David Tran Photo: Jordan Swenson

By Matt Nagle

 

When DOPE Magazine published its first issue in the summer of 2011, it was already ahead of its time. Legalization of recreational cannabis anywhere in the country was still a dream among so many people who dedicated – and risked – their lives to end decades of prohibition. But magazine co-founder David Tran had a vision, and a passion for bringing people together who could make that vision into a tangible product for the betterment of people from all walks of life.

“Defending Our Plant Everywhere” – that’s what DOPE stands for, and that’s what Tran stands for. The immediate success of the magazine proved how hungry people were for knowledge and for connecting to others who, like themselves, already knew the power of cannabis to heal themselves, each other, and the world.

“To me, the plant really symbolizes defending the patients first, and the people, and ultimately the planet. Cannabis is changing lives and saving lives,” Tran said in an interview with the Weekly Weedly. “We haven’t yet been able to expand the research on it because it’s federally illegal. Just imagine when prohibition on a national level ends.”

This point is well illustrated with hemp having been removed from Schedule I controlled substances under the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill. There is freedom now to explore its amazing properties, and the research has just begun.

“It’s like restarting again, learning about something new,” Tran said. “Now we look at hemp as a product – a building product, a medicinal product, as a way to start cutting down on things that are depleting the planet’s finite resources.”

Fast-forward to 2018. DOPE Magazine, firmly established as a go-to publication for the cannabis community, was purchased by High Times for a cool $11 million. Marrying the granddaddy of cannabis magazines with a young upstart publication was a match made in heaven, so to speak. High Times continues to enjoy nearly half a century of success among a loyal base of the “older” generation, while the eight-year-old DOPE Magazine grew up amid a new generation of post-prohibition cannabis enthusiasts. Together, both titans of the industry are destined to do even greater things, as legalization occurs state by state and the wealth of gifts that cannabis brings are discovered practically each passing day it seems.

Now in the seat as vice president of DOPE Magazine, Tran is excited for how things are developing from the merger. “High Times is the most prolific cannabis lifestyle brand in the world,” he said. “For 45 years they taught me how to love and respect the plant. I learned about the plant from their magazine and I had to hide it behind my pillow like it was porn (laughing). It’s a huge blessing.”

Building upon the lead of High Times, DOPE Magazine wanted to tell a different side because cannabis has so many different demographics. As Tran put it, “Merging together was to merge two of the most definitive cannabis lifestyle brands. DOPE focuses a lot on localizing communities, so now we can tell many more stories with this platform. To me, telling stories is one of the most important aspects of our ethos – relating it to people and really defending our plant and the freedom to utilize it.”

FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Born in 1975,David Tran grew up in Seattle, a resident of Yesler Terrace. “I grew up in the ghetto,” as he describes it, which Yesler Terrace certainly was throughout his life and up until recently. “Now it’s full of beautiful condos.” With David and his four sisters, their single mom had her hands full, but she was as much a hard worker then as she is today. Food stamps and government assistance helped, but Mom was the real breadwinner and Tran speaks of her with deep love and respect. He said that going through those times benefitted him with an open heart and mind for all people.

“I might be an example to someone who hears my story and relates to it: ‘If that dude from the ghetto with a single mom can do it, there’s no excuse.’ Going through those experiences is why I can have the perspective that I do.”

Not the best school student in the world, he says, but a gifted people person, Tran blazed his own trail starting in his young years. His mom supported him all the way.

“When I was going to church with dreadlocks, she knew that I was always a little different. I was lucky that my mentality was always that it’s okay to be different. It was okay to not look the part. As a young Asian Catholic, I was told to be this, this and this. My mom gave me the opportunity to be myself. I always loved connecting with people. The more I can create opportunities for that, whether through the magazine or events, great things come from it. It fills my heart when I see people uniting for the betterment of the cannabis community.”

Before DOPE, Tran opened four bars and nightclubs in Seattle, one of them he still owns today, Cowgirls Inc. on 1st Avenue, which became an institution in downtown Seattle with its mechanical bull and ladies dancing on the bar.

Having always had a relationship with cannabis, when Tran later had the opportunity to open a small medical marijuana store in Ballard, he jumped on it. He was exhilarated to walk into a room filled with cases of cannabis, and equally exhilarated to help those with debilitating illnesses.

“They talked about how many opioids they had to take daily so for them choosing medical cannabis was about necessity and healing. It was the most amazing thing. They would tell me, ‘Because of your store, I use this jar of Rick Simpson (cannabis extract) Oil when it used to take 20 pills that just destroy you.’”

These experiences immediately changed the way that Tran looked at cannabis, and he soon noticed that there weren’t too many resources around to learn from. That’s when the DOPE Magazine seed was planted. Teaming up with some friends that owned a lifestyle magazine for the nightclub scene, they managed to produce the first issue of DOPE in just 30 days and get it to the throngs of crowds at HEMPFEST that summer of 2011.

FORMULA FOR SUCCESS: STIR THE POT

To name the magazine “DOPE” didn’t come without controversy. This word was still considered derogatory to some of the old guard in the industry. “I respect this whole group of elders because cannabis came from them – those folks who were freedom fighters, who didn’t care what the consequences were – the ones who stood in front of the capital and said, ‘I believe in freedom.’” So he took their concerns to heart and explained that the meaning of cannabis was, and is, changing in the same way that the word “dope” is changing. Calling something “dope” is a big compliment, as in, “That shirt you’re wearing is dope,” or “You are dope.”

Sticking firmly to the model of normalizing cannabis by providing a platform so that more people could come out and talk about the plant, to understand it, word spread quickly about DOPE’s mission. Then-Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s photo was the first to be featured on the cover of that premiere issue, and he got flak for it too, even more so when he came to speak publicly at HEMPFEST that year. That publicity propelled the DOPE staff to continue spreading their mission and message.

It wasn’t easy to find people willing to go public with their love for cannabis. But that’s DOPE’s deliberate tactic – to show the faces of cannabis in order to communicate effectively with the cannabis community and individual citizens – to honor and respect the plant without fear or shame. It’s also a tool for bringing compassion and awareness to those who are incarcerated for a pot bust, a continuous cycle that can be broken only by legalizing the plant. That’s when families will be healed and lives turned around for the better.

“We had to put Christmas trees and art on the cover because in 2011 people would tell us that they ‘can’t be involved in that.’ When people realized the positive impact that cannabis was having on individuals and communities, we began to see individuals come out of the proverbial closet,” Tran said. That was when notables like Whoopi Goldberg, Fran Drescher, Mike Tyson, Ricki Lake, Macy Gray and others stepped up to tell their story to DOPE, bringing legitimacy, personalization, and a way to end stereotyping.

The June 2019 issue of DOPE features 13-year-old Rylie Maedler on the cover. As the youngest CEO in cannabis with her research and development company Rylie’s Sunshine, she is dedicated to creating safe and affordable cannabis oils for kids living with debilitating illness. She herself is the survivor of a rare and destructive bone disease of the jaw that brought painful seizures with it. Her mom turned to cannabis-derived cannabidiol, and thus Rylie’s journey began. Read DOPE’s full story at https://dopemagazine.com/rylie-maedler.

“Those are things we seek, to give a great platform for them to represent themselves,” Tran said of the people out there blazing trails for cannabis culture and the industry.

THE FUTURE IS DOPE

It’s really no surprise, when asking Tran about where he sees himself in the coming years, that his mind goes straight to giving back. That, and continuing to raise his three daughters in the same way he was raised – with freedom of choice in all things being paramount.

“I always say that when I grow up, I want to be a philanthropist,” he said. “That’s my goal – to be active and approachable to different business owners and leaders in the industry. I line up phone calls to talk about people – where they came from, their mission – and if I can utilize a couple words to encourage them or direct them, then I feel that I’m doing my job.”

Eventually, his aim is to support charities that can benefit from the power of cannabis, whether it’s cancer, AIDS, alcoholism… “There’s a huge opportunity for people who are becoming successful in this industry to give back to the industry that has given so much to us. I’m a family man so when I leave my house, I need to do something that makes an impact, otherwise I should just stay home. I want to do something that’s worthy of the time that I’m given to fulfill my potential and the potential in all of us.”

Just glancing around Tran’s office shows how the cannabis industry is developing at lightening speed, and there is no sign of that slowing down.

“Look at my desk. I have skin care products, sex pills, CBD nuts, mouthwash…a whole room full of different things that people are out there creating. It’s a brave new world and I’m excited that I’m living in this era. It’s great. It’s dope!”

 

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