About Curt Robbins
Curt Robbins is a senior technical writer with 28 years of experience in developing complex and long-form communications. Current focus on compliance documentation for cannabis companies, including permit and license applications for cultivators, processors, distributors, and dispensaries. Services include business and operational plans and company marketing collateral.
A background in instructional design and photography—as well as having developed 35+ books and nearly 1,000 long-form articles—allows Rabinski to develop creative technical communications solutions for his clients. Rabinski’s clients have included Denver Relief Consulting, AgDynamix, Microsoft, Wells Fargo, High Times, USAA, Sun Microsystems, MERRY JANE, National City Bank, Northrop Grumman, Nationwide Insurance, and Safe Auto Insurance.
Rabinski’s role often focuses on research and collaboration with subject matter experts to craft compelling, informative communications characterized by accuracy and parallel structure. He is habituated to working in intensely deadline-driven production environments and with a variety of style guides.
Curt, you possess a mammoth knowledge regarding our favorite plant. Where did your cannabis journey begin?
The genesis of my journey with the cannabis herb began in small town America, Mt. Vernon, Ohio, when I was 14 years old. My best friend at the time, a preacher’s son, called me and said he had something special to show me. I know it was either Wednesday or Sunday, because that’s when his family would attend church and he would beg to be released from worship in the name of homework.
He offered me a crumpled ducktail joint of something probably grown by his cousins. It felt warm and inviting and enhanced my ability to understand abstract concepts. I could visualize complex hierarchies like never before. It’s no wonder I ended up a career technical writer….
After having consumed cannabis at a young and impressionable age, it was inherent to me that the plant wasn’t an evil toxin. During my adult life, when I began writing about cannabis from a medical and industry perspective, I already perceived marijuana to be a positive substance in terms of its physical and spiritual efficacy.
My writing career began in high school, when my dad was promoted and suddenly had a crew of about 60 mechanics working for him. He had to prepare reports and communications to both his staff and other departments. He would script basic outlines and I’d turn them into finished memos and project reports. In exchange, he’d let me borrow the Oldsmobile to go chase girls and drink beer with my buddies.
In terms of cannabis specifically, I began writing for magazines like High Times, Skunk, and Cannabis Culture in 2004. After about half a decade of this, I stopped writing about pot for a few years to focus on a big IT instructional design project, a video training portal for a community of about 4,000 software developers at a Fortune 200 insurance company.
After Colorado, Oregon, and Washington legalized adult use cannabis, I knew it was time to jump back into cannabis writing and possibly even focus my technical writing career on the industry. With regulations being formed and taxes collected, it was apparent that a real industry was finally emerging.
You have written articles dating back to the founding fathers of America and their association with cannabis. This has sparked debate. What has your research led you to believe?
This is a fun topic. It makes me glad I studied logic in college! There’s absolutely no debate about the popularity of industrial hemp during the American colonial revolution (and long thereafter). George Washington and Thomas Jefferson along with thousands of other commercial farmers were heavily vested in hemp and tobacco cultivation. The U.S. Census of 1850 documented 8,327 hemp plantations of at least 2,000 acres each.
When I see a post on social media that suggests that Washington or Jefferson “smoked weed,” however, I have to chuckle. I’d love to believe that the founders of America consumed the mature female flowers of the cannabis plant (different from hemp) in an attempt to gain euphoria.
There simply is no proof of this. Jefferson was a prolific writer, yet no one can provide anything he’s documented regarding gaining any type of psychoactive effect from hemp or cannabis. People in the colonial period were habituated to smoking tobacco, not hemp. Hemp was industrial; it won wars and provided clothing. My article Did America’s Founding Father’s “Smoke Weed”? provides more detail.
Tell us about “TerpeneTuesday.”
TerpeneTuesday began as a way to promote the terpene articles I had written for a variety of media outlets. They were spread over several different sites, including MassRoots, Herb.co, and WoahStork. I simply collected the links to the pieces in a single article called “In Honor of #TerpeneTuesday” and began promoting it each week.
I’m honored that folks find value in the articles, which describe the medical efficacy of terpenes in plain English, allowing anyone to understand. Patients and cannabis consumers shouldn’t have to be scientists or doctors to understand the efficacy of what they put in their bodies, especially if it is intended to improve their health.
The high-level takeaway is that terpenes have been found to deliver the same type of medical efficacy of cannabinoids like CBD, THC, and CBG.
Back in 2105, you wrote the well-received book “Understanding Medical Marijuana.”What is the biggest breakthrough in research that you have come across since its publication?
I wrote Understanding Medical Marijuana to educate middle class, middle-of-the-road American voters. Ignorance among the masses is probably the most powerful tool employed by prohibitionists.
An increasing number of states are passing medical marijuana laws through their legislatures, not via ballot initiatives (popular vote). Ohio is a good example. Most states, however, legalize adult use or medical cannabis via a ballot initiative. California passed Proposition 215 in 1996 with 56% of the vote. Twenty years later, the state’s Prop 64 passed with 57% of voters saying yes to adult use.
These are fairly close margins that are arguably frightening. If the wind had blown in the opposite direction on November 8, 40 million Californians might not be legal in 2018. Imagine the negative effect on the economy if all of the existing and forthcoming cannabis businesses in the state were never allowed to operate.
The “sway effect” in these elections is education and awareness, in my opinion. Even conservative Republicans have basic human compassion. If they erroneously perceive cannabis to be only a Cheech and Chong-style party enhancer, with zero medical efficacy (the official stance of the federal government under DEA Schedule 1), they’re certainly not going to support a legalization initiative. They’re not guilty of being evil or insensitive, they’re guilty of being ignorant.
I think the “breakthrough” in the past few years is the fact that regional markets are emerging that will eventually lead to a national market for cannabis. Dixie Brands and their cross-state licensing model is a good example. Also keep an eye on MedMen, the chain of upscale, Applesque dispensaries in Los Angeles that will probably be nationwide as soon as laws and regulatory oversight allows them.
Legitimate cannabis businesses are learning to avoid the criminals and ripoff artists of the black market while also satisfying government regulatory oversight. Not an easy task. All while running a viable company that satisfies the needs of customers and can pay its bills.
I’ve been lamenting the lack of hard research for cannabis, including double blind placebo controlled clinical trials, for years. Good or bad, social acceptance and the emergence of mass markets seems to be necessary to allow robust research…at least in the United States.
The so called “green rush” is in full swing. As a leading advocate, how do you feel about the pharmaceutical giants and fat cats trying to muscle their way in?
California’s adult legalization law effectively establishes a five-year moratorium on big business entering the cannabis market in the Golden State; the big guys will be able to get into the game on January 1, 2023. I’m an open market capitalist and believe that those vendors providing the best value and convenience to their customers should be the ones that thrive in the market regardless of their size.
I’m not opposed to the large corporate players getting into the industry. In fact, I welcome them. But I respect California’s effort to give small and midsized businesses a head start to get established in the market and adjust to fresh, and often incomplete, regulatory language. This tends to lead to more innovative approaches to solving the problems of an emerging industry like cannabis, including seed-to-sale tracking, security, and distribution.
Consumers nationwide must recognize that fully legal and regulated cannabis businesses in the United States are not going to resemble the head shops of yesteryear. Nor will they closely mirror the majority of independent dispensaries in cities like Los Angeles today. According to 2013 stats, Los Angeles County is home to a population of more than 13 million. It is also where 750 to 1000 dispensaries are located—the vast majority of which are, technically, illegal. Those that are incapable of fully complying with municipal and state regulations will be closed down in the next year or so after adult use legalization kicks in.
Given this situation, I’m hoping government regulations and the investment capital that flows into the nascent cannabis industry will shape and sustain a broad and varied market for thousands of products and services. This should include big pharma and big alcohol and any party that wishes to participate.
Let’s get back to the role of education, but this time regarding consumer behavior, not voting habits. There are people who drink Budweiser beer in low quantities and complain of getting headaches. This is often because this particular brand contains rice, an ingredient used because it is less expensive than alternatives. Consumers who understand the products and services for which they pay their hard-earned money will, naturally, be more discerning.
After a consumer understands the dangers of pesticide-laced cannabis concentrates or flowers containing contaminants like mold or mildew, their purchasing behavior naturally changes. Companies in the cannabis space need to be very tuned to customer preferences, which will make or break them in short order in the next couple of years.
As you have witnessed the changes over the past two decades regarding legislation, what was the biggest factor regarding the positive (albeit rather slow) progress we have seen?
The cannabis culture and industry would have nothing in terms of progress today if it weren’t for voter initiatives over the past 20 years. Both California’s Proposition 215 in 1996 and the adult use legalization efforts of Denver, Oregon, and Washington resulted from voters saying yet at the ballot booth.
Again, voters won’t support adult use cannabis legalization if they aren’t properly informed. This is why social media is such a powerful tool for educating consumers. All consumers should be wary of misinformation, propaganda, and urban legends. I recommend that readers find reliable sources of information regarding the medical efficacy and business of cannabis and then read, read, read. There’s no such things as too much knowledge.
What is the most ridiculous situation cannabis has ever landed you in?
That depends on how you define “ridiculous,” ha.
Shortly after moving to Los Angeles in 2017, I was enjoying a gorgeous sunset on a terrace in West Hollywood with one of my clients. She typically consumes only CBD, not THC, due to a very sensitive tolerance resulting from a disease. After hesitantly accepting a single toke from my pipe, she fainted right in front of me. That day I learned to respect the extreme subjectivity of cannabis efficacy.
In 2007, I was growing some backyard plants to take my knowledge of marijuana cultivation beyond theory. From my kitchen, I observed one of my neighbors, the president of the home owner association (a devout and very conservative man), in my backyard. He and his young children were standing directly beside my four veg stage plants, each of which was probably at least four feet tall.
I panicked, imagining that the plants had somehow been discovered and my neighbor was rolling in to check it out and spoil my fun. Fortunately, he was there to inspect the fence for insurance purposes. He and the kids, who obviously had zero knowledge of the morphology of a cannabis plant, never recognized them.
You have recently formed a compliance documentation consultancy, Rabinski Consulting, LLC, in Los Angeles that serves all industry segments within the cannabis industry. Tell us a little about that.
In 2015, a freelance client of mine referred me to a cannabis consultancy in Denver. The firm was working a variety of state-level license applications, from Nevada to Illinois to Maryland, and needed help. I was able to jump right in because license and permit applications are very similar to the type of corporate tech writing and documentation management I had been doing for more than 25 years.
The positive experience made me curious about the market for compliance documentation in the cannabis industry. I eventually made my way to Humboldt County, where I worked with an agricultural management firm to develop more than 100 outdoor cultivation applications at the county level. We really got into the science of the regulations; I’m proud of the work that we did and the fact that we made deadline on all of the applications.
I soon realized, however, that I needed to relocate to a city like Denver, Portland, or Los Angeles if I really wanted to make traction in the industry. After nearly moving to Portland, I ultimately decided on L.A.
What is next for the Gooey Rabinski brand?
My two major projects currently are Rabinski Consulting, LLC and the development of a cannabis knowledgebase. Forming a consulting firm was a natural fit because of how well it leverages my lifelong technical writing experience. Having written more than 120 municipal, county, and state permit applications in the past couple of years for other firms also didn’t hurt.
Developing compliance documentation like business plans, operations plans, and permit applications is obviously very different than the type of educational writing I’ve done for media outlets like High Times and MassRoots.
Compliance documentation takes my work and advocacy to the next level, actively helping aspiring businesses launch and operate. My goal, regardless of the details, is to make my clients fully compliant. However, just because an entity obtains a permit or license to run a cannabis business in no way guarantees that it will survive the enforcement of the regulations that it has promised (and is legally bound) to follow.
Cannabis businesses must do more than merely obtain a permit or license. They must also be capable of surviving inspections and audits. The major shakeout that is about to come in the cannabis industry (some of my peers are labeling it a “blood bath”) won’t be dominated by black helicopters and SWAT teams. Rather, it will be tax auditors, lawyers, and bureaucrats who shut down cannabis business in California beginning in 2018.
This is about more than merely creating a viable, robust cannabis industry; it’s also about sustaining these businesses. Opposition to the cannabis culture and industry obviously remains fierce (consider the hundreds of jurisdictional cannabis business bans in adult use states like Colorado and Oregon).
Marijuana businesses must very carefully conform to extremely detailed and ongoing regulatory oversight or they’ll be shut down, plain and simple. My mission is to help them do that so that the industry may grow and prosper.