Author, activist, and High Times lifer David Bienenstock shares his views on cannabis with us in this exclusive interview.
It’s important to know that there are a lot of different camps in the cannabis community. But if we want to succeed in California this November, we have to come together. David Bienenstock, one of today’s most prolific cannabis insiders, took time out to talk to me about how Prop64 will help pave the path to the future.
You are one of the featured speakers at the upcoming State of Marijuana Conference on Long Beach. What are you going to tell the people?
I’m going to be talking about some humorous stuff, but I’m also going to be taking a look at the cannabis industry. Right now, we really need to be looking and concerning ourselves with, not just should we legalize marijuana, which we obviously should, but how are we going to do it? And how are we going to do it in a way that works for cultural workers, and consumers, and medical patients?
My idea is that, essentially, cannabis should transform capitalism, not the other way around. We should be bringing the values of authentic cannabis culture with us as we move out of Prohibition, and not allow this industry, and more importantly our movement, to be co-opted and overrun by the values of Wall Street and Corporate America…
So, effectively, since we can learn from the mistakes and abuses of other industries, and cannabis culture already works on a unique level, we can create a better model right off the bat, instead of slowly evolving?
I think that when we look at every other industry and aspect of our economy, they are already controlled by these huge moneyed interests who have a vested interest in the status quo, who have a lot of political power. The cannabis industry is still much more open. There aren’t huge corporate trends, so there’s more space to say, ‘Why don’t we set up the cannabis industry as a model of a more progressive economic system?’
One where every worker makes a living wage, where consumers are at the forefront. We want a lot of small businesses, not these big multinational companies controlling everything. We want to have marijuana advertized in a responsible way, not like beer ads that promote overconsumption or use scantily clad women and all that.
If we do that, and we create this kind of new economy around cannabis, more localized, more worker friendly, more inclusive, then 5 years from now the cannabis industry will still be driving and we’ll be able to hold it up as a model for the rest of the economy and say, ‘Why can’t everything be like this?’
I think that that’s a huge opportunity. We’re still only at the beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition, but what we’ve been able to accomplish at a completely grassroots movement without the government, without the special interests, should should encourage us that we should make the next step.
Yes it’s going to be hard to fight back against Corporate America and big business and Wall Street. We’ve already won this huge victory just to chip away at Prohibition. But we have to keep fighting for the world we want.
To have people say, ‘Oh here comes Wall Street to legitimize marijuana’? well that’s preposterous to me when you look at the actual business practices of Wall Street. Thank you, we don’t need your help.
And you think that the uniqueness of cannabis culture should be preserved? Keep it weird, right?
You know when rock and roll was underground, everyone ‘knew’ it was this big threat. And it came with all these values attached. Now, you go to see a rock and roll show and it’s sponsored by the biggest corporations in the world. There’s just not that feeling about it.
The number one thing is to stop arresting people for pot and stop ruining people’s lives for making this very positive choice. As we do that we also have to make sure that we recognize ourselves as an oppressed culture. While we work to end of that oppression, we should still maintain the mindset of people who question the largest society, because we have every reason to.
Anybody who cares about cannabis, or who has had their lives affected by Prohibition understands that the War on Marijuana is symptomatic of a lot of problems in our society. Our culture has been directly affected by that and we need to continue to push back against it and all forms.
Why are you voting for AUMA?
You know I think California is going to be a huge tipping point, not just in the US, but around the world, too. While I understand the concerns that a lot of people have with AUMA, it’s a tremendous step forward, and I just would invite those people from within our community to not be discouraged by the parts of it that they don’t like but to get involved, and understand that this is just one more step in a journey towards really being liberated.
Even in Colorado you can still lose your job for smoking pot legally. Legalization is not the end of our struggle to have our rights and to have our freedoms. I think AUMA takes us a long way towards where we wanna go and then we need to work to make sure the implementation of it represents both the economy and the culture we want to see.
What is your dream of a cannabis Utopia?
I think in that ideal world, I would want to de-commodify it. I think that as far as restrictions go you need to keep it away from minors, (unless they have a medical need for it under a doctor’s supervision, which, absolutely it’s legitimate), but other than those under age in my ideal world.
I would want people to have access to cannabis without any financial concerns around it. I want them to be able to grow it without any worry. I would love for food, medicine, or anything that central to existence to be the same way. I don’t think everybody on Earth they should have private jets and diamond tiara’s, but everybody on Earth should have access to medical care, food, shelter, and cannabis, for sure.
Do you see any surprises in store after legalization? Any benefits besides the obvious freedom?
I don’t think it’s going to be that surprising, but I think that it’s going to really turn the tide away from the most dangerous practices of the medical establishment, which are pushing these pills on people which are dangerous, potentially deadly, addictive, and don’t often work very well. That have been pushed because they’re profitable for that same system. I think that cannabis is a medicine that can reduce or replace so many of those drugs that it’s not a threat at the margins to the pharmaceutical industry. I think it’s almost an existential crisis to them!
If people really understand how effective cannabis is as a medicine, how inexpensive it can be as a medicine if you are accessing it in a safe, well-regulated way, that could be a huge shift in our society. We will be healthier; we will start to turn the tide on this epidemic of horrible pharmaceutical overdoses and addiction.
We can just grow a little kinder as a society. The way we treat the ill in this country is a shame. I think that’s been one of the great things about cannabis movement is to show that this plant that has been so demonized can actually be life-saving for a lot of people and life-changing for an even larger number of people.
Do you think that cannabis legalization will work toward social or economic equality?
I think it’s a great opportunity to do that. I think it’s going to be a struggle with the powers that be and the entrenched interests that control the economy who are not going to give up this space willingly. I can’t think of a better place to try something transformational than this industry.
It’s always been there, but it’s now coming above ground and opening up. There are so many people around this plant that have had their lives enhanced by it. So it’s not just that there’s this new industry opening up, it’s the cannabis plant itself.
I think it’s going to be a long struggle. If you’re having a struggle within a capitalist system, and you’re going up against the people with all the capital, it’s going to be hard. But it’s worth fighting for and I think that it was so hard to chip away at Prohibition in certain places that we didn’t always prepare for the secondary fight. We worked hard enough to get just to this place. But with that growing recognition this has to be the next step for our movement.
Do you believe the activism behind cannabis reform is a one-trick pony or does it signal a greater overall spirit of awareness of the world around us?
I think we have so much more to do, whether it’s spreading legalization to other places to other places in the US and around the world, or the having the kind of economic and cultural struggles that we just talked about. But I also think marijuana legalization can and should be this great example of how you can create serious change of the establishment through grass roots, people based political actions.
You know, neither political party was behind ending the War on Marijuana. The medical establishment was in our face, the criminal justice system, big business; all of the most powerful institutions of society propped up this prohibition and over the course of decades we were still able to undermine it.
And that’s a testament to a lot of great work done by a lot of people, and I hope it serves as an example to everyone who wants to make real significant and systemic change that it is possible. It’s hard, and it takes a lot of time, but it’s possible, and it’s worth working towards.
David is the Head of Content at High Times. He has also worked as a columnist and video host at Vice Media and contributed to over a dozen different publications including Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. You have probably seen his face on one of several media outlets, including NPR, CNN, MSNBC, HBO, and Fox News.
His latest book, How to Smoke Pot Properly, takes an in-depth but humorous look at the history of the plant and the people around it. You can order that book here.
David Bienenstock is one of the keynote speakers at the State of Marijuana event on the Queen Mary, Long Beach, CA, this September 26th – 27th.Check out the State of Marijuana for more information about the event and to view their full agenda and speaker list.
Want the full networking experience? Then book a room on the Queen Mary. Click here for full details.