SAN FRANCISCO -- When I asked my friend who was visiting me in the Bay Area if she wanted to go on a pot tour while she was visiting, her first response was, "Oh my God, no! I'm not that into it." Then, a few minutes later, "Wait, hold up, tell me more about the pot tour. What is a pot tour?"
Truth is, I didn't really know. But I did have a few contacts for pot tour operators after reporting about the legalization of recreational marijuana in California
at the start of the year. So I reached out to Green Guide Tours and asked if they'd be interested in hosting me and my friend on one of their tours.
They said they'd love to. Green Guide Tours' Carly Buck connected me with company founder Stuart Watts, who suggested he host us on a private version of their Haight-Ashbury tour because it featured the most iconic destinations. I didn't ask if we would be visiting a dispensary (though it states right on the website that this tour features a dispensary but not a smoking lounge). We decided to go in blind.
We started the day with a very different and much more traditional tourist endeavor: Alcatraz Island. As we headed to lunch between Alcatraz and the pot tour, we began imagining what Watts was probably like. Probably some washed-up hippie trying to make an extra buck on the side with these pot tours, we decided. We both agreed he was going to be weird.
Green Guide Tours founder Stuart Watts describes newer forms of marijuana that have become increasingly popular. Photo Credit: TW photo by Michelle Baran
To say that we were wrong is a total understatement. Watts could not have been a more pleasant and professional guide. Young as he was (early 20s, I'd imagine), he took us on such an insightful and informative journey from Alamo Square through the Panhandle and toward Haight and Ashbury that you almost wouldn't have known it was a pot tour -- aside from the fact that marijuana was a pervasive theme throughout.
But through his well-curated iPad presentation that tied into the physical sights we were seeing, we actually learned more about San Francisco's history and culture than about its ties to marijuana use.
We learned about the various forces behind the criminalization of "Indian hemp" in the early 20th century (the paper industry played a big role) and about the rise and fall of hippie culture and revolutionary music and movements throughout San Francisco. We passed by an address once claimed by Janis Joplin and another that was home to the Grateful Dead.
Of course, we learned a lot about pot, too. Our second stop was a dispensary I've probably passed hundreds of times but never knew was there. Named BASA, it is located in San Francisco's hip NOPA (North of the Panhandle) neighborhood right off of Divisadero.
I don't consume, but my friend does, and there was a lot of educating that needed to be done simply about all the different varietals available, including the various types of bud, pre-rolled joints, oils and edibles, all offering different levels of potency.
The overarching theme of the tour was destigmatizing marijuana, and Watts' informative and educational approach to everything from the legal issues surrounding pot to the varietals and their preferred uses did just that.
It was refreshing to approach the topic and the city from this very thoughtful perspective, rather than focusing on the goofiness often associated with getting high. I would highly recommend this tour for anyone who is even remotely curious about the history of marijuana -- or simply anyone who has any questions about pot in San Francisco today.