Reviewing the Cannabis Act

Justin Trudeau’s hashtag government is finally reviewing the Cannabis Act – a year late. They want to know: has cannabis legalization been successful? Not in the sense of whether it’s been working for those who buy, sell, and consume cannabis. No, according to the Liberal’s Cannabis Act, the review must focus on Indigenous people, home growing, and whether legalization has helped the children. After all, it was never about your right to your body. Post-COVID, it’s clear that freedom doesn’t […]

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Episode 420 – Holy Moly! Episode 420!

Hosts Kris Krane, Heather Sullivan, Ben Larson, and Shea Gunther (filling in for Brian Adams) talk about the past eight years of podcasting and the current state of the legal cannabis world while also looking ahead to the MJBiz Conference in Vegas. Produced by Shea Gunther.

Cannabis in the US Midterms (2022)

What role will cannabis play in the USA 2022 midterm elections? America’s burgeoning yet constricted cannabis industry hopes to see some change in Washington before the midterms reshape the political landscape. America’s cannabis industry hopes to see the SAFE Banking Act passed. This legislation would provide cannabis companies access to financial services. “Really what it comes down to is how important is cannabis for the Democrats to pass,” says Nawan Butt, Portfolio Manager at Purpose Investments. Cannabis in the US […]

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Germany’s Legalization Plans

What are Germany’s legalization plans? Do they still plan on legalizing cannabis despite the obstacles ahead of them? There is uncertainty regarding natural gas supplies and European member state rules that forbid the importation of recreational cannabis. Nevertheless, Germany has committed to its legalization plans. Even going as far as California to meet with industry stakeholders and dispensary owners. Germany’s Legalization Plans Informed by California? German’s Health Committee visited Oakland last week to discuss “best practices” as part of Germany’s […]

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New York: The Taming of the ‘Wild East’?

The storefront on Allen Street, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, proudly sports a cannabis leaf logo on its awning. Beyond the security workers who check ID at the door, buds, edibles and pre-rolled joints are on open display in glass cases. There isn’t the slightest hint of stealth or disguise.  

Don’t Call It A ‘Loophole’ 

This is one of three Empire Cannabis Clubs locations around the city—the others are up the island in Chelsea and across the East River in Williamsburg. Co-owner Jonathan Elfand says three more are planned—for Hell’s Kitchen, the Upper East Side and Greenpoint.  

Speaking to Cannabis Now in a small park across from the establishment, Elfand boasts of his legacy credentials. “I’ve been messing with the marijuana trade in New York City since the 1980s,” he says. “I’ve grown weed in New York, sold weed in New York. I’ve been arrested numerous times, including on federal cultivation charges.” 

Elfand says including the 10-year term from that bust in ’98, he’s spent 14 years behind bars for cannabis. 
“We want to make sure cannabis goes to the community, the way it’s supposed to. I refuse to get into the system,” he expounds. “After 215 in California, millions of dollars came in from people with no history in cannabis. Corporate cannabis is not taking over New York City, that’s not happening. We don’t want it to be just CuraLeaf and MedMen.”

And Elfand insists the law is on his side, dismissing the terms used in the media to describe his enterprise.  

Jonathan Elfand, co-owner of Empire Cannabis Clubs. PHOTO Bill Weinberg

“I’ve read through the law. This isn’t a ‘gray area’ or a ‘loophole,’” he says. “As long as you are transferring it hand-to-hand without profit, it is not a sale under the law. I make money off membership fees, not the cannabis. I am not selling, I am facilitating transfer. The cannabis is sold for the price I pay to acquire it and get it on the shelf.” 

Elfand says the club received a “cease and desist” letter from New York’s Cannabis Control Board in February. He says they replied to it with a letter explaining their legal position, and never heard back. 

A press release issued by the business at that time stated: “Empire Cannabis Clubs is a not-for-profit cannabis dispensary (NFPCD) that aims to serve the goals of its members while ensuring an inclusive marketplace built upon social and economic justice for this rapidly growing industry before billion-dollar corporations are allowed to dominate the market and corrupt the process.” 

And indeed, the official New York Courts website states that under the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA), signed into law by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo in March 2021, “it is now legal for a person 21 years of age or older to give or transfer up to three ounces of cannabis and up to twenty-four grams of concentrated cannabis, to another person 21 years of age or older, as long as it is given without any payment.” 

Elfand emphasizes that he is conforming to every industry standard. “Everyone is scanned in; everyone is over 21. It’s all above-board. All products are lab-tested.” 

Now the testing is mostly done out of state, he says, but adds that he hopes to open a laboratory in New York.  Quantity per sale is limited to three ounces of flower or 24 grams of concentrate—the permissible quantities for personal possession (outside the home) under MRTA. 

Elfand is one of four co-owners, including his sister and brother. He says Empire Cannabis Clubs has some 100 employees, the majority with criminal records. “We try to get people who have been victimized by the war on drugs,” he says. 

The business is paying sales tax (even though it denies making any “sales,” as legally defined), and is among several listed on the New York Dispensary Events website. 

“Others may be flying under the radar in New York City, but that’s not me,” Elfand insists. “We’re paying taxes, we have a social equity program, and we’re providing top-quality product safely and securely while making sure mom and pop can take some of that money back to the Bronx for their families.” 

Legacy Operators Favored

Do businesses on the model of Empire Cannabis have a future as the licensed retail market is about to come online?

Officially, New York’s legal cannabis program is being crafted to prioritize legacy operators. 
On July 14, the Cannabis Control Board issued long-awaited regulations allowing entrepreneurs to apply for licenses for retail establishments. The first round of Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licenses will go to “justice-involved individuals”—that is, those with past cannabis convictions. 

The first 150 will be eligible to receive aid from a $200 million Social Equity Cannabis Investment Fund.  

“This is a tremendous stride in the right direction,” Control Board chair Tremaine Wright, a former Assembly member from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, told the Daily News. “We’re leading with equity in this state.” 

The Office of Cannabis Management, the Control Board’s parent agency, is headed by a figure with major activist creds. Chris Alexander, a native of Hollis, Queens, is a veteran leader of the Start SMART NY campaign that pushed for the MRTA—and a lead drafter of the law. He told the New York Times that he’s committed to “pulling the legacy market into the legal market.” 

On Aug. 5, the Control Board issued the first 15 licenses for cannabis processors, and announced regulations for testing labs to apply for licenses. On that occasion, both Wright and Alexander made statements pledging inclusion for legacy operators. 

“Processors aren’t just an important part of the cannabis supply chain, they are creators, who take a raw plant and transform it into tested, consistent, high-quality products that consumers can trust,” Wright said. “When we open New York’s first stores, owned and operated by New Yorkers harmed by the misguided criminalization of cannabis, the shelves will be lined with infused edibles, topical creams and concentrated oils. None of those products would be possible without these first processors launching New York’s cannabis industry.”

Alexander adds: “These processors aren’t just expanding their own businesses; they are committed to also mentoring the next generation of cannabis processors. They’ll be teaching vital manufacturing skills to those with a passion for cannabis…New York’s entire cannabis ecosystem will create opportunities for those who have been shut out of jobs and industry, and will bring those skills to communities across the state.”

 A Unified Legacy Operators Council (UNLOC) has been founded by a group of 25 entrepreneurs to advocate for this sector. Among the members are veteran rappers Umi and M-1 (formerly of Dead Prez).  

Umi recently told the Albany Times-Union, “I’m not hearing enough about the culture that’s behind the actual plant.” Added M-1: “There’s no way that the same capitalist exploitation that has happened in America can be good for cannabis.” 

But Big Bud Is Circling In 

New York City Mayor giving welcome remarks at this year’s CWCBExpo. PHOTO CWCBExpo

And indeed the notorious multi-state operators (MSOs) are making no effort to hide their ambitions for the Empire State.  Their representatives were certainly out in force for the Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition (CWCBE) held at Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Center the first week of June—featuring an “Industry Yacht Party” on the Hudson River.  

New York City Mayor Eric Adams (a former NYPD cop) addressed the CWCBE, famously quipping to the crowd: “I’m a bit disappointed. I thought I’d walk in the room and have a nice scent of weed goin’ on in here.” (This despite the fact that the Javits Center does not allow smoking of anything.) 

A more telling comment was offered by Gretchen Gailey, chief strategy officer for the CWCBE. She told the assemblage: “We say brands are born in California but made in New York. The real money is going to happen in this part of the country. This is where the population of the US is.” 

MSO CuraLeaf has four medical marijuana retail locations in New York state, including one in the Queens neighborhood of Forest Hills. It’s already applying to begin recreational sales at its location in New Jersey’s Bordentown, and is expected to follow suit in New York. 

The 10 “registered organizations” that are licensed to distribute medical marijuana in New York are “scrambling” to position themselves for the adult-use market, in the words of the New York Times. The paper notes that some of these “ROs” donated to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s campaign, and nearly all have hired lobbyists, spending more than $2 million this year in expectation of a big share of a projected $6 billion market. 

CuraLeaf got into a spot of bother with regulatory authorities in August, when it was forced to pull thousands of products from the shelves of its New York dispensaries for misleading labeling. CuraLeaf apparently began calculating THC content by “dry weight” rather than “wet weight” (the state norm) in order to jack up percentages. The Office of Cannabis Management said it couldn’t do that without prior official approval. 

Speaking to the environmental contradictions of Big Bud, MSO Vireo Health apparently needs more electricity for its new cultivation and processing facility than can be provided by the technology park where it has set up shop. The Leader-Herald in upstate Gloversville reported that Fulton County industrial development officials were “shocked” to learn from Vireo that the county-financed transmission line into Tryon Technology Park wasn’t sufficient for the MSO’s planned operations. 

And some perceive there are still obstacles for the little guy. The $2,000 non-refundable application fee for adult-use retail outlets is far below the $10,000 fee for medical marijuana dispensaries. But applicants must submit tax documents showing they’ve owned and operated a profitable business for at least two years. And Bloomberg Tax recently noted: “Those fortunate enough to obtain one of New York’s recreational cannabis licenses will be forced to contend with a gauntlet of state and local taxes.” 

Since June 1, the Cannabis Control Board has issued some 160 cultivation licenses for the adult-use market, with many hemp farmers getting in on the act.  

In April, the state legislature passed a bill allowing already-operating hemp farms to get early adult-use cultivation licenses, to supply retail businesses as soon as they open. But the MSOs are certain to be next in line. 

Crackdown on Independent Operators…Sort of

NYC weed dispensary
Granny Za’s is one of NYC’s “Green Mile” dispensaries. PHOTO Courtesy of Granny Za’s

In New York City, there has been much media hyperventilation about the proliferation of unlicensed retail establishments—often derided as “line jumpers.”  

Typical is a recent story in the New York Post, “New Yorkers Worry Over Flowering Weed Market.” It sensationalizes about a “Green Mile” that has emerged within “Hell Square”—the name for a section of the Lower East Side filled with noisy bars and eateries that irk the locals. The article mentions both Empire Cannabis and Granny Za’s on Rivington St., where patrons are “gifted” a quarter-ounce of cannabis if they pay $75 for a piece of digital artwork. The Post calls this using “clever loopholes.” 

Such coverage has contributed to calls for a crackdown by the New York Police Department. On July 8, the unlicensed open-air cannabis market that’s been operating in Washington Square Park, the heart of Greenwich Village, won some bad press. A Parks Department worker tried to confiscate one of the tables that had been set up—and got into a physical scuffle with the merchants. Two were arrested and charged with assault

There are growing calls from well-heeled area residents to shut down the Washington Square market, and the NYPD earlier this year announced a “zero tolerance” policy for unlicensed cannabis sales in the park. But in fact, the open-air market persists as summer fades into fall. 

In the first significant move toward a crackdown, on Aug. 16 the NYPD seized 20 of the trucks that rove the city to make sidewalk cannabis sales. The Department’s Chief of Patrol Jeffrey Maddrey proudly tweeted: “If you are looking to buy illegal cannabis from the Weed World Bus located on 5th Avenue & 40th Street, it is no longer open for business. We do not anticipate it opening for business anytime soon!” 

Technically, however, the seizures were made because of parking violations.  

And in May, Liz Kreuger, the same Manhattan state senator who shepherded through the MRTA, won approval in the Senate for S.9452—a bill that would change the language of the MRTA to expressly prohibit unlicensed monetary transfers of cannabis. It failed to pass the Assembly before the legislative session ended in June. 

Jonathan Elfand believes his Empire Cannabis Clubs set the standard for responsible practice in the unlicensed sector. He has this to say to the sector’s critics: “Tell all the people in line for licenses that I’ve been in this all my life, and I don’t want to see it taken over by corporate money.” 

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From the Archives: Hello, is anyone out there? (1997)

By Leslie Stackel

Conservative voices have held sway over talk-radio’s airwaves since the 1960s, selling a backlash against progressive ideas to a frightened public married to the status quo. How did it happen? Why does it continue, and where can someone tune in to hear a voice taking the liberal or, heaven forbid!, leftist position on political issues?

A year after comedian Al Franken published Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot (Thorndike Press, Thorndike, ME), the obese sultan of right-wing talk radio still rules the airwaves. Limbaugh and his ultraconservative cronies, most notably G. Gordon Liddy and Ollie North, rant continuously against “feminazis,” environmental “wackos,” minorities and all things progressive in a rolling firestorm of sock-it-to-’em hate radio. Their brand of vitriol has earned them over 600 station spots, mostly Rush’s, on nationally syndicated radio, reaching more than 20 million listeners. And despite reams of bad press, reproach from more moderate Republicans and sagging ratings, the Limbaugh ilk continue to infect our country’s talk-radio continuum like a bad flu it can’t shake.

Where will the cure for this epidemic virus come from? Where can the long-suffering listener tune in for a liberal shot in the ear? Who will present a balanced sensibility for the other side, and an overdue public hazing of Limbaugh and his prating dittoheads?

According to Michael Flarrison, editor of a broadcast publication called Talkers Magazine, talk radio isn’t entirely a conservative wasteland. Dozens of liberals can be found around the dial on local stations, he contends. “About 40% of radio dialog is liberal,” he estimates, “but the media have played up the rightists.”

Maybe. But his 40% figure pretty obviously depends on one’s definition of “liberal.” In one recent study on talk radio by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communications, for instance, such political talking heads as former New York Mayor Ed Koch and Washington, DC centrist Diane Rehm were somehow deemed “liberals.” By any reasonable definition, one is hard-pressed to find any nationally recognized leftist name in talk radio these days. Harrison concedes there is no Limbaugh of the left, no “national superstars with devoted followings.”

Dial around, though, and two likely candidates begin to emerge from the static. Jim Hightower, a former Texas state agriculture commissioner, is a populist hell-raiser from Austin whose sharply twangy political assaults and sly humor (as in his regular “Hog Report,” covering “pork” in government dealings and big business) have fetched him a 100-station listening public “from Maine to Maui” since 1991. And there’s Tom Leykis of Los Angeles, a rousingly souped-up, no-holds-barred, left-leaning political riffer with the flair of an AM-radio DJ. Leykis spares no one during his four-hour afternoon broadcasts on Westwood One radio, syndicated to 220 other stations, and he’s been working at it for 26 years. Former California Governor Jerry Brown may have more name recognition than either of these on-air personalities, but his “We The People” program is broadcast strictly over Pacifica nonprofit radio, limited in market scope.

However, neither Hightower nor Leykis, the two top-rated lefties, can be heard in New York City, or in very many other big-city radio markets—an absence not entirely accidental. Jim Hightower briefly broadcast his show over the ABC radio network before 1995, when it was summarily canceled without warning—immediately after word leaked of a planned merger between Disney and Capital Cities, which owns ABC. Despite drawing a sizable audience, Hightower was dropped from the network lineup, presumably for his outspoken criticism of this Mickey Mouse merger and the new Telecommunications Act that permitted it, aside from his regular muckraking features aimed at corporate America.

The Mouse That Censored

ABC claimed insufficient ad revenue as an excuse for the cancellation, but Hightower points out that the network neglected to pursue his best identifiable source for sponsorship and ad dollars—labor unions. In fact, ABC rejected one union’s $20,000 offer to buy ad space, and dismissed all others as “advocacy advertisers,” unacceptable as commercial supporters. (Of course, the network would never consider that the corporate funders of their more conservative shows might harbor a political agenda, would they?)

Which raises the question whether leftslanted, populist talk radio is mutually exclusive with broad-scale commercial success. Hightower seems poised to discover the answer. Since mid-1996 he’s been airing a new call-in program from Austin’s downtown Chat & Chew restaurant over United Broadcasting, formerly known as the People’s Radio Network. With his unshakably leftist politics, he might serve as an ideal test case for progressives everywhere.

As Hightower points out, “We’re definitely about naming names. Unlike most liberal radio hosts, I don’t just talk about vague, social causes of things, but really focus on corporations, and do it by name. When taking on an issue, we go at it in terms of who’s putting up the money for the policy that’s involved with the issue.”

United Broadcasting, Hightower explains, funds itself essentially by acting as “a marketer of made-in-the-USA products. They’re like a Home Shopping Channel, so they’re not at the mercy of big brand-name advertisers.” Co-owned by the United Auto Workers union, founded by libertarian Pat Choate—a former Ross Perot running mate—the network is nothing if not political. With a nod to the current stagnant wave in radioland, United has signed as its other on-air celebrity, ironically, Bay Buchanan, Pat Buchanan’s sister.

Micropower to the People

Things are not likely to get much better before they get even worse, either, with Newt Gingrich et al slashing federal funds from National Public Radio, calling their studiedly neutral tone “too liberal.” Even lower-profile, listener-supported broadcasting venues are gradually caving in to conservative pressure, such as the five-station, 50-affiliate Pacifica Network.

Federal attacks on their funding base have predictably prompted internal power struggles at some of these stations, further threatening their progressive programming. At Pacifica’s home-base station, KPFA in Berkeley, CA, the board of directors in 1994 purged the most radical voices and installed a slicker, more “professional” corporate-style management team. Now there are similar tugs-of-war raging at both KPFK in Los Angeles and WBAI in New York City—Pacifica’s flagship and longtime bastion of community activism and free speech. All this is leading left-wing talk radio in only one direction, say observers: underground.

“I see progressive voices on radio being forced underground, and I see pirate radio spreading all over the country, which is both good and bad,” says HIGH TIMES editor-at-large Bill Weinberg, cohost of “The Moorish Orthodox Crusade” on WBAI (a mix of anarchist political analysis and pop culture that he says is “hanging by a thread”). “Bad because when underground, things get more precarious and fewer people get to hear it. And good because being underground is purer and keeps you in that hardcore adversarial spirit, which has been eroded by progressive radio being on the federal teat for so long.”

Stephen Dunifer, an outspoken leader of the unlicensed pirate-radio movement, founded the rebel station Free Radio Berkeley in 1993. Dunifer says he was driven to defy the Federal Communications Commission by a mixture of factors: the Reaganite political climate of the 1980s and early ’90s; media coverage of the Gulf War and other foreign issues by press release and sound bite, and by the abandonment of local grass-roots activism on Pacifica’s stations.

The final straw came in 1993, with KPFA’s muting of Dunifer’s friend Dennis Bernstein, after Bernstein had challenged the mayor of Berkeley’s claim that she’d had no involvement in mobilizing a police riot squad during a protest that year in People’s Park. During an on-air interview, Bernstein produced some of the mayor’s correspondence, procured via the Public Records Act, between her and the UC Berkeley chancellor, proving they’d worked together “hand in glove” during the police action.

“She freaked out on the air,” says Dunifer. “Two weeks later, Dennis gets a message from the station manager saying ‘lay off the mayor.’ Very clearly, we were dealing with an established progressive-liberal political machine.” KPFA was no longer “the people’s station,” and so Dunifer set up Free Radio Berkeley at 104.1 on the dial to fill the void.

Dunifer and other radio rebels “are reacting to a situation in their areas, where public radio is not quite as public as it’s supposed to be,” says Estelle Fennell, news director of KMUD (91.1 FM), a community station in Garberville, CA, 200 miles north of Berkeley. KMUD, she acknowledges, is “unique” in its independence at a time when all traditional alternatives to mainstream media are failing their listeners. “College stations are tied in to college politics,” she observes, “and too many community stations are tied in to a kind of polish and topdown mentality,” leaving activists with little choice but to seek other outlets.

KMUD, Fennell contends, exemplifies the necessary alternative—stations committed to their local listeners, regardless of the risk. Located in Humboldt County, a heavy potgrowing area, KMUD routinely airs up-to-the-minute reports and warnings of helicopter raids of growers’ fields—some while in progress—to the ire of regional cops and federal DEA agents. Apart from a few other stations “like KAOS in Seattle,” she says, “I can’t think of many other local [licensed] stations with a good, committed, free attitude.”

But others do exist, on both coasts. Chuck Rosina of Boston, the news director at MIT’s college station, WMBR (88.1 FM), is a hardcore homeless-rights advocate. On his own two-hour show, “No Censorship Radio,” Rosina says he generally pushes the limits of free speech on the Pacifica affiliate, and suggests management “looks the other way so long as we don’t get major complaints.”

At his home studio, “W Bla Bla Bla,” though, Rosina puts together show segments for general distribution, often collaborating with “pirates” from Boston and Berkeley, and in these projects, “no censorship” is the guaranteed uncompromising rule.

Stephen Dunifer, elaborating on Bill Weinberg’s comments, says massive numbers of independent thinkers and activists are turning to outlaw radio. The preferred term is “micropower broadcasting,” since pirate radio uses low wattage compared to commercial enterprises, and it’s been “popping up everywhere around the country.” Dunifer estimates about 400 stations now exist border-to-border. On the West Coast it’s rampant, and elsewhere as well its guerrilla reporters and interviewers are frontline activists, not just talking heads.

In Texas, the three politically-minded co-founders of Kind Radio San Marcos (105.9 FM), southwest of Austin, for example, gained a degree of notoriety as members of the San Marcos Seven, a group that was arrested and served short jail terms in 1991 after a spontaneous pot smoke-in at the Hays County Jail. Their pirate operation, begun last March, features irreverent coverage of pot use and legalization, plus other timely and often taboo issues via news, interviews, talk, radio theater, poetry and music. “We devoted an entire ‘Common Sense’ call-in show to people’s first experiences with marijuana,” recalls co-founder Joe Ptak. Setting up and running a micropower station, he says, “is easy and fun.”

Even more ambitious in stamping out censorship is Free Speech TV, the Boulder, CO alternative-programming service which packages and distributes shows to about 70 cable and public-access TV stations nationwide, and runs a website ( using material from both pirate and licensed radio. “We believe in the aim of micropower radio, to take the airwaves away from the powers that be,” says Web editor Joey Manley. “We use stuff from people like Napoleon Williams of Black Liberation Radio in Detroit, who’s currently embattled in disputes with the FCC, and some other microstations.” This material is mixed in with great legit radio, like Mike Thornton’s “Full Logic Reverse” on KVMR in Nevada City, CO. “Any issue the left champions doesn’t get access to the media,” Manley notes. “What we want is to get these ideas into the mainstream of society.”

Getting organized is key, insists Paul Griffin, a Free Radio Berkeley show host and founder of the Association of Micro-Power Broadcasters. He urges folks to get involved with the group, and to attend the annual conference for micro proponents, held this year in Carson, CA.

FCC You, Limbaugh!

Free Radio Berkeley made history last April after winning a precedent-setting court case brought when the FCC tried to shut it down. Federal District Judge Claudia Wilken refused to grant the commission an injunction to close the rebel radio operation, the first repulse ever for the FCC in such a case, pointing out that “there were real constitutional questions here that should be resolved in a trial,” according to Dunifer. Mostly those questions revolve around obvious First Amendment free-speech issues.

Dunifer expects that the FCC’s second motion to cut off the station, now awaiting a ruling, will keep the case in the legal system till around the year 2000. By then, the micropower movement should be flourishing. Like all radical action, this systematic movement could influence and even empower mainstream, liberal and left-leaning “legitimate” broadcasters.

Meanwhile, progressives in commercial radio are busy trying to compete with the tidal wave of conservative on-air hosts, striving to bowl over both listeners and station owners through style as much as substance. Pumping up listenership for these alternative hosts, though, often means learning to switch frequencies—not in terms of airwaves, but in their on-air personality and general modus operandi.

Tom Leykis, for one, believes that before station owners will come calling, progressives have to disprove the sticky myth that liberals make for boring radio.

“See,” he says, “Limbaugh has convinced people that no liberal is entertaining. There’s some truth in that,” he jokes, “but it’s not 100% true.” Moderates are all too often, by definition, moderate: “A lot of liberal hosts are afraid to take stands,” diagnoses Leykis, “’cause they’re afraid of offending people. You get all these nice liberals saying, ’Well, I can understand on the one hand how people would feel this way, and on the other hand how they’d feel that way’, like NPR, which induces coma.” Radio hosts, he insists, “have to be willing to get down in the mud with anyone” and “not afraid to take quotable, sound-bite stands.”

A one-time music DJ and stand-up comedian, Leykis says that what ultimately makes a gab-show zing is plain entertainment, not political discourse slanted either left or right. Political advocacy, he reckons, is secondary. And the fact that Rush Limbaugh’s megasuccess as an entertainer has been matched by neither liberal nor conservative stands as proof of Leykis’ canny insight.

Whatever the formula for success in commercial radio, cracking the current conservative hegemony on call-in shows won’t be easy, says Steve Randall, senior analyst and resident talk-radio expert for FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting). Historically, he explains, “Political talk radio arose as a major phenomenon in the 1960s, and the first star of the form was Joe Pyne on KABC, who was considered a real hatemonger. Talk radio in those days was a bunch of white guys on the right railing against the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, women’s liberation and so on. It was born in backlash, and has been that way for 35 years.” By now, Randall says, right-wingers have well-paved inroads: “They’ve cultivated an audience who are used to their ideas, their political viewpoints, and what they consider humor.” Liberals have to do the same.

Jim Hightower says liberal voices are on their way. People are obviously getting tired of Limbaugh: “He’s becoming boring and he’s essentially out of material, because he spends all his time on the air just attacking Bill Clinton and defending Newt Gingrich. He’s become the national press spokesman for the Republican Party.” Folks, he believes, are ready for real populism on the airwaves, not the “faux populism” of Rush. As for his kneejerk copycats, they’re losing not only credibility but ratings. In fact, notes Hightower, “If it weren’t for the Christian networks, Ollie North would be long gone.”

High Times Magazine, November 1997

Read the full issue here.

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If Cannabis is Legal, Why the Police Raids?

If cannabis in Canada is legal, why are there still police raids? Suppose, for instance, you travel back to the 1990s, and you say in the future, cannabis is legal, but police still get funding and make raids on “illegal grow-ops,” you might scratch your head. If cannabis is legal, how are there still police […]

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How recreational access affects medical cannabis according to BDSA

BDSA’s latest report suggests that recreational cannabis access affects longer standing medical market. Access with a medical card encourages patients to buy heavily taxed adult-use cannabis. But is recreational access a benefit or hinderance on medical cannabis? Why patients move into rec markets This author asked Roy Bingham, BDSA’s CEO and co-founder, about the pros […]

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