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!

Marijuana Is Medicine

When the team behind Initiative 502 wrote their marijuana law, they left the already well-established medical dispensaries and collective gardens out of the equation, assuming they’d be dealt with at a later date. Well, they were dealt with, all right—last week the Governor signed a bill to eliminate both entirely.

 Lawmakers in Olympia had been looking to overhaul the parallel medical- and recreational-marijuana systems, and agreed on a bill (from hell) that will close each and every medical-marijuana dispensary. I’m not going to get all policy-wonky on this and lose my audience in the third sentence. (Still with me?) So lemme just break this down with one simple point:

For millions of Americans, marijuana is medicine. But most of us are not paying attention to this devastating legislative boondoggle, because—for most of us—cannabis is not stopping our seizures, halting our cancers, or helping to ease our chronic pain.

Yes, hundreds of storefronts are currently posing as medicinal dispensaries. And those false fronts are mucking up the legal retail system ushered in by I-502, which is designed to sell weed and collect taxes on said chronic. Still, that’s no excuse to derail a long-established collective that heals and soothes the masses. The problem of rogue green-cross clowns and overgrown gardens can be fixed without eliminating the main source of medicine for a community that’s been the very engine that started the GreenRush in the first place.

BuzzKill Bill 5052 has eliminated every non-I-502 store and suddenly tasked an already overwhelmed state Liquor (and now Cannabis) Control Board with evaluating and licensing a handful of medical dispensaries beginning in July 2016. But while dispensaries linger in the LCB Waiting Room, what might individuals with real medical needs do, exactly? Go back to Big Pharma and the addictive opiates that many of them have kicked by turning to cannabis? And what about those in rural areas that have banned marijuana entirely? Will Grandma with glaucoma get in her wagon and drive from Black Diamond to obtain her organic medicine?

Those on the outside might think patients can simply obtain their meds at a recreational store. But I-502 shops are not set up for—and do not meet the needs of—medical patients. Rec stores sell high-THC products for folks like me who want to get high as a kite for pure fun. As for lower-THC products, low-dose edibles, and specially formulated cannabidiol tinctures, not so much. Just as you wouldn’t send a patient to talk to a bartender about pain relief, your average budtender doesn’t have the hard-earned knowledge of proprietors at medical dispensaries, many of whom have been working hand-in-hand with farmers and MMJ companies since passage of the Medical Use of Marijuana Initiative in 1998.

Different patients use different products to alleviate their suffering: elixirs, cannabis juices, topicals, CBD oils, suppositories, and particular strains that have been fine-tuned, tested, and refined over a period of years. Safe access to thousands of these unique products will no longer be available—because rec stores won’t stock them. Why would they, when Bubba Kush and Sour Diesel are flying off the shelves? And the common practice of medical dispensaries giving marijuana to low-income patients? Not. Gonna. Happen. In fact, the new law slaps a 30 percent excise tax on medical sales.

There’s also a not-so-little legal problem. Bill 5052 mandates that in order for medical patients to receive their marijuana allotment (which has been lowered from 24 ounces to three), they must “voluntarily” put their names on a registry or database. The patient registry forces them to admit to a federal felony—not a great choice for anyone who is interested in holding public office, in a custody dispute, or applying for a job that employs background checks. And I’m no lawyer, but folks a lot smarter than me have pointed out that turning medical-marijuana regulations and oversight over to a Liquor Control Board is probably in violation of a whole lotta laws on the books at both the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Justice, not to mention that the registry is in clear violation of federal HIPAA laws.

One thing is for sure: Individuals and families being aided by cannabis are not going to go away just because we passed some dimwitted bill that eliminates their medical access. As you or I would, they’ll do whatever it takes to remain healthy. They will operate underground, thrive in the black market, and risk prison to produce and distribute medicine to their veteran husbands, elderly parents, debilitated wives, and seizing children.

Our Grand Cannabis Experiment does need to be tinkered with, but not at the expense of the medical community. If we’re going to do this right, unlike the federal government, we must acknowledge and respect that cannabis is used to truly heal our loved ones in a myriad of ways for a plethora of ailments. To herd patients into pot stores, take away their choices, eliminate their ability to speak to medical professionals in a safe environment, and force them to sign a registry admitting that they are felons? That’s not compassionate care, and it’s not what true legalization should look like.

Higher Ground: Educating Jane

Shooting down a few anti-legalization arguments.

“They’re talking about opening a weed stand, or whatever, right next to my kids’ school,” the woman began, reaching for a plastic cup of wine during ArtWalk. “I mean, they’re already getting drunk. Now this will make a second thing we’re allowing for!”

I gently reminded her that both of those things were illegal for minors, but she would have none of it.

“Seriously. The parties they go to are beyond,” she said, gazing at an out-of-this-world painting on the gallery wall. “From eighth grade on, there is alcohol at most of their socials. That’s already happening. So to add another drug that can mess up their minds . . . ”

I understood the fear she was experiencing. Parenting is terrifying. I get it; I had a teenage daughter once. (Good lord.) But one way to alleviate some of the fear about our kids having sex or smoking dope or getting shot on the playground is by clarifying some of the misinformation and having open dialogue. (That’s the theory.)

“To be honest, I’d rather have my kid on weed than alcohol, ma’am.” She was only a few years older than me, but we hadn’t been properly introduced. “I mean, alcohol kills 46,000 people a year, prescription drug ODs kill another 17,000. And let’s not forget cigarettes!” (440,000 deaths a year.) “And so when it comes to these kids drinking and driving or smoking and driving . . . I’d prefer they had cannabis.”

Jesus. I’d wanted to come off as even-handed and open-minded, and now I was advocating that the youngsters hotbox in their daddy’s Chevrolet.

“Do you have kids!?” she inquired. “It’s hard enough. I mean, the store is going to be right there. At the foot of the school!”

I didn’t want to get into the specifics of her increasingly incoherent argument—in Washington state, recreational shops must be at least 1,000 feet from schools, playgrounds, libraries, game arcades, public-transit centers, or parks. But I did feel the need to make one point.

“I’m sorry, miss—what was your name?”


“Hi, Jane. Can I call you Mary Jane?” (Blank stare.) “I’m kidding. Listen, I totally agree that we should try to keep drugs away from young people.” I felt myself go into talking-points mode, but I couldn’t stop. “And I know this seems counterintuitive, but teen drug use has gone down in the states where it’s legal. That’s just a fact.”

I knew right when it came out of my mouth that it was too preachy, but I’ve learned a few things writing this column. One is that kids don’t know shit about cannabis, other than that it is, and always has been, easy to get. A new 2014 Health Use Survey shows that a significant number of 10th and 12th graders don’t believe there are risks in weekly marijuana use. (On this, they’re obviously pinheads—pot is not great for the developing brain.) It also found that parents were also clueless: Only 57 percent knew the legal age of recreational weed (as compared to 71 percent of kids), and only 63 percent understood you’re not allowed to grow it at home.

“Why make matters worse?” she railed, spilling chardonnay on my shoes. “There are already so many drugs: They take Ecstasy and prescription pills! I’m telling you—what I heard is that they walk right in and order, like a Starbucks or something.”

“Thing is, Jane, recreational-marijuana stores are not selling to high-school kids. They’re just like bars—they don’t want to get shut down for not checking IDs. Besides, whoever is selling your kid a bag of weed behind the Port-a-Pottys at Lakeside is not going to be asking if they’re 21, and there won’t be a warning label listing the THC levels.”

We stared at a painting that could have been a giant bong or a lovely vase—it kind of depended on your perspective.

“The new stuff is just so much stronger, you can OD on it,” she said with a smile-ish smirk that made me want to hug-strangle her. “I read something in the paper about synthetic marijuana killing these kids at a party in Florida.”

“Yes, and they should stop calling it marijuana. AstroTurf would be a better name, because it’s not really marijuana. Jane, there are all kinds of deadly drugs out there, but pot’s never killed anyone. Not one person.”

I was going to ask her if she’d ever tried cannabis, but could tell I’d already pushed her personal boundaries. “Have you talked to your . . . daughter, is it? About weed?” I asked meekly. “About marijuana?”

Her eyebrows would have gone higher if they could have. “Talked? To her about pot?! What would we say? I mean, she knows we don’t approve.”

“That’s great! A recent study from the UW showed that kids listen to their parents more than anyone else—even their own friends. And the ones who know their parents disapprove are way less likely to try pot.”

“Well that’s good, I guess,” she replied, looking me in the eye for the first time.

“The other thing is that talking to kids about weed works better than punishment.” A raised eyebrow. “In this study [from the UW’s School of Social Work], students who got suspended after smoking pot kept smoking pot. But if the kid gets sent to a counselor, they’re 50 percent less likely to smoke!”

“I assume you get stoned.”

I pulled the wine bottle out of the tub of ice. “I use all kinds of legal drugs, Jane,” I said, topping us off. “Takes the edge off of being a grown-up . . . ”

This article first appeared in the Seattle Weekly.

Higher Ground: A Vision of the Marijuana Movement From the Future—April 20, 2020

A look back at the next five years.


As I write this on April 20, 2020, I’m impressed by how far the legalization movement has come since Washington and Colorado first voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. I am still alarmed we’ve not yet overturned prohibition at the federal level, but let’s take a look at how far we’ve come.

Seventeen states have now legalized cannabis, including Minnesota, Florida, and, surprisingly, Arizona. The third time was a charm for California, which finally legalized weed after ballot initiatives were defeated in both 2010 and 2016. (In each of those elections, competing ballot measures confused and divided the already-stoned masses.)

Of the 17 states to fully legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis, only Hawaii and Massachusetts passed their laws through the legislative process. Aloha State Gov. David Ige said it best: “Sure, we could have had a ballot initiative, but we’re trying to save paper.” In 2018, Oregon became the first state to repeal legal cannabis, overturning the measure it passed in 2014. (Make up your mind, Dank Ducks.)

And who would have thought that Las Vegas would become the World’s Cannabis Capital over Denver, Seattle, or Berkeley? With dozens of 420-friendly resorts, StarBud cafes on every corner, and Amsterdam-themed casinos, Vegas, thankfully, is for adults again. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas . . . because no one can remember what the hell happened in Vegas.

Marijuana is now a $26-billion-a-year industry, successfully eclipsing organic food, cosmetics, and the NFL in sales. It has also garnered more than $9 billion a year in tax revenue, funding roads, infrastructure, drug education, and the nationwide Green Electric Train system. New Jersey has shown the most dramatic turnaround, from bankruptcy in 2017 to a huge surplus after turning its Jersey Shore boardwalk back into a smoky, lowbrow bacchanal. An often-overlooked benefit of the new economy is jobs, more than 250,000 of which have been created, including web developers, specialized security, “manicurists,” and cannabis chefs.

The Green Rush has led to products and services no one could have imagined back in 2012, including the word’s first digital vape phone (iStoned), Tesla’s HempRoadster, CannaAspirin (a Privateer Holdings and Bayer joint venture), and Virgin’s Flying HotBox Airline. WeedTourism is also booming with Bud ’n’ Breakfasts, guided Ganja Artwalks, and Stoned Symphony Nights. Mergers and acquisitions have been fast and furious in Internet marijuana businesses (which, unlike the plant, can cross state lines): Leafly was purchased by Yelp, WeedHire by Monster, Weedmaps by Groupon, and Higher Ground by Time/Warner. Surprisingly, the top celebrity-endorsed weed strain was not Willie Nelson’s Reserve, Snoop Chronic, or (Bob) Marley’s Natural, but Kardashian Kush, which—according to all reviews—consistently knocks you on your gigantic ass.

Edibles currently make up 55 percent of the market, CBD oils and concentrates another 15 percent, and elixirs 23 percent, leaving flower (buds) to make up only 7 percent of marijuana sales.

In 1995 not a single state had passed a medical-marijuana law, and only 25 percent of those polled believed in legalizing the drug. By 2015, 23 states had legalized medical cannabis. As of today (4/20/20), 42 states have now passed medical-marijuana laws, leaving only eight without any form of medicinal-cannabis law on the books. (We love you, Oklahoma, but rally yer wagons: Even gay marriage is fully legal in your state now.)

Today over two and a half million Americans receive some sort of support from cannabis-related products. Shockingly, five states have even allowed health-care providers to cover and reimburse medical-marijuana patients under their policies, including the newly formed Green Group Health Cross.

Perhaps Obama’s defining moment was not his (overturned, then re-implemented) Affordable Care Act, but his last-minute 2016 Executive Order that took marijuana off the Schedule 1 list of the Controlled Substances Act and downgraded it to Schedule 2. Although Schedule 2 drugs are still deemed to have high potential for abuse, cannabis is now clearly recognized for its medical benefits, and available for prescriptions.

This controversial move by a “What the Hell Have I Got to Lose” president has allowed clinical research roadblocks to be removed, delivering conclusive proof that cannabinoids are effective on chronic seizures, shrinking brain tumors, slowing Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and even helping with erectile dysfunction (who knew?). This last finding moved the last bastion of elderly white Congressmen holding up medical-marijuana legislation to act in several Southern states.

After being cultivated for more than 12,000 years, hemp was finally fully legalized in 2018 with the Industrial Hemp Farming Act. Bred for its strong fiber, the sober sister to sativa has now replaced timber and concrete as the main building material in new home construction. With only trace amounts of THC, hemp is being used for clothing and rope, and hempseed oil now makes up over half the nation’s fuel supply. Hemp toilet paper, however, was a colossal flop, and we’ll leave it at that.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling, Black Guy vs. DEA, stunned the nation by allowing states that have legalized marijuana to release and expunge records for individuals who had been convicted of nonviolent marijuana-related crimes. This ruling opened the floodgates for hundreds of thousands of (mostly African-American) men who had been incarcerated for crimes which are now minor infractions or fully legal. The case has led to nationwide changes in drug policy, redirecting an estimated $50 billion a year that had been previously spent on the War on Drugs to address more serious crimes (not to mention giving each and every U.S. citizen free cable for life). Writing for the majority, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts commented, “In this particular case, it pains me to be consistent with my own values of states rights, individual liberties, unobtrusive government, and the pursuit of happiness.”

As with any major public-policy change, there have been missteps in the movement. After plowing his golf cart into a set of extras on SuperBad 4, actor Seth Rogen became the first celebrity convicted of Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana. Blowing into a drugalyzer, Rogen registered a record THC level of 50 nanograms per milliliter. (Anything over five nanograms is the legal limit in Colorado.) America’s “If some is good, more is better” philosophy is kicking many smokers in the head, with THC levels skyrocketing to record heights. And while cannabis has still not been responsible for a single death the world over, the trend of “dabbing” (combusting highly concentrated cannabis with blowtorches and dab-rigs) is not only making pot smokers look like crack addicts, but energizing the “This is Your Brain on Dabs” antidrug crowd.

An active opposition still funds anti-marijuana campaigns (including Recall Cannabis efforts in legal states), primarily funded by the Koch Brothers (RIP), who left behind a massive Memorial Justice (MJ) endowment.

Sadly, many of our war veterans still do not have access to medical marijuana, which even back in 2015 had been proven to treat PTSD, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Since marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, veterans fear being drug-tested, losing their jobs, or having their children and pensions taken away in the event that a less-favorable administration increases enforcement.

Like MLK, Rosa Parks, Gandhi, and Harvey Milk before them, new activists are launching a marijuana movement involving personal rights, legal justice, and public involvement. These “Green Raiders” include Sen. Alison Holcomb (a key player with the ACLU and Initiative 502); now-Senator Barbara Lee (D-CA); New York Stock Exchange President Troy Dayton (previously of the ArcView Group); “Fuckit I Quit” Governor Charlo Greene (AK); U.S. Cannabis Ambassador Rick Steves; and newly appointed Hemp Czar Vivian McPeak (previously of Seattle Hempfest). This green group of pot evangelists is leading the way on organic standards for the industry, living wages ($25 an hour), thriving community unions, carbon-neutral chronic, and, most important, citizen empowerment on a host of vital issues.

Overall, legalization in 2020—as a (still) relatively new public experiment—is going swimmingly. With 20/20 vision, it’s clear the end of prohibition is in sight.


This article first appeared in the Seattle Weekly

Higher Ground: Runner’s High

Spring has sprung, and it’s finally time to strap on the running shoes and get stoned out of your mind!

There’s no doubt that marijuana is good for all kinds of things: stimulating the appetite, creative brainstorming, giggle-fests . . . but exercise? Yes, apparently. According to an article in last month’s Runner’s World, athletes who use cannabis benefit from stress relief and reduced inflammation.

Now I’m no marathoner, but I do understand the pain and nausea that kind of grind might cause; hell, I “hit the wall” on walks from Starbucks to the car. And long-distance runners are now claiming that the pain relief associated with marijuana is also a huge benefit for their grueling efforts, helping athletes achieve an idealized state earlier in their run.

“When you have runner’s high, you have feelings very similar to those you would feel if you were smoking marijuana,” stated neuroscientist Arne Dietrich in Runner’s World. The prefrontal cortex of the brain regulates both feelings, Dietrich notes, including “sedation, analgesia, mild happiness, the loss of the sensation of time, and a loss of worries.” What? Where was I?

It makes sense that the CBDs that help to block the input of pain for medicinal purposes and act as anti-inflammatories can also help athletes struggling with joint pain in various sports. And we’re not just talking about snowboarders or Ultimate Frisbee Golf jocks either. A Wall Street Journal story recently interviewed ultra-marathon runners, who run up to 200 miles over 20-hour periods, and many noted that cannabis aids with the stomach cramps and intense muscle pain they endure along the way. “The person who is going to win an ultra is someone who can manage their pain, not puke, and stay calm,” said veteran runner Jenn Shelton. “Pot does all three of those things.” I have a better suggestion for these masochistic ultra-marathoners: moderation!

Even the World Anti-Doping Agency and U.S. Track & Field are coming around on dope. Last year the WADA raised the acceptable amount of THC a runner can have in his or her system, flagging only runners who use pot on the day of competition. Using marijuana during training sessions or as a sleep aid the night before a race is all good. There’s a reason the fastest man on the planet, Usain Bolt, is from Jamaica, mon!

Running high as a kite is not for everyone. Chronic smoking has been related to pulmonary irritation and symptoms of chronic bronchitis (including hocking loogies). “There are cardiovascular effects, like increasing heart rate,” says Gregory Gerdeman (The Pot Book) in the Runner’s World piece. “These may be minimal in young athletes or those with tolerance, but should be considered seriously by anyone at risk for coronary heart disease. Plus, there have been some studies that suggest it influences blood flow to the brain, which can influence the risk of stroke.”

Still, cannabis smoking doesn’t have nearly the negative effect on the lungs that tobacco does. The National Institutes of Health did a study in 2013 that I wish I’d been chosen for. They exposed a group of adults to up to seven “joint years”—one joint per day for seven years—and found that even those extremes didn’t diminish lung function. In fact, marijuana users in the study performed a little better than nonsmokers on a lung-function test, because ganja smokers were basically “training” over time by taking deep breaths and holding smoke in.

Outside did its own piece on stoned running (“Know Before You Go!”), and, while not condoning the practice, gave helpful tips, including not getting lost, bringing munchies along the way, and “dosing” in a safe environment: “You don’t want to be 10 miles into the mountains and suddenly feel like you need to take a nap because THC makes you sleepy, then find yourself dozing off in the middle of the woods with no food or shelter.” Their advice on dosing was a little . . . high: “While lower doses often lead to a relaxed physical state and sense of well-being, or a ‘body high,’ high doses can bring on an acid-trip type of experience with hallucinations and possible paranoia. Once the drug kicks in, the high can last from four to 10 hours, or possibly longer.” Not sure where they’re getting their ganja, but I want some. Wow!

My own advice is to use marijuana as a sort of reward after you exercise. The perfect indulgent treat? The CannaBar! It’s a protein candy bar made using almonds, honey, and hemp-based cannabidiols—with less fatty ingredients that the Clif bars you’re shakily shoving in mid-marathon. Sadly, the CannaBar is made with a cannabis sativa without much THC, so it doesn’t get you high; you’ll want to do that in the traditional way—and by that I mean taking off your Brooks, collapsing on the couch, and sucking down bong hits.

This article first appeared in the Seattle Weekly.

Higher Ground: Pot for Pets

Can weed give our furry companions happier lives and more peaceful deaths?

Remember the right-wing homophobes who claimed that if we allowed gays to get married, pretty soon people would begin marrying their pets? Well, now, the damn hippies who voted to legalize the wacky weed are indeed trying to get their dogs and cats stoned! Hooked on the hound hemp! The kitty chronic!?

Companies like Seattle-based Canna-Pet and Canna Companion sell cannabinoid treats for dogs and cats—not to get them high (the hemp biscuits and capsules have very low levels of THC), but to help with joint discomfort and inflammation, and hopefully to make that yappy poodle across the street calm the fuck down.

Recently the Food and Drug Administration began cracking down on pooch-pot peddlers for some of the claims made in their marketing materials. The FDA wants phrases like “anti-cancer” and “anti-tumor” taken off Canna-Pet’s packaging, as those medical claims have not been proven.

Canna Companion, from Snohomish County, says their products are all-natural, and inhibit cancer-cell growth and reduce inflammation. Clinical trials monitored by the FDA haven’t taken place, because of course at the federal level, the testing or sale of marijuana is a felony offense—not to mention it’s hard to get Fido to fill out the post-trial questionnaire. Cats are better at giving feedback, but are prone to hissy fits in the comments section.

Similar to humans, domesticated animals have endocannabinoid systems and can potentially be physically and psychologically aided by ingesting cannabis. While industrial hemp hasn’t been proven as a puppy painkiller, many vets and owners have had success using the stuff to help pets gain weight after sicknesses and surgery, as well as to provide pain relief during end-of-life stages. Los Angeles veterinarian Doug Kramer told the Associated Press that he’s had more than 300 patients use cannabis to help everything from infections to separation anxiety to feline immunodeficiency virus to irritable-bowel syndrome (which I thought was the very definition of being a pet). Talk about skunk weed!

After giving his husky, Nikita, cannabis oils for her terminal cancer, Dr. Kramer said she gained weight and was able to live an extra six pain-free weeks before having to be euthanized. “I grew tired of euthanizing pets when I wasn’t doing everything I could to make their lives better,” Kramer noted. “I felt like I was letting them down.”

Things are going a bit too far in Nevada, where, as part of a bill to overhaul their medical-marijuana laws, state Senator Tick Segerblom proposed a Pot-for-Pets provision that would require animal owners to apply for medical-marijuana cards. Cards would be issued only if a vet wrote a detailed description of how Count Flufferton’s condition might be aided with Puppy Chow Dank. Good Lord, it’s hard enough for folks to clean up after their pets, much less register them for a Canine Cannabis Card. Feed ’em all the Purina Cheeba ya want, as far as I’m concerned—just pick up the poop!

Veterinarians agree that feeding a pet straight marijuana or blowing pot smoke in Mr. Bigglesworth’s snout is never a good idea; most companies marketing for pets are using all-natural hemp treats, cannabis oils, and glycerin tinctures that can be put into the water bowl.

Not surprisingly, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has something to say on the matter. “Our position is that anything that can help animals,” stated President Ingrid Newkirk, “if it’s truly, properly administered in the right amount and can relieve a dog’s pain—then they should be given the same consideration that humans in pain are given.” (No comment on whether PETA gives ganja to the tens of thousands of pets they euthanize at their shelters after not finding homes for the non-rescued souls . . . )

While weed’s not a cure-all for everything; it’s also not gonna kill you (or your chronic companion). My neighbor’s golden retriever, Bailey, not only drank half a gallon of paint I had (stupidly) left out one summer day, but also chowed the brush and sponge inside it. She hurled a lovely shade of Benjamin Moore chartreuse-green for a week, but went on to live—and crap in my yard—for another decade. The bottom line is this: I don’t care if Snoopy gets high as the Red Baron on Snoop Dog Bud-Bones, just keep that pooch away from my personal stash. The steak’s for me. Lassie gets the leftovers.

This article first appeared in the Seattle Weekly.

Higher Ground: Christian Chronic, Killer Pot, and Some Suing Sheriffs

Passing the dutchie to the right this time.

The idea of Higher Ground is to “elevate the dialogue,” and thus it’s important to remain open-minded to individuals and organizations on all sides of the marijuana-legalization conversation. With that in mind, let’s light the peace pipe and reach the roach across the aisle.

WHAT WOULD JESUS DOO-BIE? Strongly opposing marijuana legislation are activists Alan Gordon and Anne Armstrong, who made headlines by bum-rushing a press conference supporting a new state legalization bill in Rhode Island. The duo aren’t against the notion of legal weed, but instead believe that taxing the plant is against the teachings of the Bible, and Satanic for putting money over patients’ rights. They take issue with the language of the law, claiming medical use of cannabis (which they believe is the Biblical plant called “kaneh-bos”) outweighs any laws, restrictions, or taxes.

“ ‘Marihuana’ is a slang term popularized by William Randolph Hearst in his ‘yellow journalism’ Reefer Madness-type propaganda,” Armstrong told “To pass laws about ‘cannabis,’ the plant specified in the Bible as essential to the Holy Anointing Oil, as ‘marijuana’ is as offensive to me as would be a law referring to ‘Equal Pay for Bimbos.’ ”

Gordon and Armstrong will be planting fields of the sacred herb in National Parks this summer, and dedicating them to religious freedom.

Praise Sativas!

CHRONIC KILLS New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is claiming that ganja is responsible for the murders, mayhem, and overall rise in crime in the Big Apple for the first three months of this year.

“In this city, people are killing each other over marijuana more so than anything we had to deal with in the ’80s and ’90s with heroin and cocaine,” Bratton stated. While murders in NYC have increased 17 percent from last year, whether pot is to blame is somewhat questionable. The overall crime rate in New York City is actually down: felony assaults have decreased 18 percent, robberies 22 percent, and crime on subways more than 25 percent.

Compare that to the largest cities that have legalized weed: In Denver, homicides are down 24 percent, but in Seattle they’ve soared—from 23 to 26. And the biggest fact-check of all: In 1990 there were 2,245 murders in New York. Last year? 383. While I’m attempting to be objective, it seems as though the marijuana plant’s not killing anyone.

SHERIFFS SUE While the Evergreen State skates, for some reason Colorado’s getting picked on, and has already been sued by neighboring states Nebraska and Oklahoma for its dope-smokin’ ways. Now a group of sheriffs from Kansas and Nebraska, and even inside Colorado, are piling on, and also filing suit.

“When these Colorado Sheriffs encounter marijuana while performing their duties,” the new lawsuit states, “each is placed in the position of having to choose between violating his oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and violating his oath to uphold the Colorado Constitution.”

The reason sheriffs from Kansas and Nebraska submitted the initial lawsuit had to do with the porous borders their states share with Colorado. Apparently, it’s too damn easy for Okies to mosey over to Colorado, pick up that-there marihuana, and cruise back home with the wacky weed to share with friends and family at the annual Toothless BBQ. (Sorry, I’m really trying here, I swear.) In addition to violating federal law, officers state, legalization in Colorado jeopardizes the U.S.’s compliance with international anti-drug treaties.

As the sheriffs put it, departments are “suffering a direct and significant detrimental impact, namely the diversion of limited manpower and resources to arrest and process suspected and convicted felons involved in the increased illegal marijuana trafficking or transportation in their jurisdictions.” Maybe they should consider legalizing it.

Funded by the Florida-based Drug Free America Foundation, the suit goes on to play the Kid Card! “As a result of Amendment 64-related interdiction efforts,” it mopes, “departments have been forced to scale back on drug education and awareness programs in schools.” That hurts. (A related aside: Marijuana sales in Colorado since Jan. 1, 2014 have brought in $15.6 million in excise taxes specifically earmarked and voter-approved solely for public schools, according to the director of the office of capital construction for the state’s Education Department . . . just sayin’.)

LEGALIZE LETTUCE Finally, a pro-life, pro-gun, Tea-Partying Texas Republican has a unique and simple take on the legalization matter: Take every law that prohibits weed off the books. Representative David Simpson of Longview said his bill would increase individual liberties and decrease government control, bedrock values of the conservative movement’s libertarian wing.

“I think we’re at a tipping point,” Simpson said. “I think it’s clear the war on drugs has failed, that the war mentality has eroded individual rights, the sanctity of one’s home, the ability to travel freely with dignity. And at the root of all this is prohibition.”

The bill is as no-nonsense as the man behind it. Rather than add flowery language about taxation and registration, House Bill 2165 simply regulates marijuana . . . as a plant.

“I’m hopeful that if this bill were to pass, we could see hemp cultivated and used as ropes,” noted Simpson. “We can see the marijuana with differing levels of THC used medicinally. I think it’s the right thing to do. It’s the conservative thing to do.”

The bill allows folks to farm it and use it, like tomatoes, coffee, and corn. Untaxed. Deregulated. Done and get ’er done.

This article first appeared in the Seattle Weekly

Higher Ground: The Stusser Omnibus Marijuana Bill

A modest proposal to head off the awful Senate Bill 5052.

Last week, three U.S. senators introduced a bill that attempts to amend many of the outdated medical-marijuana conundrums at the federal level. The bill would end the prohibition of medical marijuana, reclassify the plant from its current designation as a Schedule 1 narcotic (a status that suggests no medical value and high potential for abuse), and allow for more cannabis study and research. While the bipartisan bill doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of passing, it’s a great conversation starter.

Inspired by those ballsy senators—and in fear of the awful Senate Bill 5052 that is currently wending its way through Olympia—I’ve decided to take my own shot at solving Washington state’s own clusterfuck. So without further ado, I present the framework of my own Omnibus Marijuana Bill.

Let my people grow! I mean, really. Every other state that’s legalized marijuana has allowed citizens to grow for personal use, and we should too. It’s a no-brainer. Put a limit on the number of plants per person (six per adult, perhaps, or higher if used for medicinal purposes), and, like tomatoes and snap peas, allow folks to play in the garden. (Probably not a great plant for community pea patches, but fab for collective gardens for medical patients, many of whom are too sick to tend to the crop themselves.)

Regulate medical dispensaries. The state estimates that there are more than 1,000 dispensaries, operating all willy-nilly. While many are clearly fly-by-night operations that don’t check ID, a good number have been instrumental for decades in helping the medical community find strains and products and oils that help patients. So it just makes sense that any longstanding, established dispensary should be allowed to continue operating. Hell, I’ll pick a random number that can be allowed: 420.

No medical registry. The bill from Republican Sen. Ann Rivers that the state Senate just passed calls for the creation of a statewide registry for medical patients. Puh-lease. Patients don’t fear putting their names on the dotted line because they’re faking their illnesses to get cheaper weed, but because admitting to a felony at the federal level is a pretty bad idea. Patients can lose their jobs and have their children taken for this kind of admission. No registry.

Whack the taxes. Right now there’s a triple-decker tax structure in place: Recreational weed is hit with a 25 percent tax when it moves from farmer to processor, then again from processor to retailer, and again to the end customer. Pretty much everyone agrees a single tax is the best idea here—so pick a single sin-tax percentage and go with it. Too high, though, and I’m staying with my dealer.

Medical cards. Any patient with a qualified doctor who recommends (not prescribes) marijuana to alleviate suffering for terminal or debilitating conditions such as cancer, epilepsy, PTSD, and chronic pain should be allowed to purchase it tax-free at licensed medical dispensaries, just as citizens across the country (except Illinois) can receive their tax-free prescriptions for Ambien, Valium, Prozac, and whatever that purple pill is.

Free hemp now. My Omnibus Marijuana Bill is so comprehensive that I plan to roll hemp legislation into it, thus killing two buzzed birds with one stone: Legalize hemp for farming, commerce, and production, and just ignore the absurd bans on industrial hemp. Don’t be silly; the fibrous stuff doesn’t even get ya high.

Rec stores must stock medicinal products. Most of the individuals working to bring cannabis out of the shadows and into the legal mainstream were from the medical community—and riskily toiling long before the greedy Green Rush Potrepreneurs got in line for a Weed Lotto Ticket to make marijuana moolah. The least these green-lit licensees can do is stock their shelves with a small percentage of medicinal items in their inventory.

No pot, no pay. Cities and counties that ban marijuana outlets—either recreational or medical—will get absolutely no tax revenue from sales of marijuana. Period. In addition, as they are restricting both the will of the people and access for medical patients who may not be able to drive to places that do allow marijuana sales, these cities must build a FastTrack Elevated Electric Train system for their residents to travel from their homes to the nearest marijuana-friendly city.

Let’s get loungey! Pot lounges and cafes where adults can smoke marijuana are a safe and social way for folks to get fired up. Hell, even the Seattle City Attorney likes the idea. Allow for cigar lounges and smoky pool halls too! You don’t like ’em? Don’t patronize ’em! We’re not looking to be Amsterdam with a cannabis cafe on every corner—though if Howard Schultz wants to get into the franchise game, Starbuds is a damn fine name. Probably shouldn’t allow alcohol in cannabis clubs however; people get crazy on that shit.

This article first appeared in the Seattle Weekly.