Back in the ancient days of smoking weed, before hydroponics and hybrid strains, one could be reasonably sure that a couple hits would lead to a safe, relaxed high. In the 70s, people didn’t live in fear of what could happen when a stranger passed a joint at, say, a Santana concert, because most bud on the streets was fairly mild. Today, however, between the ambitious spirit of artisan growers and the powerful medical-grade cannabis in play, unknown weed is basically a roulette game, with one puff landing you anywhere from asleep on your couch to embarking on a 12-hour astral projection. For years, there's been growing competition for the strongest strain at the dispensary, but a new generation of producers is actually going for the opposite: trying to level the playing field by offering a reliable way to blast off like your dad used to without worrying that you’ll end up too far gone.
Ben Starmer and Joshua Katz are not dads. “We’re dads at heart,” Katz says, laughing. “And we act rather dad-like in our modest old age,” Starmer adds. But that hasn’t stopped them from launching Dad Grass, an L.A.-based company that sells organic CBD joints and flower (un-rolled hemp nugs) that contain, by law, less than 0.3 percent THC. That may seem counterintuitive, but there are actually many smokers out there who enjoy the act of sparking up but fear the possibility of falling into a psychedelic spiral of paranoia. “We’ve never conceived of it as exclusively being for dads, or even for dudes,” Katz points out; in fact, as Starmer later shares, they have more female customers than male. “For us, it was about the nostalgic memory of finding our dads’ stash and peeling off a little bit,” Katz says, explaining that Dad Grass aims to recall the simpler days of smoking weed.
The Dad Grass brand of nostalgia isn’t only about the experience of discovering that your old man loves the sweet leaf, though—it’s also about the quality of leaf he was smoking. “It’s nostalgia for a particular cannabis time period,” Starmer says, adding that weed used to be far less potent than it is today. “My dad told me at one point that he smoked in his childhood, but eventually the grass got too high-test for him.” Now, if one wants to be assured that they'll experience the mellow blaze of yore, they need to sift through the THC-blasted strains at dispensaries (where legal) or find a friend with a strong body of knowledge and a hard line on the good stuff. “When Joshua and I met, you could go into a dispensary, talk to a bud-tender who was an expert, and leave the dispensary with some kind of confidence that you'd picked up the right weed. Today’s weed just gets you too damn high,” Starmer says. It was out of a mutual desire for a more available, less intense high that Dad Grass was born.
You may wonder what to expect from a Dad Grass joint, especially if you’re a past or current Marijuanaut. I gave up pot half a decade ago, but when I first tried a Dad Grass joint, it really did take me back to that lazy-day feeling of smoking a J, fulfilling all of the enjoyable, ritualistic aspects of sitting in my rocking chair with the window open, enjoying a few hits alongside a cold beer after work, and hoping my neighbors couldn’t smell anything. For some reason, I felt the need to listen to Can’t Buy a Thrill while puffing away. Now, as a somewhat regular smoker of Dad Grass, I find that about half a joint will get me the right kind of not-really-faded, like the light, smiley feeling you have a couple of hours after hitting a bubbler.
“Everybody’s body’s different,” Katz points out. “I experience our joints differently than Ben does, and differently than my mom does.” He says that a baseline for most people is a mellow, chilled-out feeling comparable to drinking a nice glass of wine. For new customers, he recommends the “go low, go slow” approach; as any imbiber of cannabis (or most other things) knows, you can always do a little more, but you can never turn back. “I love to share one with my girlfriend while we’re cooking,” Katz says. “Maybe if I’ve had a pretty gnarly day, I’ll take one to the dome just myself.”
Starmer and Katz met while working at Levi’s over a decade ago, bonding over a love of weed and a craving for a more reliable product. Though they initially wanted to create a business that sold high-quality, lower-THC pot, their plans changed when the FDA passed the 2018 Farm Bill, which removed hemp from the category of “marijuana”; it further declared that CBD-heavy hemp plants with less than 0.3 percent THC (the psychoactive compound in cannabis) would be greenlit (pun extremely intended) for widespread use, though with significant oversight with regard to cultivation and production.
The following year, as Starmer and Katz were starting to research products for their new business, they decided to cover their bases by looking into hemp. “We got some samples and we were quite skeptical of hemp,” Starmer says. “Hemp was something you braided in high school. It looked like weed and it smelled like weed; we lit it up and it smoked like weed. We went, ‘I’m not exactly high… but I’m not not high.’” They realized that smoking the hemp lifted their spirits and cast off some of their anxiety, but didn’t give them any of the overwhelming stress or paranoia that can hit some people after they smoke weed. They pivoted their company that night and came out with the first prototype for Dad Grass a couple months later, right before the pandemic hit. “It was an interesting time to launch a business, but also a really good time to launch a product that takes the edge off,” Katz reflects. “Our first month, we gave away more joints than we sold. We had an open call to anybody who had gotten laid off or furloughed.”
The duo has gone to great lengths to make sure everything from the farming to the final product is done carefully and consciously. “We really leave the growing to the experts,” Starmer explains. “What we’ve done is we’ve really focused on regenerative and living soil farmers and growers that are giving back to the land as much as they’re taking from it.” Dad Grass partners with biodynamic farms run by like-minded people; that way, the founding duo knows that when they take over in the process, they’ve got an excellent product to work with. “We hand-select our flower and then we do everything else,” Katz says. “We do design, marketing, books. We started off in my living room with a borrowed rolling machine, but evolved into a much more sophisticated operation.” Ultimately, for Dad Grass, the philosophy is easy: “We’ve gotta love it and our friends have gotta love it,” Katz comments. “You’re dealing with organic matter. Things evolve over time. It’s a pretty huge responsibility, if you think about it.”
When Dad Grass went live, the brand was focused on the pre-rolled joint packs, which include five or 10 .7-gram CBD joints, priced respectively at $35 and $70. For those wanting something a bit more substantial, Dad Grass offers a single 1-gram joint for $10. Harkening back to the experience of finding your father’s skunky shoebox, the store also offers hilarious, discreetly concealed packs that look like Chanukah Candles, sardines, cassettes, and more.
If you like rolling your own joints or spliffs, Dad Grass recently launched flower in quarter-ounce ($48) and half-ounce ($88) boxes; both come with rolling papers and a 2-way humidity control pack. (The website describes a quarter-ounce box as equal to two five-packs of pre-rolled .7-gram joints or 7 classic 1-gram joints.) For Mother’s Day, they announced Mom Grass, a version of their hemp joints heavy in CBG, the “mother” cannabinoid that allegedly offers a more alert (but still smooth) buzz. And for those who have been so fortunate as to never have had to roll a joint in a Chipotle receipt or a page from To Kill a Mockingbird, Dad Grass even offers a pretty reasonable $10 rolling machine to help get the job done. Dad Grass also makes some serious swag, partnering with designers like Mark McNairy and brands like Free & Easy and Sqirl on collaborative merch from long-sleeve tees to faux-butter-box stash-hiders.
Having mastered the CBD joint and created stable flower to sell, Starmer and Katz already have their sights set on the future, where they’ll continue refining current projects—like Dad Beans, their CBD-coffee bean collab with Yes Plz—and look to new partnerships and kinds of products. “The cool thing about weed is that it pairs well with a lot of things,” Katz meditated. “And definitely in addition to the smokeable and drinkable products. I think you could probably see us exploring our versions of some of the other product categories that have CBD in them.”
For these guys, dad-ness isn't about masculinity and authority; it's the opposite, a laid-back, La-Z-Boy and bathrobe, crack-a-beer lifestyle to which anyone can aspire. It transcends age—the brand's customers range from early 20s to octogenarians—and it permeates everything from what one smokes and wears to the music they listen to. When asked about his favorite dad rock bands, Starmer doesn’t miss a beat. “I’m at the factory right now, so you don’t see the giant 1981 Grateful Dead tour poster that’s usually behind me,” he says, laughing. “I don’t know if that falls into ‘dad rock,’ or if it’s just the best rock ever created.” And as we well know, the Dead and dad weed (or Dad Grass) are a perfect pairing.
When it comes to the possibilities of CBD, Dad Grass has pioneered a way of toking that's both familiar and revolutionary. In their expansive clientele, Starmer and Katz see people who used to smoke weed but tapered off, people who already love CBD and want to go further, and people who’ve never tried either. The founders admittedly fall into the first category. But do they still spark full-THC joints, too? “Yeah,” Katz says. “Whatever, dad.” Some things never change.
Your faithful VICE editors independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story. This article was originally published in March 2021.