Loud Talking

On the industrial outskirts of Oakland, California, tucked among the timeworn facades of warehouses and workshops, there’s a building entrance so nondescript it defies capture by photography—not only would you never notice it if you walked right past it, you wouldn’t even be able to see it if you were looking directly at it. Security is a paramount concern for cannabis businesses operating in “The Town,” and thanks to a serendipitous quirk of forced perspective and pre-war architecture, would-be bandits would have an easier time robbing the Hogwarts Express. This is ideal for a business trying to prevent unwelcome visitors, but much less so for a visiting journalist with a faulty sense of direction and a penchant for getting stoned before big interviews.

In addition to being monstrously difficult to locate, once you step inside the building housing the corporate headquarters for James Loud Genetics, it gives the distinct impression of being—to quote Doctor Who—“bigger on the inside.” Blazing white, labyrinthine hallways with soaring ceilings (accented with large television monitors displaying high definition photos of different stages of the germination and tissue culture processes) connect to specialized, climate-controlled lab rooms, processing centers, and the plush lounge that serves as the studio for the James Loud Podcast.

The titular host of that podcast, James Loud, is the founder and primary breeder at James Loud Genetics, a cannabis brand with deep roots in the pre-legalization weed game.

Loud cracked his first seed in 1995, at the age of 14, and never looked back. Since then, he’s been exploring the bleeding edge of breeding techniques and technology, always staying true to his name and seeking the same Holy Grail—louder terps.

The son of an engineer, Loud’s process has always been rooted in experimentation and innovation, and in the early days of his breeding career—when police helicopters were still actively scanning for the telltale heat signature of a commercial indoor cannabis grow—he responded with a technological solution.

High Times Magazine, May 2024

“I had a garage grow and we grew in octagons,” Loud says. “So we had vertical growing because we were worried about the footprint for the infrared from the helicopter. So we thought the footprint would be less so the heat signature would be less. And so we grew in these vertical grows where we had 26 plants per light, and they all grew towards that center light.”

With that problem more or less solved, he settled into the business of actually growing cannabis, with varying degrees of success at first.

“I really like Chem Dawg, so I grew some and it was just this wall of larf, it was terrible… outdoor it was phenomenal, indoor it was phenomenal in beds, but it wasn’t meant to be grown in a vertical system with a short veg [period], because it likes to stretch… The best thing for the octagon was GDP because it has a very short veg, so you can take something like GDP and veg it for seven to 10 days max and it still wouldn’t get to the light.”

Loud has made a lifelong career from cannabis breeding, a decision that has taken him on a decades-long personal and professional journey, with stops around the world, from Colombia to Spain and beyond, and it all began in the pages of High Times.

Like many of us who discovered cannabis before the advent of the internet, Loud found information and inspiration in the pages of this very magazine. One year after smoking his first joint at the age of 14, he read something that changed the trajectory of his entire life.

“There was a High Times article when I was younger called ‘The Million-Dollar Grow Room,’ and that was my favorite article growing up… it changed my perspective on growing. We had closet grows and stuff like that, but that article put things in the realm of financial possibility,” he says, then smiles a bit sheepishly and admits, “And I just love High Times.”

One million cannabis seeds.

It’s a sentiment that’s proven to be mutual. James Loud Genetics has secured six High Times Cannabis Cup victories and was inducted into the High Times Seed Bank Hall of Fame in 2014.

“Now I want to do ‘The Billion-Dollar Grow Room, and you can only do that with seeds,” Loud says. “We can make a billion dollars with seeds, no problem.”

Considering the facility’s current production rate of roughly seven million seeds per year, $1 billion in revenue doesn’t seem that farfetched.

His decision to dive headfirst into the risky, unregulated world of clandestine cultivation immediately led him down the path of innovation and experimentation. And once again, High Times played a role in his journey.

“I got the Phototron, you know the ones that were in the back of High Times magazine,” he says with a smile. “The first time we grew, one of my friends fucked it up, he poured a whole gallon of fish emulsion and made the weed taste like salmon.”

But, of course, things got better.

“From the moment I got green bud, I loved the taste, the smells, everything about it including the high,” he says. “I was into all the different flavors, and that’s what’s always motivated my breeding.”

Loud is an experienced cannabis connoisseur, and as a breeder he’s all too familiar with the fickle winds of fashion—this year’s superstar strain is tomorrow’s forgotten fad. So it’s not terribly shocking that he’s a bit of a classicist when it comes to the cultivars he’s passionate about; you’ll often hear him talking about the big names of yesteryear, like Super Silver Haze and Romulan with deep reverence and love.

But there’s one particular cultivar whose haunting siren song still echoes tantalizingly to him from a not so distant past, and his eyes glisten with the light of a secret flame when he speaks her name: Cat Piss.

“That needs to be mentioned in the article, how much I love Cat Piss,” he says. “That’s my desert island strain… it’s super nostalgic, we got it in the ’90s, like mid ’90s.” 

James Loud conducts an interview for his podcast.

For Loud, it was the first cultivar he ever smoked that passed what would become one of his go-to tests for gauging just how “loud” some weed is, the re-fire test.

“It’s the first thing that I really remember that you smoked it down to the roach, and you fired it up the next day or even a week later and it still tasted like Cat Piss,” he says.

Younger readers—those of you acclimated to cannabis with the sweet, approachable cake and candy flavors that dominate the current terpene landscape—may not realize that us late 20th century smokers once sought out weed that smelled like animal excretions. Both Skunk and Cat Piss were once towering giants in the minds of stoners seeking the strongest strain, highly prized for the intense intoxicating effects that came along with their raw pungency.

Skunk is undeniably the biggest name that emerged from that era; an amalgamation of three classic landrace cultivars; Acapulco Gold, Colombian Gold, and Afghani, that smelled just like its name. But if Skunk and its direct descendants are like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones—universally acclaimed, widely known, and indelibly linked to the era that produced them—Cat Piss is more like Grand Funk Railroad; equally popular during their shared heyday, but criminally underrated and less widely remembered in the present time.

Loud is setting out to change all that with a project that sits at the intersection of three of his overlapping passions, cannabis breeding, cannabis education, and Cat Piss, a documentary film about his breeding project to resurrect the strain with assistance from the original breeder, which he says will film “this year with a goal of releasing it later in the year.”

During the day of my visit he’s preparing to interview Steve DeAngelo—founder and former CEO of the pioneering cannabis dispensary Harborside—for yet another documentary project collecting the oral history of cannabis. This on top of his recently published book, a groundbreaking textbook on the technical nuances of cannabis breeding and tissue culture, Cannabis Breeding: The Art and Science of Crafting Distinctive Cultivars.

Loud is building a cannabis media empire, and his aspirations are on full display in the slick, professional design of his podcasting studio lounge, which is where the majority of our meeting takes place. It has an elaborate paint job that includes a graffiti-style mural, a large, backlit sign with his logo on it, a wall of Mason jars filled with seeds, a professional array of condenser mics on telescopic stands arranged at a chic wooden conference table surrounded by comfortable office chairs, and a fully stocked bar with everything from Japanese whiskey to cold Imperial ale in the fridge.

The show itself is a fun, informative space where drug war veterans swap stories and give each other their flowers (and/or concentrates) while they’re still alive. The vibe is casual but serious, because everyone involved takes the craft of cannabis cultivation very seriously, but they also tend to be very serious smokers and the James Loud Podcast studio is definitely the smoking section at this facility.

The conversation is wide ranging, often personal, and always entertaining. It’s like Charlie Rose meets Joe Rogan, only instead of asking his guests if they’ve ever smoked DMT, Loud asks them if they’ve ever smoked Cat Piss.

A gen zero tissue culture plant.

At a time when the outlaw past of this industry seems increasingly at odds with the hyper-regulated confines of its present and future, Loud provides a living bridge from past to present and a clear vision for the future.

“We’re slowly but surely becoming tomato farmers,” he says. “The price has gone down. People will be able to make a good living doing it still—obviously there are very successful tomato farmers—but the high prices associated with the black market are mostly long gone.”

The way he sees it, cannabis markets are simply maturing, the way all markets do.

“With mature markets, you see people trusting brands,” he says. “In these unstable markets it’s all about the latest and greatest. I look at it like a Top 40 playlist and there’s not a lot of things that stand the test of time… I think in the future brand trust is going to be a much bigger thing, instead of the latest and greatest thing.”

For Loud, that future is about using meristem tissue culture to secure clean, pathogen-free genetics and following his nose to the next facet of cannabis waiting to be expressed through purposeful breeding.

Guava Gelato Auto

And when it comes to all the new players in the weed game, the ones who never experienced the wild rush of the bad old days of total prohibition? Loud feels like anyone who would subject themselves to the very different challenges of the legal weed game—drug war veteran or not—is a warrior in their own right.

He says his most recent visit to MJBizCon convinced him that the remaining players are all driven by passion, which he believes is the key ingredient to success.

“They aren’t window shopping, they’re really invested in this industry,” he says. “There’s hardship, but the people sticking it out are really passionate about the plant and this is what they’d be doing even if they weren’t getting paid and that’s me, I’m that guy. I’m gonna be breeding no matter what, I’m gonna be smoking no matter what, because this is what I was meant to do.”

This article was originally published in the May 2024 issue of High Times Magazine.

The post Loud Talking first appeared on High Times.