10 Interesting Facts About the History of Hemp

If you’re looking to grow your knowledge about hemp, take a look at some of these facts and spread them far and wide

1. Hemp cultivation dates back more than 10,000 years

Many civilizations throughout time have grown hemp and utilized the plant for a number of items from food to fiber. The ancient use of hemp has been traced to many countries including China, Egypt, Russia, Greece and Italy.

2. It used to be illegal to not grow hemp

There was once a time in American history when farmers could actually be fined or jailed for not growing hemp. Because it was such a valuable crop in Virginia, the Assembly of Jamestown Colony passed legislation in 1619 making it mandatory for every farmer to grow Indian hempseed.

3. Hemp was hailed as a billion dollar crop before the government banned it

In an article written in 1938, “Popular Mechanics” declared hemp a new cash crop. It was touted as the standard fiber of the world that was easy to grow and poised to replace imported materials and manufactured products.

4. Hemp can restore unhealthy soil

Thanks to its botanical properties, hemp can actually leave soil better off than when it started by rejuvenating the dirt with nutrients and nitrogen. This helps clean up toxins, heavy metals and other pollutants from the ground through a process called phytoremediation.

5. Hemp oil is good for you

For people looking to reduce bad cholesterol levels, neutralize free radicals and improve nervous system function, the abundance of nutrients found in hemp oil can help. It’s packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals including magnesium, calcium, vitamin E and carotene. When it comes to oils, hemp oil also has the highest level of polyunsaturated fats (healthy fats) at 80 percent, with flax seed oil coming in second.

6. Many early artists made art on hemp

The word “canvas” is derived from the word cannapaceus, a latin adjective that literally means “made from hemp.” For centuries, painters used hemp canvases from the Renaissance artists to 17th century masters like Van Gogh and Rembrandt.

7. Twenty one states can legally grow hemp

According to agricultural reports, hemp can be grown legally in California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

8. Planes can be made from hemp

Earlier this year, Derek Kesek, the founder of Hempearth, announced that he would produce the very first airplane made almost entirely of hemp that will run on hemp-based biodiesel. Though the project has yet to take flight, many have high hopes about what its successful execution could mean for the future.

9. The United States Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper

The majority of paper in the late 1700s was made from a combination of hemp and flax as well as the occasional use of a verity of recycled cloth fibers. The final document which is housed in the National Archives was treated as any other important historical document at the time and indeed even to day would be. After the final product was approved (which happened to be on hemp paper) it was then transferred to a fine Vellum parchment made of sheepskin which was the practice for any significant document for well over a millennium.

10. Hemp is used in over 25,000 products

Although it may seem like hemp has been hiding out, the multifaceted fiber is actually used in everything from suits by Giorgio Armani to interior car parts by BMW. Hemp can also be found in everyday items like yarn, paper, carpeting, cosmetics, nutritional supplements and body care products.

Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE

TELL US, do you use hemp products?

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Faces of Cannabis History: 3 Legendary Voices of Reason

I’ll be honest: history classes were never really my jam. I was more drawn to English, journalism and social sciences in college — and yet I always knew somehow I would eventually develop a deep passion for history.

And sure enough, it happened — starting with sprawling Ken Burns documentaries, moving forward with smart history podcasts and hitting me over the head more recently via Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical theater masterpiece “Hamilton.”

While I spent my 20s in rock clubs and my 30s studying drug policy, I find myself in my 40s going back to explore the historical roots of these subjects and others. And like countless others before me, I’m learning how thrilling it can be to understand history and how impossible it is to fully comprehend the present or forecast the future without knowing what came before.

Cannabis history is a fascinating one, from ancient Chinese relics to the Anslingers and DeAngelos of the world. But many modern cannabis consumers are hardly aware of this rich history, and so here’s a lively lesson on three figures in cannabis history you may not know.

(PHOTO Ronald Dale Carr)

Raymond P. Shafer

Raymond P. Shafer was the 39th Governor of Pennsylvania, from 1967 to 1971. Before this son of a reverend became a national GOP leader, he was an Eagle Scout, high school valedictorian, Yale Law grad, naval intelligence officer, World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient.

After Shafer’s gubernatorial term, President Richard Nixon appointed Shafer as chairman of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (later dubbed the Shafer Commission). And just think of the timing: Nixon was approaching peak anti-marijuana hysteria, having just signed the Controlled Substances Act, which “temporarily” categorized cannabis as Schedule I in anticipation of the Shafer Commission’s report.

But when Shafer presented the report — Marihuana, a Signal of Misunderstanding — to Congress in March 1972, the thoughtfully researched report written by politicos, physicians, psychiatrists, pharmacologists, educators and researchers actually recommended descheduling and decriminalizing cannabis.

This was monumental, and champions of drug policy reform cheered the report’s reasoned, common-sense recommendations. Nixon and important congressional subcommittees, however, ignored the report and moved forward with a War on Drugs that targeted people of color and ruined untold lives.

cannabis history margaret mead
(PHOTO Library of Congress)

Margaret Mead

Margaret Mead was an author and cultural anthropologist known for her groundbreaking research (and resulting papers and books) on the role of sex in primitive cultures, as well as the debate surrounding race and intelligence.

Before becoming an internationally renowned academic, Mead was the daughter of a sociologist and a University of Pennsylvania professor, recipient of a masters and doctorate from Columbia University, assistant curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In 1969, Mead testified to Congress that marijuana should be legalized, saying: “Marihuana is not harmful unless it is taken in enormous and excessive amounts. I believe that we are damaging this country, damaging our law, our whole law enforcement situation, damaging the trust between the older people and younger people by its prohibition, and this is far more serious than any damage that might be done to a few over-users, because you can get damage from any kind of overuse.”

Speaking truth to power, in 1969 no less. Impressive.

cannabis history dennis peron
(PHOTO Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now)

Dennis Peron

Dennis Peron was an entrepreneur and activist best known for radically changing medical marijuana laws in California and beyond.

Before Peron made drug policy history, he was raised in Long Island, New York, served in the Air Force in Vietnam and supported gay activist Harvey Milk in Peron’s newly adopted home of San Francisco.

Peron’s cannabis history is long, from his San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club — the first dispensary in the U.S. — days to unsuccessful, legalization-centric bids for California Governor and U.S. President. But Peron, known as “the father of medical cannabis,” is best-known for organizing 1991’s Proposition P in San Francisco and helping to write 1996’s Proposition 215 statewide in California, the latter of which allowed the cultivation, possession and use of medical marijuana in the state — the first time such laws had been successfully passed in the modern world.

TELL US, who are your cannabis heroes?

Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE

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Archaeologists Discover Ancient Society That Smoked Weed to Get High 2,500 Years Ago

Cannabis advocates like to argue that weed has been used in society for thousands of years. But there has always been some level of contention about just how far back cannabis consumption actually goes.

Some swear tokers have been indulging for 4,000 years or so, while others believe the plant was a gift brought to Earth by one Jerry Garcia and popularized back in the 1960s. But it turns out that the earliest known use was actually around 2,500 years ago, according to a paper published this week in the journal Science Advances.

A research team consisting of archaeologists and chemists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing recently discovered significant traces of THC at the Jirzankal Cemetery, an ancient burial ground located in the darkest regions of the Pamir mountains in western China. Although cannabis remnants have been found before, the latest find is the only one to this day where THC, the stoner component of marijuana, was part of the uncovering. None of the others showed signs of ancient societies using the plant to get high.

“Modern perspectives on cannabis vary tremendously cross-culturally, but it is clear that the plant has a long history of human use, medicinally, ritually and recreationally over countless millennia,” Robert Spengler, an archaeobotanist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, told the New York Times.

It appears this particular Chinese community was partial to smoking the herb with a bowl. Not exactly the same kind that many of us are used to seeing being whipped out at 420 — these were wooden receptacles containing small stones that were apparently exposed to high heat. Although some of these artifacts were used for incense and other herbs, the residue found on 10 of the 17 bowls tested positive for THC.

So, this tribe was most likely hotboxing cannabis and inhaling the smoke as it filled the tombs. Researchers believe they were likely using cannabis to summon the dead, just as Greek historian Herodotus described in the Scythian mourner’s rite.

The Scythians have taken some seed of this hemp, they creep under the cloths and put the seeds on the red hot stones; but this being put on smokes, and produces such a steam, that no Grecian vapour-bath would surpass it. The Scythians, transported by the vapour, shout aloud.

Interestingly, the weed the Chinese tribe used in its rituals was apparently relatively decent bud. Researchers said that wild strains of cannabis grown in higher altitudes pack a much stronger THC potency than those growing in lower elevations. They do not know whether these potent strains were produced intentionally or if they occurred naturally. But it appears that this ancient society was serious about producing herb solely for the effect.

“The findings support the idea that cannabis plants were first used for their psychoactive compounds in the mountainous regions of eastern central Asia, thereafter, spreading to other regions of the world,” co-author Nicole Boivin told USA Today.

Researchers believe that the spot where they found the artifacts were located relatively close to the Silk Road, which was crucial in ancient times when it came to global distribution. There is speculation that this is how the cannabis plant found hybridization and made its way to other parts of the world. “The exchange routes of the early Silk Road functioned more like the spokes of a wagon wheel than a long-distance road, placing Central Asia at the heart of the ancient world,” Spengler said.

“Our study implies that knowledge of cannabis smoking and specific high-chemical-producing varieties of the cannabis plant were among the cultural traditions that spread along these exchange routes,” he added.

Dr. Mark Merlin, another researcher involved with the study, told the New York Times that other burial sites from around the same time containing marijuana show just how much cannabis was revered as a “plant of the gods.”

There is no denying that marijuana has been around for a while, but it appears to have taken a minute to catch on. Research published last month in the journal Vegetation History and Archaeobotany indicates that the cannabis plant originated in Tibet around 28 million years ago. Although it was eventually used for fiber and food, people soon figured out that the plant could also be ingested for a variety of therapeutic reasons.

These days, it is still mostly illegal all around the globe.  

TELL US, are you surprised that cannabis was used for its psychoactive properties 2,500 years ago?

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Lester Grinspoon Pioneer of Cannabis Normalization Dies at 92

Dr. Lester Grinspoon, the renowned Harvard scholar whose works boldly challenged the cannabis stigma in an era when it was deeply entrenched in American culture, died June 25 at his home in the Boston area. His passing came unexpectedly, one day after he had celebrated his 92nd birthday. 

His most pioneering work, Marihuana Reconsidered, was published in 1971 and was the fruit of years of research with Harvard Medical School. In addition to a review of the scientific literature and historical material, it included actual first-hand interviews with cannabis users, portrayed without prejudice—a ground-breaking notion for its time. With multiple chapters dispassionately dedicated to deconstructing the propaganda of fear, it concluded with an open call for legalization.

This was given greater legitimacy by the fact that Grinspoon came to the question not as an already-convinced advocate but an objective scholar. As he would admit in a new introduction for the 1994 reprint edition: “I first became interested in cannabis when its use increased explosively in the 1960s. At that time I had no doubt it was a very harmful drug that was unfortunately being used by more and more foolish young people… But as I reviewed the scientific, medical, and lay literature, my views began to change. I came to understand that I, like so many other people in this country, had been misinformed and misled.”

Over the following decades, as the marijuana legalization movement burgeoned, Grinspoon emerged as its top intellectual authority and most respected representative.

He was among the very first to speak out for legalization on Capitol Hill. In 1977, he provided lengthy written testimony to the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse & Control, concluding optimistically: “Whatever the cultural conditions that have made it possible, there is no doubt that the discussion about marihuana has become increasingly sensible. We are gradually becoming conscious of the irrationality of classifying this drug as one with a high abuse potential and no medical value. If the trend continues, it is likely that within a decade marihuana will be sold in the United States as a legal intoxicant.”

Of course the backlash in Reagan revolution upset the timeline of Grinspoon’s prediction. But he did live to see a legal market became a reality in several states—and could claim a good share of the credit for helping to bring this about.

Bringing Science to Advocacy Work 

Massachusetts native Grinspoon would be compelled by the conclusions emerging from his research to take an advocacy position, eventually joining the board of directors of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). 

Years after the release of Marihuana Reconsidered, Grinspoon would reveal that one of the cannabis users quoted at length in the book—identified only as “Mr. X”—was in fact Carl Sagan, the Cornell astrophysicist who a decade later would become a celebrity popularizer of science. Sagan’s closing remarks as Mr. X in the book have often been quoted: “The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.”

Grinspoon credited Sagan as the key personality that opened his mind on the cannabis question. 

Dr. Carl Sagan poses with a model of the Viking lander in Death Valley, Calif.
PHOTO Druyan-Sagan Associates, Inc.

Grinspoon also testified on behalf of John Lennon at his 1973 deportation hearing—a proceeding initiated by the US government based on his prior hashish arrest in England. As Grinspoon related to an amused audience at the 2011 NORML conference in Denver, the Nixon administration really “wanted to get Lennon out of the country because he was effectively protesting the Vietnam War.” The immigration officers overseeing the hearing weren’t even clear on whether hashish was a form of marijuana, Grinspoon wryly recalled. The ex-Beatle was ultimately allowed to stay.

 The cannabis question became poignantly personal for Grinspoon and his wife Betsy when their son Danny succumbed to cancer when he was still a young teenager. Cannabis helped him to endure the ill effects from high doses of chemotherapy. This experience propelled Dr. Grinspoon’s interest in the medicinal potential of the cannabis plant. In 1993, he joined with James B. Bakalar to author Marihuana: The Forbidden MedicineThree years later, California would become the first state to legalize medical use of cannabis.

Despite his achievements, Grinspoon was twice turned down for a full professor position at Harvard—something he attributed to the lingering cannabis stigma. According to a 2018 profile on Grinspoon in the Boston Globe, he believed “an undercurrent of unscientific prejudice against cannabis among [Harvard] faculty and school leaders doomed his chances.”

But whatever status he sacrificed for his beliefs among the academic establishment was made up for in the esteem he won from the advocacy community. In 1990 he received the Alfred R. Lindesmith Award for Achievement in the Field of Scholarship & Writing from the Drug Policy Foundation. In 1999, NORML established the Lester Grinspoon Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Marijuana Law Reform, the organization’s highest honor—with Grinspoon, of course, the first recipient. Dr. Grinspoon served as a member of the NORML advisory board until his death. 

As NORML wrote in a farewell statement upon the passing the courageous scholar: “Dr. Lester Grinspoon led the way to insist that our marijuana policies be based on legitimate science. He made it possible for us to have an informed public policy debate leading to the growing list of states legalizing the responsible use of marijuana.” 

TELL US, did you know about Dr. Lester Grinspoon’s legacy?

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Remembering Jack Herer: The Hemperor of Cannabis

Jack Herer was a real man, the Hemperor of cannabis, and was one of the most influential figures in the founding of the cannabis legalization movement.

Origins of the Hemperor

Jack Herer (pronounced hair-er, not her-air) was born on June 18, 1939, in Buffalo, New York to a conservative Jewish family. Herer’s father passed away while he was still a child, and as soon as he was old enough, Herer dropped out of high school to join the Army, serving as a military policeman and translator during the Korean War. When Herer returned home, he began raising a family in Southern California and had his first three children by the mid-60s, his sons Barry (named for Barry Goldwater), Dan and Mark. Later on, he had three more children, River, Chanci and BJ. Herer was not always the Hemperor of cannabis, believe it or not, he “allegedly threatened to leave the first of his four wives upon finding out that she had smoked pot.” After Herer divorced his first wife he moved to Los Angeles in 1967, where he discovered cannabis and experienced a self-transformation.

Herer spent the next half a decade immersing himself in everything cannabis and in 1973 he founded the Ah Ha Pipe Company. That same year marked the release of “G.R.A.S.S.” — “Great Revolutionary American Standard System: The Official Guide for Assessing the Quality of Marijuana on the 1 to 10 scale” — a zine Herer co-authored with Al Emmanuel, illustrated by Carl Muecke. In 1979, Herer teamed up with “Captain” Ed Adair to open a hemp store in Venice Beach, California. This became a friendship that would last the rest of their lives, as they both fought to legalize hemp until the day they died.

As a veteran of the Korean War, Herer was one of the first veterans leading the fight to legalize cannabis, and took the fight all the way to President Reagan himself. Along the way he recruited many other vets to his cause, his wife Jeannie explains, “he respected people like the veterans who were living under the bridges in LA, homeless veterans. These guys were the ones who volunteered to help him go out and get signatures on the sheet to get his initiatives passed.”

Canadians and Ronald Reagan

As told in the book “Pot Stories for the Soul” Herer recalls, “in May 1980, I began a series of protests on the front lawn of the Los Angeles Federal Building in Westwood that would last for as many as 100 days at a time [and] on the flagpole, we hung a huge marijuana-leaf flag.” The protest was an effort to register voters and collect signatures for a 1982 marijuana legalization initiative. In January 1981, a few days before taking office, President-Elect Ronald Reagan made an appearance at the federal building and remarked to the building manager, “Why are those Canadians down on the lawn?” The manager replied that they weren’t Canadians, “Those are the marijuana protesters, and they live down there 24 hours a day.”

Reagan promised that once he took office he would see what he could do, and what he did was reissue a World War II era anti-sabotage act which would prohibit anyone from being on federal property after dark. While the other five protesters who were charged in the incident all paid the $5 fine, Herer stuck to his principles, saying that he was registering voters, one of the most patriotic acts an American could do, and had done nothing wrong. In the end, Herer went to prison for 15 days, and it was in those two weeks at Terminal Island prison that “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” was born.

The Emperor Wears No Clothes

“The Emperor Wears No Clothes” is the culmination of more than a decade of research and life experience that Herer accumulated between moving to LA in 1967, and his fateful face-off with President Ronald Reagan at the Los Angeles Federal Building. First published in 1985, and printed on hemp paper, “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” is Herer’s magnum opus and greatest gift to humanity. The work is a non-fiction book that manages to be accessible to a wide variety of readers and covers a vast array of topics. It is also firmly grounded in historical and scientific facts. The work was largely put together at the insistence of Herer’s dear friend Captain Ed and is now in its 12th edition selling nearly 1 million copies and earning the title of, “the #1 best selling hemp book of all time.” Tied into Herer’s writing of “The Emperor” was his discovery of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s WWII era short film, “Hemp for Victory”, which covers the numerous war-time uses for hemp and encourages farmers to be patriots by growing hemp to win the war.

Chris Conrad was a friend of Herer’s, founder of The Leaf Online, and someone who worked intimately with him to turn the first edition of the “Emperor,” which was “essentially a scrapbook of factoids about cannabis mixed with polemics against the Drug War” into the book we all know and love today. Conrad met Herer in 1989, after coming across a first edition of “The Emperor” which included a copy of the WWII-era USDA film “Hemp for Victory”. Herer’s expert research unearthed a film that the Library of Congress first told him did not exist and it was later restored to the national archives.

“Working with [Jack] on his book was an enlightening experience,” said Ellen Komp, the current deputy director of California NORML. He read and re-read every line, weighing it for accuracy and impact. We worked at a 24-hour computer rental shop on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, on the graveyard shift (when rent was cheaper). Once in a while, he’d look around and say, ‘Everything here could be made of hemp. The plastics, the furniture, the carpets, the curtains…’”

Chris Conrad and Jack Herer

The impact of “The Emperor” was immediate and far-reaching, including those outside the cannabis world. According to Rick Cusick, a friend of Herer’s, former co-editor at High Times and the current COO of Whoopi & Maya, “the early editions of ‘The Emperor’ had a esthetic/artistic influence on cutting edge magazine art directors working in the 1980s like Ray Gun’s David Carson, of course on the DIY esthetic in the 90s.” Herer, Cusick said, “was the heart of our movement and a true American original.”

Yes We CAN

In a 1991 interview with Captain Ed, Herer commented on their friendship saying, “This guy made me promise to work to legalize marijuana until I was dead, it was legal, or I turned 84. And we had a shake on it, and agreed to this, smoked a joint on it.”

Unfortunately Captain Ed died later that year from Leukemia at 50 years old, leaving Herer devastated, but far from alone in his quest for hemp legalization.

While Herer was out traveling on the road promoting “The Emperor” he was also busy creating the Cannabis Action Network with Rick Pfrommer, Debby Goldsberry and other members of his entourage. CAN, and by association Herer, became an integral part in the spread of 420 around the country during the ’90s while they were doing their Hemp Tour. It was in 1994 that Herer met his fourth wife, Jeannie. They married three years later in 2000.

By now, Herer had been trying to legalize cannabis in California for nearly 30 years and had circulated several different ballot initiatives over the years.

“After the ‘Emperor’” says Conrad, “we set about our next task, co-authoring and filing the 1990 California Hemp Initiative (CHI).” Conrad added that, the CHI “has been refiled and circulated repeatedly since, including this year, but it never made the ballot.” As opposed to Prop 215 which was exclusively medical, Conrad explains, “the California Hemp Initiative was comprehensive legalization — industrial hemp, medical marijuana, adult use and commercial distribution all in one bill.”

Prop 215 was the work of Dennis Peron, Dr. Tod Mikuriya, and a team of dozens of other activists (including Komp, Conrad and his wife Mikki Norris), and when it passed in 1996 it created America’s first medical cannabis program. After getting “quite upset” when his friends were hired as organizers for the Prop 215 campaign, Herer ended up becoming a signature gatherer and also converted many of his CHI supporters into dual signature gatherers to aid both bills.

The Healing Power of Mushrooms & His Final Years

In 2000, the same year he married Jeannie, Herer suffered his first stroke while in Portland, four minutes into the middle of an impassioned speech. The stroke left him with great difficulty speaking, Mary Otte was Herer’s personal assistant from 2004-2005, and says that Herer, “credited low doses of Amanita muscaria on the daily for making connections necessary for speech after his stroke.” Herer explained this process briefly in a 2005 speech he gave in Monterey. In reply to a friend suggesting he try LSD, he said “I will try some amanita muscaria” and taking just a couple of grams a day he was able to regain his ability to speak. Carson Higby Flowers was one of Herer’s caregivers after his stroke and remembers “giving him cannabis oil in capsules” and fondly recalled, “the time we took mushrooms and watched Young Frankenstein on Halloween together. We laughed so hard it hurt… Putting on the Ritz part really cracked him up. I think it was because he could relate to not being able speak clearly like he once could.”

In September 2009, while back in Portland for the Hempstalk festival, Herer bellowed out this message of encouragement to a crowd “You’ve got to be out of your mind not to smoke dope… It is the best thing the world has ever had!” While exiting the stage he ran into his old friend Conrad, who was about to take the stage to speak. Conrad remembered that fateful encounter well, he was on stage reminiscing on his work with Herer, “when a woman walked onto the stage and interrupted me. She took the mic and said ‘Jack needs your prayers now.’” Conrad finished his speech and saw an ambulance drive by, not knowing who was inside. “Only later did I learn that Jack was in that ambulance: He had had a heart attack just after we spoke and he never recovered. It was the last time I saw him alive.”

Herer fought on another seven months until April 15, 2010, when he passed away from complications from his heart attack.

“The most amazing thing about him was his powerful voice, which could be heard clear as a bell at the back of any event where he spoke,” Komp said. “It was a gift that he used well, stumping around the country to preach the hemp message at a time when very few knew more than ‘rope and dope’ about hemp. His work reinvigorated the marijuana reform movement after the horrible 1980s ‘Just Say No’ days imprisoned and stigmatized so many. On a personal level, he was a warm and loving man, always with a twinkle in his eye and a love for life. He’s the reason I became an activist and I miss him to this day.”

Herer never lived to see a single state legalize cannabis for recreational use, and now, only six years after his death, four states, and Washington D.C., have legalized the adult use of cannabis. On top of that, since Herer’s passing 11 more states, and Washington D.C., have legalized medical cannabis. One plot twist in the effort to legalize cannabis Herer never lived to see was the passage and spread of CBD-only medical cannabis programs, which are now in 16 states. Herer would have been 76 on June 18, neither he nor Captain Ed could make it to 84 as they promised each other many years ago, but their legacy will last for countless years onward.

This week marks not only Herer’s birthday, but is a major week for cannabis conferences on both coasts of America, bringing together a diverse and eclectic crowd of investors, hippies, political activists, government regulators, and all manner of other folks. In this time of exponential growth it is worth asking what would Herer do? What would he have to say regarding the heavy commercialization of the plant he hoped would save the world? What would he think about thousands of cannabis prisoners still locked away for growing a plant?

Jack Herer the Strain

“Getting high on myself – there’s no other high quite like it!” – Jack Herer

Jack Herer was reported to be a very big fan of smoking the strain that bears his name, and it is no surprise as to why, as Jack Herer has won at least “14 prizes in various cannabis competitions, making it the most decorated strain in the world.” Jack Herer was a close friend with Ben Dronkers, the master breeder at Sensi Seeds, who wanted to honor his friend’s work on the ‘Emperor Wears No Clothes’ with a gift fitting his namesake. After several years of intense work to stabilize the genetics, Jack Herer was ready to be released to the world, and “was launched in 1994 during a ceremony in The Cannabis Castle… done in the presence of the most important figures in the cannabis industry and, of course, of the man himself, who triumphantly enjoyed this moment.”

TELL US, have you ever smoked the Jack Herer strain?

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The Cannabis Industry and the Black Lives Matter Uprising

Since the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis police force, the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement—itself galvanized six years ago by the slaying of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, MO—has come to animate what can now only be called a national uprising. No part of the country has been untouched. Large solidarity demonstrations have also been held overseas.

As in any such situation, unpredictable forces have been unleashed—as witnessed by the broken glass and looted storefronts in cities coast to coast. 

Dispensaries Looted

Cannabis dispensaries across California have been hit by looters. The East Bay Express reports that “most of the dispensaries in Berkeley, San Francisco, and Oakland seem to have been hit.” Two outlets of the upscale national chain MedMen were among several dispensaries struck in Los Angeles.

The Cannabis Now retail store in Los Angeles was also among those hit. Cannabis Now founder and CEO Eugenio Garcia said in a statement that the looters struck last weekend—hours after a large and peaceful protest was held at the same intersection as the shop, where La Cienega Blvd. meets 3rd St., near West Hollywood. “I was threatened and assaulted and our building was ransacked for hours,” Garcia relates. “Almost everything was stolen and destroyed. As an entrepreneur this is heartbreaking.”

PHOTO Cannabis Now

Adding to the sting, the ransacking came days after the shop had re-opened after having been closed since early March due to COVID-19. “It was wonderful to have so many neighbors stop by and tell us how happy they were to see us open,” Garcia says. “Our store is currently closed again, but we will do our best to rebuild and offer a safe place for the community to come together.”

Oakland’s flagship cannabis dispensary, Harborside, which made headlines when it went public last year, has been “robbed repeatedly” over the past weeks of unrest, according to the company’s chairman emeritus, Steve DeAngelo. “We were one of dozens of California cannabis dispensaries that have been targeted,” DeAngelo tells Cannabis Now. He says the break-ins were the work not of protesters but “professional thieves who saw an opportunity.”  

Eugenio Garcia, in his statement on the sacking of the Cannabis Now store, had this message for the protesters:

“We stand with you. For a decade it has been our mission at Cannabis Now to help build an all-inclusive community surrounding the cannabis plant. Black and Latino communities are specifically targeted and incarcerated due to cannabis prohibition. Racial injustice has prevailed for far longer…

We encourage you to peacefully protest, to vote and to let your voice be heard. While you are doing that, please lift up and support the small businesses in your community who have been affected.”

War on Drugs Helped Bring Us to This Point  

What makes for the special situation of cannabis businesses at this historical juncture is that the War on Drugs—including cannabis prohibition—has been a major ticket-holder in the matrix of oppression faced by Black America. 

Harborside’s Steve DeAngelo, with personal roots as an activist long before he became an entrepreneur, especially emphasizes the social responsibilities of the cannabis community.

“I’ve always believed and continue to believe that cannabis movement needs to make racial justice an integral part of all that we do,” DeAngelo says. “We have a debt of history we need to honor and need to pay. This industry would not exist without the efforts of generations of African Americans—who were the first people to bring cannabis to North America. It’s passage from Black jazz musicians to white fans was one of the vectors to rest of America. Cannabis is a gift of the African American community to the rest of the country.” 

This history has played out in some agonizingly paradoxical ways. DeAngelo cites the case of Michael Thompson, a 68-year-old African American man who has been serving a 60-year term for selling cannabis in Michigan since 1996—in a state where it is now legal. A campaign for his release has recently been launched, in light of the danger COVID-19 poses to prisoners. Says DeAngelo: “There are 40,000 people in this country in same category of doing time for something no longer illegal in many states.” 

DeAngelo also invokes the case of Corvain Cooper, a Black man from Los Angeles who is serving a life term under the federal “three strikes” law—convicted in 2013 in a supposed conspiracy to ship cannabis out of state. His family appealed his life term, arguing that changes to California law meant that his prior convictions (all for nonviolent offenses) were no longer felonies. But the U.S. Supreme Court turned down the case. A clemency campaign for him has now been launched. He was recently transfered to a prison in Louisiana, so his family can no longer afford to visit him. In a particularly telling irony, the site of the Louisiana clothes boutique he had opened shortly before his arrest is today a cannabis dispensary.

“Can you imagine how they feel?” DeAngelo asks. “An extraordinarily rich industry is being built, and not only can you not participate but you’re still locked up. And with COVID in the prisons, you’re potentially facing a death sentence.”  

Last year, DeAngelo launched the Last Prisoner Project, a non-profit group working for, in his words, “the release of every cannabis prisoner on the planet, and helping provide the resources for them to rebuild their lives.” First, this means petitioning for “compassionate release,” DeAngelo says. “The government has the power at the stroke of a pen to grant clemency, but it’s a political risk. We’re currently having conversations with governors’ offices in legal states.” These clemency petitions are being undertaken in partnership with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Meanwhile, DeAngelo says the Last Prisoner Project “is making funds available to pay for phone calls and medical care which are prohibitively expansive for many prisoners. We’re also aiding prisoners on release to find employment—especially in the legal cannabis industry.” 

“The cannabis industry has a responsibility to strive for racial justice, both in operational and advocacy points of view,” DeAngelo sums up. “Both the COVID and policing crises make clear how urgent this is. I don’t think it’s any more urgent now than it was a week ago, but that urgency is becoming clearer now.” 

I don’t think it’s any more urgent now than it was a week ago, but that urgency is becoming clearer now.” 

– Steve DeAngelo

Maritza Perez, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, said this in a June 1 statement in response to Trump mobilizing the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Customs & Border Protection (CBP) to target protesters: “For far too long, the drug war has been used as a tactic to target, harass, assault, criminalize, and incarcerate communities of color, resulting in a social, economic, and cultural stranglehold around our necks… People of color have a right to be angry and a right to be heard. We cannot meet pleas for liberation with more state-sponsored violence. Until we defund agencies like the DEA and CBP, and remove federal incentives for local police departments, Black and Brown people will forever be gasping for air.” 

The Soul of the Cannabis Community

The War on Drugs has been identified, most prominently by writer Michelle Alexander, as a “new Jim Crow” that is again incarcerating, disenfranchising—and killing—Black people in the United States. It can be argued that, whatever new propaganda guise is now employed, the actual social function of the War on Drugs has been the same as that of legal segregation and Klan terror of an earlier era. And as indicated by the case of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old Black man killed while jogging near his Georgia home in February, the outright vigilante terror of the Klan era also lives on.  

We now see the narco-stigma being employed against George Floyd, with the assertion that he had been using meth—as if that makes any difference to the moral equation whatsoever. Often in the past, cannabis has been the substance at issue in the posthumous stigmatization of victims of police terror.

And many of the police killings of unarmed Black youth that we’ve seen in recent years across the country have been linked, one way or another, to cannabis. Most notorious was the case of 18-year-old Ramarley Graham, who was shot dead in his own home in the Bronx in 2012. He was killed by an NYPD officer who had followed him into the apartment after supposedly witnessing him engaged in a street deal. He was shot while attempting to flush his stash of cannabis down the toilet. The officer who killed him never faced charges

As recently as this March, an egregious incident of police abuse in Brooklyn went viral on the internet and re-ignited public anger over racist marijuana enforcement in New York City.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we must recognize peaceful protesters and opportunistic theives as opposites ends of a spectrum—some of the looting (at least) has presumably been carried out by the simply angry and desperate. We should also keep in mind that from Minneapolis to Las Vegas, there have been signs that some of the violence has been provocation by far-right white nationalists bent on provoking a civil war.

PHOTO Harrison Haines

It’s a paradoxical testament to the gains of cannabis “normalization” that dispensaries are seen as just another capitalist enterprise—and therefore fair game for social rage, when it erupts. Where cannabis enterprises are seen as complicit with gentrification, the rage may even be targeted at such businesses. And this rage may be compounded by the bitter irony of white entrepreneurs disproportionately getting rich off legal cannabis, while Black users remain disproportionately criminalized. Official policies of “cannabis equity” in California (at least) represent an effort to address this contradiction—but the contradiction still persists.

The soul of the country’s cannabis community is being tested by this crisis. Cannabis massively reached white America—the critical step of its “normalization” in a white-dominated society—as a part of the cultural ferment of the 1960s, which also included the anti-war and civil rights movements. It is painfully clear that it is still necessary to fight for the things the civil rights movement fought for two generations ago. The degree to which the cannabis community will be a part of this fight will reveal the degree to which the values of that era have truly been nurtured—or whether the weed is today just another capitalist commodity in a system that consumes and exploits Black lives.

TELL US, how do you feel about the cannabis industry’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement?

The post The Cannabis Industry and the Black Lives Matter Uprising appeared first on Cannabis Now.

On Mothers & Marijuana: 7 Celebrities Talk About Smoking While Parenting

Mothers are increasingly leading cannabis reform efforts in the United States. Across the country, mothers have pushed forward laws — even in conservative states — allowing for the use of THC or CBD for children with severe epilepsy and other illnesses.

One such “she-ro” is Heather Shuker of the Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Society, who began as an advocate for her daughter Hannah after cannabis drastically reduced the number of seizures she suffered. California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who just reversed her longstanding policy of opposing cannabis reform, said her views changed after meetings with constituents, particularly those with young children who have benefited from medical cannabis.

But the movement of mothers advocating for marijuana isn’t only a recent phenomenon about giving children access to medical cannabis. Here are seven mothers, including celebrities, writers and musicians, who have spoken publicly about their own consumption of marijuana and the positive effects they’ve seen from the plant.

Maya Angelou

Poetess Maya Angelou wrote about her experiences with marijuana in “Gather Together in My Name,” the second installment of her autobiography, after the acclaimed “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”Angelou, who had a drastically difficult childhood and became a single mother in her teens, wrote: “Smoking grass eased the strain for me…. From a natural stiffness I melted into a grinning tolerance. Walking on the streets became high adventure, eating my mother’s huge dinners an opulent entertainment, and playing with my son was side-cracking hilarity. For the first time, life amused me.”

Melissa Etheridge

Musician Melissa Etheridge advanced the cannabis cause when she told Dateline NBC in 2005 that she smoked medicinal cannabis to help with the side effects of chemotherapy during her treatment for breast cancer. Etheridge came out in favor of recreational cannabis at a 2010 press conference in Los Angeles. “I don’t want to look like a criminal to my children anymore,” she stated. “I want them to know this is a choice you make as a responsible adult.” At a Grammy Museum-sponsored Concert for Social Justice in 2015, she pronounced that the cannabis revolution “is being won by middle-aged women.”

Ruth Bergner

Longtime cannabis user and grandmother Ruth Bergner outed herself in her 2005 autobiography, “I Smoke Pot with My Family: Speaking Up at 85.” “With just one puff, I am instantly more open, communicative, loving and forgiving,” she wrote. “I believe that, when used wisely, this substance supports us in learning to be more loving and emotionally sound human beings.” These lessons are all ones that many mothers hope to pass on to their children.

Lea Grover

In 2015, Lea Grover, the mother of one-year-old twins, wrote an article for Good Housekeeping magazine titled, “Marijuana Makes Me a Better Mother,” in which she recounted how she benefited from an increased ability to empathize brought on by marijuana, as well dealing with her “parenthood-induced anxiety” more safely and effectively with cannabis than Xanax.

Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron, who recently told Jimmy Kimmel that she and her mother successfully tried edibles to help them sleep, is currently appearing both in the movie “Gringo,” a boyish romp about a mythical marijuana pill, and in a critically-acclaimed performance for her realistic depiction of the challenges of motherhood in “Tully.” She has two children that she co-parents with her mother.

Susan Sarandon

Susan Sarandon, who has admitted to using pot as far back as 1992, has increasingly become an advocate for marijuana and criminal justice reform. Sarandon told AARP’s magazine in 2014 that, “I would much rather my kids smoke weed than drink, except that it’s illegal.”

Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg, who has recently entered the cannabis industry with her own line of cannabis products geared toward women and mothers, said it was her daughter who suggested that she smoke marijuana to treat the headaches she was struggling with. “When my daughter gave me a vape pen, I realized that I could relegate it to where I needed it to be,” Goldberg told Marie Claire. “And I would talk to my older grandkids in their 20s, and they’d say they use weed to stop cramps.” Goldberg has also spoken up about the need for more women and mothers in the cannabis industry, saying, “If you had women running the weed market, I think there’d be lots of different products.”

TELL US, are you a mother? Have you seen marijuana impact your life?

The post On Mothers & Marijuana: 7 Celebrities Talk About Smoking While Parenting appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Be Part of History With These Digital 420 Celebrations

Things certainly are different from when we first realized April 2020 would mean a month-long 420 party. But, thanks to coronavirus, we’re social distancing instead of enjoying group seshes. Don’t worry friends! We all know cannabis brings us together and weed will always find a way. To keep our spirits high, the cannabis community has come together to provide incredible digital 420 celebrations with music, art and entertainment to help get us through this historic moment. Moreover, many of these events are fundraising for people who have been hit hard as a result of the pandemic. 

With music from Wiz Khalifa to Melissa Etheridge, sessions with Berner and B Real as well as group sessions with Tommy Chong and other industry titans, tune in to these digital 420 celebrations from coast to coast.

Chronic Relief

In the spirit of legendary fundraisers like the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon, Chronic Relief looks to bring many of the same aspects of the time-honored tradition, but in a virtual world where viewers can join a live-stream. The event will act as a platform to raise money for charity with 100% of all funds raised via donation during the broadcast will be given to Feeding America. A donation link will be visible on the live-stream screen.

Additionally, viewers can expect to see video segments from artists, influencers and celebrities. Live musical performances and interviews with influencers will stream live from organizer Fairchild’s Seattle-based studio in a true variety-show format.

Haus of Jane

Tokeativity has partnered with Women Empowered in Cannabis and White Buffalo Events to gather women from across the world for an epic 420 Celebration! Join them from the comfort of your own home for an interactive online event from 3-6 pm PST. This event is free for all Tokeativity Business and Grassroots Members, RSVP today to access.

Highstream 420 Festival

America’s largest cannabis gatherings, the National Cannabis Festival and The Emerald Cup, combine forces for a coast-to-coast online 420 festival benefiting coronavirus relief charities.

Join them on 420 at 4 pm EST via NUGS.TV for a full day of music performances, online workshops, demos, and interactive panels.

Weedmaps Presents Higher Together

Should you still be seshing with friends right now? Probably not so much — at least not IRL. But you should still keep the circle strong! Let’s not take COVID-19 lightly. As puff, puff, passing is pretty much a no-no, let’s sesh virtually. Keep the virtual smoke circle going at home and share your #seshfromhome with Weedmaps. Join Wiz Khalifa, Berner, Billy Ray Cyrus and a host of other artists for their digital 420 celebration while helping raise money for the Last Prisoner Project.

The Great American Sesh In

The Great American Sesh In is an online cannabis, music and arts festival designed to keep this year’s 420 celebration safe, exciting, and a great reason to stay indoors. The goal is to flatten the 420 curve by encouraging patrons to visit dispensaries or order online early to be home and tune in on 4/20/20.

This telethon style event raises funds for first responders so the cannabis community can give back, and say thanks, to the very people who helped make cannabis an essential medicine. The event celebrates 420 with artists and musicians, comedians, industry luminaries, and special surprise and delight moments. 

420 World Record

Be part of history and help break the world record for “most people consuming cannabis on video chat” with 420record.com. Additionally, 100% of profits will be donated to helping free 40,000+ inmates convicted of non-violent marijuana crimes with the Last Prisoner Project.

TELL US, are you joining any digital 420 celebrations this year?

The post Be Part of History With These Digital 420 Celebrations appeared first on Cannabis Now.

MLK & Marijuana: How the Civil Rights Leader’s Work Informs the Push for Legal Pot

Martin Luther King Jr. might have turned 91 years old this month if he had not been felled by an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968. It is, of course, impossible to know what the United States would look like today if he had lived — or what he would think about the political dilemmas of our own time.

Yet there are certain obvious parallels between his time and ours. The country is again bitterly divided along political lines. And many activists and scholars argue that the racist power structure that King fought has re-congealed — this time in the guise of the “war on drugs” and mass incarceration. His legacy therefore holds lessons for those now fighting for cannabis legalization.

Cycles of Repression and Revolution  

Foremost among those scholars is Michelle Alexander, author of the 2010 bestseller The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Alexander takes a long view of the struggle for racial justice in the United States and paints a grim picture. She illustrates how many of the gains that King won in his life being reversed after his death — this time in a new “race-neutral” guise that only serves to mask continued institutionalized racism.  

Alexander notes that in 1972, there were under 350,000 people in prisons and jails nationwide. Today there are 2 million. In fact, the U.S. has the most people behind bars of any nation on Earth, in both per capita and absolute terms. This is certainly an irony for the country that touts itself as the “land of the free.” 

Among those 2 million people in prison are 40,000 who remain incarcerated in state or federal prisons on cannabis-related convictions — about half of them for marijuana offenses alone. When those waiting to see a judge in local jails are added in, the figure may approach 100,000 on any given day. And the racial disparity could not be more obvious. A 2013 American Civil Liberties Union report, Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests, crunched the national data. It found that black people are more than three times as likely as whites to be arrested for cannabis — despite consuming the plant at essentially similar rates.  

And this is not the first time the country has seen significant and hard-won racial progress being in large part (at least) reversed, with the same power structure re-establishing itself in new guise. Slavery was abolished in the aftermath of the Civil War. But, as Alexander quotes historian and early civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois, from his 1935 book Black Reconstruction in America, “The slave went free, stood a brief moment in the sun, then moved back again toward slavery.”

In the South under occupation by Union troops after the Civil War, black people for the first time voted, served on juries and held elected office — until the backlash came. In 1877, the federal troops were withdrawn. In subsequent years, without federal interference, Ku Klux Klan terror enforced legal apartheid in the southern states — the system known as Jim Crow. Blacks were often reduced to a state of near-slavery through share-cropping and were barred from the vote by systematic disenfranchisement.  

It wasn’t until nearly a century after the Civil War that this system would be challenged. In his book Why We Can’t Wait, an account of the 1963 Birmingham Campaign to desegregate Alabama’s biggest city, King wrote of “America’s third revolution — the Negro Revolution.” 

By King’s reckoning, the country’s first revolution had been the one we actually call “the Revolution” — the War of Independence, although it left the slave-owning aristocracy of the South thoroughly in place. The second was arguably far more revolutionary — the Civil War, in which the slave system was broken. King’s Civil Rights Movement was avowedly nonviolent, but it was still a revolution — the overturning of a power structure by physical as well as moral opposition.

Despite the violent backlash, both from the police and Ku Klux Klan terrorists, the campaign ultimately swayed the nation, resulting in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other landmark legislation that finally ended legal apartheid in America.

But the year of King’s assassination saw the country’s national political establishment embracing the backlash — exactly as in 1877. In the 1968 presidential campaign, Republican candidate Richard Nixon first adopted the rhetoric of a “war on drugs” (although he would actually coin that phrase three years later, when the Controlled Substances Act was passed). And, in just barely coded terms, Nixon was promoting the rhetoric of racism.

In her book, Alexander quotes Nixon’s special counsel John Ehrlichman explicitly summing up the campaign strategy in his 1982 memoir, Witness To Power: The Nixon Years: “We’ll go after the racists.” Ehrlichman unabashedly wrote how throughout the 1968 race, “subliminal appeal to the anti-black voter was always present in Nixon’s statements and speeches.” 

Alexander did not mention, however, another quote attributed to Ehrlichman in which he just as explicitly made the connection between this subliminal racism and the anti-drug drumbeat. Journalist Dan Baum in the April 2016 edition of Harper’s recalls a quote he says he got from a 1994 interview with Ehrlichman: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people… by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

And the backlash was just beginning.

Birth of the New Jim Crow 

The new order would be consolidated over the next decade. In 1973, the same year the federal Drug Enforcement Administration was created, New York state’s Rockefeller Laws imposed the nation’s first mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. In 1977, New York decriminalized cannabis, overturning the harsh Rockefeller Laws where personal quantities of marijuana were concerned — but the draconian provisions for cocaine and heroin remained intact.

With the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the “drug war” rhetoric was revived with a vengeance, and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 imposed mandatory minimum sentences nationwide. Ten years later, an ACLU report would find that the law “devastated African American and low-income communities.” 

The 1986 law also instated the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine — with the prior, that was flooding black communities, landing the far longer sentences. This was also reflected in public perceptions and media portrayals. In the early ’80s, powder cocaine was a status symbol for white yuppies. When crack hit the streets from New York to Los Angeles, it was immediately stigmatized by association with the criminal (read: black) underclass.

This period also saw the rapid militarization of police forces, and the War on Drugs, in Alexander’s words, went “from being a political slogan to an actual war.” The 1981 Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act started to erode the firewall that had existed between the armed forces and police since the end of Reconstruction.

The DEA joined with local police forces to instate Operation Pipeline, a program of traffic stops and vehicle searches that was protested by the ACLU as based on systematic “racial profiling.” 

This was enabled by a series of bad Supreme Court decisions — Terry vs Ohio in 1968, Florida vs. Bostick in 1991, Ohio vs. Robinette in 1996 — that dramatically eroded the Fourth Amendment. Alexander writes that these decisions enabled “consent searches” — in which the motorist (or pedestrian, or home resident) verbally consents to the search, but actually does so under police intimidation.

All-white juries were more likely to convict black people, of course — and prosecutors were still able to strike non-whites from serving as jurors despite the 1986 Supreme Court decision Batson v. Kentuckywhich barred discrimination on the basis of race in jury selection. As Alexander writes, “the only thing that has changed is that prosecutors must come up with a race-neutral excuse for the strikes.” 

In a vicious cycle, mass incarceration itself served to entrench the system of mass incarceration. Convicted felons are excluded from juries in many states, and only Maine and Vermont allow prison inmates to vote (as most Western European countries do).

Nor did this system turn around when the Democrats returned to the White House. The Bill Clinton years saw a 60% drop in federal spending on public housing, and a 170% boost in prison spending up to $19 billion. Prison construction would finally begin leveling off in the 2000s, but the actual prison population broke new records in 2008, “with no end in sight.”

Alexander writes: “Ninety percent of those admitted to prison for drug offenses in many states were black or Latino, yet the mass incarceration of communities of color was explained in race-neutral terms, an adaptation to the needs and demands of the current political climate. The New Jim Crow was born.” 

And this was utterly out of proportion to any real threat posed by illegal drugs. In the 1980s, there were some 22,000 drunk driving deaths per year, among 100,000 alcohol-related deaths. In Alexander’s words: “The number of deaths related to all illegal drugs combined was tiny compared to the number of deaths caused by drunk driving.”

Among the numberless stories of police terror in the name of drug enforcement, one recounted by Alexander is that of Alberta Spruill — a 57-year-old Harlem woman who died of a heart attack in May 2003 after police officers broke down her door and threw a concussion grenade into her apartment. No drugs or any contraband were found in the apartment. The cops were acting on a bad tip from snitches snared on a marijuana rap. 

A Fourth Revolution? 

Thanks in large part to growing public consciousness, there certainly appears to have been some progress in the fight against the War on Drugs over the past decade. In 2009, following a hard-fought activist campaign, the Rockefeller Laws were finally overturned in New York. Eleven states have now legalized cannabis, and nearly all have at least some kind of provision for medical use of cannabis — significantly lifting the pressure on one federally controlled substance.

But even amid the progress, there are clear and frustrating signs that a mere change in the law isn’t enough. From New York City (where cannabis arrests have been de-emphasized by policy) to Colorado (where cannabis is now legal), overall arrests for pot are significantly reduced — but the stark racial disparity persists in those arrests that continue under various loopholes.

Michelle Alexander concludes with a litany of necessary legal reforms and then states that, ultimately, they are insufficient: “Mandatory drug sentencing laws must be rescinded. Marijuana ought to be legalized (and perhaps other drugs as well)… The list could go on, of course, but the point has been made. The central question for racial justice advocates is this: are we serious about ending the system of control, or not?” 

She quotes from Martin Luther King’s book of collected speeches, A Testament of Hope“White America must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society. The comfortable, the entrenched, the privileged cannot continue to tremble at the prospect of change in the status quo.”

There are many other quotes from the great civil rights leader that shed equal light on the current impasse, in which the limitations of mere legal progress are becoming clear. In his April 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail, King justified his civil disobedience in these words: “An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself.”

This recalls both the relative impunity for white coke-snorters in the ’80s as black communities were militarized in the name of drug enforcement — and the white entrepreneurs now disproportionately getting rich off legal cannabis, while black users remain disproportionately criminalized.  

In Why We Can’t Wait, King wrote of how the country needed a “Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged” — anticipating the current demands for drug war reparations, wedding legal cannabis to addressing the harms caused by prohibition and the related matrix of social injustice.

The notion that cannabis legalization is necessary but not sufficient recalls King’s 1967 report to the staff of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the main coordinating body of the civil rights campaign. 

In the “Report to SCLC Staff,” he noted how the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March culminated in passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year — a critical victory. Yet, he wrote: “We have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights, an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society. We have been in a reform movement… But after Selma and the voting rights bill, we moved into a new era, which must be the era of revolution. We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power.”

If cannabis legalization is to truly undo the social harms of prohibition, its advocates may be in for a similar reckoning in the coming period.

TELL US, what are you doing to fight the War on Drugs?

The post MLK & Marijuana: How the Civil Rights Leader’s Work Informs the Push for Legal Pot appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Legendary Emerald Triangle Freedom Fighter B.E. Smith Dies at 72

Northern California’s legendary cannabis grower and audaciously outspoken activist Bailous Eugene Smith — universally known as B.E. — passed away at a hospital in Redding, California on Jan. 6, following complications from bypass surgery, according to family and friends. He was 72 years old.

Smith was born in Alabama, but came to California’s north country with his family while he was still a young boy. He did two tours of duty in Vietnam at the height of the war in the late ’60s, and came back to America suffering from PTSD. He initially turned to alcohol to cope, but soon “transitioned to pot,” in the words of his daughter-in-law, Rose Betchart Smith.

For a while, he worked as a tree-feller in the local timber industry. However, by the late ’70s, he became a real outlaw — joining a group of gold prospectors in the deep back-country of the remote and rugged Trinity Alps, living off the land in the wilderness. Although the U.S. Forest Service considered them trespassers, they claimed legitimacy under an 1872 mining law, which allows claim-staking on the public lands. The USFS admitted in 1982 that it had “lost control” of some 100,000 acres of Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

The outlaw miners were cleared out in a series of raids by Forest Service enforcement and National Guard troops in 1983 — a direct precursor to the militarized Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), which began immediately thereafter.

When I first interviewed Smith for High Times magazine in 1994, he told me he was sure that the elite anti-terrorist Delta Force was brought in for the raids, although the Pentagon would not confirm this. “Denny Canyon was a test run for the War on Drugs,” he told me, referring the gulch where the miners staked their claim. 

By the early ’90s, Smith had settled in Denny, the unincorporated village on the edge of the canyon, where he switched from gold prospecting to growing cannabis — initially to treat his PTSD. But he also won a clientele, as his renown as a skilled cultivator grew. Smith boasted to me that one of his clients was Merle Haggard, the country music legend who lived in neighboring Shasta County.

In this time period, Smith began to emerge as a grassroots political voice. He developed a following among local growers, bikers and rednecks as a “constitutionalist” libertarian, asserting a right to grow cannabis — and drive without license or seat-belt — under his populist interpretations of English common law. 

“The marijuana laws don’t apply to private citizens,” he told me. “If you don’t grow under contract to the federal government, the Marihuana Tax Act doesn’t apply to you.”  

Smith only got bolder with the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996, making California the first state in the country to allow cultivation, sale and use of medical marijuana. The following year, he started growing openly — as the designated caregiver for some 30 patients around the state. One was Sister Somayah Kambui, a veteran Black Panther in Los Angeles who used cannabis to treat pain from sickle-cell anemia

He grew 87 plants at the site, on the land of his neighbor and friend Martin Lederer, an elderly German immigrant. This number was chosen partially in sentimental reference to 1787, the year the U.S. Constitution was signed — but also to keep the number below 99, that at which the five-year federal mandatory minimum sentence kicks in. He said patients could expect to purchase 17 ounces of untrimmed bud for $500. Paperwork indicating that he was a designated caregiver under California law was prominently posted at the grow site, and he painted the roof of a nearby shed for helicopters to see with the words: “MEDICAL MARIJUANA, CALL TRINITY COUNTY SHERIFF.”

During the period he was taking this openly defiant stance, Smith won significant media attention, including a segment on the Discovery Channel’s “Weed Country” series.

However, on Sept. 24, 1997, U.S. marshals and Forest Service agents raided Smith’s grow. The marshals rode helicopters into Denny and seized Smith’s plants. In November of that year, a federal grand jury brought felony cultivation charges against Smith. Lederer also faced charges, and a forfeiture proceeding against his property.

When I spoke to Smith after the raid, he was typically intransigent. “You don’t have a crime if there’s no corpus delicti — the injured party,” he said. “Where’s the corpus delicti? There is none. The War on Drugs is a scam.”

Smith was defended in the Sacramento courtroom by the activist attorney Tom Ballanco, who is today a Trinity resident himself. Reached for comment at his off-the-grid homestead this week, Ballanco recalled the arguments his team made to the jury. “We claimed a medical necessity defense, first and foremost,” he says. “But we also argued that there was no federal jurisdiction, on states’ rights grounds. As an intra-state matter, it didn’t concern the federal government. The primacy of state law was one of B.E.’s pet theories.”

Ballanco emphasizes that the states’ rights argument would actually be vindicated years later in the 2011 Cole Memo, the Justice Department document instating a policy of non-interference in state-legal cannabis cultivation or sale (recently rescinded by the Trump administration).

Smith’s patients were brought in to testify, including Kambui, and a man who had lost his leg in a motorcycle accident and was dealing with “phantom pain.” But District Judge Garland E. Burrell barred any mention of medical marijuana in their testimony, on the grounds that it was not recognized by federal law. The patients could only serve as character witnesses. Ballanco also brought in the actor Woody Harrelson as a character witness.

Smith was convicted on May 21, 1999 and sentenced to serve 27 months in federal prison. Betchart Smith notes sadly that the sentence came down on Aug. 6 — which was the 33rd birthday of B.E. Smith, Jr., her husband and the defendant’s son.

Smith served his time at the federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon. Lederer pleaded guilty and got nine months, which he was able to serve locally. He was also able to keep his property.

After his release, Smith had to lay low for a few years, as he remained on probation. But he eventually returned to the political arena, in his trademark irreverent style. He repeatedly ran for sheriff of Trinity County — mostly as a protest candidate — and even threw his hat in the ring for governor of California in the 2003 gubernatorial recall election.

“I am proud to be his daughter-in-law, and proud of his accomplishments as a freedom fighter,” said Betchart Smith. “He taught me how to research law, speak up for the people, be a government watchdog and more.”

Betchart Smith says that in his final days, Smith had reflected on the current political polarization in the country, and his wish for a renewed sense of unity. “One thing he told me last month while in the hospital was that he just wanted ‘Americans to be Americans’,” she says.

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