A Conversation with Swami Select

Swami Select is comprised of two people: Swami Chaitanya and Nikki Lastreto. They are known as “The Cannabis Couple” at the heart of the Emerald Triangle in Mendocino, California, and, together, they are co-directors of organic cannabis cultivators, Ganja Ma Gardens Collective. They are also expert judges for sustainable, outdoor, organic marijuana farming competition The Emerald Cup, and have been since its beginnings in 2003.

Both Swami and Nikki are what might be called the “original hippies”, the “flower children” of San Francisco in the 1960s. We like to let guests speak about their history in their own words:

“We met in 1969 in San Francisco – Nikki was a young flower child and native San Franciscan, and Swami (then known as William) was a true hippie who had made the pilgrimage to the west coast in 1967 for the Summer of Love.

We hung out with the same clan – William at that time had a girlfriend and new son. In 1980 we re-met (after we had both lived abroad for some years) and fell in love, got married and lived in the city for several years. In 1986 we made our first trip together to India and, subsequently, we spent most of the next 10 years there. Then Nikki moved back to the states to produce all-night trance music parties, and create altars and sacred spaces.”

Swami Select organic marijuana grower retreat

William, meanwhile, stayed on in India, where he became ‘Swami Chaitanya’ at the Kumbha Mela (a huge religious festival on the banks of the Ganges River) in 1998, taking ancient spiritual vows. In 2003, we reunited to purchase our ranch in the hills of Mendocino County, where we established our cannabis farm, Ganja Ma Gardens, and spiritual sanctuary.

Swami Select has grown organically from there, both in the garden and in marketing and branding. As original hippies, we have both appreciated cannabis for 50 years, so it is natural that we want to produce the highest quality flowers, which benefit not only the mind, body and spirit – but the planet as well.”

When asked the two how long they had been growing organically, Nikki answered:

“While Swami had done some grows previously (the first being on the slopes of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco in 1978, in the shadow of the Transamerica pyramid) we started growing purely organic up here in Mendocino County in 2008. Being organic has always been part of the hippie ethic – we eat organically, so why not smoke it too?”

Now, we here at Leafwell are very supportive of outdoor, organic, sun-grown marijuana. As well, excellent marijuana can be grown indoors and under lights, the question is, is indoor growing the safest and most legal way of growing in California at the moment?

Many marijuana users have a preference for flowers grown outdoors. Though there is no precise evidence for this yet, many growers and marijuana users feel that sunlight and soil helps cannabis plants develop their cannabinoids properly. This could be one of the influences and ideas behind (and perhaps even cause of) the term “inspirational cannabis”. As Swami explains:

“Somehow the term ‘recreational’ or ‘adult use’ wasn’t enough to describe the real effects of cannabis. I use ‘inspirational’ because it occurred to me that most of us hippies started way back when for creative inspiration, whether musical, culinary, artistic, love-making or consciousness expansion.”

Of course, with a name like “Swami Select” and having grown up during the 60s, you can safely assume that India has also proven a bit of an inspiration on Swami Chaitanya and Nikki Lastreto. We asked them about their recent trip to India, and its attitude towards cannabis versus the US’s:

“Technically, cannabis is illegal in India, especially smoking it – unless you are a holy man. Possession of up to a kilo is a 10,000 Rupee (about $150) fine and/or six months in jail, but it is rarely enforced.

There are still small shops in Bengal, Orissa and Varanasi that sell bhang, which are little balls made of cannabis which can be eaten or made into a drink. This is especially popular at the spring festival of Holi when whole villages will imbibe. Use of it medically is a local exception, and I imagine still used by a small amount of people.

The law is the result of the US narcotics pressure begun by Henry Anslinger in the 1930s. The people we visited on this recent trip claim that ‘everybody smokes’ but what they get is nothing like the fine flowers of California. It is more like weak shake and seeds. It works however for cooking and also making charas (hashish) which is very popular and made in the Himalayas. The seeds are also used for protein in a chutney-type dish.”


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