Efforts to legalize cannabis are encountering some unexpected headwinds this year.
As income inequality reaches Gilded Age levels, and the corporate plutocracy further destroys the American Dream, many progressives worry legalization's spoils will simply enrich the powerful instead of prohibition's victims.
High Times editor and VICE correspondent David Bienenstock keenly capitalizes on that fear in his new book, How To Smoke Pot (Properly), which has great reviews from Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Slate and the Los Angeles Times. This highbrow guide to getting stoned contains more than just joint-rolling tips. It's about how to "win the peace" of legalization.
His book tour swings through the Oakland Museum of California Friday, May 20, at 5 p.m. Below, we interview 'Bean' — co-founder of our affiliate podcast "The Hash" — about cannabis capitalism, what's at stake, and what stoners should do about it.
Legalization Nation: What do you mean when you say, 'keep pot weird'?
Bienenstock: I really wanted the book to start a conversation about this post-prohibition world, and how do we maintain the really great parts and values of underground cannabis culture and bring them with us, and share them with the rest of the world, and not see this really special culture be co-opted or have the values of Wall Street or corporate America imposed on us.
Marijuana opens you up to this consciousness that is a little weird, but that weirdness is something we sorely need in society. Marijuana makes you sort of question how society is organized. "Who holds power and why? Is that power being used well? Couldn't things be different?" Cannabis makes you really question everything and hopefully come up with a better way to live. It's only weird because the dominant culture is so off-balance.
Personally, it made me take myself a lot less seriously. And I think that [questioning] on a macro level is something that could really help to heal our society and move us in a new direction. But it's not going to happen if we separate marijuana from marijuana culture.
There's this idea that, like, "Now we can get past all these old stoner stereotypes and show that people who smoke marijuana are just like everybody else." I don't think that's true. I like to say, "Marijuana is not the cure for being an asshole, but it's a good first line treatment."
What's at stake in this era where we're redefining cannabis?
For starters, this culture could go the way of so many other underground cultures — look at how rock 'n' roll was co-opted. You can go to see a million rock 'n' roll shows, but does it still have that spirit of upheaval and challenge to society? Or is it brought to you by Coors Light and LiveNation and denuded of its political and social power?
If you understand this oppression of marijuana users — your view of the world will always be shaped by that. What's most dangerous about not keeping pot weird is to let [mainstream leaders] off the hook for what they've done to us. We can forgive that, but we should never forget. We can never forget that and we should hold the people responsible accountable.
If I get one more press release from someone telling me that their vaporizer is going to "legitimize" marijuana, I'm going to have to smoke weed just to not throw up. Because that idea is so offensive to me — this idea that Wall Street is going to legitimize marijuana. Marijuana saved one of my best friend's lives, it makes ice cream taste better, it sparks creativity. It's more than legitimate. And Wall Street is completely illegitimate. And yet they feel like they can stand up with a straight face and say they're here to legitimize marijuana — that's what we're up against.
This idea that marijuana should be another consumer product, like McDonald's — I think that would be a huge lost opportunity. That idea is being put out by the same people who oppressed marijuana and marijuana culture because they were afraid of that weirdness.
How can consumers help keep pot weird?
Become as educated as you can about cannabis. ... Look at where your cannabis is coming from and where your dollars are going. Most of the cannabis in the world is still going to be consumed and purchased by this culture. If we make the trend to support socially responsible businesses, that's what we will see flourish.
If one day the Super Bowl is brought to you by venture capital-funded "Marley Natural," will all the work of legalization still be worth it?
Absolutely. The weirdness in pot is inherent in the plant. It's not going anywhere. Yes, there will be Big Marijuana [but] they'll be sowing the seeds of their own destruction — unwittingly rooting this anti-corporate mindset within those who use that product, no matter how they obtain it.
So, I think, "We're here, we're weird, get used to it." We're going to keep pot weird.