The legalization of recreational cannabis use in more than 20 states around the US has led to a new space race to create the weed that will blast users the highest.
But Joshua Katz and Ben Starmer, the co-founders of Dad Grass, are approaching the budding industry from the opposite angle — creating a brand grounded in the mild buzz enjoyed by pot smokers of yesteryear.
“It’s a throwback to the way weed was smoked by our dads’ generation,” Joshua explains. “And it’s not just about weed itself, it’s playing around with that nostalgia and the vibe of that mellower, lighter time.”
While most entrepreneurs in this multi-billion dollar industry are focused on finding ways to increase the level and potency of THC — the principal psychoactive substance that gets users high — Joshua and Ben proudly use less than 0.3% THC in their organic hemp flower products. This makes their offerings legal in all 50 states, even those where marijuana possession remains a criminal offense, thanks to the federal legalization of hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill.
“Over the years, cannabis cultivars have been selected and ultimately engineered to present as high amounts of THC as possible,” Joshua says. “Because for whatever reason, commercial, cultural, or otherwise, quality and price have been directly associated with the potency, and the ability to get you really high.”
Ben adds, “If you look back at an issue of Head Magazine from 1973, which would track the potency of street weed, the average level of THC was 1.5% to 2.5%. When we went to a dispensary about a month ago, we couldn’t find anything that was less than 27%.”
Research backs up the entrepreneurs’ findings. As recently as 1995, America’s cannabis had an average strength of 4% THC. This year, only 1% of flower products sold in California contained less than 14% of the compound. Joshua, 39, and Ben, 38, believe this is putting off those looking for a gentler smoke, without the paranoia and other side effects that accompany smoking high-THC weed.
Instead, the active ingredient in Dad Grass products are the non-intoxicating cannabinoids CBD, CBG, or CBN; which have been found to improve various elements of our physical and mental health including alleviating anxiety, helping with pain and inflammation, and promoting better rest — without the mind-bending impact of THC. The early Dad Grass products were primarily CBD focused, which is known for its relaxing qualities. Next they launched Mom Grass, which uses CBG, known for its more focused, slightly brighter energy. And their CBN-forward products are used to help with sleep. Since making their name with pre-rolled joints following their launch in early 2020, they have now expanded into gummies, tinctures, and even dog biscuits.
The entrepreneurs believe the well-rounded, organic flowers they favor offer more holistic wellness benefits. “Think about it as a tomato,” says Joshua, who is settling nicely into his new weed mogul role. “Over the years you go into the mass market grocery stores and the tomatoes are very red, and last for longer. They look great on the outside, but open them up and they’re not very tasty. Before these cannabis cultivars were engineered to present high in THC, they were more balanced plants.
“Within the cannabis flower, you have cannabinoids, you’ve got terpenoids, you’ve got flavonoids, these different chemical compounds that do different things within your system. So with weed which is very THC-dominant, you may be getting super-high, but you’re not getting all these other components, the rest of the orchestra.”
People have used cannabis to treat ailments for more than 3,000 years, but studies on its effectiveness as medicine remain relatively thin as its illegal status has historically made trials complicated. But what is clear to most people who have even dabbled with marijuana is that while there is a sweet spot where users experience a warm and relaxing glow, being massively paranoid on extremely strong cannabis is not a productive part of anyone’s wellness routine.
And there’s the social, communal element of passing around a joint that has been lost in recent years, because by the second puff the participants are battling to cling onto their sanity. Joshua adds, “We’re looking for that mellow, casual smoke. Whether it’s at a party, or winding down after a long day at work. We want to be able to smoke a joint, carry on a conversation, and not feel like the weirdos in the room.”
The ’70s influences that are present throughout the playful Dad Grass branding can be traced back to where Joshua and Ben met, working in sales and marketing at a special division of Levi’s in San Francisco, California, which focused on the iconic label’s vintage clothing and creating accurate reproductions of garments in their archive. “There’s no doubt that some of those flavors and storytelling made it into our original idea of what Dad Grass could be,” Joshua says.
These nostalgic notes are hit throughout the brand’s products, including their special edition boxes of ready-rolled joints which are in sleeves that replicate the places our dads might have hidden their stash — like a cassette case, a sardine tin, or a box of screws. They are even the proud owners of a 1965 Ford Econoline wagon which we gathered around for our chat outside their downtown Los Angeles HQ. And while neither of the co-founders are dads themselves, they’ve both been influenced by their own fathers’ generation in the conception and delivery of the brand.
Ben says, “My dad’s a pastor, and I remember when he was driving me to the dorms for freshman year, and we’re having this classic ‘have fun, but not too much fun’ conversation. And he reveals he was a bit of a pot smoker himself in his high school days, but that the weed got too strong for him, and he put it away.
“These days, it’s always a roll of the dice when you spark up what that experience is going to be like. Today’s weed just gets you too damn high. And Josh and I really bonded over wanting a high quality cannabis product at a much lower potency.”
The cherry on the top of a fruitful first two years for Dad Grass was a collaboration with the estate of Beatles legend George Harrison, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of his album ‘All Things Must Pass’. The collection, called ‘All Things Must Grass’, featured ready-rolled joints that combined CBD and CBG for a gentle, pleasant buzz, alongside a selection of other fun merchandise honoring the rock icon.
Ben recalls, “Our friend had turned George’s son Dhani onto Dad Grass, so we started chatting and Dhani threw out this idea of ‘All Things Must Grass’ and our minds were blown! We knew we had to do something together. It felt like a huge responsibility, and we still can’t really believe it happened!”
The brand did the Beatles guitarist proud, incorporating the artwork and iconography of that album into the collection. It’s a testament to the storytelling and branding skills of these two entrepreneurs that the products are both playful and respectful, and approved by the musician’s family and fans. It was this collaboration that alerted me to the Dad Grass brand when I spotted a pack of ready-rolled joints for sale on the counter of a local menswear store (as due to being made from hemp, their products don’t need to be sold in specialist marijuana dispensaries.) And they’ve since proved the perfect accompaniment to Harrison’s beautifully-crafted classic rock.