Get Rich or High Trying: The Coming Age of Corporate Cannabis
“At this moment in history, you’ve got to choose between being in favor of legalization, or being against ‘the system.’”
Mason Tvert is leading a quick tour of what he irreverently describes as the Marijuana Manor—a genteel, three-story, historically-registered, 1880s-era brick and stained-glass building in downtown Denver that was recently converted into permanent office space for a consortium of do-gooders fighting to make legal cannabis work in America. The building houses four separate activist organizations, a trade association, and a law firm. Tvert is clad in a conservative suit jacket and tie worn above a pair of faded blue-jeans—an ensemble compiled in deference to a remote television appearance earlier in the day that shot him from the waist up. His clashing outfit offers an unintended statement on the split-personality of the pot world right now: Business in the front, party in the back.
Last November, Tvert certainly had plenty of reason to celebrate, after heading a historic campaign that saw voters in Colorado approve Amendment 64 by a wide margin, ushering in a new era of state-legal commercial cannabis cultivation and retail sales of up to an ounce for all adults 21 and over. A similar ballot initiative in Washington State also passed easily on the unforgettable night when pot outperformed the president, while making headlines around the world.
To date, lawmakers in both states continue to work out exactly how to implement the herb-friendly will of their citizenry, ever-mindful that a miraculous crop that can’t kill you, won’t hurt you, and just might heal you remains fully illegal under federal law, even if you’ve got terminal cancer and floor seats to see Phish. Despite the fact that smoking a joint remains a lot less dangerous than swilling booze. Not to mention that the same federales imposing cannabis prohibition ultimately answer to a guy best known in his youth for “roof hits,” “interceptions,” and sharing some righteous Maui Wowie with the Choom Gang.
Teens Are Trapped in Abusive, Cult-Like ‘Drug Rehab Centers’
If you like Army Wives, Preachers’ Daughters, Dance Moms, or any other TV show attempting to create a taxonomy of women based on the professions of their husbands, fathers, and children, then you may well have caught an episode of Teen Trouble. It’s a reality TV show on the Lifetime network where a guy named Josh Shipp sends “at-risk teens” to “alternative rehab centers,” where they’re forced to endure emotional and physical abuse before being allowed to rejoin society.
Shipp is your classic Jerry Springer brand of therapist—no real qualifications, a huge ego, and a penchant for money and entertaining TV over science and genuine psychology. “I’m a teen behavior specialist,” he says in the intro. “My approach is gritty, gutsy, and in your face.”
But the show is a lot grittier than you might expect from that typical teleprompter spiel. The unregulated “troubled teen” industry is able to persist despite numerous allegations of physical and sexual abuse,torture, and death at various institutions, and Shipp is exploiting that same system for monetary gain. Even when they aren’t abusive and/or deadly, the pseudoscientific practices used at “tough love boarding schools” have often proven to be ineffective and can lead to PTSD, anxiety, depression, and drug addiction. Maia Szalavitz, author of Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids, told me about some of the horror stories her own research uncovered.
“The classic list is food deprivation, sleep deprivation, public humiliation, beatings, and denial of access to the bathroom to the point where you wet or soil yourself. But I’m also constantly hearing stories of people being forced to re-enact various traumas, like being raped,” she told me.
In 1974, the Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky set about turning the classic sci-fi novelDune into a major motion picture. He recruited Orson Welles, Pink Floyd, H. R. Giger, David Carradine, Salvador Dali, and Mick Jagger to the project, completed 3,000 pieces of story art, and spent millions of dollars preparing for production. Investors balked when he asked for more—and when they realized the script would account for a meandering 14-hour film—and it was ultimately shelved.
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Toronto’s Rob Ford, the World’s Greatest Mayor, Smokes Crack
There came a point on Thursday afternoon—after learning that Toronto mayor Rob Ford had taken some time off from an important city-council meeting to wander around a parking lot sticking “Rob Ford” magnets to cars—that I figured it would be time to update you about the ongoing saga that is Robbie’s intoxicated reign over the Kingdom of Toronto. Way back when, before the already infamous crack-cocaine scandal of May 2013, the magnet controversy of 24 hours earlier didn’t seem so important. That is, of course, until Gawker broke the story that some guy, somewhere, has a video of King Robbie smoking crack from a glass pipe. And the footage is for sale. Until someone buys it, you can always watch the Taiwanese CGI reenactment.
Gawker—who have decided that this is not an “alleged” or “supposed” crack-smoking incident, given that they’ve got a graphic that reads “Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Smokes Crack” on their homepage—have caused a major firestorm for King Robbie the First in the City of Toronto. The Toronto Star, an ungrateful and petulant organization that is hell-bent on taking down the mayor, has viewed the tape “three times” but was clearly too cheap to buy it and stream it for the royal subjects of the Rob Ford empire. Plus, according to them, they saw this video on May 3. Why keep all this crack-smoking mayhem a secret? And what kind of incompetent blackmail-video salesman is behind this controversy? How can you mess up on monetizing such a golden piece of footage? One must assume they’re ready to let it go at fire-sale prices right now.
Austerity’s Drug of Choice: Sisa
Standing in the Athens police headquarters, interviewing the director of the drug unit, I realised I had a bag of chemically enhanced crystal meth in my pocket. I’d bought it the night before from a Greek homeless man and had forgotten to throw it away. After the interview, I stepped outside to smoke a cigarette, which is when some officers noticed the film crew I had brought along, who were recording from a distance.
Minutes later the cops dragged us into a holding room, the little packet of drugs still stuffed in my pants. They made some calls, glared at us and eventually, reluctantly, released us – without ever searching me, thankfully. On my way out, I threw the baggie into the first garbage can I passed.
Several Greek police stations have been firebombed in recent months, so the cops have reason to be nervous, especially when they notice that they are being filmed. On our first evening in Athens, a different group of officers approached us and, after spotting our film crew down the street, demanded to see our papers. They deleted our footage and detained us for a couple of hours, until we’d managed to get our passports delivered to the station. Greece is a paranoid place at the moment. The police, fascists, anarchists, dealers and drug users are all fighting for local supremacy and no one trusts anyone else.
The night before our close call at the Athens police headquarters, I was approached by a group of homeless people, one of whom was smoking some horrible-smelling stuff through what appeared to be a meth bowl made from an old lightbulb. Although I don’t speak Greek, I managed to let him know that I wanted to buy some of the drug, colloquially known as sisa. The homeless guy wandered off with my five-euro note, and afterward an old man grabbed my arm and shouted, “No, no take! Very bad.” I wasn’t going to smoke it, but I was very curious about Greece’s infamous new drug.
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These Rappers Hate Ecstasy
When ecstasy became widely available three decades ago, it was largely consumed by suburban white kids wearing baggy cargo shorts who sucked pacifiers in abandoned warehouses, while listening to electronic music of some sort or other until they collapsed in exhaustion. Over the past decade, it seemed to fall out of favor with drug users, who veered more toward cocaine and other stimulants to fuel their partying needs. Then some narcotics-marketing genius (I’m convinced this is a real job) decided to rebrand MDMA, ecstasy’s key ingredient, as “molly,” and everyone from Kanye to Rick Ross to your little sister at this very moment is putting it in his or her mouth and asshole with reckless abandon. The hip-hop community’s embrace of the drug has been especially striking, since historical stereotypes dictate that rappers are normally more interested in chilled-out drugs like cough syrup and weed. But one hip-hop group from Brooklyn is not onboard. Stereo Marz, a trio who formed earlier this year, titled their debut track “Anti-Molly,” and the message is pretty clear: “Yo, this drug is fucking wack! / [they] ain’t fucking with that molly / and if you do you can’t come to my party.” I spoke with two of Stereo Marz’s three members, Desi Dez and Shaun “Bizy” Gabriel, about what was wrong with a drug that makes you love strobe lights and songs and sticking your tongue down some stranger’s throat all night long.
VICE: Why do you hate molly so much?
Desi Dez: I’m disgusted, in fact, very disgusted with all these artists being big advocates for this molly thing. We’re totally against that—for us, it’s weak. We don’t feel that.
Shaun “Bizy” Gabriel: The atmosphere in schools has changed in the past five years with kids doing molly. They’re selling it in candy wrappers, tricking kids.
Why do you think its popularity has increased so much over the past few years? Most rappers seem to love it.
Desi: That’s the reason! All these top-notch artists are the voice for this drug, so the younger kids see it as cool. Same with any propaganda, if it’s repeated enough, people just accept it.
Bizy: I don’t know if people are being paid to rap about molly, but I’ve heard people say that could be a possibility. It just came out of nowhere. What we do know is it’s being promoted every day.
Do you think molly will become a sort of new crack epidemic?
Desi: Definitely. It’s targeted at kids. That’s what it’s geared up for. The suppliers are going to put more stuff in to make it more addictive, and by that time, you’ve got a lost generation caught up on this, just like what the crack game did. It’s all a setup.
Do you have any parting words for rappers who can’t get enough of it?
Bizy: Man, pop the molly up your ass! We don’t respect molly.
More about molly on VICE:
The Dutch Love Ecstasy So Much Their Dirt Is Toxic
I Used My Stock Market Millions to Throw Raves and Sell Drugs
SiHKAL: Shulgins I Have Known and Loved
My Strange Weekend at a Bike Race with Lance Armstrong and a Crack Addict
Above: The author (behind Lance Armstrong) and Geoff the crack addict (in the green shirt).
I had no idea there was a huge bicycle race about to take part in Oaxaca. In fact, I’d only headed there because I’d stumbled around Mexico’s dusty north for too long, and the Lonely Planet guide suggested Oaxaca—a municipality around 300 miles south of Mexico City—as a great place to stop before I took the plunge down into the jungles of Guatemala.
I was on the second flight of the day (Monterrey–Mexico City–Oaxaca) when a woman leaned across the aisle and asked if we were athletes. I glanced at the guy next to me, who looked at me as though I might have the answer to the woman’s question. I knew I wasn’t an athlete—I get exhausted playing Mario Kart—so that much was certain. But the guy next to me was small and compact—wiry, with a shaved head that looked like it might make him better at sports.
“I’m not an athlete,” he said, as though it was a question he was asked every day.
“Me neither,” I said, over the top of the passing drink cart.
The woman sat back in her seat. “Oh, I thought you were taking part in the race.”
The small muscular guy and I exchanged glances. Clearly, neither of us knew the slightest thing about any race, but looking around the plane, it did seem that something was afoot. Ridiculously healthy-looking people from all over the world were crammed into their seats, looking tanned and toned. I looked down at my skinny, bright red arms, then across to my new friend; this woman had to have been messing with us.