I get a text message alerting me that my marijuana delivery will be at my apartment in four minutes. "You can track your driver by clicking this link," the message says, and so I do. I learn that my delivery person is named Pamela and by the looks of the Uber-esque map, she is nearly at my door. The weed is on its way to me via a recently launched service called Flow Kana, a self-described “farm-to-table cannabis delivery platform,” a phrase which on the surface is almost too Bay Area to handle: slow food meets medical marijuana meets software speak.
And yet, like a lot of ideas born in the Bay, there’s a kernel of utopia that’s hard to resist. As the legality and business of marijuana is undergoing radical change, Flow Kana's founders (Michael Steinmetz, Nick Smilgys, Diego Zimet, Adam Steinberg) want to be the Alice Waters of the industry: a source for marijuana grown organically on small farms by folks open about their operation and methods. Oh, and Flow Kana will legally deliver that organic marijuana to my door 30 minutes after I order it online.
Oh, how different it is to be a pot smoker nowadays.
Here’s how it works. You go to flowkana.com, a site that is both comically startup-y and incredibly bold. The tagline is “Connoisseur grade cannabis straight from farms to your home.” Delivery is nothing new for the savvy marijuana consumer, especially in the Bay Area. Do a search and you’ll find a number of startups angling to become the “Uber of weed” (a phrase that might be even more unpalatably S.F. than “farm-to-table cannabis delivery”).
It makes sense. Convenience (or, “reducing friction,” in tech speak) is one of the things that software does best. Whether it’s taxis, takeout food, or photo sharing, there are thousands of people in hoodies attempting to make my experience better, easier, and simpler as I write this right now. Marijuana is no exception.
But unlike a lot of its competitors in the Uber-izing weed game, Flow Kana’s site advertises more than just convenience or a potent product. Scroll through and you’ll find information about the people who grow the marijuana, the methods they use, and the values underlying it:
"Happy Day Farms. Our farm is located on a sun-drenched, 3,000-foot ridge line in Mendocino County. We run a micro-scale, 100% solar powered, diversified family farm, with roughly two acres of mixed vegetables, flowers, herbs, and connoisseur-grade medicinal cannabis."
Below the farmers' intro, there’s a button that allows me to “Write them.” The transaction is more reminiscent of a CSA than a drug deal.
Take out the word “cannabis” and you could be talking about any small farm product sold in Whole Foods. It reminds you how little you know about the marijuana you picked up from your dispensary. As Flow Kana CEO Michael Steinmetz told me, “The most important thing that is missing in this industry right now is transparency.”
At this point, transparency into that industry might just kill your buzz. Recent reports reveal that the environmental impacts of marijuana cultivation in California are pretty devastating, whether because of illegal large-scale outdoor growing practices — the water use alone will make your drought-parched jaw drop — or the intensive energy requirements needed for indoor growth. According to Mother Jones, it is estimated that about one-third of America’s marijuana crop is grown indoors, resulting in massive carbon emissions and electricity use. Couple this with the lack of regulation, testing, and education around pesticide use, and the situation could be downright dangerous.
There are farmers out there growing marijuana in sustainable ways, but in most cases, consumers don’t get that information. All of which makes Flow Kana’s openness — their "transparency" — appealing in an industry still figuring out how to leave behind its black-market roots.
From Criminal To Customer
Not only is the cannabis industry changing radically, the whole identity of being a cannabis consumer is changing. I grew up in the 1980s, during Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, a full-court PSA press if there ever was one. Drug users were portrayed as scary criminals or hopeless junkies — and marijuana was no exception. Buying weed generally took all night and put you in a position of criminality. You’d have to do things like call a friend of a friend who knew a guy; you’d have to use code words; you’d drive across town to the guy’s house, where you’d be bombarded by reggae music and pot smoke; you’d act tougher than you felt; you’d pay in cash; and then you’d drive to some remote area and smoke in your car. The whole experience was unappealing to me — especially when I came of legal drinking age and could go into bars like an adult — so mostly, I didn’t do it.
That changed when I moved to California and got a medical marijuana card. For anyone familiar with buying weed illegally, the shift into the legal light can be shocking. What once required covertness and code words now simply requires $60 and a diagnosis. (And in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska, it doesn’t even require that bit of theater.) I first got a card three years ago and though I’ve been through the process twice since, the whole thing still feels too good to be true, which is another way of saying it feels like a scam.
I buy from two dispensaries, one in San Francisco that resembles a stationery boutique and another in Oakland that feels more like a convenience store in a bad neighborhood. Regardless of vibe, I am still amazed every time I enter. The people working there are unfailingly helpful, nice, and patient. It feels like a legitimate store (they even accept credit cards!). Whereas I was used to buying whatever the dealer had and got out of there as soon as possible, at the dispensary I am presented with an array of options. In other words, I feel not like a criminal, but a customer.
Coming Out From The Shadows
Flow Kana feels like a next natural step in that consumerization. Not only does it offer choices like a dispensary, and not only does it offer the convenience of delivery; it offers a point of view and set of principles that are tied into a larger system of beliefs about the environment, society, and human health. This is, of course, what any successful brand offers to its consumers, but in the legally limbic world of cannabis, it’s a radical experience. All of a sudden, I can make a decision about how I want to participate in the cannabis industry. Where I once had no power, I can now start to engage on my own terms.
Which doesn’t mean I’m totally comfortable being public about being a pot smoker. It still conjures up images of red-eyed goofs like you see in movies like Half Baked. I don’t want to be mistaken for those guys, let alone be those guys. While waiting for my delivery, I honestly considered changing into nicer clothes so that the delivery person (Pamela!) wouldn’t think I was one of “those potheads.”
But I didn’t change — as my friend Ethan told me, “She’s delivering weed to your house in the middle of a weekday; a button-up shirt won’t change that.” — and Pamela knocks at my door and hands me a cute brown shopping bag with the Flow Kana logo stamped on the side. We chat about weather, I pay (in cash, though Flow Kana does accept cards), and she’s off with a smile and wave. “Enjoy your cannabis!” she says. The normalcy of the interaction feels very not normal.
I pull the contents out of the bag and it’s like if my weed dealer also ran an Etsy shop. There is an eighth of weed lovingly packaged inside a small Mason jar as well as two well-designed postcards: One introduces me to the farmers who grew the marijuana inside my Mason jar and the other lists a few whimsical suggestions for what to do with my mason jar once finished (“Turn it into a snow globe!”). It’s cutesy and a little precious, for sure — I can tell you that my Mason jar will be unceremoniously tossed into the war zone that is my Tupperware drawer. But I’ll take letter-pressed postcards over Bob Marley posters any day. That’s just the type of pot smoker I am.
Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity and would like to remind its readers that marijuana usage continues to be an offense under Federal Law, regardless of state marijuana laws. To learn more click here.