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Plumbing the potent pleasures of puffing pot


Jason King, on 'Texada Timewarp': Superbly perfumed flowery aroma and flavor ... very nice, cerebral ...

King's take on 'Sweet Skunk': Quite complex -- pungent on the inhale, super sweet on the exhale ... Like an overripe mango ... thick skunky tones ... intense yet manageable.

And 'Princess Bob'? King gives it a definite thumbs up: Velvety flavor ... exactly like those little blue marshmallows in Boo Berry cereal ... blooms and mounts in a sublime crescendo, then lingers for an eternity ... Powerful and psychedelic, it gave me light hallucinations and an inability to stop laughing.

As you may have guessed, King is neither wine enthusiast nor cigar aficionado. What he scouts out, sorts through, savors and documents in his books -- The Cannabible and its newly released sequel The Cannabible 2 -- is marijuana.

King, a college dropout, now travels the globe, following the hemp harvest the way he once followed Grateful Dead tours. His mission? To inventory, through words and photos, new and existing strains of cannabis -- where they're grown, what they look like, how they taste and the "type of high" they deliver.

"Documentator," King said when asked to describe his profession. "Is that a word? That's really what I'm doing. I've photographed thousands of strains already, and I haven't even scratched the surface."

King, 32, spoke in a telephone interview from his home, the location of which -- though he's rarely there -- he asked not be disclosed.

His travels for the first two books have taken him from Hawaii to northern California, from Switzerland to Jamaica, from Australia to England -- more than 10 countries in all, he says -- and he's planning an around-the-world trip, including "an African ganja safari," for his third volume.

Part scientist, part photojournalist, part cannabis gour-met, King spends months in a single location as he tries to earn the confidence of "some of the most cautious, private and paranoid gardeners on Earth," Roger Christie, a marijuana activist in Hawaii, writes in the foreword of Cannabible 2.

Once he does -- and it's become far easier since publication of the first book -- King, toting more than 50 pounds of camera equipment, photographs the plant, samples the harvest, (usually with a committee of fellow tasters) and records the strain for posterity, be it 'Trainwreck,' 'Killer Queen,' or 'Super Silver Haze.'

King says he has yet to run into legal troubles on his quest, which he attributes to having "good pot karma" and keeping a low profile. His likeness isn't on the book cover, and he declined to be photographed for this story. "It [using marijuana] is still illegal in this country," he said, "so I figure I don't need to push it that much."

The books' publisher hasn't confronted any problems, either. "I can only guess one hasn't been slammed down on the drug czar's desk yet," said Phil Wood, president of Ten Speed Press in Berkeley, Calif.

Inspiration in Hawaii

King's relationship with marijuana started 17 years ago, while he was in high school in San Diego. He enrolled in junior college, but dropped out to become a Deadhead, following the rock band on tour for six years. It was during that period that his fondness for marijuana bloomed into something approaching expertise.

After several "stupid little jobs," he concluded that mainstream employment "wasn't doing it" for him. "I'm not the type of person who does good working for someone else."

At 25, while living in Hawaii, he came up with the idea of cataloging marijuana strains. "There are a million billion different varieties and no one has done anything to document them. They're all different -- the effects, the aromas, the flavors. I knew this was my new goal."

King pays for his research trips by free-lancing photos and articles for cannabis magazines and selling marijuana calendars and posters that feature his photographs. He has several more cannabis-related ventures in the works.

Soon to be available at his Web site (www.thecannabible.com) are a cannabis clothing line, featuring the subtle, paisley-like patterns of marijuana buds, and cannabis trading cards.

"They're like baseball cards, but every card will feature a different strain," he said. "Every pack comes with a scratch and sniff, and a three-dimensional piece of art."

King said he spent more than five years working on the first Cannabible, about two years on the second. By then, his task was easier. Some marijuana growers -- the people he used to have to track down -- started inviting him to come see and photograph their crops.

"Growers are generally a pretty paranoid bunch, but after the first book, they started contacting me. It was, like, 'If you're ever in Michigan, drop by...' "

'Such a beautiful flower'

King's photos and articles have appeared in several cannabis magazines, including Head and Cannabis Culture, and photos and excerpts from The Cannabible 2 are scheduled to appear in a coming issue of High Times, a magazine that features a monthly centerfold, often of a plant or bud.

Well-developed buds -- also known as "nuggets" or "nugs" -- provoke a near-lustful reaction among some marijuana users, and few photographers get as up close and personal as King, whose microphotography of buds, glistening with resin, are the foundation of his two glossy, oversized picture books.

"They're just such a beautiful flower," King said, "the most beautiful flower on the planet, really -- black, red, green, gold, yellow, purple. They're so diverse, in size, shape and aroma."

King doesn't name strains himself. "It's not my place to do that. That would go against everything I'm trying to do," he said.

Instead, he's trying to sort through the confusion -- different names for the same strains, names given by growers versus names given by sellers, renamed strains.

"I have to filter through all that and find out what the real truth is. It's a challenge because so little is known, and because of its illegality."

There is no government agency that designates official names to strains of marijuana. Asked who or what is the final authority on naming types of marijuana, King replied, "I am."

Pinpointing the buzz

In judging the taste and effects of different strains, though, King relies on help.

"I'll sit down in a circle with a bunch of different connoisseurs and we'll pass it around and get everyone's experience. It's pretty subjective, but usually there's a consensus on what people are feeling."

It's not unlike a wine tasting, King says -- and the descriptions in his book sometimes sound like the pontifications of a wine snob -- but the similarity ends there, he notes.

"You will never hear a wine connoisseur boasting about the killer buzz that his favorite Chardonnay packs," he writes. "It's all the same."

King, who does not drink alcoholic beverages or smoke tobacco, said that both his parents smoked marijuana, and that they have no problem with what he is doing.

While police look him over when he's peddling his books at festivals, King says he probably gets on their case more than they get on his. More often than not, he'll open a book and start showing them pictures.

"I say to them, 'Come on, do you really think this is evil? Look how beautiful it is. Do you really think this was a mistake of God, that this is something somebody should to go jail for?'"

After he completes his third volume, King plans to take a break from writing the cannabis books to pursue a career in music. He plays keyboards.

And for the next couple of months, in fact, he's taking a break from cannabis.

He has begun a 100-day marijuana fast -- primarily for health reasons, even though he doesn't think marijuana is dangerous or addictive.

He sees only benefits to the plant, but still recommends moderation. "Anything, overused, can be bad for you."

As of last week, he had gone 21 days without marijuana, he said, leaving him 79 more days to go.

"But," he added, "who's counting?"

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