/Doc Ray on the Battle to Save Heritage Growers and Genetics

Doc Ray on the Battle to Save Heritage Growers and Genetics

Small-scale cannabis farms—the very pioneers of the industry—are being purged out of the legal market as the wholesale price per pound plummets, while at the same time, invaluable genetics are ripped off and renamed, often inaccurately.

Anybody who has been in the game long enough knows that craft cannabis grown in the Emerald Triangle—Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties—is among the finest in the world, representing a different class of flower.

Doc Ray is a U.S. Army Green Beret, a former art professor and a respected cultivator and breeder in Emerald Triangle for about 50 years. He’s the creator of countless terp-ridden strains—the type of varieties you want to write home about. He’s also a storyteller, with tales such as gun fights with DEA agents in the hills of Northern California since the ‘70s. He chatted with High Times to discuss his mission: save heritage cultivators and unveil a new collaboration with some of Emerald Triangle’s rising heavyweights.

“I’m an old-school outlaw cultivator,” Doc Ray told High Times. “I’m kind of an open book at this stage. I’ve been around the block a few times. I’m an old school Green Beret. I’m a little rough and crusty. At this stage in the game, I just call it like I see it.”

As a Phenotype-Specific Geneticist, Doc Ray owns some brands such as Doc Ray Genetics—with mouthwatering beans such as Malawi Gold Mango. He also operates a microbusiness in cannabis cultivation in Arcata, California. As an old school breeder, Doc Ray has gotten himself into all kinds of facets of cultivation.

But lately, amid unprecedented thievery and competition with cheap “deps,” Doc Ray has been exploring patented strains, intellectual property (IP) and blockchain technology as a means to protect small scale growers and the strains they love, almost like one of their own children.

Doc Ray examines a plant. Photo courtesy of Terps By Doc & Bentley.

“I just don’t want outlaws to come in and rip me off all the fucking time. That’s the model I’ve built, which is apparently pretty fuckin’ popular now. Three years ago, people said, ‘I can’t believe you’re going to patent plants!’” -Co-founder Doc Ray

Doc Ray’s Road to Divine Genetics

Doc Ray has been smoking grass since the ‘70s. “I was a kid in high school and smoked my first joint,” Doc Ray said. “Vietnam was tapering off. One of my buddy’s older brothers came back from ‘Nam in the summer of ‘72 when I cultivated my first plant. That was my first experience in cultivation. I grew up in Northern Mendocino County. It’s just a lifestyle there. Not like it is now—a Holy Grail mecca type of place as the Emerald Triangle. It’s a way of life.”

Doc Ray always had a hand in some sort of cultivation role. “Even when I was in college or teaching, I always had a closet grow or something going on in my garden,” he said.

Doc Ray was incarcerated in the mid-’80s over a miniscule amount of pot. But it didn’t cause him to deviate from his path. “I just shifted my game—going completely underground,” he said. “My voter registration card took you down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere and it just stopped. I’m one of the original Mendocino outlaws—you know, green mountain boys. We were considered guardians of the valley so to speak. The ones in their ‘40s and ‘50s know me now. We kept everybody out. You just didn’t roll up in there, or you had to deal with us. We were all ex-Special Forces and are all hard, riding motherfuckers. That’s just how we were.”

Doc Ray got into an altercation with the County Sheriffs in the early ‘90s and over the next 10 years, the industry he once knew sort of slowly vanished before his eyes. Doc Ray was a Prop. 215 caregiver in Mendocino County in 1997—the first year anyone could. His travels to embark on cultivation-related projects would take him to Big Sur, among other destinations. 

By the time it got to the early 2000s, things started shifting and Doc Ray couldn’t stand it anymore, with the price per pound reaching new depths. He was responsible for producing a lot of medicine for a lot of people. Twenty years ago, what goes for a few hundred dollars now, used to be worth thousands of dollars for the same flower. And nothing’s changed—if anything, growers have gotten better at it. The price for cultivators nosedived as adult-use took form.

His gears shifted over the past 10-12 years, after barely surviving a serious motorcycle accident in 2009, when he returned to Humboldt County. “I got my eye knocked out and I was left for dead on the side of the road,” he said.

Over the last 12 or so years, Doc Ray has been playing with genetics. The number of patented cannabis genetics continues to grow in 2021, as plant patents are granted by the United States Patent and Trade Office (USPTO) to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety—not to mention utility patents that also abound. The understanding of law is often murky. “Now I’ve got patented plants, and half a dozen flower lines and all this other stuff. It wasn’t there seven years ago, and it’s all here now. Now all of a sudden I’m involved in this project with my company and with Bentley [Rolling]. We’ve been working on the Terps By Doc & Bentley flower release, which is showcasing how badass cultivators here in the Emerald Triangle are, which I have access to. They’re part of my network.”

Cannabis for Veterans

Doc Ray slowly started working behind the scenes to fortify and protect his genetics, and in addition, also took part in studies on the efficacy of medical cannabis for veterans. “That’s one of my things,” he said. “My Bluestone genetics. My Bluestone has been around for awhile. It’s all sativa-forward now. There’s no purple. It’s heavy smoke. Most of my young friends they all love it. My daily smoke. It’s a Blue Dream x Skunk #1 cross that I’ve been playing around with forever. The breeder of Skunk #1 here in Humboldt is one of my mentors. He’s been gone for a long time. It’s an homage to him. The creator of Blue Dream is a friend. It’s an homage to her.” 

Dr. Sue Sisley is Principal Investigator for the only FDA-approved randomized controlled trial in the world examining the efficacy of smoked marijuana flower in combat veterans with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“The plants now are patented for post-traumatic stress therapy,” Doc Ray said. “It’s on the list with Dr. Sue Sisley and the Scottsdale Research Institute for one of the plants. It’s in pre-clinical trials for post-traumatic stress for veterans. I’ve been talking to a lot of medical experts at the University of Davis. Five years ago, nobody gave a fuck about it.”

Doc Ray explained that everybody wants it for stress relief as it’s one of the most grounding flowers around, with a calmness that rolls over you. “I’m old school,” Doc Ray said. “I have a lot of shit on my head from my military career and from my civilian life. This helps me get the ghosts and demons out of my head. Twenty minutes later, my back and shoulder doesn’t hurt anymore. That’s the advantage of this plant. Put it on a shelf in a retail environment, for the adult consumer.”

Bentley Rolling examines a specimen.

“When I first started Terps with legendary Heritage Cultivator Doc Ray, I had no idea this was going on. I just knew I wanted to help him get his phenomenal genetics out to more people.” -Co-founder Bentley Rolling

Saving Heritage Growers

Doc Ray explained that he’s growing top-tier, five-star indo, and his price point isn’t where the outdoor market is. “I’m at the top of the food chain,” he said. “Not at the bottom of the food chain. I have all these friends who are world class growers.”

He explained that small-scale growers are getting crucified under current conditions. People demand AAA bud, but nowadays they’re paying in the ballpark of $450 per pound. He finds it insulting—given the cost of manpower, payroll and workman’s comp., not to mention the overhead.

“That’s what this whole thing that I’ve mulled over these past couple of months,” Doc Ray said. “Supporting heritage farms, and [recognizing] the plight of small mom-and-pop farmers. Most of them don’t produce 1,000 pounds of flower, they don’t produce 200 pounds of flower annually. A lot of them are the 50-100 pound range. It used to be that you could get $2,000 per pound and make a living at that. At $400, that doesn’t even get you out of the hole to pay your bills and fees. They’re quitting left and right. Or even worse. On a personal note, I had a buddy kill himself because he didn’t see any alternative. When the hell did people kill themselves in this game?!”

When Proposition 64 rolled out, the whole landscape began to change, and fast. Around the year of 2015, Doc Ray started noticing people who were saying they’ve been ripped off of their genetics. He knew that it was going to happen eventually. 

That’s why Doc Ray and other OG farmers in the area started to consider legal protections a bit more seriously, despite the limitations of working in the “grey area” given the federal status of cannabis.

Doc Ray takes a break from a long day. Photo courtesy of Terps By Doc & Bentley.

Intellectual Property

“I’ve got the best IP lawyer in the country,” Doc Ray said. “I have a legal team now. I’ve got people that represent me. The whole nine yards: License branded agreements. I want minimum purchases. I don’t take percentages. I want a dollar a stamp for everything you cut. I want a percentage of every pound that’s turned. This is how it rolls now.”

He explained that it didn’t used to be that way. As an open-source guy, Doc Ray originally embraced open source genetics in the Emerald Triangle. But the truth of it is, he says, is that they’ve all been tried, ripped off, and stolen from and taken advantage of for decades. And today, you have people in suits who have never grown a plant in their lives taking over the industry.

He started experimenting how to get genetics in a position where small-scale growers can keep them from being ripped off. “Most breeders don’t get it, honestly, much less growers,” Doc Ray says. “I’m not asking for a lot, I’m asking for a few pennies on every transaction with the intention that it’s going to be millions and millions of transactions. That’s where I put this thing at now. I own all of my genetic patenting; I’ve got a couple of small principal partners who are invested in what I do. I control all of my genetics. I control who I work with. I have a couple of branding partners here in the state of California who represent me. You can get gear, but you can’t dilute it. And by that I mean, and I tell them. If you see Kit-Kats roll in without paperwork, they don’t get my gear.”

If a grower rolls into town and has his paperwork, his Metrc, etc.—Doc Ray will work with them by all means. “I just don’t want outlaws to come in and rip me off all the fucking time,” he said. “That’s the model I’ve built, which is apparently pretty fuckin’ popular now. Three years ago, people said, “I can’t believe you’re going to patent plants!”

Doc Ray explained that old school growers in the area see the “rockstars” as musicians or book writers. It makes the difference between a world class novel and a trashy tabloid article. He explained that the royalty portion of his genetics has to be through a controlled source. “You can make a killing on it, but you have to pay a little bit back to the source. That’s something that we’ve skipped over until now.”

Left to right: Doc Ray, Jerry Savage and Bentley Rolling. Photo courtesy of Terps By Doc & Bentley.

Registering Strains

Recently, Doc Ray is diving into intellectual property rights, with a little help from technology like Canopyright. Last October, Canopyright launched a beta version of its secure, free-to-use web platform on Hedera. Canopyright is the first and only cannabis herbarium where breeders can both register their unique strains.

“Canopyrights made a test project—a blockchain project—that’s just here in the Triangle right now,” said Doc. “But if we can get the thing to go out, it will be a way for mom-and-pop cultivators or breeders who have that one-of-a-kind can protect it by filing the paper with a digital timestamp on the blockchain that gives you some protection. And I went to my guys, and said, ‘will our thing be their thing in the court of law?’”

Doc Ray admits that there are a lot of hypotheticals. Anybody who’s not playing by the rules—this thing doesn’t protect them from shit. “My guys take DNA samples, and if it’s our DNA, we own your ass. That’s why genetic plant patenting is so important. That’s what I’ve done. The blockchain allows people to still barter their plants with the system. It protects them and gives them a little bit of control without having any real monetary expense to it. My way is not expensive.” Doc Ray said he thinks the next five years are going to be critical for the black market. 

He sees younger people entering the industry, and some are on their way to becoming breeder legends. “We have to work together, or we’re doomed,” Doc Ray said. “I’m known for small scale. You’ll never see more than 25 pounds of anything. You just don’t see that anymore. I’ve been holding my price point up.” Doc Ray wants to leave something for his grandkids.

Enter Terps By Doc & Bentley

Terps By Doc & Bentley provides heritage cultivation with its own patented genetics—also providing a path to market for other heritage cultivators in the area including Jerry Savage of Savage Farms and Sean Stamm of SoHum Royal Cannabis Co.

Jerry Savage of Savage Farms. Photo courtesy of Terps By Doc & Bentley.

The company was formed by old school Emerald Triangle legend Doc Ray and Bentley Rolling—both of whom set out to protect heritage cultivators and their original strains. There are two sides to the brand—its main flower line, with genetics grown by Doc Ray in-house; and its heritage Terps line featuring Emerald Triangle-based legends. 

“When I first started Terps with legendary Heritage Cultivator Doc Ray, I had no idea this was going on,” Co-founder Bentley Rolling told High Times. “I just knew I wanted to help him get his phenomenal genetics out to more people. He created and stabilized some of the most rare terpene profiles in existence, including Cup-winning Orange Cream Frost, Black Apple Kush, Blue Skunk and Pheno Select #5.” Bentley Rolling is also a Los Angeles-based filmmaker and photographer, who turned to cannabis for anxiety, like many others. On Bentley’s website, you can find advocate-oriented merchandise with slogans such as “Save Heritage Terps” or “Support Small Cannabis Farms.” 

Follow Terps and Terps By Doc & Bentley on Instagram or visit bentleyrolling.com.