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The Mainstreaming of Marijuana

The new hemp can no longer trade on rebellion


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Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Author: Todd Babiak, The Edmonton Journal 
Published: April 15, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Edmonton Journal
Contact: [email protected]

Three men in black, on wooden stools, with binders open in front of them, say "Marijuana." They are careful with the word, thoughtful and defiant. We understand they are reclaiming marijuana, pulling it back from the forces of ignorance and repression, from media distortion, from The Man. "We say it because we want to feel comfortable saying it, not ashamed and guilty," one of them says.

Using the flat intonations and strategic repetitions of The Vagina Monologues, the three men of The Marijuana Logues exploit the dying days of marijuana's comic potential. Their show has been off-Broadway since the end of March. "You've got to know a guy to get marijuana," says the monologist in the middle, Doug Benson. "We worry that something could happen to the marijuana guy. We worry that we will have to get a new marijuana guy."

Smoking marijuana can be funny, and dated propaganda films such as Reefer Madness are unintentionally hilarious. However, watching people smoke marijuana hasn't been funny since the '70s. Hollywood screenwriters and the people who pay them have been ignoring this truism for years, subjecting us to embarrassing provocations such as Half Baked and How High.

"In Amsterdam, I might laugh at comedies like that, but not here," says Benjamin Currie, manager of the True North Hemp Company on Whyte Avenue. "It's a mockery of our beliefs. These sorts of movies and other treatments in the media over-popularize without education. Even if people are pro-marijuana, they don't know why."

The hemp industry can't trade on comedy or rebellion anymore. The classic marijuana magazine, High Times, went through a re-design recently because the first battle for the hearts and minds of North Americans has been won. The demon weed isn't a demon anymore. High Times now looks and reads like a general interest magazine with a focus on activism and a centrefold photograph of a Hindu Kush.

This mainstreaming of marijuana is profitable, but earnest advocates also find it superficial and annoying. In the entrance to True North, a variety of pamphlets promote the use of hemp as food, as paper, as fuel, as clothing and as medicine. New customers don't reach the rolling papers and pipes and shapely bongs until they've been educated.

There are now three hemp shops on Whyte or just off-Whyte, with new ones opening all over the country, but Currie isn't satisfied with economic benefits. Behind his gentle demeanour and full beard, he's exasperated. "Our focus isn't so much marketing as informing. Until we have full legalization, things won't change for us."

Not everyone is allowing Canada's sluggish pace on legal reform to get in the way of a party. Jupiter Cannabis Culture, a few blocks east, embraces the commercial potential of the new hemp.

"I would actually prefer not to have to deal with the anti-establishment, anti-authority side of things," says Tom Doran, who owns the attractive and inviting shop with his parents. "We opened up right when people started talking about decriminalization, and it really helped. If kids see popular actors smoking blunts in movies, or talking about it in public, they'll see it's OK. And if they see it's OK, they'll do it. And if they already do it, they'll do more of it."

For now, hemp is being packaged with hackeysacks, body jewelry, tattoos and piercings. This already seems passe, as old markets and stereotypes fade with the Cheech and Chong posters. According to the Canadian journal Cannabis Health, the marijuana industry in B.C. is worth between $4 billion and $6 billion.

As the slow crawl towards decriminalization and eventual legalization continues, cross-promotions with everything from professional wrestling and Doritos to yoga mats and old Warner Brothers cartoons are inevitable.

The new marijuana guy is called a sales associate. He wears a uniform. How can he help you?

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