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Lifestyle

Q&A: FLAMER’s Matías Alvial On How NYC Cannabis Brand Fosters Queer Community

Kymberly Drapcho

by Kymberly Drapcho

June 24, 2024 08:00 am ET Estimated Read Time: 13 Minutes
Fact checked by Emily Mullins
Q&A: FLAMER’s Matías Alvial On How NYC Cannabis Brand Fosters Queer Community

​​Matías Alvial, Wyatt Harms, and Khalil Acevedo founded FLAMER out of the desire to create. At the height of COVID — when the United States was at a peak time of political unrest — the three founders joined forces to create their own weed brand — and to no longer be at the will of systems that have historically oppressed queer people and all marginalized communities.

Now, the trio sells unique blends of high-quality, sun-grown cannabis. But FLAMER is more than just a dispensary: instead, it’s a powerhouse beacon of community building. The FLAMER founders are guided by the decidedly queer mission of education and accessibility. Alvial, Harms, and Acevedo are committed to giving their community — one committed to liberation, connection, and creation — a safe space to not only live authentically but to consume cannabis responsibly and to learn more about the plant and how it affects each individual uniquely.

Alvial sat down with Veriheal to discuss FLAMER’s origins, the importance of education in consumption, and cannabis as a great universal connector.

Photo by Matías Alvial

Kymberly Drapcho (KD): Before we even get into the FLAMER lore, I want to hear the lore of the three founders. How long have y’all known each other?

Matías Alvial (MA): Wyatt Harms and I were part of this activist group in New York, which, the premise was to bring awareness to issues that queer people were facing around the world and the idea that we all have different backgrounds, we’re from different places, we have different views. However, there’s a universality to the queer experience, and within that, we all face those same challenges. And, maybe this country does not care for our input, but, at the same time, we need to raise awareness because otherwise, no one else will.

I started as more of a volunteer, and Wyatt was more on the planning committee. I always looked at Wyatt as a leader, and I remember starting to smoke weed at the time (oops), and there was this one time after a meeting, I think he hit a vape. And this was also pre-legalization, pre-smoke everywhere in New York City. And it was still like, “Do you smoke?” And that question was a catalyst for friendship many times.

I remember just seeing Wyatt and being like — hold up. Mr. Well-Put-Together? He had the glasses, he was working in tech. I still had that mentality that stoners were not successful or that only bad people or artists smoked. So [seeing Wyatt smoking] was truly my first time looking at someone that I had admired in a professional capacity and being like, “Wow, he’s in tech, and he smokes? That’s wild.” 

But, in queer history and history in general, activist groups tend to dissolve after some time. And then COVID hit, and our group dissolved.

Wyatt and I weren’t really close friends, but then, it was the summer of Black Lives Matter — I think it was May 2020, I think, when George Floyd was killed, and the protests started, and he was one of the few people that I kept seeing out and about every single time. We kept meeting and smoking, and smoking was the uniting factor of how that friendship solidified. 

KD: Beautiful. So, where does [FLAMER’s third co-founder] Khalil come into the picture?

MA: When I really met Khalil was June 1st of that year, marking the beginning of Pride, and, in the spirit of Black Lives Matter, we thought about honoring Black trans women — namely Marsha P. Johnson or, ya know, a lot of queer liberation is truly built on the backs of queer or trans women of color.

So, we made a banner that said “Pride Is A Riot #BlackLivesMatter.” And we were with a fourth person, who goes by Hazyl or Ryon, and we call them the FLAMER muse. They are the reason Wyatt started smoking, so we always make the little shout-out.

We made the banner and we walked it to Stonewall. And, when we got there, there was a corporate rainbow capitalism banner hanging there. There was of course police, given the climate of Black Lives Matter and Stonewall being Stonewall. That’s where a lot of protests start and end — think of the legacy of Stonewall.

So, I think it was the mania or euphoria of the moment, but I told the cop: “Can you move?” And he did move. We cut down the original banner and put ours up, and it was peaceful.

And then for the remainder of Pride, it was the backdrop of Pride for that year — which was a very heavily politically charged month. All the news outlets would cover it and we’d see the banner in the back and be like, “Aww, we made that banner.”

That was the first time Khalil and I had been in the same room together, making the banner ourselves together.

KD: That’s so powerful. So, that’s how you met, can you tell me a little about how the three of you started working together? 

MA: So, after that, Khalil kind of just disappeared as he does. He went to California to work for [cannabis] harvest season.

And I had reached a point where I was mad at the arts world. My boss at the time, who later became a mentor, was black and gay, and he’d tell me all these stories, and I’d see parallels to my own life, and I realized that a lot has changed and a lot hasn’t changed. And I  just called Wyatt and said, “Fuck, I need to quit. We need to start something. You’re smart. You work in business. I can do creative. We’re in the same circles. Let’s do something.”

It happens that the day before, he had flown back from California, where Khalil had said to Wyatt, “You need to quit your day job.” Basically exactly the same conversation.

And rainbow capitalism was very much in our minds, and we’re all queer, and the joke was, “Let’s make gay weed.” Wyatt had just come back from California, and Khalil had plans to start his own farm. And after one too many puffs, we were like, “Let’s start a weed brand.”

KD: Hell yeah. Where does the name come from?

MA: We googled slurs, and “flamer” used to be a slur for someone who’s really flamboyant, and it also sounds like — fire, flame. And we were like, “That’s it.”

And the other bit that made it special to us is that, in queerness, you always have to talk in a code. That code always exists. We all act in different ways — in the workforce, we’re different from at home or with friends, and I think queer people are better able to understand this code-switching, the same as with people of color.

For queer people, more than just speech, it’s also dress, how you act. So, in gay cultures, the handkerchief in the back pocket meant you were gay, and depending on the color, it showed what you were into. In any case, I wanted FLAMER to be “if you know, you know.”

And, in psychology, the color red has that sexy connotation. It’s the color of hunger, the color of desire. And because I worked in the arts, I was like, “Red it is.”

That was the true beginning of the three of us joining forces.

KD: So tell me a little bit about how FLAMER operates now.

MA: So, Khalil is very much a person of the land. He likes the outdoors. He’s always said, “New York is sometimes too much party and not enough respect for the plant.”

In a society like New York, it’s hard to catch someone’s attention if it’s not attention-worthy. It’s also hard to communicate messages across social media because of censorship, and a lot of words are banned.

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At the beginning, we were selling joints on the street and organizing rooftop parties. And to be fair, it was just an excuse to see people, smoke weed, and take pictures. The holy trinity in my head.

Now that we’re more established, we want to get back to teaching people the importance of cannabis outside of recreational use.

No one taught me how to smoke weed. There is that lack of education. So, I tell people, “Our weed is good, but more than that — know your limit. One puff at a time. If you feel good, take another. If you take too much, CBD can help.”

KD: We should all know that, and we don’t. Safe consumption is so important, and because a lot of cannabis consumption happens underground, it’s oftentimes less prioritized. 

MA: Behind FLAMER, a lot of it is just education. But rather than sitting someone down, it’s easy to have a party and tell people, “This product has A, B, C, and D. It has these terpenes. You’re going to have a great time.”

We’re all people that want to enjoy the same plant, but, the thing is, I want to use it responsibly.

That’s why we never do actual strains for our pre-rolls. Instead, we do blends like our signature Silly Goofy or Lobotomy. Because the truth is, in any given batch, there are so many different factors. Everything you do affects the final product.

The idea of the blends is that — you never know that you’re getting the same thing. Season after season, the same strain can change. So we test a lot of weed and truly find a good balance between the strains.

Did you ever watch the Powerpuff Girls where the doctor mixes everything together?

KD: Yes, yes. I am Bubbles, honestly.

MA: That’s what we’re like. Sometimes one strain is strong, but the odor isn’t so we complement it with something else.

It’s always going to be the same feeling. For Silly Goofy, it’s always the weed that makes us laugh.

A lot of times in cannabis, you never know what to expect because the names are like, “Girl Scout Cookies.” What does that mean? So, we wanted to make it a bit easier on the consumer to know what to expect.

There’s that level of education that we have to do. First of all, it’s not the drug your parents told you it is. Second of all, you’re not going to die from it because there’s no cases recorded. Third of all, just learn bit by bit. Do your research, and slowly realize what you like.

From what I’ve learned, no one is the same. There’s no way of generalizing.

KD: So it sounds like FLAMER exists at the intersection of a lot of different cultures — whether that’s queer culture or the arts or cannabis culture. 

MA: The reality of cannabis is that it’s deeply intertwined with queer culture in that the legalization came from AIDS patients being given cannabis to relieve their symptoms. And that’s a story not most people know. The same way weed brownies come from Brownie Mary giving brownies to AIDS patients. A lot of it comes from queer culture.

Also, once you’re already part of the counter-culture — whether you’re queer, whether you’re punk, whatever — you’re more likely to engage with other counter-culture lifestyles. As long as there’s been queer people, there’s been stoners. 

No matter how straight someone is, if they’re a hippie, they’re still accepting of any queer person I’ve ever seen because they understand the idea of “Love is love and blah blah blah,” and that, to me, comes along with the idea of smoking together. We’re friends, and life is not that deep sometimes.

KD: There is something so intimate about sharing a blunt with a stranger. I’m so willing to put something that was in this person’s mouth who I’ve never met into my own mouth. 

MA: Yes, and part of FLAMER’s identity goes back to queer theory. There’s this one book called Cruising Eutopia. And the premise is that queerness is of the future meaning that was queer before is not queer now. Two men holding hands in the ’30s — that was probably death penalty or jail time or at least a fine. But today — I mean, Challengers came out, you know?

Queer, as such, is the next frontier. Queerness today feels like it was before the AIDS epidemic. Because of AIDS, we all had to come over the umbrella, the label, the flag and be like, “I’m gay, and I’m proud. Because no one’s fighting for me, we have to fight together.” And we got a lot of the civil liberties we have today under the label of the “gay agenda.” But I do think that now, as a lot of young folks grow up without as much of a stigma and without having to hide as much, I find that the label is limiting to a lot of folks.

To me, FLAMER has never been “gay.” The reality is that we’re in an era where the label is less necessary, and as such, we’re evolving. And as such, a lot of the people that align with FLAMER are not necessarily just gay or just bi or just lesbian or whatever, but who resonate with the promise of liberty, liberation, being your own self, and following your dreams.

A lot of the people who are part of our FLAMER community are creatives, artists, culture-shakers, booty-shakers. It’s just people who smoke weed, and it just happens to be our weed — and it’s because they identify with bringing the arts together under one umbrella.

It’s been a uniting thread, just wanting to get to know new perspectives and become a part of a mix of everything and everyone and every color of the rainbow. And that is something that is only possible with the acceptance that comes with cannabis. There is a layer of open-mindedness that every cannabis user has. 

KD: It’s that same open-minded willingness to connect with people and look beyond our differences or celebrate our differences.

MA: To me, smoking has always been about connecting with people.

Things do change, but it’s hard to tell one from the other when, for example, in the drag world, everything’s fantasy. Everything can be referential to the past, to the present, to the future.

In a way, time just dissipates when you see the spaces you get to create with that imagination with the room for dressing up, with the room for thinking out loud, with the room to be yourself. 

That’s what’s been really lovely being a part of FLAMER. It’s my time to give back and create that space.

All photos by Matías Alvial.

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