Attorney and Activist David Pullman on the state of the race for cannabis freedom

October 30, 2010 in Legalization

There are a few days until election day and it looks close. I’m gonna bust my ass for this cause until the day comes, but I’m also taking a realistic assessment of the situation (something I highly recommend to all of those who are voting down Prop. 19 in favor of their fantasy of Hemp 2012 passing). The usual cast of characters has come out against this initiative with a reefer madness that apparently never gets old, but what has really disturbed, disappointed, and disgusted me is that some of the modern day Harry Anslingers of prohibition come right from the ranks of those groovy people that until now I had idealistically called my “family.” There has been a lot of disinformation and division amongst the pro-marijuana community and what arises in me is a deep sadness and a disillusionment from the notion that there is a tribe of us that I’ll inaccurately call hippies (hipsters, burners, rainbows, deadheads etc.) that actually share a higher ideal and a vision for a more just  world, rather than just pursuing our own self-interests.

As a young deadhead, I spent two and a half years in New York State prison for selling LSD (from age 19-22). This is the mighty wrong and the big wound of my life – the time where I suffered alone in the darkness of the dysfunction of society and felt the deep hurt of a brutal injustice burn deep into the visceral core of my being. For my intended audience here, I don’t need to explain why locking me up was an injustice, however foolish my actions may have been. Instead, I want to talk about what that injustice motivated me to dedicate my life to.

When I got out of prison, I moved to California, grew my dreadlocks, flew my freak flag, and channeled by energy towards fighting back against the drug war. I walked from San Diego to Sacramento for hemp awareness, I petitioned for two of Jack Herer’s initiatives, and I formed my own little activist group in Santa Cruz. I felt an alliance with all pot people – we did our drugs/medicines, we grew them and we sold them, but we all, in my eyes, were down with the cause of marijuana legalization and ending the drug war. I felt part of a movement that had been struggling since before I was born to put a stop to the criminalization and incarceration of people whose only crime was to use a substance that alters their consciousness, as had been done throughout the history of humanity. I continue to feel part of that movement and it motivates me every day in my practice as a criminal defense lawyer. On a political level, this movement has mostly seen failures, with a few successes here and there along the way – Prop. 215 being the biggest of them so far. Politicians consistently letting us down, we’ve tried for decades to get a non-medical marijuana legalization measure on the ballot and always failed to even gather enough signatures. Then, along came, Prop. 19, certainly not perfect, but the best chance we’ve ever had or conceivably will have in the near future, and the shenanigans began that have shaken my entire vision and faith in the righteousness of the people that I had thought of as my tribe.

I actually used to be so foolish as to believe that there were two worlds, rainbow vs. Babylon, one full of integrity and beauty and the other one ugly and corrupt. Now, I’ve seen and grok fully that we are all Babylon, the rainbows perhaps moreso than anyone else. The most disturbing and widespread falsehoods about Prop. 19 emerged, not from the prison guards union or the chamber of commerce, as was to be expected, but from a sparkly dreadlocked hipster queen  with a wicked gift of gab and a pen that proved to be mightier than the truth itself. This misinformation was quickly debunked by those who were much more qualified to weigh in on the subject. The distortions were actually pretty transparent, but somehow these anti-19 myths found fertile ground in a big way with that sector of the “family” that just so happen to have an economic interest in keeping their “sacred herb” illegal.

Amazingly, amongst my friends who are opposed to Prop. 19, over 90% of them happen to be those whom I know as medical marijuana growers who profit off of the fact that marijuana is illegal and the price is astronomically high relative to the ease with which the plant could be grown. It is definitely no coincidence that the non-growers might fall temporarily under the spell of the misinformation campaign, but keep an open mind and any falsehoods that they learn about the initiative are easily corrected, while the growers (and there are thankfully many beautiful and noble exceptions – Love You!) are just so inclined to believe and latch onto even the most ludicrous of the anti-19 propaganda (think anything that has to do with Monsanto). Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for growing and selling marijuana. I’ve been a dealer, a grower, a trimmer, and might even hold the world record for the most ganja gooballs sold in one day. But, I always supported the cause of legalization and knew that when the time came, I would put aside my profits and move on for the greater good of the world.

Tellingly, these growers all couch their objections to Prop. 19 in economic terms (gives all the power to corporate mega-grows, takes away the rights of mom and pop growers, Walmart, Starbucks, economy of Humboldt county etc. etc.), reducing what they call the “sacred herb” to a mere commodity and bickering over who gets the right to profit off of it. Aside from the fact that most of these arguments are based on misinterpretations of what the initiative actually does, I don’t give a fuck who gets to sell it. This isn’t and never was supposed to be about profits. Although a lot of good things have come out of the profits we have made, the fact that there were ever any profits to be had is just a perverse benefit that we’ve managed to gain out of the sickness of the drug war. The profits were never supposed to be the the point – they were a fortunate side effect of a very unfortunate situation.

I don’t give a fuck about Richard Lee either. He seems to me to be a great guy with a long history of hemp activism who has been unfairly cast as a villain, but even if he was the biggest asshole in the world, I would still support his initiative. Because this struggle isn’t about Richard Lee and it isn’t about a bunch of hippies (using the term very loosely) who have become addicted to and feel entitled to continue making (relatively) easy money. This initiative is about the people and their freedom to smoke and/or grow whatever the fuck they want without running into a hassle with the law or losing their jobs. If you think Prop. 19 won’t help much or that marijuana prohibition is not a big problem under the current status of decriminalization, I can rattle off to you a list of reasons why my experience as a lawyer proves you wrong. As I’ve been arguing to many people, the overbearing weight of marijuana prohibition does not fall most heavily on a bunch of mostly white, privileged, middle class hipsters with medical marijuana cards and the ability to hire a lawyer. Prohibition comes down most heavily on the most vulnerable and marginalized populations – the poor, the undocumented, people of color, homeless people, street people, people on probation or parole, people with warrants, etc. It is these people that I find myself representing in the courtrooms every day, not the groovy family that I originally thought I was going to be fighting for. Very few of these people have medical marijuana cards. They don’t have money, access, information, and they either don’t want to or they don’t trust that they can get away with pulling off a medical marijuana scam.

There is no doubt that if marijuana is legalized, under any measure, the price will drop drastically and a lot of growers will have to either switch to growing mushrooms or find a legal source of income. Every good cause has its share of economic casualties. We can all probably agree that we should not cut down any old growth redwoods, but what happens when we have a job in that industry or we have a tree on our own property that we want to cut? Do we latch on to some phony claims to justify our opposition to the environmental protection or do we put our own personal economic issues aside and vote for the greater good? That should be a rhetorical question, but in fact it’s not. We usually villainize those loggers or corporations that fight environmental protections to protect their own financial interests, but now we have become just like them, haven’t we?

Legalized marijuana has a long list of traditional foes – the cops, the politicians, the prison guards, the alcohol industry, the moralists. In order to beat them, we need every single pro-pot person fired up, activated, and unified or, at the very least, not getting in the way. In order to pass this or any other marijuana initiative we needed to get every pot person to register to vote, to call their friends and family to urge them to support the cause, to write letters to the editor, to talk to people about it and put a human face on this struggle. Instead, and incredibly ironically, it is the mainstream liberals who are supporting this, while the hippies have joined up with the conservatives in spreading falsehoods and smears about it. I’m confident that just about every one of you who reads this, if you really understood the legal terms of the initiative and the enormity and importance of this issue (this is not just about California) and put aside your own economic interests, would be a full supporter of Prop. 19, warts and all.

I still think there’s time to pass this thing, or at least restore my faith in the inherent goodness of this subculture that I am part of. I encourage every one of you to look into your heart and be honest about why you really are against this. Then call all of your friends and family and tell them you’ve had a change of heart and you’ve seen the light and realize that we all have to vote YES on this. Maybe once in a generation do the economic and political realities come together in such a way that something like Prop. 19 stands a chance of passing. Now is the time. We won’t get another realistic chance for a very long time. Bring the herb out of the closet and into the sunlight where it belongs! Take the illegality and the money out of the marijuana business! Do it for a better world! If not, I love you, but I also think you’re being kind of an asshole.