I recently had the pleasure of traveling from Los Angeles, California to Seattle, Washington and was lucky enough to sit down with an influential blogger that I look up to in the medical marijuana industry who runs TokeSignals.com and is the author of The Little Black Book of Marijuana: The Essential Guide to the World of Cannabis , Steve Elliott.
Steve dishes the dirt on how he planted the seed of his blossoming career.
Tropical420/Alexandra Sussin: What a treat and a pleasure it is to meet you in person Steve. I really appreciate you taking a quick break from writing to sit down with me! How did you become involved with the medical cannabis community and what were you doing before that?
Steve Elliott: It’s a pleasure to meet you, too! I got involved with the medical cannabis community almost immediately after being diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2007. In that first flash of fear after being told I had a potentially terminal disease, I was researching the condition online and discovered that here in Washington state, hep C is covered by the state’s medical marijuana law.
Before becoming involved with the MMJ community, I had already been doing a personal blog on politics and drug policy, called Reality Catcher. I had been working on a book for a couple of years on automotive finance; I used to work at F&I Management and Technology, a business trade magazine in that field.
Tropical: That diagnosis is heartbreaking but you are a trooper and at least you get to be in the medical marijuana industry in your retired years. What is your current occupation in the medical marijuana community?
Steve: I’m owner and editor of Toke Signals – your source for uncut, uncensored, no-holds-barred, non-corporate controlled cannabis news.
I also am editor of Paul Stanford’s Hemp News, the internet’s longest running compilation of international news stories about hemp and cannabis; that is the official publication of the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp (CRRH), based in Portland, Oregon.
In addition, I do the National News section for Northwest Leaf magazine each month; I really enjoy working with Wes Abney.
I started out in newspapers back in the mid-1980s, went from there to graphic design in the late 80s to the mid-90s, then back to newspapers until the late 90s when I started editing two trade magazines in Los Angeles (both related to the automobile industry).
My personal blog, Reality Catcher, had caught the eye of a Village Voice Media “talent scout” and they’d asked me to write “Chronic City,” a twice-weekly column for “The Snitch,” SF Weekly’s online blog. The column went over well enough that it turned into an editorial job offer with Toke of the Town which I ran for three years.
Since February 2011 I’ve also been writing for “Toke Signals”, a medical marijuana dispensary review column, for the Seattle Weekly, which at the time they hired me, was also part of the Village Voice Media chain (it’s now owned by Sound Publishing). After a couple months of doing those, they asked me to also do medicated edibles reviews, and those are called “Incredible Medibles.”
Tropical: I admire you blogging your way to the top and I love all of your informative articles on Toke Signals! Will have to check out your Little Black Book! Did you enjoy running Toke of the Town?
Steve: When I was offered the opportunity to run Toke of the Town, I jumped at it. I have a lifetime of experience that made that position an ideal fit for me, and I very much enjoyed doing the site for three-plus years.Tropical: I love when life works out for the best like that. When you love what you do you will never work a day in your life. What was it like to speak at the Seattle Hempfest? What did you say, on all three stages?
Steve: I very much enjoyed speaking at Seattle Hempfest. There’s nothing like the rush of speaking to a crowd of that size, and it came a lot more naturally than I thought it would.
My message centered around the science which shows cannabis is a non-toxic, beneficial herb that alleviates and possibly even cures many medical conditions, and also on the many other uses of the hemp plant including food, fiber and fuel.
Tropical: Perfect speech to give to that massive crowd! Sounds like an awesome experience!! Hemp’s boundless uses can save the planet. What are your thoughts about the recent government involvement in California and Washington MMJ shops?
Steve: It’s puzzling, frustrating and counterproductive that the U.S. federal government has chosen to obstruct safe access for seriously ill medical marijuana patients in Washington and elsewhere. When patients and providers are abiding by their state laws, how is it in the interest of the U.S. taxpayer to harass and arrest those people? Why should this thriving industry be shut down when it is helping so many patients?
Tropical: That is exactly what I keep saying; this is one of the only growing industries left in this economy and it is helping millions of patients ease their ailments with a safe natural alternative medicine. I have a feeling that soon the majority of states will have medicinal cannabis and then the government will have to decide if it wants to continue being against the laws of the states that voted for them. Plus they are benefiting from federal tax money from these dispensaries they have deemed “federally illegal.”
I am hopeful about the recent petition to reschedule cannabis to a Schedule III drug like Marinol – Schedule II drugs can be overdosed but marijuana cannot. Your job as a medical marijuana collective reviewer in Washington sounds like the dream job of the century! How many places have you reviewed in Washington so far? Do you have a favorite?Steve: Interesting points! My “Toke Signals” medical marijuana dispensary reviewer job really is a dream gig; when the Seattle Weekly offered me the position in February 2011 I was quick to accept.
I’ve reviewed more than 100 shops. I totally enjoy visiting lots of different shops and learning how they treat customers, the products they have, and how helpful their employees are. I know that, especially for newer patients, the medical cannabis scene can be quite confusing and even intimidating, and that a little guidance can be a very good thing.
I’m encouraged to have favorites, since my readers are just as interested in excellence as I am. When I run across excellently run operations like The C.P.C, Dockside, Have-a-Heart, and Puffless Productions, I consider it a privilege to spread the word about how well they do their jobs.
And when I discover some shops aren’t treating customers well, or offer less then stellar medicines, people deserve to know that, too.
I basically devote my job and life to encouraging better business practices within the community. Valorizing excellence through my dispensary reviews in the Weekly and cannabis coverage on Toke Signals provides, I believe, something of value to the community.
Tropical: Wow, you make the world a more honest place with your reviews, I admire how you aren’t scared to let shops know they are under par if that’s the truth and the great places deserve great reviews from a connoisseur like you. You’re absolutely giving back to the community in a valuable way with your articles keeping this medical cannabis community on it’s toes with up-to-the-minute information and we all wish to smoke you out and thank you! What do you like to do when you medicate?Steve: I’m an inveterate and incorrigible music lover, and always have been. Music and cinema are great pursuits; there are so very many excellent musical artists and magical movies, and so little time!
Aside from that, I enjoy reading (both physical books and online); knowledge is a very powerful thing. I also enjoy outdoor pursuits like taking walks and visiting farmers markets, although I can’t do as much of those as I did when I had a higher energy level.
Tropical: Those are excellent things to do while medicated! I enjoy playing Xbox Kinnect, the beach, and weedtracking while medicated! What is your favorite stoner movie or 420 music group?
Steve: My favorite stoner movie of the past few years is probably Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle. There are lots of good ones out these days, and I enjoy watching even the “bad” ones.As for marijuana-oriented music, for me it’s almost all marijuana-oriented, since it sounds good when medicated. Among my inner circle of very favorite bands are Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, the Doors, Pentangle, Big Star, Badfinger, Be Bop Deluxe, Bloodrock, Roxy Music, Marshall Crenshaw, Del The Funky Homosapien, and Robyn Hitchcock.
Tropical: Nice! I enjoyed Harold and Kumar’s entire trilogy! Are you a knowledgeable grower?
Steve: I’d consider myself more of a hobbyist and a dabbler than a knowledgeable grower, since it’s been years since I maintained an actual garden. I’ve only grown one to three plants from time to time for the past few years. However, back in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Alabama, I developed an outdoor strain that gained some renown. In fact, it must have gotten a little too well-known, because eventually my entire crop (which must have been close to 10 pounds) was ripped off, which was one of the most discouraging experiences of my life.Tropical: Oh my goodness, that is so sad that your creation was ripped off! I have faith that you can breed another new strain in your lifetime! What is the best strain you ever had?
Steve: Currently, Afgoo, Blue Dream and Dark Cloud are my favorites. They are as good as any cannabis out there, in my experience.
Back in the day, I can remember batches of Colombian Gold and Colombian Redbud that were just as potent as almost anything you can find today. It’s a myth that all pot now is more potent than all pot was 30 years ago; then, as now, there were various grades and potencies on the market, and it was a matter of caveat emptor in finding them.
Tropical: I like your take on marijuana from then versus today, the connoisseurs always knew where to get the good stuff! Do you prefer Indica or Sativa?
Steve: I prefer soaring Sativas in the daytime, to afford me relief yet allow me to be productive. Then once the day’s work is done, I find Indicas very effective for pain and stress relief, and especially at bedtime to allow me to rest longer before pain wakes me up.
Steve: Yeah… I was 17 years old, and my best friend Doc and I decided we were going to try pot. We drove to Hodges, where our friends Tim and Pick lived, because we knew they got high. It was our lucky day, because the first people we saw when we got there were Tim and Pick, and they motioned us over.
We smoked some Mexican out of a Budweiser beer can, and while I didn’t realize I was high, I did get the munchies and also felt a flash of paranoia when the police got behind us. The pizza we bought that night was some of the tastiest I ever had.
Tropical: Love the old school “can pipe” as your first tool, and you can’t beat pizza and Pink Floyd! Do you believe marijuana is the safest choice for medicine? Is it safer than alcohol?
Steve: Marijuana is the safest choice for medicine for a vast array of conditions. It is non-toxic, doesn’t cause cancer, impossible to overdose on, and actively beneficial to the human body. It is so much safer than alcohol that I find it incredible that marijuana is against federal law while the President is photographed enjoying a beer. The cognitive disconnect is dizzying.Tropical: Well said! I have been reading a book called Marijuana is Safer; So Why Are We Driving People To Drink? that I highly recommend for more info on that subject. How long have you been a medical cannabis advocate?
Steve: I also like that book and my friend Jared Allaway likes to stand outside with a sign that says “Marijuana Is Safer Than Alcohol,” sometimes even giving out free copies of that book!
I’ve been a marijuana legalization advocate since first trying weed in 1977. I joined NORML that same year. I supported medicinal use from the sidelines until my own diagnosis, at which point I became an active advocate for safe access (2007).
Tropical: Wow that’s a long time! Do you have a favorite munchie food?Steve: I love Flamin’ Hot Cheetos; once you get a good burn going it’s hard to stop, haha. I also love traditional breakfast foods, any time of the day, along with burgers, pizza, Mexican and Chinese. Healthy eating is not as much a concern as it would be for me if my liver didn’t already limit my likely lifespan, so I just enjoy myself.
Tropical: I love Flamin’ Hot Cheetos too! Got to love places that serve breakfast 24 hours a day and got to live life and enjoy every day like it’s your last even if you weren’t diagnosed with anything. Appreciate every last bite of your munchies! Do you have pets?
Steve: I have a 21-pound cat named Pookie that is the apple of my eye. Whenever I start to get stressed from work, a few minutes with her and I’m good to go again.
Tropical: Aw, that’s precious! I know what you mean, just a few minutes with my chihuahua Princess and the world’s issues don’t feel like they are weighing me down anymore. What is your preferred way to medicate? Bong, joint, edible, vaporizer?
Steve: Variety is the spice of life. Joints are my go-to route of administration, but I also keep a bong handy and use it regularly. I have medibles almost every day as well, and find them very effective to help with resting through the pain when I use them near bedtime.
I’d like to have a good vaporizer (like a Volcano, which I’ve tried), but of the two I’ve personally owned, I’m not overly impressed with either one of them. I’d like to see higher standards in the vaporizer manufacturing business, because I know other patients that have become disillusioned with substandard quality, as well.
Tropical: Very interesting! I hope you get some use from an Omicron personal vape pen from Weedtracker to try! Do you think medical marijuana will ever be federally legal?
Steve: I would be interested in trying the Omicron, thank you for the offer! Yes, I’ve publicly predicted that medical marijuana will be federally legal coast to coast by 2021.
Tropical: That is an exciting prediction within both of our lifetimes! What are your future plans to help this community achieve it’s ultimate goals for this harmless medicinal plant?
Steve: I plan to never shut up about cannabis as long as I live. It is my life’s work to see it legal for everyone, because I believe it is beneficial to health. I believe that medical marijuana patients will never be truly safe in their homes until cannabis is legal for everyone. Until that time, as a special class, medicinal cannabis patients will have targets on their backs, both for pot-hating, overzealous law enforcement officers, and for rip-offs and thieves.Tropical: Agreed, we will not truly have safe access to medical cannabis until it is federally legal. I like your plan to keep spreading the truth as long as you live and I will follow your good example and do the same! Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?
Steve Elliott: I would like to remind everyone that despite losing a few battles here and there, we are winning the war.
This is no time to get discouraged; we are so close to our goal right now, closer than ever before. We’ve already moved towards legalization in Washington and Colorado. Public opinion polls show the inevitability of legalized marijuana, with the latest from Gallup showing we are literally at the tipping point, with 50 percent of those polled favoring complete legalization, even as measured by that relatively conservative organization.
Remember that the truth is on our side, and that it is our greatest weapon. It’s time for the United States, and the rest of the world, to adopt science-based policies when it comes to cannabis. It’s time for the ascendancy of knowledge over superstition. The legalization of marijuana is a good thing that must happen and will happen as soon as we, the public, stop settling for the tired old Drug War lies.
Tropical420: I love your optimism and I agree we are right on the edge of changing cannabis history in our lifetime. Thank you so much for this interview! I encourage everyone to keep up with Steve Elliott’s articles on TokeSignals.com and check out his book The Little Black Book of Marijuana: The Essential Guide to the World of Cannabis  for more of Steve’s knowledge!