Talking Shop With Humboldt, CA-based Cannabis Author/Photographer Gooey Rabinski
In our continued coverage of what it means to be a cannabis-centric creative, we sit down with Humboldt, California-based author and photographer Gooey Rabinski. Getting his take on everything from the medical benefits of cannabis to writing about the plant, we ask Rabinski what it means to be a cannabis creative in today’s recreational and medical markets, in addition to what it was like being a marketer on the frontlines of the world’s largest black market cannabis industry. Touching on the methodologies Rabinski used in the black market to gain access to facilities to create cannabis content, to speaking on the publishing of his most recent book: Understanding Medical Marijuana, Rabinski shows what it means to be a successful cannabis author and photographer in an ever evolving, controversial industry.
Written by Maxwell Davis & Gooey Rabinski
Edited by Maxwell Davis & Jon Russell
Maxwell Davis, GreenSea Distribution: Thank you for taking the time to speak on the cannabis industry with me today, Gooey! For those who may be unaware of you or your work, would you kindly introduce yourself?
Gooey Rabinski, Cannabis Author & Photographer: Hi Maxwell, thank you for having me. I’ve been a technical writer and instructional designer in corporate America—typically the IT shops of large insurance companies and banks—for many years. Freelance writing has been a side pursuit since I was an undergrad in college. Most of my writing has actually been in the area of enterprise information technology and consumer tech, not cannabis.
Maxwell Davis: What initially sparked your interest in the cannabis industry? How long have you been working with cannabis?
Gooey Rabinski: The genesis occurred in 2003 when my brother invited me to an Ekoostik Hookah music festival in Ohio. At the time, I was a weekend pot smoking corporate cowboy, not especially enlightened and relatively materialistic. I was more focused on upgrading my German sports coupe and getting a nicer Tag Heuer watch than teaching the world about medical cannabis through words and photos.
The chill festival environment created by thousands of alt-lifestylers, hippies, and adventure seekers smoking weed and tripping on psilocybin mushrooms was inspiring, quite frankly. The hippie art I saw—and the conversations I had—literally changed my perspective on life. The enlightened Deadheads put my own ladder climbing life into perspective.
The experience motivated me to begin investigating cannabis as a medicine. I soon discovered Jack Herer and the true history of cannabis prohibition in the United States. Other leaders in the industry, like Dennis Peron, Eddy Lepp, and Lynnette Shaw, soon came onto my radar. I’m honored that all eventually ended up in front of my interview microphone.
Maxwell Davis: That is fascinating. I would love to interview any and all of those names, I can’t say I’m not a little jealous. It sounds like you had an eye-opening experience that led you to cannabis. Now, you have published a book on the subject, Understanding Medical Marijuana. Tell me a little bit about why you wrote the book and what the project is all about.
Gooey Rabinski: I’ve written more than 30 books under a different name, but all in the areas of web and consumer tech. I suppose it was a natural impulse to want to extend beyond articles about cannabis to tackle something a bit more ambitious like a book.
When I began the framework for the book in 2009, there were no states with legal adult use cannabis. Sure, California had Prop. 215 on the books since 1996, but that was medical, not recreational. The world of legal cannabis had changed considerably between 2009, when I began the project, and 2015 when I published the first edition.
Maxwell Davis: It certainly did. It did in a way many would not have believed possible when you first began your research, I’m sure. Personally, what do you wish the general public understood about cannabis? Is there one topic that you feel almost everyone lacks knowledge about?
Gooey Rabinski: I tuned Understanding Medical Marijuana, right down to the title, to appeal to unenlightened middle class voters, to be perfectly honest. Basically, people like my relatives in Ohio. They eat too much sugar, smoke too many cigarettes, get little exercise and watch too much Fox TV. They aren’t habituated to questioning authority or necessarily looking for root causes in society (like how cannabis prohibition came about in the first place).
I once wrote an article called, “Preaching to the Converted.” It explored how cannabis legalization activists often—and possibly typically—send their message to an audience of those who are already believers. They are preaching to the proverbial choir.
I resolved that I would target the book most at those who were not even sure that cannabis is real medicine. I purposefully used the term “marijuana” instead of my preference “cannabis” because I realized that a significant portion of my target audience would be unfamiliar with the term cannabis. In a world dominated by search engine optimization, I simply wanted to appeal to the largest percentage of disbelievers as possible.
Maxwell Davis: Daniel Macris, owner of Halycon Organics, was quoted as saying, “Recreational cannabis users are using cannabis for medical purposes, they just don’t realize it.” Do you agree or do you feel there is a distinction between recreational and medical cannabis?
Gooey Rabinski: There’s much scientific credence to the belief of Macris and others who share his view, like Dennis Peron, the person behind California’s Prop. 215. All mammals have an endocannabinoid system. Research is beginning to show that most humans suffer a syndrome called Endocannabinoid Deficiency, meaning their bodies are not producing enough cannabinoids to maintain homeostasis and proper health.
Beyond the semantics and politics inherent in labels like “adult use,” “recreational,” and “medical,” I think what is important is that one uses cannabis with intent. Is one trying to improve their life by reducing anxiety, depression, or pain, or are they merely trying to escape reality and, thus, responsibility? That’s what most alcoholics and junkies do. Cannabis embraces a different approach to life.
Maxwell Davis: I think that’s a healthy approach and one those who do not support cannabis would never think to address. Certainly, in my own personal life, research into my diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease and studying the endocannabinoid system is what sparked a great interest in cannabis. Of course, being a world-travelling Oregonian, I have always loved cannabis, but once I truly realized the miracles of cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system, I was hooked. It’s like it suddenly made sense why this plant has been so popular amongst humans since its first discovery. Tell me, in your experience, what are some of the medical benefits that the cannabis plant has to offer?
Gooey Rabinski: Not to be cocky, but you should read my book. I say this only because the extremely varied efficacy of this plant is only beginning to be understood by medical professionals and laypeople alike. The mere scope of the efficacy of cannabis for the myriad diseases and conditions that ail humans is mind-blowing. It’s impossible to convey in a short-form article, quite honestly.
One thing that blows some people’s minds is the sheer number of diseases and conditions for which cannabis offers efficacy: cancer, epilepsy, arthritis, diabetes, depression, anxiety, insomnia, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s. It helps prevent strokes and heart disease. It improves the mending of broken bones. One Israeli clinical study revealed that nearly half of subjects who were Crohn’s patients saw their condition go into remission after only two weeks of using pure, potent cannabis.
Maxwell Davis: See! That’s what I’m talking about!
Gooey Rabinski: Yes, I think it all comes down to how these amazing molecules called cannabinoids and terpenes help humans achieve balance in their endocannabinoid systems.
Maxwell Davis: It’s fascinating, really. Terpenes, especially. What blows my mind is how complex and detailed understanding this plant can truly become. We have written about the benefits of cannabinoids on our blog as well and learned quite a bit! I know personally, it has made a night and day difference in my life. I used to be at the hospital once every two weeks and it was hard to eat, much less work. Now I exercise, easily work over 50 hours a week and eat like anything you put in front of me. It’s been a remarkable transition and one I share with my doctor and relatives every chance I get. But, regardless of the plant’s perceived value, it is still incredibly challenging for many to get access to the plant. What are your thoughts on the way the United States federal government chooses to deal with cannabis?
Gooey Rabinski: Federal prohibition is—and always has been—a sad joke. It’s protectionism on a grand scale. Somehow, the Luddites were allowed to take control in the U.S. Congress, tossing favors to their buddies, the industrial robber barons of the era.
It was three basic things that resulted in the prohibition of cannabis in the United States in 1937: 1) racism, 2) the petrochemical industry and 3) the timber industry. They all conspired to prevent hemp and cannabis from gaining a legal foothold in the economy as the country was recovering from the Great Depression and seeking business opportunities.
It’s refreshing to see states like California, Oregon, and Colorado taking bold leaps into the future as they recognize that compassion for sick patients, respect for personal liberties and a healthier economy can all go hand-in-hand. How do we accomplish this? By legalizing and rationally regulating all forms of cannabis consumption.
This is much easier said than done; one of the biggest risks is regulations that bar small players, like family businesses and solopreneurs, from participating in the industry.
Now the cannabis industry needs two things: More legal adult use states and the implementation of good regulations. We picked up California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada last November. Unfortunately, the celebration party for doubling the number of legal adult use states was tainted by the presidential election. But we still got them!
I will take this opportunity to rant a bit about the need for legal states to begin allowing social gathering places (cannabis clubs). Social gathering is an essential element of any vibrant culture or industry, and cannabis is no different. I’m lucky; I’ve traveled North America and enjoyed an almost embarrassing level of freedom with the kind herb. I’ve smoked and shared it openly in places where I could get away with it. It’s a freedom I soon craved on a daily basis and a reason I moved to Northern California last year. I was tired of hiding. I was tired of getting bad medicine.
It’s not all peaches and cream here on the West Coast, but at least now I get my sungrown organic medicine directly from the farmer or processor and never run out. I suppose one of my goals is for all Americans and Canadians to enjoy the same luxury—regardless of where they live.
Maxwell Davis: I agree with you completely. Being raised in Dubai, UAE, with Crohn’s Disease but without cannabis, was quite the challenge. I don’t think I realized how much pain I was truly in until it stopped. I, too, now advocate for open cannabis use. For a moment, let’s move away from the serious stuff and talk a bit about your career. How long have you been writing about cannabis as your primary subject?
Gooey Rabinski: In 2004, I attended the Toker’s Bowl in Vancouver. It was organized by Cannabis Culture magazine, run by Marc Emery in Vancouver. I didn’t go to party, but instead to meet Dana Larsen, the editor of the magazine and to show him I that was serious about writing for him. I also wanted to get a quick education into some of the subtleties of cultivation and consumption—which definitely happened. It was the most educational $2,500 trip I ever took. Thirteen years later, I’m still leveraging that experience…
Writing for magazines like High Times and Cannabis Culture took me to the cannabis epicenters of California, Toronto and Vancouver. I began traveling to Toronto on a regular basis. I have a debt of gratitude to my Canadian friends. They taught me about old school Afghani hash (it was in a dusky basement in Toronto that I first held a key of it), gravity bongs,and how to tell if a visiting American is an undercover agent. Apparently, I passed the test…
Maxwell Davis: That’s an incredibly interesting story. You’ve certainly met the who’s-who of the cannabis industry, dropping names like Dana Larsen and Marc Emery. You have some pretty impressive photography, as well. How long have you been taking pictures of cannabis plants?
Gooey Rabinski: Thanks, Maxwell. I’ve been into the photography of cannabis since I got hot about the writing side in 2004. Pure text articles are pretty damn boring, to be honest. Magazine and media outlet editors want sexy photos, plain and simple. Pot porn rules the day, especially in the age of social media! My time behind the lens allows me to almost exclusively use my own photos in my social media, something I like. It allows me to fine tune my branding and engage in creative product placement.
Once I learned about the colorful people and projects in the cannabis culture, I instantly realized there was a treasure trove of opportunities available for any photographer willing to take a wee bit of risk and go on some adventures. Those who would like to check out some of my current cannabis photography should follow me on Instagram or Facebook.
Maxwell Davis: That’s awesome! I definitely encourage anyone reading to check out this man’s social media pages, they are heaps of fun. Tell me, how did you manage to become a photographer of the plant when the market was still largely underground? It couldn’t have been easy gaining access to those facilities.
Gooey Rabinski: Ah, the power of a press pass! But plenty of lessons were learned, for sure. Walking into a highly illegal grow room or extraction facility with a lot of high-end camera gear hanging around my neck absolutely made some folks nervous. Trust is critical in any industry or culture, but especially so when some of my subjects could face years or even decades in prison if they were to be identified and prosecuted.
Maxwell Davis: That’s frightening to think about, from both perspectives, really. Let’s get a little industry humor going. Tell me, what is the strangest experience you’ve had as a cannabis photographer?
Gooey Rabinski: I think it involved some amazing organic sativa, a little mushroom tea, and a charismatic Italian woman in a small sports car in a far off land. But I don’t think I’m ready to publish it yet…
Maxwell Davis: Ha! Well, it certainly sounds interesting. I hope that story gets mentioned in a book sometime. Do you have any advice for budding cannabis photographers or writers? Do you recommend freelance or finding an outlet for new creatives in the industry?
Gooey Rabinski: Career advice is a tough one. There’s both positive and negative energy in this culture and the emerging industry, but I prefer to think that the future is bright. My advice: Work only with good people who you truly trust—as challenging as that can be. Stay away from the folks who don’t believe in the medical efficacy of the plant or who see only dollar signs.
I love money and believe in a fair profit, but those not willing to learn the science and nuanced culture of this ancient herb are destined for failure. Or at least will be relegated to producing a mediocre cannabis product or service and the realization that they aren’t a top dog or preferred brand in the industry.
Maxwell Davis: That’s a sound suggestion. What are some of your favorite medical or recreational cannabis companies in your area? Are there any you feel are a step above the competition?
Gooey Rabinski: There are so many in this part of the country, Maxwell. The number of righteous companies producing excellent organic products made from sungrown cannabis is incredible. It continues to blow my mind on a weekly basis.
A few quick examples are Emerald Heritage Purveyors, Standard Xtracts, and Honeycomb Labs. I personally use the products from these companies. It would be nice if, someday, these top-shelf craft products were available on a nationwide basis. I’d love to recommend, for example, the organic Sativa Super Oil vape cartridges from Standard Xtracts to readers in Connecticut or Texas. I dream about that kind of stuff.
Maxwell Davis: It’s a good dream to have and one we certainly seem to be moving closer to. Is there anything you would like to share with those currently in the cannabis industry?
Gooey Rabinski: Well, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do spend a good deal of time working with farmers, processors and consultants here on the West Coast. A topic not taken as seriously as necessary is product purity.
This is sometimes labeled “testing,” but it’s really about product purity and consumer confidence. Standard Xtracts in California is testing its product at three stages! This is highly unusual. Testing has always been the redheaded stepchild of the cannabis industry. Many farmers and processors, unfortunately, regard it as a nuisance tax.
Also, nobody should fear big pharma, big tobacco or major players from other industries entering the cannabis game. Boutique, craft cannabis will always exist. Just look at other industries, including beer or even automobiles.
Maxwell Davis: I certainly your hope about that last point! Well, thank you for your time, Gooey. I truly appreciate you taking the time to connect with us and share your story with our audience. I look forward to finishing your book, Understanding Medical Marijuana, over the next week or so.
Gooey Rabinski: Thank you, Maxwell. It was kind of you to give me the opportunity to spend some time with your readers.
Maxwell Davis: No, it was my pleasure, really. Thanks again for joining us!