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John Buffalo Mailer is an author, actor, playwright, and producer, as well as the youngest child of novelist Norman Mailer. In 2005 he co-wrote the novel "The Big Empty" with his[…]

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

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

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

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

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

Question: Is there a sound economic argument for rnlegalization?

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

Recorded March 30, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen