Civilized Gets Cannabis Right

Founder Derek Riedle on how his site covers Canada, stigmas, and the reality of pot culture.

Derek Riedle can remember the exact moment the idea for Civilized entered his mind.

It was 2015, and he was out to dinner with his wife in Venice, Calif. The couple had moved from Canada to L.A. the year before, and that evening they were celebrating both a birthday and their final day producing a television show.

“We’re in a restaurant,” Riedle recalls. “Everyone was drinking beer, wine, and spirits and having a great time. I stepped out, and I found myself behind the restaurant, beside a dumpster with my vape pen. I thought, ‘This is fucking crazy.’ ”

He found himself incensed by the disparity between the cultural acceptance of alcohol and the stigma around cannabis.

“Everyone in there is using low-dose poison,” he recalls thinking, “and I’m out here consuming a plant, and I’m the one that’s having to hide?”

His solution was Civilized — a media company dedicated to modern cannabis culture.

Many websites have attempted to corner the online cannabis world, but Civilized succeeds in two ways. The first is its interest in Canada — which has greatly expanded readership. The second is the decision to posit cannabis not as some rare curio, but instead to cover it as an industry like any other.

This means discussing cannabis features and news through a multitude of related subjects, including music, business, and wellness. By integrating cannabis coverage into a range of topics that one might expect to find on any website focused on culture, Riedle and his team are working to make cannabis fit into our daily lives instead of standout from the crowd.

“When we first started out,” Riedle says, “we always knew we were going to be broader than cannabis culture, because those who enjoy cannabis also enjoy humor and movies and travel and gear. All that stuff.”

Anyone familiar with the industry — both here in California and abroad — knows cannabis is a subject that lends itself to just about anything, be it environmental conservationism, medicine, or social justice. Recent Civilized headlines include features on Jimmy Buffett’s long-awaited foray into the industry, an analysis of how hemp has been a boon for Italian farmers, and a guide to having a cannabis-friendly fantasy football draft party.

Given that Civilized has offices in both Los Angeles and New Brunswick, Canada, it’s no surprise that Riedle’s company is closely monitoring events as his home country inches closer to full legalization nationwide. He’s understandably excited.

“The reason I like what’s going on in Canada right now is that you’re going to have a nation with a set playing field from coast to coast,” he says.

A consistent set of rules extended across an entire country would be quite a contrast to the rope of regulations currently ensnaring California. Even Riedle has gotten tangled in it. On a recent trip to Santa Rosa, he recalls using WeedMaps to find a nearby dispensary only to learn that recreational cannabis remains illegal in Sonoma County. (Surprising, right?)

“I don’t want to call it ‘chaos,’ ” he says, “but the patchwork of regulations and legislation that exists across California is really limited. Who can keep track of all this shit?”

Meanwhile, Civilized is diving headfirst into the growing green tides on Canada’s shores.

Just recently, Constellation (the makers of Corona beer) invested $4 billion into Canopy Growth — Canada’s largest marijuana producer. Excitement for our neighbors to the north is based largely on the fact that Canada will be able to export its new crop, something the United States cannot do while federal prohibition remains in effect.

“You’ve got 10 provinces across the country and their regimes are remarkably fleshed-out,” Riedle says. “They’re ready to go.”

At the end of September, Civilized will host a cross-country tour of Canada with comedian Chelsea Handler. The events are being billed as “town halls,” with Riedle as moderator and Handler’s sets as the main event.

“One of the things that I talk about a lot is how cannabis needs more role models,” Riedle explains. “People need to see themselves within cannabis culture. Celebrity culture can be a double-edged sword, but rightly or wrongly, celebrities are role models.”

Describing the former Chelsea Lately host as “a strong advocate for cannabis,” Riedle and Civilized plan to bring the tour — a blend of one-on-one discussion and audience questions — to provinces across Canada. One can only wonder why similar educational efforts have yet to be undertaken domestically, but combining forces with Handler only serves to reaffirm Riedle’s stance on cannabis culture and the way his company covers it.

“It’s like a whole-wheat cookie,” he says. “It’s still a cookie, but it’s kind of good for you. We’re just trying to literally be a reflection of how the world is using and talking about this stuff.”

Zack Ruskin covers news, culture, and music for SF Weekly. |  @zackruskin

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