In the Era of Legalization, This Photo Exhibit Celebrates the Cannabis Underground

In the Era of Legalization, This Photo Exhibit Celebrates the Cannabis Underground

Chiles is the organizer of a speaker series in the EVB Gallery–held in conjunction with the display –which brings in a new voice from the underground every week. Tonight, Chiles has chosen to share his own story.

At one point, he’d “gone straight” for several years, but working fast food jobs for $5.75 per hour felt like a dead end. Though eventually so did dealing, because he kept getting busted.

Finally, after a stint in a rehab center and a chance encounter with a brochure for Oaksterdam University, he decided to leave home with very little savings and a big dream to turn things around by placing his underground abilities and love of cannabis to work in a place where they’d be honored and valued. After starting as an intern–while sleeping in his car and working a job at Home Depot–he’s an Oaksterdam worker who’s learning the principles of industrial cannabis cultivation.

“I’ve been so anti-social for so long, but I don’t have to look over my shoulder anymore. ” He tells a small but rapt crowd gathered in the gallery, explaining that joining the legal cannabis industry has given him not only a source of revenue and the security of being legal, but also a community of like-minded people to lean on for support. “This is so much larger than developing a plant, it’s about changing lives and saving lives. Beginning with my own. ”

In these heady times of legalization and the rise of corporate cannabis, his life story is also a poignant reminder that for decades the cannabis underground has provided a means of survival and a perilous pathway to financial independence for many who started from the margins of society. As we proceed, we can’t leave all those people behind.

“I think we should have strict regulations for all of the large companies getting into cannabis,” he says, “however they should let me have my shot too. ”

Our Birthright As Humans

(Courtesy of Mark Rutherford)

Various regions of the carefully curated exhibit are dedicated to various facets of the underground cannabis movement, including sections honoring Bay Area activists, the growers of the Emerald Triangle, communities of color, and leaders of the new legal cannabis industry who’ve themselves come up from the underground.

An understated collage collects photos of 36 people currently serving life sentences for cannabis, many in places where it’s a legal, booming business.

An AIDS quilt created by members of Berkeley Patients Group (a pioneering medical cannabis collective, started by an AIDS patient) hangs on the wall, a testament not only to the plant’s efficacy in treating people with the condition, but also the central role that the homosexual community played in pushing for some of the country ’s earliest medical cannabis laws.

An understated collage–part of a “community altar”–collects photos of 36 people currently serving life sentences for cannabis, many in places where it’s now a legal, booming business. Visitors to the gallery have been invited to inscribe an index card with “stories and pictures of your friends, family, and loved ones [who] have been negatively affected by the war on drugs. ”

Several photos in the exhibit have been supplied by longtime activists Chris Conrad and Mikki Norris, a husband-and-wife group whose groundbreaking book Shattered Lives: Portraits from America’s Drug War recorded in devastating detail how drug prohibition has the potential to fracture entire families. Back in the dark days of the cannabis movement, when legalization still felt like a distant dream, they would bring a set of photographs from the book to drug policy conferences and other events and set up a display in whatever space was made available. Their efforts are a clear inspiration for Stories from the Underground.

The new exhibit’s most striking installation is a collection of black-and-white portraits that stretches across the entire back of the gallery. Photographed specifically for the exhibit, the show presents true icons of the underground with both power and intimacy. The subjects come from all walks of life and every section of the movement, but they discuss “hearts which are geared toward love,” based on Mark Rutherford, who shot all fourteen portraits in one day, in a makeshift studio set up right in the EVB Gallery, just a couple feet from where the photographs now hang on the wall.

“I hope these pictures convey the respect and recognition that this community has for all of the individuals who put their lives on the line–a few of whom paid dearly–to fight back against a horrible prohibition,” Rutherford tells me. “It’s also really important to maintain the medicinal properties of the plant in the forefront of the discussion, and remind people that access to cannabis is our birthright as humans. ”

The Stories from the Underground speaker series is on Thursday nights beginning at 7 p.m.



  • Bay Photo Labs
  • Mark & Susan Rutherford & friends
  • Get Rhight occasions
  • RACHEL DUGAS sound healing
  • EVB Gallery place host
  • Green Rush Consulting gallery sponsor
  • Oaksterdam University
  • Emerald Farm Tours
  • Ophelia Chong & StockPotImages

Header and flooding pictures courtesy of Mark Rutherford

Released at Wed, 01 Aug 2018 23:14:10 +0000

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