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Kyle Turley and other NFL stars stand by marijuana

USD outdoes SDSU in cannabis courses

Joshua Caruso founded The Farmer’s Cup in 2015. The event allows industry people and local weed enthusiasts to try out various products.
Joshua Caruso founded The Farmer’s Cup in 2015. The event allows industry people and local weed enthusiasts to try out various products.

“I’m repping my shirt today: San Diego State, baby!” exclaimed Kyle Turley to me on April 1. The Aztecs’ men’s basketball team had just come back from 14 points down in the second half against Florida Atlantic in the NCAA championship tournament to win 72-71, and Turley was thrilled. “Aztecs are gonna get it, hopefully, the championship, bro! Hopefully, this follows up with SDSU getting into the Pac-12. Then it’s gonna be over.” Turley lives in Tennessee now with his family, but he still has plenty of love for his alma mater, for whom he played football from 1993-97. The standout offensive tackle was named an All-American in his senior year, and was a first-round draft pick and two-time All-Pro in the NFL.

But his pro career was shortened by multiple injuries, and he retired in 2007. Football takes its toll on the body. During his second year in the NFL, he started smoking marijuana to help with sleep and body aches. He also took whatever the league’s doctors prescribed. “I was on Zoloft, Defeco, and heavy psych drugs to deal with vertigo and light sensitivity. I didn’t need any of those; why’d [the NFL doctors] put me on those? All they made me do is think of killing myself and other people.” Eventually, Turley stopped popping the pills and stuck with the CBD and THC he got from weed. “I woke up like I was out of a trance. The meds make you have all of those [suicidal] thoughts, and I haven’t had one since I got off of them.”

The pain pill regime was much the same in college, he says. “They get away with it more than anybody; there’s no oversight — it’s college.” Turley recalls he and his teammates being prescribed anti-inflammatory pills to address their post-game pains. But back then, he steered clear of weed. Had he tested positive for THC in random urinalysis tests, he could have gotten the boot and forfeited his college scholarship. “Man, I was scared to take it; I wanted to go to the NFL.” So instead, Turley popped the prescribed pills.

Even after he went pro, there was risk associated with weed use. He says that even the league’s newer, more lenient policy allows only for a “THC level to 150 nanograms, “the [International Olympic Committee] level. And if you test positive for over 150 nanograms of THC in the NFL now, they have agreed and made a new law: it is an automatic at least one game you have to play without pay, and up to three games of playing and practicing. Going to work — without pay. Some guys, potentially now, with the contracts that they have, that’s a million a game.”

But as risks go, he says, it was and is manageable. Players “can take hybrid CBDs and full spectrums in the hemp world. And if they are good at monitoring their [weed] content and using it every day — not all day, maybe a nighttime thing — and they get a heads up on the drug test, then by the time they take it, they won’t be over the limit.” An NBC.com news report last year said that blood THC levels usually hit a high point shortly after smoking weed and can reach upward of 100 nanograms per milliliter of blood after about 15 minutes of smoking. Then THC levels quickly drop — to less than two nanograms per milliliter of blood after about four hours.

Turley’s real objection to the 150 nanogram limit, however, is not that it’s ineffective as a deterrent; it’s that there’s a limit at all. “If you are going to put a cap on it, which is the dumbest thing in the world, you are saying that the number one regulatory system in the human body isn’t the thing we should be accessing to cure our athletes.” Here, he is referring to the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which, according to Healthline.com, “plays a role in regulating a range of functions and processes, including sleep, mood, appetite, memory reproduction, and fertility. The ECS exists and is active in your body even if you don’t use cannabis.” Turley doesn’t just want weed allowed; he wants it promoted. “Our biggest push is to have them, college, pros, everybody, stop testing for cannabis. To normalize cannabis and get this into the streets.”

Kyle Turley (center) with fans at the Gridiron Greats Celebrity Golf Classic.

To that end, Turley partnered in 2020 with former NFL quarterback Jim McMahon, former NFL offensive tackle Ebon Britton, and former NFL running back (and San Diego native) Ricky Williams to form the brand Revenant, which sells cannabis products in packaged flower, pre-roll, distillate, and edible forms throughout San Diego County and beyond, even reaching Arizona. (Patrick Henry High star Williams has since parted amicably with Revenant to pursue his own cannabis line called Highsman — the name is a play on the Heisman Trophy he won in 1998.) Britton says that “Kyle, Jim, and [I] have been speaking about cannabis as medicine for the football players for a while now. The number one issue facing NFL football players is CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy.” CTE is a progressive degenerative brain disorder that can happen in people with a history of repeated blows to the head, often received while playing contact sports such as football or boxing. Britton says cannabis is “the only remedy on the planet that helps to heal the physical tissue in the brain. The federal government has a patent on cannabinoids, which have neuroprotectants and antioxidants.”

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Adds McMahon, “I think the NFL is starting to change their rules, I’m not positive, but I’ve heard they are more lax. I don’t know if they are going to keep testing or if their penalties are going to be less severe. Because it’s a ridiculous rule when they can shove all of these opioids down your throat, and that doesn’t matter even though the opioids have been proven to be addictive and kill people. I know that Kyle’s been speaking to Congress about [allowing the NFL players to smoke cannabis].”

Higher Learning

Congress isn’t the only authoritative body Turley’s been telling. San Diego State University inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 2011. It listened to him pitch a cannabis curriculum. “We had a meeting years ago on the SDSU campus, and I was in front of an entire room of administrators. We were supposed to have an entire cannabis curriculum in San Diego State. I said,‘It can be applied here, here, here — in every degree. But they got cold feet and opted out of participating in the cannabis curriculum opportunity that the state of California has. These people keep talking about, ‘Oh, we don’t have any money for kids.’ Well, apply some cannabis curriculums: there are billions of dollars waiting to go to colleges to let people come to college for jobs that are going to be in the future. Cannabis is number one, and these people continue to deny that opportunity to those students. It’s supposed to be an institution of higher learning!”

The University of San Diego, on the other hand, notes on its website that there were 428,000 full-time employees in the cannabis industry in the U.S. in 2021. Furthermore, California was the world’s largest legal cannabis market in 2019, and “was on track to record $3.1 billion in sales, a 23 percent growth rate from 2018.” Today at USD, students can study to receive a Cannabis Compliance and Risk Management Certificate. Courses include Cannabis 101: History and Practice Across Industries, Cannabis Medicine and Healthcare I: Essentials of Cannabis Medicine, and Cannabis Medicine and Cannabis Medicine and Healthcare II: Integrated Clinical Practice. And on the website Salary.com, there is a Cannabis Compliance Administrator position in California starting at $25-$30 an hour. Zip Recruiter, another job site, states that in California, they see salaries as high as $130,727 in the cannabis industry. And even at the sales level, some budtenders in San Diego rake in hundreds of dollars in weekly tips on top of their $16-$20 hourly wage.

Out of the green closet

Joshua Caruso, the founder of The Farmer’s Cup, looks up to Turley — and not because of his 6-foot-5-inch, nearly 300-pound frame. Caruso admires the way Turley is utilizing his sports celebrity, which provides him a “broader platform to advocate for these changes. The NFL, NBA, NCAA, and other pro leagues should draft a fair cannabis policy that makes sense for everyone — all athletes deserve safe access to cannabis.” Caruso is a 42-year-old San Diegan who has been smoking weed since he was 16. His approach to the industry differs slightly from Turley’s. “My occupation is also in the cannabis space, but most recently, cannabis event organization,” he says, “as well as separate cannabis consulting and cultivation.”

Ebon Johnson Jr., manager of Dr. Greenthumb’s in La Mesa and B-Real.

When he launched it in 2015, Caruso’s event was called the San Diego Cannabis Farmers Market. It was a grassroots competition that was kept on the low, and allowed industry people and local weed enthusiasts to try out various products. Participants would then rendezvous at an agreed-upon location to award the winners and consume cannabis openly. “It eventually grew an identity of its own,” he says, “and during 2020, we began working with licensed brands and dispensaries. With that, we came out of the green closet and gained notoriety amongst cannabis enthusiasts from all over California and beyond.”

Caruso’s Instagram fliers indicate that his recent event on February 25 was held at an undisclosed location in San Diego. “It’s not really a secret, but we must have a private event. So we disclose the venue location only to those that participate or buy tickets.” Hundreds — maybe more than a thousand — of cannabis heads pulled up to Caruso’s event to celebrate the plant, smoke out, network, and hand out trophies. Winning an award at Caruso’s event gets the brands street cred, in part because many of the judges are regular users from outside the industry. Competitors, on the other hand, must be licensed products from legitimate California-based cannabis companies. “They deliver the entries to our dispensary partners, who work with the grassroots team,” says Caruso. Farmer’s Cup then works with San Diego’s Infinite Chemical Analysis, “a state-regulated and licensed cannabis laboratory. They run tests on our entries for highest combined cannabinoids, highest combined terpenes, and other lab results.” Then Caruso’s volunteers prepare the boxed judge kits for pick-up day.

Passing judgment

In a 2021 video clip, rapper B-Real from the cannabis-friendly group Cypress Hill is shown opening up a sealed Farmer’s Cup Virtual Edition VIP Box. “What up, salute to Farmer’s Cup,” he says. “I’m gonna unbox this real quick to see what sort of flavors we are looking at in here.” The box is about the same size as a sneaker box. It’s sealed with a pull tab, such that the package cannot be resealed once opened, and is packed with sealed baggies of weed and other goodies. “We got some shit right here, homegrown rosin,” says B-Real. “There’s a lot of live rosins up in here.” Rosin is a THC-packed concentrate that’s sticky and super potent when smoked. “We also have the Mr. Hilltop GMO cookies.” He then playfully throws about six weed packets at the camera. “We’re gonna smoke all that shit, man, on salute, to my bros. We’re gonna enjoy these flavors.” Another perk of winning a Farmer’s Cup award is placement on the dispensaries’ shelves. So if B-Real likes your flower, concentrate, or cookies, the product might wind up in his five Dr. Greenthumb’s dispensaries throughout California — including La Mesa. Caruso notes, “Weedwoodz, one of the winners in our competition, made it onto Dr. Greenthumb’s shelves.”

Jim McMahon eating a THC-infused hamburger from Mint Cannabis.

Celebrity judges like B-Real get comped; regular judges pay $99 for their boxes. Explains Caruso, “The judges have the option to purchase different types of judge experiences, which have different categories, from Flower, Edibles, Pre-rolls, Concentrates, and more.” A recent competition drew nearly 400 judges from San Diego County; one of them was Lida Thompson, who has been judging the Farmer’s Cup entries since 2016. “We pick up our judge kits on the pick-up days at the dispensary; then we have about two weeks to get to know the entries,” she explains. The competition sends an electronic ballot to every judge, with questions to help guide them.

Caruso highly encourages group testing and smoke sessions with notepads, as the experience of smoking or eating through a buffet of THC goodies can be daunting if your tolerance is not up to speed, and keeping track of things is important. Thompson agrees. She and her husband have judged live events in the past, “and they’re a whole lot of fun, and you get totally ripped. But when you’re trying to judge 20 flower entries, 20 concentrate entries, and a dozen edible entries in the span of three hours, it gets really hard to discern what the best entries truly are. And while it is a blast, I don’t think it’s very fair to the entries, and I honestly couldn’t tell you the next day most of what I voted. That’s why we massively prefer judging the Farmer’s Cup’s way — at home. Not only did it give us something positive to focus on during the tough years of the pandemic, but it also kept us engaged with the local cannabis community and stocked up on really potent, trustworthy meds.”

Thompson and her husband do two to three judging seshes per day. “We take photos and a video of each entry just before we try them,” she says. “It’s a great way to keep track. We also take notes, describing each entry’s appearance, aroma, taste, smokeability, effect, and packaging.” Then, once the couple narrows things down to their two favorites, they do a smoke-off. “I feel that judging in this way, we get to intimately know and experience each entry, appreciating the subtleties and nuances each has to offer,” she continues. “We also communicate and share our opinions with other judges we know. We’ve learned a heck of a lot about terpenes, cannabinoids, and what different things work for us.”

Terpenes make the difference in tastes and smells, differentiating the weed strains from one another. The most common terpenes are limonene, which is citrusy; pinene, like pine trees; myrcene, which is herbal; caryophyllene, peppery; and terpinolene, which is fruity. As for cannabinoids, the U.S. government says they are “a type of chemical in marijuana that causes drug-like effects all through the body, including the central nervous system and the immune system. The main active cannabinoid in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Cannabinoids may help treat the symptoms of cancer or the side effects of cancer treatment.”

At the Gridiron Greats Celebrity Golf Classic, Mint Cannabis was hooking up golfers with complimentary dab hits from their rigs.

Thompson’s hubby, who she didn’t want to have identified in the article for privacy reasons, is a brain tumor survivor, “and they think cannabis helped keep his aggressive type of cancerous tumor from growing back,” says Thompson. “After surgery and radiation, they gave him five months to live before they expected it to grow back. That was over 26 years ago.”

Thompson herself was a competitive international ballroom dance champion, but she blew out her knee, “and the surgery triggered one of the most painful central nervous system diseases, RSD (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy). I also was in two high-impact, hit-and-run car accidents and have had neck surgery. I have PTSD and have had problems with depression, OCD, and anxiety.” To endure the pain brought by RSD, she was on what she calls “fentanyl lollipops” and timed-release morphine, on top of Norco, Soma, Xanax, and Ambien for sleep. “I was literally on enough stuff to drop an elephant, yet I was still in excruciating pain.”

After she had endured years of suffering, her doctors began talking about surgically installing a fentanyl pain pump. By then, she says, she “was on the brink of suicide.” Happily, she says, “after doing some research on the internet, I found out that RSD responds well to high levels of THC.” In two months, she was able to stop all of the pharmaceutical drugs she was prescribed and swap them out for cannabis in different forms. That was 13 years ago. Today, the couple smokes joints and concentrates — her husband smokes to alleviate nausea “that came with the radiation and stayed because of Hemochromatosis,” Thompson explains. “That’s a hereditary disease. And he also uses cannabis for pain and depression.” So we’re both big believers in the medicinal benefits of ganja.” Thanks to the Farmer’s Cup, the couple has tried many products and brands they never would’ve thought of trying or had the opportunity to test out. “We’re very fortunate and thrilled to have participated in judging every Farmer’s Cup so far.”

After the judges smoke out and taste the THC-infused edibles, they cast their ballots online, Caruso’s team crunches the numbers, and the results are posted on Instagram. Finally, an awards ceremony ensues, where people and companies collect plaudits and trophies. Asked about consistent winners, Thompson replies, “Some of the first that jump to mind are Session Supply Co, Weedwoodz, Errl Hill, URSA, Paradox, and Originals.”

Social media subterfuge

In 2021, Weedwoodz posted a photo of their winning trophy on Instagram, captioned, “#weedwoodz. Another one in the books. Adding one more trophy to our bragging rights collection.” Weedwoodz, like many other cannabis brands, keeps its Instagram accounts on private. Many brands have backup accounts. The reason is that cannabis brands and dispensaries are constantly getting restricted or banned for showing weed or concentrate. Depicting cannabis and its derivatives is against parent company Meta’s rules and regulations.

Kyle Turley has lost both his Instagram and Facebook accounts in the past, and not just for his cannabis and dispensary brands. (Besides Revenant, he is a part owner of Ramona Cannabis Company.) “I’ve been dealing with that for a long time, even in the CBD game,” he says. “Our online platforms were shut down, and they did all of these stupid things where they restrict you.” CBD doesn’t contain THC, the psychoactive ingredient found in weed that produces the high, and is legally sold over the counter in many places in town. Even so, “you have to know the game and how to play it. You create other opportunities to be a brand. They say, ‘We can’t discuss your brand because of cannabis.’ However, we are not just cannabis; we have a lot of other things. We do philanthropy, service, entertainment, producing events, all these other things that we can use to get big stories.”

Case in point: while in Phoenix for Super Bowl week last February, I connected with Turley and Jim McMahon at the Anthem Golf and Country Club. The two NFL players were hosting the Gridiron Greats Celebrity Golf Classic, where former NFL greats and other sports celebrities played golf and smoked weed. Revenant’s brand was emblazoned all over the golf course, and brand ambassadors passed out samples of their products. Another company, Mint Cannabis, was hooking up golfers with complimentary dab hits from their rigs. [Full disclosure: I currently manage Mint’s social media campaigns.] A dab, also called wax or concentrate, is concentrated THC smoked through a bong-like apparatus called a rig; the dab is heated up with a blowtorch, and the wax emits the smoke to be inhaled. “We love working with Kyle Turley and Jim McMahon because they are as passionate about cannabis as we are,” said Lexie Coleman, a spokesperson for Mint. “And the two experimented with the magical plant in various forms, and through experience, they healed their bodies and minds.”

Lida Thompson has been judging the Farmer’s Cup entries since 2016.

Because the golf tournament was a regular sports event — even if it was sponsored by Mint Cannabis, Revenant, Cannabis Talk 101, Farechild Events, and a slew of other cannabis businesses — it was not banned or restricted on Facebook or Instagram. “Ultimately,” says Turley, “if you create the right platform, they are not going to win; you are going to win. It’s just overcoming by persevering and knowing you are in the right, and finding ways to structure the company to continue that biz.”

Breaking the banks

That kind of creative approach is also required in other aspects of the biz,” says Turley. “Like banking services you can’t get. You must find ways as a cannabis company to be more legitimate. So Ramona Cannabis Company, for instance — there are multiple plays in that investment: if you wanna touch the plant, cannabis, you can, and put your name on that.” Investors put money down on all of the other facets of the cannabis industry via equipment and real estate. “The majority of my investment in Ramona is to enter it as a property holding,” Turley continues, “because, with the money I used to invest in the company, I couldn’t. The stupid restrictions were, you can’t invest in a cannabis company with retirement money — like if you have an IRA or 401K, something like that, where you should be able to self-direct that into any investment. They bar you from doing that in cannabis; it’s crazy. You gotta find ways around that, so you create a separate corp for it on all these other things. Then you have had investment come in all of those different ways.”

B-Real of Cypress Hill has been advocating for the legalization of cannabis since before 1993, when his group released the Black Sunday album with the weed-infused track, “Insane in the Brain.” In September of last year, I caught up with B-Real, whose birth name is Louis Mario Freese, at the La Mesa location of his Dr. Greenthumb’s dispensary. “It’ll be a big step for cannabis for the banks to finally recognize and accept accounts and work with us,” B-Real said. “That will change a lot of how the industry does business; the capital will be freed up.” And for now, while the cannabis industry is stigmatized in the banking world, “we’ll just keep investing back into our brand and our company what we want to achieve.” On the day we spoke, B-Real was promoting his Insane brand of cannabis flower, his own Funko POP! doll, which was being sold at Walmart, and his clothing line.

Not just blowing smoke

B-Real also has a popular podcast and video streaming channel called BRealTV. On a recent episode, he smoked a blunt with Kyle Turley. “We’d sit there interviewing in one of his lowriders,” Turley says. “I don’t know how long we did that, like two hours. I ran into Cypress Hill more than 20 years ago at the Rainbow Room up at Sunset on the strip. They were sitting outside, and I ran into Sen Dog. He said, “Ohh man, I’m a huge football fan, and you’re Kyle Turley,” and I’m like, “No fucking way you know who I am.” Then I hook up with him, and we sit down, and B-Real rolled me a joint on the table — in front of two cops. I’m like, ‘No way, this is awesome,’ and we’ve been following it up through the years.”

Today, B-Real’s and Turley’s dispensaries are only about 30 miles apart. “Hats off to Kyle Turley and B-Real for staying involved and pushing the culture,” says Farmer’s Cup founder Caruso. “And hopefully, their business models work out for them.” Caruso, who smokes cannabis to “improve his mental state” and help him “focus on maximizing my productivity,” says, “We’ve planned the best 4-20 experience possible — and legally in California! The upcoming Farmers Cup 420 Edition is a people’s choice cannabis competition that puts any cannabis enthusiast who purchases a ticket in the seat of a cannabis judge. Judges oversee the testing of all legal cannabis categories on the recreational cannabis market. They are all represented, from the biggest brands to the small growers. Education, culture, and community are our main focus,” Caruso concluded — which makes it 4-20 day every day here in San Diego.

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Joshua Caruso founded The Farmer’s Cup in 2015. The event allows industry people and local weed enthusiasts to try out various products.
Joshua Caruso founded The Farmer’s Cup in 2015. The event allows industry people and local weed enthusiasts to try out various products.

“I’m repping my shirt today: San Diego State, baby!” exclaimed Kyle Turley to me on April 1. The Aztecs’ men’s basketball team had just come back from 14 points down in the second half against Florida Atlantic in the NCAA championship tournament to win 72-71, and Turley was thrilled. “Aztecs are gonna get it, hopefully, the championship, bro! Hopefully, this follows up with SDSU getting into the Pac-12. Then it’s gonna be over.” Turley lives in Tennessee now with his family, but he still has plenty of love for his alma mater, for whom he played football from 1993-97. The standout offensive tackle was named an All-American in his senior year, and was a first-round draft pick and two-time All-Pro in the NFL.

But his pro career was shortened by multiple injuries, and he retired in 2007. Football takes its toll on the body. During his second year in the NFL, he started smoking marijuana to help with sleep and body aches. He also took whatever the league’s doctors prescribed. “I was on Zoloft, Defeco, and heavy psych drugs to deal with vertigo and light sensitivity. I didn’t need any of those; why’d [the NFL doctors] put me on those? All they made me do is think of killing myself and other people.” Eventually, Turley stopped popping the pills and stuck with the CBD and THC he got from weed. “I woke up like I was out of a trance. The meds make you have all of those [suicidal] thoughts, and I haven’t had one since I got off of them.”

The pain pill regime was much the same in college, he says. “They get away with it more than anybody; there’s no oversight — it’s college.” Turley recalls he and his teammates being prescribed anti-inflammatory pills to address their post-game pains. But back then, he steered clear of weed. Had he tested positive for THC in random urinalysis tests, he could have gotten the boot and forfeited his college scholarship. “Man, I was scared to take it; I wanted to go to the NFL.” So instead, Turley popped the prescribed pills.

Even after he went pro, there was risk associated with weed use. He says that even the league’s newer, more lenient policy allows only for a “THC level to 150 nanograms, “the [International Olympic Committee] level. And if you test positive for over 150 nanograms of THC in the NFL now, they have agreed and made a new law: it is an automatic at least one game you have to play without pay, and up to three games of playing and practicing. Going to work — without pay. Some guys, potentially now, with the contracts that they have, that’s a million a game.”

But as risks go, he says, it was and is manageable. Players “can take hybrid CBDs and full spectrums in the hemp world. And if they are good at monitoring their [weed] content and using it every day — not all day, maybe a nighttime thing — and they get a heads up on the drug test, then by the time they take it, they won’t be over the limit.” An NBC.com news report last year said that blood THC levels usually hit a high point shortly after smoking weed and can reach upward of 100 nanograms per milliliter of blood after about 15 minutes of smoking. Then THC levels quickly drop — to less than two nanograms per milliliter of blood after about four hours.

Turley’s real objection to the 150 nanogram limit, however, is not that it’s ineffective as a deterrent; it’s that there’s a limit at all. “If you are going to put a cap on it, which is the dumbest thing in the world, you are saying that the number one regulatory system in the human body isn’t the thing we should be accessing to cure our athletes.” Here, he is referring to the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which, according to Healthline.com, “plays a role in regulating a range of functions and processes, including sleep, mood, appetite, memory reproduction, and fertility. The ECS exists and is active in your body even if you don’t use cannabis.” Turley doesn’t just want weed allowed; he wants it promoted. “Our biggest push is to have them, college, pros, everybody, stop testing for cannabis. To normalize cannabis and get this into the streets.”

Kyle Turley (center) with fans at the Gridiron Greats Celebrity Golf Classic.

To that end, Turley partnered in 2020 with former NFL quarterback Jim McMahon, former NFL offensive tackle Ebon Britton, and former NFL running back (and San Diego native) Ricky Williams to form the brand Revenant, which sells cannabis products in packaged flower, pre-roll, distillate, and edible forms throughout San Diego County and beyond, even reaching Arizona. (Patrick Henry High star Williams has since parted amicably with Revenant to pursue his own cannabis line called Highsman — the name is a play on the Heisman Trophy he won in 1998.) Britton says that “Kyle, Jim, and [I] have been speaking about cannabis as medicine for the football players for a while now. The number one issue facing NFL football players is CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy.” CTE is a progressive degenerative brain disorder that can happen in people with a history of repeated blows to the head, often received while playing contact sports such as football or boxing. Britton says cannabis is “the only remedy on the planet that helps to heal the physical tissue in the brain. The federal government has a patent on cannabinoids, which have neuroprotectants and antioxidants.”

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Adds McMahon, “I think the NFL is starting to change their rules, I’m not positive, but I’ve heard they are more lax. I don’t know if they are going to keep testing or if their penalties are going to be less severe. Because it’s a ridiculous rule when they can shove all of these opioids down your throat, and that doesn’t matter even though the opioids have been proven to be addictive and kill people. I know that Kyle’s been speaking to Congress about [allowing the NFL players to smoke cannabis].”

Higher Learning

Congress isn’t the only authoritative body Turley’s been telling. San Diego State University inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 2011. It listened to him pitch a cannabis curriculum. “We had a meeting years ago on the SDSU campus, and I was in front of an entire room of administrators. We were supposed to have an entire cannabis curriculum in San Diego State. I said,‘It can be applied here, here, here — in every degree. But they got cold feet and opted out of participating in the cannabis curriculum opportunity that the state of California has. These people keep talking about, ‘Oh, we don’t have any money for kids.’ Well, apply some cannabis curriculums: there are billions of dollars waiting to go to colleges to let people come to college for jobs that are going to be in the future. Cannabis is number one, and these people continue to deny that opportunity to those students. It’s supposed to be an institution of higher learning!”

The University of San Diego, on the other hand, notes on its website that there were 428,000 full-time employees in the cannabis industry in the U.S. in 2021. Furthermore, California was the world’s largest legal cannabis market in 2019, and “was on track to record $3.1 billion in sales, a 23 percent growth rate from 2018.” Today at USD, students can study to receive a Cannabis Compliance and Risk Management Certificate. Courses include Cannabis 101: History and Practice Across Industries, Cannabis Medicine and Healthcare I: Essentials of Cannabis Medicine, and Cannabis Medicine and Cannabis Medicine and Healthcare II: Integrated Clinical Practice. And on the website Salary.com, there is a Cannabis Compliance Administrator position in California starting at $25-$30 an hour. Zip Recruiter, another job site, states that in California, they see salaries as high as $130,727 in the cannabis industry. And even at the sales level, some budtenders in San Diego rake in hundreds of dollars in weekly tips on top of their $16-$20 hourly wage.

Out of the green closet

Joshua Caruso, the founder of The Farmer’s Cup, looks up to Turley — and not because of his 6-foot-5-inch, nearly 300-pound frame. Caruso admires the way Turley is utilizing his sports celebrity, which provides him a “broader platform to advocate for these changes. The NFL, NBA, NCAA, and other pro leagues should draft a fair cannabis policy that makes sense for everyone — all athletes deserve safe access to cannabis.” Caruso is a 42-year-old San Diegan who has been smoking weed since he was 16. His approach to the industry differs slightly from Turley’s. “My occupation is also in the cannabis space, but most recently, cannabis event organization,” he says, “as well as separate cannabis consulting and cultivation.”

Ebon Johnson Jr., manager of Dr. Greenthumb’s in La Mesa and B-Real.

When he launched it in 2015, Caruso’s event was called the San Diego Cannabis Farmers Market. It was a grassroots competition that was kept on the low, and allowed industry people and local weed enthusiasts to try out various products. Participants would then rendezvous at an agreed-upon location to award the winners and consume cannabis openly. “It eventually grew an identity of its own,” he says, “and during 2020, we began working with licensed brands and dispensaries. With that, we came out of the green closet and gained notoriety amongst cannabis enthusiasts from all over California and beyond.”

Caruso’s Instagram fliers indicate that his recent event on February 25 was held at an undisclosed location in San Diego. “It’s not really a secret, but we must have a private event. So we disclose the venue location only to those that participate or buy tickets.” Hundreds — maybe more than a thousand — of cannabis heads pulled up to Caruso’s event to celebrate the plant, smoke out, network, and hand out trophies. Winning an award at Caruso’s event gets the brands street cred, in part because many of the judges are regular users from outside the industry. Competitors, on the other hand, must be licensed products from legitimate California-based cannabis companies. “They deliver the entries to our dispensary partners, who work with the grassroots team,” says Caruso. Farmer’s Cup then works with San Diego’s Infinite Chemical Analysis, “a state-regulated and licensed cannabis laboratory. They run tests on our entries for highest combined cannabinoids, highest combined terpenes, and other lab results.” Then Caruso’s volunteers prepare the boxed judge kits for pick-up day.

Passing judgment

In a 2021 video clip, rapper B-Real from the cannabis-friendly group Cypress Hill is shown opening up a sealed Farmer’s Cup Virtual Edition VIP Box. “What up, salute to Farmer’s Cup,” he says. “I’m gonna unbox this real quick to see what sort of flavors we are looking at in here.” The box is about the same size as a sneaker box. It’s sealed with a pull tab, such that the package cannot be resealed once opened, and is packed with sealed baggies of weed and other goodies. “We got some shit right here, homegrown rosin,” says B-Real. “There’s a lot of live rosins up in here.” Rosin is a THC-packed concentrate that’s sticky and super potent when smoked. “We also have the Mr. Hilltop GMO cookies.” He then playfully throws about six weed packets at the camera. “We’re gonna smoke all that shit, man, on salute, to my bros. We’re gonna enjoy these flavors.” Another perk of winning a Farmer’s Cup award is placement on the dispensaries’ shelves. So if B-Real likes your flower, concentrate, or cookies, the product might wind up in his five Dr. Greenthumb’s dispensaries throughout California — including La Mesa. Caruso notes, “Weedwoodz, one of the winners in our competition, made it onto Dr. Greenthumb’s shelves.”

Jim McMahon eating a THC-infused hamburger from Mint Cannabis.

Celebrity judges like B-Real get comped; regular judges pay $99 for their boxes. Explains Caruso, “The judges have the option to purchase different types of judge experiences, which have different categories, from Flower, Edibles, Pre-rolls, Concentrates, and more.” A recent competition drew nearly 400 judges from San Diego County; one of them was Lida Thompson, who has been judging the Farmer’s Cup entries since 2016. “We pick up our judge kits on the pick-up days at the dispensary; then we have about two weeks to get to know the entries,” she explains. The competition sends an electronic ballot to every judge, with questions to help guide them.

Caruso highly encourages group testing and smoke sessions with notepads, as the experience of smoking or eating through a buffet of THC goodies can be daunting if your tolerance is not up to speed, and keeping track of things is important. Thompson agrees. She and her husband have judged live events in the past, “and they’re a whole lot of fun, and you get totally ripped. But when you’re trying to judge 20 flower entries, 20 concentrate entries, and a dozen edible entries in the span of three hours, it gets really hard to discern what the best entries truly are. And while it is a blast, I don’t think it’s very fair to the entries, and I honestly couldn’t tell you the next day most of what I voted. That’s why we massively prefer judging the Farmer’s Cup’s way — at home. Not only did it give us something positive to focus on during the tough years of the pandemic, but it also kept us engaged with the local cannabis community and stocked up on really potent, trustworthy meds.”

Thompson and her husband do two to three judging seshes per day. “We take photos and a video of each entry just before we try them,” she says. “It’s a great way to keep track. We also take notes, describing each entry’s appearance, aroma, taste, smokeability, effect, and packaging.” Then, once the couple narrows things down to their two favorites, they do a smoke-off. “I feel that judging in this way, we get to intimately know and experience each entry, appreciating the subtleties and nuances each has to offer,” she continues. “We also communicate and share our opinions with other judges we know. We’ve learned a heck of a lot about terpenes, cannabinoids, and what different things work for us.”

Terpenes make the difference in tastes and smells, differentiating the weed strains from one another. The most common terpenes are limonene, which is citrusy; pinene, like pine trees; myrcene, which is herbal; caryophyllene, peppery; and terpinolene, which is fruity. As for cannabinoids, the U.S. government says they are “a type of chemical in marijuana that causes drug-like effects all through the body, including the central nervous system and the immune system. The main active cannabinoid in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Cannabinoids may help treat the symptoms of cancer or the side effects of cancer treatment.”

At the Gridiron Greats Celebrity Golf Classic, Mint Cannabis was hooking up golfers with complimentary dab hits from their rigs.

Thompson’s hubby, who she didn’t want to have identified in the article for privacy reasons, is a brain tumor survivor, “and they think cannabis helped keep his aggressive type of cancerous tumor from growing back,” says Thompson. “After surgery and radiation, they gave him five months to live before they expected it to grow back. That was over 26 years ago.”

Thompson herself was a competitive international ballroom dance champion, but she blew out her knee, “and the surgery triggered one of the most painful central nervous system diseases, RSD (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy). I also was in two high-impact, hit-and-run car accidents and have had neck surgery. I have PTSD and have had problems with depression, OCD, and anxiety.” To endure the pain brought by RSD, she was on what she calls “fentanyl lollipops” and timed-release morphine, on top of Norco, Soma, Xanax, and Ambien for sleep. “I was literally on enough stuff to drop an elephant, yet I was still in excruciating pain.”

After she had endured years of suffering, her doctors began talking about surgically installing a fentanyl pain pump. By then, she says, she “was on the brink of suicide.” Happily, she says, “after doing some research on the internet, I found out that RSD responds well to high levels of THC.” In two months, she was able to stop all of the pharmaceutical drugs she was prescribed and swap them out for cannabis in different forms. That was 13 years ago. Today, the couple smokes joints and concentrates — her husband smokes to alleviate nausea “that came with the radiation and stayed because of Hemochromatosis,” Thompson explains. “That’s a hereditary disease. And he also uses cannabis for pain and depression.” So we’re both big believers in the medicinal benefits of ganja.” Thanks to the Farmer’s Cup, the couple has tried many products and brands they never would’ve thought of trying or had the opportunity to test out. “We’re very fortunate and thrilled to have participated in judging every Farmer’s Cup so far.”

After the judges smoke out and taste the THC-infused edibles, they cast their ballots online, Caruso’s team crunches the numbers, and the results are posted on Instagram. Finally, an awards ceremony ensues, where people and companies collect plaudits and trophies. Asked about consistent winners, Thompson replies, “Some of the first that jump to mind are Session Supply Co, Weedwoodz, Errl Hill, URSA, Paradox, and Originals.”

Social media subterfuge

In 2021, Weedwoodz posted a photo of their winning trophy on Instagram, captioned, “#weedwoodz. Another one in the books. Adding one more trophy to our bragging rights collection.” Weedwoodz, like many other cannabis brands, keeps its Instagram accounts on private. Many brands have backup accounts. The reason is that cannabis brands and dispensaries are constantly getting restricted or banned for showing weed or concentrate. Depicting cannabis and its derivatives is against parent company Meta’s rules and regulations.

Kyle Turley has lost both his Instagram and Facebook accounts in the past, and not just for his cannabis and dispensary brands. (Besides Revenant, he is a part owner of Ramona Cannabis Company.) “I’ve been dealing with that for a long time, even in the CBD game,” he says. “Our online platforms were shut down, and they did all of these stupid things where they restrict you.” CBD doesn’t contain THC, the psychoactive ingredient found in weed that produces the high, and is legally sold over the counter in many places in town. Even so, “you have to know the game and how to play it. You create other opportunities to be a brand. They say, ‘We can’t discuss your brand because of cannabis.’ However, we are not just cannabis; we have a lot of other things. We do philanthropy, service, entertainment, producing events, all these other things that we can use to get big stories.”

Case in point: while in Phoenix for Super Bowl week last February, I connected with Turley and Jim McMahon at the Anthem Golf and Country Club. The two NFL players were hosting the Gridiron Greats Celebrity Golf Classic, where former NFL greats and other sports celebrities played golf and smoked weed. Revenant’s brand was emblazoned all over the golf course, and brand ambassadors passed out samples of their products. Another company, Mint Cannabis, was hooking up golfers with complimentary dab hits from their rigs. [Full disclosure: I currently manage Mint’s social media campaigns.] A dab, also called wax or concentrate, is concentrated THC smoked through a bong-like apparatus called a rig; the dab is heated up with a blowtorch, and the wax emits the smoke to be inhaled. “We love working with Kyle Turley and Jim McMahon because they are as passionate about cannabis as we are,” said Lexie Coleman, a spokesperson for Mint. “And the two experimented with the magical plant in various forms, and through experience, they healed their bodies and minds.”

Lida Thompson has been judging the Farmer’s Cup entries since 2016.

Because the golf tournament was a regular sports event — even if it was sponsored by Mint Cannabis, Revenant, Cannabis Talk 101, Farechild Events, and a slew of other cannabis businesses — it was not banned or restricted on Facebook or Instagram. “Ultimately,” says Turley, “if you create the right platform, they are not going to win; you are going to win. It’s just overcoming by persevering and knowing you are in the right, and finding ways to structure the company to continue that biz.”

Breaking the banks

That kind of creative approach is also required in other aspects of the biz,” says Turley. “Like banking services you can’t get. You must find ways as a cannabis company to be more legitimate. So Ramona Cannabis Company, for instance — there are multiple plays in that investment: if you wanna touch the plant, cannabis, you can, and put your name on that.” Investors put money down on all of the other facets of the cannabis industry via equipment and real estate. “The majority of my investment in Ramona is to enter it as a property holding,” Turley continues, “because, with the money I used to invest in the company, I couldn’t. The stupid restrictions were, you can’t invest in a cannabis company with retirement money — like if you have an IRA or 401K, something like that, where you should be able to self-direct that into any investment. They bar you from doing that in cannabis; it’s crazy. You gotta find ways around that, so you create a separate corp for it on all these other things. Then you have had investment come in all of those different ways.”

B-Real of Cypress Hill has been advocating for the legalization of cannabis since before 1993, when his group released the Black Sunday album with the weed-infused track, “Insane in the Brain.” In September of last year, I caught up with B-Real, whose birth name is Louis Mario Freese, at the La Mesa location of his Dr. Greenthumb’s dispensary. “It’ll be a big step for cannabis for the banks to finally recognize and accept accounts and work with us,” B-Real said. “That will change a lot of how the industry does business; the capital will be freed up.” And for now, while the cannabis industry is stigmatized in the banking world, “we’ll just keep investing back into our brand and our company what we want to achieve.” On the day we spoke, B-Real was promoting his Insane brand of cannabis flower, his own Funko POP! doll, which was being sold at Walmart, and his clothing line.

Not just blowing smoke

B-Real also has a popular podcast and video streaming channel called BRealTV. On a recent episode, he smoked a blunt with Kyle Turley. “We’d sit there interviewing in one of his lowriders,” Turley says. “I don’t know how long we did that, like two hours. I ran into Cypress Hill more than 20 years ago at the Rainbow Room up at Sunset on the strip. They were sitting outside, and I ran into Sen Dog. He said, “Ohh man, I’m a huge football fan, and you’re Kyle Turley,” and I’m like, “No fucking way you know who I am.” Then I hook up with him, and we sit down, and B-Real rolled me a joint on the table — in front of two cops. I’m like, ‘No way, this is awesome,’ and we’ve been following it up through the years.”

Today, B-Real’s and Turley’s dispensaries are only about 30 miles apart. “Hats off to Kyle Turley and B-Real for staying involved and pushing the culture,” says Farmer’s Cup founder Caruso. “And hopefully, their business models work out for them.” Caruso, who smokes cannabis to “improve his mental state” and help him “focus on maximizing my productivity,” says, “We’ve planned the best 4-20 experience possible — and legally in California! The upcoming Farmers Cup 420 Edition is a people’s choice cannabis competition that puts any cannabis enthusiast who purchases a ticket in the seat of a cannabis judge. Judges oversee the testing of all legal cannabis categories on the recreational cannabis market. They are all represented, from the biggest brands to the small growers. Education, culture, and community are our main focus,” Caruso concluded — which makes it 4-20 day every day here in San Diego.

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