Into The Weed’s co-host Ben Rispin gives a play by play of Puff Digital’s trip to MJBizCon and the High Times Cup Nevada 2019
DAY ONE – ARRIVING IN VEGAS, PICKING UP WEED, AND WATCHING SNOOP DOG.
I left my front door from Hamilton, ON to make it to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport for a 6 pm flight. Traveling gives me intense anxiety so I like to eat an edible before flying. I grabbed a black market 50/50 CBD / THC gummy for the train ride to calm the nerves and held on to an 80% THC gummy to make sure I could sleep on the plane. The airport, as usual, was a nightmare but I made my plane having ingested the 80% gummy right before customs. The combined gummies were definitely kicking in. I started to have some sort of audible hallucination which was quite pleasant. The sounds of the plane were making a followable rhythm I could tap to. I was in a center seat, which sucked, but I dozed off listening to the beat of the plane.
About 5 hours later, I woke up in Las Vegas. I was feeling well-rested with very little grogginess from the edibles. My plan was to get off this hellish plane, get to the hotel where my buddy Big Tom Of Trimming Sucks was staying, grab weed, and go see Snoop Dogg at House Of Blues. Big Tom, being the gem of a human he is, offered me a couch for the night (actually the week but I couldn’t impose) before I met up with my people the next day. The following day I was going to be meeting up and recording some interviews with my Into The Weeds co-host Bubba, who was also in Vegas working with his company Thrive / Grey Beard Cannabis. I’d also meet up with the Puff Digital crew, hit MJ Biz Con, and contact my friend Smokey who could deliver some proper weed…but for that night, I was on my own.
When I finally got off the plane I texted my buddy Jim Baudino from Merry Jane Media to see if I could still get in to watch a semi-private Snoop Dog Show at House Of Blues. To my excitement, Baudino got back to me right away and said I was his plus one. I had met Jim a while before organically in Toronto. He was working with Merry Jane media then but has since moved up to President. I love Jim. We had him on the ITW podcast when we first started. He’s a gem of a dude and a great representative of cannabis.
I took an Uber to my hotel. Smokey couldn’t meet me to give me any weed until early in the AM. I was kinda in a panic. If you smoke weed like I do, not having it really sucks. Weed keeps me off the booze, being off the booze keeps me off all the other nonsense. Thankfully, Big Tom once again came to my rescue with a beautiful Sativa pen he and his co-workers had picked up at Planet 13, a massive legal dispensary in Las Vegas. So I hit the pen, ordered an Uber and hoped I’d find more weed at the show.
I arrived at the House Of Blues, which is located at the Mandalay Bay on the Vegas strip. I texted Jim and he said he’d be right down to get me. When I saw him, he had an ear to ear grin and was carrying a trophy. Merry Jane had just won an award for “Most Influential Media Site”.
Jim was up against greats like Ed Rosenthal and more in the “Influential Person of the Year” category. It’s awesome to see how far good-dude Jim has come. In true humble-Jim spirit, he escorted me to the private Merry Jane party on the third floor of House Of Blues, introduced me to his team and I ended up meeting a solid dude named Ryan from Gram by Gram, Merry Jane’s affiliated creative agency, who, as it turned out, went to the same high school as me in a small Canadian town called Waterdown, and he gave me more edibles. The hospitality completely overwhelmed me. I ordered a shot of tequila for Jim and me, to show my appreciation. The least I could do is buy him a drink…but as it turns out the event was an open bar. So to thank them, I just spent more of their money.
I watched Snoop Dog, grabbed a gift bag, and had an amazing night. I got back to Tommy’s room around 3 am and crashed on the couch. Day One was a huge success.
DAY TWO – INTERVIEWS, BIRTHDAYS AND SNEAKING INTO WILLIE NELSON’S HOUSE PARTY
Around three hours later I woke up to meet Smokey out front of Tommy’s hotel. I ate about 6 edibles that Ryan had given me so I was still feeling them. Giddy, I ran downstairs to meet Smokey. Smokey had delivered a half-ounce of some of the finest weed I’ve seen in a while. He gave me a quarter of Ocean Grown (which was fantastic) and another more Indica type strain that I can’t remember but was also fantastic.
Day two’s plan was to head over to Bubba’s hotel at the MGM, meet young Carter – who’s “Head of Production” at Puff Digital – and meet the great Jamie Shaw at 9:00 am. Jamie was our first of three scheduled Into the Weeds interviews for the day. If you’re not familiar with Jamie Shaw, she’s a legendary Canadian cannabis advocate, public speaker, and friend. I knew Jamie from my time doing PR at MMJ Canada, a grey market dispensary that was known for advocacy and challenging the government. I respect the hell out of Jamie and was so excited to finally have her on Into The Weeds.
Jamie and Bubbs met me in the massive lobby of the MGM. Carter was already upstairs setting up. Bubba, being the sweet soul he is, had a nice big coffee ready to go and a beautiful little vape pen he grabbed from Planet 13. There were hundreds of cowboys and attractive looking blondes everywhere. I guess Las Vegas Rodeo was in town. There were a lot of real men there. Giant dudes in boots and cowboy hats. I sort of felt like Hunter S. Thompson when he realized he was at a District Attorney convention. Did they know I wasn’t one of them? Surely. Did they look at me with disgust because I reek like weed? Absolutely. Is this lobby full of MAGA hat-wearing lunatics? Almost definitely. We decided to go upstairs and shoot the interview, rolling a quick doobie for after. We interviewed Jamie and I learned even more about her. I won’t get too far into that conversation as to not spoil the episode, but it’s a really good one from someone who’s been in the fight longer than most. Jamie is awesome. We went for a walk after, smoked Smokey’s weed, and she liked it. That may have been a first for me. Thanks for making me look cool, Smokey!
We had a few hours to kill before our next interview, which was to be with famous photographer and cannabis advocate Ophelia Chong, who we’ve had on the show before, but is also a dear friend. So, Carter and I decided to hit the convention. Upon arrival, there was a lot of commotion, people smoking weed out front and food trucks.
We got our passes and hit the convention floor. MJ Biz was strict this year about shooting footage, so it was proving to be difficult to get decent content. MJ Biz Con is very much pay-to-play, so they tried to control who we interviewed, which wasn’t happening. We wandered around but, to quote Carter, “we felt rather underwhelmed by the presentation.” There were a lot of extract machines. A LOT of extract machines, and for someone like me, the science becomes white noise and they’re all just really shiny dab machines. Which is cool, but, you know.
My favorite exhibitor was the RYOT booth. These guys make dope, quality products. We also ran into former NBA Star turned Cannabis Advocate Al Harrington, who had been on the show before, and it was cool. He remembered us as “the Canadians with the dope ass spot in Hollywood Hills” (see Into The Weeds #HollywoodSessions).
Out front, we did some networking, ran into some more friends and decided to make our way back to Bubba’s hotel. At this point, it was about 4:00 pm and we had a couple of hours to kill, so we met the Thrive / Grey Beard Cannabis team in the MGM lobby bar for a couple of drinks. Bubbs started ordering me vodka sodas, and because it was Art Bluhm’s (founder of the company) birthday, as well as Tyson Cramer’s (CTO of the company) birthday, I was happy to join. However, we were maybe getting a little too festive, because the drinks were hitting hard. We were pretty sauced when Ophelia Chong showed up at 6pm. Thankfully, so was she.
This was also our second interview with Ophelia, so it was like hanging with old friends. Ophelia had brought her friend and new partner Chris Husong with her. Again, I don’t want to wreck the interview, but I’ll say when Bubbs and Ophelia have a few cocktails in them, the flirting was apparent and the show went off the rails more than once, in the best way.
We wrapped with Ophelia and Chris and had caught wind of “Willie Nelson’s House Party” hosted by Willie’s Reserve, the weed company owned by Willie Nelson. I was told it was quasi-open to the public, so we decided to give it a shot. Carter, Bubbs and I hopped in an Uber and headed a bit out of town. We had to act fast because Jim Baudino was meeting us later back at MGM to shoot our last episode of the day.
We got to a beautiful ranch style house and wandered up to the front door. We were promptly greeted by two security guards who asked us if our names were on the list. I knew they weren’t but I said, “Ben Rispin?” The guard immediately confirmed that my name was not on the list. Not to be defeated, Bubba drops High Times’ name, “Oh man, we were just shooting for our High Times show and someone told us to come over.” We recently partnered with High Times on our podcast, which was true, but I thought there was no way that would work. I was ready to leave and security just let us in. Thanks, High Times!
The place was beautiful. I’m fairly certain this house wasn’t owned by Willie, but the place was cool as shit and looked like somewhere Willie Nelson might live. Most of the party was taking place outback, where there was a lagoon of pools, tattoos in the pool house, bong stations, infused food stations, and troughs of free canned beer. We wandered the party, got some hors d’oeuvres, and hit a bong station. We ended up talking to the bar staff for a bit. They were cool as hell. I mean, how could they not be? There are worse ways to get paid other than giving bong tokes. While standing there, one of the founders of Willie’s Reserve started chatting us up. He was super nice and thanked him for coming. We explained that we actually snuck in and he started to laugh. He was glad we snuck in and asked if we wanted a tour. How could we resist? We talked about the event, and he escorted us to the infused fondue station, which we learned was based on Willie Nelson’s Mom’s recipe. We sampled the chocolate (it was fantastic!) and said our goodbyes. Out front, while waiting for our Uber, ashamed, I admitted I stole a beer and pulled it out of my pocket. Bubba looked over at me and admitted he had done the same. We died laughing.
We got back to MGM and met Jim. He had been having some drinks too. I can’t wait to listen back to the interview because all I remember about it is that we were having a ton of laughs. We wrapped the shoot and decided to meet up with the Thrive / Grey Beard Cannabis guys to celebrate Art and Tyson’s birthdays. We ended up at Top Flight where I did not participate in the golfing but had so many laughs with great people that my face hurt. Wandering home, we ate way too much junk food, and passed out. It was a perfect night.
DAY THREE – A VERY IMPORTANT BUSINESSY TYPE MEETING, UFC, AND GEORGE CLINTON
I woke up the next day feeling far less than perfect. Not so much from the booze, but the late-night junk food. At some point the day before, Carter and I had checked into our room at the Luxor. The Luxor leaves much to be desired. Once the pinnacle of 90’s high-class living, it is now the Casino for students and impolite front desk staff. However, a roof is a roof and I would have happily stayed at a sleazy motel, plus, the buffet was pretty tight.
I was getting sick. My voice was starting to fade. Thankfully, from my days touring in punk bands, I know some temporary fixes to keep the voice intact. I started with a much needed hot bath and steam. However, I had to run the shower and bath simultaneously to get the steam room effect. Poor Carter must have thought I was doing something far creepier in the bathroom for an hour, but it was beginning to work. Next, Advil. Step three, Fisherman’s Friends. Step four, Red Bull.
We decided to take it easy for the morning. We had a huge night ahead of us, so we spent the first part of the day taking it easy and backing up the footage from the day before. Today’s agenda was going to Atomic Liquors at 5:00 pm for an event Bubba started throwing at home called, “The Very Important Businessy Type Meeting” or the “VIBTM”. Atomic Liquors is an amazingly cool spot off the strip away from the bullshit glitz and glam. Most like-minded people enjoy their time in Fremont. Dare I say it’s the cool part of Vegas. It’s known for the locals, hipsters, tastemakers, cool record stores and affordable nightlife. Atomic Liquors got its name from the ’50s when people used to sit on the roof of the bar and watch the nuclear bomb tests in the distance.
Anyway, back to the VIBTM. The ideas of these mixers are for everyone to shelf work mode for a bit, stop networking, and hang out with a well-curated group of like-minded people. These are my favorite weed events. Not just because they’re put together by one of my favorite people on earth, but it forces people to lose the elevator pitches and connect on a human level. If you ever get the invite, go hang. I packed a bunch of pre-rolls to try not to drink too much, but my attempt would prove futile.
After the VIBTM, Bubba and the Thrive guys invited me to go watch Anthony Rumble Johnson fight. I’m not that into UFC, but we had the pleasure of having Rumble on our show a few months before and that dude is super special. A truly gentle spirit that, when tasked, could crush almost any living thing in seconds. I was so stoked to see him fight.
So after an amazing time at Atomic Liquors, a venue well selected by Bubbs for its history and vibe, we hopped in an Uber and made our way to the grappling event. This is where I realized I should have eaten something other than the Luxor buffet that morning. I was kind of getting the spins when we arrived, barely holding it together.
Somehow I got separated from the group but managed to see Rumble fight. I sat down with strangers and had to get out of there. The booze had taken control and the weed was doing very little to help at this time. High Times was having a party at Brooklyn Bowl with George Clinton and P-Funk playing, so I decided to go meet up with my dear friend Jon Capetta, VP of content at High Times. Jon was going to be filling in for Efrem for a couple of interviews as co-host with Bubbs and me, so I thought it would be good to check in and hang. Somehow I made it out of the Rumble fight. I was slaughtered.
I took an Uber to Brooklyn Bowl and thankfully Jon met me out front and escorted me in. It’s possible that I asked him for “nose beers” which illustrates how drunk I was. Thankfully, Jon doesn’t party that way and he was smart enough to get me some drinks, food, and a server. Dude is solid as fuck.
I watched a bunch of music and got a text from the Puff exec team. I remember doing shots of tequila with our CEO and then seeing some friends from Marigold PR, who put me in a cab, and I got home to bed. Honestly, I have zero recollection of how that happened, but I knew it was only 1:00 am.
DAY FOUR – NUWU CANNABIS MARKETPLACE AND THE HIGH TIMES CUP
I woke up at 6:00 am a little discombobulated. Not as confused as Carter. Young Carter had just returned from a night out with the executive team. I’m not quite sure what happened, but those animals broke him. He got in bed and asked what time we had to be at work. Lucky for him, we didn’t have much on the agenda. I let him sleep, had my steam, went for breakfast, and stopped by the conference.
MJBiz was pretty slow this morning. I decided to say fuck it and head out to NuWu Cannabis, where High Times Cannabis Cup Nevada was being held. If you haven’t heard of Nuwu Cannabis it’s actually the dream. NuWu Cannabis Marketplace is unique as its one of the only places on earth that exist like it does, legally.
NuWu was built on native land. Its owners and founders had to go through mountains of bureaucracy to accomplish their goal, which was the biggest dispensary and consumption lounge in Nevada. Through working with the government in 2017, they opened the NuWu Cannabis Marketplace, a glass-walled, big-box structure that looks like a car dealership or greenhouse. NuWu, which means “the people” in Southern Paiute, sits on the tribe’s “colony” one mile away from the neon-lit Fremont Street Experience. When I entered the structure I actually wept. My foray into cannabis professionally was rallying against Canadian governments to allow some semblance of a logical regulated cannabis market. We ultimately lost in many regards, but knowing the dream was alive somewhere on earth, actually got me choked up.
I decided to sample the consumption lounge. The lounge was staffed with young, knowledgeable, stylish people that genuinely looked like they loved what they were doing. The lounge was spotless and beautiful. The pine vibes, booth-like seating and easy to follow menu made me pine for something like this at home. I looked at the menu, ordered my dab, paid $8 USD and sat and waited for my name to be called. After a brief wait, my name was called and I went to the counter where a very attractive young lady cooked me one of the tastiest dabs I’ve ever had. I decided to wander the grounds a bit. The production team was still setting up the event and I wandered through the exhibitors. This was more my speed with cool art, glass blowers and food trucks, along with a lot of CBD companies, which are rampant stateside.
Lowell Farms, which is a solid American pre-rolls company, had a beautiful outdoor lounge set up with heaters, fire pits, high-end cushioned picnic tables and seating areas that, again, made me a little depressed at how lame the direction of the Canadian regulated market was going. When high fashion and cannabis meet, it’s a beautiful, healthy option for nightlife and I felt at home. I was finally at a cannabis event where weed was actually celebrated. In my opinion, there’s way too much booze in this industry, and that keeps us in a holding pattern. When most get off the sauce and start consuming weed, ideology starts to kick in. Creativity starts to kick in, and in my opinion, it’s the path out of the dark ages.
Before I left, Puff Digital COO Mark Petch, High Times VP of Content Jon Cappetta, Young Carter, who had joined me one by one over the course of the afternoon, and I went back to the consumption lounge and ordered a doobie. When the joint arrived, the presentation was immaculate. I can’t remember the strain, but our budtender came to where we were seated, let us smell the pre-roll, and described it’s terp profile. As we were about to spark up, a strikingly beautiful woman in red walked in the lounge and seemed to suck all the air out of the room. Kind of like one of those Wayne’s World moments that hit when super attractive people arrive around our group of mediocrity. Don’t get me wrong, Petch is actually quite striking, but five days in Vegas will wear on anyone. The lady in red turned out to be High Times personality, and founder of Skinny Weed, Jenae Alt who seemed to click with our crew immediately. We invited her to be on the show the following day and she accepted. We said our goodbyes, and Petch, Young Carter and I made our way back to our respective hotels.
Just as I was ready to go to bed, I got a text from the owner of Puff Digital, reminding me that he wanted us all to meet at a club called XS in the Wynne Casino. I love this guy and hadn’t seen him in forever…but the last thing I wanted to do was drink again. So, I went back to Luxor for a nap and met up with Carter who was possibly still dying from the night before. I hit my bed hard for about two hours.
I was stressed about going out because Jon Capetta had booked us a couple of interviews first thing in the morning, but after several, “Don’t ditch me fucker” texts, I thought it imperative I go meet the execs at XS. Plus, I love these guys and had very little time with them for most of the trip. A bit of a drag, but also a sign we’re working and having fun. The name of the game on these kinds of trips.
Peter Tieu, the owner of Puff Digital and author of the “DON’T you fucking ditch me” texts is a baller. I don’t use that term loosely but Peter doesn’t wait in lines anywhere he goes. He’s a whirlwind of awesome mystery, generosity, and kindness. So we get to the club and get escorted past everyone like rock stars, and all dress code is ignored by security for our party. We sit down at a booth and tequila bottle service shows up delivered by some very attractive women. Admittedly, I was struggling. I was trying to force down some drinks but it just wasn’t happening. Then, through the corner of my eye, I see Bubbs show up still hanging with Rumble and the Thrive guys. Bubbs had an amazing dab pen and someone in the group that shall go nameless had mushrooms. Finally…
I ate the shrooms, basically stole Bubba’s pen and kicked it up a notch. We had an amazing time and I had the chance to have a heart to heart with Puff Digital CEO Leo V, which was awesome because we don’t get to hang often. I also spent a lot of time with COO Mark Petch, who was also kind of dying from a long week, but like a pro, forced himself into the game. The night is a little blurry, but I know it climaxed with babes and sparklers holding up Higher Mentality signs, which was awesome but also like crazy in the best way. I would never have thought of arranging something like that, but it was super cool.
I got out early and made eye contact with Petch as I was leaving. He looked defeated and I felt like we were leaving another soldier at war. We didn’t want to leave without him, but he knew his job was to stay put and stay in the game.
We got home and crashed, so we could be good to shoot the next morning.
DAY FIVE – HIGH TIMES CUP, SKINNY WEED, DOT COM MOGULS, AND THE FLIGHT HOME
I got up around 7:30 am. Young Carter was still sleeping. I was feeling the lack of sleep but also appreciative of the oxygen being pumped into our hotel keeping me awake and dumb. I started filling the tub for my mock shower-slash-steam-bath experience to let the young one rest. We had agreed with Jon Capetta, VP of high times to meet at Nuwu Cannabis Marketplace and get a jump on the day. We weren’t sure where we were going to set up so an early start made sense.
I got cleaned up and woke young Carter who sort of looked like he had had enough of life at the moment. Carter got himself cleaned up after a few encouraging words and a doobie. We packed our bags and exited the Luxor for the last time of the trip. We were going to hit the Cup, shoot, then find somewhere to lay low for a couple of hours before heading to the airport. I think we were both excited to get home. 5 days is a long time to be stoned in Las Vegas.
We took an Uber over and had radio silence from Capetta, Bubba, and the executive team. My last vision of Mark Petch, alone in the nightclub said a lot for me. He was like an adorable homeless puppy that knew he was going to be put down behind the shed. Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting to hear much from them for a bit, but I got a little panicky when we hadn’t heard from Bubba. Cappetta texted and said he was running late and to look for Jenae who was already en route.
I wandered to a nearby tobacco outlet and grabbed a coffee. Young Carter went to find a place to sleep, I’m sure at this point resenting me for getting him up at 8:00 am. Jenae showed up around the same time as Jon Capetta, but we were running late, and Stormy Simon who famously started as a temp at Overstock.com, then was instrumental in turning it into at $2 Billion online shopping outlet, was supposed to be our Noon, had to go fast due to catching a flight out of the area.
Jenae has the foresight and was kind enough to bring us all samples of her product line called “Skinny Weed”. It’s an all-natural dietary supplement that also wakes you up and gives you focus. This “Skinny Weed” basically saved our lives this day. It gave me the energy and focus to get my ass in proper gear.
However, everything that morning prevented us to get to a good, quiet location. Jenae was a fucking trooper and offered to hang out so we could interview Stormy Simon, formerly of Overstock.com, who had to catch a flight. We interviewed Stormy at the High Times booth amongst the vendors. It was early enough that the crowds were still thin enough to get an awesome interview with someone I now consider to be a good friend. Again, I don’t want to ruin the episode, but man, what a story she has. She’s also super sexy, wise, humble, and for someone I feel has enough money to vanish, she doesn’t seem to give a fuck about stature unless you’re genuine. At one point in the interview, I asked how she knew Steven Tyler on Aerosmith and she replied, “because I Damn well made sure I knew Steven Tyler of Aerosmith.” I loved this. Stormy is someone everyone should want to be around.
As it turns out, Stormy misread her itinerary and missed her flight anyway, but I imagine the nice thing about turning a dot com into a 2.5 Billion dollar company means you don’t stress too much about $600 flights anymore. This is not coming from experience. I definitely sweat flights, train tickets, gas in the tank…hell…on the wrong month, bus fair…
We finally sat down to interview Jenae when a super loud sewage truck pulls up 15 feet away and starts pumping. So, yet again we had to postpone. This also meant we were going to lose Bubba. He had acquired himself some UFC tickets for that night and didn’t want to miss the opportunity. While we were going to miss Bubbs, I still had Cappetta to co-host who is more than capable. I spent the next couple hours getting to know Jenae and I knew I made a new friend. The nice thing about a lot of stoners – I won’t say all – is that everything can strip away when you’re high, and you can make a real human connection. No matter your background. However, although Jenae looks like a Hollywood starlet, she actually grew up in rural Michigan – only four hours away from where I grew up – so we had more in common than we thought. After some food and good conversation, we felt comfortable enough to split a dab at the dab bar, which may have been a mistake.
Finally, almost right after the dab, at 3:00 pm, we had an opening to get this interview shot. We were maybe too high. I haven’t gone over the footage as of writing this, but I remember giggling an awful lot and struggling to get control of the interview. At one point I think Jenae got dabbed out and went all introspective and kind of shifted gears. I know this self-doubt well. It can happen to anyone with anxiety and the wrong cannabis cocktail. We finished the interview, and I promised Jenae that if we seem too unprofessional, we’ll shoot with her again next time we’re in the LA area. However, I’m pretty sure it was great and if it was off, it’s not her fault. It’s hard to have a deep one-on-one with hundreds of people walking by.
We finished right at 4:20 pm and met the exec team to check out the Cup Winners. It was a great presentation. Shortly after that, we said our thank-yous to Cappetta and company and went to kill time at Wynn Casino where the dudes were staying. We all sort of mashed out in the sports betting area before making the trip to the airport. On my way out, I gave what was left of Smokey’s weed to some folks who seemed very appreciative. I saved a big joint for myself.
Upon arriving at the airport, Puff Digital CRO Daanish Siddiqui and I walked up to a less populated terminal and smoked a joint each. We laughed and reminisced about a crazy fucking week. Somehow, upon recounting the events, we realized we crushed it. We had won some business and made leads and through all the madness, actually justified our trip. We had the most fun possible and still had a very productive stay. I think that may be the definition of success.
We went through customs, got on our respective planes, and headed back to Toronto on a few red eyes. Upon landing, the sun was just coming up over the horizon. I met up with Leo and Petch in Toronto to grab luggage. Petch and I said our goodbyes to Leo and split an Uber home. It sort of felt like two soldiers who were coming home from war, going home to their respective families. We were quiet, introspective, beat to shit, and had seen some horror, but we still managed to force out a wisecrack or two…because even exhausted, we know we love what we get to do for a living, and I don’t think any of us on our team would ever complain about a thing.
As for Bubbs? His adventure with Rumble continued but that’s a story for another day…