On Thursday, the evening before New York State made it legal for five organizations to grow and sell medical marijuana, a group of high-minded individuals filed into a spacious meeting room in Soho and gave their names to the perky girl at the door. They had paid $20 to attend a seminar called “Growing Cannabis,” the latest in a series of programs put on by the quickly growing High NY Meetup group.
The meeting was organized by High NY CEO Mike Zaytsev, a veteran of the tech world and former Google and JP Morgan employee whose family moved to Brooklyn from the former Soviet Union in 1991 (the exact date was, no joke, 4/20). He said he’s seen a shift in attitude among the average New Yorker in regards to marijuana use, even in just the last nine months since he stepped in as leader of the Meetup group. Currently self-employed as a business and life coach, he said he started out as just a tech guy who “liked smoking pot,” but as he became more involved he became a passionate advocate for the legalization of marijuana.
“I lived in California for a number of years, and the attitude there is so much more accepting toward cannabis,” said Zaytsev in between shaking hands with members of the mingling crowd. “In New
York there’s no shortage of cannabis users, but even the people who are accepting of it are reserved about it and not talking about it in the open with regularity, so I think that was probably a big motivation for me. The only way to see meaningful change in this culture is to get people who aren’t informed to get involved and care about the issues.”
Horticulturist Jörg Martin Lamparter was ready to impart his 30 years of plant growing expertise, but before the program got underway there was a chance for people to quickly address the group. One man took the opportunity to recommend melatonin as way of fighting a pot comedown and “resetting your brain so you get stoned like it was fresh again.” (Incidentally, goodie bags handed out at the event included a bottle of CouchLock KannaBliss, which also contains the chemical.)
One man who looked to be in his late 20s or early 30s said he lost 80 pounds while smoking cannabis, to which Zaytsev incredulously asked, “You lost weight?” The man explained it also involved a high-protein diet and hard work. “I wish I had tried pot when I was 19 instead of alcohol,” he said.
One woman said she’s been “playing around with edibles” and that it would be “cool to find an edible mentor.” She’s in luck; if she wasn’t able to find an expert at the Meetup, she’ll likely find one at the next meeting, where Zaytsey plans to assemble a panel and three chefs experienced in the art of cooking with that one special ingredient.
Not everyone at last night’s sold-out event (70 tickets were sold, and there were a few extra walk-ins) wanted to start growing their own plants; a show of hands indicated that maybe one-fourth of the attendees had intentions of doing so. But they were clearly eager for the opportunity to meet new people with similar interests.
It was a diverse crowd, from briefcase-toating men who looked like they’d come straight from the boardroom to an older woman in a sundress who said she had also lost weight on weed (is this a thing?).
The presentation by Lamparter was easy to follow and at the same time pretty thorough—this serial murderer of houseplants left feeling like she had sufficient knowledge to theoretically keep a cannabis plant alive but that it would take a lot of work and not a little luck to actually succeed. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, the three most common DEMtakes of first time growers, according to Lamparter: overwatering, over-fertilizing, and underestimating how much light the plants need.
And then, of course, there are the “security issues,” a euphemism Lamparter alluded to several times throughout his talk. Obviously, it’s illegal to grow marijuana at home. Over the phone on Monday, Zaytsev told Bedford + Bowery that even though New York State is going to allow 20 medicinal dispensaries to open throughout the state starting as early as 2016, there’s still a long way to go before state laws come anywhere close to allowing the amount of dispensaries needed to satisfy demand. “They gave five companies the rights to open four retail locations, so that’s 20 locations for all of New York State,” he pointed out.
When the educational portion of the night was over, the group adjourned for 15 minutes (just enough time to get some “air”) while the folding chairs were cleared away to make room for the after-party activities, which Zaytsev described earlier in the evening as “very casual lowbrow/high fun activities.” (Attendees tittered in appreciation of the pun.)
During the break, audience member Stephan Walsh approached Zaytsev to thank him for organizing the program. He said he’s eager to learn more about edibles, as marijuana has helped him overcome his neurological pain. “It’s amazing,” he said about discovering edibles and learning to cook them. “It’s like I made my own medicine. I’m off prescription painkillers completely now.”
Zaytsev said meeting people like Walsh makes all of the hard work “totally worth it.” “It validates the vision I had,” he said. “If a bunch of people said they had a good time, learned something, and met people then that’s a win for the community and for the whole cannabis industry, even.” With his tech background, he views the meetings as a chance for investors to get in on the ground floor of what could potentially be a very lucrative industry. “I hear a lot of people say, ‘I’d like to get into the industry, but I’m going to wait until it comes to New York in a legal way,” he said. “If you’re waiting for that, you’re missing all the best opportunities because by the time it’s fully legal you’re going to be competing with fully mature, established businesses. There are new states coming on board every year.”
Having always had a very un-stoner-like streak of ambition, he hopes the High NY will one day surpass NY Tech Meetup, the largest Meetup group in the world at about 50,000 members. “We’re on the race to 1,000 members. That’s the big goal before the end of the year,” he said. “I think if everything goes well with the laws and all that we’d like to challenge them one day.”