Bianca Green (formerly Barnhill) started an anti-drug campaign in high school that would’ve made the Reagans proud. For this reason, it took major life events (including a cancer diagnosis) for the former model to embrace cannabis, and when she did, Green felt betrayed as she realized the Drug War had fed her lies her entire life. The former Drug Warrior quickly became a leading advocate for medicinal cannabis and drug policy reform, and she joined High Times magazine as its west coast correspondent. She later served as Executive Producer of The Culture High, arguably the best cannabis documentary to date, became a board member for Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and started organizations like B.E. Green Media, the House of Green and Spark the Conversation. This summary represents the mere tip of the iceberg, so to speak, in describing the tireless sacrifice and activism that defines Green’s advocacy.
Last fall, Green took Spark the Conversation on a west coast tour to prompt dialogue about the upcoming proposition to legalize recreational cannabis in California. Many growers were divided about the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative (Proposition 64), many feeling they braved many risks these past few decades only for larger businesses to swoop in and reap the rewards. Green did not seek to change minds per se, but she did want to start a conversation and establish common ground for all cannabis enthusiasts. Of course, many of the events also helped mainstream cannabis, such as a kick-off party at the Beverly Hills shop of jewelry designer Jacquie Aiche that was attended by the likes of Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Vanessa Hudgens.
Green’s uncle and godfather is a top criminal defense lawyer who worked with the likes of Huey Newton, Timothy Leary and John Gotti, Sr. and ran High Times for 42 years until his death in 2016, and she epitomizes that same fighting spirit seeking justice, equality and reform. PRØHBTD spoke with Green about her advocacy shortly after the Spark the Conversation tour ended and as she prepared to head upstate to continue working with the NorCal cannabis farms.
Tell me about Spark the Conversation.
I started Spark the Conversation as a board member from Americans For Safe Access, a patient advocacy group that is strictly medical, which is the conversation that interests me most. However, a cultural revolution has been emerging because of social media and people who are hesitant to talk about marijuana will talk about the injustices of the drug war. Spark the Conversation is a way to broaden the conversation beyond, "Do you support cannabis legalization and why?" and open the door to talk about social justice reform, prison industrial complex reform and things that touched people differently. Russell Simmons told me, "I'm not going to talk about pot, but I'll talk about drug policy." Sometimes you just have to see what sparks the conversation.
Define the conversation for me.
The conversation is not a narrow one. We're not yet at the stage to set the tone without having open conversations about what outrages people most. On this last tour, we sparked the conversation about drug policy reform and what personal freedom means to them. Each time we do an activation, we try to engage a different community or type of consumer. We realized that, if we're having a conversation with an entrepreneur, they have a drug war story or a patient story that is personal to them. People like to be able to talk, and we want to provide a free forum for people to talk about what affected them most. The next phase is to bring in more experts to answer the questions people have.
The tour was entirely in California. Why not visit Nevada and Arizona, which also had legalization on the ballot?
Budget and team. Plus, there was a huge discrepancy regarding Prop. 64 with people for it and against it. I wanted to talk with the farmers up north and hear their perspective on drug policy reform and personal freedom so that, whether or not 64 passed, we still felt like we had a unified voice saying we believe in something together as a community.
What did you talk about with the growers?
They had a lot of valid concerns about the policy, to be honest. The California Growers Association had a neutral stance on Prop. 64, but they were the most upset because the initiative wasn’t the greatest for small farmers. What it's done for the community as a whole, coming out of the shadows and into the light, has been amazing. A lot of people feel really empowered right now and better understand how they might be able to make it in the new market. I truly believe cannabis is medicine. Tried and true, there's zero question in my mind that anyone who consumes it benefits from its medicinal value. A lot of the [growers] who deserve businesses in this new era took a risk because they believe in cannabis, not because they were bad, hardened, criminal drug dealers like the media and government portrayed them. I just encouraged them to come to the forefront and see how they can participate in structuring it so it makes sense for what their businesses need. That was really all I can do. I can just be a conduit for people to make sure they have the right representation. I think they'll take care of each other up there. That's what I'm hoping.
What would be a moment in which you definitely made a difference with someone?
I don't know if I can say I made a difference, but whenever I’m around patients, I get reinvigorated about advocacy. I remember why I volunteer 24 hours a day, seven days a week to advocate for the plant. Being face to face exchanging energy with these people and saying, "Let's do this together" got us all inspired. We felt a sense of community, which we don't fully have yet. There's often competitiveness in the industry, which makes it very tribal, or some patients say, "I don't want anybody to know." There's a lot of shame. Seeing happy, conscious people out there saying, "Hey, let's talk about drug policy reform" reminds people that it's our responsibility.
How can we break down the tribalism and make the community more inclusive for casual consumers?
Removing ego. Any time money comes into play, it gets really screwed up. The plant isn't about ego, it's about healing. We need to be mindful and open and talk to one another. I believe cannabis is the catalyst of consciousness. Continue to use it as a medicine and open your mind to the possibilities of how somebody can help you, not hurt you, in your business. That is a much better philosophy for being successful.
The election night viewing party... was it bittersweet?
I barely drink, and I had four drinks. It was so bittersweet for a ton of reasons, but yeah, everyone there was very depressed. Now, with the new Attorney General—I know this might sound crazy—but he needs to show some compassion about this issue. He needs information that lets him know people who smoke pot are not bad people and often very sick people. My father was a Vietnam vet, a staunch Republican, Fox News, Hannity... these were the bible to him. Before he passed, he saw how cannabis impacted my life as a medicine, and it hit home for him. Everyone who gets turned usually had an experience where cannabis helped them or someone they know.
I was at the White House this year for the life-after-clemency hearings, and I had these bags with pot leaves on them. One of the secret service agents saw it and said, "What are you guys doing here?" We explained, and he got emotional telling me about his mother who had passed two years ago. He said, "I wish I had been able to let her try it because I think it could have helped her." He literally got teary eyed and saluted me and said, "Thank you so much for your service." You never know when you're going to have the opportunity to impact somebody.
When you were in high school, you actually ran an anti-drug campaign.
What did you learn from that experience that enables you to communicate better with people who might be anti-cannabis?
I had a sibling who went into rehab when I was 13. It was a total 180 of my life. My family broke up because of it, and the rehab hospital made a lot of money off us. Everyone told me drugs are bad, and I just went into a fear base. I realize now how they lied to me. Information is the key. Information, information, information. I believed what they told me. I believed them when they said this was your brain on drugs, that it’s the devil's weed. I lacked education on the matter because the doctors I talked to and trusted were supposed to tell me the truth.
I took an active role, like I do now, in being a voice against drugs. I was 15, and I wanted to shed a light on drugs. A lot of people were going to rehab at that time, and rehab is really a money maker. Do you remember those wilderness survival camps they would send kids to in Nevada and Utah? They were doing that and messing people up with the way the war on drugs took over and started a whole new regime of criminalization and rehabs. I learned a ton about what rehabilitation should focus on, and it's not marijuana. We should help people without having dollar agendas behind it. Those doctors, potentially, bought into the idea that marijuana was the devil's weed. That's an uneducated view, and you shouldn't be uneducated if you're a doctor.
When you were 29, you were diagnosed with cancer. When you started to use cannabis medically, what symptoms did cannabis help alleviate?
I was on 13 pharmaceuticals post-chemotherapy. I don't really know what symptoms had to do with the cancer, the chemo or the pills. I was just like, "Mybody is fucked up." I went to a cannabis doctor with all my pharmaceuticals and said, "I have all of these pills, and I want to get off them." He looked at them and said, "Good for you." He wrote me a prescription and then I started using cannabis medicinally. Now I use it daily for a multitude of reasons. I fell down a flight of stairs five years ago with a baby in my arms, so I have a spinal cord injury. The world I live in creates a bit of depression and anxiety and stress, and I use it now as a wellness component, but I definitely got into it to get off the pills. I see a lot of people who start to use cannabis because they're extremely ill and then use it every day as a wellness component.
When you traveled the world as a model, what did you learn about humanity?
I learned that we're good and we're all more alike than we think. That we can exist in a healthy space if we understood each other a little bit better. That more of us than not are here to do good things, but we must figure out how to do it collectively. I can't deny I had times in my life where my ego ran my decisions, but letting it go has made me closer to other people. I get further with helping others and being helped. If we can get to that place, I think we can redirect our energy and help the planet.
You had so much information in The Culture High. What was the process for narrowing down the information and piecing it all together?
Brett [Harvey], the director, is amazing. He did The Union: The Business Behind Getting High, which was the first documentary in the [cannabis] space done by a real entertainment company outside the space. Brett had his themes he wanted to go into, like how the media plays into the propaganda. It's a revolution. It was definitely difficult to narrow it down to whose soundbites made the most sense, I know that. We've actually talked about creating a series with some of the interviews we did and potentially following up with some of the people. We'll see what happens with that over the next year.
Those guys are doing a movie right now called Ice Guardians.
Are you working on any other movies?
I'm working on a documentary called Going Green that's actually around my life. When I started advocating for cannabis, it was almost too soon. I didn't take the time I needed to heal myself. The minute it got me off all those pharmaceuticals, my life did a 180, and I felt I needed to scream this to the masses! That was almost nine years ago. I've had 11 surgeries throughout these years, so a part of it is me circling back to my health and how cannabis plays a part in that. It is a really interesting journey, and we already filmed quite a bit of it. I have some other entertainment things I'm working on as well, but until the drug war is over, advocacy is my number one focus.
Anything else you want to make sure gets hit?
The spark that creates a flame that creates a light is a very important theme. We have the power, we just have to do something with it. Legalization is not imminent. I've seen people say, "It's legal!" and then the next week, “Oh man, they raided these 10 people.” It's a crazy war, and you have to look at it as such even with opportunity on the line. For new businesses coming in, social responsibility should be your number one priority. Invest in people who are fighting to make sure your personal freedoms exist.
David Jenison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.