“That I'm able to be here at such a pivotal time in the cannabis industry's evolution is not ever lost on me. I feel so incredibly lucky to be doing this.”
Editor’s note: Grasslands’ Cannabis Journalist Q&A blog series—introducing us to some of the most important and dedicated journalists on the beat—is curated, reported and written by Oakland-based journalist Ellen Holland, former Senior Editor of Cannabis Now magazine, San Francisco Chronicle freelancer and Chief Editor of multiple Ed Rosenthal books, including The Big Book of Buds Greatest Hits and This Bud’s For You. Her latest book, Weed: A Connoisseur’s Guide to Cannabis, explores flavor profiles, strain families and the myriad ways to appreciate the world’s most favored flower.
Jackie Bryant started writing about cannabis quietly at first, but has since come into her own making her passion for the plant her full-time gig.
Originally from New York, Bryant initially worked in investment management as a municipal bonds analyst after graduating college. When she moved to San Diego in 2014, she began freelance writing, primarily restaurant and travel articles, and eventually expanded into cannabis. In her early coverage of cannabis news and culture, she used a pseudonym due to the fact that she was also serving as a green-card sponsor for her (now ex) husband.
By 2016, Bryant was authoring a weekly column for San Diego CityBeat called Cannabitch. When the publication folded in 2020, Bryant began self-publishing Cannabitch as a twice-monthly cannabis culture newsletter on Substack and a podcast by the same name. She’s written for many outlets, cannabis-specific and otherwise, and continues to cover labor, travel and arts, but has found her calling in cannabis journalism.
“It's been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I'm grateful to have grown up in a cannabis-friendly family, which eventually was the impetus for getting into it in the first place,” she says.
Bryant’s work has been selected twice for inclusion in the Best American Travel Writing anthologies (2020, 2021) and her second nomination was for an article focused on the threat of wildfires in the historic West Coast home of cannabis cultivation. She currently covers the business side of marijuana for The Dales Report and has a product-oriented cannabis column at Uproxx. She’s also filming an Instagram video series with fellow writer Lindsay Maharry called the Unrolling Series, where they unroll pre-rolls to see what’s inside.
Why did you decide to call your newsletter Cannabitch, and how have you found the experience of shifting to your own publishing platform?
“So, Cannabitch was originally a print column in a now-dead alt-weekly newspaper called San Diego CityBeat. Once the overlords decided to kill it for good (in 2020), as is happening with too many alt-weeklies these days, I decided to turn it into a newsletter to take advantage of the middling-but-enthusiastic following it had. Also, because it was the dawn of Covid and, being honest, I had lost all my other work at the time.
“The name came about during a mezcal-fueled dinner with my former editor and friend, and this is back in the days when cannabis pun naming conventions were still cringey, but slightly less so because legalization was new. Anyway, it was irreverent, it stuck, and, for better or worse, it's become an alter-ego of sorts. I own a trademark and copyright for it now, so it looks like I'm riding this train until the end.
“Self-publishing has honestly been awesome, though there have been times where I've had to step away for weeks or a month to prioritize higher-paying work. I have found that self-publishing is the only way to get whatever unique voice I have out there in exactly the way I want, though I do have trusted editor friends look it over before I send. It was a surprise to me how much people enjoy my specific point of view and the fact I weave my own stories into whatever larger topic I'm covering in any one issue, since that's kind of an old-school journalism no-no. Readers have been generous, with a decent number contributing paid subscriptions simply on the basis that they want to support me, and I have been lucky to land a few sponsorships, which make it all the more worth it.
“Earlier this year, one of my issues was chosen to be in the Best American Travel Writing anthology—guest editor Padma Lakshmi chose it personally, which is just so cool. I've been in the anthology before for my writing in Sierra, an established magazine. But I have to admit, the pride of seeing this crazy little upstart named Cannabitch alongside writers I have idolized since childhood, like Paul Theroux, and among legacy publications like The New Yorker, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Outside and many other distinguished titles gives me a belly laugh and a smirk that I'll probably never be able to shake. The book, which is published by HMH Books, comes out in November 2021.”
You had a Twitter post about Bruce the hemp farm pig that went viral in September 2020 and you authored a follow-up story. How did it feel to see the reaction to your tweet and the subsequent coverage by other outlets that resulted?
“Oh my god, I joke that the follow-up was my magnum opus because it was just such a delightful and surreal story, especially at that point in the pandemic / election cycle (September 2020) when everyone's brains were just totally fried and we all needed some levity. The story that it initially came from, which resulted in the tweet about Bruce, was actually about two hemp farms in San Diego County that burned to the ground during last year's fire season. I wanted to highlight the vulnerability of San Diego's nascent hemp industry and show readers how much a lack of insurance and other benefits afforded to other types of cash crops could kill an industry before it even really gets started. Bruce escaped one of those farms and a viral story was born.
“It was so fun seeing it blow up, though the day after I tweeted it I was driving up to camp on a grow in Mendo (during more fires, which resulted in the story that got chosen for Best American) and I didn't even realize it went viral until after the 13-hour drive. Annoyingly, some local and national media ended up poaching the story without credit, including CNN, which is just the way it goes with local reporting sometimes. Anyone who has ever been on a local beat knows that phenomenon all too well. In the end, I was thrilled to go viral for a hemp farm pig—that's just fun, period—and doubly more so that it brought some attention to one of the farms that burned down. They were fundraising to get restarted after their tragedy.”
Who have been some of your favorite interviews so far?
“Jim Belushi is a true delight to talk to. I've been lucky to interview him twice now. I also felt particularly honored to interview Luke Scarmazzo, who made a lot of time to talk to me, which is not easy to do from prison considering the onerous phone rules and whatnot. John Casali of Huckleberry Hill Farms is just the best human anyone could ever hope to meet, and I remain honored that he continues to share his story and journey from being imprisoned to now running a legal grow with a tourism outfit. And many growers, almost too many to name, have been incredibly generous to me with their time and information, including many who are not growing legally. Their trust that I won't screw them over is something I hold very closely and feel honored to have gotten. There is also The Lobster Lady, who is a trip and was so fun to talk to.
“From my non-cannabis writing, I've sat with some of the best chefs in the world, like Albert Adria, and I also once interviewed this absolute legend of a human, Carles Alonso, who makes truly wild wines in the hinterlands of Catalonia in northeastern Spain. He's a real character and that was one of the best days of my life.”
What skills do you pull from your background as a travel writer to apply to your cannabis coverage?
“At some point, I realized in both my food and travel writing that we're never really just talking about food or travel, right? It's a lens. So it is with cannabis. Besides my passion for the plant and topic and my political beliefs about it, I think one of the main reasons I moved into cannabis reporting full-time is that it acts as a lens for the rest of the world, as far as I'm concerned. I can examine capitalism through it. I can write about the environment, policy, criminal justice, race issues, products, science and health, food, travel, business—you name it, there's a weed angle! So, for me, it's just another way to look at the world through a vehicle that I can relate to and I did that in my food and travel reporting too.
“That I'm able to be here at such a pivotal time in the cannabis industry's evolution is not ever lost on me. I feel so incredibly lucky to be doing this. And I'm grateful that people, especially those who have been around in the industry and activism longer than I have, have kept an open mind about me and my reporting and support my work as much as they do. I know we're not supposed to care about perceptions like that in journalism, but when reporting on subcultures and criminalized and politicized populations and subjects, I think being too aloof doesn't really serve anyone. It also tends to result in flat stories.
“It's important to me that the cannabis community and the activism behind it feels represented in my work. It's not all legal yet, obviously, and people are still criminalized for cannabis, so there will always be an activist angle to it, and ignoring that is just not facing reality. I think my looking at it that way partially stems from my food and travel writing, as well—food is not just the meal on your plate, there are people who worked in many ways to get it to you, land that was exploited in the process, laws that were made. Travel cannot simply be looked at as ‘OMG, look at this gorgeous beach resort!’ but also, again, the people who work in the industry from hotel workers to street vendors, the locations that depend on tourism, the effects mass tourism has on the world. We should not consume without at least considering those tentacles, and I think about my cannabis reporting the same way.”
Find Ellen Holland on Twitter @Hollandbuds