Dina Browner plays 4/20 tour guide in upcoming series Top Shelf with Dr. Dina across the United States, making pit stops at farms and collectives. The show is set to roll out with the premiere of 420TV, a channel dedicated purely to the plant and all its cultural facets, in early 2018. Across 10 episodes, the Los Angeles-based pro explores regional nuances in the community and dives into challenges farmers face. It’s an educational experience as much as it is a wild ride – and really, what else would you expect from the woman keeping Snoop Dogg up in smoke all these years?
Although not officially a “real doctor,” Browner has helped people find the right medicine as a consultant for dispensaries. Now she operates her own West Hollywood collective, Alternative Herbal Health Services, which originally opened in 2004. Her celebrity-studded patient list currently includes Snoop (who she says also got her high for the first time at age 15), 2 Chainz and The Game. Browner also acted as a writing consultant for decidedly weedy Netflix series Disjointed. And she’s in the advocacy game, too, heading up Freedom Grow, a nonprofit working to help people incarcerated for nonviolent cannabis-related crimes. To say Browner knows cannabis – in addition to its ins and outs – is an understatement. Dr. Dina is one of the running ambassadors of cannabis, dragging the plant out from the shadowy corners of counterculture and backrooms to the mainstream American public.
Rolling Stone spoke with Dr. Dina by phone to chat about home-growers, how well Colorado has mastered edibles and the impending adult-use law coming to California January 1st.
Top Shelf is very exciting. What are some of the major regional differences in cannabis culture that you’ve noticed while traveling?
What I found so fascinating is that the taste buds of cannabis consumers all around the country change so drastically – even just from Northern California to Southern California to Colorado – completely different taste buds.
It is also interesting because different areas – like Colorado, for example – with their altitude, the strains that we grow in California, [the end result] turns out differently. So they actually find different strains that grow better than in California. It’s like wine. Since it grows differently in different regions, the tastes are different – and it’s fascinating.
Down here [in Los Angeles], certain strains are not popular at all. Certain places, they want fruity flavors. Other places, they want the real fuel-ly, gasoline-tasting flavors.
What do you think that most people don’t understand about growers’ professional demands?
What people don’t realize is that, if you’ve ever smoked cannabis in the last 80-something years, you were part of someone breaking the law. You had to stick your neck out; these people had to really live underground and not trust people. It’s been very, very difficult on cannabis growers. I mean, if you grow corn, you can just go do it. You don’t need to worry that you have to have someone armed with a shotgun in case someone tries to come and rob your cornfield in the middle of the night.
Adult-use marijuana laws are about to come into full effect in California. How do you expect that to change the culture?
It’s so bizarre, because [California was] the first state that made cannabis legal for medical, yet we were so behind on making it legal for adult use. The power that we created ourselves as a community back in 1996, of when it was passed, everybody was making money on making their farm, growing their cannabis. The growers in Northern California were actually the ones that were against legalization, because they didn’t want to deal with permits. They were offended by that, and so that’s why it took so long for us to be able to pass this. Now that it’s passing, it’s scary, because a lot of these people that really created and built the movement are being pushed out.
Is that because of the financial barrier?
It’s going to be very interesting. As a collective owner, I can’t buy any medicine after January 1st from anyone unless they’re a licensed distribution company, and a licensed distribution company can’t sell any product to me unless they buy it from someone who is a licensed cultivator or manufacturer or whatever.
With Top Shelf, we capture a time right now where we’re in between the transition, and that’s really cool to me. We’re seeing the transition in California, but then we’re seeing what’s happening in Colorado, who’s already done it.
How long does it take to get the licenses and permits?
Each city is different; So it’s going to shut a lot of people down for a while.
Through all your travels with Top Shelf, you’ve mentioned the differing strain popularity. What other trends did you notice among the dispensaries, be it through like design or the staff?
I think that San Francisco has a very interesting vibe. It’s very homey, like mom-and-pop, warm, this is your-good-friend-you’re-going-to-see kind of place, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that they allow to you medicate on site. Other places, when you don’t medicate on site, it’s more of just like a shopping experience instead of a full-on, sit-down-and-enjoy-your-smoke experience, so that changes it a little bit.
What surprised you most during the shooting of Top Shelf?
That part is definitely frustrating as far as the laws go, because you have to really give people places to medicate. That’s what’s nice about the lounges that seem to be popping up everywhere in San Francisco. In Oakland, all these places, you can buy your cannabis, sit down, and vape it, and enjoy it.
What do you really hope that people learn from the show?
I hope they learn that it’s not a scary thing to go into a dispensary, that just like people can be foodies; there’s a reason why we want to go look at different dispensaries, because they all have something different to offer.
You have Anthony Bourdain traveling around looking at great restaurants. Well, here I am looking at great cannabis clubs and great cannabis.
Was there anything else that you wanted to talk about with Top Shelf, or your travels, or dispensary, or anything about cannabis legislation?
First of all, just the fact that a platform like 420TV is putting cannabis content out [will] bring in people who are curious about cannabis. … We have safety in numbers, so the more converts we can get, the more people can look at us and see, “Oh, you remind me of my cousin or my sister or my aunt or my mom or whatever,” and build that bond and that rapport and see this [medicine] is available.