Imagine beginning your first growing adventures just before your 13th birthday, knowing the pioneers of your industry, building a successful business, but then paying the ultimate price. Duke Diamond is a man who knows exactly how that feels, and on April 20th (4.20), 2018, I had the honor of connecting with him. Duke is a breeder, grower, and overall MacGyver of all things’ cannabis. He is a steward of the cannabis legacy and building block genetics that have built cup winners.
Duke describes his introduction to cannabis as typical, “Right off the bat, I knew it made me feel better, less anxious, and more sociable, and more in tune.” Hampered by the attitudes of the 90s, he heard many comments of “Ah, you’re on drugs, kid,” from people who had no experience with cannabis, yet would happily flood their livers with Jack Daniels. Duke being Duke, decided no-one could tell him how to live and what to do.
Raised on a farm in Virginia, he was not quite 13 years old when he began sprouting cannabis seed. “Agriculture is what we did, so it was an organic thing, nothing felt odd about it or weird,” he explains. By the age of 16 he had the process down and was growing outside. Protected and looked out for by his much older cousins (who’d had their own youthful cultivation experiences), his garden grew.
Growing a community – What a long strange trip it’s been …
Over the years Duke would end up in good company, friends with keepers of the old school genetics, like Chemdawg, Sour Diesel, Skunk, and OG Kush. He ran with the pioneers, “There was no seed bank. They couldn’t say, ‘Well, I’m going to get this and … that and cross this to this.’” Duke’s respect for those pioneers, his friends, and the risks they took is obvious. These were the guys who had to go to the Himalayas and Afghanistan, who had to talk to the local tribal people to get seed stock and pray they wouldn’t be killed for showing up in the wrong place. Not only that, they had to smuggle those seeds back into a very hostile USA. Duke also tips his hat to the guys that were with the Sacred Seed Company and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. Who worked on the genetic cultivar lines at risk of huge penalties. As Duke points out, “the price was real high.” It was the seed clubs, like Super Sativa Seed Club, that allowed Duke’s older cousins to access catalogs and discover Skunk, Northern Lights, and others without the trip around the world.
Reminiscing, Duke credits the Grateful Dead tour with providing the cannabis community a place to meet and exchange stories, ideas, genetics, and knowledge during the underground years. “So grateful to the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia and everything, and all that they did bringing everybody together the way that they did because without that crazy ride, a lot of us would never [have] met.” And that is important to acknowledge, the Dead tour was the proving ground for growers because their relationships had to be meaningful. There were no cellphones; to keep in contact with someone meant giving them your home phone number, which was tied to your address. That’s a lot of disclosure.
The 90s and early 2000s saw early collaborations. Cool hybrids were created, like Headband, from people just doing their thing. But it was a clandestine undertaking, with the government hunting them down much of their work went uncredited. As Duke points out, “Canada got a lot of credit for my weed…I couldn’t take credit for it [and] that really sucks because … man, you know how much work I got in this?” What they did have was online forums, like Overgrow, which led to more connections. Fast forward to the middle 2000s, medical laws were established, and the community became a little more in person, the circles got larger, product got traded more widely and became better known.
Craziness, traveling, hiding, and doing time
It was February 2007 when the DEA finally caught up with Duke. And it wasn’t only the DEA who judged him. A lot of people felt this was a much-needed wake-up call to teach Duke a lesson. As screwed up as their logic was, Duke decided they were right, it would teach him a lesson; three in fact. One: he needed to get away from Virginia. Two: He probably shouldn’t be trusting people who were likely to get caught and then make plea deals ratting out their best friends. Three: He needed to be a lot more careful in future. In truth, it provided the drive for Duke to do what he needed to do: educate people. “It just told me, you got the evil empire trying to crush out something that you know in your heart is the right thing and a good thing? I’m going to have to fight. I’m going to buck against that.”
DEA hypocrisy and corporations discover cannabis
Once liberated, Duke discovered a changed world. Colorado had gone fully recreational and suddenly, the seeds, people with the clones, things that had been held so tightly in such small circles, were now well-known. But that change was bittersweet because so many people didn’t know the history, “the craziness and traveling and hiding and prison time and sacrifice that went into making that happen.” In Duke’s eyes, worse than the ignorance is the commercialization. Duke describes a company in Colorado, a couple of ex-DEA guys and a financier, making money from something they don’t know anything about. “I got dead friends and people pulling life…All they care about is a dollar at the end of the day. They don’t care how it’s grown, how it’s produced, where it came from, but they’re happy to make that money off that name…how can this be allowed to happen?” His outrage is justified. Companies that lobbied to prevent the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes are now in the recreational market, and lobby still. He explains, “I got four of these kids that are severely, severely ill, really, really kind of rare ailments … and without it, these kids truly suffer … I’ve never charged them a penny. I refuse to do so. I make seeds. Seeds make money. Money pays bills, gives them free stuff to have healthcare.”
Equally concerning are the conglomerates using the system. Duke talks about the big multinationals like Monsanto and Bayer, buying small companies like Botanicare, General Hydro, and Sunlight Supply. Consumers need to be mindful and put their values behind their dollars. It is about community and cannabis; you should know your farmer, know your grower, and keep it small and local. If we educate each other, cannabis can be a catalyst for positive change in our community. But if consumers aren’t mindful, they’re just going to fuel the perpetuation of a corporatocracy. As Duke clearly states, “People really need to step up and put your money where your mouth is.”
Age of misinformation: How do we get down to the truth?
Having stepped back from society for several years, Duke is startled by its evolution. He sees a drastic, but not sudden change and likens it to the slow, gradual tightening of a boa constrictor. He illustrates his point darkly by referencing the world ending with a whimper not a bang; lines from T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Hollow Men”. In this age of constant information, Duke believes that we are bombarded with so much, most of it fluff, that we forget what’s important. The question has become how do we get down to the truth?
Duke admits that he doesn’t live like other people. He doesn’t watch the news daily or follow popular culture. He worries about the corporations behind the news and fears that we are all being manipulated. “When I watched it [years ago], it was just Dan Rather, telling you about whatever. You might see some onsite footage. Now they’re putting background scores, like that very subtle, almost subconscious tone in the background of a story that triggers an emotion. It’s just like psychological 101 to enhance mood, enhance feeling; none of it was a happy tune.” Instead Duke keeps it simple, watches his cartoons, listens to his music, and doesn’t “allow that kind of flood to come in.”
Despite the fake news and corporate manipulation, Duke Diamond is optimistic. He believes in the cannabis community, the goodness of people, the promise of the plant. He admits it is a discouraging time, but Duke simply is not ready to concede to the world ending in a whimper when we all are just getting started.