Breaking News: My recent Conan O’Brien appearance is airing again on Monday (November 19) – Check it on TBS in your time zone. Helpful and supremely fun but non-mandatory pre-viewing reading: http://amzn.to/SJIs5i
In This Latest Dispatch: Do Washington and Colorado Have You Singing “God Bless America”? You Haven’t Begun to Hear All The Good News: Stanford’s On Board, Tucson’s Mayor’s Chillin’, The Berlin Wall of the Drug War Has Fallen and the Drug Peace Is Nearer Than Even I Realized (And I’m On the Optimistic Side of the Drug Policy Punditsphere).
Speaking at the recent Missouri Cannabis Law Reform Conference last week, I learned that the U.S. Heartland is about to end the Drug War along with the rest of the country. It was an honor to appear alongside Drug Policy Alliance founder Ethan Nadelman, and I’m absolutely amazed that the organizers got a presentable photo of me, considering I was wearing not just my previous day’s airplane clothes, but the outfit in which I milked my goats that morning. Had to borrow a toothbrush. Strangely, it kind of makes me nostalgic that airlines can still lose baggage. That’s an analog mode of incompetence. The National Cannabis Coalition’s terrific write-up about the conference is at http://bit.ly/UAufgA
This Dispatch is dedicated River, the 13- or 17-year-old Funky Butte Ranch dog, who sleeps now after a lifelong and joyous battle with coyotes, skunks, and other potential threats to the goats she loved and alongside whom she forever rests. This dog was so revered here that Robin, the Ranch cat, sat beside her freshly covered and wildflower-topped grave for nearly a half hour.
At the peak of my arroyo run up the Funky Butte this morning, I stopped, panting, to do stretches with Sanskrit names pretty much astride the (seen from the thawing sunrise) right cup of the bikini that forms the climactically-appropriate topography immediately surrounding my solar-powered goat ranch. My gaze sloping down involuntarily into the belly dip — a delicately dried wildflower meadow between my canyon and the next — I was startled mid-Tree Pose by a single five point elk trotting along in an almost exaggerated leisurely fashion.
With competition only from my own breathing, each of the thirty or fifty footfalls that made up my soundtrack for maybe half a minute reached me like a tap on the shoulder and then echoed into eternity. In a world where hummingbird wings often provide my alarm clock (these days it’s either that or East Coast media establishments looking for last minute guests on the topic of Drug Peace Astonishment stories), an eight hundred pound quadruped proving that Homo sapien is not the only species enjoying a leisurely jog on a given butte really captures a fellow’s attention at dawn.
Thus far without fail over the course of the seven years I’ve seen more goats per week than humans, these morning escapades into backyard Land of Enchantment wilderness, which include an intricate if creamy UV-protection application ritual, fine tune my spirit back to that sweet psychic setting, “Full-On Optimistic.” But the ol’spirit has, blessedly, needed only the finest of tuning of late.
For one thing, most readers of these Dispatches will already be aware that the Drug Peace movement whose birth I recently chronicled has just enjoyed its most significant legal advance in 80 years. It came at the polls, when Colorado and Washington voters overwhelmingly declared total Drug Peace (by legalizing cannabis for adult use), defying the feds and prompting César Duarte, governor of Mexico’s Chihuahua state, to tell Reuters, “It seems to me that we should move to authorize [cannabis] exports.”
It now looks like at least a half dozen other states will follow suit in the next four years – four (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine and Vermont) are already floating full legalization bills in 2012. America’s worst policy, her longest war, is finally wrapping up. The pundits seizing on the story are discussing what amounts to peace negotiations: will the feds raid? Will they sue? It doesn’t really matter. The American people won. We’re done with 2.3 million Americans in prison, 60,000 Mexicans dead, and losing out on a $40 billion a year agricultural tax base, not to mention a finally viable source of biofuel.
So this is what voting for something feels like.
I love when modern memes and ancient truth join hands for a while. I can’t really explain why, but continuity turns me on. It’s not just for ephemeral “right way to live if we want the species to continue on this planet for a few more generations” reasons, but because aiming for continuity in practice is nearly always also the funnest decision.
I’ve had a number of encounters along these lines lately – witnessing the resurfacing of obvious older truths above the digital age noise as mid-Twentieth-century propaganda fades to the point of reading like satire. A prominent moment occurred as I was blazing West across my home Chihuahuan desert toward the neighboring Sonoran — one of the world’s most stark, beautiful, and abrupt geological transformations — en route to a TOO HIGH TO FAIL Pax Cannabis Tour event in Tucson last week. It was the first day of winter shadows, of “go inside and snuggle by a fire” messages, which, in the name of work commitments, I was forced to ignore.
Somewhere past Benson I started nodding (the cackling stove fire was in my mental sights) and was compelled to stop at a particularly touristy gas station (Southwest kistch style). While waiting in line for the caffeine and bombarded with the images we Aztlanders peddle to outsiders, I reflected, “I love that Kokopelli is a brand.” This ancient imp, I felt, conveys an admirable value system. Better’n Katy Perry. Similar, actually. But somehow more genuine because of his consistency. He’s been a combination of playful, spiritual, musical and horny in this desert for at least three thousand years. You find him etched in the caves that line up with astrologically significant dates. He’s like Rabbi, guru and MC all wrapped in one.
Another, even more common continuity experience I enjoy, usually on my morning run after a high desert monsoon storm, is the one where I stumble upon a shard of household Mimbreno pottery. To its maker, the dull piece of 500-year-old fired clay was of the mundane, coil-layered and unadorned variety that’s cooked the most tea in my canyon over the past 1,400 years. And yet it thrills me to hold the shard in my palm. Of course, if my current neighbor tossed a Wal-Mart mug into this creek bed last week (even though miraculously, it had made the journey all the way from China unbroken), I wouldn’t give it a second look. I’d consider it a contravening of local littering laws. Yet this ancient broken mug, serving the same purpose, is quite simply, Cool Because It’s Old.
This (Cool Because It’s Old) has become something of a mantra to me – but what I’m really saying is something old impresses me, is cool, because it’s enduring.
I’m not thinking just about the value of enduring craftsmanship made from readily available local materials (which is cool enough), but about something that for some reason fills me with an even more acute gladness: the indisputable fact, in my very palm, that people were living similar lives to mine here on the Funky Butte Ranch quite a few centuries ago: the Mimbreno branch of the Anasazi people knew how to make a solid mug to drink this same spectacular aquifer water that I do. They planted the same beans. Strolled the same deer trails, their pace moderated by the same baking sun. OK, I’ve added Netflix to and nearly eliminated hand grain-grinding from the daily routine. But the maker of this mug shard in my palm and I watched the same Supernovae sunrises over this same butte, noticing the same too-recent pile of Mountain lion scat before returning home to the same hugs.
I mention the stimulating and satisfying effects of seeing Cool Old Truths because in such a manner is the oldest human relationship with a plant and the modern one beginning to mesh once again. It’s only been 80 years since official humankind, in one of its least sane decisions, decided to break its relationship off with cannabis, but it’s been a long 80 years. In fact we’re as a species recognizing that it was one of modern society’s biggest mistakes. But like all big mistakes, as Jimmy Cliff reminds us in The Harder They Come, it generally gets redeemed in a big way. Which is to say, the Berlin Wall of the Drug War fell last week.
This is the paragraph where, in noting the 10,000-year human relationship with the cannabis plant, which Michael Pollan calls a co-evolution, and which includes multiple cannabis remedies in the oldest surviving medical handbook (from China 3,000 years ago) and, famously, the paper of choice for Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence, I’m supposed to also be the cynical seasoned journalist. It’s hip to hype the fact that cannabis, like aspirin and wine, can be health-maintaining if used in moderation, and dangerous if abused. So noted, if not hyped. Writing only about abuse would be like covering the history of baseball and only covering the 1919 Black Sox scandal.
Bigger picture, because I think a lot about what I call The Indigenous Gene and what kind of air, water and overall public safety situation I might be bestowing on my mini-mes, I’m elated by recent Drug Peace progress at the societal level: my family is safer thanks to the voters of Colorado and Washington. TOO HIGH TO FAIL details the massive, aerial federal raid on my closest neighbor, a retiree who self-medicated with cannabis for anxiety before New Mexico’s medical cannabis program started up, that inspired me seek out an alternative to the Drug War and write a book about it. Instead of my usual hummingbird wing alarm clock, I awoke one morning to the climactic scene in Goodfellas: automatic weapons in my creek bed, helicopters close overhead. It genuinely put my kids at risk. Plus it cost you and me easily a million bucks (my neighbor never spent a second in jail for his eleven plants). The whole morning was terrorizing. At first I thought I was in trouble for a petition I had signed against fracking. Meanwhile, the mayor of a nearly town operated unmolested for another two years as a full-fledged cartel member, dispatched to transport American guns south of the nearby border. America’s longest war is her worst social policy since segregation, and it’s embarrassingly ineffective. It’d be one thing if it was a bad policy that worked. The good news is that America’s #1 crop will bring in $40 billion a year when federal cannabis prohibition ends.
Inter-generational Continuity is always on my mind, and no more so than after Tuesday’s election. I knew it was big, world-reverberatingly big, when a reporter from a weekly in Portugal called asking if I was aware that the American election had just ended the international Drug War. This a drug beat reporter in a country which has famously and successfully decriminalized all drugs, even the dangerous ones. (The Australian government is subsidizing its industrial cannabis farmers, by the way, which is important, as readers of TOO HIGH TO FAIL will be aware, since cannabis as a biofuel can play a strong role in ending human dependance on petroleum.)
So with my family a notch further from the needless narco violence that caused me to write TOO HIGH TO FAIL in the first place, I’ve uttered a deep sigh and moved on to inter-species continuity. Which is to say, since returning from Tucson I’ve been actively trying to teach the resident Funky Butte Ranch ravens to say, “Howdy, Neighbor.” I’d like to pass a song down to my descendents here. Here’s why: should the Digital cloud ever give out, multi-generational bird hard drives might prove the most durable. As far as I know, no consumer computer magazine rates products in what I think of as a “will I be able to access this info in 100 years?” category.
Plus, proving again that the continuity-minded choice (often referred to as the sustainable one) is also the aesthetic one, the raven fledglings currently courting and Synchronized Dive Dancing now, when they catch the canyon sunlight, emit a shimmery purple sheen that I’ve never seen anywhere else.
In the convective afternoon at this time of year, the usually eye-opening whumping of enraptured raven wings (as the birds in question emerge from my compost pile toting avocado pits) has competition from cactus wren soloists and the woodpeckers who seem to be gorging to a very slow metronome in every black walnut tree. While I and both my sons sing in an actually almost avian-sounding trio to impart the linguistics lesson, I bask in the thought of the Drug Peace Dividend.
Beyond the $40 billion tax boon to the above ground economy, there’s the end of the cannabis stigma on the horizon. I’m reflecting that, after I escaped the Kokopelli Factory on the recent Arizona tour leg, Tucson Mayor Jon Rothschild did more than introduce my event at the Botanical Gardens sunset speakers series that night. He stayed the whole time, through the Q & A. Indeed he appeared to have the giggles, and didn’t flinch when I urged him to make sure local and state law enforcement support Tucson’s terrific medical cannabis providers. Here we are enjoying a smile.
Border mayors usually get it. But what Tuesday’s election showed is that the nation at large (and indeed judging by the above mentioned international reactions, the world) is finally ready end the Drug War. To win it. More Coloradans voted for cannabis November 6 than voted to re-elect President Obama. Unity on the Drug Peace is unprecedented in recent American public opinion, is increasingly strong, and, as I’ve detailed in previous Dispatches, comes from all sides of the political spectrum. Even Arkansans nearly passed medical cannabis last week, the first Southern state in which voters (bravely) put the issue on the ballot (despite almost no money for the campaign and massive efforts to throw up legal obstacles to the will of the people): that one only lost 52-48%. Just wait until next time, Ozarks — you guys are AWESOME! Thanks for showing America that the heartland is ready to bring on the Drug Peace Era for the good of our nation’s economy and her families.
The Tucson event was (in retrospect unsurprisingly) well-catered. “We’re not that Arizona,” the terrific operator of a local woman-owned medical cannabis club told me during our interview on her couch-side radio show during that too-short visit. As a New Mexican, crossing into Sheriff Joe’s state is generally like Mrs. Frisby walking past the farm cat. But I’m learning to consider Tucson, once inside city limits, to be an extension of Land of Enchantment home base. Like Rivendell. Terrific sushi, actually, there. It’s a town in which I have a hard time getting out of my sandals. Every time I look down, there are my toes. Interviews, live events. It’s just not a loafers or even a hiking boots town.
What will probably be the long-term take-away for me from this wonderful week of electoral news was hammered home when a producer at CONAN called to let me know that my recent appearance would be airing again in repeats this Monday (November 19). My first reaction, which might have been interpreted by the producer as some sort of raven call, was, “Wow, two months ago I told the host and audience, mid-segment, that I was surprised I was allowed to speak the truth about America’ Longest War without the studio exploding, and now the Drug War’s all but over.” That, in fact, was the moment when I realized that this was the most important week in Drug Policy in 80 years.
So important, so game changing and irreversible is this victory, that some of us still-lucky-to-live-in-a-democracy Americans find ourselves almost unable to grasp what a giant leap closer we are to enjoying the substantial peace dividend of this war’s hostilities ending (and on our best-case terms). One colleague called me from Colorado a week after the election to say, “It just hasn’t sunk in yet. We’ve won!” When enough of your allies (those actually in the industry, and thus even more connected to these votes than I, who merely write about it) are resigned to be criminals forever for insane and harmful reasons, and you hear “it’ll never happen” enough times, well, you understand why this is Happiest News Story I’ve Seen In Years (excerpted from The Daily Chronic, November 9).
King County, Washington prosecutor Dan Satterberg is treating (the state’s) I-502 (ballot initiative) as if it is already law, dismissing 175 marijuana misdemeanor possession cases on Friday because “it’s the right thing to do.”
Satterberg said his office is dropping the cases involving people 21 and older and possession of one ounce or less. Although the law doesn’t take effect until December 6, his office has decided to apply I-502 retroactively, saying it is the right thing to do in light of Tuesday’s vote.
“Although the effective date of I-502 is not until December 6, there is no point in continuing to seek criminal penalties for conduct that will be legal next month,” Satterberg said.
The photo alone might be the finest piece of visual journalism I’ve witnessed in my adult life. In the end, I think we won because the Drug War, like all wars and despite the horrors to innocents and combatants alike, is an idea war. It comes to have very clear, very old-school, almost storybook Good Guy and Bad Guy ideologies. We can usually agree after the fact which side was the aggressor. This is because the truth, unlike a genie, can’t be bottled up, because it seeps out like fragrant terpenes from a pepper plant on a simmering stove pot. Simply because they’re on the side of right, the good guys still pull off these almost unimaginable upset victories. There’s George Washington, Ali, Joe Namath, and the Drug War. And it is, when it comes to the coming Drug Peace Era, and as as Albert Einstein said all truths must be, comprehensible to a four-year-old.
The wisdom of four-year-olds is on my mind, because mine just helped me build a rock wall beneath the goat corral gate this afternoon, ensuring that our chickens and ducks can no longer make it (and the hay and grain therein) their winter home. After he carried and fitted the final mid-size piece of Cambrian sandstone to complete the project, my replicant brushed his hands together. “There,” he said. “If they can still get in now, they deserve it.” Indeed, this is the case with American Drug Policy: if you can work for four decades, as many activists I’ve met in the course of researching TOO HIGH TO FAIL have, against unlimited funding and shameless propaganda, you’re probably on the side of karmic right and deserve to win.
Postscript: I realize with some delight that 2013 marks the commencement of my Not Sure If I Can Call Myself a Stanford Professor Tour. I’m doing two seminars for the Stanford School of Continuing Education, and will be on the road on and off for much of the year. Shoot me an email if you’d like to book an event.
Just as Borges believes that every moment of past, present and future is mobile and in fact interchangeable, so I recognize the symmetry embedded in the reality that just two months ago I marveled, mid-segment, that ”the studio didn’t explode” as I discussed the Drug Peace Dividend on national TV. Today, with the CONAN segment in question about to appear in reruns, the Drug War is nearly over.
This, for me, is the key TOO HIGH TO FAIL photo that shows that Drug Peace has been declared in northern California: what you’re seeing is Mendocino County law enforcement officer Randy Johnson and sustainable locavore cannabis farmer Tomas Balogh at a farm inspection. It’s also reminder that despite my waltzing into the victory parade behind millions of drum masters, every cannabis farmer who spoke to me with his or her real name in TOO HIGH TO FAIL is still a civil disobedient, as are patients who use credit cards for their medicine. Nearly 800,000 Americans were arrested for cannabis last year. Let’s end this nonsense once and for all: tell your congressperson to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and let states regulate like alcohol.