There were six people locked in a metal pen on Ninth Street near San Francisco City Hall. They wore orange prison jumpsuits. One appeared to be praying.
This was a demonstration, a bit of street theater, to protest current federal marijuana laws and the mass incarceration resulting from the decades-long drug wars. Outside the Vapor Room cannabis shop on May 7, the display, a combination of viral marketing and political protest, saw a short march, street dancers, coordinated headwear (farmers’ hats), a few speeches and, yes, a jailbreak with the help of a cannabis CEO and a small shovel. Some cars honked in affirmation as they passed.
Two partners in the cannabis industry spearheaded the event. David Bronner and Michael Steinmetz are looking to sell high-end cannabis via the nonprofit Brother David’s, which infuses sustainability and other ethical practices into the pot world.
Bronner, grandson of famed Jewish soap-maker Emanuel Bronner, recently launched the nonprofit, dedicated to cultivating and selling ultra-organic herb using regenerative agriculture, fair labor practices and other ethical standards. Regenerative agriculture means planting cannabis alongside other crops, which enriches soil, increases biodiversity, and reduces soil tillage and other processes that impact soil health. This approach also aims to reduce global warming by capturing carbon. (Growing cannabis “righteously,” he said).
Dr. Bronner’s began in 1948 and now earns about $120 million annually. It traces its roots to the German Jewish soap-maker who immigrated to the U.S. in 1929.
David, the company CEO (as in cosmic engagement officer), wasn’t raised Jewish, but his father “made sure I said the Shema every morning,” he said. “In Hebrew and English.” He has family in Israel, including a cousin who is an architect in Jerusalem and with whom he is close.
The reference to the Shema was fitting, considering one of the most well-known features in Dr. Bronner’s soap: “all-in-oneness.” Not simply a marketing ploy, this all-in-oneness is actually based on deeply held moral and spiritual ideals held by Dr. Bronner, a religious eccentric who espoused what he called “The Moral ABC” or the “All-One-God-Faith.”
David, who said the soap company sources olive oil from Israeli and Palestinian farms, was eager to talk about his Jewish roots and his ties to Israel, although his personal religious views draw heavily on his grandfather’s “All-One” philosophy.
“All the faith and shamanic traditions, at their core, refer to the same transcendent, mysterious reality that we’re all children of.”
Steinmetz, Bronner’s business partner, is a Venezuelan Jew whose father was born in Haifa, and whose grandparents on both sides fled anti-Semitism in Europe. “I was born and raised Jewish,” he said. “I would say my family was more spiritual than religious.”
Steinmetz’s company, Flow Kana, is helping connect Brother David’s to natural, outdoor, sun-grown cannabis farms, and distribute weed flower to dispensaries. Flow Kana closed a $125 million funding round earlier this year, according to Marijuana Business Daily.
The partners also aim to spread the word on Sun+Earth certification, a new set of standards similar to USDA organic certification but with even stricter guidelines for ethical agriculture.
“Cannabis carrying the Sun+Earth seal was grown under the sun, in carefully tended living soils, and with cultivation techniques that uphold strict criteria to ensure application of regenerative organic farming practices,” an April 22 press release states. “Sun+Earth also benefits family farmers and workers via price premiums.”
Bronner explained the purpose of the afternoon’s celebratory, eye-catching and at times wacky proceedings, after symbolically releasing the prisoners from bondage.
“Just because we live in a beautiful state that’s ended prohibition, there’s still so many brothers and sisters around the country whose souls have been destroyed. We need to stop this madness,” he said.
“We must pave the way for all our other plant medicines to come in and help heal our souls,” he continued. “The trauma, the anxieties, the addiction and the depression. And make us wake up, and celebrate each other in this magical-living world we live in.”
“Amen,” Steinmetz said.