Editor’s note: In our Other Roots series, we share the stories of the underrepresented individuals in and around the marijuana movement — women, ethnic minorities and others whose voices aren’t as prevalent in the conversation surrounding legalization. If you’d like to suggest an individual to the Other Roots team — an activist, a budtender, a regulator, an executive — give us a jingle.
Edward “Swerve” Clarizio, founder of The Cali Connection seed bank, was diagnosed with five eye diseases and multiple sclerosis by the age of 30. After battling the side effects of his prescribed medications, he turned to medical marijuana as an alternative.
Then he started developing some of today’s most coveted marijuana seeds. His personal success in pain management led him to found The Cali Connection. Today, the $3 million-a-year company employs 10 people and has amassed dozens of industry awards, and Clarizio is a well-known advocate for medical cannabis.
Clarizio, who calls himself the “Johnny Appleseed of weed,” says many people use his products “medicinally, to get relief from chronic pain, not to get high.” He claims his products have much less damaging effects than hardcore legal pharmaceuticals prescribed for pain, such as Fentanyl, OxyContin and Vicodin.
He got into this line of work out of necessity. He has battled five eye diseases over the last 30 years.
“I always had eye issues since I was younger. At age 9, I had cryogenic surgery for a detached retina. I had my first major surgery at 16, they removed a vitreous tumor.”
Clarizio suffers from macular degeneration, uveitis, glaucoma, macular edema and pars planitis. Constant hospitalization was the norm for him for years. Clarizio is 75 percent blind in one eye, meaning he is technically half-blind.
In 2010 Clarizio was diagnosed with MS, which his mother and older sister are also living with.
“You get by. It could be worse.”
He became a pioneer in the cannabis industry and began breeding custom strains 15 years ago to alleviate symptoms of MS. He was working as a video editor and “fell back on a side experiment I was doing.” He was one of a handful of people providing high-end genetic clones to medical marijuana collectives in the Los Angeles area.
Today Clarizio has multiple farms in Northern and Southern California, personally has a hand in the grow operations, and continues to push the boundaries to create more strains.
“My father, being old-school Italian, did not initially support the business,” he says. But when Clarizio told him he was running one of the world’s largest cannabis seed companies, “My dad realized his son is a businessman.”
His business began with pain relief, he says. “You’re not going to cure anything, especially with MS. All we can do is prolong life and alleviate symptoms to the best of our ability.”
He has strong feelings about the current weed bureaucracy: “In the end, it becomes the old boys at the top of the food chain, the pharma companies. They make billions, with a ‘B,’ off pharmaceuticals.”
In his case, “I have to take a huge infusion of Rituxan (medication used to treat certain autoimmune diseases and cancers) until there’s more scientific work and tests to prove marijuana can fight disease.”
He believes the Drug Enforcement Administration will eventually loosen regulations on research but will not reclassify cannabis.
“I predict after the Trump presidency we will see marijuana become full-fledged legal. There’s too much money for it not to be. It makes more money than corn or tobacco.”
To pave the way to full legalization, he says more side-by-side comparisons to socially-accepted alcohol are needed.
“We should do exactly what we’ve been doing in the Bush-Ashcroft era,” Clarizio said. “Stay true to what we do. We need to be smart about this. It’s a business. We as an industry have been fighting to get to this point, where banks will loan to (cannabis businesses) and take our money, where unions will work with us.”
How do you consume cannabis?
I dab. I smoke. Eating (infused edibles) just puts me to sleep.
How do you describe yourself?
I’m a conflict of interest. I have old-school views on certain things, I’m rebellious on other things. I’m from an old-school Italian family, Roman Catholic.
What’s your greatest fear?
Lately, death. My MS likes to go crazy.
What do your parents say about your career?
Dad has come around. He now understands it’s beneficial for my ailment. We’re not raging drug addicts or lazy stoners.
What’s been most surprising about marijuana legalization?
All the old-schoolers coming out of the woodwork. It’s been interesting to be sitting with people my parents’ age, smoking with me.
What quality don’t you like in yourself?
What quality don’t you like in other people?
An inability to listen.
What’s your greatest extravagance?
Food. I’m a sucker for Kobe beef. My wife’s Japanese. (They have two kids under the age of 6.)
How do you talk about your work with the kids?
I explain it from the standpoint this is something than can help you, something you do not abuse, like alcohol. Don’t take more than you need. I explain it is medicine up front.
What’s an overrated virtue?
Where and when were you happiest?
When my son was born.
What talent would you like to have?
I wish I had the talent to draw or play guitar.
If you could die and come back as a person or thing…?
I’d come back as a border collie or golden retriever that everyone loves.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would you choose?
Living, Warren Buffett; dead, Gandhi. Polar opposites.
What’s your greatest regret?
I regret not being honest years ago. I was more focused on me becoming a weed celebrity than on other people.
What’s your favorite possession?
My genetics — my seeds, my strains.
What’s your favorite meal?
Pasta: Grandma’s Orecchiette with rapini.
Your favorite music?
Classical and jazz.
“It all starts from a seed.”