More importantly, after just one puff of a PodTones vape, you’ll understand and deeply appreciate the personal fire that LeVine brings to the community. His determination fuels his drive to create clean, safe products that deliver an astonishing pure experience.
So, whether LeVine is waxing rhapsodic about the supremacy of Southern California pot, decrying the bad business that led to the vape crisis, or explaining how every aspect of a PodTones product came to be, he holds nothing back. In a world where deception overpowers ethics in marketing and advertising, LeVine’s honesty couldn’t be more refreshing. On top of that, LeVine’s enthusiasm is positively intoxicating — just like his vapes.
The MERRY JANE staff got to sample the full line of PodTones products and we can attest that the vapes, and everything LeVine says about them, are the real deal. After all, LeVine wasn’t Snoop Dogg’s personal weed supplier for seven years because he was a novice!
After we came down, we caught up with LeVine to talk about PodTones, making rosin, “Frankenstein” weed products, and the time Uncle Snoop vaped a PodTone. Enjoy!
MERRY JANE: Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into the cannabis business.
Alex LeVine: I’m from Boston and, as a child, I lived in Kenya and Mexico. I graduated from Harvard with an electrical engineering degree. Later on, I was in the music industry and then I got in on the dot-com boom in New York City.
In 2004, I moved to Los Angeles. It was in the early days of dispensaries and I was just blown away by the selection of flowers. I decided to start cultivating. So, I was cultivator for a long time.
For ten years I worked with Kushmart, which was the biggest dispensary in Hollywood. It was during that time I supplied Snoop. He was a regular client and he always bought my product, and then somebody started working directly with him.
How were you able to shift from engineering to dot-com work to cultivating?
I discovered I have a super sensitive sense of smell. I was always aware that I could smell everything around me all the time — I just didn’t know that other people couldn’t smell it.
At one point, I went with my girlfriend to a perfume shop in Paris and the perfumer and I started talking about some of his scents, and he looked at me and said, “You have a nose like me — a perfumer’s nose.” I was like, “Wow, that explains a lot!”
Once I started getting into pot in LA, it really was great having my sensitive nose. It really allowed me to hone in on what the best strains were. It also allowed me to know things like if mold was in a room. I can just walk in and smell if something’s off in a giant room of flowering plants just based off the scent.
It’s basically my secret weapon when it comes to making great pot because, at the end of the day, if I think it smells great and tastes great, so will everybody else.
PodTones products are 100 percent pure rosin vaporizers. How did you come to make that your focus?
In 2012, I started doing vaporizers. Once I heard about the invention of the e-cigarette, I thought, “You know, that’s got to be the way that people consume pot in the future.”
It’s perfect. Because being able to roll a joint and burn a joint is all well and good, but most people can’t roll and most people don’t want to burn something with oral contact. Also, most people don’t need that many hits.
But back then, the technology wasn’t there. The original e-cigarettes were plastic tubes that looked like cigarettes and had a tiny capsule of impregnated cotton in the middle. There was no way to put anything inside it. I got one and took it apart, but there was no putting pot in it back then.
By 2012, the e-cigarette business had really taken off and there were a lot of manufacturers in China, and I started working with them to modify batteries and cartridges so that they would work with cannabis. That was the beginning of cannabis vaporizers.
Back then, rosin hadn’t been invented, so we did it all with BHO or butane extract. A few years later, I discovered rosin and switched entirely to rosin. It was a great leap forward. Eventually, we started PodTones.
In light of the vape scare, what are some of the dangers that consumers do not have to worry about with PodTones?
Unless it’s discovered that pot itself is toxic, there’s not going to be anything to worry about with our products. We don’t use any solvents. We don’t add anything. So, really, what you’re getting is pure plant oil that has been minimally processed.
That, in essence, is what humans have always been smoking. If you think about it, because the cherry ember at the end of a joint is burning and sending super-hot air through the column of the joint and vaporizing the oil in its path, we’ve always been vaping the pure oil. And that’s essentially what we’re doing at PodTones.
The vaporizer itself is also super clean. It’s free of heavy metals and the heating chamber is made of pure ceramic. So, nothing is leeching into the oil — it’s just pure cannabis oil.
Our competitors use distillates. A distillate is purified THC oil extracted from large quantities of low quality pot using powerful industrial solvents. The solvents tend to strip out most of the original flavor and leave behind a bunch of off-notes, so they mask it with flavorings and dilute with additives. Whether these flavors and additives are safe or not — we don’t know.
That seems like a scary thing not to know.
When you have supposedly pure THC oil that says “85-percent” or “90-percent” pure that’s been manufactured in that way, you’ve got to ask yourself, “What’s that other 10 percent?”
To my nose, when it’s 10-percent other stuff, it’s totally disgusting and it ruins the flavor completely. Also, who knows what that other stuff actually is? Either way, that’s when they then add flavorings — whether it’s “natural” terpenes derived from agricultural crops like lemon peel, or whether it’s straight up artificial flavors like crème brûlée. They do this to mask the off-notes of the THC oil, which is as effective as spraying deodorant on marathon runners. So, sure — you can taste the crème brûlée, but you can also still taste whatever that grossness is and there’s no getting away from it.
And because my nose is so sensitive, I actually have a pretty keen awareness of toxins as well. They just smell bad. So, something like the smell of a new shower curtain just makes me want to absolutely gag. I smell lots of those notes in these distillate-based pens. I don’t know what’s in there, but it doesn’t seem safe to me, and it’s never tasted safe to me. With PodTones, you never have to worry about us testing any new chemicals on your lungs.
Can you take us through the basic process of how a PodTones product goes from being a plant to a vape?
We start with super-premium quality flowers that are growing in Southern California. So we’re starting with the best pot on earth, the most seasoned cultivators, and award-winning blockbuster strains. We work with farms to make sure they have great plants growing.
We don’t use trim, we start with actual flowers. When it’s harvested, it’s immediately preserved in a deep freeze that maintains all of the cannabinoids. People typically cut the plants and dry them, which takes about one-to-two weeks. The problem with doing it that way is the terpenes deteriorate. Terpenes are essential to quality flower and a great high.
We keep the plants cold and then we do an ice water hash extraction, where we mechanically separate the trichomes from the rest of the plant materials. We use very fine micron filters to get just what we want. We then take the hash and dry it, which looks like a bunch of white sand. It’s basically just a bunch of trichome heads. Then, we take this white sand over to the rosin press where we put it in a very fine filter bag, yet another filtering stage, before we put it between heated plates. Those heated plates push out the rosin and that’s really the oil inside every one of those trichome heads.
It’s very hard to get the oil to work in a vaporizer and that is part of our proprietary process. But we take it and get it into the pods. So, that is what you’re vaping. It really is the cleanest way to make the purest extract. It doesn’t strip out any of the flavors, and it doesn’t add any contaminants. It’s really just the purest extract you can get.
We’ve tried the different varieties of PodTones and we could really tell the difference between “Up,” “Fun,” “Chill,” and “Dream.” How do you make that happen?
It’s the entourage effect. That effect is the reason why people smoke pot. Pure THC, by itself, is not an enjoyable experience. The entourage effect is THC plus the terpenes that are naturally in the plant.
So when we make rosin the way we do, we’re bringing along the terpenes the plant is supposed to have. The net result of that is you get a distinct, strain-specific high that is noticeably different from other strains’ highs. If you try our four different tones, you’ll notice four distinct effects.
Our competitors who combine terpenes with distilled THC are kind of playing God, or playing Dr. Frankenstein. They’ll do some testing and discover, say, Blue Dream has limonene and myrcene, so they’ll put THC distillate with some lemon extract and some hops extract and sell it to you, saying it’s Blue Dream. That’s complete bogus!
Why mess with nature when that’s the best?
The strains that are out there now in Southern California are nothing short of incredible. Our process allows people to simply experience that, rather than some sort of weird, Frankenstein analog that is really just a marketing ploy to sell people very inexpensive distillate.
We make a super-premium product and it definitely costs a little more than our competitors but — it’s the real deal. I think people are going to appreciate that even more after this vape crisis where the whole industry went so far down this path of Frankenstein extract.
Do you have any great Snoop stories?
I would say every Snoop story is great story. He’s exactly the Uncle Snoop you see on TV. He’s super nice, he’s not a gangster and, I’d say, every time you hang out with him, it’s a story. He’s a fascinating guy.
When I first started making vaporizers, he was basically my test client. We were still mixing flavors and he had a song called “Fruit Juice,” so I made him a flavor called Fruit Juice. It had strawberry extract and lemon extract so it was like a strawberry lemonade combined with Pineapple Express.
For years, I had been supplying him through an employee of his, but then when I heard he was going to be at the dispensary, I went to meet him. He was impeccably dressed, and he smelled fantastic.
It was crazy. I love Snoop’s music. I’ve been a fan since his first album, so I was really excited to meet him. When he discovered I was the one who created the carts he was using, he was so over-the-top happy to see me, it was like this strange role-reversal. He was high-fiving me and hugging me and saying, “What you’ve created is so amazing! I take these with me everywhere I go!”
I didn’t even know what to say. Again, this was the first time I met Snoop. Eventually I got myself together enough to ask him about Bubba Kush, the strain I used to supply to him the most.
Snoop has a song called “Kush” that he did with Dr. Dre where he raps about “Bubba,” so I had to ask him, “Are you talking about my Bubba?” And he said, “Yeah! Exactly!”
So then I was, like, “Okay, I’m done. I don’t need to grow anymore pot!” I was so happy knowing I’d made it into one of Snoop’s songs. So, that was a fantastic first experience with him. Of course, he was always super entertaining to talk to and he’s a real fan of good product. Snoop’s the best. Love him!