Jerry Garcia is one of the most iconic pot smokers in California history. Born in San Francisco, Garcia led the Grateful Dead for 30 years as the city became an international beacon of counterculture, and he did it all while casually and openly smoking weed. His pot pipe is considered an artifact of California cannabis history.
But even the iconic Jerry Garcia name couldn’t survive California’s turbulent legal pot market.
The Garcia Hand Picked brand, launched by the deceased musician’s family in 2020, has pulled out of the state, a spokesperson confirmed to SFGATE. Garcia’s exit comes as cannabis insiders predict a “mass extinction event” for California’s pot industry, with thousands of companies expected to go out of business this year.
Andrew DeAngelo, a cannabis consultant and former owner of Harborside, one of the state’s pioneering medical cannabis dispensaries, said the Garcia brand probably learned the same thing that all of California’s pot companies have realized: “You can’t make any money in this market.”
“Not only is Garcia leaving, a lot of people are leaving,” DeAngelo told SFGATE. “It’s a real shame that California is losing out. We’re losing out on jobs and economic activity and other places are benefiting from that.”
Garcia Hand Picked, like most celebrity brands, contracted out its cannabis growing and manufacturing to partner companies and then stamped Jerry Garcia’s face on the packaging. The company said they are looking for a new cannabis supplier, but declined to be interviewed for this story and did not elaborate on how long the brand would be on hiatus in California. Garcia Hand Picked is still available in five other states.
“We’re taking a pause in California. We want to ensure CA consumers have the highest quality flower for the long term, so we are in the process of choosing a new local partner for cultivation, production, sales and distribution of Garcia Hand Picked in CA,” a spokesperson from Holistic Industries, the brand’s parent company, said in an email to SFGATE.
California’s cannabis industry has faced huge economic hurdles in its first four years of legal sales. The state’s complicated cannabis regulations and high taxes add costs to legal operators, while widespread illegal farms and retailers undercuts legitimate companies. Limited access to banking means these companies pay exorbitant fees for simple banking services and have almost no access to loans. Federal law blocks pot companies from deducting most business taxes from their federal taxes, making pot businesses pay an effective federal tax rate as high as 80%.
These factors have come together to make California a painful place to run a legal pot business. The majority of small legacy cannabis farms are on their way out of business and even the country’s biggest cannabis companies are leaving the state.
‘This is very painful for them’
Nearly a dozen states had legalized cannabis by the time Jerry Garcia’s surviving family members decided to start a pot brand built around the Grateful Dead frontman, who died of a heart attack in 1995. But the Garcias chose to launch their brand in California, the same place that Jerry was born, spearheaded an artistic movement, and died.
The Golden State featured prominently in that initial launch. An airstream painted with swirling psychedelic colors crisscrossed the state in late 2020 announcing the new brand. Esquire profiled the family as they smoked a bong in Oakland and asked, “If Jerry Garcia were a kind of weed, what would the high feel like?” The family told Esquire they were planning on opening a Jerry Garcia-themed cannabis consumption lounge at a dispensary in San Francisco, which never materialized.
But there’s now only one jar of Garcia Hand Picked available in San Francisco, according to Weedmaps, and there’s no sign that any more will return to the Bay Area. DeAngelo, who said he did some early consulting work for Garcia Hand Picked but is no longer involved with the brand, said that leaving California was probably hard on the family.
“This was a hard decision for them, they love California,” DeAngelo said. “They were born and bred here. This is very painful for them, I guarantee that.”
Eli Melrod, the CEO and co-founder of Solful dispensary chain, said the brand’s exit from California was a sign that it’s a struggle for even good cannabis brands to make money in the state.
“California is probably the most competitive cannabis market in the country, it is a market where there are a lot of brands fighting for shelf space,” Melrod told SFGATE. “I think for some folks the margins and the challenges in California make it better for them to focus on other states.”
The brand is still for sale in Colorado, Maryland, Michigan, Massachusetts and Oregon. It offers a range of cannabis flower, pre-rolled joints, and some colorful pot-infused gummies shaped like guitar picks. Its packaging features Jerry Garcia’s face connected to swirling, psychedelic colors, akin to Milton Glasser’s iconic 1966 poster of Bob Dylan.
Melrod said he usually doesn’t sell celebrity brands at his stores because most celebrity brands have poor quality products, but Garcia was different. He said they had good cannabis grown by some of the state’s best outdoor cannabis growers, like Moon Made Farms and Sonoma Hills Farms.
“We start from a place of skepticism because we’ve seen a lot of celebrity brands launch in cannabis that are really just basically a celebrity name on a product that is marked up,” Melrod told SFGATE. “We really appreciated the approach that the Garcia Hand Picked team took to sourcing. They worked with a lot of great legacy farmers in the Emerald Triangle.”