|Jacob Kunzler's Interview Questions
|By Andrew Looney
1. What initially stirred your interest in legalization? How did your activism get started?
In the early 90s, we were trying to decide what charitable organizations to support. My new wife and I were getting more and more solicitation letters from various organizations, seeking donations, and it seemed like every time we gave one group some money, 5 others sent us their letters. Obviously, you can't give to everyone who comes knocking, so how to choose? Even focusing on environmental charities left us looking at more groups than we could afford to fund. (The EcoFluxx Foundation will have no trouble finding options to share our donations with.)
I remember talking to my brother Jeff about the plethora of environmental charities and the difficulties in choosing who to support. He urged me to do research into what the groups actually do with the money, and encouraged me to support "underdogs." I particularly recall his enthusiasm for Bat Conservation International, a group devoted to helping protect bats. "Cute furry animals have plenty of friends," said Jeff, "but a lot of people dislike bats, so they're the ones who really need my help." The more I thought about that, the more I realized that the environmentalism movement itself has plenty of friends, and that the real underdogs were groups like NORML.
Also around that time, I started reading about the subject on primitive internet newsgroups, and in Jack Herer's important book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, which really opened my mind.
I decided to back the horse of legalization partly because I realized how stupid the drug war is, and just couldn't hold my tongue about it any longer, but also because I came to see it as a fight we could actually win. It seems weird to say that now, because our side still has so little voice and back then our cause seemed all the more hopeless. But the lessons of history show that laws of prohibition simply do not work and are eventually abandoned, and I quickly came to believe that the war on drugs was exactly as stupid as alcohol prohibition and would sooner or later be stuck down. And I still believe that.
2. Why do you feel so strongly about Legalization? What issues do you believe are at stake?
I'll start with one word: Freedom. How can we say we live in "The Land of the Free" when we don't have the right to smoke pot? It's my body and I should have dominion over it. If a woman has the constitutionally-protected right to terminate a pregnancy "because it's her body" then why do I not have the right to ingest a particular drug as long as I do so responsibly? Like the bumper sticker says: "Free or Drug-Free: America can't be both." I regard the smoking of pot as a personal act of rebellion against unjust laws, like my own little Boston Tea Party.
Secondly, there's the medical use factor, which I see is the subject of Question #4.
Thirdly, there's Amsterdam. One of the most transformative events of my life was visiting their coffeeshops in 1997, and seeing for myself a culture that thrives under de facto legalization.
Fourthly, there's religious use. Some pot-smokers use cannabis as a spiritual sacrament, and some users say getting high makes them feel closer to God. If that's true (and who's to say it's not?) then the war on drugs becomes government-sponsored religious persecution. Is that the American way?
Fifthly, there are other ways marijuana is beneficial, which are rarely if ever acknowledged. How much joy has been brought to the world by the artistic inspirations brought on by weed? The record album widely regarded as the greatest ever is Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which wouldn't have been the same at all if the Beatles had "just said no." I myself attribute some of my most important mental breakthroughs to insights I had while stoned. Would I have ever had those insights otherwise?
As an aside, I'd like to share a story from my days at Magnet Interactive Studios. I vividly remember late one afternoon, when we were looking at the work before us and the deadline we were supposed to finish it by, and realizing that the only way to possibly get it all done would basically be to stay all night working on it. And as we stood there discussing it, comparing the downsides of working all night with telling the boss we couldn't make the deadline, one of the artists said "Look, either we need to tell them now that it can't be done, or else let's dig in, order some pizzas, smoke a couple of joints, and get to work."
I remember feeling shocked by this statement, not because he was suggesting something illegal (I knew even then that many people I respected were pot-smokers) but at the idea that pot could enhance productivity, rather than detract from it, as I'd always been told and at that time believed. But now I see pot as being a tool an artist can use to get inspiration, much the way a trucker uses caffeine to stay awake during those long drives.
Having studied the effects on individuals and on society of booze, cigarettes, and pot, I've come to the following conclusions. 1.) Intoxication is a basic human desire that is never going away, 2.) pot is by far the least damaging of the group, and 3.) society would be better off accepting the reality of points 1 & 2 and allowing people who want drugs to choose pot over booze and tobacco.
3. Many have made claims that marijuana is prohibited because it is medically dangerous, and may cause neurological damage with extended use. What do you think about this?
I think all claims about the dangers of marijuana are exaggerated, if not entirely false. I know people who've smoked pot daily for 30 years or more and are still insightful, mentally sharp people. I think the claim that it makes you "de-motivated" is a lie, but people believe it because all they see are stereotypes of lazy people who happen to smoke pot. Unfortunately, the myth is rarely challenged, because successful people who smoke pot usually make a point of keeping this fact about themselves a secret. If only all the pot-smoking doctors and lawyers and engineers would come out of the closet, things might really change.
I think the biggest danger in marijuana use is the damage hot smoke can do to your lungs, but even there, I find it compelling (and recent studies are backing this up) that there appears to be little or no link between cannabis use and lung cancer.
4. It has been said that there are many legitimate and healthy medical uses for Cannabis. Where do you stand on the issue of Cannabis as Medicine?
To me, there's no question about it: marijuana has significant medical value, and anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or denying reality. I have seen first hand the medical benefits of marijuana. There's simply no doubt about it.
I'm going to go off on another tangent here. Did you ever see the movie, Alive? It was a depiction of the true story of the soccer team that survived a plane crash in the 70s, in the South American mountains, and stayed alive only by resorting to cannibalism. One of the most striking and memorable scenes, for me, was not the dramatic moment when they first resorted to eating human flesh, intense and memorable though that moment was. No, I found the scene after that even more interesting. What had it been like to do what they had done? How did they feel afterwards? Were they filled with remorse, self-loathing, regret about their actions? No, they felt *good*.
It's a great scene. The moment is conveyed, as I recall, entirely in images and expressions. Previously, these men were dying. Now, they were alive again. They felt better. They smiled. They had food in their bellies, and even though they'd had to break a major taboo in order to survive, it had been the right thing to do, for them, in that time and place.
I'm reminded of this scene by the struggle Kristin has with her migraines. Having lived with this wonderful woman for 16 years, I've seen her laid low by many a migraine. I can read the pain in her eyes. I've seen her try every treatment possible, and I've seen how some have been effective, and some have not. And from where I sit, nothing works as well as a puff or two of pot. Nothing even comes close. I remember what a difference it made in her quality of life when she discovered, in 1996, that doctors had been treating migraines with marijuana for centuries, and that it actually worked for her. Most pain-relievers don't touch the pain, or only temporarily mask the pain while making her feel much more drugged-up and useless than being stoned on pot. The 2nd best treatment we have is an injectable drug called DHE. A dose of that will generally get rid of one of her really bad headaches, but the side effects of DHE are numerous and unpleasant, and it's a slow-acting solution. She typically needs to go to bed for a few hours after getting a shot of DHE, and the migraine gradually eases. Then all she has to deal with is the pain at the injection site, that strange, creepy feeling in all of her muscles, and the lingering effect the drug has on her bowels. On the other hand, it literally takes just a minute or two for the effects of a good bong hit to make Kristin feel better. I can see the change come over her, and just like in that scene from Alive, we know it's the right thing to do, for us, at this time. We do it because we must. Rules be damned when it comes to my wife's suffering.
I wish everyone who lives with migraine pain, and everyone who knows someone with migraines, could see for themselves what a miracle drug marijuana really can be. Of course, different drugs affect people differently... just as Kristin has tried a number of painkillers that are effective for some migraine sufferers but not for her, so too would medical marijuana only be appropriate for some patients. But I wish more people understood and accepted how well it works in some cases.
5. Do you have any personal experience of the dangerous effects of prohibition and the war on drugs?
Happily, no. So far, we've been lucky, we've never had any trouble from the law. But I do know people who've been busted, and who've really had their lives messed up, not by drugs, but by the laws against them.
6. To what extent do you think that Cannabis ought to be legalized? Full legalization? As a controlled substance?
I am for full legalization, not just of pot but of all drugs. I think licensed vendors should be allowed to sell whatever chemicals they want, under the same rules, restrictions, and taxes, as are applied to alcohol and tobacco today. Decriminalization isn't enough; only full legalization -- or regulation, as I prefer to call it now -- will eliminate the black market.
Numerous negative consequences of the drug trade would be reduced or eliminated under regulation. If drugs were regulated and sold legally, access by minors would be more successfully restricted. As it stands, kids today have less trouble getting marijuana than they do getting beer or cigarettes. At the liquor store, they card you, but that friend of a friend of a friend will "hook you up" even if you're just a kid.
Then there are factors like purity and contaminants... I'm given to understand that most heroin overdoses are caused by varying levels of purity, or rather, impurity. Just as "bathtub gin" caused blindness and death during alcohol prohibition, the perils of hard drug use are made worse when uncontrolled.
But the negative consequences of the unregulated drug trade go even deeper. A lot of attention is being paid right now to the methamphetamine problem, and as usual, the media is totally missing the point. Is meth dangerous? Probably -- I wouldn't know. But I do know that, as with all other bad drugs, declaring it illegal doesn't make it go away, and instead just makes matters worse.
Here's the real point: the biggest problems associated with illegal meth go way beyond the impacts on the user's health, and are *entirely* caused by prohibition. Homegrown meth factories are vastly more toxic than basement marijuana farms, exposing others in the home, and even the neighborhood, to really nasty chemicals. I hear they blow up sometimes, and that meth-manufacturers often just dump the toxic waste from their "factories" right out in the environment somewhere. All of those negative consequences would go completely away if meth were legally manufactured in a controlled facility and sold through outlets like liquor stores at a price which could easily undercut, and thus eliminate, the black market. And instead of flushing money down the drug war toilet, people would have jobs, they'd pay taxes, and when their drug use becomes a problem, they could seek medical treatment without the shame of being called a criminal -- or worse, put in jail -- just as alcoholics can today.
Drug Regulation. Doesn't that sound sensible?
7. What exactly do you think is the price of this war on drugs? If the war on drugs continues unchanged, or worsens, where do you perceive America will be 20 years down the road?
I think the drug war damages America in subtle and troublesome ways, and things will just continue to get worse before they get better. When children are put into foster care because their parents are in jail for growing a few plants, does society benefit, or suffer? You may say they were unfit parents, but I'd say a pot-smoking parent who's home with his kids is a doing a much better job than one who is in jail for breaking a stupid rule. Then there are the financial impacts. Every person in jail for a non-violent drug crime is costing the taxpayers upwards of $25,000 every year. Every time we put a pot-smoker in jail, we not only remove his energies from the job market, we also then pay to feed and house him. The more people we incarcerate, the more jails we build, and the more we pour billions into the impossible job of stopping one of the biggest industries in the world instead of taxing it, the more damage we are doing to our national economy. With all the other threats our economy currently faces, we really can't afford to keep paying for the mistake of drug prohibition for much longer. I believe it's vital to the future of America that we end this misguided war, and soon.
8. Is there anything else that you'd like to say about this?
I believe prohibition is entirely unconstitutional. From my understanding of civics and my own reading of the constitution, the government simply does not have the power to restrict my access to a plant I am capable of growing myself. The amendment that made it possible to ban intoxicating beverages was stricken from the US Constitution in 1933, and no further provision has ever been added that makes it legal for the government to ban the possession of a dried-out dead plant. I really cannot understand how the obvious and glaring abuse of power inherent in the drug war has been allowed to continue for so long.
Thanks for thinking!
-- Andrew Looney