“Are you pissed off about the DEA yet?” writes Jesse Ventura in a chapter about how and why the Drug Enforcement Administration rigs the Drug War. Of course, when he wrote that, the former Minnesota governor, professional wrestler and U.S. Navy frogman was just getting started. His parents were both World War II veterans, and Ventura and his brother are both Vietnam vets, and in his new book, the bestselling author basically declares war on the War on Drugs.
Jesse Ventura’s Marijuana Manifesto, co-authored by Jen Hobbs with a foreword by legendary activist Steve Kubby, is a well-reasoned argument for ending prohibition, but it truly stands out as an obsessively researched and detailed indictment against the Drug War and its many profit-motivated warriors. PRØHBTD spoke with Ventura about the new book, and the former governor could barely contain his disdain for the drug policy he characterized as “a crime against humanity.”
My favorite parts of the book are the sections on the Silk Road and the DEA. What do you think corrupted the DEA?
The seizure law—it’s astounding that this is constitutionally allowed—where the DEA can seize your house, car and other things if you're in possession of a supposedly illegal drug. The laws allow them to do that without even proving you’re guilty. It happens without a court involved, and then you must go to court to get your stuff back. In other words, you're guilty until proven innocent, which runs in the face of the basic concept of law in our country. It's horrid.
Also, the War on Drugs is the basic cause for the militarization of our police force. It permeated this thought process that says shoot first and ask questions later, because that's how the DEA operates. When they break into a place for a big drug bust, they come in with SWAT teams. If you resist at all, you're going to get shot. We show multiple examples in the book where the DEA broke into a house for a drug raid and killed people who maybe jump up to defend themselves. Inside their own homes. They get shot and killed, there's no trial, and no one gets charged with a crime. The major casualties in any war are the civilians. Innocent lives die in war. Well, this is a war on drugs, so apparently the same standards apply.
You know what made me focus on marijuana [for this book]?
I had lost my standard of life, and it wasn't [due to] me. I won't say who for privacy reasons, but a person very close to me developed epileptic seizures. This person was seizing three or four times a week, and the quality of life for both of us was gone. Medical doctors put the person on four different pharmaceutical medicines, one after the other, and none of them worked. The drugs all had horrible side effects, and the seizures continued.
Finally, the person went to Colorado and acquired what they call “medical marijuana.” In my opinion, there should be no separation between medical and recreational because the entire plant is medical. Anyway, getting back to the at-hand, the person—who seized again on the way to Colorado—started with three drops under the tongue three times a day, and the seizures stopped. Now it's legal in Minnesota, very limited, but the person qualified. One pill in the morning, one pill at night, and I can happily say that my quality of life and this person's quality of life have returned. The person, who has not had a seizure now for two and a half years, is completely—let me repeat—completely weaned off all pharmaceutical medicine. It's the marijuana and solely the marijuana that saved our lives.
When you were governor, you tried to legalize hemp. What happened?
I was an independent governor, I didn't belong to a [political] party, so I couldn't get anybody to carry the bill. Governors don't make laws, legislatures do. The governor can only veto it, sign it into law or let it go into law without signature. A governor can support something, but it always requires the legislature to make the law. I couldn't get a single Democrat or Republican to carry the damn bill. All they care about is their reelection and holding onto power, and they resist anything that jeopardizes that. They're spineless cowards.
When politicians said they wouldn't support the hemp bill, what were their stated reasons?
They didn't give reasons. They're just not going to put their political butts on the line. The mainstream soundbite media would write, "So-and-so is pro-drugs,” and their opponent would run horrible soundbite ads that say, "They want your kids doing drugs!" That's exactly what you'd get politically, so none of them had the courage to do it.
Also, the pharmaceutical industry does not want marijuana made legal. Like Deep Throat said in the movie All the President's Men, "Follow the money." They don't want it legal because people could grow it, and the government doesn't get a cut. I'll give an example: I grew up in the city center of Minneapolis, and we had a small little backyard, but my mom would carve up about a third of it to grow tomatoes. Every summer, we'd have fresh tomatoes grown in the inner-city right in our backyard. Well, you could do the same thing with cannabis. You could grow it in your backyard, four or five plants, and it would provide for your needs, but nobody would make money, would they? There'd be no tax on it, and you wouldn't have to buy pills from pharma.
Look at what pharma just did with those shots people need for bee stings or they could die. They raised the price 400 percent or whatever it was. Your health should not be a for-profit business, and that's unfortunately what it is for pharma. They don’t want marijuana legalized because they would fail to make money. I would rather have somebody smoke a joint for mental health than to take Prozac, personally.
It can be difficult to go on-air and argue for an end to prohibition when the media primarily deals in soundbites. How would you do it?
More than half the country wants it fully legalized, yet our government won't allow it. I believe marijuana could be the issue where the people rise up and tell the government, "We want the economic value, the medical value and the ability to grow it so we don't have to pay anyone to get it." This could be the issue where the American people can actually flex their muscle and let Washington know that they don't lord over us. They're not our parents. They work for us, and as employees, they should do what we want.
You had a great suggestion in the book for parents worried about legalization: You told them to parent. That said, how should parents respond if they catch their 13-year-old kid smoking a joint?
The same way they should respond if they catch that 13-year-old kid smoking tobacco or drinking. Handle it the same damn way. It isn't rocket science here. At least be glad of this: He's not going to die from marijuana.
Tell me about jury nullification and how citizens can use it.
Well, you know, if you're ever put on a jury and the case happens to involve marijuana possession, simply vote for acquittal. If you think like me, that marijuana should not be against the law, don't tell nobody, but sit on the jury and no matter what, vote to acquit. You'll get a hung jury. It's that simple.
You called for legalizing all drugs of abuse. How would you structure large-scale legalization to address issues like addiction?
That's the point right there: addiction. You hit the nail on the head. Why do we insist on treating addiction criminally instead of medically? Addiction is a disease. Based on their genes, certain people are more susceptible than others. You need to treat addiction, and you don't treat addicts by throwing them in prison. That's another tale in its own with the corporate prisons. They need them full [to maximize profits], and what better way than to load them up with marijuana smokers.
Let's do a hypothetical here. Imagine tomorrow morning that all the coffee disappeared, and no one in the United States of America could get a cup of coffee. What do you think would happen?
We would start drinking tea?
No, you'd have a bit of chaos, and if anybody had coffee, they could likely be murdered for it. See, I'm not a coffee drinker, so I sit back and laugh at coffee people who can't function unless they get their fix. The point I'm making is that caffeine's a drug, and people require it to get through their daily lives, and it's not against the law. Why can't marijuana be treated like that? I have a great quote: "Marijuana is to rock-and-roll what beer is to baseball." Imagine if you took away beer at the ballgame. You can be addicted to many, many things. As I said, coffee, huge addiction. Cigarettes, tobacco, alcohol, same thing.
Even today, people talk about how Colorado legalized cannabis, but they haven’t. Not completely. I could go to Colorado today and buy as much tobacco as my credit card would allow or drive to a liquor store and fill my whole car up with booze. As much as I wanted, any kind I wanted. Yet I can only buy a half an ounce of marijuana maximum, or one ounce if I lived in Colorado, so it's still not truly free. How can they restrict how much you buy? It's your money. If it's legal, you should be able to buy as much as you want. You might be stupid, but remember, you can't legislate stupidity.
When you were in professional wrestling, how common was cannabis behind the scenes?
It went on. It's great for pain. That's another thing. When they tell you more studies need to be done, uh-uh. There's a cannabis university in Israel, financed by us I might add, that proved cannabis would work for the traumatic head injuries experienced in the NFL and to treat post-traumatic stress for all our young men and women we send to war. Don't even get me started on these wars—I've opposed them all—but they come home with post-traumatic stress, and they are denied cannabis that can help them by the same government who sends them over there. It's utterly absurd.
In professional wrestling, it is used a great deal for pain, and who cares? There was a point in my career where I personally wrestled 63 nights in a row, and there are guys who would beat that record to death. There are guys who did 100 nights in a row. At the end of the night after getting battered pillar to post, if a pro wrestler wants to order dinner and smoke cannabis to relieve the pain, who's getting harmed?
Maybe only the DEA or Big Pharma.
We're supposed to be a free country, right? How could you commit a crime against yourself in a free country? Freedom comes with yin and yang, good and bad, that you have to accept. One part of freedom is the freedom to be stupid. People are going to make stupid decisions, and you can't make every stupid decision against the law. We're going to do stupid things, and using drugs might be a stupid thing, but in some cases like marijuana, [consumption] may be necessary to [treat] something like seizures.
Steve Kubby wrote the introduction to the book. Here's a guy who was given a death sentence—adrenal cancer, incurable, the doctors gave him five years. He's alive for 35 years now. Why? The doctors said it’s completely because of cannabis. He’s the one who originally spearheaded medical marijuana legalization in California so the DEA targeted him. They broke into his home with SWAT teams—medical marijuana is legal on the state level, but they’re federal—and arrested him, took him to jail, took away his marijuana and his adrenal cancer started to surface again in jail. He lost 22 pounds. He was dying. Finally, somebody got to someone, and they let him out so he could go back on marijuana again, and he's alive today.
Marijuana kept Steve Kubby alive, and our government tried to stop him. That’s not the government's job.
David Jenison (email@example.com) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD. Photos by Lauren B Photography 2015.