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This Cannabis Boutique Owner Also Plays In An Iconic Rock Band - No Big Deal

"It was our goal to do something different than what we've seen before," says Brendan Hill, 46, a charmingly self-effacing career musician and owner of chic recreational cannabis boutique Paper & Leaf.

Last July, Hill, with business partner Steven Kessler, opened the shop on Bainbridge Island, Washington, in the Puget Sound Basin - its vibrant, rocky coastline punctuated with bays and inlets, best accessed from Seattle via ferry. The shop carries an impressive 100-plus strains, plus concentrates, vape and edibles selections.

"We found the location in an empty warehouse space," Hill tells Civilized. "One of the key elements was the presentation. Instead of having everything hidden behind a pharmacy counter where you can't look at it up close, we put in in beautiful glass-fronted boxes in the walls: like an art gallery. We've got this long, 12-foot elm table, where you can sit down and have a great discussion."

As for the shop's raison d'être, Hill says, "it was both the arts side and the medical side. My business partner, Steve, had an operation that went awry in 2006, and medical cannabis was the only thing that would give him relief. So he was very knowledgeable on that side. For me, I've used cannabis all throughout my professional life, for creativity, and to relax, and recreational uses. So us coming together in this venture made a lot of sense."

We've been chatting for a quarter of an hour before Hill casually mentions his main gig for the past few decades.

Blues Traveler (that's Brendan Hill second from left).

"I've been the drummer for a band called Blues Traveler since I was 17," he casually remarks. Wait a sec - that Blues Traveler? As in "Run-Around" and "Hook"? Hill is nonchalant about basically helping to spearhead the 1990s jam-band renaissance.

"All of us have families, but we play from June through Thanksgiving," he says. This summer, Blues Traveler will headline the July 4th show at Colorado's Red Rocks Amphitheatre, a gig they've held steadily since 1994.

Hill's love of music extends to other art forms. Paper & Leaf celebrates Hill and Kessler's ties to the arts community, showcasing work by local visual artists and photographers.

"It takes away the stigma. Even people who aren't cannabis consumers, but just appreciators of the arts, can come in."

It's been medical customers, however, that have made the most impact on Hill.

"People's lives and stories about cannabis use have affected me personally," Hill says. "When I hear about people with such pain, from vets with PTSD who use it to help with sleep disorders, to people with chronic pain, to those who are on low income with terminal cancer: those kind of moments are hard to describe. It's heartwarming. You're doing something that is necessary and people need access to."

Given that strains and potencies have changed considerably over the years, Hill says, education is key to make cannabis more accessible to people who may have tried it back in the 1970s and 80s, but have since gotten out of the habit.

"We host Cannabis 101 classes with guest speakers, growers, and people knowledgeable about certain strains, so we have this community outreach which is really important," he says.

Paper & Leaf also offer a shuttle service from the Seattle ferry which, for a nominal fee, assists tourists and non-drivers in getting to the shop.

Some exciting changes are in the works for Paper & Leaf this summer: on July 1 - the shop's first anniversary - it will receive its medical endorsement from the state government.

"We'll be able to talk openly and make recommendations, and patients can get a discount with no sales tax, larger quantities and stronger dosages for edibles and concentrates," says Hill. "We're really excited about that."

"Everyone's got a side project," says Hill, "and [Paper & Leaf] is the coolest side project one could ever have."

banner image: Grady Gausman /


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