On Tuesday The US State Department made a statement that WNBA star Brittney Griner is being wrongfully detained in Russia.
This statement implies that the US will escalate efforts for Griner’s release from a pre trial detention center near Moscow where she has been detained for over two months.
The case has been moved to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, which is tasked with negotiating the release of Americans being held hostage and others classified as being wrongfully detained in other countries.
Griner, 31, was arrested at the Moscow airport for allegedly having cannabis vape cartridges in her luggage. She faces five to 10 years in Russian prison if convicted on drug smuggling charges.
Runtz Brings Its Iconic Strain to the Masses
Since 2017, the global phenomenon that is the Runtz strain has not abated. The brand has remained strong, but this year, newly independent, Runtz is relaunching as a top-tier luxury weed lifestyle brand, with all new Runtz genetics plus the classic strains available in multiple states. More people can finally say that they have smoked real Runtz.
The Runtz phenomenon started at Emerald Cup 2017 in Northern California. Ray Bama and Yung LB got hold of Runtz and started to market it online using social media. Grower Nick Corwin eventually met Ray Bama in the Bay Area through Friends. LB, Ray’s roommate, was an up-and-coming rapper and an informal weed ambassador for Cookies—aka one of the Cookie Boys. Nick discovered Runtz when he combined Zkittlez with Gelato 33, creating a dark purple flower with a distinct candy terp profile. They knew they had something, and they went with the Runtz name to capture that candy terp.
“When Runtz first came out it was the darkest thing and then when you opened the bag everyone would say candy,” Ray remembers. “At that point there wasn’t really a terp like that besides Zkittlez. But with Zkittlez, the exhale wasn’t quite as candy, as creamy,” Ray says. Nick says that the Gelato 33 upped the Zkittlez potency and added even more of a candy profile.
The three showed up at Emerald Cup with a little over 300 jars, along with 2,500 Runtz t-shirts to hand out and a group of models rocking the Runtz logo. They camped out in front of the Cookies booth (it was the year Cookies debuted London Pound Cake) where a line formed around them. They sold out in minutes, getting so much attention that Cookies asked them to leave. But Berner took notice, and Cookies would eventually become Runtz’s exclusive distributor.
“We made a whole appearance in letting people know who we are and we’re here. And that impacted the fuck out the culture,” LB remembers.
The same excitement and hype of that day kept its momentum over the next year. However, how the strain and brand (what LB calls a “strand”) became the phenomenon that it did, spreading all across the U.S. to hotspots like New York, Atlanta, and Miami, was not merely organic. Ray and LB worked out a sophisticated multi-pronged approach to branding the strain as a lifestyle. They went on tour, doing pop-ups city by city, everywhere drawing a crowd around this new thing from California called Exotics.
In particular, LB became the face of the brand, and he wove his identity as a weed mogul into his hip-hop singles and his social media. Meanwhile, Nick and Ray reached out to artists, creatives, people in fashion, and musicians, and built a network of culture-makers and content producers. Within a year, they saw Runtz take off. Everyone was talking about it. Everyone wanted it. Everyone claimed to have it.
“We weren’t trying to follow the trend. We weren’t too much caring about the politics behind weed,” LB said. He was trapping weed at the time and saw that the industry was expanding.
“It’s enough for everybody to eat off this plate. You’d be a fool not to capitalize,” LB said.
LB went hard at marketing and promoting Runtz as he toured with his music. As he went around the country, he put on events to raise the brand’s profile, despite the risks.
“These other weed brands, they weren’t doing the sessions and pop-ups that we were doing,” LB said. “We were taking a big risk doing that,” he said, considering most states still considered weed to be illegal.
“We brought that gorilla marketing to the corporate cannabis world,” LB said. “It had never been done before besides Berner. But Berner had a strategic classic high-end way to do it. We just kept this shit so urban, so close to the culture, it’s like one of them was doing it,” LB said.
Runtz became the phenomena that it is because, LB and Ray say, of the work they put into promoting and marketing the strain.
“We just love working. We ain’t better than nobody but we gonna hustle. I guarantee I’ll hustle a lot of these other people,” LB said. “We started getting that recognition.”
Are You Smoking Real Runtz?
Even as the hype built, Runtz was kept exclusive and relatively small-batch. The demand for Runtz in the country far outweighed its supply, and plenty of bootleggers stepped in to fill the lack with fake bags of fake Runtz. Meanwhile, growers that did get hold of Runtz genetics (which wasn’t hard—the guys made a point to spread the genetics far and wide) all too often renamed it and built their own following off of it.
Ray says getting bootlegged, copied, and ripped off was just part of the game.
“To this day if you go buy ten eighths from any dispensary or ten eighths from the street, nine of them are going to be Runtz. Runtz is the most renamed strain, the most bootlegged,” he said.
But to an extent, it was on purpose.
“We’ve constantly hunted and serviced the top one percent of the market and we’ve pigeonholed ourselves there because we never really expanded as far as we could,” Ray said. “We kept our releases very small.”
Ray, LB, and Nick were powerless to stop the brand from getting bootlegged. They saw ugly imitations of their iconic mylar bags for sale in smoke shops all over the U.S. and Europe. To handle their growth, they contracted with a much larger corporation in California to take on marketing and distribution, but found that they were even more hamstrung by not having full ownership of the brand.
“Just being on the road built Runtz so huge, that I didn’t know how big it was until I got to Atlanta in 2018-2019. Everywhere I went everybody said they had Runtz. But they didn’t get it from us,” LB said.
“I used to get mad and upset, but for what? It helped the brand out,” LB said.
The fact is, the guys couldn’t supply the demand for the strain. They developed other phenos to help make more product available, and partnered with regional growers to help suppy the rest of the country outside of California.
“The demand was so high it wasn’t enough,” he said.
For a time, everybody supposedly had Runtz and almost nobody smoked real Runtz. The guys had created a movement that they no longer were in control of. Still, they never stopped promoting Runtz, which had sprung a corresponding clothing and lifestyle brand. They continued to release Runtz phenos and crosses, each one cleverly marketed with stylish mylar bags plus whatever media LB cooked up.
Ray says that they tolerated people copying them. They understood that they were trendsetters.
“We never hated on anybody. People stole our sauce, they steal our sauce to this day, blatantly. And we’ll be like, as long as you’re feeding your family we don’t start shit with people,” Ray said.
“We actually do it for the culture,” he said.
Being copied just inspired them to be more innovative.
“The way we combated that bootlegging is by constantly releasing new products, new product identity, new IP, just always releasing new stuff and they can’t keep up with us,” Ray said.
In 2020, rumors of a strain called Obama Runtz circulated, and a video by a Atlanta trapper talking about it went viral. The team jumped on the viral moment and launched an Obama Runtz strain with a corresponding song and music video referencing the viral video. They later had another viral hit when they released Coochie Runtz in a die-cut mylar bag in the shape of a cropped photo of the midsection a big-bootied woman in a thong, one image of her front and one image of her back on either side of the bag. The photo was unrefined and unabashed and definitely attention-grabbing. Runtz marketing is often this mix of media savvy and a focus on the culture around weed instead of just the weed itself.
Courtesy of Ray Bama
They’ve spent years planning, growing, breeding, and making deals for the next phase of Runtz.
“We’ve been the disruptors of the industry,” Nick says. “We’ve done it multiple times and we’re going to continue to do it.”
They disrupt and they start trends. Even before Runtz, Ray invented the GlowTray, a rolling tray with a built-in light that was a phenomenon for years. He and Nick manufactured, marketed, and distributed the GlowTray themselves. Runtz kicked off the trend of using mylar bags instead of jars, which at the time everyone had preferred. Potato Runtz, a collab with designer Imran Potato, together they were the first to create a special shape die-cut mylar pouch (bags that are cut into a shape rather than square), which are now very trendy. They claim they were the first to do things like pop-ups and tours to promote their strain, which by now has become a common tactic in the industry for indie brands.
Their next disruption will take place in smoke shops across America with the launch of Runtz brand tobacco leaf blunt wraps. They noticed that everyone around them were rolling their high-end Runtz weed into crappy Backwoods leaves, half of which from each package had to be tossed for being unusable.
“We want to push the culture forward. We don’t want our people to go buy Backwoods and throw away half,” Ray said. “The weed is so good and expensive and you put it in the Backwoods and it rips or has two stems.”
They talked to some friends in the tobacco industry and ended up traveling to the Dominican Republic to survey tobacco farms. They sampled twenty varieties before going with the Broadleaf. They hand-selected the bales, which each undergo a 5-step sorting process for quality control. Each leaf is washed, trimmed, and pressed so that it’s perfect for rolling a blunt. They’ll launch next month in 4,500 shops across the country.
At the recent Hall of Flowers convention Runtz debuted its first new strains since last year’s Coochie Runts: Bootleg Runtz, Day Day Runtz, iRuntz, Super Runtz, a collab with indie brand Don Merfos Exotics, and FTP Runtz, a collab with the clothing brand. Early next year, they’ll introduce a Classics line, with their most popular strains made widely available at an affordable price, including strains that haven’t been available in a while like Divine Runtz, Pink Runtz, White Runtz, Real Runtz, Obama Runtz, and Runtz OG.
They’ve also been working hard to build a network of growers and dispensaries in states outside of California to grow and distribute actual Runtz flower. The plan is to be able to launch new drops simultaneously in California as well as states like Florida and Michigan. In California, they’re continuing to pheno hunt their own genetics by collaborating with top brands like Wizard Trees, Doja Pak, and Seed Junky Genetics. They’ll also be selling Runtz seeds in smoke shops.
For Nick, Ray, and LB, the Runtz relaunch is about solidifying their place as a high-fashion, high-art, luxury brand. They’re relaunching their streetwear clothing line with Pharrell’s Billionaire Boys Club, they’re looking into doing a Runtz restaurant, and they’re planning a Runtz festival for 2024.
“LB always told us, Nick, Ray, we’re the Louis Vuitton of cannabis,” Ray said. “They’re wearing Louis Vuitton and Gucci and they’re smoking Runtz.”
For LB, the fact that the brand has made such waves while still being relatively new to the scene is something he doesn’t take for granted.
“For us to have a seat at the table with a lot of these top-tier names is an honor,” LB said.
He’s learned that the art of selling weed in today’s market comes down to marketing a lifestyle. It’s what the Runtz brand does better than anyone.
“It’s not even about selling the flower. Just even knowing how to brand a product to a level where people want it so much to where it’s like we’ll buy the brand overall,” LB said.
“That’s crazy to me to be honest. And it’s amazing. Just to be one of the brands that’s top-tier as far as even being around the top, top people is just an honor. Runtz is new, we’ve been on the scene probably 4-5 years, so we’re literally new,” LB said.
Chris Webber launches ‘Players Only’
Chris Webber, a member of the NBA Hall of Fame, and Lavetta Willis, an entrepreneur, have announced the launch of their cannabis brand, Players Only, and they have recruited other famous people to help promote it.
The new superstar label was unveiled for the first time on August 11. The store, which will be called “Players Only,” will sell weed of many different varieties, as well as vape pens, pre-rolled joints, and other sports recovery and performance aids. Players Only is also releasing a line of branded clothing and shoes.
By acquiring Gage Growth Corp in March, TerrAscend became the sole distributor of Players Only products in Michigan, clearing the door for the launch of the brand.
Webber argued that “Players Only” was more than just a cannabis company. “We really do have a once-in-a-generation chance to alter the cannabis narrative, encourage budding business owners, and establish a new benchmark for this dynamic sector. We are excited to introduce our diverse products and services and get started on the path toward bringing about lasting economic improvement in neighborhoods all around Michigan. We want to give a shout out to our Michigan relatives, TerrAscend and Gage. Take care, Berner and Cookies; we’re leaving.
Webber announced a Detroit marijuana complex in October 2017 that included a grow room, dispensary, and VIP smoking area. The Players Only facility, which is 180,000 square feet in size, is known as the Webber Wellness Compound.
C4, Time Out, G.O.A.T.’s Milk, Non-Laters, and Whipped Cherries are among the first strains to hit the market. Within a matter of weeks, new strains from the brand, such as Blueberry Hotcakes and Ray Jackson’s Black Sox, will be available for purchase. In comparison to the hashy, Afghani vibe that C4 can give off, reviewers agree that the sativa-leaning G.O.A.T.’s Milk has an optimal ratio of THC to CBD. On the other hand, whipped cherries are just how you’d imagine them to be.
Lavetta Willis, co-founder and President of Players Only, said, “We have been working with legacy cultivators and operators wanting to establish their place in the regulated market for quite some time.” Incorporating legacy strains and expertise into the Players Only platform and menu helps us move closer to our ultimate goal of recognizing and celebrating the contributions of black business owners who have built successful brands and intellectual assets throughout the years.
Compliments of the Chef and Raekwon’s collaboration with Citizen Grown were both revealed alongside the collaboration with the company. Similarly, Hassim Robinson and Winner’s Circle Genetics have teamed up to introduce the PB&J strain and Quavo’s BIRKINZ to the Michigan cannabis market. Detroit native Royce da 5’9′′ will release his “Heaven” label as part of a network of free trade zones (NFT), and the “Lil Stupid” brand, which has been around for a while, will enter the adult-use market for the first time. White Chocolate will also be introduced by Webber’s former colleague on the Sacramento Kings, Jason Williams.
Along with starting “The Smoke” with business partner and co-host Stephen Jackson, Webber recently hired former NBA great and teammate Matt Barnes as Chief Collaborations Officer. The name of the product is a reference to the critically acclaimed SHOWTIME series created by Barnes and Jackson.
In their podcast, “All the Smoke,” “the loud and unapologetic NBA champions, give authentic, unvarnished viewpoint on the most polarizing themes in and outside the game of basketball, including culture, social justice, politics, music, and more.”
New episodes of “All the Smoke” are released weekly on Thursdays.
Starting with the Players Only x Packwoods 2.5-gram Blunt, available at select retailers, the brand will be introduced to the public.
LeBron James Calls for Brittney Griner’s Release from Russian Prison
NBA superstar LeBron James on Sunday called on the U.S. government to work to secure the release of WNBA champion and Olympic basketball gold medalist Brittney Griner, who has been held in a Russian prison on a cannabis possession charge for nearly four months.
“We need to come together and help do whatever we possibly can to bring BG home quickly and safely!! Our voice as athletes is stronger together,” James wrote on Twitter over the weekend.
James also shared a message from his brand Uninterrupted that calls on President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to work for Griner’s release. The post also encouraged readers to learn more about the case online.
“For over 100 days, BG has faced inhumane conditions in a Russian prison and has been denied communications with her family and loved ones,” reads a message from Uninterrupted that was included in the social media post. “As a decorated Olympian and member of an elite global sport community, BG’s detention must be resolved out of respect for the sanctity of all sport and for all Americans traveling internationally. It is imperative that the U.S. Government immediately address this human rights issue and do whatever is necessary to return Brittney home.”
James also posted a link to an online petition hosted by Change.org that maintains that “Griner is a beloved global citizen who has used her platform since her entry into the WNBA to help others.” James encouraged fans to share and sign the petition, which had collected more than 250,000 signatures as of Tuesday.
Olympic and WNBA Superstar
Griner is a seven-time WNBA All-Star center who has played for the Phoenix Mercury since 2013, including the team’s 2014 league championship squad. She has also twice won the Olympic gold medal with the U.S. women’s basketball team.
Griner has played seven seasons of professional basketball in Russia during the winter, a common practice among WNBA players. She earns about $1 million per season to play in Russia, about four times the salary she earns playing for the WNBA. On January 29, Griner played her most recent game with her team UMMC Ekaterinburg before the Russian league took a two-week break for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournaments.
The Russian Customs Service reported on March 5 that an American women’s basketball player had been detained after cannabis vape cartridges were discovered in her luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow. The date of the arrest was not given and Griner was not named in the report. The customs also released a video that appeared to show Griner with security officials at an airport security checkpoint.
The Russian state news agency TASS subsequently reported that the arrested player was Griner. Although the date of Griner’s arrest was not announced, media outlets reported that she has been in custody since February 17. After news of the arrest made headlines, the WNBA and the players’ union issued messages of support for the star athlete.
“Brittney Griner has the WNBA’s full support, and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States,” the league wrote in a statement after Griner’s arrest was announced by Russian media.
Griner’s arrest by Russian authorities has led to an outcry from lawmakers, cannabis advocates, celebrities, and fellow athletes. Democratic Representative Colin Allred of Texas, the star athlete’s home state, said on March 9 that he was looking into Griner’s arrest.
“My office has been in touch with the State Department, and we’re working with them to see what is the best way forward,” said Allred, as quoted by ESPN. “I know the administration is working hard to try and get access to her and try to be helpful here. But obviously, it’s also happening in the context of really strained relations. I do think that it’s really unusual that we’ve not been granted access to her from our embassy and our consular services.”
A month after her arrest, Russian authorities announced that Griner’s detention would be extended for two months. TASS reported on March 17 that Griner was being held in an undisclosed Russian prison pending further investigation of the case. The news agency also said that Ekaterina Kalugina of the human rights group Public Monitoring Commission, a quasi-official body with access to Russian prisons, had visited Griner. Kalugina reported that Griner was doing well and being held in humane conditions.
In May, the U.S. Department of State reclassified Griner’s status, saying that she had been “wrongfully detained” by the Russian government.
“The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner,” the State Department wrote in an email to ESPN. “With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.”
Since then, however, the status of Griner’s case has remained unchanged, prompting the renewed calls for her release from James on Sunday.
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