The time I drove two hours to a reservation for pre-rolled joints

People are growing, selling, and buying weed on tribal land

Last week I was asked to farm sit in rural, northeastern San Diego County. Though San Diego is more famous for other things—namely, the border and the beach—it also houses a large, if pressured, farming community. The San Diego Farm Bureau has some interesting stats about it. The county’s farms are number one in the country for avocado and nursery crop production, as well as for hiring part-time workers. San Diego County also ranks first in having more small farms (defined as less than 10 acres) than any other county in the United States.

None of that is honestly relevant to today’s Cannabitch—I just like facts and context nobody asked for. You want me on your trivia team. Anyway, I was hunkered down on this farm in Valley Center, which also happens to sit at the confluence of a number of Native American reservations. I remembered that on one such reservation is one of my favorite dispensaries. With a few hours to kill and a two-hour round-trip drive separating me from the said dispensary, I decided to go in search of tribal-grown pre-rolled joints that I don’t often get to smoke but dearly love.

In addition to small farms, San Diego also boasts the highest number of Tribal Nations and Reservations out of any other county. There are 18 federally-recognized Tribal Nation Reservations and 17 Tribal Governments, which are mainly concentrated in two parts of the county: the northeastern part, where Valley Center is, and the southern part, along the present-day United States-Mexico border.

Through the northeastern part is a highway, California State Route 76, which runs from the coast at Oceanside inland through a number of reservations and, therefore, casinos, as well. Near the end of the line, just before a town called Julian, is the reservation Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, which is a Kumeyaay tribe of around 300 people. They once had a casino, just like the neighboring tribes, but being flanked by rural mountains and desert on one side and a large handful of casinos on the other meant that guests had little incentive to hoof it all the way down Route 76 just to go to Santa Ysabel’s. The casino, which proudly sat near the top of Palomar Mountain and opened in 2007, eventually failed and closed up shop in 2014.

After applying for and being denied Chapter 11 bankruptcy following the closure, the cash-strapped tribe made the decision to enter the cannabis cultivation business. In addition to growing their own, the Santa Ysabel tribe also leased out land to other growers, like Palomar Craft Cannabis, who at the time were able to provide medical marijuana dispensaries with cannabis under Prop 215. Prop 64 eventually allowed tenant growers to process and transport cannabis grown on the land to recreational dispensaries. They also created processing and packaging facilities, testing facilities, an edibles bakery, and capabilities for producing other cannabis by-products, like concentrates, and other products made from organic waste.

Locals—in particular, non-tribal white people—were predictably pissed off! It’s not uncommon for people to fight cannabis growing initiatives in their theoretical backyard. Even more so, when brown people do it, it tends to ruffle feathers tenfold. Many started petitioning and haranguing local officials and news to no avail. Since the mid-1800s, when the Indian Removal Act and the Indian Appropriations Act were signed, effectively creating Reservations, Tribal Nations have maintained sovereignty over the lands they were “given.” That means there isn’t much state or local government can do to control the actions of tribal governments nor what happens on their land.

So, the Santa Ysabel tribe continued growing weed. They also decided to make use of their 37,000-square-foot defunct casino by turning it into a dispensary, which was eventually aptly named Mountain Source. Honestly, I laugh thinking about this. It’s such an incredible flex, though obviously it was done out of financial need. Still. I love the thought of racist colonizers being taunted with the success of those they try to actively control and them not being able to do squat about it.

These actions angered locals, who claimed that impaired drivers on the notably windy and decently treacherous Route 76 would be a problem. Never mind that customers aren’t allowed to open or consume what they purchase on tribal land until they have left the premises or that drunk driving from the casinos is a massive issue—we all know by now that facts largely don’t matter when people have decided they’re going to be outraged about stupid things.

It also angered various local and state agencies, despite the Santa Ysabel tribe’s repeated requests to join the legal cannabis market. “If they’re growing and processing and selling their own cannabis, that’s their right,” California Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) spokesman Alex Traverso told the Herald-Mail Media at the time. “However, if they’re selling cannabis or other goods that came from the California market, that’s not allowed without a state license.”

Also owing to that lack of license, the tribe hasn’t been allowed to sell their own cannabis in the state-controlled legal market and is relegated to selling at Mountain Source or at other tribal dispensaries within California. This doesn’t apply to tenant growers on the land, all of whom are operating with state licenses to grow, process, transport and eventually sell cannabis.

So…why can’t the tribe join the legal market? Nobody, including the BCC, has given a definitive answer. Virgil Perez, tribal chairman of the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, told High Times last year that he thinks tribes are being discriminated against.

“I don’t think it’s justified. It’s not because we’re a business that isn’t going to meet or exceed their expectations. It’s because we’re tribes. That’s the bottom line,” he said. He also added that he thinks the “discrimination is fueled by misguided notions that all tribes benefit from gaming—an industry perceived to be overtaken by tribal nations–or receive huge subsidies from the federal government.” This misperception has real consequences because people don’t realize that not all tribes have access to successful gaming revenue. Being geographically isolated, as Santa Ysabel is, is an economic death knell for certain tribes.

“We were told by the governor’s office ‘there’s no place for you. There’s no place for tribes in the California cannabis market. You’re not included in the state legislation,” Dave Vialpando, the executive director of the Santa Ysabel Tribal Cannabis Regulatory Agency, also told High Times.

Nothing much has happened since then, at least not in a regulatory way. In December 2019, tribal regulators busted a tribal member and two accomplices for funneling legacy market (a.k.a. black market, illicit market. At Cannabitch, we call it legacy) weed into the dispensary to be sold legally. That is obviously a huge no-no, so the tribe narced on itself and turned over the apprehended men to the Sheriff as a show of good faith. Tribal leaders turning over their own to the white man’s carceral system, all in an effort to appease other government gatekeepers—gatekeepers who aren’t keen on letting them in regardless of how they act—smacks of just more bullshit colonialism.

So, that’s why I like to support this dispensary, Mountain Source. If the social imperative weren’t enough, it’s also cheaper, too. Once transport and other costs, like excise tax, are cut out, the price tag can be slashed nearly in half. Plus, in the legal market, it’s nearly impossible to buy right where it’s grown. Farm to table enthusiasts—sorry, seed to smoke—should be delighted by this!

Oh, yeah! And the weed. That seems like an important point to touch on. Santa Ysabel’s weed, which is sold under the proprietary SoCal First Nations branding, is some really good shit. The strain selection runs the full gamut, from really stoney, kushy Indicas, a full suite of hybrids, and a number of Sativas, as well. My favorite is Ice Cream Cake, which is an Indica-dominant hybrid that smells almost cheesy. On my last visit, I was also pleased to find that Mountain Source is also selling cannabis from another California tribe in Death Valley. I only tried their pre-rolls, but I was quite satisfied with them—they smoked clean and tasted good up until the last bit, indicating to me that whole bud was used, rather than leaf or trim.

So, this past Friday afternoon, I was wrapping up an article on deadline when I remembered that the house I was staying at had to be near-ish the dispensary. I was sort-of right—it was 53 minutes away, owing to curvy mountain roads and a lack of rural connectivity. It was 2 p.m. on the dot and I was due to co-host an Instagram live sesh with fellow cannabis writer Carly Fisher. Could I make it? Probably not, I reasoned, but worst case, I’d pull over somewhere where I found service and conduct the IG Live along the way. Ever the efficient shopper and driver, I made it there and back with six minutes to spare, just as I had planned.

In case anyone local to San Diego needed one more reason to go to Santa Ysabel’s dispensary, it’s also smack dab in the middle of a gorgeous drive, no matter from which direction you’re coming. I’m used to arriving from the north, where the casinos are, but other friends living in towns along Interstate 8 have told me that the drive by Cuyamaca Peak, Lake Cuyamaca, through Julian and into the bouldered mountains of eastern San Diego County is just as lovely. I won’t tell anyone if you take a puff or two along the way.

Ask Cannabitch!

I’ve decided to do a weekly mailbag. You ask questions about weed—no question is too stupid!—I answer them. Find me on Instagram (@jacqbry), Twitter (@jacqbryant) or email: and fire away.

This week’s Ask Cannabitch comes from someone on Instagram: “How do I curb my munchies?”

There are a few good ways to do this! First of all, if you’re prone to what you consider to be overeating, make sure you always have snacks on hand. In particular, they should be snacks that you know you can gorge on without feeling like crap later on. I’m personally not much of a snacker—I meal—so this isn’t that much of an issue for me, but if I get the munchies near mealtime, forget it, it’s ON. I don’t have any real advice for curbing that other than eating first, smoking second. If you’re already hungry, what’s the point of smoking ahead of time? I find that, at least mentally, smoking after eating helps me relax and digest. Digestion joint > pre-feast joint. At that point, the most you’re exposing yourself to is leftovers and dessert, which seems like a reasonable risk.

If you’re looking for actual science, though, I have some of that for you, too. There are a number of strains high in the cannabinoid THCV or Tetrahydrocannabivarin, which is shown to have appetite suppressing qualities, blowing the lid off the stereotype that all weed makes you hungry. Strains to look out for that contain high amounts of THCV include Durban Poison, Girl Scout Cookies, Willie Nelson (bred specifically to have high THCV), Tangie, Jack the Ripper and Skunk #1, among a few others.

Thanks for joining this week! Please send Cannabitch to a friend who you think would enjoy it and, if you haven’t yet become a paying subscriber, please consider doing so now. It’s just $35 a year. My next paid-subs only content will be a conversation with fellow cannabis journalist Michelle Lhooq, who runs the newsletter Rave New World. We talk about sobriety as a spectrum, sobriety as a radical act, how the binaries of AA-style sobriety fail us and the evolution of the term she made up, Cali Sober.