Should Smokers Want to Legalize Pot?

The former “High Times” editor thinks America is “going the legalization route.” But will marijuana lose its outlaw mystique?
  • Transcript


Question: If California legalizes marijuana, will the rest of the nation follow?

John Buffalo Mailer:  You know, there's a lot of forces opposed to it, so I don’t want to put the cart before the horse.  It’s looking like it’s going the legalization route, which, you know, a lot of people thought it needs to for a long time outside of recreational and medicinal use, just for crime reasons.  You know, we’re pumping our prisons full of petty weed offenses and it’s, you know, partially to feed that industry, but it’s not good.  It’s not good for society and you know people go in there as a minor criminal and come out as a real criminal.  You know, it seems to be the sense that once you throw guys in prison they’re not going to come out.  No, they’re going to come out and, you know, what kind of beast have you created from that process?  So, you know, we in 2004 when we were running High Times we took it in a very political direction and it was like a night and day transformation, probably too radical, honestly, in terms of the timing of the business mechanics of it, but you know, we were…  We had one of the original pot-smugglers-turned-outlaw-rider who had started the magazine there and he was a wild man, Richard Stratton, and myself and Annie Nocenti, and we just said hey, we’ve got a chance to really do what we want to do with this magazine, and the response was great.  I've got to say that people, you know, were tickled to be reading High Times.  Do you take it out on the train?  Do you not?  Things like that, but overall they were saying there is no other national magazine that we can get this kind of information from because essentially High Times is a mom and pop national magazine.  There is no corporate structure that you have to answer to.  You know, so it’s why I think it will always be around.  It’s been around for over 30 years now. 

So hopefully we played a small part in elevating the argument about legalization, making it less, “Hey man, stay off my weed,” to "Listen, we shouldn’t be putting people in jail for this.  This is a civil liberty issue.  You know, do what you want to your body when you’re alone, as long as you’re not hurting anyone else," and try to take that tack on it.  I think that probably the NORML organization and Ethan Nadelmann are most responsible for what has been going on.  But, you know, having a mother who has had cancer and fought through it and at times used cannabis to you know fight off nausea and whatnot.  I mean it’s not really her thing, but there were times when she needed it and the idea that you can’t have it because it’s an illegal drug, but OxyContin is legal.  That’s you know that’s just insane to a level that I think most people understand. 

Now, what’s against legalization in a practical sense?  You’ve got the oil industry.  You’ve got the cotton industry.  You’ve got the paper industry.  You’ve got alcohol and tobacco to a certain extent.  All of these industries are affected adversely by this.  There is a story—I don’t know if it’s true, but it made sense to me—that William Randolph Hearst actually back in the ‘30s I guess had just purchased whole fields and fields and fields of trees to print his paper on and at the same time a couple of college kids figured out how to take a hemp plant and turn it into newspaper and it was actually a better quality of paper.  It was cheaper and if you plant hemp in a field it revitalizes the soil.  You can grow food in a dirt lot if you do enough harvest of hemp and Hearst said, “This is going to put me out of business. I just spent all my money on these trees.”  So that is why he started that campaign linking hemp and marijuana together, calling it "the devil’s harvest" and all that.  Again you know I read this story when I was at High Times.  It seemed like a legitimate source.  Who knows if it’s true or not, but it makes sense and that is the kind of thing you’re up against.  I think that the reason why pot is illegal is much more because of hemp than it is for any societal reasons or stigma.

Question: Is there a sound economic argument for legalization?

John Buffalo Mailer:  Absolutely there is.  I mean, listen, we could be taxing it and making a bundle off of it.  You know, no, I don’t pretend to know the specifics of the economics of it to say how much we’ll be getting, but there is money to be made there that is not being made because it’s illegal.  Now, granted, there is a lot of money that is being made because it’s illegal and those people you would have to contend with as well, who are certainly not for it becoming legal.  You know, and then there's also just socially, personally.  There is something naughty about pot.  There is something that is rebellious and outlawish and a kind of, you know, a finger in the eye of the government saying, hey, you can’t tell me what to do.  That would be gone.  I remember talking to my dad about it in a book we did together called "The Big Empty."  He was saying like, “Oh, no, no, as soon as it’s legalized it will be ruined.”  “The corporations will get their hands on it. You’ll have, you know, pot with vitamin C and, you know, 'Viagratized High Toke.'"  You know different things like that.  That it won’t be, you know, they’ll put chemicals into it.  It won’t be that pure plant that it is now.  He may have a good point there.  Although I think that if you look at places like Amsterdam and places where pot is very legal they do well with it.  There is nothing taken away from it and crime is very low and all that.

Recorded March 30, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen