Q’s With Backstage Budtender Josh Taylor

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign:
Scott McCaughey
– Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign:
Josh Taylor’s Backstage Budtending service offers cannabis legally to venues, festivals, artists/bands, labels, management agencies and more with an eye towards education and well-being. Photographed at Nashville’s The Basement East.
When Pollstar first came across Backstage Budtender Josh Taylor he was operating a vape station at The Roots Jam Sessions during Grammy week celebrations in Los Angeles. Well over a year since California’s Prop 64 legalized and regulated cannabis consumption, the “sacred herb,” that in the past was often imbibed in the shadows of live industry, today is becoming something else entirely: a backstage amenity operated in the open for bands, their entourages, production teams and others in the live business. We caught up with Taylor, who runs California and Oregon’s Cannabis Concierge, to find out more about his flowering backstage business.
Pollstar: How did your Backstage Budtending business start?
Josh Taylor: I worked in the music industry for a good 15 years before starting Oregon’s Cannabis Concierge and then just over 
a year ago started California’s Cannabis Concierge. Cannabis has always played a big role whether in touring or in the studio, less for just getting high and more for the idea of wellness and replacing substances with more side effects like alcohol or opiates.
What were you doing in the music business?
I worked as a tour manager and day-to-day manager. I was lucky enough to start off with Jerry Joseph of Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons and moved to the Drive-By Truckers after booking them for a run of New Year’s Eve shows in Oregon close to 20 years ago. Then I worked with Patterson Hood, Jason Isbell, Justin Townes Earle, Centro-Matic, Sarah Jaffe, The Sadies. I became somewhat of a resource for artists who had questions about cannabis products for their overall well-being.
How did you transition into the cannabis business from management?
I saw the writing on the wall when Oregon was passing Measure 91, which this July will make four years, so I wanted to get into the cannabis space doing something legal and compliant. I had been working as a caregiver with OMMP six years prior and that gave me insights into the cannabis space. About the same time, I was approached by the Portland Mercury about writing a weekly cannabis column.
How did you come to work backstages?
Backstage there’s always been cannabis use. In the green room, backstage, on the tour bus, people have been using cannabis longer than I’ve been alive. 
What’s the association between cannabis and the road?
A lot of people outside the music industry don’t understand how difficult it is to be a touring musician. It extracts a high 
price physically and psychologically. Whether it’s riding in a van or tour bus, there were complaints from artists and crew members about insomnia, GI tract issues, anxiety, paranoia, the inability to come down after a show and physical complaints. 
You put a therapeutic value on cannabis, but isn’t there also just a recreational aspect?
Absolutely. It can allow one to gain different perspectives on situations or foster camaraderie or help you feel better about yourself and the people you’re with in a situation.
Shouldn’t the deleterious effects of cannabis also be acknowledged?
One hundred percent. That’s one of the things I try and focus on is the delivery method of cannabis, which is just as important as the cannabis itself. Utilizing things that don’t irritate the respiratory system like vaping, low-dose edibles, tinctures and now even transdermal patches are ways people can forgo the coughing fits that you might have had in college after hitting a five-foot Graffix bong in your dorm.
What about dependency issues, short-term memory loss, avoidance of certain responsibilities?
It’s like everything else: shopping, TV, sex, chocolate, food, alcohol – all can be addictive tools with negative outcomes if the people using those substances and tools aren’t conscious of their choices. You can certainly get lost in a cannabis haze and not take care of things in your life. You can do the same thing with spending, too much shopping or eating too much. Everything has a good and a bad side. I would say the potentially detrimental side effects of cannabis are lower than a lot of other legally taxed things available to Americans.
You’ve also helped artists who’ve been terminally ill?
I provided Sharon Jones cannabis products for the last 16 months of her life, along with working with Charles Bradley, Teenie Hodges, Guy Clark and others when they reached an end of life phase. 
So is your backstage setup similar to the vape bar you had at the Roots Jam Sessions?
In some cases it’s expanded from that. What we had at The Roots was a pretty limited offering. But in general, we bring in a custom road case filled with both a vaporizer and a wide range of low-dose edibles, tinctures, topicals, CBD-only products. We also produced 20 CannaSwag bags, which went exclusively to the guest artists who joined over both nights. We curated the bags, which had a retail value of over $1,000 with 13 product partners.
What were those spaceship-like vaporizers you had?
The tabletop high-end vaporizer of choice is the Herbalizer, a recently defunct company which was founded a few years back 
by – I swear – downsized NASA rocket engineers. We can take that with us to any location. 
Are you selling cannabis or giving it away?
We’re giving it away. Under Oregon’s cannabis program, you are allowed to gift individuals 21 and over, regardless of residency, certain amounts of cannabis product as long as there is no exchange of money or any form of compensation. 
How do you make a living then?
It’s not quite the money printing machine a lot of people outside the cannabis industry believe it is. Truthfully, it’s not a full-time job. I’m not out five nights a week doing this, but it pays for itself in other ways. If nothing else, I haven’t paid for a concert ticket in probably five or six years and being a big music-goer, that’s big savings for me.
What do you make of the corporatization and commodification of cannabis post-legalization?
It’s rare anyone says the commodification of anything is a good thing. We knew when we started down the path of designing and passing recreational programs in states that was going to occur. That said, the drawbacks are a factor of it only being legal at the state level and still being a Schedule 1 federally illegal drug. If those barriers were removed you would see lower licensing fees and consumer taxes. But for all the drawbacks, the plus has been increased access for people who wish to use it, especially geriatric patients and people reaching out to use cannabis to replace opioids. Another huge benefit is the expungement of people arrested and charged with cannabis possession or production.
How has your business changed over the last couple of years?
We’ve certainly seen a greater interest, curiosity, and acceptance of cannabis from people that prior would have been turned off by it, whether it’s venues or record labels. I was in Nashville in October and met with three record labels and two management agencies who all said, “Now that it’s becoming legal, we want to find a way to incorporate this into things that we’re doing with our artists, whether it’s a record release, merchandise or even having some artists come out of the closet and talk about what cannabis has done for them.” Those aren’t discussions I’ve had previously unless it was very much on the down-low.
What about branding?
I’m seeing a lot more brands from the non-cannabis space having an interest in incorporating it, recognizing that cannabis is not as siloed off as it once was. I speak with chefs interested in producing cannabis-infused dinners and hotels about potentially offering cannabis welcome packages to arriving guests. We’re seeing greater widespread acceptance than I thought we would this soon into legalization.
Have you ever had any trouble with the law?
I was cited once for smoking a joint in the parking lot of a Bunny Wailer show about 20 years ago. Aside from that, I’ve always managed to stay within the confines of the law. 
Sometimes I probably stepped outside those boundaries when visiting friends and family back in places like Muscle Shoals, but I have yet to have to do a perp walk.
How do you project growing your Backstage Budtender business?
We’re just consistently trying to demonstrate to people higher up the food chain at companies like Live Nation that what we’re doing is 
a more refined approach than, again, the five-foot Graffix bong. 
I don’t hold anything against anyone that pursues dabbing [highly-concentrated cannabis], but we don’t really want to see torches backstage being used. If people do want to go that route, there are cleaner, safer delivery systems. 
We just believe we can help incorporate and place cannabis into people’s personal and professional lives in ways that they may not have considered.