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 . . .


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.