Pervasive WiFi Waves Imagined



Photographs have recently surfaced on the web that attempts to demonstrate what WiFi actually looks like. The photographs were created by PhD student Luis Hernan. Hernan designed a specific system that scans for wireless networks, creating images where the different signal strengths can be seen using colored LED lights. The red colors indicate high intensity, and the blue colors indicate low.

Luis explains on his website what his creations are all about: “I believe our interaction with this landscape of electromagnetic signals, described by Antony Dunne as Hertzian Space, can be characterized in the same terms as that with ghosts and spectra. They both are paradoxical entities, whose untypical substance allows them to be an invisible presence. In the same way, they undergo a process of gradual substantiation to become temporarily available to perception. Finally, they both haunt us.”


Luis has even developed an app which apparently allows you to view the WiFi signals around you.

To learn more about Luis Hernan’s creations, here’s his website:



Ancient Trees Have Stories to Tell


Author: Becky Harlan

Over three trillion trees live on planet Earth, and yet we know so few of their stories. Of course all trees play an important role—purifying the air, hosting the feathered and the furry, teaching kids (and kids at heart) how to climb—but some have spent more time doing these things than others. Quiver trees, for example, can live up to 300 years, oaks can live a thousand years, and bristlecone pines and yews can survive for millennia.





The great western red cedar of Gelli Aur, Thuja plicata, in Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, Wales. The arboretum at Gelli Aur (Golden Grove) is home to an impressive selection of mature specimen trees, but none so magnificent as the multitrunked western red cedar, thought to have been planted in 1863. Launch Gallery
In 1999, photographer Beth Moon took it upon herself to begin documenting some of these more seasoned trees. Specifically, she sought out aged subjects that were “unique in their exceptional size, heredity, or folklore.” And it was a quest. “So many of our old trees have been cut down,” she says, “that without a concerted effort you are not likely to run across one.”





Picture of desert rose, Adenium obesum, in Socotra, Yemen

Socotra’s ”bottle trees,” are among the most astonishing sights in the alienlike landscape. Leathery and bulbous, they look somewhat like small baobabs, with inflated trunks and huge tuberous roots that apparently requite little soil, as they sink into the bare rock. Their blossoms have earned them their more poetic name: desert rose. Launch Gallery
She found some of her subjects through research and discovered others through tips from friends and enthusiastic travelers. Beginning in Great Britain, she eventually trekked across the United States, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia to connect with oaks named after queens and baobabs shaped like teapots.

Majesty, English oak, Quercus robur, in Nonington, Kent, England One of the largest maiden, or unpruned, oaks in all of Europe grows on a private estate in Kent. Thought to be more than four hundred years old, this aristocratic tree boasts a girth of more than forty feet. At one point, a large branch broke off the north side of the tree, leaving a hole that reveals the cavernous space of the hollow trunk.

Majesty, English oak, Quercus robur, in Nonington, Kent, England

One of the largest maiden, or unpruned, oaks in all of Europe grows on a private estate in Kent. Thought to be more than 400 years old, this aristocratic tree boasts a girth of more than 40 feet. At one point, a large branch broke off the north side of the tree, leaving a hole that reveals the cavernous space of the hollow trunk. Launch Gallery
“Sometimes the journey is half the fun,” says Moon, citing a tree in Madagascar that was particularly hard to find. “It was so big, you would think it would be easy to spot. In the end, the local chief came to our aid. He rode with us, giving directions to the tree. The people of the village were so intrigued they followed along behind the jeep and sat in the field watching as I photographed.”


Avenue of the Baobabs, Adansonia grandidieri, in Morondava, Madagascar

These baobabs, which rise to heights of nearly a hundred feet, are found only on the island of Madagascar, where they’re known as renala, Malagasy for “mother of the forest.” The trees in this grove are approximately 800 years old. Sadly, these 20-some baobabs are the only survivors of what was once a dense tropical forest. In 2007, the avenue was granted temporary protected status.
Part of what intrigues her about these trees, which are older than many of our most established institutions, is what makes them last. “I am always amazed at the way trees have the ability to endure and adapt to severe conditions. Some ancient trees hollow out as they age as a survival technique. The tree will send an aerial root down the center of the trunk, which will continue to grow from the inside out.” In her book Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time, she explains that these ancient individuals “contain superior genes that have enabled them to survive through the ages, resistant to disease and other uncertainties.”


The Crowhurst Yew, Taxus baccata, in Surrey, England

The Crowhurst Yew, Taxus baccata, in Surrey, England Among the tombstones of a churchyard in Crowhurst stands an ancient yew with a girth of 31 feet. The tree is estimated to be more than 1,500 years old. When the villagers hollowed out the trunk in 1820, they found a cannonball embedded there, a relic of the English Civil War. The farm across from the church may have been the intended target because of its owner’s staunch Royalist beliefs.

Among the tombstones of a churchyard in Crowhurst stands an ancient yew with a girth of 31 feet. The tree is estimated to be more than 1,500 years old. When the villagers hollowed out the trunk in 1820, they found a cannonball embedded there, a relic of the English Civil War. The farm across from the church may have been the intended target because of its owner’s staunch Royalist beliefs.
That same endurance is reflected in her photographs, which she takes with a Pentax medium-format film camera. She imprints her negatives on heavy cotton watercolor paper coated with a tincture of platinum and palladium metals. This process actually embeds the image into the fibers of the paper, resulting in a picture that will stand the test of time, without fear of fading.

Picture of a kapok tree, Ceiba pentandra, in Palm Beach, Florida
Kapok tree, Ceiba pentandra, in Palm Beach, Florida
“Kapoks of this size usually inhabit the rain forest, but I found this one on a private estate in Florida. “I first saw a picture of it in a book from the 1940s, with a caption locating it in Palm Beach. Comparing the current tree with that old photo, I could see that the trunk had filled out tremendously in 60 years; the roots now rise more than 12 feet above the ground.” (The bench on the left provides a sense of scale.) Launch Gallery
Many of the real trees represented, however, face hard times ahead. “Quiver trees are dying from lack of water in Namibia. Dragon’s blood trees are in decline and on the endangered list, and three species of baobab trees are currently listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List,” says Moon. “The disappearance of old-growth forests may be one of the most serious environmental issues today.”

The Ifaty Teapot, Adansonia za, in Toliara, Madagascar

Growing on a small preserve in Ifaty, on the west coast of Madagascar, this baobab bears an uncanny resemblance to a teapot, which is what the locals have nicknamed it. Thought to be 1,200 years old, the Iftay Teapot’s trunk is approximately 45 feet in circumference and has the ability to store more than 31,000 gallons of water.
Moon fondly reflects on her childhood, recalling a favorite oak with a comfortable nook where she spent many afternoons. “I have always felt a connection to trees on a deeper level,” she says. Not much has changed. While working on this project, “I was able to camp under [many of] the trees I photographed. Sleeping in the frankincense forest on the island of Socotra, or in the salt pans of the Kalahari under giant baobab trees in Botswana, was an unforgettable experience. I have never felt more vibrant and alive.”


Quiver Tree, Aloe dichotoma,  Keetmanshoop, Namibia.

The Quiver Tree Forest in southern Namibia is home to a spectacular collection of some of Earth’s most unusual trees, some of which are three centuries old. Strictly speaking, they are actually succulent aloe plants that can grow up to 33 feet high. The Bushman and Hottentot tribes use the hollow branches of this plant to make quivers for their arrows. The forest was made a Namibian national monument in 1995.

The Quiver Tree Forest in southern Namibia is home to a spectacular collection of some of Earth’s most unusual trees, some of which are three centuries old. Strictly speaking, they are actually succulent aloe plants that can grow up to 33 feet high. The Bushman and Hottentot tribes use the hollow branches of this plant to make quivers for their arrows. The forest was made a Namibian national monument in 1995.

Rilke’s Bayon, Tetrameles nudiflora, in Ta Prohm, Siem Reap Province, Cambodia

Today, the late twelfth-century Buddhist temple of Ta Prohm stands in a semi-ruined state among forests and farmland. The structure is straddled by immense Tetrameles whose serpentine roots pry apart the ancient stones in a desperate journey to find soil. The temple provides a striking example of what the untamed tropical forest will do to even the mightiest monument when human hands are withdrawn.


By Dan Reilly


The Beatles with George Martin (Photo Michael Ochs)

Outside of his arrangement and recording skills, one of late producer George Martin’s greatest talents was taking the Beatles’ ambitious, often psychedelic concepts and making them into reality. It was particularly challenging when it came to the abstract ideas of John Lennon, whom Martin called an “aural Salvador Dalí.” Unlike Paul McCartney, who could generally offer concrete suggestions for his sounds, Lennon would speak of colors and sensations, which Martin somehow managed to translate to tape. In the wake of Martin’s passing, Vulture looks back at the many times he turned Lennon’s far-out ideas into musical legend.

“The First Feedback Ever Recorded”

The beginning five seconds of the Beatles’ 1964 single “I Feel Fine” contains nothing but a thick buzzing, which was actually feedback from a guitar Lennon left leaning up against his amp. Martin agreed to keep the accidental noise in, years before ax men like Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend would incorporate the screeches and howls in their songs. “That’s me, including the guitar lick with the first feedback ever recorded,” Lennon told Playboy in 1980. “I defy anybody to find an earlier record … unless it is some old blues record from the ’20s … with feedback on it.”


“Something Baroque-Sounding”

For the poignant Rubber Soul track “In My Life,” Lennon knew he needed something unique for the instrumental section in the middle. As usual, his instructions to Martin were vague, telling the producer he wanted “something Baroque-sounding.” Martin composed a piano solo but, thanks to his limitations with the instrument, couldn’t play it quickly enough to match the song’s pace. Rather than bring in another musician, Martin decided to experiment with the studio’s technology, recording the solo at half-tempo and speeding up the tape to make it fit, inadvertently giving the piano the sound of a harpsichord.


“Thousands of Monks Chanting”

As the Beatles got more into drugs and the burgeoning hippie movement, Lennon composed his most ambitious song yet, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” for 1966’s Revolver, interpreting lyrics from The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, and Ralph Metzner. Lennon’s dream sound for the droning album closer? “I’d imagined in my head that in the background you would hear thousands of monks chanting. That was impractical of course and we did something different.” Instead, Martin ran Lennon’s vocals through a rotating Leslie speaker, though Lennon pondered the possibility of being hung upside down from the ceiling and being spun around a microphone to get a similar effect. He and the rest of the group also used the innovative techniques of playing certain instrumental tracks in reverse and looping tapes to create surreal background noises, such as Paul McCartney’s laugh being tweaked into the sound of a seagull.


“Just Join Them Together”

After Revolver, Lennon continued his boundary-pushing writing, penning the nostalgic “Strawberry Fields Forever” about his Liverpool childhood, ultimately recording two distinct versions of it. The first, featuring just the band’s sparser electric instruments, came out a little too brash for his tastes, but the second, with the more dramatic addition of strings and horns, also didn’t fully live up to his standards. According to Martin’s 1979 memoir, All You Need Is Ears, he made an offhand comment to Lennon about splitting hairs, leading the Beatle to suggest splicing the two takes together — “Why don’t we just join them together?” Martin balked, telling Lennon that the takes were in different tempos and keys, but Lennon insisted, saying he knew the producer could tackle the problem. “John always left this kind of thing to me,” Martin wrote. “He never professed to know anything about recording. He was the least technical of the Beatles.” Challenge accepted, Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick adjusted the tracks’ speeds to make their pitches match and, using a pair of editing scissors, spliced the tapes together around the one-minute mark to make one of the Beatles’ most-loved songs. “That is how ‘Strawberry Fields’ was issued, and that is how it remains today — two recordings,” wrote Martin.

“Inject My Voice”

In order to get a beefier bass sound for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band title track, Martin and his team had McCartney plug his instrument directly into their studio console, a now-common but then-pioneering tactic. Lennon loved the sound so much that he wondered if they could do the same for his vocals. “John came up to the control room one day and asked if we could possibly inject his voice directly into the console,” engineer Geoff Emerick said, according to Ultimate Classic Rock. “George replied, ‘Yes, if you go and have an operation. It means sticking a jack-plug into your neck!'”


“Smell the Sawdust”

Based on an old poster he owned, Lennon wrote “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” and asked Martin to help him evoke the sights, sounds, and smells of a carnival, with his usual vague ideas. “He’d make whooshing noises and try to describe what only he could hear in his head, saying he wanted a song ‘to sound like an orange,'” Martin recalled in Mark Lewisohn’s 1988 book The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. “John had said that he wanted to ‘smell the sawdust on the floor,’ wanted to taste the atmosphere of the circus.” Martin took recordings of old Victorian steam organs and told Emerick to cut the tapes into small pieces, toss them in the air, then reassemble them at random and include them in the song to re-create the cacophony of a circus.


“A Chicken Cluck”

For no discernible reason, Lennon’s upbeat, soulful “Good Morning, Good Morning” is, excuse the pun, peppered throughout with the sounds of dogs and farm animals. Seeking to make the album flow seamlessly, Martin stumbled on the perfect solution to bridge the gap between “Good Morning” and the “Sgt. Pepper’s” reprise. “Imagine my delight when I discovered that the sound of a chicken cluck at the end of ‘Good Morning’ was remarkably like the guitar sound at the beginning of ‘Sergeant Pepper,'” he wrote in All You Need Is Ears. “I was able to cut and mix the two tracks in such a way that the one actually turned into the other.”


“Like the End of the World”

While working on “A Day in the Life,” the final Sgt. Pepper’s song, the Beatles and Martin were at a loss for how to fill in the 24 bars that close it out. “As always, it was a matter of my trying to get inside his mind, discover what pictures he wanted to paint and then try to realize them for him,” Martin wrote of Lennon in Ears. “He said, ‘What I’d like to hear is a tremendous build-up, from nothing up to something absolutely like the end of the world.” Martin hired a 40-piece orchestra and gave them an improvised score to create the grand dissonance, while the band invited a number of friends, include several Rolling Stones and Marianne Faithfull, to the session, and kept the mood loose by giving the orchestra members gag props to wear, such as fake nipples and gorilla-paw gloves. McCartney then convinced Martin to add in another couple strange bits to close out the LP after the final piano chord faded. The first is a high-pitched noise set at a frequency where only dogs can hear it, followed by a sampling of random studio chatter that originally appeared on the vinyl LP’s run-off groove. Some fans claimed that if they played the gibberish backward, they heard a random, hidden obscene phrase. “Well, with a huge stretch of the imagination, I supposed it did, but that was certainly never intended,” Martin said.

“Some Weird Noises”

After learning that an English teacher from his old high school was having students analyze his lyrics, Lennon wrote “I Am the Walrus,” just for the sake of writing something so surreal and confusing that people wouldn’t be able to decipher it. Martin was flummoxed, recalling the sessions in a 2013 interview with Rock Cellar magazine: “When I first heard that he just stood in front of me with a guitar and sang it through. But it was weird. I said to him, ‘What the hell am I going to do with this, John?’ And he said, ‘I’d like for you to do a score and use some brass and some strings and some weird noises. You know the kind of thing I want.’ But I didn’t but I mean I just went away and did that.” And that’s how the Magical Mystery Tour single — with its acid-influenced references to Lewis Carroll, Ginsberg, schoolyard rhymes, and King Lear — came to fruition


“A Picture in Sound”

“Revolution 9,” the divisive avant-garde collage from The White Album, is easily the weirdest thing the Beatles ever released. In a 1971 interview with Melody Maker, Martin took credit for much of the song’s oddities: “It was just an extension of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows,’ a similar kind of thing with various tapes, and I guess this was largely influenced by Yoko, because it was her kind of scene. But again I was painting a picture in sound, and if you sat in front of the speakers you just lost yourself in stereo. All sorts of things are happening in there: you can see people running all over the place and fires burning, it was real imagery in sound. It was funny in places too, but I suppose it went on a bit long.” Lennon took umbrage with these comments, as well as some in which the producer criticized his solo work, and wrote directly to the interviewer. “When people ask me questions about ‘What did George Martin really do for you?,’ I have only one answer, ‘What does he do now?’ I noticed you had no answer for that! It’s not a putdown, it’s the truth,” he said, before adding, “For Martin to state that he was ‘painting a sound picture’ is pure hallucination. Ask any of the other people involved. The final editing Yoko and I did alone (which took four hours).” According to Rolling Stone, a calmer Lennon later took it all back, saying, “George Martin made us what we were in the studio. He helped us develop a language to talk to other musicians.”


Flow Hives for Bees



Raising backyard bees may help prevent colony collapse disorder—and you get delicious honey. But first-time beekeeping can be daunting. So Cedar and Stuart Anderson, an Australian father-son beekeeping team, designed the FLOW Hive, a wooden box that drips the sweet stuff from spigots into jars, letting you fret less about the mess of extracting honey and focus more on tending to your bees’ health. $699,

Less labour, more love

Turn the Flow™ Key and watch as pure, fresh honey flows right out of the hive and into your jar.

No mess, no fuss, no heavy lifting, and no expensive processing equipment.

Through the clear end-frame view, you can see when the honey is ready without opening up the hive.

The extraction process is so gentle, the bees barely notice at all.

Our revolutionary Flow system makes the extraction process far less stressful for the bees and so much easier for the beekeeper.

We are now open for pre-orders of Flow™ Hives and Frames. Enter the shop here.

Study links bee decline to cell phones



By  Sasha Herriman, CNN

London, England (CNN) — A new study has suggested that cell phone radiation may be contributing to declines in bee populations in some areas of the world.

Bee populations dropped 17 percent in the UK last year, according to the British Bee Association, and nearly 30 percent in the United States says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Parasitic mites called varroa, agricultural pesticides and the effects of climate change have all been implicated in what has been dubbed “colony collapse disorder” (CCD).

But researchers in India believe cell phones could also be to blame for some of the losses.

In a study at Panjab University in Chandigarh, northern India, researchers fitted cell phones to a hive and powered them up for two fifteen-minute periods each day.

After three months, they found the bees stopped producing honey, egg production by the queen bee halved, and the size of the hive dramatically reduced.

It’s not just the honey that will be lost if populations plummet further. Bees are estimated to pollinate 90 commercial crops worldwide. Their economic value in the UK is estimated to be $290 million per year and around $12 billion in the U.S.

Andrew Goldsworthy, a biologist from the UK’s Imperial College, London, has studied the biological effects of electromagnetic fields. He thinks it’s possible bees could be affected by cell phone radiation.

The reason, Goldsworthy says, could hinge on a pigment in bees called cryptochrome.

“Animals, including insects, use cryptochrome for navigation,” Goldsworthy told CNN.

“They use it to sense the direction of the earth’s magnetic field and their ability to do this is compromised by radiation from [cell] phones and their base stations. So basically bees do not find their way back to the hive.”

Goldsworthy has written to the UK communications regulator OFCOM suggesting a change of phone frequencies would stop the bees being confused.

“It’s possible to modify the signal coming from the [cell] phones and the base station in such a way that it doesn’t produce the frequencies that disturb the cryptochrome molecules,” Goldsworthy said.

“So they could do this without the signal losing its ability to transmit information.”

But the UK’s Mobile Operators Association — which represents the UK’s five mobile network operators — told CNN: “Research scientists have already considered possible factors involved in CCD and have identified the areas for research into the causes of CCD which do not include exposure to radio waves.”

Norman Carreck, Scientific director of the International Bee research Association at the UK’s University of Sussex says it’s still not clear how much radio waves affect bees.

“We know they are sensitive to magnetic fields. What we don’t know is what use they actually make of them. And no one has yet demonstrated that honey bees use the earth’s magnetic field when navigating,” Carreck said.



A lot of the things we do in everyday life don’t need to involve our conscious mind. In many cases, the more we use it, the less effective we become

If you don’t think the act of stacking and shuffling a set of cups could boggle your mind, watch the video below. In it, neuroscientist David Eagleman introduces 10-year-old Austin Naber – a world record-holding, champion cup stacker. Naber moves the cups around at a blistering pace and when Eagleman has a go at keeping up with him, the difference in skill and speed becomes immediately apparent.

“He smoked me,” Eagleman admits. “But the bigger point is that when I’m doing it, it’s my first time cup stacking. It’s all conscious for me, I’m burning a lot of energy trying to figure out the rules; how the cups balance.”

Both Eagleman and Naber had their brain activity monitored via an electroencephalogram (EEG). The difference was stark. Eagleman’s brain was firing on all cylinders, but Naber’s barely flinched – despite the pace at which he was moving.

“His brain was much more serene than mine because he had automised his behaviour,” explains Eagleman. Hours a day of practice had internalised the behaviour of cup stacking for Naber, making it far less mentally taxing. What other things can our brains get up to without conscious intervention?

The reason you practise sports over and over again is so you get really good at automising your action – David Eagleman

It’s a question that Eagleman explored in a PBS television series that aired recently on BBC4 in the UK. The non-conscious mind, he says, plays a much deeper role in our everyday decisions and relationships than we might realise.

(Credit: Getty Images)

Austin Naber is able to stack cups without his conscious mind really registering the task 

You’re already aware of the fact that breathing and organ functions are things we do “automatically”, but there are lots of other examples.

Take the experience of hitting a ball with a bat. It takes a ball travelling close to 100mph (160km/h) just a few hundred milliseconds to reach the hitter. It’s so fast that it’s not possible to consciously register the trajectory of the ball and one’s response to it. It’s only after hitting the ball, indeed, that we truly register what happened consciously.

“The reason you practise sports over and over again is so you get really good at automising your actions,” says Eagleman. “Thinking about them, naturally, slows you down.”

(Credit: Alamy)


Pro baseball players only have a few milliseconds to react to a ball, far too little for their conscious mind to contend with.

The non-conscious mind also plays a role in more sophisticated actions, whether it’s deciding on attraction to the opposite sex, completing mathematical sums or forming political views. There are even strange cases where people who are ostensibly blind can ‘see’, thanks to the non-conscious part of their minds: a phenomenon known as blindsight.

“There is debate in the field about whether consciousness even has efficacy,” says Eagleman. “By the time your conscious mind registers something, is it always just the last guy to get the news, and it doesn’t even matter what it thinks?”

Indeed, designers and advertisers have known how to control our non-conscious decisions for centuries. By using subtle cues designed to bypass conscious awareness, they can “trick” us so that we drive more safely, navigate cities in ways we do not realise and even drink more alcohol at the bar.

David Eagleman believes the conscious mind is often the “smallest bit of what’s happening in your head”

Yet now that neuroscientists are exploring the influence of our non-conscious actions, they may also be able to suggest ways to improve our lives. For example, one question that Eagleman is exploring in his current research is the extent to which the conscious versus the non-conscious mind plays a role in addictions to drugs like cocaine. It’s early unpublished research, but the hope is that by training addicts to be more consciously aware of their cravings, they might gain better control over them.

Our conscious minds are really just a summary of what our brains get up to all the time

The more we probe the brain’s workings, the more we realise that our conscious minds are really just a summary of what our brains get up to all the time – without “us” having any idea. As Eagleman puts it, “The conscious you, which is the part that flickers to life when you wake up in the morning, is the smallest bit of what’s happening in your head.

“It’s like a broom closet in the mansion of the brain.”



Marijuana background

Black Americans were disproportionately targeted in the “war on drugs.” Now state laws and steep regulatory costs have left them far more likely to be shut out of America’s profitable marijuana boom


Legal Weed Has A Race Problem

When Colorado’s first medical marijuana dispensaries opened in 2009, Unique Henderson was psyched. He’d been smoking weed since he was 15, and he’d even learned how to grow, from his ex-girlfriend’s father. He spent $750 on classes about how to run a cannabis business, and then he and a friend both applied to work at a Denver pot shop.

Then only his friend was hired. Henderson was more than qualified, so why didn’t he get the gig? His friend asked the managers and came back with infuriating news: Henderson was not allowed to work in the legal cannabis industry because he had been caught twice with a joint’s worth of pot as a teenager back in Oklahoma, and as a result he has two drug possession felonies on his record.

For most jobs, experience will help you get ahead. In the marijuana industry, it’s not that simple. Yes, investors and state governments are eager to hire and license people with expertise in how to cultivate, cure, trim, and process cannabis. But it can’t be someone who got caught. Which for the most part means it can’t be someone who is black.

Even though research shows people of all races are about equally likely to have broken the law by growing, smoking, or selling marijuana, black people are much more likely to have been arrested for it. Black people are much more likely to have ended up with a criminal record because of it. And every state that has legalized medical or recreational marijuana bans people with drug felonies from working at, owning, investing in, or sitting on the board of a cannabis business. After having borne the brunt of the “war on drugs,” black Americans are now largely missing out on the economic opportunities created by legalization.

For most jobs, experience will help you get ahead. In the marijuana industry, it’s not that simple.

“It really does piss me off,” Henderson said. His friend still works at that dispensary, and makes a lot more money than Henderson does. “And to see a lot of people come to Colorado to work in weed, that pisses me off even more. They’re coming here, living comfortable, and it’s like, I could be doing the same thing, but I can’t, because of my past with marijuana.”

Nobody keeps official statistics on race and cannabis business ownership. But based on more than 150 interviews with dispensary owners, industry insiders, and salespeople who interact with a lot of pot shops, it appears that fewer than three dozen of the 3,200 to 3,600 storefront marijuana dispensaries in the United States are owned by black people — about 1%.

At this rare and decisive moment in American history, state governments are literally handing control of a multibillion-dollar industry to a chosen few, creating wealth overnight. The pot trade has long been open to anyone with some seeds and some hustle, so there are more than enough cannabis experts out there to form a truly diverse industry — if only the laws weren’t systematically preventing thousands of qualified black people from participating.

Even without a criminal record, black people looking to get involved in legal weed face major obstacles. Sarah Cross, the chief operating officer of Green Rush Consulting, estimated that it takes at least a quarter of a million dollars to start a legal marijuana business. After centuries of systemic discrimination in housing, employment, and education, black Americans are far less likely to have or be able to raise that kind of money. Small business loans are out of the question, because banks are insured by federal agencies, and the federal government still considers cannabis illegal.

Henderson was caught as a teenager with less than an eighth. Now, he is barred from participating in the marijuana industry. Jessica Sample for BuzzFeed News

Legalizing marijuana sounds revolutionary, but with every day that passes, the same class of rich white men that control all other industries are tightening their grip on this one, snatching up licenses and real estate and preparing for a windfall. First-mover advantage, they call it. That means that anyone who doesn’t make the risky leap to violate federal law and get involved now will miss out, forever. In a few years, when the land grab is over, the cannabis industry may become just another example in America’s never-ending cycle of racially motivated economic injustices.

Legalization is beginning to snowball, pushed forward by popular demand. Twenty-three states now have medical marijuana; four and Washington, D.C., permit recreational use; and an additional 16 allow non-psychoactive forms of the cannabis plant. Public support for marijuana legalization has more than doubled over the past 20 years, hitting a recent high of 58%, while support for keeping nonviolent drug offenders locked up for a long time has been cut in half, to a low of 23%.

In theory, those shifts in public opinion sound connected: Americans no longer consider smoking crack or growing a handful of marijuana plants to be crimes worthy of half a lifetime in prison. But in practice, the legalization of cannabis and the drawdown of the war on drugs are not related. No existing marijuana law tries to account for or acknowledge the harm prohibition has done to communities of color. Cannabis legalization campaign workers are told to never mention race. News anchors talk about pot with a smirk, illustrated by photographs of white college kids getting high, and rarely mention criminal justice reform in the same breath. They are separate policies, carried out by separate laws, with little consideration given to how one might affect the other.

The few black people who have managed to start cannabis businesses or apply for licenses have sometimes found themselves subject to discriminatory law enforcement. They’ve been followed by the stigma that black people who sell pot are dangerous criminals and white people who do the same are goofy hippies.

But until the history of legalization is set in stone, black entrepreneurs still have a shot. Many refuse to be excluded.

Rupert Smissen for BuzzFeed News

The Distributor drives his cash to the pot farms up north in the middle of the night so the California Highway Patrol won’t notice that he is black and pull him over. Every few weeks he’ll rent a car, put his two youngest children to bed, and then slip out of his home in a wealthy suburb of Southern California. Once he merges onto the I-5 freeway, he’s just another isolated pod hurtling forward in the darkness toward the parched farms of the Central Valley.

It’s been over two decades since he started buying and selling pot for a living, but to his neighbors, the Distributor looks like a boring golf dad in his fifties, his nightclub bouncer’s frame muted by soft but tailored grays and plaids. Caught standing at the edge of his driveway, he’ll maneuver the conversation into neutral territory: the children, the weather, the weekend. His eyes are attentive, his expression reserved.

He came to Los Angeles from the Caribbean in his twenties. It was the late 1980s, and all of the people he knew from back home were selling crack. The Distributor had never broken a law, had never even smoked pot before, and had wanted to find work as a mechanic. But the more time passed, the harder it became to resist his friends’ promises of easy cash. He worried about returning to the poverty of his childhood. “You watch your parents, and they try to farm this small patch of land, and it still keep them in poverty, so you look at it and you think, if you do the same, your life is not going to change,” he recalled over lunch last fall.

Pretty soon he was selling crack, too. He found a girlfriend, had a daughter, and hoped that if he saved enough money she would have more opportunities than he’d had. Within a few years, he got arrested, and the seriousness of the consequences caught him by surprise. He’d had no idea that the prison sentence for possession or sale of crack cocaine was a hundred times longer than for powder cocaine. It’s the same stuff, he remembers thinking. He did some research and changed his strategy.

“When I do the math, I’m like, OK, marijuana is a better business, dollar for dollar, and it’s less harmful,” he said. “Crystal meth, cocaine, rock cocaine, heroin — those are the top priorities for law enforcement. Marijuana, they go after you, but it’s still less, so I decide to choose the lesser evil.”

“The only thing I do is sell marijuana … Other crime? I don’t do shit. I try not to even jaywalk.”

When he went to prison on the crack charge, his daughter was starting elementary school, and he worried about whether his girlfriend would push and encourage her enough during his absence.

“When I try to say, ‘OK, we gonna make education the main priority, this is what we about,’ she couldn’t understand it,” he said. The Distributor told his girlfriend that if she was still on welfare when he got out, he would leave her. She was, and he did.

By the mid-’90s, he had settled into the weed trade, buying from the Mexican cartels and shipping pounds all over the country. Over the years he stopped working with guys who were flashy, who liked to spend a lot at the club.

He stopped carrying a gun over a decade ago, and he won’t work with people who do. “Gun have only one purpose, and it’s to kill,” he said. “If you are in a very heated argument and you have a gun, you’ll shoot them, but if you don’t have a gun, the both of you go home.” He’s been living with the same woman for 10 years, and they have two children he hopes to put through Ivy League schools. He is sick of flinching every time he hears a siren or a helicopter.

“I’m not self-righteous,” he said. “The only thing I do is sell marijuana. And how I do it, I don’t short people. I don’t set up people, trap people. I do stuff straight-up. I try to do the business as best as I can. Other crime? I don’t do shit. I try not to even jaywalk.”

When he turns on the TV and sees white businessmen from Colorado or Oregon giving tours of warehouses full of weed, he thinks, Why can’t I be like that? He wants to have a legitimate, legal job, pay taxes, make chitchat at Parent-Teacher Association meetings. He wants desperately to join the Green Rush.

Cherry Pie, sativa indica blend. One pound. Jessica Sample for BuzzFeed News

The Distributor first tried going legit five years ago, when he saw on the news that Los Angeles had nearly 1,400 pot shops. Someone put him in touch with a lawyer in Beverly Hills who said for $60,000 he could get a permit to run a dispensary. “Then we found out he took a lot of $60,000 from other people, and basically just ripped them off,” he said.

There was no such thing as a permit. The growers, the pot shop owners — everyone was just seeing what they could get away with, and everyone was on tenuous legal ground. That Beverly Hills lawyer was just taking advantage of the chaos.

Although California was the first state to legalize marijuana, in 1996, the industry there developed without regulations, licenses, or oversight. Getting a doctor’s recommendation for pot is about as easy and as time-consuming as getting a haircut. But all of the moving parts that bring cannabis from seed to bong — farms, delivery services, concentrate processors — have never been protected and regulated under state law. Every single marijuana business in California is taking a legal risk. All of the state’s pot entrepreneurs are operating on the gray or black market, constantly looking over their shoulders, just like the Distributor.

At the same time, pot has been only an occasional priority for California cops and Drug Enforcement Administration agents, and a few cities have permitted its sale. So now there is a huge and well-funded but unsanctioned marijuana industry in the Golden State. This has amounted to a prolonged period of chaos, with consumers assuming pot is basically legal while everyone who works with weed lives in fear of SWAT team raids, frozen bank accounts, and criminal charges.

Los Angeles, where the Distributor had thought he might be able to buy a permit and start a dispensary, does not have local licensing, but the size, agility, and spending power of the industry there has overwhelmed city officials, making it impossible to shut down every single illegal shop.

After giving up on the lawyer in Beverly Hills, the Distributor still wanted to figure out how to operate legally, but he didn’t know how to find a lawyer he could trust. And in any case, he began to notice that nearly everyone going legit — registering as a marijuana business, filing taxes, and operating out of a storefront — was white, and everyone he worked with on the underground market was black or Mexican. He’d had occasional legal troubles since his felony. As much as he wanted to turn his operation into a real business, he decided that until the rules got clearer, trying to be a law-abiding citizen was just too dangerous.

Gray areas like these have always been ripe for racially biased law enforcement. In Mendocino County, where the Distributor buys most of his pot, black people were 10 times more likely to get arrested for pot crimes than white people in 2014. This is why, when it comes time to move pounds down to Southern California, the Distributor seals the weed into smell-proof containers, labels it like it’s tea, and hires a white driver.

Lauren Vazquez, who spent nearly a decade as a cannabis defense lawyer in California and is now the deputy director of communications at the Marijuana Policy Project, told BuzzFeed News that because of the legal ambiguities in California, only a certain type of person there — mostly young, white, and male — has felt comfortable conducting marijuana business visible to the public.

He decided that until the rules got clearer, trying to be a law-abiding citizen was just too dangerous.

“It’s the people who push the limits, and those people are privileged people with resources and the ability to take risks,” Vazquez said. “Based on the color of your skin, the risk is exponentially different.Even if you accept the risk of getting caught, if you’re a person of color, the consequences could be so much more severe.”

Although 2.5 million black people live in California — more than in all the states that have legalized recreational marijuana combined — you don’t see many of them sitting on panels at cannabis conferences or weighing in on the latest marijuana court case in the Los Angeles Times.

Over the past few years, the Distributor watched with growing anticipation as a majority of the country came to see the folly of incarcerating addicts and nonviolent drug offenders for long periods of time. He watched CNN and Fox News. He listened, breathless, to former Attorney General Eric Holder’s speech to the American Bar Association in August 2013, when he announced a plan to shift the focus of the criminal justice system away from nonviolent drug crimes.

Colorado and Washington had just legalized recreational weed, and the Distributor took Holder’s speech to mean that marijuana would soon be an acceptable business. “That’s the top lawman!” he said. “I was like, OK, he is not going after the dispensary like that. I want to be a part of that, then.

Instead, as the Department of Justice reaffirmed in a memo released later that month, cannabis business owners in states that lacked a well-regulated system — language aimed rather pointedly at California — would still be considered criminals, subject to prosecution and seizure of their property and cash. Even after Congress passed a spending bill in 2014 that said no federal money could be used to target medical marijuana operators, the raids in California continued.

Still, the Distributor tried to do what he could. A year ago, he decided he was fed up with the violence and the greed of the Mexican cartels, and he and an associate, a man with a gold tooth, made a trip to Northern California. He and the man with the gold tooth found a few people who could hook them up with some pot, and even though those farmers were also technically operating illegally, the Distributor felt like keeping his dollars in America constituted progress.

Shortly after he got back from that first drive up north, he found out that his oldest daughter, now a nurse, had eloped. The Distributor has never told her what he does for a living, but he checks in regularly and has high expectations for her life and career. Last April, he went to meet her and her new husband for dinner.

The Distributor’s new son-in-law is also from the Caribbean, and he guessed the Distributor’s occupation immediately. “He appear to be stern and serious, like a rude boy. Like a gangster,” the son-in-law later said. “When he came in, I thought he just had a walk, like a bump, you know.”

The son-in-law is smaller than the Distributor, his body more compact. At some point in the evening, when they were alone for a few moments, the Distributor asked him what he did for a living.

“Marijuana,” the son-in-law said. “I move marijuana.”

The Distributor turned slowly to face his daughter’s new husband. Here was the man who was supposed to represent all of the comfort and stability he wanted for his oldest child. Here, after a quarter century in this country, was the sum total of all he had accomplished. He looked his son-in-law up and down — T-shirt, gold chain, glittering earring — and then he spoke.

“This is bullshit.”

Quasi-legal marijuana dispensaries in Venice, California Alamy, AP (2)

In September, everything changed. The Distributor remembers exactly where he was when it happened: smoking a joint in his friend’s car, shortly before midnight on a Friday. They’d been listening to the radio, waiting to see how the California legislature would vote on a landmark set of bills regulating the medical cannabis industry. He took another hit, adjusted the volume, and suddenly his world shifted. The bills had passed. Licenses and regulations were coming to California. He would now be able to leave the life of a criminal behind.

Gov. Jerry Brown hadn’t even signed the legislation yet, and the radio had said the rules wouldn’t go into effect until 2018, but the Distributor was flush with excitement. This was his moment. The next morning, he went online looking for what he should do next and discovered there was going to be a cannabis industry party that week in Los Angeles.

But he couldn’t get any of the 25 or so guys he works with to go with him. They were all too scared. “Even when you’re going to say, ‘OK, everyone can go legal,’ do blacks really believe that?” he said. “Do Hispanics really believe that? When they criminalize people, and especially when you go through that fight of being a criminal so long, you telling me they just going to wave a wand and the transition just come and we accept it and trust you? You put fear in these people for hundreds of years. It going to take time.”

Persistent racial disparities in marijuana arrests, convictions, and sentencing are no accident. In the 1930s, Federal Bureau of Narcotics Director Harry Anslinger petitioned Congress to make cannabis illegal by saying things like “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men” and claiming most users were “Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers.”

Ever since, smoking pot, like loitering or neglecting to use a turn signal, has become yet another crime that black and brown people are far more likely to be caught and punished for than white people.

Since emancipation, white supremacists have portrayed black people as inherently criminal in order to justify unequal protection under the law, police and mob-led brutality, prison labor, and racially biased discrimination in housing, education, and employment. As soon as race-based crime statistics became available at the end of the 19th century, they were misinterpreted as reflecting the reality of who actually committed more crimes rather than who was being arrested.

In this racist worldview, black people were akin to animals, and therefore unable to control their impulses, especially when it came to sex, violence, and intoxication. Leaders of the Prohibition movement argued that alcohol caused black men to rape white women and therefore should be illegal. The media amplified incidents that tied marijuana not only to blacks and Latinos but also to crime, homicide, and insanity. “Mexican, Crazed by Marihuana, Runs Amuck With Butcher Knife,” blared one 1925 headline in the New York Times. “A marijuana-crazed Negro went berserk in a crowded express train,” began another story, from 1939.

People tend to think it was the crack epidemic of the late 1980s that launched the war on drugs. But as the lawyer and civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander argues in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, the initial drive for a more punitive drug policy came from white segregationists, who began shifting their anti–civil rights rhetoric in the 1950s and 1960s from direct appeals about the inferiority of black people to racially motivated calls for the need to crack down on drugs and crime.

“Most blacks don’t trust the system. The system never helped them. By the time this irons itself out, you’re going to have like 94% of it owned by whites.”

Both the beginnings of the war on drugs in the early 1970s and the increasingly harsh narcotics penalties passed in the 1980s and 1990s galvanized a strange confluence of groups with differing motivations: conservatives, who argued for a harsh response to drug addiction and crime; liberals, who were eager to show that government could cure violence and addiction; and many black people, who were disproportionately suffering from the violence of the drug trade, thanks in part to the discriminatory housing policies that forced all of the black people in a city to share the same space.

Black leaders who backed the war on drugs also worried that all of the television specials and newspaper articles focusing on black addicts, specifically, would endanger the advances of the civil rights movement. But as it turned out, strict drug-sentencing laws would lead to more black people being in the carceral system in 2008 than were enslaved in 1850. At every stage of marijuana’s history in the United States, from reefer madness scares to the war on drugs, and now even piecemeal legalization, black Americans have suffered disproportionately: stereotyped as justifications for prohibition, targeted for arrest, and now, finally, excluded in many ways from the Green Rush.

For the Distributor, this history is a taunt, daring him to succeed. He understood why his friends didn’t want to come with him to the cannabis industry party in Los Angeles after the new legislation passed in September, but he also knew why he had to be there. “Most blacks don’t trust the system, because the system never helped them,” he said. “But by the time all of this irons itself out, you’re going to have like 94% of it owned by whites.”

Only one person was bold enough to go to the industry event with him: his son-in-law. A month after they’d met, the Distributor called his daughter’s new husband and said, “If you’re gonna be doing this, best we work together.” Over the summer, the two made regular trips up north, giving the Distributor plenty of time in the car to try to convince his son-in-law to go back to school. By September, they had reached a tentative friendship, and they arrived at the party eager to learn together.

The place was packed. A lot of major players were there, in town for one of dozens of marijuana business conferences that sprang up in the past two years to cater to those looking to make money off of marijuana legalization. The Distributor and his son-in-law made their way past a white lobbyist in a suit passing a joint to a white dispensary owner in a hoodie. White guys in stained T-shirts tried to avoid bumping their bellies against white Hollywood bros and white women in blazers. The Distributor and his son-in-law sized people up and tried to make friends while remaining elusive. They said they were visiting from the Caribbean, that they were father and son, that they were uncle and nephew.

“They were extremely closed-mouthed,” said Cara Luhring, a cheerful entrepreneur who had driven up from San Diego. “It was pretty much me giving them all of my information. My impression was they could not believe there was a cannabis conference going on in downtown L.A. They seemed so flabbergasted.”

Finally, after a few more drinks, the Distributor told a white partygoer a little more about who he was and why he had come, and asked what exactly he was supposed to be doing now that the bills had passed.

“The first thing is you need to get yourself a lawyer,” the white partygoer said. “I know a good one, in Beverly Hills.”

A few weeks after the party, the Distributor told his son-in-law to meet him in Santa Monica on a Saturday morning for a meeting of the L.A. chapter of the California Growers Association. The son-in-law got there first, a friend in tow. The Distributor and the man with the gold tooth arrived 30 minutes later to find about 50 people in metal chairs listening to a third-generation white pot farmer named Hezekiah Allen reviewing the 17 types of licenses offered by the new laws.

Allen, who is tall and thick with hair the color of a camel, had helped negotiate the new legislation in Sacramento, on behalf of cannabis businesses. His group was down in L.A. offering this free seminar on the details of the bills in the hopes of showing people like the Distributor how to transition. To make the new system work, the state has about three years to convince as many gray and black market operators as possible — about 100,000 people — to apply for licenses, follow the rules, submit to inspections, and stop sending cannabis out of state.

Most of the people on the cultivation and transportation side of California’s marijuana industry have at some point sent or are currently sending marijuana to other parts of the country, because the price of a pound is much higher on the black market (about $2,000) than on the dispensary market (as low as $900). A few cannabis farmers told BuzzFeed News that they estimate conforming to the new regulations will involve giving up 30–50% of their profits. Many won’t be able to afford the up-front expenses of getting up to code, and many remain wary of the government.

The key question, then, is how many operators will, like the Distributor, do everything in their power to make the transition, and how many will be allowed to: A lot of marijuana business owners have criminal records. At the California Growers Association meeting, one of the first questions was about what will happen to people with drug felonies.

“This was the trickiest subject,” Allen said. “We could not agree with law enforcement.” For now, he explained, California plans to decide whether drug felons like the Distributor can participate in the medical market on a case-by-case basis. Only those deemed “rehabilitated” will be able to get a license.

The Distributor’s face didn’t move.

“White males tend to do better when it’s subjective,” Allen continued, “so we would like to see a 10-year sunset on any conviction.” That’s what a few other states do: let drug felons who finished the supervised release period after their sentences over 10 years ago work in the cannabis industry. A few others allow those with cannabis felonies the chance to convince the licensing board their conviction was for a “reasonable” amount of pot used only for medical purposes.

California plans to decide whether drug felons like the Distributor can participate in the medical market on a case-by-case basis. Only those deemed “rehabilitated” will be able to get a license.

Last year, Oregon made it easier to get past cannabis convictions expunged from people’s criminal records, partly with the goal of helping more people of color become eligible to participate in the recreational industry there. But attempts at giving anyone a leg up in the licensing process to account for past disparities have largely been unsuccessful. In Illinois, where people with drug felonies are not even allowed to be medical marijuana patients, the state gave a tiny boost to the licensing applications of minorities and women. But officials declined to say whether any of the applications that received the boost resulted in a license, as the records are not subject to disclosure laws. The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland fought for a much more significant boost, but the state attorney general struck it from the law, saying it could be justified only in an existing industry with documented disparities.

The most promising legal attempts to acknowledge the disproportionate effects of marijuana prohibition are written into the 2016 recreational-use ballot initiatives in Massachusetts and California, which allow all cannabis felons to participate in the industry. In a groundbreaking turn, both initiatives also offer the closest thing possible to reparations for the war on drugs: earmarking tax dollars from the industry for job training and other programs in the communities that have been most affected by past narcotics policies — language designed to avoid the legal complications of explicitly mentioning race.

But even if California’s recreational-use initiative passes in November, the medical market there will still exclude most drug felons, a situation that frustrates California NAACP President Alice Huffman.

“There are not many jobs out there for black folks,” she said. “There is an underground market for marijuana and a large part of our community participates in it. A lot of people in the inner city live on those drugs, and we don’t like to admit that.” Legalization, she said, “might be an opportunity for economic development for everyone in the community with a business mind.”

And yet many of the black people “with a business mind” who have tried to get involved in marijuana have already encountered the same racism and disproportionate policing as before pot became legal. BuzzFeed News spoke with over two dozen black cannabis entrepreneurs across the country and heard the same frustrations again and again: the secret decision-making that drives local politics, the unsavory euphemisms and selective application of existing law, and the maddening inability to distinguish bias from circumstance.

In Los Angeles, in 2008, when hundreds of dispensaries were being raided but reopening the following day, Virgil Grant was one of very few pot shop owners arrested by the DEA, charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana, and incarcerated for several years. One of his dispensaries was in Compton, where he had gotten his start selling weed.

BuzzFeed News

“On the black market, you can make way more than in the shop,” Grant said. “No taxes. No overhead. It took a lot to walk away from what I was making. I turned away from a lot of illegal business to do it right. I was staying legit and not breaking none of these rules because I don’t need no problems, and what do I get for following the rules? Seventy-two months in prison.”

In Berkeley, California, Chris Smith spent years fighting and failing to get local officials to recognize that his cannabis collective, Forty Acres, was just as legitimate as the three dispensaries that the city formally recognizes. “We’d go up there with a permit, and we’d slide it across the table, and they’d slide it right back at us,” Smith said.

In Olympia, Washington, in 2013, a boisterous dispensary owner and former gang member named Louis Johnson bought a building that had been operating as a medical marijuana farmers market. When Johnson proposed plans to add a smoking room, glass-blowing gallery, and performance space, the city council abruptly condemned the building and passed a one-year moratorium on pot businesses.

It was the fear of ending up like Grant, like Smith, like Johnson, that kept the Distributor underground for so long and made him half expect the police would break up the California Growers Association meeting and arrest everyone present.

No cops showed up, though, and after the meeting ended, the Distributor’s son-in-law started chatting with a white guy who said he could sell them some pounds. He and his friend and the Distributor and the man with the gold tooth all hopped into their cars and went to an apartment in Hollywood, where they found the white guy, five Mexican guys, and a giant bag of pot. Each Mexican was blocking an exit. The Distributor noticed one had a 9 mm tucked into his waistband.

“You know what, I’m leaving,” he said to his son-in-law, and he and the man with the gold tooth walked out. The son-in-law and his friend stayed.

It was around this time that the Distributor and his son-in-law stopped driving up north together.

Rupert Smissen for BuzzFeed News

Like the Distributor, Clark Metcalfe is in his mid-fifties and has been brokering black market drug deals for much of his life. He started selling pot in high school and, other than a few breaks, has been doing some version of that ever since. Fastidious and focused, in his black pants and black turtleneck, he resembles Steve Jobs, without the temper.

Metcalfe also doesn’t like guns. He also used to sell cocaine. He also holds himself to a high standard when doing business. And in 2015, he also decided to go legal. “Who wants to be underground and hiding?” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”

The difference is that Clark Metcalfe is white. And he’s not afraid. He has little reason to be. He’s never experienced any serious legal consequences for what he does. As a teen, he had to pay a $50 ticket for possession in Oregon. In his twenties, he got caught with 12 ounces of pot in New Mexico, but the judge said, “If you want, you could just go home tomorrow, and I won’t come look for you.” And then five years ago, in California, he got pulled over with five pounds on him. As soon as his lawyers got a chance to speak to the district attorney, they dropped the charges.

In the past year, Metcalfe has spent $100,000 marketing himself and his company, Cannabis Buyer, at trade show after trade show, where investors have swarmed because he has actual experience working with pot. For white people who have worked illegally with marijuana, this kind of attention from investors is typical. Several people told BuzzFeed News that collaboration between finance-minded people and people with experience on the black market can be key.

“The best teams are the ones that have both, that have somebody that really knows cannabis and somebody who really knows business and knows how to talk to investors,” said Troy Dayton, CEO of The ArcView Group, which holds forums where entrepreneurs with weed-related business ideas pitch wealthy individuals. Last year, ArcView investors gave $45 million to pot-related companies, most of which avoid legal risk by making apps or packaging or growing equipment. Of the 21 businesses ArcView has funded that work directly with marijuana, only seven will allow their names to be public. All of those seven are run by white people.

Metcalfe isn’t looking for investors, but he enjoys the privilege of speaking openly about the details of his operation. He is on LinkedIn as Cannabis Buyer. He gave a frank interview to the Wall Street Journal about pot back in 2009. And he has no qualms about telling BuzzFeed News that he regularly sends hash oil–filled vape pens to an employee in Chicago. “I just ship them to him. I don’t care,” he said. “I’m not worried about it.”

Metcalfe demands to be treated just like any other businessman. When Enterprise, the car rental company, abruptly changed his rates and asked him to return his vehicle, he assumed it was because of the word cannabis in his email signature. Few car rental companies would want their property used to traffic a Schedule I drug, but Metcalfe was outraged and called it discrimination. “That’s against the law!” he railed. (A spokesperson for Enterprise disputed Metcalfe’s version of events, saying, “We’re not sitting there evaluating people’s email addresses.”)

The overwhelming whiteness of the legal pot industry is even greater outside of states with relatively open markets, such as California and Michigan. In most states that allow the medical use of marijuana, a small, unelected commission determines who will receive a limited number of business licenses. With almost no oversight or transparency, the licensing has been rife with accusations of cronyism. At least six states and Washington, D.C., emphasize vague and coded qualifications like “character.”

If anything, these gatekeepers are enabling white people to easily transition from man on the corner to mogul in the corner office. At least six medical states restrict applications from people with drug felonies yet list cannabis expertise as a criterion for getting a license.

“I’d say a fair portion of the industry on the legal side, the guys that are really running what’s happening in cannabis now, started off on the dark side,” said Rob Hunt, a partner at Tuatara Capital, the private equity firm that manages Willie Nelson’s pot brand.

David Bruno, an architect of the failed 2015 legalization initiative in Ohio, told BuzzFeed News last fall that he had recently hired, for a cannabis-related company, someone who has a clean record but 20 years of experience growing weed illegally. Both Bruno and the man he hired are white. As for the many black marijuana growers who — in part because of discriminatory policing — did not escape that era with a clean record, Bruno has little sympathy.

“We’re not a nice society, and there’s not going to be reparations.”

“There’s not going to be a clean bill of health for anyone that was active and got caught,” Bruno said. “Those things are not going to happen. There’s a cost of reform and revolution. We’re not a nice society, and there’s not going to be reparations.”

Although Bruno’s group lost their bid to legalize pot in Ohio, many in the cannabis world consider their “ResponsibleOhio” campaign a watershed moment — the point at which the people who care about the civil rights implications of ending the war on drugs were overtaken by those who care about making money. ResponsibleOhio’s $25 million campaign was funded by private investors who would have, if the initiative had passed, controlled all of the pot cultivation in the state.

That kind of profit-driven plan would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, when the legalization movement was run by activists. But last year, control of California’s 2016 recreational-use ballot initiative was wrested from the advocacy organizations by tech billionaire Sean Parker. Amanda Reiman, the manager of marijuana law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, recently complained on Facebook about how all of the cannabis events she goes to these days are “old white businessmen orgies.”

That lack of diversity is evident in everything from the companies they choose to fund to the way they evaluate celebrity brands. “Rappers in particular, there’s a sort of stigma, and I don’t think that that carries much value,” said Gregg Schreiber, who left Wall Street last year to start Dune Road Group, which connects investors and private equity firms with cannabis companies.

“It’s probably a step up for some of these rappers to be associated with weed,” added his partner, David Baker.

For Metcalfe, who hopes to build an international cannabis distribution network, it’s simply a matter of whose operation deserves to survive the transition and whose does not. “Everybody wants protection from hoodlums and bad people, so if you can be vetted, that’s best,” he said.

He’s had some brushes with bad people in California’s unregulated market. A few years ago he got a call from a dispensary in L.A., looking for him to make a drop. When Metcalfe got there, a guy coldcocked him, broke his car window, grabbed a bag with two pounds of pot, and ran. Metcalfe’s head was bleeding, but he got in his car, knowing that the cops would be there soon.

“I got about two blocks and all hell broke lose. Helicopters, squad cars. When they started swooping in, I was at the freeway exit,” he said. Almost a week later, a cop left him a voicemail. They had surveillance footage. His panic had subsided, so he decided he was willing to talk.

“I called them back,” he said, “and they never returned the call.”


By the middle of November, when the Distributor took a trip up north to check in with his main supplier, things were looking up. He had taken several steps to show California that he is ready to comply with the new medical regulations, once they go into effect in 2018. He had filed for a business tax certificate. He was closing in on renting a warehouse space. He had finally persuaded the last of his friends that they, too, needed to prepare to apply for licenses. But he hadn’t been able to convince his son-in-law to go legal with him, let alone commit to going back to school.

The son-in-law, like many gray-area operators in California, decided that he was going to do as much business as possible in the next two years, and then most likely move on. “I don’t see marijuana becoming legal benefiting me, you know?” he said. He is working on using a white frontman to open a few dispensaries for him in Los Angeles, and will try apply for a license, but he doesn’t quite expect that to work out. “Open for a couple months, then close it,” he said. “Make what we make and then that’s that. I just want some fast money and then probably invest it in something.”

The Distributor was on the opposite track, seeking a sustainable, transparent business. On his way up to Mendocino, he decided to stop by Sacramento for a Cannabis Transportation Stakeholders meeting, hosted by the public agency that has been most enthusiastic about regulating marijuana: the Board of Equalization (BOE), which collects taxes. He wanted to see what the people in power were talking about when they talked about people like him.

“If you want your industry, help us keep the bad guys out.”

There were about 75 legislative staffers, lobbyists, and cannabis business owners in the room, almost all of whom were white. The question of the day was how to regulate the people who move weed around the state, and it didn’t take long for a theme to emerge.

“I talk to my law enforcement guys, and they say, ‘We need to be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys.’ And to me, that’s what this is about,” said George Runner, the vice chair of the BOE.

“We can pass whatever regulation we want or don’t want to, but that won’t stop the trafficking, so if you want your industry, help us keep the bad guys out,” said Diane Harkey, another member of the BOE.

“Despite the best efforts by a lot of people that are here today to do this in a legitimate manner, there still are quite a few people out there who are, for lack of a better term, drug dealers,” said Capt. Kevin Davis, of the California Highway Patrol.

The Distributor crossed his arms over his chest. He couldn’t shake the feeling that, considering there were no rules governing how cannabis should be moved around the state, the distinction between “good guy” and “bad guy” had more to do with skin color than with an ability to follow the law.

Then, a pugnacious man in high-waisted jeans strode down the center aisle. It was Barry Broad, the influential Teamsters lobbyist. The tone grew tense. Addressing someone who complained about the cost of following federal regulations for commercial drivers, Broad said, “You don’t want people’s loads hijacked, driving around the middle of the night … These drivers, they’re not going to be people who smoke marijuana.”

Once he was a few blocks away, the Distributor let his calm facade drop.

“Oh my god, are they serious?” he said. “Are those Teamster union for real serious? Like, they want a piece of this? Everybody want a part of this. Regulation, regulation, regulation, and more regulation, huh?”

He shook his head, overwhelmed, and lit a joint. He had come so far, and yet it would be at least two years before he could say he ran a legal business. He had so much left to do.

The Distributor got back in his car and drove a few more hours north. As soon as he got off the freeway, he was in pot country. Trails wove in and out of the base of the mountains. He took a side road, then another, and another. Finally he slowed down and pulled onto his supplier’s property, down what appeared to be a normal driveway but soon turned into a winding, slushy dirt road he shifted into manual to navigate. Up and down, around and around, over creeks and under sycamore trees and through gates, skidding past pickup trucks and luxury sedans and a collapsed shack. Half an hour later, he came to a clearing on a hilltop with a small hut surrounded by pine, oak, and piles of trash.

Two blonde children were playing in the trees. Weed was hanging from clotheslines, scattered on the ground, sitting out on card tables, heaped in plastic bags.

“Where’s your dad?” the Distributor said. The older child, a girl, hopped down from the branches, leading him to where her father, a white man in his thirties, was using a chainsaw to break up a fallen tree. The Supplier wore a dirty T-shirt and smelled like he didn’t believe in showers. Like many of the estimated 60,000 cannabis farmers living in Northern California’s Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity Counties, his parents were homesteaders who chased the dream of a simpler life into the mountains in the late 1970s.

“I’ve been around pot for my whole life pretty much,” he said. “We have our kids around it, and as far as what’s going on around here right now, I mean, the herb is super primo, and I think it’s, like, consistent and good in the market, but it’s not my best.”

Two mastiffs followed him back to the hut, patrolling a maze of black buckets, overturned mattresses, camping chairs, coolers, and other garbage. A few steps behind, the daughter said that she does a lot to help out. It’s her job to turn the generator on every night. A hundred feet away there was a trampoline, the kind surrounded by a wall of mesh, covered in sleeping bags.

The Supplier walked off to get something to smoke, and the Distributor quietly said, “If the blacks have their kids working in the marijuana industry from that type of age, you know what type of condemnation would come down on them?” He pursed his lips. “My kids, they never see me smoke. They never see me with money or marijuana.”

The Supplier came back with two kinds of pot, and the Distributor started rolling a joint. “Yeah, I went to Sacramento, went to this meeting, talking about transportation. How we gonna move this marijuana, how they gonna regulate it,” he said.

The Supplier was unimpressed. The Distributor had made an attempt to explain the new laws to him, but he had no interest in getting a license, which means the Distributor will ultimately need to stop working with him. He likes and trusts the Distributor, though, and often goes to other farms to pick up a variety of product for him. “If you’re black, and you go up to Humboldt, it’s just not a good idea,” the Supplier said. “There’s a kind of a Gestapo sort of vibe with the corrupt local sheriff’s departments. That’s just the way it is, for fucking ever.”

Nearby, a Latino guy wearing a leather tool belt snipped the leaves and stems off branches of cannabis with small scissors. He was a trimmer, part of a temporary underclass of vagrants and nomads who drift into town at the end of each summer looking to get high and prune pot for $20 an hour. Cannabis farmers tend to look down on trimmers. Most get treated like shit.

Spotting the lit joint, the Trimmer walked over.

“How is it?” he asked. “Not there?”

“It really sticky,” the Distributor said, passing it to him. “Let’s roll a bigger one.”

“I’ll see what I can find,” the Supplier said, walking off. He came back with a freshly picked bud. The Distributor brought it to his nose, inhaled, and then picked up another pair of scissors to remove the leaves.

“How you think about me trimming?” he asked the Trimmer, smiling.

“I don’t want to sound racist, but you fit the picture,” the Trimmer responded.

A few more leaves cascaded onto the ground. The Distributor kept smiling.

“Thank you,” he said. “That’s what I was working for, you know.”

It was nearly 5 p.m., and the sun was sending streaks of orange into the sky. The Trimmer started whistling “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.” The Distributor took a big hit of the joint, and then turned to pass it, looking the Trimmer up and down. For a few moments, he stared. Then, with a sigh, he turned away. On the Trimmer’s leather tool belt, tucked into a side holster, was a revolver. ●

Amanda Chicago Lewis is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Amanda Chicago Lewis at


NOTE: This is for one egg and for one color of crystals. Duplicate it if you want to have other colors.

1. Grab an egg. All the yolk and the egg white need to come out of it first. Use a pushpin to carefully poke a hole in each end of the egg.

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2. Put your mouth on one end of the egg and blow the yolk and white out through the other hole. This may take a while and isn’t too easy so don’t rush. Blow the materials into a bowl or a garbage disposal, depending on whether you plan to cook scrambled eggs or not.

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3. Carefully cut the shell in half around the egg’s length with the pair of scissors. Peel off and throw away small pieces of shell from the edge.

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4. Carefully wash the inside of the shell halves with warm water and wipe them dry with a paper towel. Get the interior surface of the shells as clean and dry as possible without cracking them too much.

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5. Drip some glue into the shells and use the paintbrush to spread it around inside. Cover the entire interior surface with glue all the way up to the edges. Use more glue if needed. Generously sprinkle alum powder on the wet glue and let it dry overnight.

6. The next day, bring two cups of water (473 mL) almost to a boil and pour it into the bowl. Dissolve 30-40 drops of food coloring and 3/4-cup alum powder into the water. Let the solution cool for thirty minutes.

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7. When it’s cool, place the shells into the solution alum-side up. Push the shells to the bottom of the solution with the spoon and allow them to sit there for 12-15 hours.

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8. After 12-15 hours, crystals have grown! Carefully remove the shells and place them on a paper towel to finish the geode-creation process. Perhaps you can leave there longer and see if they grow bigger.

How Does It Work?

Your egg geode is formed through a process called sedimentation. While a geological geode is a mass of minerals within a rock that can take thousands, even millions, of years to form, your Incredible Egg Geode only takes a couple of days. The heated alum solution contains suspended particles of alum powder in it and as the solution cools, these particles of alum begin falling to the bottom. When the alum particles settle on the bottom, they begin crystallizing. Covering your shell in alum powder beforehand gives the suspended alum particles a surface to which they can more readily attach themselves. The particles that settle onto the surface of the shell crystallize quickly but you will also see evidence of crystallization on the bottom and sides of the bowl.



People report a release of stress from watching these dermatology videos that include blackhead removal and pimple popping.  See for yourself.

dr sandra lee

by Bobby Doherty

Two years ago, Dr. Sandra Lee, a dermatologist in Southern California, opened an Instagram account. She viewed it as an experiment; the surface of the internet was riddled with unseen pockets of desire, weird subterranean pressures, and she was inclined to prod it, gingerly, until she found out how deep they ran. Her first posts were fairly scattershot, many uploaded from unsurprising places like the golf course or poolside, but she also made the somewhat unusual professional decision to document her work on patients: slicing out cancers, lasering unwanted tattoos, mending earlobes torn by overzealous piercers. She became fascinated by why certain of her posts were shared more than others. Her face — with its immaculate skin, white-white teeth, little nose, and big eyes — naturally lent itself to selfies. However, many of her most popular posts were not about her, or her adorable kids, or her luxe vacations, but of the least glamorous aspects of her work: specifically, videos of her popping zits, cysts, and blackheads.

Lee, like most dermatologists, had never spent much time removing blackheads and whiteheads. In her opinion, performing “extractions” — a mundane, tedious, and nonessential procedure that was rarely covered by insurance — was labor better left for aestheticians. But a surprising number of her followers wrote that they fervently (if guiltily) enjoyed watching these simple dermal exorcisms. (“I love it so much 😫😫😫😫😫,” moaned a typical commenter.) Sensing an untapped audience, Lee began posting more videos of things popping from the skin, and her audience gradually grew. At first, she was wary of posting anything with too much “ick factor” — giant blackheads, say, or explosive cysts — for fear that she would upset the gentle people of the internet. However, her online fans didn’t seem to mind the ick; in fact, many of them relished it. Some fans reported that their mouths inexplicably watered when they saw a particularly juicy pop; others claimed that they found the videos so soothing that they used them as a sleep aid. Lee began setting videos to punnily titled music, like Duke Ellington’s “Just Squeeze Me (But Please Don’t Tease Me),” Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit,” and French Montana’s “Pop That.” She soundtracked one video to “People Are Strange” by the Doors. In the caption, she wrote, “People are strange. Strange because they like to watch this stuff. But I’ve realized you strange people are not alone — there are many of you!”

For videos longer than 15 seconds, Lee turned to YouTube, where she adopted the sobriquet “Dr. Pimple Popper.” Around the same time, she discovered that there was an entire sub-channel on Reddit dedicated to enthusiasts of popping, or, as they often call themselves, “popaholics.” Back then, the most famous producer of popping videos was a doctor in New Delhi named Vikram Yadav, who was known for removing impossibly huge blackheads from the noses of his aging, sun-scorched patients. The vast majority of popping videos, however, were still homemade. The popaholics, a fastidious bunch, complained that these videos were often unsanitary and poorly filmed. Lee realized that she was uniquely situated to provide these people with what they craved — she had a never-ending supply of pimples and the expertise to remove them cleanly.

One of the first films she posted to YouTube was of an octogenarian man with a swollen, misshapen nose (the result of a condition called rhinophyma). As Lee was inspecting him, she noted that his nose practically bristled with blackheads. She made him a proposition. If he allowed her to squeeze the blackheads from his nose and film it, she would perform the procedure for free. He agreed. To protect his anonymity, she referred to him only as “Mr. Wilson,” after his resemblance to Walter Matthau’s character in the film Dennis the Menace. That video — the first installment of what would become a series — shows her careful hands pressing a tiny metal loop, called an extractor, into the surface of the man’s nose. With each stroke of the extractor, a long tendril of whitish-gray sebum would burst forth. Sometimes multiple strings would appear simultaneously, like Parmesan cheese run through a rasp. “So gross but I can’t look away,” remarked one commenter. “I thought I was the only one who liked watching this!” wrote another. The video has since been viewed nearly 7 million times.


Lee’s office is located in the town of Upland, California, an hour east of Los Angeles, where the San Gabriel Mountains rise like divine warts from the arid expanses of chaparral and strip mall. At the latest count, her YouTube account has amassed 850,000 subscribers and more than 350 million views. She has been invited to pop blackheads and cysts on the syndicated daytime TV show The Doctors. And she has begun building a brand. Her office is strewn with merchandise emblazoned with the Dr. Pimple Popper logo, which she sells online: mugs, trucker hats, coffee cups, and, of course, extractors. The majority of her income still comes from conventional procedures — Botox, vein removal, skin-cancer surgery — but her YouTube channel could easily bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars this year.

One recent morning, Lee met with Mr. Wilson for another round of extractions. He arrived dressed in a pale-green safari shirt and a Members Only jacket. A taciturn man, he responded to most questions with grunts. He said that he had initially been reluctant to come to a skin doctor — it was his wife’s idea — but after the first procedure, he admitted that his nose did feel “cleaner.”

“You were actually the start of all this,” Lee remarked to him, as he lay supine on the operating chair. “I don’t know if that’s something you’re really proud of or not. But I am.” These days, some patients pay Lee for medical procedures and receive complimentary blackhead extractions if they let the extraction be filmed (and sign a release form). However, as a gesture of gratitude, Lee has never billed Mr. Wilson for any of her work treating his rhinophyma, ­popping-related or not.

Lee moved smoothly around her patient, making conversation and preparing the utensils of her craft. One of her many advantages over at-home poppers and aestheticians is that she is able to use anesthetic and surgical tools, which allow her to open pores that might otherwise remain blocked. Patients (and online viewers) universally praise her calm and friendly bedside manner, which she says she learned from her father, also a dermatologist, who was known for playing the ukulele for his patients. (“We have similar personalities,” her father noted. “But she has the advantage of being prettier.”)

Anywhere Lee thought she might have to use her scalpel, she would first inject a squirt of anesthetic, a mixture of lidocaine and epinephrine, which, in addition to numbing the area, constricted the flow of blood. In the world of popping videos, blood, the stuff of life, is regarded as a pollutant. Not only is it unsightly, but if a video is too bloody, someone on YouTube is likely to flag it as gore, and the video can be taken down. So Lee was meticulous about sopping up any blood with gauze, and when she spoke about blood on-camera, she tended to use the word ooze instead. “I really try to keep things nice and clean,” she remarked.

Lee began on the right side of Mr. Wilson’s nose, working her way down from the bridge to the bulb. Any easy blackheads she popped out with the extractor; the more deeply embedded ones received a delicate prick from the scalpel. Lee pressed hard and wiggled the extractor to pry loose the stubborn ones, leaving behind a series of U-shaped welts. When asked to rate the pain on a scale of one to ten, he judged it a five. After a while, Lee remarked that she had been pushing so hard that her hand had begun to cramp.

Lee’s assistant Kristie hovered over Mr. Wilson’s face with an iPhone, filming each step of the procedure. On the iPhone’s screen, the surface of his skin was transformed into an alien planet where sandworms periodically erupted forth from porous red earth. Visually, it was more impressive onscreen than in real life — larger, somehow. But the camera fails to capture the olfactory aspect of these extractions. Later, in private, Lee likened the odor of this one to “pungent cheese.”

When she was finished with the right side of his nose, Lee moved around to the left. There were noticeably fewer blackheads than during his first extraction, and fewer spectacular eruptions. Lee seemed to be growing slightly disappointed with the overall yield, until she pressed down on a rather inconspicuous-looking lump on the bridge of his nose and a several-inches-long ribbon of sebum tapewormed out. “It keeps going …” Lee said wonderingly. “See, you never know.” Once it had fully emerged, Lee lifted it up with the extractor and dangled it a moment in front of the camera, like a trophy fish.

“You had a big one there just now!” she said to her patient-star. “That one was worth all of it.

According to popping aficionados, the sense of suspense and surprise is part of what lends the videos their hypnotic power; during a big pop, many viewers find themselves leaning in, holding their breath. “It’s like gambling,” Lee explained. “You never know when you’re going to hit a big one.”

In the late 1990s, a Belgian artist named Wim Delvoye released an experimental art film called Sybille II, in which he captured shots of whiteheads erupting in slow motion on 75-mm. film, framed in extreme close-up so that they resembled creatures in a Jacques Cousteau film. Delvoye intended it to function as a commentary about adolescence and purity, a puncturing of art’s lofty pretensions, but once it was uploaded (without his knowledge) on YouTube, commenters began dubbing it “probably the best zit video out there!!” and “pimple popping porn!!!!” Delvoye said recently that all of the film’s pimples had come from a single source: a young art student the other kids called “Old Pizza.” He met with the boy for multiple sessions, waiting a month after each “harvest” for his pimples to ripen again. Because the film stock was expensive, each session became a high-stakes game. “You didn’t know what was going to come out of the skin,” Delvoye said. “Sometimes you said, ‘Oh, well, let’s try this one, but it’s not going to be anything’ — and it came, and it came, and it came! We were constantly surprised.”

Delvoye has since lost track of Old Pizza and wasn’t sure whether the boy had even seen the final cut of the film. Likewise, almost none of Lee’s star patients have watched the videos of their extractions. Some simply don’t care; others find them a bit gross. Many of her patients are over the age of 70. (Blackheads tend to intensify with age, especially in sunny places like Upland.) Mr. Wilson said he had never bothered to watch his video. Neither had a kindly 86-year-old man known only as “Pops” (4,945,366 views), beloved by popaholics for his gentle personality and overactive sebaceous glands. A third patient, a sassy 79-year-old lady named Gerry, known to Lee’s fans for an enormous blackhead that was removed from her temple (6,927,531 views), seemed not to even understand what YouTube was. Gerry recounted the story of her extraction like this: “She asked me if she could take a picture, and she said it went on this … thing, and I got all these … things! And I said, ‘What?!’ ”

Gerry was cheerfully bemused by the whole experience; back in her day, she noted, people wanted to look at beautiful young people. “Why would they want to see an old lady with all these wrinkles?” she wondered. “I can’t believe that. Why?”


Dr. Sandra Lee. Photo: Bobby Doherty

Recently, Lee posted a series of questions on the sub-Reddit r/popping to answer precisely this question. One hundred and one people responded. The respondents were men and women (though considerably more of the latter than the former) ranging in age from their teens to their 80s, including one grandmother, named Nana Shirley, who enlisted her daughter-in-law to type out her responses. One was a preschool teacher; another worked as a lawyer; a third was a priest. Some had suffered from severe acne in the past, others had never had a pimple. Many were ashamed and hid their obsession, but others were open and unabashed. Quite a few described chasing their loved ones around the house, trying to pop their zits. (One woman confessed that she had once stopped mid-coitus to pop a pimple on her boyfriend’s shoulder.)

What nearly all of them had in common was a sense that watching a good pop gave them a feeling of deep, vicarious satisfaction. They variously compared that sensation to opening a sticky jar; unwrapping a present; finishing a work of art; pulling up weeds; burping; farting; making it to the bathroom just in time; the TV show Hoarders; the butterflies you feel in your stomach when you experience your first kiss; Sudoku; “seeing a real jerk get what’s coming to him”; a scary movie (“only not scary”); explosions in a Michael Bay film; a roller coaster; a sunset; a shooting star; a natural childbirth (“Gross and messy, but the end result is beautiful in a way”).

This sensation is not limited to popping videos. YouTube also contains surprisingly popular videos of people removing plugs of earwax, shampooing filthy car seats, using wood glue to strip the dust from vinyl records, and power-washing the grime off a metal toolbox. But the intimacy and universality of pimple popping make it an exceptionally cathartic ritual. “Life is hard, so hard,” wrote one popaholic, a 34-year-old woman from Iowa who worked nights and weekends to support her 2-year-old son. “The only thing that makes me feel okay, even for a short period of time, are the videos. I watch them every single night. It’s my only escape right now. So, if you can, please thank Dr. Sandra for me, because I would probably be in a psychiatric hospital if I didn’t have her videos.”

Like pornography, popping videos come in two main genres: soft and hard. Many popaholics report that while they started out only being able to handle soft pops (black- and whiteheads), they now crave something more hard-core: primarily cysts, abscesses, and fatty tumors called lipomas.

After her appointment with Mr. Wilson, Lee had a patient lined up who she hoped would produce a spectacular hard pop. He was an RV salesman named Bill, with a golf-ball-size lump growing atop his leathery forehead. It appeared to be a pilar cyst. A special delicacy among popaholics, pilar cysts are sacs filled with a white toothpaste-y substance made of soggy, dead skin cells. They are not dangerous, but they are unsightly and can occasionally lead to painful infections. Bill said that it had been growing for the past seven years; it had previously been even bigger, but he had “squeezed the fuck out of that thing” until it burst. Then, over time, it grew back.

Lee worked quickly, but when the tip of her scalpel cut into the cyst, two unfortunate things happened more or less simultaneously. First, a thin stream of liquid — what appeared to be a mixture of anesthetic and cyst-juice — jetted out from the incision and hit Lee in the neck. (“It’s like acid, burning a hole in my neck right now,” she joked.) Second, she discovered that inside, the cyst was composed almost entirely of tough, fibrous tissue. For the better part of an hour, she used a pair of scissors and a curette to scrape it out. (When she later sent a tissue sample to a lab, the results revealed that the lump had not been a cyst at all; it was a type of skin cancer.)

Lee looked discouraged. Over the months, she had developed a keen sense of what popaholics will find satisfying. “It’s not rocket science,” she said. “You figure it out because they tell you. They’ll say ‘That was gross, there’s just too much bleeding’ or ‘That was awesome right there, like Silly String!’ ”

Next up on the hard-pop roster was a young woman with a relatively rare condition known as eruptive vellus hair cysts on her back. They, too, refused to pop out cleanly. “You’re interesting, but not greatly satisfying,” Lee told her. “Sorry about that. You don’t take it personally, do you?”

The following day, Lee saw a patient with a benign fatty tumor that adhered stubbornly to the skin and she had to cut it out in pieces. A few hours later, a lipoma walked in, on the back of an exterminator named Ronnie, but the same thing happened; she deemed it a “dud.” The pressure to capture one good, hard pop on film was mounting.

Finally, in walked Geoffrey, a young guy in black athleticwear, with a smaller pilar cyst hidden beneath his short-cropped dark hair.

“Well, we haven’t got any really great pops like this yet, so we’re hoping that you’ll be one,” Lee told him. “Are you going to deliver or not?”

Geoffrey smiled nervously.

Lee readied her tools and instructed Kristie to move the overhead light so her hand didn’t cast a shadow on the cyst. She numbed the area, made a small incision, and then placed two rubber-gloved thumbs on either side of the opening. She pushed: nothing. She pushed harder: nothing. Then she braced herself against the wall and pushed with all her strength …


A pale, slippery, oblong object ejected neatly from the skin, like a white edamame bean. Kristie deemed the pop “perfect.” Lee stitched shut the wound, then brought the cyst around, on a bed of gauze, to show to her patient. Then Kristie turned the iPhone around and let him watch the video of it popping out of his skin.

“Huh, I didn’t feel anything,” Geoffrey reflected. “I could tell when it was coming out, though. I just felt, like, a release or something? It’s just like if you’ve ever popped a pimple. I was just like: Whoa, crazy.

*A version of this article appears in the March 7, 2016 issue of New York Magazine.