Festival of Books fires up tales from the cannabis community
Taking place, as it did, just one day after the unofficial pothead holiday of April 20, and scheduled to start just 10 minutes past the herb heads' magic moment of 4:20 p.m., the L.A. Times Festival of Books nonfiction panel "E Cannabis Unum" (we assume the misspelling "cannibis" in the program guide was a genuine typo and not because someone was ... well, never mind) had the potential to be nothing more than disjointed, rehashed riffs on stoner stereotypes.
But, by focusing on the theme of community -- the "unum" of the panel's title -- as a jumping off point, panel moderator Dean Kuipers managed to cover a fair amount of ground with panelists Mark Haskell Smith (author of "Heart of Dankness"), Heather Donahue ("GrowGirl") and counterculture icon, comedian and writer Paul Krassner (who is republishing his 1999 compilation of various authors' tales of toking titled "Pot Stores for the Soul").
Smith held forth on his experiences tagging along with the folks trying to find the world's best weed (an honor that earns one an award called the "Cannabis Cup") and Donahue (an actress who may be familiar to fans of "The Blair Witch Project") described her life as part of a medical marijuana community in Northern California community that she refers to as "Nugget Town." ("I learned more from the plants than I did from the people," Donahue said.)
But it was Krassner who, to borrow pot parlance, Bogarted the show. An old hand at working the cannabis crowd for laughs, he rolled quip after quip that had the crowd chucking throughout.
"This is my Oprah moment," Krassner said in his opening comments. "If you look under your seat, you'll find a baggie." Later he shared an anecdote about smoking a joint with John Lennon, another about Allen Ginsberg ("He said he smoked pot so he could cough") and about how getting high makes everything better. "I even smoke a joint before I roll one because it enhances the experience," he said.
When asked by Kuipers to compare the quality of marijuana available today with that available in the past, Krassner responded: "What you want to say now is: 'My compliments to the horticulturalist,' " explaining the upside for a writer of being able to select a strain of weed based on its effects.
"Maybe [some day] there will be strains for if you want to write fiction or nonfiction or for poetry," he said.
The only serious note of the otherwise lighthearted, freewheeling conversation was when the trio commented on current drug laws. "Putting people in jail for gardening is immoral," said Mark Haskell Smith, "and letting Wall Street bankers go free is [expletive] ridiculous."
"We should never mistake [marijuana prohibition] for a public health issue," said Donahue, who noted that the silent majority of marijuana smokers are unlikely to stir the pot. "People with jobs, houses and kids have a pretty strong self-preservation instinct," she said.
Krassner said he was hopeful that the prevalence of pot culture in the movies and TV, and changing societal attitudes, would lead to changing governmental policy. "It's a pressure cooker that's about to pop open," he said.
Krassner waited a beat and then added with a grin: "And there will be a strain [of marijuana] for that."
-- Adam Tschorn
Photo: Lisa Marie takes part in a 4/20 rally in Oakland to support the use of medical marijuana. Credit: Jane Tyska/Oakland Tribune/MCT