How ‘Gentleman Farmer’ Mike West Became The Cannabis Industry’s First Man Of Science

By Brandon A. Dorfman
@BADorfman

“I got into the [cannabis] industry because I was trying to grow plants to save my life,” Mike West told me over the phone recently. A farmer, researcher, and entrepreneur, West has an encyclopedic knowledge of cannabis that’s matched only by his passion for helping people.

“Nothing that the government’s going to do is going to prevent sick patients, sick parents from producing medicine for their children,” he continued.

I had asked West if legalization and the subsequent corporatization under the ‘Big Cannabis’ model had taken away from the art of growing, a constant lament of many of the old-school folks from the black market days. An accomplished academician that also considers himself a “gentleman farmer,” West was hesitant to see the issue in anything but shades of grey.

“We’re seeing a ton of technological innovations,” he told me. “Twenty years ago, there was traditional hash, that was about it. Over the last 10 years, we’ve come out with a couple different types of solvents — alcohol, butane, propane…” From there, he rattled off several significant steps forward taken over the past two decades, benefits that can only come from a legalized industry as opposed to a black market.

“Patient access ends up improving, [and] the cost in a lot of the recreational states has significantly decreased,” he said, ultimately making his point.

And West isn’t wrong. Aside from some high-priced craft flower, the benefits of legalization, and, in turn, corporatization, have been enormous. They include price drops as high as 80 percent in some states, making it extremely hard for groups like the cartels to stay in business.

The benefits to a scientist like West are immeasurable.

“[Access] improves, not only to more economical flower but a broader range of herbal supplements and nutraceuticals,” West told me. “And as a scientist, it opens up the door for doing that research that could potentially lead to future pharmaceuticals.”

Newlyweeds Pam Dyer and Mike West

But as much as the scientist in him loves to hear the machines purr, as he told me, the gentleman farmer understands that cannabis, legal or not, has always been about people. As legalization efforts in states like Washington opened the door for business, and really for scientific progress, patient’s rights began to fall to the wayside in many ways.

“I’ve been, pleasantly surprised the way that legalization has had and America being that laboratory of democracy,” West told me, adding in one caveat. “I love to talk about and constantly joke about … two steps forward one step back with when legalization happened.”

His main gripe, though perhaps that’s too stubborn a word to use, has to do with legislative bills that strip patients of their rights to homegrown medical cannabis. As the old-school black market crowd might say, it’s the death of the art of growing — only instead of science winning out; it’s for-profit patient care.

“As part of some of the bills, they took away some patients rights,” explained West, discussing corporate creep in the growing legalization movement. “Now there’s lots of home growers that are exporting illegally. And those are the ones that are getting clamped down on and having lots of people’s houses get raided.”

Despite his years of entrepreneurship — or, perhaps, guided by them — West has always been a patient advocate first. And I could hear that in his voice as we spoke. Even in states where home grows are allowed, patients still run the risk of being harassed by law enforcement, a terrible situation for all involved.

As for my original question, though, had forward progress spelled death for the so-called art of growing cannabis?

Mike West is positive if he’s nothing else.

“It’s something,” he told me, “you got to take the good with the bad.”

“I love the science side of it…”

West first took an interest in cannabis sometime in the late 1990s. With an epileptic sister and other family members suffering from various ailments and illnesses he became what he referred to as a ‘cannabis refugee,’ traveling from Texas to Colorado — in his case not just looking for the plant, but looking to study the plant.

“I ended up seeing a research study looking at treating epilepsy with cannabis,” he told me, speaking of his earnest beginnings that would go on to launch a now 20-plus year career. “[I] tried to go to school to study cannabis, but they didn’t allow us to study cannabis at the time. So we ended up studying kind of a mix of molecular biochemistry and international law, and I ended up focusing on trying to research biofuels.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to studying cannabis, not much has changed today. At one point in our conversation, West mentioned a few universities are now teaching horticultural classes or showing students how to run analytical testing equipment for use in the cannabis industry. Due to federal law, none of them can offer hands-on experience with the plant.

For West, however, the hands-on experience came easy. Whether he was working at dispensaries or hydro shops in college, or even, as he told me, doing a small stint at a law firm helping medical growers become medical collectives, West was always learning.

Mike West Positive Nelson

“My passion — I more than anything consider myself a research scientist,” West said. “Obviously [I] can’t do that research science at universities, currently very few allow any cannabis research. The federal government makes university research hard.”

“I focused on trying to do as much research as I can in the private sector,” he said, reminding me of the path that most people with a science-focus have to take in this industry.

To-date, according to West, he’s built medical labs in around 13 or 14 states, hemp labs in six states, and recreational cannabis labs in four states. He’s currently working with a Canadian company that’s building labs in Kansas, outside of Vancouver, and outside of Toronto — not to mention the fact that they also have some operations going on over in Australia and Europe. Then there are the hemp labs in Oregon, Colorado, and Washington, and the teams he’s training in Kentucky too.

“I love the science side of it,” he told me in the most laid back voice possible.

Since those early days in Colorado as a ‘cannabis refugee,’ Mike West has established himself as one of the preeminent researchers in the cannabis industry. As a researcher, entrepreneur, author, and adviser to numerous companies in the medical, adult use cannabis, hemp farming, extraction, and products industries his bio reads like a crossbreed somewhere between Raphael Mechoulam and Jack Herer.

But he’s never lost his initial drive nor forgotten what turned him to cannabis in the first place.

“Having family members that were medical patients really got me interested in developing products,” West said as we continued our conversation. “Unfortunately, it’s incredibly difficult to do that research under the same methodology that’s done with traditional pharmaceutical research.”

When he’s not helping to set up the next great laboratory or medical collective or hemp farm, Mike West is focusing on phytocannabinoids and working with patient-driven studies. Again though, the inability to do research at university labs makes the process difficult for West and the industry at-large.

So, he told me they use workarounds. A lot of that involves bringing university professors, doctors, naturopaths, or herbalist to him. For example, he told me, he’ll hold educational seminars, and bring these specialists into the dispensaries, saying to the patients hey if you have this medical condition these are the products that may or may not work better for you.

It’s a way to collect user surveys; to collect data.

“Being able to collect user surveys, you can start to make those correlations,” he said.

Beyond the issue of university research, West and I discussed the difficulty he and others like him have when it comes to finding an adequate product to use in testing. For those in the academy fortunate enough to work with cannabis, the quality is — well, it’s schwag.

“If you want to do research at the university, you have to get approved by the FDA, by the DEA by NIDA — the National Institute on Drug Abuse,” said West, explaining the harrowingly frustrating process. “NIDA contracts out their cultivation to currently one producer, [the] University of Mississippi and University Mississippi doesn’t have passionate cultivators.”

West told me how his team wanted to use the government schwag for a PTSD trial in Colorado. They obviously wanted to test the product to make sure that they were not providing anything dangerous to the patients first.

Under Colorado’s regulated market, the federal government’s cannabis didn’t pass the test for microbial contaminants.

“We’re seeing this weird juxtaposition where the black market or legal market or medical market is able to produce a higher quality product than the U.S. Government,” West lamented. “[It’s] nothing more than ignorance, in my opinion.”

He continued: “A lot of the universities are forced to take a hurry up and wait approach because they’re forced to wait for the federal government to hurry up and change the laws.”

“…teach them as much as we can.”

A few days or weeks before our conversation, Mike West was sitting in a classroom learning his trade. After 20-plus years in the industry, the one thing he’s learned is that he has much more to learn.

“That’s the real key to success in this industry is learning how to be as efficient as possible and as responsible as possible,” he told me towards the end of our conversation. “And if you can throw in a dash of big corporate social responsibility, ultimately, I think that a lot there’s a ton of opportunities in the cannabis industry for entrepreneurs.”

Which brought us to CANNAVAL, the first educational medical cannabis and hemp conference and expo in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The event, which will be hosted by former senator and now Agriculture Commissioner Positive T.A. Nelson, along with 420MEDIA in association with NT Media Productions looks to be one of the key gatherings of industry professionals this summer. And Mike West is scheduled to speak.

“We organized a tour of a couple of farms and retail shops and processing labs and testing labs so they can the see the steps in the political process that it goes from the time you plant the seed to the time that it goes to the retailer,” West told me, explaining how he first met then-Sen. Nelson. Without the agricultural commissioner, the Virgin Islands may very well not have medical cannabis today. The effort he put in towards helping that law pass was crucial.

“Nelson spent the last couple of years getting that law passed,” said West. “That opens up the Virgin Islands to start allowing the farmers to get licenses to do what they’ve been doing for decades.”

“We want to be able to make sure that the farmers start off on a good foot,” he continued.

Unlike other cannabis events, CANNAVAL is designed to educate and empower. It will give all those who attend, including companies and organizations an exclusive opportunity to network with government officials, entrepreneurs, medical and seasoned professionals in an open and welcoming environment that will cultivate and inspire.

And the guest list is top notch as well, including some of the cannabis industry’s biggest names such as Sierra Riddle. Dan Herer, Adam Dunn, Roz McCarthy, and, of course, Agricultural Commissioner Positive Nelson.

And Mike West.

“I think there’s a dance Friday, Saturday’s the conference, and then Sunday — what’s going to beat a networking day hanging out on the beach and enjoy some of that beautiful Caribbean sun,” West said, clearly excited to be a part of the event.

But for West, he’s going to do what he always does.

“We’re looking at trying to set up a conference,” said West, echoing what Positive Nelson told him. “To educate the consumers, educate potential business people in the Virgin Islands, teach them as much as we can.”

Historic First: Cannabis Education Campaign Kicks Off During NFL Super Bowl LIII

Twelve 30-Second Spots Debut During Super Bowl Broadcast on CBS Affiliate in USVI

NEW YORK: A women-owned digital marketing agency made history this weekend by managing to air its cannabis education ads during the much-coveted Super Bowl LIII broadcast. Featuring the Rastafarian Senator who led the fight for legal cannabis in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the spot is the first in a series for the cannabis online TV network Hmm Did You Know (HDYKshowcasing prominent voices from the cannabis industry and community.

A total of twelve :30 commercial spots aired during Super Bowl LIII programming on the USVI CBS affiliate, marking the first broadcast of a cannabis-centric public service announcement during NFL programming. The historic campaign is a product of 420MEDIA, a Seattle, NYC and Nevada-based digital marketing and media agency serving the legal cannabis industry.

In January, 2019, U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. approved a new medical marijuana law making the territory the latest Caribbean jurisdiction to open its doors to cannabis businesses and potential new tourism opportunities. The move has been years in the making, with voters having favored medical cannabis in a 2014 referendum. In addition to the U.S. Virgin Islands, other U.S. territories that have approved MMJ include Guam and Puerto Rico.

It is only fitting then, that the spots that aired during this Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast feature former Senator Positive T.A. Nelson, the seven-term Senator from the island and now the commissioner nominee to the Dept of Agriculture, who was among the most prominent voices leading the fight for marijuana law reform.

“The rationale behind medicinal cannabis is real, the science is real, the economics behind it is real, the health behind it is real,  and the opportunities behind are very real” says the former Senator in the spot promoting Hmm Did You Know Online Cannabis TV Network.

“I am extremely excited and honored to be working with 420MEDIA, on the frontlines in the battle for legalization,” Senator Nelson said. “We must keep up the fight until the old wall of prohibition is completely broken down! Our collective efforts continue to change the mindset of individuals who have been bombarded with propaganda for over 80 years. Education is the key to removing stigma.”

“For years, there has been pushback on the national level, but local media markets with legal cannabis are slowly changing,” said 420MEDIA CEO Kerri Accardi.  “We are extremely grateful to the USVI for taking the first step to educate the mainstream audience about the benefits of cannabis. This is the first of many slated for the cannabis education and awareness campaign with other renowned cannabis experts in the sports, medical and entertainment field sharing their wealth of information about benefits of medical cannabis. We look forward to breaking through new markets, and reaching audiences in legal cannabis states,” she added.

The public service announcement was co-sponsored by 420MEDIA along with several cannabis-based organizations and businesses including:

Humboldt Grace, a woman-owned cannabis strategic consulting company. Founder Lelehnia Du Bois offers her 45 years of experience to educate on the cannabis culture, work with individual, businesses, and organizations to develop successful strategies, and advocate for a healthy and sustainable industry.

The Marijuana Business Association (MJBA), a leading cannabis business organization and publisher the MJNews Network and Marijuana Channel One.

Nature Nurse Products, utilizing the power of nature and knowledge of medicine to create products that support the biological Endocannabinoid system. Nature Nurse is a beautifully blended and synergistic combination of ancient plant wisdom which has been expanded upon through science to create high-quality, easy to use products to incorporate into everyday life supporting health and well-being.
Curved Papers, a new twist on Rolling Papers, Curved Papers was founded by Michael O’Malley, an MIT-educated entrepreneur whose innovative patented curved design makes joints Easy to Roll.

Vital CBD:  Age Vital pharmacy, research and wellness is your local community and compounding family pharmacy Sarasota. By working in the medical field closely with physicians and patients for several years, their primary commitment is to serve people who suffer from chronic conditions such as pain, inflammatory conditions, and stress.

US Virgin Islands Enacts Medical Cannabis Access Law

USVI: Democratic Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. signed legislation into law last week establishing a regulated medical cannabis market in the US Virgin Islands.

The Medical Cannabis Patient Care Act permits qualified patients to possess and access cannabis and cannabis-infused products from licensed dispensaries. Specified patients will also be permitted to cultivate their own marijuana.

Under the law, regulators must finalize rules governing the program within 180 days.

The Virgin Islands is the third US territory to legalize medical cannabis access — joining Guam and Puerto Rico.


For more information, contact Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director, at (202) 483-5500.

 

Cannabis Educational and Awareness Campaign, “Hmm Did You Know” Debuts On Cable TV

 30-Second Spots Aired On BRAVO, Discovery and The History Channel, Dispelling the Stigma of Cannabis

CALIFORNIA: For the first time in history, cannabis education commercials hit mainstream television this week. A groundbreaking media blitz campaign for the upcoming cannabis online TV network Hmm Did You Know (HDYK) aired a number of :30 commercial spots during primetime programming on stations including BRAVO, Discovery and the History Channel in the greater LA market. Featuring  Senator Positive T.A. Nelson, a seven-term Senator from the island of St. Croix, discussing the science and economic power of medical cannabis, the HDYK campaign suggests that standards are shifting for cannabis marketing in legal states.

The spot, created by 420MEDIA, a Seattle, NYC and Nevada-based digital marketing and media agency serving the legal cannabis industry, is the first in a series that will feature prominent voices in the cannabis industry and community.

“The rationale behind medicinal cannabis is real, the science is real, the economics behind it is real, the health behind it is real,  and the opportunities behind are very real” says Senator Nelson in the spot promoting Hmm Did You Know Online Cannabis Network, a collaborative effort with 420MEDIA to launch an internet based digital video service that provides insight, education, and entertainment in the world of cannabis. The network will give audiences a clear representation of the cannabis plant and industry through premium content, innovative advertising, and a personalized experience.

Cannabis Commericals

“This first cannabis education spot for the HDYK Network marks an important milestone for the cannabis industry. For the first time in history, cannabis industry commercials have now gone mainstream and we are ecstatic to reach large populations during primetime with messages on the benefits of cannabis,” says Kerri Accardi, CEO of 420MEDIA.  “This is just the first of many slated for this cannabis awareness education campaign with other renowned cannabis experts in the sports, medical and entertainment field sharing their wealth of information about benefits of medical cannabis. We are happy to break through and deliver the message that will reach national audiences,” she adds.

The first spot was co-sponsored by 420MEDIA along with several cannabis-based organizations and businesses including:

Humboldt Grace, a woman-owned cannabis strategic consulting company. Founder Lelehnia Du Bois offers her 45 years of experience to educate on the cannabis culture, work with individual, businesses, and organizations to develop successful strategies, and advocate for a healthy and sustainable industry.

The Marijuana Business Association (MJBA) has quickly established itself as one of the leading national b2b organizations in legal cannabis.  Established to provide business intelligence, professional networking and new business opportunity, MJBA hosts regular industry networking meetups, boot camps and seminars in WashingtonOregonColorado,  New York and Ohio and publishes the MJNews Network.

Nature Nurse Products utilize the power of nature and knowledge of medicine to create products that support the biological Endocannabinoid system. Nature Nurse is a beautifully blended and synergistic combination of ancient plant wisdom which has been expanded upon through science to create high-quality, easy to use products to incorporate into everyday life supporting health and well-being.
Curved Papers, a new twist on Rolling Papers, was founded by Michael O’Malley, an MIT-educated entrepreneur whose innovative patented curved design makes joints Easy To Roll.

Vital CBD:  Age Vital pharmacy, research and wellness is your local community and compounding family pharmacy Sarasota. By working in the medical field closely with physicians and patients for several years, their primary commitment is to serve people who suffer from chronic conditions such as pain, inflammatory conditions, and stress.

We did it! We can take cannabis education to the mainstream on TV during Primetime to provide facts with the cannabis industry sponsors,” 420MEDIA’s Accardi said. “I’m humbled. We were able to achieve this five years to the day my Aunt Kathy passed away on October 2nd. I promised her that that I was going to educate the world about cannabis. This is the first in a series to air on TV. I encourage, and welcome cannabis and hemp businesses of any size interested in supporting cannabis education and build their brand awareness to contact us about unprecedented sponsorship opportunities,” she said.

Having ‘High Tea’ With A US Virgin Island Senator

WASHINGTON:  This week I had the pleasure of attending Green Lion Farms in the Sodo district of Seattle for “High Tea,” a special event put on to welcome and celebrate a visit from the US Virgin Island Senator Terrance “Positive” Nelson and his delegation.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the event but Washington’s cannabis business industry surprised me and came out in force to welcome this special group. There was live music, a few speakers, fancy little sandwiches, fresh cannabis leaf centerpieces, and a steady flow of tea.

I talked to almost everybody from the traveling party and what struck me the most from all of them was being reminded what it was like to live outside of the cannabis bubble I seem to be dwelling in. Here in Washington I am experiencing the normalization of cannabis while in the Virgin Islands it is still a taboo subject.

Just a few short years ago it was a taboo subject in my social world too. However, now that I openly use it medicinally and have a job that involves the marijuana industry, it is no longer allowed to be au untouchable subject.

USVI Senator “Positive” Nelson To Meet With Washington Marijuana Business Leaders April 14th @ Green Lion Farms

WASHINGTON: Senator Terrence “Positive” Nelson and a delegation of pro-pot politicians on a fact-finding mission from the U.S. Virgin Islands will be visiting Washington next week and meeting with Washington’s legal cannabis business community leaders, as part of the Senator’s efforts to legalize and implement a Medicinal Marijuana industry in the USVI.

While in Seattle, Senator Nelson will be the guest of honor at a “High Tea” event, presented and hosted at the SODO headquarters of Green Lion Farms, a licensed cannabis producer/processors,  and attended by leading members of Washington’s legal cannabis business community.

“The success of Washington’s Marijuana industry is very commendable and one to be imitated. Recognizing this, a delegation from the U.S. Virgin Islands will be making an exploratory trip, with the sole purpose of meeting with business owners/participants in the industry and government officials, to gather information and discuss the strategies that could assist the USVI in duplicating Washington’s success with the transition of legalizing and implementing this industry,” the Senator told MJ News Network.

The Marijuana Business Association (MJBA)  is a co-sponsor of the prestigious gathering, and MJBA CEO David Rheins has volunteered to act as emcee. High Tea takes place on Tuesday, April 14th, 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM (PDT). Tickets are $150 and available via Eventbrite.