Mar 11, 2019 01:15PM
● By Dawn Garcia
Joaquin Lujan may be one of the most passionate second generation cannabis growers and cultivators, and third-generation sellers and brokers you’ll ever meet. Fond of social justice and active in the movement of change, Lujan traces his story to his grandfather. Sentenced to 16 years in San Quentin for possession, his grandfather believed in the legalization of cannabis. As for Lujan, one could say cannabis and fighting for its legality courses through his veins, quite literally.
“I remember as a kid running and playing hide-and-goseek in fields of cannabis with my sister and family friends. I was raised by outlaws, activists, and farmers fighting for social change and the end of marijuana prohibition. My father was the first road manager for the Grateful Dead. My grandfather spent 16 years in San Quentin for possessing one ounce of marijuana. This was a fairly typical sentence for a Native American male in East LA in the 1950s,” explains Lujan. “I’ve seen and felt the trauma of social injustice firsthand that has plagued this beautiful, healing herb and those who have worked with it. I have also seen this medicine save lives, put food on the table, and money back into the communities who relied on it. This extraordinary plant and I have grown each other together.”
Lujan has a deep connection to cannabis, and his story begins the moment he came into the world three years after his grandfather served his sentence. Lujan was born, and subsequently, his grandfather passed away the very same year. This defined a lifelong pursuit of drawing attention to social injustice as it pertains to cannabis, which inevitably became a natural part of Lujan’s life and career. Lujan’s family line of cannabis cultivators also includes his stepfather a smuggler, cultivator, and broker starting in the 1960s. “I remember having to move out of our home with just 24-hour notice. I came home from school one day to walk into our house being raided. I remember the sheriff sitting my siblings and I down in the driveway. I remember taking solace in my dog. I learned every aspect of the industry at a young age. As I said, we grew each other.”
Lujan continues: “There was never a time when I didn’t have a hand in the cannabis industry. You could say I’m third-generation, really, but I’d just say it’s my birth right. Besides being the first road manager of the Grateful Dead, my dad was also a smuggler and outlaw. I grew up hearing of stories of smuggling planes with loads of weed from Mexico and sketchy border crossings. I grew up in the swirl of the counter cultures from Big Sur to the Bay Area and beyond. One of the first times I smoked weed was when us kids stole a roach from a certain band member’s dressing room while he was on stage at the shoreline.”
As Lujan grew older, he decided to break from the cannabis industry and get into film making. That lasted long enough for him to make incredible connections, but when his son was born, he decided the long and demanding hours of the film industry weren’t conducive to being a present father, so he went back to what he knows best. Lujan reached out to an old family friend who was a top breeder, renowned cultivator, and recipient of the Cannabis Cup and became his apprentice. Learning how to cultivate indoors, he studied with soil microbiologist, Elaine Ingham and eventually gave up bottled nutrients, PPM meters, pH meters, and anything else that would compromise the soil’s integrity.
“At the time, there was very little info about this style for growing indoors and if it was even possible. The majority of people still don’t do it this way, and I got pretty good at it. Through my connections in film and the quality of product I was producing at the time, I became a personal grower for a few high-profile celebs. In 2013, when legalization started to look like it was going to happen, one of my clients approached me and asked me what the play was. Initially we explored going to Colorado and started that process. During a trip east to where he was filming at the time, we realized he was actually more of an activist than entrepreneur. At that same time, I had an epiphany. It was clear I needed to create a service company and move back to California.”
The first ever one-for-one cannabis business model, Cannabis for Cause (C4C), was born. Making chocolate bars infused with cannabis, C4C’s mission to do good was implemented. “For every chocolate bar sold, we donated one dose of medical-grade cannabis oil to a cancer patient in need at no cost. To do that, I teamed up with Mara Gordon, founder and president of Aunt Zelda’s, to create the dosing protocol for C4C’s program.” Discussing the risks at a time when cannabis was still illegal, Lujan had to really think about what he was doing.
“Growing up in the industry and then having a family of my own, I had to justify the risk, and back then, there was plenty of it. If anything happened to me, spiritually and consciously, I could rest my hat on the fact that I was providing medicine. I truly believe in the medicine, and for it to be medicine, it needs to be 100 percent organic, and that principle is what kept me safe. When I treated cannabis as just a commodity is when I put myself in situations that were above my risk tolerance, and my risk tolerance is pretty high. Those situations exposed the ugly underbelly of this industry. So, I took the conscious approach of providing medicine and giving it away to those who truly needed it. I needed to be able to look my boys in the eye and tell them I was proud of what I was doing, even if it meant taking risks that could affect my family.”
By January 2018, C4C had secured a Type N manufacturing license for a co-packing and manufacturing facility for its new venture, Tamalpais Co-Packing, based in the gorgeous Northern California city of San Rafael. Landing the space was not without its challenges. As cannabis regulation and legislation navigated its way through the sea of red tape, Lujan had to halt production for nearly a year while getting all of the proper paperwork filed and approved, but it was a C4C patient who sealed the deal. Perseverance and alliances helped him stay the course. “C4C’s charitable program was the catalyst for our local approval. One of the patients wrote an impactful letter of recommendation, and I am sure this was one of the main reasons we were approved for the permit,” Lujan explains.
The company’s business model includes using fair trade, organic, and sustainable packaging whenever possible. Mindful of the ongoing waste problem in the cannabis industry, Lujan is adamant about staying true to its central ethos of being environmentally responsible and employing regenerative principles for soil management and compostable practices. A purist at heart, Lujan believes in taking the regenerative approach to farming herb. “Regenerative farming practices encourage biodiversity, captures carbon, protects watersheds, and restores the ecosystem, and it’s a hot topic in the industry. Considering we are made up of mostly microbes ourselves, all of those microbes in the soil form the foundational blocks of the earth. The herb speaks for itself, and personally, I want to smoke herb grown from living soil. I’m a purist. Knowing how and where it’s grown makes a difference. The reason why I became a personal grower for private clients was a direct result of my commitment to farming the soil.”
With new manufacturing space and partnerships with companies like Madrone and alliances with Sonoma Pacific Distribution and Mara Gordon, Lujan believes valued partners are key to surviving in the industry. Through these alliances, including working with executive chef Shanti Hinojos, he is also launching his new line of edibles and ingestibles, Mystic Brands. A percentage of every sale of those products will go to charities that support social justice, youth programs, and environmental and medical initiatives furthering the vision of C4C.
“My partners in this business are family, and we have each other’s backs. To get to the finish line, you need help and great alliances, and you have to be authentic,” Lujan says. “I’m blessed to have Madrone as one of my partners, and I believe being authentic is the reason I’ve had some success. Ideally, we want partnering with cultivators and creating a vertically integrated structure to allow for more control over the quality of the products produced.”
With a family legacy that had some rather harsh bumps along the way, Lujan is committed to righting past wrongs and staying inspired and true to the purest forms of cannabis. Reminiscing about his favorite strains like Sage, Lambs Bread, a Thai Afghan hybrid called the One, and Thai Landraces (a hash plant developed in Oregon), he says, “The cannabis plant is amazing in all its forms. She has proven herself, and now it’s up to us to bring the best out of her.” Staying true to his initial intention of being in the business is paramount for Lujan. Whether he is finding inspiration by watching others blossom in the industry or working with chefs like Hinojos who have an extensive flavor profile, he maintains creativity as the fundamental tool to keep moving forward.
“I remember when I was a kid, I always avoided talking about what my parents did. We had family meetings to rehearse the elevator pitch when that topic came up at a friend’s house or when their parents asked me. We said that my dad was in real estate. It was uncomfortable to have to lie. I was ashamed, not because of the family business but because we had to lie. I don’t have to hide anything now. I am proud of what I do and that I get a say in taking the stigma away from cannabis. Authenticity is the most important thing to me aside from just providing for my family. The opportunity to change the stigma. This change is going to happen with our kids. I want to run my business with the same mindset I use when raising my kids. It’s simple: one love.”
“BESIDES BEING THE FIRST ROAD MANAGER OF THE GRATEFUL DEAD, MY DAD WAS ALSO A SMUGGLER AND OUTLAW.”
Under Mystic Brands, Tamalpais Co. Packing’s internal branding company, Lujan will make edibles and topicals using Mara Gordon’s full-spectrum oils, and they will be distributed across the state by Sonoma Pacific Distribution. Madrone helps source all of the regenerative cannabis extracted for use in the products. All of the brands, including Thick as Thieves, CannaShiva, Zelig’s, Woke Lion, Archetype, Mauka & Makia, and many others will donate a percentage of profits to local charities through C4C, an official 501(c)(3) giving platform.