High In America – the story of the birth of contemporary pot politics

the cover of High in America - 2015 edition
Bud.com and Garrett County Press present a new electronic edition of the classic High in America, the definitive history of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). This is the story of the birth of contemporary pot politics. Veteran journalist Patrick Anderson, in spectacular detail, recounts how a young lawyer from a small town, Keith Stroup, built an insanely successful political operation that advocated for the millions of Americans stuck in the marijuana closet. With the help of Hugh Hefner, Willie Nelson and others, Stroup managed to walk the tightrope between drug counter-culture and straight America, taking the conversation out of the realm of reefer madness and into the world of serious political debate. And the arguments NORML introduced in the 1970s—scientific, medical and criminal—are alive in the contemporary fight for legalization today. Anyone (smokers, lawyers, students and cops) who yearns to understand the architecture of contemporary pot politics will find High in America a valuable and entertaining resource. With a new forward by Justin Hall.

420 Day in San Francisco

I spent Monday 4/20/2015 wandering Golden Gate Park, wearing this t-shirt: “I own bud.com – what should we make with it?”

Here’s some aerial footage to give you a sense of scale:

This is a self-organizing, un-permitted gathering. It was a jam-packed mob. Blankets covering empty space with the paths surrounded by vendors. BBQ, bongs, t-shirts, $30 bottles of booze, sit-n-dab, $2 joints, 2 for $5 weed jolly ranchers. One political booth I saw, for a California ballot cannabis initiative that is gathering signatures. There are a number of cannabis ballot measures on the list for California 2016 https://oag.ca.gov/initiatives/active-measures this one wasn’t notable except they seemed more rural than urban, not SF-based but right in the middle of this event. If I find the name I’ll edit this (edited)

So there was all this vending, very little politics. I smoked a bit, and I was wandering eyes agape. I had a revelation and decided to share it with the guy walking next to me: “can you imagine if this event were centered around alcohol?” (because it would be a fatal clusterfuck shitshow). He made brief eye contact with me, his face impassive. Then he swiveled his head back and kept walking. I realized that he was part of a large group of very serious looking dudes who were going to meet some other tall, strong, serious looking dudes in a circle. I veered into a slow stoned parade and eagerly shuffled away.

The path was slowed by salespeople; ready for banter but focused on sales. I loved hear their barking – one guy repeated “Medical mountain weed two grams ten dollars” – I made a field recording

here’s another weed salesman barking field recording “these are weed pot jolly ranchers – yes – 2 for 5”

I wanted to shoot lots of video but the number and frequency and intensity of some of the dudes calmed my media hand. I could use Evernote to take notes and hit the sound record button, and not feel like I would be threatening someone’s privacy in that kind of setting.

Plus as I started to look through my camera, I realized there were a lot of people with something to lose by being pictured there. But there were people shooting – a drone went by overhead, the helicopter footage I linked above, and lots of mobile phone cameras, one or two on a selfie-stick. Videoers were being largely discreet I think, because of the shared stakes and possibly pissing people off.

I marveled at how calm everything was, for the lack of any official structure or supervision or chaperoning. There looked like a lot of tribes there; mostly young, at 40 I felt on the older side for sure – pretty rare to see folks my age and older. There were some kids there that looked like they were in high school. There were kids of every race, and the vendors drew from a wide range of NorCal youth cultures. I saw a cross-dressing Lolita-goth dude, wandering near jocks and gangsters and artists and kids living on the street and a tie-dyed old veteran. It was more hetero than queer, more male than female, more hip hop than jam band or EDM.

I saw two venture-backed weed delivery companies: FlowKana.com and GetMeadow – not selling any product, just getting their name out with an area and some greeters and promo goods. But it was hard competition with the sheer mass of humanity and lack of structure. “Next year let’s get a balloon” I heard one person suggest.

Just before 4/20 I spied the GetMeadow.com flags and head over to check it out, high up on the Hillside. (FlowKana was in the lowlands where I did not venture in time). A man asked, are you here for a massage?” and I was like “hell yeah” and immediately put my stuff down and my face in a massage chair. I got a good free chair massage, taking a break to stand for 4:20pm. (edited)

Events about a time are strange – NYE, 4:20 – the larger the group, the more varied the sense of time. At least with NYE there’s a prescribed activity that seems rare – a kiss or a toast or a scream. At 4:20 everyone has been ingesting weed all day in all kinds of forms (one friend found weed chocolate-dipped thick-cut bacon). You could ingest more, sure. Many people cheered and clapped – and an enormous number of phones were suddenly in the air. Suddenly there was such an interest in capturing this moment that whatever hesitation was there about privacy and pissing off flew away and a huge number of recording screens went up. Maybe a good number of people ducked – parolees, truant kids, venture capitalists, republicans and other folks interested in actively managing their celebrity levels.

I held my camera aloft and cheered – woooooo and then realized: “thank you for weed!” I shouted, again and again – to express myself and see if I could direct group energy towards a gratitude chant. There was some laughter, but no takers I heard. It felt good to shout like that either way!

Afterwards I met up with three of the four founders of GetMeadow and chatted with them. I told them I want to have a chat some day soon, to see if we can learn from each other. They said they would invite me to their new offices they’re moving into soon. I had a correspondence with the dev co-founder about his choice of vaporizer, which he suggested was better than the Pax Ploom I was wielding .

So now I’m left with some strong mixed feelings – I enjoyed the overall mingling of different folks, and I appreciated that a lot of these people love weed and get a lot of pleasure and maybe relief from pot. But I’ve seen more videos from that day, and there were definitely fights. I saw massive quantities of weed there so it was a place people were distributing illegally. It’s a strange time between permission and forgiveness – as legalization develops, I’m concerned many of the low income, neighborhood, brown and black folks involved in pot today could be cut out of that economy, and a regulatory framework could replace a legal framework in keeping them from “legitimate” safe business.

We might want to regulate edibles, unless we’re comfortable with occasional listeria or botulism outbreaks. A friend bought bacon dipped in chocolate at the event – meat & dairy is especially exciting for bacteria. Maybe “cottage industry” exception is okay for local sales of home-made weed baked goods, especially if caveat emptor (buyer beware). Maybe it can continue sorta like it is now, except with fewer people going to jail. That would be awesome. But I suspect many large cannabis companies would work to strongly regulate small-time producers & distributors in the interests of safety to protect their business. So at this festival, I got a glimpse of a marijuana market positioning to come as I spoke on a hilltop with the GetMeadow guys offering VC-sponsored massages and “$20 off your first delivery” coupons as a parade of hustlers and buskers and weedmongers slung whatever pleasure they could sell in the lowlands below.

After I got home I searched YouTube for 4/20 San Francisco 2015 and saw videos like this one with some fights in them: 4/20 in San Francisco #HippieHill 2015 by 100Films.

Word on the Tree – promising cannabis newsletter

Recently I signed up for a newsletter called “Word on the Tree” with a roundup of important and intriguing stories regarding cannabis. The issues are put together by a woman named Mona based in NYC; we haven’t met her in person but she seems smart on the phone. After three issues, we’re glad to see she has some momentum!

You can see a recent issue and subscribe here to Word on the Tree. Word on the Tree is not affiliated with bud.com, but it is recommended by bud.com.