to like, all right, let’s get rid of this strain idea. Would you move it more towards having the percentage of THC, THCA, et cetera, et cetera, and a terpene profile?
Russ Hudson: Exactly. Exactly. The best way to say definitively what a strain is and what it’s going to do for you is by listing it according to the top three terps. I discussed this on the CannaBastards site as well, my some rough ideas for that sort of taxonomy, and I think that’s the way that we need to go. The packaging could still say, if people really insist, things like, Durban Poison and Amnesia Haze, but ultimately there needs to be a classification that tells somebody more at a glance. And I think, I hope, that’s the direction that will go in.
TG Branfalt: Because the market is still so nascent. It would be something that we’d probably have to implement soon before the wave sort of crests, and then we have to basically, sort of train an entire consumer base, which would be a massive undertaking.
Russ Hudson: Yeah. I think that’s what’s going to happen. We’re there with cannabis. We’re there with gay rights. We’re there with electric vehicles. We have entire classes of people that need radical reeducation in order to make this work, and hopefully it will still happen despite the resistance that we’re seeing right now.
TG Branfalt: I want to actually talk to you about the resistance that you guys are getting in Maine right now from Mr. Paul LePage. Every time I say his name, a little piece of me dies. But before we do that, we’ve got to take a break. This is the Ganjapreneur.com Podcast.
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TG Branfalt: Hey. Welcome back to the Ganjapreneur.com Podcast. I’m your host, TG Branfalt, here with Russ Hudson, cannabis consultant and author of the children’s book, What’s That Weed? And autobiography Weed Deeds: From Seed to Sage. Pretty cool guy. So you live in Maine. Liberty, Maine.
Russ Hudson: Right.
TG Branfalt: It’s a place that sounds pretty dope from what you’ve-
Russ Hudson: Its name is apt.
TG Branfalt: You guys passed voter ballot initiative, passed ballot initiative. First, you get a moratorium. It gets pushed back six months to July 2018. And then the legislature, they have at it and they pass their amendments, their sort of rules, and that sort of thing. And then you get Governor Paul LePage, who vetoes the whole thing a couple of months before it was originally supposed to start. Right? So the moratorium kind of helps a little bit, I guess. But you guys got some things. You have possession now. You have the home grow, so some of the stuff went into effect.
Russ Hudson: Right.
TG Branfalt: Just sort of, as a guy who’s working in the state, as a guy who I’m sure is pretty clued in with what’s going on there, what the hell is going on there?
Russ Hudson: Well, basically the will of the people has been subverted again. We had this happen in Portland years ago, and now we’re having it happen at the statewide level. Our Governor has basically said, “I don’t feel that we’re ready to proceed with recreational cannabis sales, commercial sales, or social cannabis clubs.” He’s basing that decision, in my opinion, on a complete lack of accurate information. And so now we’re over a year away. Basically we can sit and wring our hands for another year and try to bring another bill and try to work out the kinks and the details until we get it to a position that somebody is going to pass through. Where that’s going to end up, we don’t really know right now.
But Maine is still a great place to be. We’ve decriminalized. The medical program in the state is great and there’s ample caregivers to provide for patients. And of course, possession of a couple ounces is still not a crime. So Maine is a good place to be, but from a business standpoint, we have been stymied.
TG Branfalt: A lot of producers, I’m sure they were chomping at the bit when the bill passes. What has this obstruction done to the business owners that you’re talking to in Maine?
Russ Hudson: Right now we have millions of dollars that have been invested into various properties and facilities and processes and technology and research, and all of that is sort of in a holding pattern now. For some people, that’s good. We have a big problem in Maine where we can process hemp, but we don’t have the infrastructure or the know how to do it. So in some respects, a little bit more time is good for some people. But what they’ve done is, they’ve really just blanketed the whole issue for commercial operations that are not caregivers, and the six licensed dispensaries. We basically have not seen any forward movement, even though it has now been a year since the Maine people voted to make recreational marijuana legal to adults.
TG Branfalt: Do you think that this is going to play out past LePage? Do you think that the will of the people is going to stay subverted until Paul LePage is out of the Governor’s seat?
Russ Hudson: I think that he would like to see that happen.
TG Branfalt: Interesting.
Russ Hudson: I think that as long as he has some type of control … Let’s be real here. LePage is Chris Christie, is Jeff Sessions, they’re all the same guy. And as long as they have control over the way we do our cannabis operations, we’re not going to have the freedom to do it the right way.
TG Branfalt: Is it sort of a double-edged sword for you, though, in terms of you still … You can grow. And the caregiver network is really extensive. Are the patients in Maine and are sort of the average consumer in Maine, are they being held back by the slowness of legalization?
Russ Hudson: Yes. Of course, they are. And this is, for me, one of the biggest initiatives that I want to see in the state is cannabis social clubs. I believe that we should be starting there. Without having culture and some type of education and way for people to be educated and to learn, we’re still living sort of in the shadows. And even the thousands of people that use cannabis in Maine still have very little actual knowledge about why they use it and how to use it and how it could better benefit them. Or maybe they’re not doing themselves a service by using cannabis if they have some type of chronic lung condition. What you have now is mostly regular Joes, caregivers who are growing for local patients and this veto by LePage is a big problem because it’s going to set everybody back. We need the culture. We need the society. We need the education. And the only way to make that happen is to liberize-
TG Branfalt: Liberate.
Russ Hudson: Liberate, from a commercial standpoint and possibly talk about some education in schools. I know in schools they’re educating kids about alcohol and drugs, and as of now I assume they’re still just lumping cannabis in there as an evil weed.
TG Branfalt: And then going back, they have a tool now. If you show that to a kindergarten, first grade, in schools, but imagine that backlash, man. Wow. It just sort of hit me like exactly what would happen if a first grade, or second-grade teacher, or even kindergarten teacher would bring that book into their classroom. And that’s not a world, man.
Russ Hudson: Even for me, it’s difficult to imagine that happening, and it is a sort of specialty subject. It doesn’t necessarily need to be taught in schools, but certainly carried in libraries and available to parents like a normal book, when they, as a cannabis user, want to teach their kids about cannabis. Or maybe they’re not a cannabis user, but they’re a hemp fan. And maybe they own a textile business and they understand the value of hemp, and so they want to teach their child that this lie that we’ve been sold, that it’s just people getting high in their basements is a big lie. And there’s many more lies than that, as you well know.
TG Branfalt: You’re not going to see a children’s book of somebody … Basically an alcohol-based children’s book, where people are falling down and there’s probably fights. And that’s an accurate representation of … If I had children, which I don’t. I do have a niece and nephew, though, so bring that to them. Anyway man, before we go, I’ve got to ask. You’re a consultant. That’s what you do. What’s your advice for entrepreneurs, people entering this industry, maybe not in Maine, but just in any sort of legal market?
Russ Hudson: Well, if the market is legal, then they really have to figure out what their talent is and they need to specialize in that talent because what’s happening right now in the cannabis industry is, it’s literally growing every day. In fact, I was just having a conversation with the folks down here in Burlington at Full Tank about how virtually every shop that I go into, I learn about a new product, a new technology, new types of events, and so there’s going to be a lot of need for specialist cannabis business entrepreneurs and employees, specialists who work in curing, who work in technology and ventilation. So I would say to anybody in a legal industry, figure out what your skill is. What are you really good at that you like to do? And then apply that to cannabis because chances are, almost anything that you’re into can be applied to cannabis in some way.
TG Branfalt: And finally, where can people find out more about you? Where can they get What’s That Weed? Where can they get your autobiography? Just how do they find you?
Russ Hudson: Well, What’s the Weed? the children’s book is available on Amazon and Kindle, paperback and hard copy. Weed Deeds, my autobiography, is also available on Amazon, although only in paperback and Kindle. People can learn more about me on marijuanagames.org, cannabizconsultant.com.
TG Branfalt: With a Z.
Russ Hudson: That’s right. Cannabiz with a Z consultant.com or they can check out cannabastard.com, which is where I call the cannabis industry out on its crap.
TG Branfalt: Really a pleasure to meet you. It’s really cool to hang out with you and sort of … You get to see Burlington, which is a cool as hell city. Man, I hope to see you again. It’s really been a good time. I appreciate it.
Russ Hudson: Cool. Thanks, Tim. I had fun.
TG Branfalt: You can find more episodes of the Ganjapreneur.com Podcast in the podcast section of Ganjapreneur.com and in the Apple iTunes stores. On the Ganjapreneur.com website you will find the latest cannabis news and cannabis jobs updated daily, along with transcripts of this podcast. You can also download the Ganjapreneur.com app at iTunes and Google Play. This episode was engineered by Trim Media House. I’ve been your host, TG Branfalt.