Jason Pinsky is a passionate advocate for cannabis legislation in New York. His own personal struggle to overcome a dependency to OxyContin after spinal surgery 15-years ago thrusted him into the cannabis advocacy and legislation sphere. He was instrumental in the 2014 legislation that legalized cannabis for a select few within the state, and now he wants to improve the program so that everyone who needs medical cannabis can get it.
A Brooklyn resident, Pinsky owns the popular BBQ restaurant Fette Sau. He also serves as CEO of Cannastract, a company that focuses on bringing science to cannabis extracts and concentrates. CULTURE got a chance to interview Pinsky about his goals for the future of cannabis in New York, and why he feels that this generation will finally shatter the myths and stereotypes that are blocking the way for cannabis legalization in America.
When did you first discover the medicinal benefits of cannabis?
I’ve been using cannabis since high school, but in 2012 I started educating myself on extracts and concentrates. I attended my first Cannabis Cup as a judge in 1994 and was able to return 20 years later in 2014 to judge the concentrate category in every market. My time as a judge for the Cannabis Cup allowed me to experience high quality products. It was during this time that I challenged myself to lose 100 pounds and become 100 percent free of the pain medication I was taking. I achieved both goals in October of 2014.
Why were you taking pain medication?
I had spinal surgery in 2000 and was involved in a motorcycle accident in 2012. I was prescribed OxyContin, and needed to increase the dosage constantly as I developed a tolerance to it. At one point, I was taking over 1000-mg of OxyContin a day. Cannabis allowed me to manage my pain without the negative side effects of the pain medication.
You’re fighting to increase the availability of medical cannabis in New York. How is it going?
I was an active part of the 2014 legislation that allowed for medical cannabis in limited cases. Back in 2014, opiates weren’t part of the story. It was more about getting medical cannabis in the hands of the seriously ill or children with epilepsy. Recently though, the opiate epidemic has become a serious issue—and with my background—I am trying to educate law makers on the positive effects cannabis has on getting you off of prescription pain medications. Our goal is to allow for more patient access, especially for people suffering from severe chronic pain.
Is there a state you would like to model New York’s cannabis legislation after?
I think Colorado has the best model in the country. They have a regulated program with numerous options for distribution and production.
You’re also working behind the cannabis scenes as CEO of Cannastract, can you tell us about that?
Cannastract is a company that does consulting on the genetics, cultivation and processing of cannabis. We’re a New York-based crew that features a lot of the earlier pioneers of strains like Chemdog and Sour Diesel. Since 2013, we have seen a leap in processing and development of better strains of cannabis. Cannastract’s focus is in the chemistry of cannabis, which really helps in this endeavor.
You appeared on a recent episode of VICE, how did that come about?
I know several producers at VICE. I was attending a High NY event, a monthly cannabis meet-up, and I ran into one of the producers working on a cannabis piece. They were looking to examine cannabis from a patient, dispensary and doctor’s perspective. I told them that I am deep in the trenches of the cannabis legislation in New York and that we should collaborate. They decided to follow me as I met with lawmakers to discuss changes to the current cannabis laws. They had 15 hours of footage that they edited down to the five minute piece you see online.
What is your long term hope for cannabis?
The real push should be to de-schedule cannabis, not re-schedule it. If the DEA simply re-schedules cannabis, it will only benefit big pharma, but if you de-schedule it, it will benefit everyone. It will allow for further research and for an increase in access to patients. Long term, I would love to see people educated on how cannabis can help you achieve homeostasis. For them to learn the health benefits of supplementing cannabis into their lives, like drinking eight glasses of water a day. Cannabis has been around for thousands of years, and has only been vilified in the last hundred years. Hopefully, my story can help educate others about the healing power of cannabis.
Are you optimistic that we can reach these goals?
Yeah! It’ll probably take a generational shift though. My son’s generation will be brought up with the ideals that cannabis is a medicinal plant and not a great evil. It’s that shift in logic that will lead to the major change we need.