You talk about having experienced “hippie bigotry” at various moments in your career. How has it changed? Would you say that it’s gotten better or worse? Is its presence within the weed activist community (e.g. Cheryl Shuman) a new phenomenon?
Anyone who dresses and talks different from TV sitcoms will be subject to varying degrees of prejudice and persecution. Respect for hippie culture is probably at an all-time low, but this is a swinging-pendulum and love for non-violent communication skills will return. Meanwhile, the excesses from the first wave of hippie culture continue to be examined so as to avoid making the same mistakes twice. And there were a lot of mistakes, so this review process is important.
What role do you think stoner/hippie aesthetics play in the legalization movement, if any? I spoke to someone who made the argument that dressing differently from the mainstream—and obviously pro-marijuana—was important to activism because it spread a message. What’s your take?
People should dress however they want, but ceremonies have appropriate costumes that can enhance ritual and contribute to a sense of enchantment. You don’t wear a Brooks Brother’s suit to a Rainbow Gathering, and you don’t show up for a business meeting in a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops. When the Pot Illuminati meet for major ceremonies, we tend to dress up as if going to Sunday church and pay considerable attention to our accessories, although I prefer scarfs and ascots to ties. But we still manage to look different.
How has the aesthetic associated with weed culture changed the since the 60s/70s? I know this is a huge question—if there’s a book on this topic you want to point me to I’d be happy to check it out.
Nothing stays the same; everything is constantly evolving although the same dramas go round and around in cycles. The most noticeable fashion change may be the adoption of flat brim hats, something that began in hip hop and crossed over to stoner world. Hip hop has had the biggest impact in the last 20 years.
In 20 years, what do you think the aesthetics of weed will look like?
Everything goes in cycles, and old concepts will be celebrated and adapted for new generations, but it will happen in waves that are unpredictable. Pants will go baggie, then narrow, same with lapels and ties. How much of this is driven by the fashion industry and how much by street fashion I can’t say, but hip hop started in the streets.
Are there any historical moments where this debate over weed’s “image” came up in other contexts?
In the late 1970s, NORML killed the smoke-ins because they were seen as counter-productive. This is when the divide between the Grateful Dead culture and the “suits” first appeared, although it wasn’t hostile at first. After the rallies disappeared, it appeared to many hippie culture had disappeared, but it had really just gone underground.
In 1986, I made an effort to bring back the rallies, only as “hemp rallies” not “smoke-ins.” NORML saw the wisdom of this and supported this new hemp movement, but it was really me and Jack Herer and Debbie Goldsberry and Paul Stanford and Brian, and especially thanks to Doug McVay, who bridged the two coasts. High Times was the eight hundred pound gorilla in creating this new movement, and since I centered it on Jack Herer as our spokesman, he quickly transformed from “crazy Deadhead nobody listened to,” to Moses of Marjuana, a title he fully deserves.
But after Jack got really big, he began venting against High Times and NORML for ignoring him for years, and sadly he never really acknowledged my role in public until shortly before he died, when a filmmaker asked him how it all began and he said “Steve Hager.”
Everything changed at High Times after I arrived, and the magazine began exploring not just hippie culture, but post-modern shamanism and conspiracy theory, essential elements for true enlightenment. I’d encourage you to check out my most recent book, Killing Lincoln: The Real Story to get an understanding of deep politics because Lincoln was an inside job, but then so was JFK and so was 9/11.
Six global companies own 1,500 media outlets, and you can’t talk about inside jobs in the mass media or they’ll break your rice bowl and paint you crazy. Look what they did to Gary Webb for exposing CIA cocaine. Eventually this dam is going to break, however, and when it does, there’ll be massive loss of faith in our major institutions. But we can prepare our spiritual cultures by helping them evolve. My idea is to dump all the dogma, but keep the best rituals, myths and poetry intact, only mix them up into one universal stew. Do what you want, just don’t hurt anybody.
There is a tremendous sense of greed infesting the cannabis world presently, and this is something new, and our arena has become a breeding ground for scam artists of every stripe and variety. Meanwhile, the original activists remain united on our desire to see the cannabis industry maintain a higher level of business ethics than those typically found on Wall Street. We know cannabis carries a heightened sense of spirituality, and that’s something many cannabis carpet baggers may never comprehend.