The life and times of cannabis elder statesman Adam Dunn: An exclusive interview as he heads to the CANNAVAL conference this summer
“And then [from] Turkey I get to England with a friend of mine, and when we got to England I stayed at his house for a couple days and then I saw a new experience,” Adam Dunn recalled, recounting a story he’s more than likely told to over a dozen reporters over the years. Still, even after all this time, the enthusiasm never wavers in his voice.
“I was like oh shit, it's close as I'm ever going to get to go to Amsterdam right now.”
And in that moment 25 years ago began the storied tale of one of the pioneers of the cannabis movement. At 19 years old in 1989 Adam Dunn, now one of the elder statesmen in the cannabis space, took off for Amsterdam and never looked back.
Of course, his version of events is filled with those little details made for the history books.
“I called my mom up, and she had a friend who lived in Amsterdam. She was moving in with her girlfriend and asked me if I wanted to take over her apartment it was only a 190 Guilders per month (which equaled $90), this was a no brainer. “ I had found my home Adam in A’dam.
The timing was perfect as one of the biggest holidays in Holland called ‘Queens Day’ was just around the corner. Queens Day was the only day per year you could sell anything tax-free on the streets. Logically Dunn decided to sell Tulip Joints not knowing that this would lead to a career in Cannabis and into some of the biggest and most significant business ventures the cannabis industry has ever seen. Beginning with what he’s called his “dream job” at the Hash museum owned by Sensi Seeds, Dunn learned the tricks of his trade from serial cannabis entrepreneur Ben Dronkers and his son Alan, studying up on the myriad uses of both hemp and cannabis.
Before long, Dunn opened up his own shop, Cannabis in Amsterdam, or CIA, which for a period was the largest seed distributor in the world, with upwards of 135 strains on the menu. As he explained it, his success came from a unique American skill.
“They were terrible networkers [in Amsterdam], in fact, at one point, I had to explain to them what networking was,” Dunn told me, only half-jokingly. “Over there,” he said, “ if they didn’t have it, no one did.”
And, in fact, for a solid two years, CIA was the spot for seeds and for growers, expats and hemp enthusiasts to meet and exchange knowledge. That is until around 1995 when another well-known name in the history of cannabis, Marc Emery, moved into his territory. Emery began selling mail-order seeds, effectively dominating the market.
“We were not doing any mail order because we were happy just to have our little shop in Amsterdam,” said Dunn.
If you love going out to party, don’t buy a club
Soon after Dunn was asked to host the High Times Cannabis Cup, creating a framework that the event still uses today.
“Here I was reading High Times my whole life, but you know, my teenage years or whatever and now the guys are asking me if I wanted to organize the event, so I was like fuck, yeah,” Dunn recalled about another childhood dream come true.
According to Dunn, prior to his involvement, the High Times Cannabis Cup was as interesting as a Sunday dinner at grandma’s house. It hardly resembled the huge, festival-like atmosphere that it’s known for today.
“Me and my two partners that we started the CIA together with had to create the basic entire framework that still used to this day because there was no cup formula yet. Because there was no event structure, it was basically just an article that was written every year with one foreign guest that was the “Freedom Fighter Of The Year,” Dunn told me during our conversation.
“They would organize a dinner, and they would have a few coffee shops, seeds companies, and growers come together, and by the end of the dinner, they would have picked a winner. It was a small private event and when we were asked to help organize it we realized that it could be so much more.
Dunn and his partners They wanted to see seed companies in one category and coffee shops in another category. As he put it, the people that came that were judges could then go to the coffee shops and judge their weed and the celebrity judges would judge the seed companies, as they could not sell to the public.
“About 200 people showed up to the event that year, including 55 from the states It was wildly successful. So successful that High Times sent 3 lawyers over after the event to sit us down and explain to us that we had no rights to any cannabis event using the word “cup” as that was their trademarked concept, even going as far as saying that we could be sued for printing the words “Cannabis Cup” in our guidebook. We had no intentions of stealing it in the first place. We just wanted to make it into a real event.
After a brief pause in our conversation to go help someone Dunn explained: “I've told people for years, [if] you love going out to party don't buy a club, you know. I mean if you like smoking weed you probably shouldn't get a coffee shop or dispensary because you're gonna hate it after three years, five years dealing with people every day on the same thing over and over again, you know.”
“I'm ... a little cynical,” he continued.
From basement grows to corporate cannabis
These days Dunn is back stateside, having moved to Colorado in 2010 to establish HoodLAB Store and HoodLamb Colorado in Denver the following year. HoodLAB promotes all things hemp. We spoke in detail about life in a legal cannabis world and snake oil salesmen.
“Disassemble everything and then take out the THC, which is actually the magic in the plants, right because everybody's all CBD crazy right now,” he told me. “It's going to be great. Okay. It just doesn't work that great without THC. So when you get all these products 99.6 percent CBD, no THC see, you know, again you come back to that whole snake oil salesman.”
To Dunn, legalization has meant corporatization, which has meant a lot of bad actors coming into the space looking to make a quick buck. There’s a lot of uneducated people out there who are only looking at the money, is how he put it.
Of course, like all bubbles, he predicts this one will eventually burst.
“I feel like the corporate world is going to burst the bubble, prices are going to come down,” he told me. “Prices of CBD isolate went from $20,000 three years ago to $6,000 or, now it's four and a half, and I've already predicted it’s going to be about two and a half.”
Still, Dunn said when it comes to corporate cannabis, the cat is out of the bag.
“Some people are going to kill it money-wise because they don't give a shit and they're going to just produce massive amounts of stuff that you can put on the shelf at Walmart.”
But all is not lost, because if the people can retain their rights as growers, then what is pure and good about cannabis culture will survive, he told me. Everyone should be able to grow plants in their houses.
“Home growers are cutting into [corporate] profits, and that's bullshit right there because the most important part is that people have access to medicine,” Dunn said. “Clearly, you know, they're going to completely fuck themselves over by the thinking that they're going to be doing something. They think they're going to control the market, but they’re not because it is going to create more black market.”
“You know a lot of us started from zero, and we had like a little grow in a basement or something like that,” Dunn reminded me.
CANNAVAL Dunn Positive
In 2015 a fellow cannabis activist from the USVI told Adam that decriminalization was just around the corner and that he should have Positive Nelson on his show. This was his first connection with the island which would then lead to his involvement with Cannaval event in the U.S. Virgin Islands this summer. Dunn hosts his own radio show and spoke with former senator and now Agricultural Commissioner for the islands Positive Nelson, the man who was key in helping to pass the medical cannabis law down there.
“I flew down there and do a growers forum for them at a friend of mine’s club — similar to what they're doing now, but in a much smaller scale,” Dunn continued. “So we had about 130 people show up, concerned, and super-excited to get the industry. So part of it was sort of to tell everybody that most importantly you need to not emulate other places, but be proactive and bring your own flavor to this industry.
Dunn will join Nelson and 420MEDIA at CANNAVAL, the first Cannabis Educational Expo in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It’s two events, on two separate islands, designed to, as the official presser states, educate and empower the people of the islands about medical cannabis, hemp, and CBD.
CANNAVAL is set to host some of the biggest names in cannabis — including Nelson as the keynote speaker.
It’s an opportunity to mix and mingle and meet some of the great names in the cannabis industry.
Cannaval Dunn Positive.