jake brown

Marijuana critic, Jake Brown

Seated in a yellow chair, Jake Browne was carefully rotating a marijuana bud between his fingers. “I’m looking for bugs, mildew, things I wouldn’t want to ingest,” he said, leaning forward to hold the nickel-size flower up to the light. He paused, then took a sip of water from a cup with a Miley Cyrus hologram down its side. “This looks clean,” he concluded.

NOTE: On December 6th, the DaVinci Institute will be hosting the DaVinci Hemp Academy’s Entrepreneur’s Workshop to help people who are thinking about entering this profession to discover what new untapped opportunities are still out there.

Mr. Browne, 31, held the bud up to his nose and inhaled. Then he opened his computer. “Faint lemony sweetness,” he typed, before loading the pot into a small glass pipe.

“I usually will take one, maybe two hits,” he said as he fired up the bowl. “I’m looking for how it burns, the taste, if it’s flushed well — meaning you don’t want to taste the fertilizers or chemicals.” He exhaled, waited and then turned to his computer again. “Head high. No initial body effect,” he wrote.

This is Mr. Browne’s job (or, at least, one of his jobs). The longtime resident of Colorado — where marijuana has been legal since January — is a comedian, a producer and a founder (with his fiancée) of a mail-order subscription box for hemp products.

He is also the first pot critic for The Denver Post, Colorado’s oldest and largest daily newspaper. Which means that, every week, Mr. Browne takes a city bus from his home in Denver’s Highland neighborhood, crosses a street called Green Court and lands at one of the city’s downtown marijuana dispensaries to choose his product. Yes, he is paid to smoke it — and then write about the high.

“The thing people say to me most often is, ‘Dude, you must have the best job ever,’ ” said Mr. Browne, sitting in his living room. “It’s either that, or, if they’re from out of state, ‘Can you send me pot?’ ”

The Post has had two pot critics on its roster since it created a spinoff site,The Cannabist, in December. (The newspaper is searching for a third, as well as a sex columnist to write about pot and intimacy.) While adding the jobs — particularly for a mainstream newspaper — created something of a stir, Ricardo Baca, the newspaper’s newly appointed cannabis editor (and a longtime staff member) said it simply made journalistic sense. “We have a restaurant critic and wine reviewers,” he said. “We have an award-winning craft beer blog. From that logic you do need a pot critic — and maybe a few of them.”

Mr. Browne’s path into the role was unlikely. He grew up in Iowa, where, after high school, he tried his hand as a male model (Ashton Kutcher, another former model, was from his hometown). When that didn’t work out, he moved to Colorado (“I had just read ‘On the Road,’ ” he said) and enrolled in a technical college, but dropped out. For the next few years he waited tables and worked as a bartender.

Pot wasn’t legal for recreational use when he first got into the business, helping a friend who had opened a medical dispensary keep the books. (“They had been organizing files by first name,” Mr. Browne said, laughing.) He wasn’t a big pot smoker, but liked the business side of it. He became the company’s marketing director and general manager, started a blog and opened up a pot consulting business on the side.

He saw the ad for a pot critic on Facebook (“where else?” he joked) and replied with a visual résumé he’d designed himself — complete with a giant photo of a piece of bacon (just for fun, he said). But it wasn’t the swine that sold his editor (nor was it simply his writing). “He was an authority on weed already,” Mr. Baca said. “He had valuable experience working inside the industry.”

Mr. Browne also has a biological gift of sorts: He is a supertaster. That is, somebody who possesses more taste buds than the average person (at least according to an online survey he took).

In total so far, Mr. Browne has written 27 reviews. He critiqued a strain called Jack Flash (“it practically jumped through my monitor and into my pipe”); 303 Kush (“almost overwhelming”); and wrote about a Willie Nelson-themed varietal called Red Headed Stranger No. 14 (“a little less mentally racy” but with a “strong overall high”). And while his taste buds play a role in the critiques, certainly, there is more to it.

“I think people underestimate cannabis,” Mr. Browne said. “You wouldn’t walk into a restaurant and say, ‘I’ll have the wine.’ So why would you assume people would do that for cannabis? In the same way that pinot grigio and pinot noir may sound similar but are completely different, names like Lemon OG and Lemon Skunk are very different strains with very different flavor components and completely different highs.”

A typical day for Mr. Browne likely starts by testing a few products. On this particular day, he spent the morning at three dispensaries: LoDo Wellness, on a street called Wazee; Euflora, also known as “the Apple store for weed” (though, as Mr. Browne pointed out, it actually looked more like a RadioShack); and finally, a shop called Good Chemistry.

The key to pot criticism, Mr. Browne said, is knowing your audience. While he tries to keep his language basic enough that a nonsmoker could understand it (“I think pot needs smart people to be ambassadors to the masses,” he said), he doesn’t want to be condescending to those who do. “I never want to be that pretentious pot critic,” he said.

The reviews themselves have a certain formula. Mr. Browne begins with a physical description of the product (is it moist, with the THC visible, or a drier, less tightly packed bud?) as well as the smell and taste (“rubber and pepper dominate the jar like a bunch of green army men relegated to miniature mess hall duty,” he wrote recently, of an “unfortunately titled” strain called Alien Napalm).

He will find out where the product was harvested (in Napalm’s case, a “veganic grow”) and tell the reader where he bought it (because each manufacturer has its own wacky strain names). Sometimes he’ll describe the sound of the bud firing up (“snap, crackle, pop”) or what, and how much, he ate after (“apple juice and ants on a log,” he said, referring to the children’s snack of raisins and peanut butter on top of celery).

The most important element of being a pot critic, though, is one that traditional food criticism may lack (at least in this much detail): how the product makes you feel. Seated in his living room testing out the Lemon Kush, Mr. Browne kept detailed notes from the moment he ingested, and observed how it moved through his body. (When writing about Jack Flash, another strain, he once noted that it “always gets me straight between the temples.”) With the Kush, he observed whether the pot relieved his headache (a little) and tracked, in painstaking detail, how the feeling of the high evolved.

In his accounting, Lemon Kush was relatively mellow, but a few months back, he had a different experience with a different strain. “After the second hit, I was floored. No thoughts, just pure experience. An instant flow state,” he wrote of the Red Headed Stranger No. 14. Ten minutes later, he observed a sudden shift: “I’m a human coffee, spewing words like dark-roasted drip.”

In the spirit of service journalism — and, he said, what is pot criticism if not a service? — each of Mr. Browne’s reviews ends with a summary. Alien Napalm, for instance, he concluded is great for sleep, pain or increasing appetite (but “never use it for an appetizer”). The Red Headed Stranger is good for “loosening of limbs and muscles.” But if that’s the effect you’re going for, make sure to stay away from Green Crack. (“I’m no physician, but this is as close as I’ve come to marijuana-induced A.D.D.,” he wrote.)

No, being a pot critic doesn’t pay the bills (nor does The Post reimburse him for the pot). But, Mr. Browne said, it beats working in a coffee shop (where, for what it’s worth, he’d probably have to take a drug test).

“I feel lucky to be this person in the middle of a historical moment, and I don’t think we’ll see anything really comparable to it,” he said, finishing up his day at a taqueria down the street from his house. “And, you know, I like pot, I think it’s a fun topic. Somebody has to cover it. So why can’t I be that guy?”

Photo credit: Kickstarter

Via New York Times