Cannabeginners: The History of Acapulco Gold

Cannabeginners: The History of Acapulco Gold

One of High Time’s 25 Greatest Strains of All Time, Acapulco Gold is a legendary cultivar that is so rare these days the gold in the name might as well be a reference to its scarcity, rather than its color. Yet it was once one of the most commonly found cultivars in the hippie days of the 1960s on the West Coast of the U.S., and later was a crucial lifeline to funding the growth of the early punk scene in the 1980s. 

History of Acapulco Gold

As legend has it, Acapulco Gold (also called Mexican sativa) originated high up in the Guerrero Mountains, east of the port city of Acapulco. Not only was this warm, wet, coastal climate ideal for cannabis cultivation, the location on the Pacific coast made it primary territory for Californian surfers searching for big waves and strong bud. It would only be a matter of time before those surfers and others would bring Acapulco Gold back home with them.

According to Royal Queen Seeds, “Acapulco Gold first showed up in the United States back in 1964,” which tracks with the history of Romulan, where Mexican genetics first appeared in the 1960s. If that timeline is accurate, Acapulco Gold would have arrived in San Francisco just in time for the birth of the hippie movement and 1967’s Summer of Love, a perfect time and place to become a cultural icon. Cementing its status as a connoisseur-grade cultivar, Cheech and Chong immortalized Acapulco Gold by featuring it in Up in Smoke and creating a slogan for it, “No sticks no seeds that you don’t need. Acapulco Gold is….Bad Ass Weed.”

Gary Tovar: From Acapulco Gold to Goldenvoice

When you scour the internet for information about Acapulco Gold, while some finer details of stories might be a bit different, they all tend to mention the same man, smuggler and concert promoter, Gary Tovar. Tovar smuggled a variety of goods over the years, but in the late 1960s he began to smuggle cannabis into the U.S., both seeds and bud, which became “California’s largest marijuana operation.” The most notable cultivars that Tovar smuggled were Afghani, Thai Stick, and Acapulco Gold. Eventually, he would earn millions of dollars before being arrested for drug trafficking in 1991, and imprisoned the following year until 1999. 

In 1978, Tovar entered a new phase of his life, with the hippie movement long dead, the counterculture sought a new music to define the era, and Tovar found that in punk rock at a Sex Pistols concert. Three years later, Tovar founded the concert promotion company Goldenvoice (named for a different cannabis cultivar) to bring punk to the masses. The 1980s was a very different time than 2023, and many venues were afraid to host punk shows out of fears of violence; punk also faced law enforcement crackdowns. 

According to a profile on Tovar, “Punk’s lifeline was cash from cannabis, and music provided a way to wash the proceeds from the trade.” By his own estimation, Tovar spent over $4 million promoting punk music and bringing major British bands to the U.S., which all came from his cannabis business. “When I was doing both my things – smuggling and concerts – I considered them crusades,” Tovar said, adding “Now I think we won on both ends. Our music won – you can hear a Ramones song in an elevator – and we won on the marijuana front.” It wasn’t just punk music though, Tovar was an early booster of goth, industrial, and all sorts of alternate music, and he worked with artists including Siouxsie and the Banshees, GBH, Public Image LTD, Nirvana, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns N’ Roses, and Jane’s Addiction, just to name a few. Even though Tovar stepped away from Goldenvoice in 1991 when he went to prison, Goldenvoice has thrived and their flagship festival, Coachella, is one of the most well-known music festivals in the world. 

As the history laid out by Royal Queen Seeds says Acapulco Gold came to the U.S. earlier than Tovar was smuggling it, chances are, he may not have been the first person to bring Acapulco Gold to the U.S., but the identity of that person is lost to the ages. The other name mentioned in connection to Gary Tovar is an associate of Tim Leary known as LaRue, who was Tovar’s connection for Afghani seeds, but no sources clearly connect LaRue to Acapulco Gold. 

Cannabeginners: The History of Acapulco Gold
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Flavor/Terpene Profile

True Acapulco Gold is a pure sativa, which makes sense given how close it originated to the equator. As we have discussed, the terms indica and sativa aren’t the most scientifically accurate terms for predicting the effects of a cultivar. That being said, Acapulco Gold is known to be a very energizing cultivar, as one would expect from a sativa. Some sources online have it listed as a hybrid with some indica genetics in the mix, though most refer to it as being a sativa landrace, this discrepancy may be a result of the lack of clarity over what denotes a “pure sativa” cultivar.

The flavor and scent of Acapulco Gold ranges in description from “an intense fruit cocktail flavor,” to “earthy overtones mixed with hints of spice, citrus, and rich toffee/honey-like sweetness.” From my past experience smoking it, nearly a decade ago, it was very fruity, more of a tropical than citrus sweetness, with some spice to balance it out. This makes sense given that its terpene profile tends to be dominated by myrcene (which is found in mangos and would impart a tropical sweetness) and beta-caryophyllene (which would give it that spiciness), there also are notable amounts of limonene (which is responsible for the citrus flavor often noted). 

Is Real Acapulco Gold Actually Gold?

As we discussed in the last section, there is some debate over the exact genetics of Acapulco Gold (how sativa-leaning it is), which could be because it is so rare you have people claiming something is Acapulco Gold when it is not (similar to what some have claimed about Blue Dream). Royal Queen Seeds has this caveat emptor, “Nowadays, many seed banks sell their own version of Acapulco Gold. Some of them can trace the genetics back to Mexican origins, whereas others have slapped the title on unrelated hybrids.” 

One of the most notable characteristics of Acapulco Gold, the source of its namesake, is its color. So does that mean that all Acapulco Gold should be golden in color? According to Tovar, the golden color was from the wind burning the bud yellow, and the older it was by the time it got to the US, the more the color faded to gold. That means the color really was due more to environmental factors and poor storage practices during smuggling than a result of genetics, and perhaps Acapulco Gold grown in a different climate would not be gold.

Do you have an Acapulco Gold story to share or a tip about its origins? Let us know with a comment!

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