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A Major Cannabis-Review Site Is Shutting Down Because Its Founder Doesn’t Think There’s Any Safe Way to Consume Weed

"I don’t feel good about the industry any longer," says Joe Tierney, aka "The Gentleman Toker."

Joe Tierney. Photograph by Evy Mages

The Gentleman Toker, a website that many Washingtonians have come to depend on for independent advice in navigating DC’s confusing cannabis market, will shut down October 1. “I don’t feel good about the industry any longer,” says Joe Tierney, who operates the publication.

Tierney tells Washingtonian the ongoing vaping health crisis has fed his growing conviction that there’s currently no safe way to consume cannabis. “I think we’re gonna find out bad things about dabs,” he says. “I think we’re going to find out bad things about edibles.” And good old fashioned flower? There’s so much flawed product around, he says, that he can’t in good conscience recommend people use it any longer.

Tierney used weed for decades to help with anxiety and depression before he became a cannabis business owner. He says his concern was heightened by a health scare: He began coughing up blood about a month ago and decided to quit dabbing—consuming heated, highly concentrated THC. After quitting, “I feel enormously better,” he says. Tierney hasn’t given up cannabis altogether—he still consumes a joint or two a day—but that’s the goal.

Tierney appeared to have his sights set on becoming more of a national presence—“Maybe I can be an American Idol for weed!” he told Washingtonian reporter Daniella Byck this spring—but he says now that a road trip he took to states with legal marijuana markets led him to believe that there are problems with weed nationwide. “Seventy to eighty percent of the products I found were some degree of flawed, from slightly flawed to Oh my god this is horrible,” he says. “The industry as a whole doesn’t have a good handle on the health and safety of these products.”

I just wanted to check, so I asked: Have you come to the conclusion that there’s no way to consume cannabis? “I don’t think it’s safe to consume cannabis anywhere after all of my travels,” he confirms.

The Gentleman Toker operated with ads from weed-industry concerns and had been Tierney’s full-time job for nearly two years. He’s had offers to buy the site, but he says he’s not interested—come October 1, he’s taking down the whole thing and walking away. “I went from wide-eyed and super excited to put my stamp on a brand new industry to being absolutely disgusted by it,” he says. For him, it’s a matter of mission: “One of my primary motivations is I need to be able to look myself in the eye and know I’m doing good, or at least a net neutral,” he says. In a newsletter earlier this month, he advised his readers to give up vaping from cartridges altogether: ““it is possible there is NO safe vape to consume, and so I must advise you to STOP VAPING RIGHT NOW TODAY STOP IT.”

But still, he says, he hears from readers asking whether certain vape cartridges are safe, which he likens to addict behavior. “I’m personally not going to contribute to this risk,” he says, “and it boggles my mind that people could hear all the concerns coming out about all these products and still want them.”

So what’s next for Joe Tierney? He’s not entirely sure. He says he had a successful career before he became the Gentleman Toker, and he doesn’t see why he couldn’t step back into the straight world after a few lifestyle adjustments. “I might take some time to bartend,” he says. “Alcohol isn’t great, but nobody’s pretending it is.”

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.