Medical Weed Growers in Canada Are Ready for a Fight
If you haven’t heard of marijuana activist and grower Mik Mann, he’s the articulate hippie and Frank Zappa look-alike we interviewed for our documentary BC Bud. He lives out in Port Alberni, a pretty remote town on Vancouver Island where he grows medicinal weed from the comfort of his basement garden.
For the last decade, Mik has enjoyed the benefits of a legal marijuana-growing license under Canada’s now-defunct federal Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR). He’s been floating on a healthy dose of seven grams of marijuana a day, which he cultivates from 35 plants with a doctor’s prescription for various debilitating conditions like spinal arthritis and degenerative disc disease. All that is officially set to change under the newly implemented and conservative-devised Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), which, among other things, makes it illegal for users to personally grow their own pot. Instead, medical users like Mik, who predominantly make less than $30,000 a year and suffer from various diseases, will be forced to purchase corporate dope: only for-profit companies can afford the extensive requirement for licenses to grow in the new system.
Right now, patients pay an average of $1.80 a gram for marijuana. That will rise to $8.80 a gram when the MMPR takes effect in 2014. Estimates slap those same patients with an additional $166 million a year for the next ten years. In other words, the 28,115 Canadians using marijuana to ease chronic pain will be forced to rely on pricier government-sanctioned companies instead of personally growing it themselves for basically nothing.
3500 Cops Who Want to Legalize All Drugs
“Just so we’re clear,” began Peter Christ during our first phone conversation, “if you look in Webster’s Dictionary at the word hypocrite, you will see a picture of me. I believed that this drug war was a stupid fucking idea even before I became a cop.”
For 20 years Officer Christ patrolled the town of Tonawanda, New York, a community of 80,000 just outside of Buffalo. Retiring from the force in 1989 as a Captain, he founded Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization of 3,500 former officers working towards the legalization of all drugs. I flew into Buffalo to join Peter for a drive around his old precinct and a discussion of drug policy. It was immediately clear which of the many idling cars in front of the arrivals hall was his. The license plate simply read: CHRIST.
We greeted one another and shook hands. “How did you beat all the Christians in the state of New York for that one?” I asked, pointing back towards the vanity plate.
The youthful 66 year old, with his ponytail and gold earring turned up his hands and grinned. “I was a cop,” he offered puckishly.
“OK, fair enough. Let’s talk about drugs.”
“My favorite topic.”
Peter drove as we talked.
“As an officer, what was your experience with the drug war?” I asked.
“I’ll tell you,” Peter began with a voice like a disc jockey - every word played for maximum effect. “By the time I was on the job four years, it became very evident to me that no matter how vigorously I or my brother and sister officers worked, it didn’t make any difference. We would have a series of burglaries or rapes in our community, somebody would arrest the burglar or the rapist, and for a while we wouldn’t have any more of those crimes. But no matter how many drug arrests we made, it didn’t make any difference. Because those people weren’t victims, they were willing participants in an economic transfer. It’s called business.”
“So, what’s your rationale for legalization?”
“Let me ask you, Roc,” he began, pausing dramatically “do you believe we can win the war on drugs?”
I took a breath.
He raised his hand. “Now, before you answer, let’s define what victory means. Nixon never told us what victory would look like when he declared this war, but it’s a war after all and we know how wars end - they end when you defeat the enemy. We won the Second World War. That means that we don’t fight the Germans or the Japanese or the Italians every six months, right? So, I’m gonna say, if we win the war on drugs, we’ve taken the words marijuana and heroin out of the dictionary. The drugs are gone. Let’s move on. Do you believe that is possible?”
The War on Weed: Racist, Expensive, and Failed
For years, anti-drug-war advocates have been saying, over and over again, that arresting people for possessing controlled substances overcrowds prisons, wastes resources, and destroys communities. Yet little has changed at the federal level. In fact, during Obama’s first three years as president, the arrest rate for marijuana possession was about 5 percent higher than the average rate under George W. Bush. At a certain point, you have to stop being subtle, which might be why the American Civil Liberties Union’s new study on the “war on marijuana” doesn’t fuck around: “Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests,” it announces in big, unambiguous letters right at the top.
The report—touted as the first comprehensive look at statistics on marijuana-related arrests in all 50 states—finds that enforcement of pot prohibition has been an even costlier and more racially charged nightmare than originally suspected. The data shows that over 8 million marijuana-related arrests were made between 2001 and 2010, costing taxpayers billions of dollars every year and branding many black youths as criminals, though they smoke pot at rates equal to their white peers. Indeed, the study finds that blacks are nearly four times as likely as whites to face arrest for pot-related offenses (and eight times as likely in some states, like Iowa).
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.
Exploring the Interior Design of Los Angeles Weed Clinics
If you own a store that looks great and people feel comfortable shopping there, nice work. If you’re operating that store under constant threat of raids and total shutdown, years of stressy politics, in-fighting, and a host of thug-life problems associated with selling a product that was until recently only available on the black market, then by all means take my seat on the bus. It takes a specific type of courage to run a good vibes medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, and it’s time this was acknowledged.
Ever since Proposition 215 legalized medical marijuana 17 years ago, Los Angeles City Council and the State of California have been shuffling regulation responsibilities back and forth, resulting in a constantly shifting patchwork of laws that make it pretty much impossible for marijuana dispensaries to draw up a solid business plan, much less think about feng shui. So it’s no wonder the typical LA dispensary has all the charm of a check cashing place: located in a mini-mall; sad, off-brand ATM in a linoleum corner; marker-stained dry erase board; bulletproof glass; a pleather couch, etc. Most dispensary owners just do not feel up to the task of interior design.
But luckily, there are some out there who do make the effort, and they give us a glimpse of what the future would look like if all the hasslers would just give it a rest and let dispensary culture evolve past the perpetually adolescent state of fighting for the right to exist. We took a tour of some of LAs more stylish dispensaries to see how they’re staying fabulous in the face of adversity.
“Everything you see is from Craigslist and is reupholstered with Duct tape every six months,” said Mandy atLA Confidential, a charming, nook-heavy hash bar on Melrose. They have a piano, jazz on Sundays, and a tiny stage where patients have been known to do some post-dab performing.
Dr. Sona Patel’s (aka Dr. 420) clinic in East Hollywood is the Versailles of Los Angeles marijuana clinics, complete with chandeliers and about a zillion gilded mirrors.
BC Bud, Part 1
With a reported value of over six billion dollars, it’s no secret that marijuana in British Columbia is big business. However, due to the recent legalization of weed in Washington and Colorado, the draconian crime laws pushed forward by the Canadian Conservative government’s omnibus crime bill, and recent changes to medical marijuana regulations, the entire industry is suddenly facing an identity crisis. VICE Canada decided to head out west to talk to the people directly affected by these recent events: from the legalization activists and the large and small scale growers, to the illegal traffickers and law enforcement, we talked to the people on the front lines of the battle for control over one of Canada’s most undervalued resource.
Watch the video
The Fugitive Reporter Exposing Mexico’s Drug Cartels
These are the opening paragraphs of Dying for the Truth, a book written about the infamous Blog del Narco, which fills Mexicans in on the (often bloody) activities of the murderous local drug cartels, where the nation’s mainstream media has failed:
Shortly before we completed this book, two people—a young man and woman who worked with us—were disembowelled and hung off a bridge in Tamaulipas, a state in the north of Mexico. Large handwritten signs, known as narcobanners, next to their bodies mentioned our blog, and stated that this was what happened to internet snitches. The message concluded with a warning that we were next.
A few days later, they executed another journalist in Tamaulipas who regularly sent us information. The assassins left keyboards, a mouse, and other computer parts strewn across her body, as well as a sign that mentioned our blog again.
However, we refuse to be intimidated.
As you can see, the people who keep the blog running risk their lives to do so. The book, which will be published in both English and Spanish by Feral House, will include a selection of the most relevant posts and pictures published between March 2, 2010, when the blog first started, and February 2011. Choosing to remain anonymous for safety reasons, the blog’s editor finally agreed to talk about her work, and the threats and trials she and the site’s programmer have faced in order to keep this project alive for so long.
According to the book, in 2012, their website—whose aim is to collect uncensored articles and images about the Mexican cartel’s extreme violence, their activities, and the government’s fight against them—registered an average of 25 million visits a month. According to Alexa, it is one of the most visited sites in Mexico. Although criticized by some media outlets for publishing gory images and information that’s given to them by cartels (such as executions and video messages aimed at rival organizations), the blog has become an essential source of news for journalists, citizens, and visitors.
VICE had the opportunity to speak with Lucy (a pseudonym she has chosen to protect her identity) about her blog, her new book, and what’s next for Blog del Narco.
VICE: Let’s start from the beginning. How did Blog del Narco come about?
Lucy: It was a way to show we were angry with the authorities and the media who had forgotten their number one responsibility, which is to keep the public informed. I’m a journalist, and my partner does both social networks and programming—so the idea was born, and on March 2, 2010, we went live with the blog.
Was there anything in particular that made you act?
Stories from people like, “I went on vacation to Tamaulipas and they were saying absolutely nothing on the news. I walked into the lion’s den and the gangs stole my vehicle, they locked me up for two days”—that kind of situation. People who had nothing to do with this, but ended up being affected due to a lack of information.
Why weren’t the media reporting what was going on?
They had been gagged in two ways: the federal government had told them, “You won’t say anything, there’s nothing going on here,” and on the other hand, there was the pressure from the criminal organizations.
81 Years for Weed?
Here’s how absurd the war on drugs has gotten: firstly, an activist from Keene, New Hampshire, is facing 81 years in prison for dealing marijuana; and secondly, even though he’s admitted on camera that he did sell about a pound of pot to an FBI informant, he’s still fighting the case in court in hopes the jury will acquit him.
The man’s name is Rich Paul, and his ordeal started last May, when he was arrested for selling weed and LSD (he claims he sold a legal chemical compound that wasn’t LSD). Instead of being charged with a crime, he wrote in a Facebook note about the incident and was taken to see an FBI agent named Philip Christiana, who threatened to throw the book at him unless he turned informer on his friends. According to Rich, Phil wanted him to wear a wire into meetings of a local political group he belonged to called the Keene Activist Center, lie to them about his arrest, and encourage them to commit crimes. Rich said no, and shared his story with the public—even going so far as to explain on video that he had been busted after selling ounces of weed to a confidential informant on multiple occasions.
There are several odd things about this trial, which started today. (Follow live updates through this Facebook page.) First, it’s not clear why the FBI, or this particular agent, was so keen, pun intended, to go after the KAC. Although the organization is “liberty-minded” (in other words, not fans of the police or other forms of government), it’s also explicitly nonviolent. Those kind of libertarian/anarchist/whatever-you-want-to-call-it politics are common in New Hampshire—in fact, groups like the Shire Society and the Free State Project encourage people who are tired of being hassled by the Man to move to the state, and the Keene area in particular. Acts of civil disobedience by the KAC and other activists are relatively common; Rich himself organized 4:20 PM “smoke-ins” at Keene’s Central Square to protest drug-prohibition laws.
In an email to me late last night, Rich said that his prosecution is an outlier. “Local law enforcement in Keene has always been extremely respectful, courteous and professional. Many of them, I will not say which, sympathize with us on many of our concerns, though most do not condone civil disobedience,” he wrote.