How to legalize marijuana the right way

Ngaio Bealum is a Sacramento comedian, activist and marijuana expert. Email him questions at

I saw your cover story last week. How was your trip? Do you think Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., will legalize weed this year?

—Beck Tuskool

It was great! Except for a little trouble. (I came down with The Quinsy. Look it up. All hail antibiotics!) I had a great time at the West Coast hemp fests. I even got to meet David Grisman again. Cool beans.

I also got to talk to a bunch of people on the West Coast about current conditions. When I was in Portland for the International Cannabis Business Conference, I talked to one of my homies that has been an activist for more than 10 years and worked on the 2012 Oregon legalization campaign. I can’t tell you his name, because he just got a job working for someone in Salem, but he is a good friend and a trusted source. Our conversation wasn’t even about specific policy, anyway.

Here’s the gist: It’s not over. The dominoes are falling. Marijuana legalization is on the ballot in Alaska. Philadelphia just voted to decriminalize marijuana possession. It looks like Washington, D.C., will vote on legalizing marijuana this November, and the measure is ahead 2-to-1 in polls of likely voters. Hell yes.

We are making more progress than ever before, but like my friend reminded me: “Battles never stay won and points never stay proven.” We can’t get complacent. Oregon isn’t a done deal. Current polls show support at 51 percent, and although opposition is only 41 percent, there are more than enough undecided voters that this thing could swing either way. So all you folks with friends living in Oregon, call them and remind them about the importance of legalizing weed. The Oregon measure is my favorite one so far.

Another thing we talked about is having some social consciousness. Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, had this to say about the “Green Rush”: “Here are white men poised to run big marijuana businesses, dreaming of cashing in big—big money, big businesses selling weed—after 40 years of impoverished black kids getting prison time for selling weed, and their families and futures destroyed. Now, white men are planning to get rich doing precisely the same thing?”

Good point. I am not sure what the solution will be. Should black people ask for “weedparations”? Would it be weird to have an affirmative-action program for the weed industry? An urban-job-training program? Keeping people out of jail is a good step, but what else can we do?

My friend again: “We have to make sure that this industry doesn’t exclude the same people that bore the brunt of prohibition.” Amen.

I know money changes everything, but it is up to us, the activists and dreamers, to make sure that the new cannabis industry is as fair as we can make it. We are so close. Let’s make sure we do it right.