Joe Tierney shuttered his popular cannabis-reviews site in 2019 because of his concerns about safety. Now it's back, he's living in the country, and he has a podcast, too.
Joe Tierney sits on his screened-in porch surrounded by four acres of woodland and thoughtful landscaping, lights a joint, and smiles. It is good to be the Gentleman Toker these days.
Tierney built his business with a website he founded in 2016, which explained how people can navigate DC’s confusing cannabis market. GentlemanToker.com grew to provide guides to buying weed, reviewed strains from local providers, and chronicled news about the rapidly changing legal-weed landscape around Washington. The rush of new entrants into the market meant an authoritative site like Tierney’s was an ideal place to advertise. “I was beating customers back with a stick,” he says. “I literally could choose who I worked with and who I didn’t.” He refused to charge for reviews, highlighting only product that met his standards.
Then, in 2019, Tierney abruptly quit the business, saying his doubts about the safety of local product made it impossible for him to ethically continue. He’d spent months that year sounding the alarm about lung injuries from vape cartridges, well before many mainstream media outlets recognized the problem as an epidemic. His own health took a hit—he believed his habit of dabbing, or consuming heated and highly concentrated THC, had led to him coughing up blood. And via invitations to travel around the country and explore expanding his website to other cities, he’d come to the conclusion that most of the straight-up “flower,” or dried bud, was compromised. “I don’t think it’s safe to consume cannabis anywhere after all of my travels,” he told Washingtonian. The site went down.
A short period in the wilderness followed—Tierney got a bartending job in Baltimore and tried his hand as an independent reporter covering Baltimore’s Fells Point neighborhood—during which he discovered to his dismay that other entrepreneurs moved in on the online territory he’d carved out. “What I didn’t realize is that Gentleman Toker was a sizable little chunk of the internet as far as Google was concerned,” he says. “And that when I took it away, it left a vacuum.” He reactivated the site, just to preserve his stake.
Then came Covid and an unexpected halt to his bartending career. “I thought the world was ending,” he says, referencing his religious upbringing: “I was like, ‘Oh shoot the second horseman’s here.'” At the same time, demand for weed skyrocketed among homebound Washingtonians. After meeting with lots of cannabis producers around the region and the country, Tierney decided he could perhaps bring the site back by focusing on products he deemed safe: flower and edibles. Since then, he says, the industry has shifted toward organic extraction methods that he feels much better about.
He also moved from being Gentleman Toker’s editor and publisher to a strict content role. Seth Laderman came on as the site’s CEO, and the publication hired reviewers and an SEO team to fight a never-ending battle to land atop your search results. Before long, Gentleman Toker was running quite well with minimal intervention from Tierney. So he started—what else?—a podcast.
The Gentleman Toker Podcast is a very Washington way of looking at weed. Each month’s episode starts with a wonky and funny John Oliver-like opening monologue by Tierney, where he flies through the news, peppering his thoughts with digressions on, say, the 2018 farm bill, the ups and downs of Delta-8 (a CBD-derived intoxicant that’s legal in many jurisdictions), and the relative expressions of terpenes in cannabis grown indoors and outside. That’s followed by an interview with a cannabis insider, like DC activist Adam Eidinger or “Oui’d Chef” Mathew Ramsey, then a short news segment. Its April episode discusses how cannabis businesses—which often become robbery targets because they can have a lot of cash on hand—can obtain insurance. Everything he reports, he says, is scrupulously fact-checked. “That’s something that we really pride ourselves on,” he says: “the information that we put out is accurate.”
As Tierney’s business transformed, so did his personal life: In October, he got married to the now Annah Tierney, who he met playing Cards Against Humanity with friends in Baltimore. The couple honeymooned in California, where Knott’s Berry Farm’s Halloween regulations didn’t allow them to indulge in their hobby of attending amusement parks in elaborate costumes. Now Mr. and Mrs. Toker occupy a sprawling Cape Cod-style home in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, where his home improvement plans include painting UFOs on an accent wall in the living room. They share their residence with three dogs, two cats, four box turtles, and a bearded dragon named Gloria. (While we spoke, his Boston terrier, Shoresy—named for a Letterkenny character—insisted on a vigorous game of fetch with me.)
“I’m a lot less crazy than I used to be,” Tierney says. “I’m pretty stable. I love my wife. I love our dog babies.” The podcast studio is in a spare bedroom upstairs—”where the magic happens,” he says. He and its producer, Lawrence Andrews, work remotely via the podcast-production platform Riverside.FM. His work space is tidy, with a whiteboard on the wall, a laptop perched on a stack of books so he can read scripts more easily, a quality microphone behind a pop screen, headphones, and a mousepad that depicts Harley Quinn. “It’s not very impressive, but it gets the job done,” he says.
Tierney appreciates the live-and-let-live ethos of St. Mary’s County—”I never have to worry about like somebody being like, ‘Oh, I smell weed coming from your house,’ as I have in the past,” he says. The couple are avid board gamers. He watches birds from his porch with binoculars and is planning to set up a telescope to observe the night sky.
“Mostly,” he says, I just sit out in the sunroom and do my research.”
By: Andrew Beaujon