G13 grown by a Colorado-licensed caregiver. (Jake Browne, The Cannabist)

G13 (marijuana review)

I have no reason to be nervous as I wait in a south Denver parking lot for a bag of herb from someone I’ve never met. The lot is playing host to a farmer’s market that consists solely of hemp products and is well lit in the middle of the afternoon. The meet is with a caregiver who reached out via Facebook, and while we only have one mutual friend, he seems like someone who won’t murder me in front of a large group of people.

I’m apprehensive because he’s seeking an unbiased opinion on his herb. Much like your Uncle Ronnie who can’t wait for you to crack his latest batch of lackluster homebrew on the 4th of July, caregivers can lack objectivity when it comes to their final product. These are the hobbyists, the weekend drug warriors, and I usually don’t have the heart to tell them that it’s mediocrity they’re toiling in.

When he shows up at our tent with the gram of the G13 we agreed upon and two other samples, I’m completely unprepared for the bomb he’s about to drop on me.

He has no sense of smell.

Meeting up

Going back to the caregiver’s first message, we spent the next several days messaging about how the whole thing would go down. It was mostly me suggesting places we could do the exchange without overtly saying, “I don’t want you to know where I live.” It’s a silly remnant of the old weed days, where you meet in a neutral location so no one got robbed. There’s no secret awesome grow at my place: If my mom was the green thumb in our family, I’m the black thumb.

There are some options. OG18. Holy Grail Kush. Cheese. I let him know what my restrictions are and what would prevent me from being able to review something. Has it been featured on The Cannabist before? Is it called “Your Full Name OG”? Ben and I settle on G13 and the 1st Annual Hemp Farmer’s Market as our meeting ground.

Only in Colorado.

I can’t let the hempsters know what’s going down. The conflation of fun-time smokin’ weed with hemp by the general public is a huge hurdle for most of us. That doesn’t stop a lot of us from enjoying both, but this is a family event and so a “drug deal” — even if it’s for less than an eighth of fun-time smokin’ weed — would probably be frowned upon.

When Ben arrives a little past noon at the tent for my hemp-rooted company HempBox, I whisk him away to an area of benches to talk.

The G13 myth

G13 is the subject of many rumors, none of which the government will verify for me. It’s one of the few strains that has its own Wikipedia entry. Some say it’s the product of the NIDA Drug Supply Program at the University of Mississippi, where researchers bred this super-weed that was eventually smuggled out by an undercover stoner. At the time of this publication, Ole Miss hadn’t returned my voicemail. Others say that’s an urban legend created to sell more pot, and the Occam’s Razor in my heart tends to agree with the latter.

G13 broke into the mainstream back in 1999 when featured in “American Beauty” as the weed that doesn’t give you paranoia. Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) acquires some from next door neighbor Ricky Fitts (Wes Bently) then promptly quits his job to work at a fast food joint. “Zen and the Art of Fryer Maintenance.”

I like to describe G13 as the Novocain — minus the drooling — of marijuana. You’re the only one who’s aware you’re on it, even if it’s incredibly powerful while you are. For a strong indica, it’s surprisingly smooth, a favorite of mine to give a “Gotcha!” moment when a friend thinks I’m not high.

The old cut we’d get smelled of beef jerky, this amazing umami flavor that was so distinctive when all the other duffle bags we’d see smelled like a Kush or Diesel. Ben’s phenotype has a slight undertone of that savoriness, but there’s dark berry and sweet earthiness that are much more pronounced. I’ll give him credit, though, as this already-dense strain is on steroids here — the kind of herb that makes you think you’re getting ripped off because it looks so small on the scale.

Diving in

“It’s more subtle now. It doesn’t hit you in the face like it used to,” says Ben of the G13. It’s clear I’m not going to be reviewing one of his favorites. He wants to backcross it to get the 15-year-old strain back to its glory days. It’s showing a few “bananas” (or male parts) that produce pollen, a bad sign for lady plants. Then again, it’s fortunate the strain still exists.

A close look at those ‘bananas’:

Another caregiver passed down 20 different strains to Ben when he started in 2006, one of which was G13. They were being held in what could be considered a “cannabis clearinghouse” by a dude named Steve that was affiliated with the Colorado Compassion Club. After a raid, the caregiver decided — as so many do — that he wanted out of the game. He wanted Ben to be his caregiver. “I still look up to him,” Ben says modestly.

As a novice grower, the expectations were low. That is, until he took down two pounds of flower per light on his first harvest and put the “grass” in grasshopper. He’s been doing it full time since, axing five of the original strains while breeding his own, selecting plants that are easy to trim and require little maintenance. He’s a one-man operation; Plants with special needs aren’t a luxury he can afford.

But with all of this success, why does he want my opinion?

“I don’t really have a sense of smell,” he notes. “I have to take your word for it.” Two sinus surgeries have left him completely unable to enjoy his particularly odorous pot, as well as a compromised sense of taste. “I’m a product of George Washington High School, where everyone will tell you the hallways smell like piss. I think at one point, I forced myself to stop smelling.”

As someone whose livelihood depends on his senses, I can’t imagine his world.

He also gets limited feedback. The business-by-donation has grown through word of mouth, working with patients that include vets with terrible PTSD who can’t qualify for a Colorado medical license with their condition. When they stop to grab a bag or two, he’ll probe them about what’s working and what isn’t. But he isn’t running a commercial operation, where hundreds of people walk through the door every day.

“I could do this for a few more years,” he says almost wistfully. Demands for more permits and inspections of caregivers has him eyeing a dispensary job down the road, but he’s also leery of a more corporate job — especially as it would compare to the self-employed lifestyle he’s grown accustomed to. It’s a point he drives home frequently, and I find myself almost amused to hear someone so passionately equate these shops to “big business.”

For Ben, though, a warehouse means a place to experiment rather than the 100 square feet he’s currently confined to.

After seeing his finished product, a big cultivation would be wise to hire him.

Ah, the body high

You can taste the sweetness in the smoke. I exhale slowly through my nose, getting a slight tingle at the tip. I’m sitting down to leftovers, a Mexican version of shepherd’s pie with green chile and adobo-braised carnitas and deceptively light mashed potatoes, when it hits me in the face. There’s this wooziness right away that makes me feel like one of those videos of kids leaving the dentist all loopy that the Internet loves. Every bite I make for myself is created with entirely too much intention, getting what I’ve imagined is the perfect ratio of pork to potato.

This is not an unpleasant side effect.

About 15 minutes in, I check in with my lower back, also known as my primary lifting muscle. For a tall guy, I do stupid things to it for absolutely no reason as all. There’s still a dull ache there, but the thought leads me to waggle my hips out of nowhere in something I’ll call “improvised high stretching.” It’s a notable body stone without a particular heaviness in most areas.

Suddenly, my body is in a resistance pool, only with the current at my back on a low setting. Like the water, I’m quiet and yet pulsing at the same time. Definitely stoned and introspective, I float to our back deck on another overcast Denver day and listen to the wind chime that my mother gave us last year. If the buzz was a little lighter or motivating, I’d be actually jogging instead of debating the merits of it in my head. I settle on listening to a podcast to prep for our next show and slouching into my overwhelming sense of contentedness.

It gets me thinking: This is a terrible time to be a caregiver in Colorado. The state seems hellbent on regulating them out of existence, and that comes with real consequences for patients that rely on them. I just met Ben, but he grows some pretty amazing pot, and there are people who depend on said pot to go about their days.

I’d hate to see what would happen to a strain like his G13 if he did get that dispensary job. We just have to hope that, like in Ben’s case, the genetics keep getting passed on.