Leona Kusa is the founder of Kusa Collective, a woman-owned, family-run legacy brand based in New York. Running the cultural gambit from Brooklyn to Montauk, Kusa Collective sets the framework to end prohibition. A Long Island native and cannamom, Leona devotes herself to sharing plant medicine education with others. We are pleased to bring you her adventures and observations from every aspect of the East Coast cannabis industry's supply chain.
Kusa had the pleasure of sitting down with Mike, CEO of New Amsterdam Cannabis and NYC native. We discussed his company, biography, and of course buds.
New Amsterdam Cannabis's Killer Crew of Legends
“I couldn’t do any of this by myself. No one on my team could really put any of this together on their own. We’re a solid team.” Mike tells me. “We’re operating as pre-licensed. We’re just waiting on regulations like everyone else.”
New Amsterdam has indeed already laid out their foundation for longevity. Each member of the crew has their own roles and responsibilities in the completed recipe that results in the fresh and cannabinoid locked buds we know and love.
Mike, Chief Executive Officer; Travis, Chief Operating Officer; Lily, Chief Marketing Officer; Brian, Grow Manager; and Tom, Business Partner, officially came together as New Amsterdam at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. As doors closed due to the worldwide shutdown, some team members found themselves unemployed and out of work. The team realized that potential grow spaces in New York City were readily available, and since weed was practically legal, landlords weren’t asking any questions.
After a series of smoke sessions with friends, growers, and East Coast legends, Mike decided it was go-time for New Amsterdam: “The quality of weed we were getting from California continued to drop even after prices had driven some of the best growers I’ve ever known here on the East Coast right out of business. So, the only way to ensure really good quality weed, like we used to have here in New York was to just partner up and do it ourselves again,” said Mike.
The group brought their old-school knowledge from their 60+ years of combined legacy experience and paired it with newly available modern techniques. The mission was to trial all the new technologies, nutrients, and methods to modernize the fundamentals of a successful grow– one part was perfecting their freeze-dry cure.
Re-ignited Rivalry: East vs. West Coast Bud
“I think, if you tell anyone under 35 years old that there was once this big contention about who had the best weed between the West and East coast, they’ll tell you ‘Whaaat, it’s always been California.’ And I think it’s because East Coast had to keep it more underground,” Mike recalls as he lights his joint. “I knew people here in the early 2000s that grew weed as good as anything the West Coast had, if not better – with strains that California only opened their eyes to in the last five years.”
While Mike specified that he wasn’t trying to talk trash on the West Coast (but wanted to re-ignite the friendly competition), I wondered for myself if it weren’t for Rudy Giuliani and corrupt cops, if New York’s cannabis market would be thriving in notoriety today.
“We came here looking for victims and made arrests instead,” said Brooklyn Detective Capt. to the December 1998 Daily News regarding Mike’s week spent in Rikers Island.
Mike, who was only 21 at the time, had been growing and running delivery services for a few years before working for a professional grower who had a large commercial grow in Brooklyn. Mike credits that period of time for a lot of the experience and knowledge he carries with him today.
However, the underground game was just as dirty as the enforcement. Another group of weed guys in the area sent armed thugs to rob Mike’s boss– however, nothing quite went according to plan.
Or did it?
“They didn’t get anything, but they did scare the living crap out of the delivery man who just happened to be there delivering propane,” Mike told me with a chuckle that I imagined took over a decade to overcome.
As the New York Post article put it; a deliveryman stumbled onto a Brooklyn marijuana farm while dropping off a propane tank when two armed men appeared and announced a stick up. The robbers used tape to truss up the delivery man and 8 others inside and made off with an unknown amount of cash, 3-foot-tall marijuana plants, about 100 seedlings, and about 2 pounds of “reefer” (exact term used, I swear).
The Daily News article wrote it a bit differently; “8 people shaken up by a push-in robbery at a Brooklyn bong factory were busted after cops arrived and found them all smoking marijuana. Cops recovered about 25 pounds of marijuana and seized drug paraphernalia.”
However, the true first-person account is much more action and corruption packed than local news in the 90s could’ve comprehended.
The Brooklyn operation was so large that they had hired their own glass blower and set up a studio for him to create heady pieces - hence them needing propane deliveries.
However, on that fateful delivery day, men with ski masks and guns ransacked the loft and held the delivery man against his will. Once he was freed, he made a call to the police – unknown to Mike and the crew who arrived shortly after the raid and seconds before the cops arrived.
“I showed up because my friends called and were like ‘yo, we just got robbed'; so, I came over with some weed– and that’s all the weed that was in the house when police originally arrived,” Mike remembered.
When police arrived at the scene of the robbery, instead of investigating the call they received, they quickly figured out from looking at the crew and the grow lights lying around that this was some sort of drug operation and began their own illegal search.
Police found deeds to other properties and searched them all while they kept Mike in Rikers Island under false charges. He and his associates were held on potential charges of Possession with Intent to Distribute; 1 for Heroin and 1 for Cocaine. During this raid/robbery, the Brooklyn police took all of the money and weed out of every property in their names. In total, the police stole $200k in cash and half a million dollars worth of cannabis.
“I mean, imagine spending a week in Rikers without being told anything about your charges other than you’re potentially facing 25 years to life, you’ll basically plead guilty to whatever. Brooklyn cops know how to do what they need to do,” Mike said sternly.
As it turns out, the possession charge for the cocaine was based on baking soda in the refrigerator and the heroin was a big jar of muscle mass-gaining powder from GNC. In actuality, Mike plead guilty to Possession of less than 2 ounces of cannabis.
The story doesn’t quite end there.
About a week after Mike returned home from Rikers, another member of his grow crew gave him a call and told him “You have to come over right now!” That associate had just picked up a few jars of weed from a Harlem delivery service and there was no mistaking what they had just spent the last 3 months growing.
“We were only running 2 strains when that particular bud got stolen: Super Orange Bud and Cali Orange. Absolute exotic shit for New York at the time– and this delivery service had unlimited amounts of orange thanks to their police buddy,” Mike snickered.
Little Detail Work: Freeze-Drying Cannabis
Cannabis Curing: (definition): the final step in growing and harvesting cannabis flower for consumption.
Mike’s cultivating career clearly didn’t end in 1998, and he has been working to master his art ever since.
“Freeze dry curing was critical for us, it really changed the game as far as how we can bring a higher quality of flower to our customers. It delivers a product that was once only available to growers,” He proudly told me. “We can decide exactly which day the trichomes look exactly right, harvest that day, and know there will be no further degradation.”
The freeze-dry process essentially freezes the cannabis while it’s still fresh off the plant. This technique preserves the flower in its fluffy, freshly harvested form so there is no shrinkage or further dilapidation of cannabinoids or terpenes.
The science behind it?
Once already frozen, a vacuum chamber heats the frozen material until moisture is sublimated out – which is the process of transferring ice to vapor without ever becoming water. The idea is to remove and stabilize the moisture in the buds to the preferred level of the strain or cultivar.
LEONA KUSA: Would you say it's quicker?
MIKE: Absolutely. It allows us to take our plant from being alive in the Coco we grow in to packaged and ready for sale in less than 7 days.
KUSA: Why is this rarely implemented?
MIKE: I get a sense that if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it is a lot of people’s approach. They’ve always done things a certain way and there’s a big risk to try things a different way. It was a steep learning curve – we ruined A LOT of cannabis; but once I tried samples from other states, heard legend Danny Danko’s endorsement of the process, and saw companies like CryoCure gambling that this was the future, I knew it had to be something worth trying ourselves. We wanted to do big things with this company so big risk was on the table.
KUSA: Do you lose any of the smell or do you lose any of the terps in the process?
MIKE: *smiles ear to ear, hands me the open bag of Daywrecker* “Well you check it out and tell me!"
KUSA: It was Brooklyn.
MIKE: I know people have gone through years and years of jail for cannabis and I am not one of them. I just got a brief glimpse of it, and I was lucky these cops were more corrupt than prosecutorial.
You can follow the crew on Instagram at @NewAmsterdamCanna
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Featured image: (C) New Amsterdam Cannabis