About the Author
Michael is a journalist and filmmaker. His award-winning documentary, Sleeping with Siri is playing film festivals across the country. Stusser runs TechTimeout campaigns in high schools across the country, asking teenagers to give up their digital devices (for a little while) in order to find balance, and perhaps even make eye-contact with their parents.

Fare Thee Well

The Grateful Dead celebrate five decades with five shows.

In this era of fly-by-night fame, one-hit wonders, and lame-ass reality “stars,” any group of artists who can create a true following over half a century needs to be recognized and respected. The Grateful Dead, the legendary improvisational stoner band, is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a five-show “Fare Thee Well” tour, which started June 27 in Santa Clara, Calif., and will wrap up July 5 at Soldier’s Field, Chicago. The long-sold-out shows (which will be streamed on YouTube) offer a chance to reflect on what makes this band so unique and beloved.

The original Grateful Dead consisted of lead singer and guitarist Jerry Garcia, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir, bass player Phil Lesh, drummer Bill Kreutzmann, and Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, a bluesy genius who played organ and harmonica. The group started under the name Warlocks in 1965, playing house parties during author Ken Kesey’s “acid tests.” (Drummer Mickey Hart and lyricist Robert Hunter were added in 1967, and Pigpen passed in 1973 when his liver gave out.)

Though I’m no Deadhead, I loved Garcia’s soulful, often mournful voice and damn fine picking (including his pedal-steel work on Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s “Teach Your Children”); so when Jerry passed in 1995 at age 53 from a heart attack (pretty good for a chain-smoking, fast-food-chowing heroin addict) I stopped paying attention. Not that the band needed me—hardcore fans have continued to follow the “Core Four” (aka the Walking Dead or Almost Dead): Weir, 67; Lesh, 75; and drummers Kreutzmann, 69, and Hart, 71. Joining them on the last hurrah will be singer/piano man Bruce Hornsby and Phish singer and kick-ass guitarist Trey Anastasio.

As has been well recorded, the Grateful Dead were most likely the original “jam band.” Never playing a tune the same way twice, the Dead performed songs that often went on for 30 minutes or more, filled with blues and hillbilly licks as well as spacey jazz and rock ’n’ roll. Though that formula may not fit the Top 40 format (the band’s only Top 10 hit was 1987’s “Touch of Grey”), the free-form nature of the sets dove-tailed nicely with the drug trips most listeners were taking. My favorite show was opened by Carlos Santana, and then turned into a strange journey of blurring colors and what I thought were flying sheep in the Tacoma Dome parking lot. (It should be noted that a sober group of Deadheads, the Wharf Rats, has been following the band for decades.)

Anyone old enough to be tripping and traveling the country in the ’60s has to be at least 60 by now, which makes Deadheads both a wonderful and dying breed. But behind the tie-dye and LSD and bootleg tapes comes a dedicated (deadicated?) vibe that’s still the backbone of the counterculture. Peace, love, and understanding are great notions for any generation. Tell me we couldn’t use a little more peace in the Middle East, love among our races, and understanding in our individual lives, no matter the situation.

And if ya think hippies are lazy stoners, take a hard look at the band members. They’ve toured pretty much nonstop in various forms since 1967 (including incarnations as the Other Ones, Further, RatDog, and the Dead), selling more than 35 million albums. Officially, the Guinness Book of World Records has the band etched in stone, with 2,318 live concerts (thus far) in front of a collective audience of more than 25 million, the most in history.

And if ya think hippies are a bunch of commie-pinkos, take another look. While they had wonderful progressive values (the loyal road crew were given both benefits and insurance), the gents were money-making ganjapreneurs long before the latest Green Rush. Led by Hal Kant, an entertainment lawyer who’s made Harvey Weinstein look demure, the Dead scored merchandising deals galore (have you tried the Steal Your Face wine?), and was one of the first acts to retain the ownership of its songs and all-important master tapes. The combo also didn’t put up with TicketBastards, forming their own ticketing company and raking in more than $300 million. The band was always socialistic when it came to bootlegs, allowing fans to record and trade at will . . . so long as they weren’t sold.

Of course it wasn’t just the band that made money—an entire village of traveling artists and vendors (and dope-dealers and massage therapists) followed the group from town to town for decades on end. I’ve got the Tibetan prayer flags flying off my deck to prove it. For a band that spent so much time rocking in a bygone era, their music has been carefully preserved and modernized, going from tapes and reel-to-reel systems to a digital library called The Internet Archive (, which contains 8,976 recordings of the Grateful Dead. If you’ve never really heard the band, do yourself a favor and scroll to, say, 1973 and click on one of the concert links. You may find yourself on a long strange trip, indeed.


High Court Is In Session

The judicial branch weighs in on employee marijuana rights, drug doggies, and more.

Sooner or later, everything winds up in court. You spilled a scalding cup of java on your nads at the McDonald’s drive-through; the insurance company refuses to pay for “water damage”; you’re tired of arsenic in the drinking water; ya feel like suing Costco . . . just because. And now that cannabis is entering the mainstream, it’s time to lawyer up, in this week’s legal round-up.

Legal Weed, But Not if You Have a Job
Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled last week that, regardless of the state’s legalization of marijuana, an employer can fire a worker who uses cannabis, even for medical reasons. The case couldn’t have had a more sympathetic poster boy: Brandon Coats, a 34-year-old quadriplegic, was a model employee, but was fired by Dish Network in 2010 after failing a random company drug test. (As if we needed another reason to hate television service providers.) Medical pot has been legal in Colorado since 2000, and Coats had a doctor’s authorization. He never smoked weed at work—nor was he ever under the influence during the day; he used cannabis in the evenings to help with sleep, muscle spasms, and stiffness. Even Dish doesn’t dispute this assertion. Nevertheless, a failed drug test won’t fly in the Zero Tolerance zone, and so, even though his home use was legal and off-duty, the company used their drug policy to terminate Coats.

While both medical and recreational marijuana are legal in Colorado, the court agreed unanimously (6-0) with the satellite television company, stating that laws that protect employees from being fired for “lawful activities” hold water only when those activities are legal under bothstate and federal law. Dish officials said they were as pleased as (non-alcoholic) punch with the decision: “As a national employer, Dish remains committed to a drug-free workplace and compliance with federal law.” Obviously, this ruling may waft over to Washington, which, like Colorado, has legalized recreational cannabis and is one of the 23 medical-MJ states. There’s only one solution to all this nonsense: Legalize cannabis at the federal level.

Good Doggy!
Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for the police to hold suspects at traffic stops without probable cause. That’s good news for folks with trunkloads full of contraband; cops can’t keep you waiting until the drug-sniffing dogs show up. (In Washington, of course, you’re allowed to drive around with up to an ounce of weed in your vehicle, though it’s probably not a great idea.) In the 6-3 decision, the justices ruled that holding a vehicle for even a few minutes violates the Constitution’s unreasonable-seizure shield. Everyone’s favorite justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote in her opinion: “Police may not prolong detention of a car and driver beyond the time reasonably required to address the traffic violation.”

As noted in my cover story (“Fear & Loathing in Legal Territory,” Feb. 4, 2015), drug-sniffing canines here in Washington are being retrained for other tasks, as the smell of ganja is no longer a reason for suspicion.

Blazing on the Front Porch
While I am not a lawyer by training, I have seen several episodes of Boston Legal (big fan of Bill Shatner’s over-the-top performances), and thus can conjecture. That may not be the correct term. Point is, I can extrapolate. So when I read about the Iowa Supreme Court affirming the right of a gal to be shitfaced drunk on her own porch, I’m seeing a green light for cannabis. In 2013, Patience Paye called the cops on her boyfriend. When officers showed up to investigate for domestic violence, they determined she was the aggressor, asked if she’d been drinking (she had indeed, with over three times the legal limit in her blood), and charged her with public intoxication. Paye’s lawyers appealed her conviction, making a case that her front steps weren’t public at all, and that she should never have been arrested. Patience was patient, and the Supreme Court saw her point, ruling last week that the porch of a private home isn’t considered public, so long as the resident hasn’t invited the general public to be there. It just follows, then, that if ya don’t invite the masses to smoke a fatty on your stoop, ya can’t be charged with public stonification. That’s just logical, man.

To make sure that these legal lawsuits and challenges continue to advance the cause, we now have the National Cannabis Bar Association! The goal of the newly formed NCBA is to provide attorneys who are specializing in cannabis a place to get stoned and talk shop. Well, that, and to provide a networking platform to share ideas and strategies for a rapidly changing industry and complex political landscape.

“Attorneys have long been at the forefront of the fight for cannabis legalization,” said executive director Shabnam Malek. “Now that 23 states and Washington, D.C., have some form of legalized cannabis, there is a clear need for an organization focused on the business aspects of law and cannabis.”

The NCBA board comprises legal eagles from six states (including Seattle attorney Mitzi Vaughn of Greenbridge Corporate Counsel). The organization is open not only to practicing attorneys, but to paralegals, law students, and retired lawyers who just want to get their hands on some of the legal chronic. On the advice of legal counsel, we withdraw that last statement.


Call Me Cannabis

Comparing pot use to something else that’s none of the government’s business.

Before I launch into this analogy, I would like to say that I understand how many will find it inappropriate, and that I came up with the notion while stoned out of my mind.

I’m starting to think about cannabis as having a similar journey and backstory to Olympic gold medalist and transgender reality star Caitlyn Jenner. Until recently, like Jenner, trailblazers on the weed front have organized in secret closets and basements, hoping one day to live safely, truthfully, and freely in the great wide open. And, like Jenner, marijuana—aka Mary Jane—has been an accomplished, harmless, and friendly sexpot all along . . . but has recently undergone a full makeover and is beginning to dress things up with PR campaigns, professional packaging, couture oils, and all-important accessories.

Let’s start with the name. Bruce took the name Caitlyn (notice her refusal to use the letter K—as in Kris, Khloe, Kourtney, Kendall, and Kimye) to reflect her change (and independence). Marijuana, on the other hand, has reverted back to cannabis, after being identified first as marihuana, then bad-mouthed with slurs such as loco weed, grass, pot, killer bud, the Devil’s weed, dope, schwagg, even shit (as in “THE shit”). Antidrug propaganda created “marihuana” in the 1930s—a sad attempt to scare the public with a “new” and terrifying substance (used by jazz musicians!), even though the plant had been sold in pharmacies for over a half-century in America. Marihuana sounded “foreign” (read: Hispanic), and Reefer Madness was used to incite fear, round up immigrants (especially during the Great Depression), and scare the masses to outlaw it. (By 1931, cannabis was illegal in 29 states, and in 1937 it was criminalized through the Marijuana Tax Act.)

The legal documents for the new Ms. Jenner’s identity will be challenging. It can take months for name- and gender-change applications to be approved (what I wouldn’t give to be in the DMV line that day), and these ID docs—often requiring background checks—affect everything from bank accounts to Social Security cards, to say nothing of her Twitter handle. Similarly, those in the cannabis community have had challenges of their own: States requiring medical-marijuana patients to sign a registry (including Washington) are forcing them to admit to a felony at the federal level, clearly in violation of HIPAA laws. For canna-businesses, both dispensaries and recreational stores have been unable to utilize banking and insurance services for fear of criminal investigations, while at the same time navigating massive tax payments to the IRS.

Sadly, anyone in the LGBT community is butting up against conservative moralists, gender assumptions, and entrenched cultural ideals on a daily basis. The process of cannabis’ conversion has been similarly dramatic and life-altering—going from the tyranny of the War on Drugs to only recently being accepted and fully legalized in four states. It’s as if the subject has lived two entirely separate lives.

As with one’s sexuality, your use of cannabis doesn’t affect anyone else. It’s a private matter (that is, until I Am Cait airs on E! in August), and one your employer, and the government, should have no say or stake in. While it’s been argued otherwise (as in Elinor Burkett’s New York Times article “What Makes a Woman”), Jenner’s transition doesn’t undermine feminism or women’s identities, it doesn’t challenge masculinity, it is not immoral, and it doesn’t hurt others. Correspondingly, ganja doesn’t hurt others—that is, unless you’re hot-boxing or too stoned to drive (or, in Jenner’s case, haven’t had experience driving in high heels and crash while avoiding paparazzi). Pot also doesn’t undermine the other legal drugs you may be drinking, smoking, or popping.

Fighting gender stereotypes and stoner stereotypes, of course, are not the same. Being a pothead is a choice, while Jenner’s identity is baked in, so to speak, a part of her biology (though surgery, plastic or otherwise, is not a requirement). But just as transitioning individuals must be taken seriously and their choices respected, those who partake of cannabis need their rights recognized. Sadly, many parents have their children taken from them for marijuana use (including medicinal), while others lose their jobs; veterans with PTSD cannot access it for relief; and over 650,000 citizens a year lose their freedom when arrested for marijuana-related offenses.

The opposition to Jenner has been fierce, phobic, and ridiculous. (A campaign is underway to take away Jenner’s 1976 Olympic Gold medal in the men’s decathlon.) When a man becomes a woman, it’s a complex issue that may take some explanation, patience, and, above all, tolerance and compassion. The legalization movement is also locked in debate, full of nuances, ignorant tirades, continuing arrests, and Washington’s own version of medal take-aways: Despite legalization’s convincing statewide victory, hundreds of city councils are banning marijuana in their jurisdictions.

Times are changing. Just as Jenner went from Wheaties cover boy to Vanity Fair cover girl, cannabis has gone from “The Marihuana Menace: Assassin of Youth” to this month’s scientific centerfold in National Geographic. In the end, both Caitlyn and cannabis are elevating the dialogue—about personal truths, the right to choose your own path and be legally recognized and protected, and what it means to be free.


Out-of-the-Box Thinking

Imaginative approaches to pot laws.

It’s no surprise that some of the people working to reform marijuana laws are a little out of the norm, shall we say. And with the era of Reefer Madness waning, it also makes sense that weed advocates and drug-policy reformers would begin to try new—some might even say wacky—approaches. Here are some personal favorites.

Hundreds of cities and municipalities in legal states have attempted to ban marijuana with various ordinances, but now there’s one related to the smell itself. The city of Pendleton, Ore., recently banned the odor of weed within the city limits. To counter this ridiculous regulation, a man wrote the local paper, the East Oregonian, suggesting that if they are opposed to the aroma of ganja, they should also ban farts—as that dank cloud truly is offensive. “While farting may be legal in Oregon, many (including myself) are offended by the flatulent stench,” wrote Peter Walters. “Too often, homeowners and businesses fail to contain farts to their property, forcing the rest of us to put up with the smell. Some habitual farters argue that they need to fart for medical reasons, but that doesn’t mean my kids should have to smell their farts. The city council should stop looking the other way and pretending not to notice . . . I call on our city council to set aside all other work and address this problem.”

Recreational cannabis and its sweet—or stinky—scent are fully legal in Oregon beginning July 1. If a person complains about a marijuana odor coming from a person’s property in Pendleton, under the city ordinance, they can be fined $500. I suggest that he who smelt it may actually have dealt it.

My favorite political strategy in the legalization movement comes from South Dakota, where an activist has proposed several initiatives to ban alcohol and tobacco, to make state policies “consistent” with the penalties related to cannabis. Bob Newland, of Consistent South Dakota, is hoping to put a measure before voters in 2016 that would make it illegal to transfer tobacco or tobacco paraphernalia from one person or one business to another. The second initiative bans the sale of any alcoholic beverage containing one percent or more ethyl alcohol. Breaking either of these laws would be a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishment of which is up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine—similar to the current laws for marijuana possession.

“I think South Dakota law at the very least should be consistent,” Newland said at a press conference. “If you’re going to put them in jail for a benign herb, they should be put in jail for alcohol and tobacco—the deadly drugs.”

The organization still needs to collect 13,000 signatures to place this on next year’s November ballot, though, according to the attorney general, the measure may be challenged in court on constitutional grounds. Regardless of whether it qualifies, it kinda makes ya think. Fair is fair.

What started as a nasty attempt to refuse gay couples service in Indiana has been turned on its head, sowing the seeds of a new religious organization: the First Church of Cannabis. The state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act was supposedly designed to protect religion from government infringement. (There’s so much of that going around these days . . . ) Instead, in practice, it allowed business owners to refuse service to same-sex couples, such as a florist who wouldn’t make flower arrangements for a gay wedding and an Italian-restaurant owner who felt he couldn’t be a good Christian and deliver pizzas to homosexuals.

Seeing opportunity in a burning bush, Bill Levin decided his own fiery faith called upon him to fire up a fatty, and founded the First Church of Cannabis. As the new law requires the state government to have “a compelling interest” if it attempts to impose limits or curtail any religious practice, the Chronic Church is planning to hold services that will include the smoking of a particular holy herb to “light up” the sanctuary.

“This is what I live by, and I have more faith in this religion than any other,” said Levin (who also goes by the name Minister of Love). “This is my lifestyle. This is millions of people’s lifestyle.”

Levin not only preaches the healing powers of the cannabis plant, but says consuming ganja can rid the body of the poisons in processed foods and sugary soft drinks. (No need to preach, brother—I’m a convert!)

The church’s holy bionic is tax free, as last week, the IRS granted the organization tax-exempt status. Even without a Sunday School or hall to hold services, the First Hemp Temple has built quite a following since its founding. A GoFundMe campaign has already raised more than $15,000. Levin, known to the church as Grand Poobah, plans to hold the first official service on July 1, the day the state’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act takes effect.

And I thought I was the only one who smoked religiously . . .


Smoked Salmon, a Minor Setback, and Hope

Never thought I’d say this, but there’s almost too much marijuana in the news as of late. With cover stories this month in both Time (by local journalist and former Seattle Weekly scribe Bruce Barcott) and National Geographic (“The New Science of Marijuana”), you can’t walk by a newsstand or go online without getting a contact high. Of course it’s great that mainstream publications are finally treating the subject of cannabis in a more mature manner, rather than continuing to deliver cliched jokes about smokescreens and . . . contact highs. Still, I wish Time and Nat. Geo had saved some for later. Like good ganja, ya gotta space the hits out.

In addition to the weed-news deluge, a plethora of cannabis culture stories make me want to roll things back to the days of Reefer Madness. Take marijuana-infused salmon. Please.

The owner of Rosenberg’s Bagels in Denver created a seriously smoked salmon when he recently infused the fish with cannabis. The process involved introducing marijuana into Everclear (which extracts the THC, the psychoactive element in ganja), then spreading the tincture over the fish for 72 hours before cold-smoking it (in the traditional way).

“The flavor is really great, not that weed-brownie flavor that you try to cover up with chocolate,” noted general manager Nicholas Bruno. “The dill, lemon, and cannabis—everything melds perfectly with the fish.” While the deli may have made a news splash, they’re ruining a perfectly wonderful fish, as well as some damn fine weed. (The lox/cannabis combo was more stunt than serious sales effort, as all marijuana edibles in Colorado must be clearly labeled and packaged in single doses of 10 mg or less.) I’ll say this much: Don’t even think about ruining our Copper River salmon by infusing it with pot. (Though Copper River Chronic does have a nice ring to it . . . )

Point is, not everything has to be infused with cannabis. Yoga classes are being combined with getting high, for example. Not necessary. Your yogic bliss should be enough for mind, body, and soul, so that it doesn’t require taking bong hits during bandhasana. A company introduced cannabis K-cups last week (Catapult coffee pods retail for $10 each), infusing your morning by truly waking and baking. How ’bout ya don’t!? Moderation, people.

The state’s Liquor and Cannabis Control Board just busted four of the 22 recreational-marijuana stores they tested for selling to underage shoppers, which is—without a doubt—a serious screw-up. (As a point of comparison, Colorado did this kind of check last June after their retailers had been open six months, and all 20 passed the test.) The biggest reason these failures are so outrageous is that the board had announced to all recreational shops a month before that they would be doing compliance checks. Many journalists are calling the busts a major setback for marijuana (including Seattle Weekly’s own Daniel Person, declaring “Recreational Pot Is Having Its First PR Fiasco”). In fact, I think it’s just the opposite: A legal system, with due diligence, probing for violations and nailing those not in compliance sounds like a well-reasoned plan that moves in the right direction. (And indeed, idiots selling to underage kids should lose their licenses.) The rest of the stoned state gets a second chance—as every one of the 138 retail operations in the Evergreen State will be checked for compliance by the end of June. #getittogetherpeople

Even with bumps in the rasta road, surveys from Public Policy Polling show that in the two states that legalized cannabis, the people like the law—even more than when they voted it in. Fifty-six percent of us here in Washington approve of the recreational weed law, and 37 percent dislike it. In the 2012 referendum, the same percentage of folks approved, but 44 percent voted against the intiative. Better still, 77 percent of voters say the new laws have either had a positive effect or no effect at all. In Colorado, a different poll confirmed the trend. Sixty-two percent of voters there support the new ganja laws, an increase of seven percentage points from the vote tally in 2012.

Survey says: It’s all good.

Finally, in a bit of good news related to a previous column (“Prisoners for Pot,” May 13), the governor of Missouri commuted the sentence of a man serving a life term for marijuana. Gov. Jay Nixon’s commutation makes Jeff Mizanskey, 61, eligible for parole after being jailed for 22 years under Missouri’s three-strikes law. Part of the reason for the governor’s move? Four hundred thousand people had signed a petition requesting clemency. Mizanskey’s not free yet, but he’ll plead his very strong case before a parole board this summer. A nonviolent offender, Mizanskey has been a model prisoner—and has served a longer term than many rapists, child-molesters, and murderers. (Parole accepted!)

Checking Your White Privilege

It’s good to be white.

For example, as a white guy, I’m statistically more likely to be selling drugs than an African-American man. (I’ve always been too scared of going to jail to actually sell pot, but I’m using this to make my point.) If I were black, however, it would be three times more likely that I’d be arrested for dealing. It gets even better for whitey. Though five times as many of us use drugs, African-Americans are sent to prison 10 times as often for the same crimes. And once ya get to jail? On average, African-Americans serve as much time in prisons for drug offenses (58 months) as white folks do for violent ones (62 months).

While we may have legalized weed out West, these stats—and the ongoing federal War on Drugs—feed into a vicious loop that gives officers the pretense of probable cause to search, detain, and arrest African-Americans in droves. It is a short line from our national drug policy to police abuses. And by now we’ve all seen the dozens of cell-phone videos illustrating exactly how this often turns out for (eventually deceased) black men and women—who are after all under the law innocent until proven guilty.

While it might be good to be white, it doesn’t exactly feel good; seems like we should be further down the line on the apparently not-so-self-evident “All Men Are Created Equal” thing. Recently I’ve been trying to put myself in the shoes of young African-American men in Baltimore and Atlanta and Ferguson. Can I relate? At what point have I been targeted or profiled or discriminated against?

I’m Jewish. Does that count? Over the years I’ve heard offensive stereotypes and jokes. (“Jew ‘em down” is my least favorite.) But while that’s painful, it’s simply not the same. I have no fear of being pulled over for the way I look; I don’t worry that some armed jackass playing Neighborhood Watchman will follow me for no other reason than the color of my skin. I have no problem getting my foot in the door in business meetings, obtaining loans, or hailing cabs in any city in the world. And because I don’t have those life concerns, I may not actually “get it.”

My upbringing didn’t help either. I grew up on Mercer Island, where we called the only black kid in our entire elementary school “Chocolate.” (I apologize, Hayden.) Eventually basketball icon Bill Russell and his family moved to the island, and our black population tripled. Without people of color to relate to, there was very little chance in my youth to experience diversity, much less economic or cultural differences or division.

It took a steady diet of Toni Morrison, classes at Berkeley, and the recent slew of well-documented abuses to understand that the color of a person’s skin can clearly change their circumstances. I’m now fully aware that blacks are more likely to be pulled over by police, stopped as pedestrians (and frisked), and “randomly” searched at airports. The national unemployment rate for African-Americans is double that of whites. Black kids, according to the Department of Education, are more likely to be punished in schools, as well as get rookie teachers, which—go figure—affects their drop-out and graduation rates. But far more problematic than these are the institutional barriers that still exist.

In Missouri, the Justice Department’s own report following the shooting of Michael Brown found that “nearly every aspect of Ferguson’s law-enforcement system” negatively affected and severely impacted African-Americans.

Nationwide, while blacks are only about 13 percent of the population, they make up 37 percent of drug-related arrests and almost half of the prison population (one million of the 2.2 million incarcerated individuals). Overall, they’re incarcerated at six times the rate of whites.

The ongoing police brutality against unarmed black men, women, and children has clearly triggered the anger that accompanies such injustice, resulting in ongoing protests and riots throughout the country. There’s a point at which truly marginalized groups get backed into such a corner that an equally valid option to putting up with the jerry-rigged system is raising hell and overturning the apple cart. Intellectually, I get it; I’ve reached a boiling point over slow-moving traffic and lousy bar service. But I also understand that, for true change to occur, those in power must somehow seek to share that power.

How to do we make a seismic shift happen without all hell breaking loose? I don’t know. I’m in over my head. But here’s a start: I’d like my tax dollars to be directed to communities that have been decimated by mass unemployment and social neglect. And I’d like the government to explore new efforts and ideas to aid the poor and the vulnerable—many of which may fail. And that’s OK. As a white person, I can relate to plenty of social experiments that have been colossal flops: Apple’s Newton, for example, and Microsoft’s Zune. Enron and MCI. Jazzercize. The Delorean. Solyndra. MySpace. And the War on Drugs.

Priorities must change. And any argument about government getting out of the way is yet another attempt to keep the status quo—and racism—alive and well. Indifference or passive support of the current dynamic is unacceptable. If you need a more self-centered reason to change the system than the common good, consider this: We’ll be the minority soon enough.

The Pax 2 Review

PAX 2 Review
Michael A. Stusser

First things first: There are people who like to smoke out of bongs. There are people who prefer to roll a fatty. (That’s me!) There are fans of the one-hitter, glass pipe aficionados, Roor rooters, boisterous bubblers, glass-beaker geekers, hookah-suckas, and everything in between (i.e. partially crushed aluminum cans, pineapple pipes, etc.). And it’s all good. However you want to get high is your business – so long as you share.

One of the more modern conventions for getting baked is through the use of a vaporizer….Vapes allow the user to inhale “vapor” – and not smoke. Instead of the cannabis being combusted (by match or Zippo or blowtorch) – the vaporizer brings your marijuana flower (or oil or hash) to a temperature that’s hot enough to sublimate cannabinoids in cannabis, but doesn’t actually combust the herb. Sort of like a convection oven instead of a raging BBQ…but hand-held. In addition to it being an excellent option for individuals wanting to eliminate the various risks of smoke inhalation (a good choice for MMJ patients wanting the benefits of cannabinoids and terpenes, but not the potential lung irritations from smoke inhalation), vaporizing marijuana creates a more effective release of the medicinal properties of the cannabis flower.

Known as “The iPhone of Vaporizers,” the Pax brand has been around since 2012 (previously Ploom, now Pax Labs Inc.), and the product reviewed here is their second – and highly improved edition. I experimented with the original Pax a few years back (which sold over 500,000 units), but why waste time on the iPhone 4S- when there’s a new version of the iPhone 9 to discuss?

The new re-designed Pax is available in four color choices, all made from a hip and durable, transverse-brushed aluminum (the same anodized shell the iPhone 6 is forged out of). The iconic Pax looks like a minimalist high-end, high-tech product you’ll be proud to be seen carrying around. (Let’s be real – if you’re paying top dollar for a glorified pipe – around $280 – it better be sexy as hell. And this is.)

The new Pax 2 is 25% smaller and ten percent lighter than the original, and instead of a retracting mouthpiece, has a groovy flap of sorts that, according to the manufacturer, uses “lip-sensing technology.” (I wish my girlfriend did!) A second rubber mouthpiece that extends slightly from the top is also included. The Stanford University geeks who created the Pax brand have done a great job of combining applied science principles, technology, and a very cool (and stolen from Apple) design – to wind up with a unique and quality product that does not disappoint.

While there are a plethora of settings available for the Pax, for folks like me who like to “dumb it down,” the elegant product is also extremely easy to use. Press…wait, and in less than a minute, when the iconic LED Pax logo goes from pulsing purple flickering glow to a solid neon green, begin to suck. When you’re done, click the top mouthpiece down to turn it off, and re-load!

The heating element in the Pax can be set to four various heat settings, and has an intelligent cooling down system as well. While I’ve had the unit for several months, I rarely cycle through to choose a particular heating level, but instead let the smart machine do it’s thing.

Unlike many vaporizers with temp control, the smartest part about PAX is that it measures the temp of the herb…not the stainless steel oven itself. So instead of the chamber burning away, the PAX makes sure you’re cooking your prime ganja all the way through. (If you’re spending serious money on a vape, you better also be putting some cool cash into the best weed out there…)

There’s a distinct and almost sweet smell that my Pax emits when the ganja is ready – and the clovers glow green. It’s not so much that anyone would be able to call out the stank of cannabis – it’s almost like a bagel’s ready. Once you exhale from the Pax, or course, there is vapor (looks like smoke to me, but all the vaporizers gotta vape something…and it’s more than just heat), and the smell of marijuana. Given that I’m in a legal state (and don’t mind breaking the public consumption of cannabis laws) – the sweet smell actually makes me proud to share with my fellow citizens.

The newest Pax is also designed with various built-in sensors (it’s not a Tesla, but close!). The sensors include an accelerometer to put the device to sleep when it’s been set down, and the battery level which can be checked when the user shakes the Pax. (The four clover leaves show the various levels of charge remaining.) It’s also just fun to rotate the device in your hand three times to show your friends the spinning, colorful Pax clover in Party Mode. (Seriously. It’s beautiful.) Apparently there are also various “secret” games…though I had difficulty figuring them out, especially after taking several draws off the machine. (I even got sent a special detailed PDF from PAX public-relations on each and every user-interface and indicator, and I STILL don’t understand what the fuck’s going on.)

Until you take the Pax out for a test drive – outside your home – you really don’t get the coolness factor of the product. I’ve had the unit for 2 months, but it sat next to my gorgeous double-bubbler art-glass PDX bong, which is quick and powerful and easy to use. (No battery required.) So the PAX just sat there, looking like a slick modern remote control next to my weed box and bong. And then it hit me. Portable. Oh yeah. PORTable! So I packed it tight (as the manual suggests) and hit the bars. So cool. People love it! And when you whip out your Pax, you’re the hit (literally) of any party.

Could this sleek, gorgeous gizmo be better engineered? Probably. It needs a deeper chamber. WAY Deeper. Even though it’s larger and wider than the original version, the current “bowl” is only big enough to pack about 7-10 real “hits” in one go-round. While that’s enough for a few people to get nicely baked, it’s then necessary to knock out the roasted and toasted ganja, and repack a re-fill. As with all vaporizers – is a bit of a to-do. (The bottom sub-flush lid comes off simply enough – and is held in place with two powerful neodymium magnets.) It should also be noted the chamber for weed is consistent with other high end vaporizers…so it could be me that needs to cut down and get a grip on this gripe. Similar to a bong or pipe, a bowl can only be so large for maximum freshness and use before it needs to be refilled – so my complaint may simply be a factor of my own need for moderation.

The only other tweak I’d make on the next version (Pax 3!) is the shape. Given our digital obsession (and societal one at large, now that I think of it) – it’s true the Pax could be more iPhone-shaped: Skinner, longer, and with a slight arc to fit along your skinny thigh. But the current heft is fantastic – it’s got a perfect weight in the palm, and that glowing psychedelic clover is just the fucking coolest thing ever.

The Pax uses a USB-charger (similar to Apple’s Mag-Safe units) that powers up a lithium ion battery, and – as tested – lasts for over 3 hours per charge (90 minutes to charge, on average), which is more than you’ll need. The unit turns itself off if you don’t draw on the mouthpiece or touch in for three minutes (and goes into standby mode by slowly lowering the temp after only 20 seconds) – so you’ve actually got five or six hours of party time before the battery truly runs out.

By far the best feature of the Pax is that it’s stealthy – not because of it’s actual size (which is really the smallest/most compact of the high-end vaporizers on the market) – but because even when I bring the thing out in broad daylight – at football games or bars or concerts or cafes – people see me handling this odd-looking graphite device that has a pulsing light and can’t fathom it’s a cannabis vaporizer. They’re more likely to think I’m holding a digital tape recorder up to my mouth than a machine that allows me to smoke (vape? cook?) marijuana! It’s so elegant, I often set mine on the table in cocktail lounges (sadly, next to my fawking iPhone) and see if anyone reacts. It’s rare. Mostly (sadly) they’re lost in their own digital devices, and not paying any attention.

In the end, how do I know I like it the Pax? Because it’s in my pocket every time I leave the house.

The Pax 2 runs around $280 and includes a 10 year warranty.

Available in charcoal (black), topaz (aqua), flare (red) and platinum (silver).

3.87 x 1.21 x 0.85
18.5mm x 8.6mm x 10mm
Lithium-ion battery recharges in 2-3 hours via USB or AC wall adaptor

Thin film Kapton heater flex
Detects motion to put PAX in standby-mode when not in use to conserve battery life and oven contents
Vapor path is constructed entirely from medical grade components. All plastic components are food-safe engineering plastics of the highest quality available.

Included in the box are:
•The PAX 2
•Two silicone mouthpieces—a flat one, flush with the top of the
device, and one raised option
•One magnetic charging cradle with USB cord
•PAX 2 cleaning kit with isopropyl alcohol & pipe cleaners

What We Should Ban in Seattle Parks Instead of Smoking

Anytime I go to a dive bar or pool hall or rock-’n’-roll show, in the back of my mind it feels like there’s something missing. It’s not the booze or long-lost jukeboxes, it’s not the condom vending machines, filthy bathrooms, or obnoxious, aging, bandana-wearing Axl Rose doppelgängers. So what exactly is it? Smoke! I’m missing the damn cigarette smoke that for so long provided a hazy backdrop of second-hand nostalgia.

I’ve never actually smoked—tobacco, anyway. But in certain places it seems par for the course. Nevertheless, society banned the practice of cigar and cigarette smoking—and it’s a done deal. Hell, once the Italians banned smoking in restaurants and bars, it was clear there was no turning back.

Recently, in addition to the indoor smoking ban and a ban on smoking in public spaces, our mayor and the parks department have proposed fully eliminating smoking in each and every Seattle city park. What’s next?! Banning adults using the swing sets, or not letting you piss in the kiddie pool? (Wait.)

Look, we all want our parks to be beautiful. Which is why it’s illegal to litter there (including leaving cigarette butts, fast-food wrappers, or RedBulls strewn on the grass). And no one wants to have smoke blown into their children’s faces while picnicking at Gas Works or playing catch at Lincoln Park. Which is why the Seattle parks department banned smoking, chewing, and any tobacco use within 25 feet of other peeps at all beaches, parks, and playgrounds. (Not one citation has been issued by park rangers for this order since it went into effect in 2010, by the way.)

The Board of Park Commissioners will make a final recommendation to the superintendent on the proposed blanket smoking ban in Seattle parks on May 28. (In case you’re wondering, the proposed rule doesn’t specifically apply to vape pens—or electronic cigarettes—so regardless of how the wind blows, I’m in a win/win scenario here! The increasingly common smell of wafting ganja in parks is far more enjoyable than tobacco smoke anyway.) Smoking is already banned in all public spaces and workplaces (enacted in 2005). While the argument for reducing second-hand smoke (and lung cancer) and increasing healthy environments does hold some water, this total park ban seems a spot overly intrusive, and may actually be a smoke screen over messing with the homeless.

“Is this ban really about public health, or is it about discriminating against homeless people?” posed Sharon Jones, a Real Change vendor, at a recent public hearing on the matter. “Being homeless is hard enough—a smoking ban will give the police a reason to harass the poor . . . Homelessness is not a crime.”

The ACLU agrees. “What we think would happen in practice is this would get disproportionately enforced against people who are vulnerable populations,” noted spokesman Doug Honig, “and potentially they can be banned from parks—which are an important place for them to spend time—or even arrested.”

Almost 1,000 cities, including the Big Apple and San Fran, have total or partial bans on firing up in parks, rather than the 25-foot rule we’ve adopted. (So does Portland, but they’re just trying to stay relevant in any way possible.) The complete bans are obviously more straight-forward and easier to enforce and communicate to the public. But why stop there?

Wanna ban some stuff in our city parks? How about frisbees? It’s extremely hard to relax when discs are zooming nearby—one wrong ring-toss away from destroying my latte. And how about forbidding all big-ass boom boxes—as well as super-loud people? I’d also like to eliminate wide-legged manspreaders on park benches, public nail-clippers, and studs in really good shape who take their shirts off! (Not to mention slovenly slackers who should not be taking their shirts off under any circumstances.)

Ban Boot Camp fitness classes on public land, Tai Chi types, and yoginis too! And nix non-sharing birthday-cake partiers! I also loathe those skateboard punks, who you know are violating the smoking ban when no one’s looking! Hell, if I was calling the shots, we’d ban screaming KIDS from all city parks—talk about a buzz-kill! And while we’re at it, let’s forbid digital devices: I’m sick of seeing people more engaged with their iPhones than with the incredible views smack-dab in front of them. Maybe a giant waft of stinky smoke is just what the doctor ordered to get them to look up from their screens and into the bright light of day!

Put that in your park and smoke it.

The People in Prison for Pot

When I talk to my friends about the marijuana movement, most think it’s a fun idea that’s basically run its course. I mean, everyone agrees pot will eventually be legal, right? So what’s left to talk about? While folks in four states can now get high as a kite without consequences, more than 600,000 citizens are arrested each year for marijuana-related offenses, and almost 100,000 men and women currently serve sentences for drug offenses. Looking at the details of some of these cases makes your head spin—not in a hilarious hazy-fog kinda way, more in a Linda Blair-in-Exorcist kinda way. In an effort to show how lucky we are, how ridiculous federal policy is, and how much work still remains, allow me to share a few details of those affected by the War on Drugs.

Antonio Bascaró, now 80, has been imprisoned for 35 years after smuggling pot in a fishing boat from Columbia to Florida. No violence, no hard drugs, no prior offenses—just a bail of weed and some bad luck. Bascaró’s sentence does not qualify for the U.S. Sentencing Commission reform guidelines (which have shortened drug sentences for 40,000 federal prisoners), because—get this—the sentence itself is too old to be shortened. Convicted in 1980, he holds the record as the U.S.’s longest-serving marijuana prisoner—a record I’m sure he’d happily relinquish if he could enjoy as a free man a few of his remaining days. The good news? His original sentence has been chopped by 20 years due to good behavior. His new release date? June 2019.

Canadians like locking up old hippies too. 76-year-old grandpa Donald Clarkson was just sent to a slammer north of the border for growing 150 plants in his rental house. The ex-trucker told the judge he’d started the grow operation only to supplement his meager pension. Guess Gramps should have tried a different entrepreneurial effort, cuz he’ll be serving the minimum sentence, six months, under Canada’s (recently toughened) federal drug laws after pleading guilty to production of marijuana for the purposes of trafficking.

Shona Banda, 37, lost custody of her 11-year-old son on March 24 after the boy questioned some of the Reefer Madness being delivered in a drug- and alcohol-education program at his school—and mentioned the medical marijuana in his own home. School officials in Kansas then contacted the police, who went to the house on a “welfare check” and found cannabis and drug paraphernalia in the kitchen. Officers subsequently took the boy into protective custody. Banda uses cannabis oil to treat her Crohn’s disease. A fundraising website for Banda’s legal defense states that her son “disagreed with some of the anti-pot points that were being made by school officials.” After a hearing last Monday, Kansas authorities refused to give Banda her son back and placed him into protective custody. Banda, the author of Live Free or Die: Reclaim Your Life . . . Reclaim Your Country (about her medical use of cannabis oil), is generating a ton of support and publicity, and clearly will not go down without a fight. The case has been forwarded to the district attorney’s office, where possible charges include possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute and child endangerment.

In 2012, a Maryland District judge planned on letting Ronald Hammond off with a fine for his possession charge, saying there wasn’t enough weed in the case to “roll you a decent joint.” Hammond agreed to pay a $100 fine. Problem was that Hammond had then officially violated parole for a 2009 drug charge—so instead of the $100 ticket, the charge triggered a 20-year prison sentence. Like so many caught in the system, Hammond got just two strikes and he was out (for decades).

The folks at Seattle Hempfest have been advocating for those imprisoned for pot for more than two decades now; they’ve also “adopted” several men serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for cannabis-related charges. One adopted prisoner is writer George Martorano, who has been in prison 32 years. He’s serving a life sentence—the longest prison term ever imposed on a nonviolent first-time offender in American history. (USA! USA!) Martorano has written more than 30 books (including self-help books for inmates); with all that confinement, he’s certainly got the time.

“Truly my greatest fear of prison,” he wrote on his website,, “is to die and no one knowing of I, prisoner 12973, thus I must write.”

I’m sure there were people in 1964 who, after passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act, felt the movement had done its job and was over. After all, the Act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Unfortunately, the cause for that movement—as well as the legalization movement—still exists. The struggle is not even close to being over. So we push on . . . and continue the dialogue. To get involved, go to, or

Come Over to the Green Side

The most recent Pew Research Center poll shows that a majority of Americans nationwide, 53 percent, now support the legalization of cannabis. I’m actually surprised it’s that low, but then again, I’m a marijuana columnist.

But here is the most interesting stat from that poll: Of those surveyed who now support legalization but changed their minds on the issue (40 percent of the 53 percent), the main reason for the shift was self-interest. “The more that people learn about marijuana and look at the benefits of legalization,” noted Tom Angell, Chairman of the Marijuana Majority, “the more likely they are to support reform.”

Given this new info—and a desire to bring the 47 percent who remain prohibitionists out of the Dark Ages—I’d like to lay out some new bennies about cannabis.

Less drinking! Fewer hangovers! Weed’s been proven to help people cut back on their drinking. A study in Harm Reduction Journal showed that more and more drinkers are replacing booze, prescription drugs, and other harmful and illegal drugs with pot. Not only is marijuana safer than alcohol, it’s less likely to cause withdrawal problems, not to mention liver failure.

Game of Thrones. Imagine watching it while stoned to the BeJesus!

A catalyst for creativity. Ask Jon Stewart, Maya Angelou, Natalie Portman, Carl Sagan, Dr. Gupta, Rihanna, Bob Marley, Sergey Brin, or President Obama. Ganja has been shown to have positive creative effects—including better test results when individuals are asked to come up with new ideas. On the flip side, short-term memories tend to function worse when high.

Endocannabinoids fight brain aging. You can do the New York Times crossword, sudoku, or smoke a fatty. It’s a no-brainer.

One word: Nugtella. It’s a delicious hazelnut cannabis-infused Nutella treat!

Verbal fluency. Cannabis can create a cacophony of creative chasms for cogent cognitive communication (man).

Epileptic seizures are a downer. Almost 90 percent of Americans polled now believe that folks should have access to medical marijuana if a doc says it can help.

Vinyl. The chances of someone dusting off their record player and spinning some of the amazing vinyl records stored away in a crate somewhere increases 947 percent if the individual smokes herb.

We need the “War on Drugs” money. Fill in the blank: I’d rather spend the $41.3 billion per year on _____.

Cannabis is eco-friendly. Not only does the plant grow like a weed, but it’s able to suck up underground toxins (a process called phytoremediation), which makes for healthier and better farmland.

Legalization is a conservative cause. Smaller, unobtrusive government, states’ rights, individual liberties, etc.

Paying for prisoners is annoying. Half of the 1.6 million people currently in prison are serving time for drug offenses, at a cost of $25,000 a year apiece. Do the math. (It’s $40 billion.)

More time in sweatpants!

Sick of sucking up to the Saudis? Cannabis is an alternative fuel source. Both cannabis and the hemp plant crank out what is known as biomass. Biomass can be turned into all kinds of fuel, including biodiesel and ethanol. Not quite a solar Tesla, but close.

Add it to your smoothie. The cannabis plant is chock-full of disease-fighting, anti-inflammatory antioxidants. So even if you don’t want to get stoned, raw cannabis is a great additive to go with your wheatgrass and Super Blue Green Algae. The cannabis seed is rich in protein, fatty acids, and omega-3. And fiber! Don’t forget about fiber!

Cannabis causes job growth. Who doesn’t want more jobs (and tax revenue)? The marijuana market is filled with them: budtenders, trimmers, new cannabis-app designers, security guards, developers of seed-to-sale tracking software and weed websites, and of course cannabis columnists (thank you!).

Less familial strife. In a study of 635 couples over nine years (culminating in 2014), the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors found that couples who smoke weed together have lower rates of domestic violence.

Tax revenue. If we taxed marijuana at the same rate as alcohol and tobacco, it would bring in more than $8.7 billion a year nationwide. Pot can fix the potholes!

Weed makes ya skinny. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health studied 4,600 adults and found that “current marijuana users had significantly smaller waist circumference than participants who had never used marijuana, even after adjusting for factors like age, sex, tobacco and alcohol use, and physical activity levels. They also had higher levels of HDL [i.e., good cholesterol].” A study from the American Journal of Epidemiology also found that peeps who smoke pot are less prone to obesity—even though they did indeed chow more calories from the munchies.

People are getting baked . . . whether it’s legal or not. Finally, for those who haven’t been stoned since college, weed is fun. Maybe you forgot. Maybe it made you paranoid, or you were concerned the DEA might break down your dorm room door. Forget all that—it’s time to party like it’s 2099! Come on over . . . to the green side!