I gaze down at my hand, which appears to be gripping a pen. The notes scribbled in my pad, smudged and wonky, scurry from the page. My arms are the cotton-stuffed limbs of a rag doll. Tupac’s “California Love” is in the air, mingling with chatter, giggles and a thick, intoxicating fog. Someone’s talking to me…are they? I nod, just in case, and hoist my face into a polite smile before turning to stare through the bus window.
Gripping the back of my seat, I gape at the rust-red arches of the Golden Gate Bridge, pressing against the glass. The San Francisco skyline shimmers in the distance against a rare cloudless sky. Slowly, carefully, I pull out my phone. 11:37 AM. Just 37 minutes into the tour, and I’m fried.
The day started innocently enough. Around a dozen of us gathered at Oakland Cannabis Creative, mingling in the cozy upstairs room and bonding over a shared love of herbal happiness. We’re the lucky ones joining California’s first ever wine and weed excursion, organized by Cannabis Tours. Self-styled “budtender” Andrew Miuere, who runs Top Shelf Budtending in Colorado, mixed mocktails with an added buzz, pipetting and sprinkling spiced apple drinks with different strains and tinctures to meet each guest’s needs and capacity, like a cannabis pharmacist
Guests include a smattering of millennials, two middle-aged women, and a local couple in their 60s, clearly making the most of their retirement. As a Brit (and bit of a lightweight when it comes to smoking cannabis) I’m there strictly as an observer, chronicling the highs and lows of the tour (mainly highs). Or I was, until joints were passed from the lefthand side and pretty much every other direction. So, after two surprisingly potent mocktails and a few puffs I was too polite to refuse, I find myself embarrassingly knocked out in the first round–contemplating if it was the joints, bong or last sip of wine that did me in. Cannabis Tours founder Michael Eymer weaved around the moving bus, handing out plastic cups of grenache. Not your usual grenache. Lip-smackingly tart, with hints of cranberry, black cherry and smoke, this vintage from Know Label infused with cannabis flowers, giving it low but still potent levels of THC.
One sip rushed straight to my head.The effects are starting to wear off as we pull up to our first stop, the Betty Project–a sleek bud grow in San Francisco’s Bay View neighborhood. Nevertheless, I sit down to pull on the required blue booties before our tour, for fear of toppling over.
Still teetering delicately on the edge, I wave away the offered glass of sparkling (non-infused) wine. “The bong is open, if anyone wants to get that going,” says Anthony, our tour guide for the warehouse. I thought better of it. We peep into seven small spaces including a “veg room”, where baby plants mature into teens, and a lab where new strains are developed. One door emits an eerie green glow. “No photos,” whispers Anthony. “These guys are sleeping.”
In the drying room, bouquets of cut plants dangle from the ceiling, releasing aromas sage and eucalyptus. After snapping a few selfies among the greenery, we stagger back on the bus. “I’m feeling great,” slurs one guest, pulling herself up the steps. “But I’m moving slowly, just to be sure.”Our limo-style bus has seats arranged in a circle, bookended by huge TV screens alternating between music videos and close-up images of cannabis plants. A pole is positioned in the center, ready for anyone who fancies showing off some moves. On a wine-only tour, that probably would’ve happened already, but this group seems happy to puff and pass, chatter and chill. Eyes are hooded, lips are curled in contented smiles. Family-sized bags of Doritos are handed out along with a refreshed bong. One woman whips out her own bottle of wine.“All weed people are friendly people, do you know what I’m sayin’?” says Gloria, one-half of the retired couple. “We have got nothing to argue about.” She pauses–her words hovering in the hazy air–before collapsing into giggles.
My paranoia hasn’t quite subsided. My skin feels numb, my hands like sausages, my head like a hollowed-out galaxy. Heidi Keyes, national president of Cannabis Tours, plies me with chocolate and cakes. “The sugar will help,” she says, hypnotizing my spaced-out brain with her jangling, marijuana-leaf earrings. My paranoia tells me budtender Miuere is watching me. It’s right. Hovering towards my seat, he whips out a tin of tinctures and sniffing oils.“What do you think of this?” he purrs, wafting a grassy, herbal scent under my nostrils. “And this? This one’s a little bit spicy, don’t you think?” Like a marijuana magician, he levitates back to his seat, leaving me wondering whether that actually happened at all.
But I do feel better by the time we break for lunch in Sausalito before heading to our final stop, Donkey & Goat Winery in Berkeley. “Everyone’s having a great time,” says tour guide Tyler, eyes like saucers as he fires up the bong (again). “Everyone’s so fried!”At the winery, we pile into a back room where tasting room attendant Erin hands out pours of pinot gris - this time with no extra buzz. The warehouse-style space has a cool, modern feel, but the winery has no plans to make so-called “green” wine. The group inhales boards of charcuterie and hunks of local cheese. “Wine, cheese and weed,” sighs Gloria. “How can you complain?” Keyes thinks the combination works well, especially in a controlled environment–like this tour.
“If this was just a drinking tour, people would be wasted and throwing up or fighting by now,” she says. “I think wine and weed can be a great combination in the right quantities.” Heading back, conversation turns to the effects of edibles versus smoking - and my “absent moment” earlier in the day. A woman opposite explains she can only handle half the dosage her husband can, otherwise she’d be “smashed out of my mind”.
“If you go overboard it can be scary,” she tells me. “Go low, and go slow.” For me, the advice comes a little too late.