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. ♦
THC Fair (The Hemp and Cannabis Fair)
Date: January 20th, 2018 – January 21st, 2018
Location: Jackson County Expo, 1 Peninger Road, Medford-Ashland, Oregon
Celebrate both halves of the cannabis plant at The Hemp and Cannabis Fair. With equal emphasis on the psychoactive varieties some would call marijuana and the non-psychoactive varieties most would call hemp, this fair is a general celebration of the plant’s legalization. Sure, calling it The Hemp and Cannabis Fair is a bit redundant, but the abbreviation wouldn’t work otherwise. www.thcfair.com
INDO EXPO – Denver, Colorado
Date: January 27th, 2018 – January 28th, 2018
Location: Denver Mart, Denver, Colorado
If you go to only one cannabis trade show this year, make sure it’s the INDO EXPO. Featuring the best in cutting edge cultivation, lighting, branding, packaging and everything else related to commercial cannabis, this trade show is the place to be for business owners and entrepreneurs. There may be no better distillation of the industry. indoexpo.com
Cannabis Wedding Expo – Colorado 2018
Date: January 28th, 2018
Location: Lionsgate Event Center, Lafayette, Colorado
Flowers are an integral part of every wedding, so why not incorporate the flowers of the cannabis plant into yours? With plenty of cannabis related vendors on hand, the Cannabis Wedding Expo is the place to be whether you’re looking to serve cannabis to your guest or just give a subtle nod to the plant during the ceremony. Get Tickets
Sweet Jane’s Sativa Soiree
Date: Every Sunday between, Jan 14th, 2018 – Aug 26th, 2018
Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Rocky Mountain High Tours is looking to step up the social consumption scene with this series of posh get-togethers. Billed as a cocktail party for cannabis, the Sativa Soiree will feature hors d’oeuvres, infused mocktails and detailed information on a selection of featured sativa strains — which will, of course, be available for sampling. Get Tickets
By DJ Reetz
Cannabis sure is gaining friends these days. With support for full legalization breaking through 50 percent nationally and support for medical cannabis reaching an all time high, backing sensible cannabis policy is a less risky political decision than it has ever been before. In fact, supporting rational policy rather than decades old dogma and prejudice seems to be a politically advantageous move, boldly announcing to the world that, “I support thoughtful policy, now that a comfortable number of people are cool with it.”
Adult-use legalization is rolling out around the country, and the possibility of actual federal reforms is increasingly likely as the number of congressional representatives from legal states grows with every victory. Representatives like those in the Congressional Cannabis Caucus see an obvious need for their constituents to have access to basic banking services, sensible tax rates, and uniform federal oversight and guidelines. But most shockingly, this pragmatism is slowly creeping into politicians and public figures who aren’t directly responsible to legal business owners currently being treated like criminals.
The changing tide has allowed those who in the past advocated for the broken status quo or enabled it with their silence to simply throw up the flag of reasonable, popular opinion and be lauded with praise from the pro-cannabis crowd. While many in the cannabis advocacy field are happy to welcome any fair-weather friend to the fold, it’s important to remember that some people are just pieces of shit. Despite what our president may think, good people don’t march with pieces of shit, no matter how gratifying it may be to wave them in front of their former allies.
People like Roger Stone — who cut his teeth in the same Nixon White House that engineered the modern war on drugs as a means of crushing dissidents and minorities before he was working alongside likely traitor Paul Manafort to engineer Trump’s election — don’t always have to be welcomed in just because they, as it turns out, have been smoking weed this whole time.
The same is true of the recent turn — or rather, mild remarks — from former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. In an interview with Newsweek, Gonzales, who served as Attorney General for part of the Bush administration, advised current Attorney General Jeff Sessions against cracking down on state-legal cannabis programs, saying that to do so would be “bad optics.”
“To prosecute an act that is otherwise lawful under state law, one could make the argument [that] as a matter of policy, we’ve got other priorities we ought to be spending our resources on,” said Gonzales in the interview.
The perceived endorsement of the Obama-era hands-off policy was quickly picked up by the cannabis zeitgeist. A devout member of the old conservative guard was breaking rank to acknowledge that disrupting the current success at the expense of state’s rights simply to enforce ignorant policy steeped in racism against Hispanics like himself was maybe not the best course of action.
But before we get lost in this happy idea that reasoned progress may be taking root somewhere in the black heart of the neoconservative movement, let’s remember that we probably shouldn’t give a fuck what Alberto Gonzales has to say, about weed or anything else, because he’s kind of a piece of shit.
He fought against patient rights
When Gonzales took over the role of Attorney General from avowed agent of terror John Ashcroft he also took the reins of a high-profile case against cannabis patients. In 2002, cannabis patients Angel Raich and Dianne Monson were subject to a raid carried out in conjunction with federal DEA agents, which led to the destruction of a whopping six plants. Raich, Monson and two other California caregivers filed a lawsuit for injunctive relief against the prosecution, arguing that the Controlled Substances Act — which classifies cannabis among the most dangerous and useless drugs — was not constitutional when applied to personal, medically necessary use of the plant, and that the raid represented a violation of due process as well as the Ninth and Tenth Amendment and the doctrine of medical necessity.
The feds’ counter argument can be summarized succinctly as, “Nah, fuck that.”
An early ruling in the case from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted an injunction against federal interference with the patients, but the decision went less favorably when the case made it to the Supreme Court. Gonzales’ team successfully argued that banning personal cultivation fell under the authority of the Commerce Clause. Despite none of this medicine being proven to be leaving California, this cannabis could possibly find its way to the interstate markets if these patients chose to forego treating their chronic medical issues in order to make a few bucks, ruled the court.
The 6-3 decision by the court effectively set legal precedent for federal disruption of any cannabis cultivation, no matter the state law or medical need, which will undoubtedly factor into any overreach undertaken by the Sessions Justice Department. It’s too bad that Gonzales didn’t hold his current opinion about the foolishness of such an action 12 years ago, when it would have actually made a difference.
He was the guy who supported torture
When it comes to supporting torture, Gonzales wrote the book on the subject — or memo, rather. Back in the Bush years, when we were all terrified of Islamic terrorism and eager to inflict as much unpleasantness on dangerous, non-Christian religious fundamentalists as possible, Gonzales was hard at work on the legal justification for torturing suspected terrorists. To that end, Gonzales authored a memo claiming that suspected terrorists were not protected by the Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Because — unlike wars fought between nations — the war on terror required information to be quickly extracted from captured enemy combatants to prevent future attacks, Gonzales called “legal” on practices such as waterboarding.
These things were allegedly already taking place at CIA black site detention centers, so Gonzales’ memo served to codify the practice and assure our brave shadow warriors that we wouldn’t be turning them over if any snitchin’-ass UN human rights inspectors wanted to try them for war crimes.
Torture is one of those things that just about anyone with a basic sense of decency can identify as immoral, but for Berto, as George W. Bush undoubtedly referred to him, not so much.
Also, a whole bunch of other shit
Harkening back to the days before roughly 50 percent of the population took issue with naked Islamophobia, Gonzales helped quite a bit in advancing the Bush administration’s fear-driven post-9/11 agenda. Beyond that whole torture thing, he was a strong supporter of the USA PATRIOT Act, the most cleverly and ironically acronym-ed effort ever to swing an ax at the bill of rights.
As Attorney General, Gonzales used the expanded powers granted to him by the act to spy on US citizens without warrant, and threatened The New York Times with prosecution for espionage when the paper reported some of it.
In addition to helping lay the groundwork for an Orwellian surveillance state, Gonzales was widely suspected to have fired several US attorneys for political reasons and earned a bit of a reputation as someone who had little compunction in lying to Congressional committees about his actions. Beyond that, Gonzales generally favored a lack of transparency in government and took a shot at the Freedom of Information Act by authoring Bush’s Executive Order 13233, which allowed the president to delay the release of presidential records.
It’s hard not to get a little nostalgic for the Bush era these days. Back when corruption was a little more veiled, the ignorance was purposeful, the racism more subtle, and the president’s bumbling incompetence was more charming and less willful sure does seem like a simpler time. The days when government was run by a malicious cabal selling the country for profit, but at least they weren’t all up in your face with it.
Yes, it’s easy to think back fondly on those times now, and it’s natural to want to welcome any of those vampires to the fight against a new enemy. But before we heap praise on people who are risking literally nothing to show even minimal support for the inescapable progress being made, we should do an inventory of who is actually beneficial to that cause, and who can just fuck right off. ♦
by Maggie Jay, @travelncannabis
Maybe you’ve heard it from friends time and again, or maybe it’s happened to you: you are finally in your hotel room, enjoying your first joint when there’s a banging at the door. Someone has complained about the smell and their weed-sniffing security has sniffed themselves to your hotel room door. Whether you just get a warning or you must pay their ridiculous fine, your high has been blown.
So many people have decided to avoid the hotel hassle altogether and have started booking their accommodations through Airbnb. This creative company has an abundance of options when it comes to fun and unique accommodations for travelers of all types.
We did a bit of digging and came up with a few cannabis-friendly options for canna-travelers in four of the major cities that have legalized recreational cannabis. These places are either marked as “Smoking allowed,” or we have personally contacted them to ask if it is “420 friendly.” (Just a side note, of the 15 or so accounts we did contact, only one said no. So, it never hurts to ask about a place you want to stay, just to be confident before you book.)
Check out these options for cannabis-friendly Airbnbs in Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver and Las Vegas. ♦
Your Own Space: Hot Tub in Nature in the Midst of the City, $120 nightly
This listing is more of a bed and breakfast style accommodation. With an emphasis on higher consciousness, which includes cannabis, I can feel the relaxing vibes from 1,000 miles away. Taking one of the complementary pipes for a dip in the outdoor, saltwater hot tub sounds like a perfect end to a day in Seattle. Book here.
Splurge or Share: A Cottage Fit for a Fairy King from $202 nightly
Just outside of Seattle, in Redmond, Washington sits what the host calls a “cobbage” (half cabin, half cottage). This bright and airy cobbage has a great veggie garden, free for guests to use, and it’s right on the water. See coyotes, owls and hawks in this remote-ish location while taking the paddle boat out for a spin. Book here.
Your Own Space: Shimmy Your Way into this ‘60s Pop Art from $150 nightly
Colorful with a well-thought-out design, this one to two person studio is bitchin’! The walls and floors are a fun site and the little patio is adorable. The owner is also the designer and she has two of these far-out studios. The neighborhood of Silverlake has a great hipster scene, with tons of restaurants within walking distance. Book here. This place must be some kind of special because it’s booked through November!
Splurge or Share: Downtown High Rise Starting at $324 nightly
I love the city life. And this drop dead gorgeous two-bedroom, two-bath gives you just that. Enjoy the nightlife of this bustling town, or just watch it all from the amazing views of this 36th floor condo. This listing comes with two parking spaces, making your vacation even simpler. Bring your friends along because this place houses seven! Book here.
Budget-Friendly Option: Decked Out Bedroom in DTC area from $35 nightly
This private bedroom reminds me of a cushy hotel room. Wrap up in the provided robe, grab some munchies from your munchie drawer and get ready for chill mode. This shared space is meant for one or two and smoking is allowed on the patio. Book here.
Your Own Space: Get Ritzy in the Ritz Carlton Building from $150 nightly
airbnb.com/Chantal & George
Another downtown stunner, this one-bedroom is in the same building as the Ritz Carlton right in downtown Denver. Enjoy shopping, nightlife, museums and more at this location. Enjoy a sunset toke on the lovely balcony to express your freedom in this great state. Book here.
Splurge or Share: Ultra Sheek Uptown Apartment with a Hot Tub from $199 nightly
Stay in this well-appointed mansion on the edge of Denver’s Capitol Hill and even throw a party. So many Airbnb hosts frown upon get-togethers, but this host encourages it. Have up to 50 people over for an evening (there’s only room for eight overnight guests) of fun on the oversized outdoor space. Or, you can just scoot on over to the pub next door, also owned by the host, and hang there in the evenings. Book here.
Your Own Space: Quiet Surrender Just Outside of the City from $108 nightly
Stay in the guest house right off the pool area and enjoy nightly BBQ and a dip in the cool waters. Wake and bake in the garden, watching the fish in the coy pond. Then take off for sightseeing and shows in the evenings. Great for up to five, this is a quiet solution to the bustling sounds of the Vegas Strip. Book here.
Splurge or Share: Bathtub with Views of the Palms from $400 nightly
Stay at Mario Andretti’s high rise right on the strip. This laid-out crib is perfect for the Vegas party animal. Have a girl’s weekend in this dope pad and blow some O’s on the wrap around balcony. Then, after a long night out, take a break at the spa downstairs, or plan a day at the pool on the sixth floor. Book here.
by Samuel Farley, @thcsamuel
Christian Webster, better known as Chris Webby, is a rapper, environmentalist and cannabis enthusiast from Norwalk, Connecticut. At 28 years old, Webby has already gained a reputation in the world of hip-hop for witty lines, a passion for cannabis and a love for the environment.
Webby wrote his first raps as a sixth grader. It immediately called to him and he soon knew that it was something he wanted to pursue as a career. Not long after, in the eighth grade, he was first introduced to cannabis. Looking back, Webby says he believes it may have been too early for him to begin consuming the plant, contributing to his existing attention — a topic he broaches in his music. But for a teenage Webby, the ramifications weren’t as manifest, and he continued to partake. Eventually, after his second time getting busted, he made a stand with his parents who, despite being cannabis consumers themselves, disapproved of their teenage son’s usage. He told them that cannabis was something he cared deeply about, and that it would continue to be a part of his life. “I am an only child, so I had some leeway so I knew the penalty wouldn’t be too severe,” says Webby with a grin.
His relationship with the plant continued through high school, spurring him to develop his entrepreneurial skill set. “I sold a little weed on the side and I worked at a Mexican restaurant, and people would hit me up and I would put weed in the chip bags and would slide them chips and salsa with their weed,” Webby recalls with a laugh.
Chris Webby performing live, photo by @thc_samuel
Graduating from a stoned high schooler crafting raps and battling others at parties, he briefly attended Hofstra University in New York, but left at the age of 20 to pursue his rap career full time. Webby has been in the hip-hop arena for nearly 10 years. In that time, his relationship with cannabis has changed slightly. “I run an independent business, I have to be sharp. I use cannabis now, in my twenties, more as a reward system compared to when I was younger,” he says. “Weed is with me but I also treat it with respect and take what I have to get accomplished into consideration with my consumption. When there’s business to be done and phone calls to be made, I’ll save my smoke sessions for later in the day. When I’m in the studio it’s a different story though. That part of the job often benefits from a solid high, at least in my experience.”
“I’ve had experiences with the right strain. Sometimes I smoke weed in the studio and it puts rocket boosters on me and I work at a higher capacity. I think it’s deeper than indica and sativa and really the full combo of what is in a strain. I’ve loved AK-47 specifically since I was younger,” says Webby. Preferring sativa strains over heavy indica flowers, he admits he is still learning about the nuances of the plant, including terpenes and the new technology legal states have brought to the marketplace. “When you’re raised out east, we know and hear the names and know about some of the strains, but it’s not something we are exposed to in terms of having real options. It’s always been what the dealer has, because it’s been the only option. I’ve become a lot more knowledgeable now that I can come to Colorado and California so frequently on tour, and I learn more and more each time but back home it’s still different. The fact that we have an option now in legal states, where we can ask the right questions. And now it’s to the point where you can pick and choose through flower, edibles, oils, pens, and that is an amazing thing. It redefines everything,” says Webby.
Chris Webby in the lab, photo by @thc_samuel
But while the legal market is something special, it’s not the only source of weed for Webby. In the course of cross-country tours multiple times a year, including to states that do not have legal cannabis, he often finds fans more than willing to provide him with cannabis. “Weed always finds a way. There’s good weed everywhere and my fans are awesome enough to bring it to me,” says Webby.
But at this point in his career Webby’s tours frequently bring him to legal adult-use states, like Colorado, where he spent 4/20 weekend and filmed his recent “Twist Again” music video with cannabis enthusiast The Dabbing Granny. “It was a crazy journey and it’s been gradual,” says Webby. A recent highlight was opening for Tech N9ne, one of the most successful independent rappers in the world, on a countrywide tour. He has also collaborated with Tech N9ne on songs and has worked with B-Real of the legendary rap group Cypress Hill. “People are starting to realize that it’s not easy to last this long in this industry and to maintain and stay relevant for this long,” mentions Webby. With a career spanning 13 projects and an outpouring of singles in 2017, he’s more excited for the future than ever before and pouring that energy into his current projects. “I wanted to reactivate my fan base, while at the same make music that will transcend beyond that and connect with new fans,” he says.
No matter how successful Webby may get, and how broad an audience he may reach, his passion for environmentalism still seeps into his music through songs such as “Stand Up“ and “Questionnaire”.
Photo courtesy of Chris Webby
“I’ve been conscious and extremely zealous about environmental issues for my entire life. I’ve always felt connected to nature, it’s important. It’s the world we live in and other things live here too, there’s a way to live in harmony with nature and we just don’t do it. I think we have a duty to leave the planet a little better than when we got here. Not everyone is a hip-hop artist and has this platform so that is kind of my superpower and that’s what I try to do. I linked with the organization 1% for The Planet, so moving forward I will be donating one percent of my income to environmental causes. Everyone can afford to care a little bit and I think it’s important,” says Webby. “Becoming a part of the environmentalist movement is really my calling and my platform is allowing me to get to a point where I can really do something about it. It’s always been the duty of musicians and people with a voice to use it for something other than their own personal gain. Of course I want the money, but at the same time, everyone has to stand for something.” ♦
by Dr. Nicola Davies
Despite sweeping legal victories, cannabis remains stigmatized as an illegal drug, listed by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule 1 drug, along with heroin and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). For the battle between pharma and cannabis to be resolved, a separation must be made between the scientific use of cannabis in easing the plight of patients with various conditions and its recreational use. Attitudes in the U.S. have been entrenched since the flower child generation of the 1960s, which saw cannabis as a symbol of rebellion against societal values.
Israel, meanwhile, has established itself as a leader in medical cannabis technology. With the medical cannabis market set to explode, Israel is attracting international investors keen to take advantage of the government’s enlightened approach to these products, cutting edge researchers in the field of medical cannabis, as well as the agricultural expertise of local growers. In turn, international pharma companies are taking advantage of opportunities to conduct research in Israel.
Israel is no pushover, however, in allowing the use of medical cannabis. The supply chain is carefully monitored, from grower to pharmacy, to ensure protocol is followed correctly in order to give patients access to quality products. Indeed, the Israeli Ministry of Health’s Medical Cannabis Unit (IMCA) is authorized to issue permits to those who could benefit from medical cannabis.1
“Israel’s federally legal clinical research ability has allowed them to forge ahead of many other countries who have not allowed the research to be conducted. This gave Israel a 10-year head start,” says Australian expatriate Saul Kaye, founder and CEO of Israel Cannabis (iCAN), a leading developer of cannabis-based formulations and pharmaceuticals. Kaye serves as an advisor to the Knesset, Israel’s unicameral parliament, on medical cannabis reform and is a sought-after international speaker on the Israeli regulatory environment, the international cannabis market and cannabis science.
Can pharma afford to ignore medical cannabis?
With estimates that the global medical cannabis market could reach $50 billion by 2025, pharma cannot afford to miss out. According to Kaye, Big Pharma does see a chance to cash in on medical cannabis. “GW Pharma and Zynerba are already in cannabis research, with multibillion dollar collective market caps,” he says. “Teva signed a distribution agreement with the Syqe device [selective-dose cannabis inhaler]. They are still on the sidelines but they are actively making acquisitions.”
To explain, Teva Pharmaceuticals, a multinational Israeli company, is working with a government-backed start-up called Syqe, which has developed an inhaler that delivers precise doses of vaporized cannabis via a disposable cartridge.2 After initially being used in a Haifa hospital, the inhaler accurately delivered metered doses for pain relief in hospital patients.
There is also the Israeli medical company, Breath of Life Pharma (BOL), that has developed a range of inhalers and tablets that dissolve under the tongue as a method of administering cannabis medication. The company has more than 12 phase-two clinical trials being conducted or in the planning stages. These trials use cannabis to treat conditions ranging from Parkinson’s disease and Tourette’s syndrome to autism and chronic liver disease. In addition, BOL is building a factory in Jerusalem to purify and separate cannabinoids, with plans to open this facility to European and other companies that need to conduct clinical trials.
Patients prefer non-pharma products
Kaye believes that the US is falling behind on cannabis research, “given that it’s a federally illegal substance and that pharma companies are more conservative than their younger entrepreneurial upstarts.” He also believes that the opioid crisis may have made pharma companies a bit wary. In the US, some pharma companies are still supporting anti-legalization campaigns for purported safety concerns.
When asked how artificial cannabis medications developed by pharma companies compare in quality to products derived from the cannabis plant, Kaye says they can rival quality and safety, but that he believes in the power of the combination of molecules in the plant, or the entourage effect.
The entourage effect is how the various cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids found in the plant work to enhance its medicinal properties. Pharma’s synthetic renderings extract only one ingredient, like THC or CBD, to use in medications. Cesamet (nabilone) and Marinol (dronabinol) are medicines usually prescribed for nausea in patients undergoing cancer treatment. However, in a study involving 953 participants from 31 countries, patients generally preferred natural cannabis-based medicines rather than the pharmaceutical products.3 Patients claimed the natural products worked faster and were more effective.
Can pharma afford to ignore the signs?
A father and daughter team at the University of Georgia, David and Ashley Bradford, analyzed prescriptions filled by enrollees on Medicare Part D between 2010 and 2013. They found that once a state had a medical cannabis law in place, the use of prescription drugs fell significantly if it was possible for patients to use cannabis for the condition.4 The nine categories they chose to investigate were nausea, anxiety, pain, depression, glaucoma, seizures, psychosis, spasticity and sleep disorders. All prescription medication in the categories went down, except for glaucoma. In the case of glaucoma, the use of cannabis only provides relief for around an hour, so patients stayed with the prescription medication. Overall, the researchers found that using medical cannabis reduced the amount spent on prescription drugs significantly.
So, what if pharma could provide approved cannabis medication for the hundreds of conditions that respond well to medicinal cannabis?
Although legal in several states, cannabis is still subject to various restrictions — patients can’t get a cannabis prescription filled at a pharmacy. In this type of situation, it is no wonder that pharma companies are concerned — each drug needs a known pharmacological action to be considered safe. It has to have undergone rigorous clinical trials and only then can it be brought to market. Buying packets of cannabis goes against all medical safety procedures.
Perhaps once the US catches up with Israel and reaches a compromise where everyone wins – the government, patients, and pharma companies – then medical cannabis may be able to reach its true potential through rigorous research in state-approved research facilities. “In my opinion, big pharma will remain on the sidelines, but I predict that within 24 months, they will start to make some acquisitions into this space,” concludes Kaye. ♦
1. State of Israel Ministry of Health (2017). Medical cannabis unit. [Online].
2. Syqe Medical (2017) The World’s First Selective-Dose Pharmaceutical Grade Medicinal Plants Inhaler [Online].
Available at: http://www.syqemedical.com/
3,Hazekamp, A., Ware, M.A., Muller-Vahl, K.R., Abrams, D. and Grotenhermen, F. (2013). The medicinal use of cannabis and cannabinoids – an international cross-sectional survey on administration forms. J Psychoactive Drugs, Jul- Aug 45(3) pp.199-210.
4. Bradford, A. and Bradford, W.D. (July, 2016). Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Prescription Medication Use in Medicare Part D Health Affairs, Vol. 35 (7), pp. 1230-1236.
80 years ago, Harry J. Anslinger engineered America’s marijuana prohibition. Noted authors – and a distant relative – weigh-in on his reefer madness legacy.
By Gregory Daurer
Eighty years ago this October, the very first convictions under America’s brand-new, federal law against marijuana took place in Denver, Colorado. On October 8, 1937, a week after the law went into effect, Judge J. Foster Symes sentenced two men to federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas: Samuel R. Caldwell, 58, received four years for dealing the drug and Moses Baca, 26, got 18 months for possession. Allegedly, Baca had tried to kill his wife while under the influence.
“I consider marijuana the worst of all narcotics — far worse than the use of morphine or cocaine,” said Judge Symes, as noted within the Denver Post. “Under the influence men become beasts, just as was the case with Baca.”
Sitting in the courtroom that day as a spectator was the very man who had urged Congress to prohibit marijuana, through his testimony accusing marijuana of leading to ghastly crimes: Harry J. Anslinger, who was appointed the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930.
Anslinger chimed in to the Post, “Marijuana has become [the country’s] greatest problem …We, too, consider marijuana the worst of all narcotics.” Quite a stretch but, after all, this was the same man who had authored the propagandistic article about marijuana entitled “Assassin of Youth.”
Within Anslinger’s reefer madness horror show, marijuana was so scary that if Frankenstein came face to face with it “he would drop dead of fright.” Anslinger was especially fond of telling the story of a young man in Tampa who had killed his family with an axe, while supposedly under the influence of marijuana. And he publicized racist quotes from the likes of newspaper editor Floyd Baskette of Alamosa, Colorado: “I wish I could show you what a small marihuana cigaret [sic] can do to one of our degenerate Spanish-speaking residents … who are low mentally because of social and racial conditions.”
Larry “Ratso” Sloman, whose book “Reefer Madness: The History of Marijuana in America” was first published in 1979, weighs in anew on his onetime research subject: “Ah, old Harry. He was one of the first purveyors of ‘fake news’ when he developed a gore file and publicized inaccurate stories that ‘chronicled’ horrific crimes due to the pernicious influence of reefer. He was a racist and a misanthrope and demonized Mexican and black users of Maryjane. And, ironically, he wasn’t even a true believer — his ‘moral’ diatribes against weed came from a totally cynical position of self-interest. He was a consummate bureaucrat who modified his Bureau of Narcotic’s message about marijuana (and other drugs) when it suited his needs and enhanced his operating budget. In the end he was a wannabe J. Edgar Hoover who made a lot of peoples’ lives miserable.”
(Sloman, for whom Anslinger remains a contemptible figure, knows about larger-than-life characters: The former High Times editor has written about traveling on the road with Bob Dylan, co-authored autobiographies of Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and boxer Mike Tyson, and crafted song lyrics for John Cale and Rick Derringer.)
Whether or not Anslinger was a true believer; whether he campaigned to make marijuana illegal in order to prop up his agency or in order to surreptitiously make hemp illegal on behalf of competing industrial interests (as has been alleged by the late author Jack Herer in his book “The Emperor Wears No Clothes”) — or both; whether he held virulently racist views — all continue to be the subject of discussion.
Anslinger is reviled by many: One YouTube video depicts an individual urinating and defecating on his simple, flat gravestone, located in Pennsylvania.
But he’s still celebrated by the likes of Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, whose contempt citation involving racial targeting was recently pardoned by President Donald Trump. Arpaio, a former agent with the Federal Bureau of Narcotics under Anslinger, told author Johann Hari, “When you go back to Anslinger — you got a good guy here!” (Over the years, Hari and other authors have explored what they consider to be Anslinger’s racist underpinnings, in addition to wrongheaded policies.)
But there’s also one Denver woman who celebrates Anslinger’s spirit, even though she’s ashamed of what he did to institute marijuana prohibition. She cheerily refers to him as her “Uncle Harry.”
In one of his books, Anslinger describes a formative experience that led to his prohibitionist thinking. When Harry was 12, he was visiting a neighboring farmer. The farmer’s bedridden wife began howling in pain. The farmer urged Harry to drive a team of horses to a drug store to pick up a medicine. When the husband administered the drug to his wife, she immediately stopped her wailing. Anslinger writes, “I never forgot those screams. Nor did I forget that the morphine she required was sold to a twelve-year-old boy, no questions asked.” (Despite being readily available, presumably Anslinger never availed himself of any morphine as a youth. Which makes one question whether prohibition is in fact what keeps young people off of harmful substances, rather than, for instance, education or common sense.)
As a young adult, Anslinger began working as an investigator on the Pennsylvania Railroad, rooting out fraud.
Then, employed by the Treasury Department, Anslinger fought bootleggers during alcohol prohibition. Later, he changed his tune on the wisdom of those policies: “The law must fit the facts. Prohibition will never succeed through the promulgation of a mere law observance program if the American people regard it as obnoxious.” In his senior years, one of his co-authors noted that Anslinger enjoyed a “good martini.”
Anslinger lasted 32 years in his position of power, working for both Republican and Democratic administrations, and through challenges to his position. Early in his career, he got into hot water by referring, within an official government document, to an informant as a “ginger-colored n—-r.” Despite a US senator from Anslinger’s home state of Pennsylvania screaming for his removal, the commissioner kept his job. Over the years he was supported by a variety of civic groups, as well as pharmaceutical companies to which he granted the sole rights to manufacture narcotics.
One of his most noted — and controversial — achievements was ushering in marijuana prohibition via the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. (Although the act was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1969, cannabis was quickly made illegal again during Nixon’s War on Drugs.)
It’s safe to say that Anslinger prevented research into medical cannabis, and saw that it was removed from the nation’s pharmacopeia, during his 30-plus year career. “It is too unpredictable to be a good servant of medicine,” claimed Anslinger. However, that doesn’t mean that he was against all types of marijuana research: During WWII, Anslinger, closely tied to intelligence agencies, allowed his agents to dose unsuspecting subjects, in order to find out whether a super-potent form of cannabis could be used as a truth serum, something that might possibly loosen the lips of enemy spies.
He authored two books after his retirement, “The Protectors” and “The Murderers”. In the latter, Anslinger wrote, “From the start I have thrown the full efforts of the Bureau not against minor characters trapped in their weakness and despair but against the sources — major violators, the big hoods, the top-drawer importers and wholesalers in the international traffic and on the national syndicated crime scene.”
Yet despite claiming to only be targeting big-time traffickers, his agency spied-on, harassed and incarcerated petty users — among them noted musicians, actors, and athletes. In his book Chasing the Scream, author Johann Hari documents how Anslinger’s agents hounded the great jazz singer and heroin addict Billie Holiday to her death — quite literally, on her death bed. Yet Anslinger let a white socialite, who was addicted to a narcotic, off the hook because she came from, as he wrote, “one of the nation’s most honored families.”
The commissioner wasn’t just publicly incensed about people using dope, he received publicity for his agency’s campaign against the doping of racehorses, as well.
Whether traffickers targeted two-legged or four-legged users, Anslinger faced off against them. Anslinger detailed his agency’s battles against the Italian mafia, which the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover refused to acknowledge even existed. But changing political times led to shifting targets: First he stated that the major drug runners were Italians, then during World War II they were agents of Imperial Japan, and then during the Cold War they were the Red Chinese — a charge that many international diplomats found laughable.
Did marijuana users graduate to heroin? Not on your life, he testified in the ’30s. But, within 15 years, Anslinger changed his tune on that, endorsing what’s been called the “gateway” hypothesis.
Whether or not one relatively benign substance actually led to the more dangerous one, Anslinger made sure that marijuana users and dealers received the same mandatory minimum penalties as users and sellers of heroin, through his support of the Boggs Act in 1951.
Anslinger died in 1975. Towards the end of his life he was on drugs himself; due to a weakened heart, he was medicated with morphine (the same drug that had had eased the screams of that farmer’s wife when he was 12, as “Chasing the Scream” author Hari has noted).
Even after his death, his legacy of prohibitionist drug policies lives on globally.
Have you heard of the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which still remain in place, making it legally difficult for any country to enact sensible drug policies?
For that, you can thank Harry J. Anslinger, who was a major arm-twisting lobbyist on its behalf.
Like Larry “Ratso” Sloman, author Alexandra Chasin also sees contemporary parallels to Anslinger and his policies.
Chasin says, “I think [US Attorney General] Jeff Sessions is the re-animation of Harry Anslinger, because he has the same kind of Manichean world view that is very black and white, in which everything related to black market drugs is bad and in which, in particular, the black market in drugs is populated by people of color, people coming across borders.”
Chasin — a literary studies professor, self-described on her website as a “language engineer, revisionist writer, and cultural worker” — is the author of the book “Assassin of Youth: A Kaleidoscopic History of Harry J. Anslinger’s War on Drugs”. Within it, she points out how America’s drug war — which Anslinger was largely responsible for — overwhelmingly targets people of color. Chasin writes, “Rather than solving social problems, drug policy and law have, in effect, constructed criminality along identity lines, turning a criminal justice system into an administrative mechanism for racist and classist social control.”
So were Anslinger’s policies driven by racist beliefs he personally held?
Whether consciously or unconsciously, Chasin believes they were: from Anslinger collecting press clippings in his “gore file” documenting crimes supposedly committed by African-Americans and Latinos under the influence of cannabis to his bureau’s harassment of African-American jazz singer Billie Holiday, as but two examples.
In his later writing, Anslinger would say that his bureau had hired more individuals of different racial and ethnic backgrounds than any other federal agency, and that although there were, for instance, Italian or African-American individuals involved in notorious crimes, those ethnic or racial groups included good, honest people. Chasin believes that was Anslinger changing his style to fit the times, couching his animus. “[He was] looking to present a different persona,” says Chasin.
According to Chasin, Anslinger believed that immigrants and people of color were using drugs to destroy the fabric “of what he imagined to be an intact, white, homogenous society” — with marijuana being a particular weapon of choice.
Asked if there’s anything about Harry J. Anslinger that she admires, Chasin takes a long pause to mull that question over.
Ultimately, her answer is no: “I would say that he’s not really a figure that I admire.”
Mary Carniglia sees something to admire in Harry J. Anslinger: “I’ve got a feeling that he was a stand-up guy. That he was a man of the people. That he was really somebody to be reckoned with. He could be intimidating, physically and energy-wise, because he knew he was standing up for what was right.”
But that doesn’t mean that Carniglia approves of the federal prohibition against marijuana, which Anslinger championed.
“I’m just a huge weed snob,” she says. “Golden Goat is my favorite.”
Carniglia’s not just a “weed snob,” she’s related to Harry J. Anslinger. Harry’s older brother, Robert Jr., was Carniglia’s great-grandfather; her mother was an Anslinger. Mary was about three years old when Harry died in 1975, and she thinks there might still be a family photo somewhere of him holding her as a baby. She refers to the onetime commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics as “Uncle Harry.”
Carniglia says she was smoking a joint with a cousin when she learned about her late relative’s historical ties to marijuana prohibition.
“You know the reason this is illegal is because of Uncle Harry,” her cousin informed her.
“What are you talking about?!” asked Carniglia. “Uncle Harry?!”
Carniglia admits, “It was pretty crummy to find out that [cannabis] was illegal because of the bullhorn of my uncle. That’s embarrassing.”
She speculates, “I think he really felt like he was doing something that was going to keep people safe, somehow. People always say racism, and I can’t believe that … I didn’t get that growing up from any of my family.”
Unlike authors Sloman, Hari, and Chasin — who in no way suggest that marijuana prohibition was tied to hemp’s competition with synthetics or with timber interests — Carniglia does believe there was a conspiracy involving hemp, just like Jack Herer alleges in his book. She says, “And the only thing I know [Harry J. Anslinger] waffled on was the whole hemp thing, because he didn’t want anything to do with getting rid of hemp. He thought that was a ridiculous idea. They told him, ‘You have to!’”
Who told him that?
“Well, the people with the money. The people that gave him the job. The people that were telling him what his directives were.”
Would that have been the head of the Treasury Department, Andrew Mellon, who it’s said was related by marriage to Anslinger, and one of the reasons Anslinger got his job? (Contrary to what’s been written in several books, Carniglia adamantly disputes there was ever any family connection between Mellon and Anslinger.)
“It may have been,” she replies, before conspiratorially adding, “But I feel like it was Rockefeller.”
One thing Carniglia knows for certain is that the Anslingers never had much money. Harry J. Anslinger spent his last days in a modest house he’d purchased in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.
From the Great Beyond, Carniglia envisions her uncle letting out a huge sigh over the “global impact of not just cannabis being taken out of medicine but of hemp being taken out of the world … All his work his whole life had been for nothing. I felt his deflated spirit.”
Carniglia, who grew up in California and New Mexico, moved from the East Coast to Colorado in 2014 in order to get a job in the cannabis industry. She presently works at an office which connects patients seeking medical marijuana recommendations with a doctor. Carniglia often fields calls from sick and dying people, their relatives and parents of ill children who inquire about relocating to Colorado. She gives them information, advice and, perhaps, even hope.
Carniglia says she personally uses cannabis to treat PTSD, and she’s personally experienced how the war on drugs adversely affects people: Carniglia says she once found herself in a compromising position with a police officer who agreed to accept the $80 bribe she discreetly offered in place of charging her with possession of a small amount of marijuana, rather than insisting on any sexual favors from her.
As for her Uncle Harry’s legacy — being the man who engineered federal marijuana prohibition 80 years ago — she expresses a desire to help right the policies he brought about.
Carniglia says, “I feel a moral obligation to unscrew-up what he screwed-up.” ♦
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