Last November, California approved Proposition 64, legalizing personal use of marijuana for people over 21.
The California entrepreneur who sees a future in cannabis sales would be well advised to start planning immediately. There is demand to be supplied. With an economy as great as California’s, it is reasonable to conclude that Proposition 64 is going to make some people very wealthy.
To prepare those hoping to establish themselves in this bold new world of profit, conventions are springing up to get this industry off to an informed and advantaged start. One of them is the International Cannabis Business Conference, which took place recently in San Francisco.
In an ironic twist, I, a non-user, was asked to deliver the conference’s keynote address.
The history of marijuana and hemp in America is steeped in racism, false information and hypocrisy. At the beginning of the 1930s, Harry J. Anslinger started an obsessive crusade to demonize it. He wasn’t always against marijuana. In fact, during alcohol’s prohibition, he claimed that marijuana was harmless. But when the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th, and alcohol was again legal, Anslinger, with his Federal Bureaus of Narcotics, went after marijuana users with a vengeance.
The result was propaganda like the film Reefer Madness and a perception that marijuana was the socially deviant, anti-American’s drug of choice. Your father, powered by cheap bourbon and beer, bellowing violent oaths and racist epithets on a Saturday afternoon while you stood trembling, was an approved bonding ritual. The friendly hippie in the park smoking the low-potency weed was Hanoi Jane Fonda–loving scum.
Cannabis (figuratively) and hemp (literally) are inextricably woven into the fabric of this country. Still, to legalize recreational use in a state even as progressively minded as California is a very big deal. It’s the War on Drugs fragging itself.
Marijuana, with its active ingredient THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), is still classified by the DEA as a Schedule I substance, along with heroin, LSD and MDMA. If enough states go legal, maybe marijuana gets kicked down to Schedule II or III.
The allure of new revenue streams brings out a lot of players, from Monsanto-sized down to those big on ambition but small on funding. That’s where things can become almost instantly problematic.
I spoke with Alex Rogers, one of the people who heads the ICBC, quite a bit before my keynote. It was interesting to learn that we share many sentiments and concerns. I postulated that states considering legalization, including those that have already done so — like Colorado — had doubtless done the math to see if there was more profit in sales revenues or incarcerating those found in possession. Bottom line, it’s always about money.
We both agreed that these future sellers were hopefully aware that they’re part of a cultural shift, and with that fact comes responsibility. If they were just after money, cannabis products would soon turn into just another thing to buy, instead of something that has had to overcome decades of purposeful misrepresentation.
It was this point that I drove home as forcefully as I could during my all-too-brief time slot of 40 minutes. I told the audience, several hundred strong, that if they were just capitalists looking for the next thing to make a profit from, they were part of the problem. It’s this money-over-all-else ethic that destroyed the major record label industry, which has never recovered. It would be the ultimate defeat if the marijuana industry went the same way.
During the Q&A, someone literally took the words out of my mouth and suggested that vendors should be like microbreweries, where quality is the priority. I remarked that many of them were likely going to become quite wealthy but that wealth was worthless if it just made you mean.
I talked with a lot of people afterward. I learned a lot and was grateful for the opportunity. Then my adventure started.
I went to the airport hours early and waited for my flight down to Burbank. After a few delays due to heavy rains, I was finally on board. The pilot came out and told us that the runways in Burbank were under several inches of water. For more than an hour, we waited for an update. We eventually got it: Burbank Airport had closed.
I was able to get a ticket for a flight to Los Angeles scheduled for 2000 hrs. As this flight too experienced one delay after another, I noticed a woman walking around with an acoustic guitar soft bag on her shoulder. I thought I recognized her. At 0100 hrs., when the flight finally took off, she walked by me to take her seat and I was 99 percent sure. I wanted to tell her that I have been listening to her since I was a child and thank her.
On my way out of the arrival section, I walked by a limo driver holding a sign that said “Baez.” How cool!
I stood alone at the taxi stand until a young woman walked up and asked if she was in the right place for a taxi. I said yes and stared at her as I waited for it to sink in. She was wearing a T-shirt from my recent tour. The look on her face was priceless.
The fact that the electricity was out in my neighborhood should have made me remember that my house has electrically activated locks. It was only after the taxi had left that I realized I was stuck outside.
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After a long walk, another taxi and a few hours of sleep in a Studio City hotel, I was eventually able to get into my house, a little more than 24 hours after I got to SFO. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
More from the mind of Henry Rollins:
White America Couldn't Handle What Black America Deals With Every Day
Bowie's Blackstar Is on the Level of Low and Heroes
No Matter Who Wins, America Is Only Going to Get Angrier