Well deserving of his “infamous” title, Bobby Black says rock & roll and weed have been his “driving passions" for most of his life. You’ve read his insights through High Times, where he was a senior editor and columnist for over 20 years, or you've heard him on his podcast, Blazin' With Bobby Black, on Cannabis Radio. You might have also caught him as the host of the world-famous Cannabis Cups.
Then there’s Amsterdam April. The driving force behind Higher Way Travel, and the woman who can do it all. April used to be an activity director at a golf resort in Arizona, where she taught yoga classes, took people hiking, and curated activities like salsa-making classes.
In 2006, at a Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, the two met. Two years later April moved in with Bobby and began booking travel arrangements for the Cup.
Creating Higher Way Travel
As legalization continued to blaze through the states, the two moved from NYC to California in 2016, and Amsterdam April continued to work with past customers who wanted travel arrangements for a Hawaii getaway. This is when she coupled everything she’s done in hospitality, with cannabis tourism, to curate “one, awesome, smokeable travel package” through the full service, 420-friendly travel agency, Higher Way Travel.
While some might turn their nose to cannabis tourism, it’s no surprise that the founders of Higher Way Travel are dedicated to give back to the plant that has given the canna-couple so much.
As Bobby says, “I met my wife through cannabis and had gotten my livelihood through cannabis.”
Higher Way Travel was created by stoners, for stoners, to help elevate the experience of tourists attending various cannabis events. Higher Way Travel also proves that the travel experience is enhanced when you add herb to the mix.
“A lot of times the travel experience is not enhanced by alcohol, because you have to spend time being hungover,” April said. “So with cannabis, it’s exactly the opposite. You don't get hungover. You eat a lot of delicious food. You're having fun in the sun, or maybe you want to have a snowy vacation out in the mountains and do some snowboarding. It's easily customizable for everybody.”
With this customization, April adds that Higher Way Travel’s trips don’t exclude those who don’t get high.
“You don’t have to go all the way, right? There are topicals, you can get an infused massage, or you can try vaping,” April said. “But you really don't have to hit the bong like how everyone has that image in their head.”
The Higher Way Travel Experience
There are two different experiences for Higher Way Travel. While April will customize a trip for anyone for wherever they would like to go, a big part of what Higher Way Travel curates are the all-inclusive group vacations.
Group vacations, like Baked on the Beach in Jamaica, which Higher Way Travel runs every 4/20. The package includes your food, drinks, lodging, your hotel transfers so you have a shuttle between the hotel and airport, as well as a whole plot of events.
Higher Way Travel’s stoner-proof itineraries include yoga, snorkeling and spearfishing, tie dye parties, and ganja field visits. A big part of Baked on the Beach includes an authentic Jamaican Chalice smoking ceremony.
“We are working on building out similar packages that we have for Jamaica, Colorado, California and Barcelona for new destinations in 2019,” Bobby said. “We're now also working on building cannabis travel packages for Costa Rica and Hawaii.”
The packages costs vary depending on which location, your departure city, the season, length of your stay, and your budget.
“I try to work with whatever the budget is and maximize your experience. I have insight on ways to not get ripped off and sucked into tourist traps,” April said. “Jamaica is the best deal and those start at $1200 including food and drinks. Colorado can range from $1000 and up, depending on what tours, activities, and where you stay. Amsterdam and Barcelona can range from $1600 and up."
Higher Way Travel recently added new booking software to their site.
The communal aspect of the cannabis community is the pillar of Higher Way’s Travel group vacations.
“Having a trip arranged for stoners by stoners is kind of the motto lately, and having someone who understands, and someone you can actually ask those questions to, makes it really nice for people as well,” April said.
“As the cannabis industry continues to become more legitimate and more open, the mainstream becomes more open to it,” Bobby added. “There's a lot of people that may smoke weed in their lives here and there, but they don't really know that much about the ins-and-outs behind the scenes. And there's all these new tours where people can check out a grow room or dispensary, and all that factors into the cannabis travel as well.”
While right now cannabis travel is a boutique industry, April is confident that it is here to stay.
“It's only gonna get bigger. More bed and breakfasts are popping up here in California that are open to it and that are trying to switch over,” April said.
Bobby added, “Once the federal prohibition has gone, and that's going to still take probably a number of years I guess, but the floodgates will really be wide open. People will be able to book cruises and all kinds of stuff that we can't really do now because of law enforcement issues.”
April is excited for the northeast to open up, and is eager to plan a cannabis trip with the changing leaves and harvest season that the beautiful East Coast has to offer.
Even when the country decides to fully embrace recreational cannabis use, Bobby is happy Higher Way Travel isn’t trying to be “this giant, huge travel company.”
“April is really good at delivering the personal touch and custom-tailoring and creating these curated experiences that people can enjoy and create memories from, and create friends with,” Bobby said. “To come back and be friends with the people that you traveled with is really cool.”
Bobby and April push for the full legalization of cannabis for three main reasons.
The first, being that it was made illegal for “bogus, racist reasons.” Bobby notes these reasons, that were catered to paper industries and pharmaceutical industries that “didn't want hemp and cannabis to be legal because it ate into their profits,” is a huge issue.
“It's a plant. It's an herb, and I can’t think of another herb that's been targeted in such a way as this has,” Bobby said.
Secondly, it is a libertarian issue.
“It's a matter of civil rights,” Bobby said. “Adults in this country should have the right to put whatever they want into their bodies and the government shouldn’t have any business telling them that they can't, as long as they don't harm anyone.”
He added, “The fact that you're putting thousands of people in prison and taking away their possessions, their livelihoods, and their lives and families over it is a terrible thing.”
Bobby doesn’t believe recreational is the best word to describe adult cannabis use.
“Really all cannabis use is medicinal and spiritual. It improves your mood and health, and science proves that we have this endocannabinoid system in our body, moderated by cannabis,” he said. “If used in moderation, there are tons of health benefits.”
The third huge reason, is that cannabis has been used as medicine since it was discovered.
“Kids with autism, Dravet Syndrome, people with epilepsy and all kinds of different things, they can take different forms of cannabis without smoking it to get high,” April said. “Why deny us ancient medicine? This is something that humankind has been using for thousands and thousands of years.”
“That’s never killed anyone,” Bobby added.
While full legalization will open up necessary research, which has been so limited all these years, the worry with legalization is that the government will sink their claws in the business.
“Oh, they're trying so hard and kind of banding together, sticking to all these different interests of money, money, money,” April said. “People own these cannabis businesses, but they don't even smoke cannabis.”
Bobby points to the fact that the people that have pioneered this industry are the ones getting the short end of the stick.
“You have all of these people that have been devoting their lives to growing it and trying to make it legal for decades. They are now being pushed out of the market because they can't afford the fees or the licensing or the this and that,” he said. “It's just a shame that the legal permission has a long way to go still before it will be fair. Because right now it's more like prohibition light.”
April says that cannabis being heavily regulated continues a faulty and unfair structure.
“It prices people out. People who are really sick and are benefiting from medical marijuana and the deals that they can get — like shatter deals or buy one ounce, get the second ounce half off— they don't have those deals anymore,” April said. “And some counties here in California don't even want any sort of a dispensary. So people are forced to drive to other counties, or they're stuck with a delivery service where you feel like you're forced to buy something because they're coming to your house.”
Bobby added, "A lot of dispensaries, collectives, and growers have always donated medicine for free to low income people or seriously ill patients. And they can't do that anymore because every single scrap, every single nug has to be accounted for in the seed-to-sale tracking system and they have to pay taxes and fees on it.”
He continued, “So how are you going to donate medicine that is going to cost you so much more money to donate that medicine?"
Taking Herb To A Higher Place
While Higher Way Travel is currently trucking through the places where cannabis is openly accepted, Bobby and April are hoping that with continuing to advocate for the plant they know and love, the stigmas that still cloud cannabis will clear up.
“I wish those that opposed pot knew all the many medicinal benefits it can provide,” Bobby said. “I would also say too, how would you feel if you were in your home with a six pack or a bottle of wine, kicking back and enjoying it, and then armed swat teams kicked your door down and shot your dog and arrested you? They took away all your possessions because you chose to drink a beer or a glass of wine. This is what pot smokers have been facing for decades.”
“So even if it’s not for you and if you don't want to smoke it, that's one thing. But to say that it’s a harmful drug justifies the terrible things that’s been going on,” he added.
April mentions the relatively-recent-to-the-mainstream spike with CBD, and how it can help beat the stigmas killing cannabis' buzz.
“A lot of people talk about CBD now and a lot of these older folks are seeing that their grandchildren or maybe their parents are getting turned on to cannabis by a friend at the retirement home. Or maybe, ‘I'm going to bring grandma this candy bar because it might make her feel better,’” April said.
“I think that's how the anti-folks are actually breaking away from the stigmas, because they're seeing how it's helping people that they love, without the smoke involved.”
Coming out of the Cannabis Closet
“My parents were what you call ‘the cool parents.’ So all my friends smoked at my house, in the backyard, and in my room,” April said. “My parents had the mindset that if you're honest with us, we'd rather you be in our house than hanging out at the park where you could get in trouble.”
April first started smoking when she was 14 and says “it has always been a consistent and good friend” to her. Her first time was with two friends where they, naturally, stole some weed from April’s parents’ stash.
“We went to a vacant house in our neighborhood. Nobody had papers so we used the inside wrapper of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup,” April laughed. “It burned like shit.”
She realized cannabis enhanced her quality of life, as it helped her in school, with creative projects, menstrual cramps, and with her yoga practice.
For Bobby, who started smoking around 12-years old, found that, for him, “everything has been centered around cannabis, pretty much my entire life.”
His first time getting high was just as he was discovering rock & roll in junior high school. When he had mingled with the other, “very small number of kids in the school that were rockers” and befriended some of the older kids “with rocker tendencies,” he snuck out of school with them during lunch.
“They busted out a joint, which I had some familiarity with but I didn't know that much about it, and smoked with them for the first time,” he recalled. “Right after I smoked, one of them said, ‘here listen to this,’ and I heard a Metallica for the first time.”
The walkman headphones were streaming Ride The Lightning.
“The first song “Fight Fire with Fire” starts off all sweet and soft and gentle, and then it just kicks into this insane crunchy riff that just blew me away,” he said. “I've never heard anything like that before, but that was it. I became a metal head for life at that point.”
As Bobby continued to smoke through high school and college — and got his start at High Times through an internship during his last year of college — he had found that a lot of his creativity as a writer has been, “although not created by cannabis, certainly helped by it."
While Bobby’s parents also smoked, coming out of the cannabis closet was a different experience than April’s.
“Actually, my dad slung weed a little bit in the 70s. So when I was a little kid I would often find roach clips and rolling papers in the couch cushions and I didn't know what they were," Bobby said. Laughing, he added, "Once my mom told me a roach clip was a feathered earring."
Eventually, Bobby’s parents found a homemade bong under his bed, that he and a friend had made out of a plastic soda bottle.
“I was about 13, and my parents sat me down. I was so nervous and so scared and they were like, ‘What's up with this?’ And I said that it was a friends and they said, ‘listen, when you're older you can make your own decisions about this, and if you want to do it then, that's up to you. But right now you're too young and we want you to focus in school and we're worried that this might get in the way of you getting good grades’.”
Bobby’s parents asked him to promise them that he wouldn’t do it again until he was older.
“My parents treating me with respect and talking to me like a person made a big impact on me,” he said. “I'm not going to lie, I still did smoke behind their backs because I was a teenager and I wanted to. But the bottom line is I respected that and I respected them for it.”
When Bobby turned 21, his parents threw a party for him at a bar in Brooklyn owned by his dad's friend.
“I opened up my birthday card and my mom had put a joint in it, and she was like, ‘well, we know that you smoke and you know that we smoke, so let's just stop pretending’,” Bobby said. “And I smoked a joint with my parents for the first time and ever since then we've always smoked together.”
The cannabis and tattoo worlds are so intertwined, and Bobby has experienced wild adventures with both.
“April and I like to say your vibe attracts your tribe,” Bobby said. “I think that there's a certain mentality of people who are free spirited, open-minded type of people, and those are the kinds of people that would be more interested in taking drugs and smoking weed, and they're also getting tattoos possibly.”
For Bobby, rock & roll, weed, and tattoos have always come together.
“You know, rock stars get tattoos and rock stars are famously known for partying and doing drugs and drinking, so in my mind, there's a whole kind of symbiosis in all of it.”
April added, “It’s reflective of counter culture, an open-minded mentality, and embracing your freedom.”
Bobby notes that “the counterculture is becoming the mainstream culture,” whether it is with ink or with pot.
He says that when he was younger, “only metalheads got tattoos, and now everybody seems to be getting them and it's great. On the same note, we keep seeing more and more different types of people smoking.”
Bobby’s first tattoo was when he was 19, of Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song Apollo.
“I wanted to get it when I was 18, and my parents were a little worried about it," he said. “They said, ‘what if you don't like led Zeppelin later on,’ and I’m like, ‘are you kidding me? I’m going to be listening to Led Zeppelin on my deathbed'.”
That’s when he “got the bug,” so to speak. Now on nine tattoos, including a wolf — which he says is his spirit animal — by Mike Perfetto on his other arm.
“His shop was located around the corner from L'Amour, a famous heavy metal club in Brooklyn, where people would go before or after a metal show to get tattooed,” Bobby said. “This was back when tattoos were illegal in New York. He's been around a long time and he's still there. That was my first tattoo guy.
While a Bobby Black fan got a portrait tattoo of Bobby, this isn’t one of Black’s most exciting tattoo highlights. He is pleased to announce that Paul Booth gave Bobby the “thumbs up” for a tattoo Black got backstage on a tour bus at Lollapalooza.
“I had a green man face done, the one Slayer used for the God Hates Us All tour, which was a Paul Booth design,” Bobby said. “As a matter of fact, Kerry King [of Slayer] has it on the back of his head. I interviewed Paul Booth for High Times at one point and he gave it his seal of approval.”
Bobby also has a tattoo for the Tool album Lateralus, which Alex Grey created, to mark the power-points of the soul on the anatomy diagrams.
“I actually had these tattooed on me in Alex Grey's Chapel of Sacred Mirrors when it was in Manhattan,” Bobby said. “I've known Alex Grey for many years and his protege at the time was a tattoo artist. We became friends and I went there one night after closing. I was completely surrounded by all of the Alex Grey originals on the wall while he tattooed me, and we didn't finish until about two in the morning.”
Bobby has written on many of these experiences for High Times, and as he has joined his love of journalism and tattoos, one of his favorite tattoos remains to be the one he has of Hunter Thompson's famous Gonzo symbol.
“It's a dagger with fist holding a peyote button, and that's the symbol of his philosophy of Gonzo journalism, which was the biggest influence on me as a writer,” Bobby said. “Being a Gonzo journalist and putting yourself in the story to tell stories from a perspective that brings the reader along with you is something that I was always drawn to.”
While Hunter Thompson’s symbol might most excite the writers in the room, the magic of bringing people together, for everyone, lies within shared experiences. For those whose vibe has attracted their right tribe, these shared experiences can be heightened, introspective, and spiritually fulfilling. This is best enacted through love, kindness, and understanding.
And, well, a little weed.