SHEFFIELD — In the world of marijuana breeders and growers, Gregory Krzanowski is royalty. But you wouldn’t necessarily know it by searching that name on the internet.
Search “Chemdog,” however, and information abounds about the 48-year-old’s famous cannabis “cultivar,” as botanists would say, that he introduced to the scene 30 years ago. Chemdog the man got that nickname from the marijuana he planted in his Northampton closet as an 18-year-old, keeping alive for decades plants grown from those 13 lucky seeds he found in buds procured from fellow travelers he met at a Grateful Dead concert.
“Between its mysterious origin, ambiguous genetics, and the plethora of successful crosses the strain has produced, Chemdog has practically secured itself a permanent place in the cannabis hall of fame,” the cannabis-focused website Leafly notes. Since 1991, it has become the progenitor of several other legendary varieties, such as Sour Diesel, the marijuana famous enough to be name-dropped in songs by music titans Bad Bunny, Drake, Jay-Z, Kanye West and the Notorious B.I.G.
That “Chem 91” mother plant — from which growers take cuttings that grow into new plants with the same genetics — birthed highly potent buds for connoisseurs across the country, from concert parking lots and beyond. The powerful strain quickly gained a reputation as a sticky, stinky variety beloved by those who were lucky enough to buy some, and some of the other seeds germinated into other popular sibling plants.
But amid marijuana prohibition, Krzanowski’s work almost cost him his freedom after federal agents raided his grow operation in Easthampton and his home in Southampton in 2011. Almost 10 years ago to the day, federal agents and Easthampton police were arresting Krzanowski after raiding his Southampton home and an Easthampton apartment, where they found what they described as an “elaborate marijuana grow operation.”
The raid bankrupted him after he had to forfeit all his money. It nearly cost him prison time, though he was given three years of probation instead and took a lengthy “hiatus,” as he put it, from growing cannabis. He was able to parent his son and stepdaughter and took to blowing glass pipes to make money.
Krzanowski spent a long time “underground,” both in his illegal growing days and after he pleaded guilty to federal distribution and money laundering charges.
But nowadays, he is just a regular commuter, traveling four days a week to Sheffield, where state-approved badges give him access to his own grow operation. He now works as the director of cultivation for Canna Provisions, which operates retail marijuana stores in Holyoke and Lee. He was able to get the job through the state’s social equity program, which seeks to provide pathways into the cannabis industry for those harmed by the so-called war on drugs.
“It’s pretty amazing, actually,” he said in an interview Thursday. “It has been a long time coming.”
Krzanowski’s experiences over the last decade highlight how far Massachusetts has come in the acceptance of marijuana. Once a drug that had police smashing bongs and dumping over plants on his living room floor, today a dispensary operates down the street from the Easthampton apartment that housed his grow room, selling among other strains “Stardawg,” one of the many varieties blessed with the genetics of Chemdog.
Krzanowski, too, is now able to sell his own acclaimed marijuana. He was standing Thursday in the middle of a grow room full of plants bearing the genetic heritage of the same plants he has been growing over the decades; a small circle of trusted grower friends kept them alive while he couldn’t be growing.
His advice he gives to every grower: “Always back up your strains.” A gentle smile was fixed on his face Thursday as he smelled plants with names like Zkittlez and 3 Dog Giesel — cultivars he has been able to grow because of that bond he had with other growers who kept his collection alive.
Three decades after Krzanowski first planted the mythical seed that grew the original Chemdog, he has partnered with Canna Provisions to create his own line of top-shelf weed the company is calling “Smash Hits.” Among the strains in the line is the original Chem 91, grown from the original mother plant of 30 years ago, and other crossbreeds he has gained a reputation for over the years.
The craft cannabis line, which includes varieties Krzanowski has licensed to Canna Provisions, is a true product of western Massachusetts, he said. The Northampton High School graduate first began exploring the genetic diversity of marijuana as an 18-year-old living in his first apartment on Market Street, and Smash Hits contains many of the cultivars he has created from those earliest plants and others.
That collection began in 1991, when Krzanowski ran into fellow grower and Deadhead Mike “P-Bud” Nee in a Grateful Dead show parking lot. Nee and his crew had brought along what they described as “Chem Weed” because of its pungent smell or “DogBud” because of how it had them rolling on the floor. Krzanowski wrote their phone numbers on an index card and followed up with them later to arrange for an ounce of those buds to be sent out to Massachusetts.
“I thank God I asked for their numbers,” Krzanowski said. It was four of 13 seeds that fell out of that ounce that spawned Chemdog and its siblings. Nee, who was one of the few growers able to save the strain over the years, now works as a professional grower at another company in Florida, and the two have licensing deals together, allowing them to profit off their creation.
Floating down narrow paths past the tall, pungent plants, Krzanowski cuts the image of a scientist with a lifelong interest in the entire process, from planting cuttings to harvesting and packaging the finished product. Donning a white lab coat, plastic gloves and a badge around his neck, he joyfully talks about botany, smells, tastes and his past work in the underground business of growing high-end buds.
“I think I just started the game with really good strains,” he said. “And a strong passion for it.”
Though he loved to travel to see live music, over the years he always stayed in western Massachusetts. He still sells glass pipes occasionally at Canna Provisions, and appreciates that he has been able to partner with a company locally. Even the sleek, colorful packaging holding Smash Hits flower was designed by a local: Nate Duval, the Northampton artist who has designed concert posters and vinyl record reissues for bands like Phish and the Grateful Dead.
“I lost everything,” Krzanowski said of his arrest. He said he’s still amazed that he has been able to operate legally at Canna Provisions for the last year, leading a team of others with a passion for the plants. “I don’t have to look over my shoulder anymore.”
Dusty Christensen can be reached at email@example.com.