We’re somewhere near the crest of Mulholland Drive and the City of Los Angeles sparkles below us. Stretched across the long, flawless astroturf that blankets the yard, there are booths serving all you can eat carnival treats: funnel cake, garlic fries, Italian ice. Large green and purple globes cast their glow everywhere. It’s neither dark nor light. A woman suspended in a giant chandelier stretches in its arms, and reaches down to pour champagne for anyone who wants it. Performers on stilts with phantasmagorical masks slink through the crowd and the clouds of marijuana smoke. Trays of thick joints are passed like hors d’oeuvres. Torches hiss and a woman wonders out loud as she waits in line for a wax hit: “Who’s paying for all this?”
Our Ganja Gatsby this evening is Mike Straumietis, who is more commonly known by his nickname “BigMike.” On social media, Straumietis is known as the Marijuana Don. His Instagram account, which has more than 599,000 followers, often features him here, at his Marijuana Mansion, surrounded by salacious buds and scantily clad women. “Two of life’s simple pleasures…Kush & Tush,” a recent post reads. Straumietitis is often compared to the billionaire playboy Dan Bilzerian for his blatant wealth and unapologetic love for hedonism. Unlike Bilzerian though, whose fortune stems from a Wall Street trust fund, Straumietis is a self-made man, who has amassed his outrageous wealth selling fertilizer.
Straumietis says his company, Advanced Nutrients, is “the most powerful privately held cannabis company in the world.” Its products are sold to growers in over 93 countries. Straumietis has been nurturing the powerhouse company for the past 16 years, but his passion for and expertise in growing began in Aurora, Illinois, when as a 23 year old kid, he first attempted to grow a pot plant indoors. “I ordered all the books, anything that was available,” says Straumietis, of his early efforts, “There was hardly any information out there at that time.”
Unhappy with the results of his initial efforts, Straumietis, who grew up on a farm and had started his own lawn care company at the age of 19, began experimenting with ways in which he could alter the food we was feeding his cannabis. He realized the plants were using more magnesium and calcium than most fertilizers contained, and altered his formula accordingly. His curiosity led him to grow a strain called Sativa Scared Seed Company, which he says “Just ripped people’s heads off.” His friends advised him that he should be selling his stuff. So he did.
Straumietis embarked on a number of scientific and entrepreneurial ventures. He started a company that sold seeds, and one that manufactured equipment. He continued to fine tune the composition of his signature fertilizer, analyzing the cellular tissue of plants at every stage of their growth. In 2000, Straumietis shifted his focus to fertilizer.
From Advanced Nutrients’ inception to now, Straumietis has remained a diligent student of cannabis biology. “People always think you’re an overnight success. They don’t see the 15 years you sweated it out in the lab,” he says. Most of his work in this capacity has been conducted outside of the United States. He partnered with researchers at the British Columbia Institute of Technology and the University of British Columbia and made a number of discoveries, including the fact that phosphorous, a common element in fertilizer, is not used by the marijuana plant, and thus should not be used in cannabis growing.
Much of his fieldwork has also been done in Bulgaria, where ten years ago, he hired a team of Phds to do what is still largely impossible in the United States: conduct controlled and valid research on the medical benefits of the cannabis plant. What Straumietis and his team in Bulgaria have started to unearth, he says, are not only methods for formulating fertilizers that will give growers the precise results they’re looking for. He and his team have also begun to unlock the keys to the future of cannabis use.
Gone in the next 10-15 years will be the era of smoking as a primary form of ingesting, says Straumietis. No longer will we buy strains based on the effect we desire: a Darth Vader for when we want to go to bed; a Blue Dream for when we want to tackle that creative project.
“Who cares about strains?” says Straumietis, “Farmers care about strains. People care about outcomes. They care about pain relief. They care about better sex. They care about muscle recovery.” Within the next decade, he explains, the cannabis plant will be manipulated so that specific cannabinoids and terpenes are isolated and can bring about precisely the effect the user is looking for.
Because the human body contains endocannabinoids, Straumietis and his team believe that a person’s DNA profile will be analyzes vis a vis a service similar to 23andMe. From there, it will be possible to assess precisely which isolates of the cannabis plant will be most beneficial to that person. Each of the effects of ingesting cannabis can be pinpointed, with great specificity, says Straumietis, to both an element of the plant and of the individual’s unique make up.
“If you get paranoid while you’re smoking, we know that’s the AKG1 pathway, specifically the RS2494732 gene variant. Based on that gene variant, one third of all people who smoke weed get that paranoid feeling. I know how to manipulate the cannabinoid so you don’t get paranoid,” he says.
Straumietis sees incredibly broad applications for cannabis, far beyond its psychotropic effects. He believes that cannabinoids will be used in conjunction with gene therapy to treat a wide range of medical issues. “Cannabis will be about fixing a problem you have. It will be a solution to something that’s wrong with you,” says Straumietis, “The pothead is dead. It’s not about getting stoned.”
For now, at the Marijuana Mansion, however, it is, absolutely, about getting stoned. In the grand foyer, a gorgeous buffet of food has been set out. There are carving stations and cheese plates and multiple kinds of olives. There is also a long table of common munchies: jelly beans, candy bars, Hostess Twinkies. It’s crowded back here, as the red-eyed and greedy-handed grab for their favorite gas station oeuvre. In line for the bathroom, one woman tells her friend, who’s just arrived, that no one is really dancing. “Everyone is just kind of stoned and talking. It’s nice,” she says. Behind her, a handful of strangers wonder why, in this, the year of Our Lord 2016, we still don’t have those little expanding pizzas we were promised in “Back to the Future II.”
The purpose of parties like this, says Straumietis, is to bring together the marijuana community, which he believes is about to be shaken by the abrupt presence of Big Business. “The barriers are already coming. The walls are coming up, and our community doesn’t see it,” he says. According to Straumietitis, who is, himself, an active member of several “mastermind groups” — meetings of uber-powerful business men across a wide variety of sectors — corporations like Phillip Morris are already investing substantial amounts of equity into private cannabis research. (This, says Straumietis, is generally done “a very small arm’s distance away, through secondary people.") Agribusiness monolith Monsanto is currently conducting massive research in Uruguay, where Straumietis says the company was instrumental in getting cannabis legalized nationally in 2013 so that they could work towards patenting their own marijuana seed. “I have to educate people real quick,” says Straumietitis of his millions of direct and indirect consumers.
Education may be the goal behind “Don’s Dome,” the most popular attraction at the Marijuana Mansion party. All night long, people emerge from a slit in the tent’s doors, stumbling, and with their mouths wide open. “That was amazing!” they say. “So worth the wait,” they assure those in line.
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When I finally enter the dome, there are large bean bag chairs all over the ground. Even though we are strangers, there is a communal sense of excitement as we lie down with the hope that we’ll have our minds blown. The cupola above us is made out of movie screen. The lights go down, and a snake appears onscreen. We cheer. The serpents’s tail hypnotically whips, and as it does, its movement and the shape of the screen create the illusion that all of us are moving, traveling through space. What follows is a long, tripped out sequence of images set to music. There is a story, kind of, in the way that a dream has a narrative. Mostly, we are moving through concepts. We float through a spiraling column that becomes brain matter and then karmic energy and then, at the end, an evil by product of a nefarious business man whose silhouette resembles Donald Trump’s.
When the lights come up, we, too, are in awe. Perhaps what we’ve just watched is political allegory. Maybe it’s a meditation mankind’s inherent light and darkness. Maybe it was just some cool shit to look at while we were stoned. Regardless, what Straumietis has given party-goers is return to that high many of us have been chasing since adolescence: when smoking weed feels exciting, novel, and new.