Governor’s Gravitas: Jesse Ventura Wrestles With Cannabis Policy

By Erin Hiatt


Former WWE performer Jesse “The Body” Ventura prefers to be addressed as “Governor”. “I’m 66 years old,” he says. “Governor, that’s the official title they’ve given me.” By “they,” he means the people of Minnesota, where he governed as an Independent from 1999-2003, but adding “The Body” wouldn’t be entirely inappropriate. At 6 foot 4 inches he still seems tall even while seated. And though the muscles hidden underneath his boxy black suit jacket have likely grown softer over the years, his frame is not insignificant. His long white hair, trailing somewhat warlock-like from under his baseball cap, momentarily gives him a certain softness that’s quickly undone by the crackle in his crisp, blue eyes and the growl in his voice.

Ventura has made many careers over the span of his 66 years. He was a Navy SEAL who served during the Vietnam War, then rode in a motorcycle gang. He spent more than a decade as a wrestler at the apex of the sport’s popularity, then parlayed his accessible, in-your-face style to become a wrestling correspondent, moving into bit parts in movies and television.

He finally landed his own cable show based on a book he had written, “Conspiracy Theory,” whose title states its intent; to explore popular conspiracy theories like those surrounding 9/11 and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) prison camps, among others. His most recent foray in entertainment is the “World According to Jesse,” née “Off the Grid,” was recently purchased by none other than Russian media propaganda machine, RT.

Ventura was the keynote speaker at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo held last June at New York’s capacious Javit’s Convention Center, where he extolled his most recent book, “The Marijuana Manifesto.” Speaking to a large and enthusiastic group, Ventura barked — if in a somewhat rambling way — at the crowd about the injustices of cannabis criminalization.

“I’m completely Independent,” he says of his political affiliation. “Completely, as in never belonged to any party. Fiscally conservative, socially liberal.” Minnesota has had its share of quirky politicians, including Sen. Al Franken, uber-conservative cuckoo bird Michele Bachmann, and a five-year old mayor (though tongue in cheek, he was still “elected”). “I believe most people are like me,” he continues. “I believe in less government but also believe in gay rights and social liberties where government don’t [sic] belong. And that’s part of less government.”

Ventura was Trump before Trump was Trump. A populist candidate who was elected by Minnesotans out of “anger,” as reported by Minnesota Public Radio, his brash style drew both supporters and critics. But overall, his time in office was deemed at least a partial success, and that is what he hopes to leverage with the publication of “The Marijuana Manifesto.”

Admitting that the book will likely affirm the views of those already converted to the cause, Ventura says he hopes that someone of his stature writing a book on cannabis would convince those skeptical of legalization to get onboard. “People would say, ‘Gee, there’s a former governor writing this,’” he explains. “And it needed to take this step forward. And we need to come out of the closet. Gay people have come out the closet, and look, they’re getting their rights now.” Ventura believes that if more people “come out of the cannabis closet” that its use will no longer be frowned upon. “We are the majority,” he asserts. “It’s time for us as the majority to take back our government.”

Like many who come to support cannabis legalization, Ventura’s situation was personal, explaining, “Someone very dear and close to me developed an epileptic seizure two to three times a week.” He watched helplessly as his loved one seized and struggled with four different, unsuccessful pharmaceutical treatments. “In desperation, we drove to Colorado,” he recalls. “And I guess you could say we procured illegal medicine.”

“The Marijuana Manifesto” reads like a Cannabis 101 textbook told in Ventura’s stream-of-consciousness writing style. And Ventura, who sees addiction as a health issue rather than a criminal one, wants all drugs to be legal. “Drug addiction is a disease. For some reason we like to classify it a crime,” he emphatically states. “You can be addicted to anything! Obesity — we gonna make it a crime because people are addicted to food and won’t step away from the table?”

Ventura frequently steers the conversation back to “freedom,” and that includes the freedom to do, as he says, “stupid things.” “Like I said as governor, when you accept freedom, everything is a ying [sic] and a yang,” he says. “With accepting freedom, you have to accept what comes along — the freedom to be stupid. People are going to do stupid things. You can’t make every stupid decision against the law.”

Cannabis, Ventura believes, could have saved fellow Minnesotan Prince from overdosing on fentanyl. In fact, he thinks that cannabis is a panacea for many of the world’s problems, a concept he explores in his book. “Donald Trump wants to create jobs? Simple. Pull off the federal ban on cannabis,” he tells the Javit’s Center crowd. “I just read in The Wall Street Journal that Colorado has 18,000 new jobs. New Jobs. 18,000 people not on unemployment. Ladies and gents, that’s what will bring legalization.”

Ventura says that he sent a copy of the “Marijuana Manifesto” to Mr. Trump but that he never heard back. “I know him, I’ve been to dinner with him. We went to dinner,” he adds. “We coulda sold tickets. And he went with an advocate that’s as big as me for cannabis and hemp.” Pausing for effect, he continues, “Woody Harrelson, Trump, me, we went to dinner. Coulda sold tickets.”

But having dinner with Trump doesn’t keep Ventura from criticizing Trump’s nebulous — if nonexistent — thoughts on drug policy. “We seem to have Trump whose mantra is ‘Make America Great Again,’” he says. “But why would you do that by going backward? We go, as Star Trek said, we go where no man has gone before! How is ‘making America great’ by going backward?”

Ventura turns his sights on Washington’s political establishment, who, in his view, have forgotten, or at the very least are ignoring, the will of the people when it comes to cannabis legalization. “They work for us! They’re supposed to do what we want, they’re not supposed to do what they want! I hope there’s a revolution and I hope people will get up and tell the government, ‘We’re the boss, not you,’” he emphatically exclaims. “I think they’re gonna try to oppress us again, and I hope there’s riot, and I hope they’re not violent. But they could be.”

Next up for the Governor is broadcasting his righteous ire on an RT television series, “The World According to Jesse.” Ventura says that RT has given him no restrictions, other than an occasional bleep for profanity. RT wrote, “’The World According to Jesse’ will tackle both the current news agenda and deeper issues such as government hypocrisy and corporate deception, with Jesse’s distinctive take on stories sidelined by the mainstream media. Ventura will apply his uncensored, bold and bare-knuckled approach to thought-provoking interviews and on-the-ground reporting alike.”

“The reason I’m doing it,” Ventura begins, “is I was down off the grid in Mexico and we have this little bar we go to. A couple of years ago I walked into the bar, and there was a guy there and when I walked in, you’d think he met Jesus.” Smiling, he continues, “He was from Lebanon. He said to me, ‘Do you realize that whenever you come on CNN, everyone in Lebanon stops what they’re doing and gathers around televisions to hear what you have to say.” Ventura’s new Lebanese friend continued to tell him that the consensus in Lebanon was that Ventura should be the United States’ president, that the world would be a better place if he were.

“This guy tells me this,” he says. “It’s pretty humbling.” Saying that his experience in that off-the-beaten-path bar in Mexico led him to letting RT use “Off the Grid,” now “The World According to Jesse,” for a network series. Ventura concludes, “Screw our national media. I’m jumping over into international media. My show will be seen by 800 million people, second only to the BBC. To hell with our national media. I’m going above them.”

Ventura said in the RT’s “World According to Jesse” press release that he “looks forward to holding our government accountable. I will be exercising my First Amendment rights with no filters.” Given our current garishly bizarre political environment, maybe Ventura should resurrect his old conspiracy theory show to explore that topic. ♦









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