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Courtesy of The Leaf

History of the Leaf

I have seen children live healthy lives because their parents defied laws and big pharma to give their children a plant.

From the first issue published in June 2010, the Leaf has existed to serve as advocacy journalism for a plant that has healed for millenia, and to right the wrongs of the War on Drugs which has criminalized a seed that is a gift to our human race. Since that first issue, the Leaf has stood as a free publication dedicated to medical patients and freedom for the plant, telling stories of healing and loss, and sharing the truth as we see it through the lens of the sick and oppressed. While today’s patients have a lot of options, in 2010 the best case scenario for MMJ seekers was laughter – and the worst, jail or death. I have interviewed patients from prison and their deathbeds, and seen children with intractable epilepsy live healthy lives because their parents defied laws and big pharma to give their children a plant.

The fight for access to a plant that heals, and to end a drug war that hurts, has often felt like a battle of good versus evil. 

But it’s not that simple, because our government and teachers and police officers told us that pot was evil. The devil’s lettuce. The gateway drug. A message repeated blindly and taught by DARE – one that has to be reprogrammed, a narrative that must be retold. 

When the Leaf began in 2010, it was a project that I thought would take me to Law School – my own testament to fighting for the oppressed, which is what attracted me to using the law in defense of those wronged by the system itself. To date, this project has never stopped … instead spreading like the weed we once feared. Northwest Leaf has published an issue every single month in Washington since June 2010, with our November 2023 Harvest Issue being the 161st monthly issue. We’ve published in Oregon since 2014, Alaska 2016, Maryland 2018, California and our eight-state Northeast edition since 2020 – and now Utah begins our first quarterly edition with the partnership of Salt Baked City.

From Arrest to Protest

Growing up in a Seattle suburb, weed was in a weird legal space. Seattle had decriminalized the plant and the few times I had interactions with cops and weed, it was only to have it confiscated or be told to step on it, crushing a bag of BC Bud into the dirt. But only a few months before my 21st birthday, as captain of the college tennis team and business manager of the student newspaper, I was arrested for possession of a gram of “leafy vegetable matter.”

It was a Wednesday in June, and my good friend Daniel Berman (our Leaf Creative Director) and my very pregnant girlfriend headed down to a local beach for a quiet bonfire. Our lives were changing, mine quite majorly, and so we lit a fire and Daniel and I each cracked a single 24-ounce beer – preparing to smoke the very sad looking gram of weed we had between the two of us. Suddenly a bright flashlight lit us up and behind the glare a cop appeared, smoking a cigar and wearing a cowboy hat. His partner had circled behind us, and with a classic “we got ya” attitude, the cops proceeded to arrest us.

This was in a suburb and the local high school had senior graduation that day, and these cops were the party patrol. While they couldn’t believe that we were in college, or that the pregnant woman wasn’t secretly drinking one of the two beers, they arrested myself and Daniel before releasing us on the beach with a court summons. Weeks later, as my mom cried while we waited for my court hearing, she asked me a tough question: “Wesley, is this what you want your life to be?”

She did not like my answer, but it burned inside me like a fire. I told her directly that I didn’t believe I deserved to be in court for Cannabis. This planted the seeds for my belief that nobody should lose their freedom or rights for a plant – which would matter greatly when I was first introduced to medical Cannabis.

Medical Roots

I lived a boy’s life growing up: Fishing and dirt-biking and generally being as risky as possible, without breaking bones or rules.

For my best friend David the limits were more fluid, and it wasn’t long after my pot arrest that he crashed in a motocross event and fractured his pelvis in three pieces. To put him in traction, doctors at a prominent Seattle hospital drilled a pencil-sized hole through his knee and then promptly overdosed him on morphine. He died and was resuscitated on the operating table, and they could not provide him painkillers for the first two weeks of an incredibly painful recovery.

When I first saw David after the accident, he looked many years older – more frail and had more pills than I had ever seen. I snuck him off to get high and the Cannabis helped with his pain. He began pushing his father to allow him a medical Cannabis authorization and facing the prospect of long-term opiate dependence, David became one of the first minor medical Cannabis patients at age 17 (he was a few years younger than me) in Washington. The plant healed him, helped him recover without opiates, and turned us both into something more than just “stoners.” He began growing and after a trip to California for canna-tourism, he returned in a twist of fate with Cannabis magazines.

By this point I was 21, had a one-year-old daughter, and I’d left a Division 1 tennis scholarship behind and was splitting time between contracting as a builder and moving furniture. But when I saw the magazines writing about weed, I knew that it was something I could do – because Daniel and I had worked on our college paper, and David knew business. We outlined a plan over the winter for a first edition that would be distributed to the dozen or so MMJ collectives in Seattle, found a printer, and convinced David’s dad to loan us $1,600 to print the first issue of the Leaf. It was 16 pages and the same dimensions as this magazine you hold, but printed on newspaper and unstapled. It was a tabloid, it was underground, and it created a spark in the Seattle medical Cannabis scene that still burns today.

Fighting for Freedom in Utah

At the Leaf, we believe that all use of Cannabis is medicinal – because it heals without causing harm. No other drug can make this claim. We believe that all people should be free to use Cannabis medically or recreationally, in any form, from topicals and tinctures to smoking flower. We believe in the right to grow Cannabis at home, and that homegrow doesn’t pose a threat to the medical industry. And we believe in the right for brands and companies to advertise and share their products – if we can allow big pharma companies to dominate television advertising, how does hiding the benefits of medical Cannabis products serve the patients of Utah?

Cannabis opens minds and generates empathy and understanding, so let’s lay down our stigmas and instead embrace our community, and end the War on Drugs that has caused so much harm. I have high hopes for Utah Leaf and it is an honor to serve this beautiful state and community with Cannabis journalism. I hope and pray to do so for many years to come.

See our archive at leafmagazines.com and issuu.com/nwleaf

Listen to Leaf Life Show #238 The History of The Leaf

About Wes Abney

Wes Abney is the founder and CEO of the Leaf Nation brand family, which began in 2010 as Northwest Leaf magazine. Recognized as the first Cannabis publication in the region, Northwest Leaf defined and developed the medical and recreational Cannabis communities in Washington with free publications focused on quality content and truthful journalism. The model’s success has led to Oregon Leaf in 2014, Alaska Leaf in 2016, Maryland Leaf in 2019, California Leaf in Spring of 2020, and Northeast Leaf in Fall of 2020. Wes’s writing and publishing background began with his college newspaper, The Ebbtide, which included a love for multimedia and creating content on many platforms. The nickname “Bearded Lorax” came after years of publishing millions of free magazines, using his voice to speak for a plant and those that benefit from it. Wes is an activist not only for Cannabis but for alternative medicine treatments, ending the drug war and freeing prisoners who have been wrongfully incarcerated for non-violent crimes. His passion for reaching people with written and spoken words led to the concept of Leaf Life Podcast in partnership with Mike Ricker, which began development in 2018 and launched in January 2019. With the combined passions of Cannabis and a love for broadcasting, the creation of Leaf Life was a natural progression for Leaf Nation as it spread roots across the United States. With over 100 shows recorded, and printing over 100,000 monthly copies, Leaf Nation has become the world’s largest Cannabis media company, while still celebrating the humble roots and truthful journalism that the model was founded upon. Beyond leading a team of 40+ passionate Cannabis creatives, Wes is the father to two beautiful daughters and two furry cats. He lives in Seattle, drinks coffee, and enjoys Cannabis daily, and hopes to eventually transition from a successful Cannabis journalist to a classic coffee shop author as the Leaf continues to grow in the coming decades. In true Lorax fashion, he enjoys hikes in the forest, communing with nature, and reminding people that “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”

This article was originally published in the November 2023 issue of Utah Leaf.

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