Legal Weed Needs An Injection of Punk Ethos

After working in the legal weed industry for the better part of the last decade, I can’t help but feel despondent. I don’t want to, but I do. More often than not, it feels like the industry is moving further and further away from the ethos carried out by advocates over the decades. From the actions to the products to many of the industry events—much of it feels fabricated and forced. 

Maybe it’s just the marketing efforts of thousands of startup brands collectively trying to be seen, but much of the legal space feels vastly different from the weed world I grew up in. If it isn’t a sus product or pitch person, it’s the brand messaging, often trying to force some plant misnomers, or worse, summarize cannabis culture—a vastly nuanced plant and community—into a convenient package that fits their narrative. 

My despondence only grows when encountering many company leaders, lawmakers and others who tend to say the right thing but never deliver the results, whether it be lip service or unfulfilled good intentions. In worse cases, some people are in it for themselves, often producing subpar products that only satisfy investors and oblivious consumers.

To be fair, there’s been a significant deal of pushback by those who are what many consider true to plant culture. But often, the voices are few and far between, especially when removing social media criticism from the equation. For some time now, I’ve hypothesized that the cannabis industry would benefit from an injection of punk ethos, where both advocates and industry operators remain vigilant in protecting the values of the plant while championing community-minded efforts. 

These outspoken people need to be authentic, genuinely placing the interests of the plant and the community above their own interests and agendas. I’m not talking about gatekeepers masquerading as protectors of the culture, like so many in punk, pot and other passionate communities end up being. Instead, I want to see more people pushing back against deviations from plant culture and ideals whenever possible. 

But as someone who could barely qualify as pop punk at their most rebellious stage, who am I to champion this idea? Instead of doing that, I asked the few self-identifying punks in the weed world I could find and some punk musicians to explore this idea to see if it carries any weight. 

Industry Dynamics and Punk Ethos: A Needed Clash? 

Most people get into punk and pot around their early to late teens. There are exceptions, but most seem to come across one or both during their youth or young adulthood. A person’s views about punk tend to shift like their weed consumption. Over time, how each fits into a person’s life often changes. While some hold rigid rules about one or both topics, others feel they should suit your life as needed.

“Punk is whatever you take from it,” said Damian Abraham, lead singer of Fucked Up and host of the Turned Out a Punk podcast. “It’s like a religion,” added Abraham, a weed, wrestling and punk journalist.

That’s certainly true when you break down the vast categories of punk, with some claiming that the only shared connection among each subgroup is their fondness for the music. That’s a fair argument, especially when comparing the near polar opposite views of groups like Anarcho-punks versus Neo-Nazi skinheads, who have regularly clashed over the years concerning their enormously different views. While weed hasn’t seen many violent clashes, there’s no doubt several subcategories in today’s scene, ranging from OGs to capitalists to stock bros to patients and many in between, often clash online or through in-person discussions. 

“I think punk is and should be a big tent,” said Adam Uzialko, a self-described punk and co-founder of marketing firm CannaContent. He believes punk represents “an attitude that prioritizes independence, solidarity, and mutual aid.” Uzialko feels many in cannabis represent punk beliefs, whether they identify or not. 

The feeling was echoed by other respondents, with some noting that opposition to law enforcement and the establishment was shared by punks and pot enthusiasts. Collaborative or collective cannabis brands, where ownership is shared among employees or through collective licenses, are another example of where communal-minded business practices appear in cannabis. However, such ventures are currently few and far between, with most companies instead gunning for market shares and/or dominance. 

At the same time, some respondents felt that big business and government compliance forced most punks to remain in the underground market. 

“Cannabis would thrive if more people had the punk mentality and not the government boot-licking that has become the norm in how laws are written,” said Robbie Wroblewski, a Colorado-based self-identified punk, cannabis marketer and former professional grower. He added that punks must take up the charge, but “There is just no fighting the money, and that is a bummer.”

A feeling shared by some punks and other groups over the years has been one that sees them playing within the confines of the marketplace. In this case, they can create change and earn a living within the industry. Nathan Williams is often linked to punk through his band Wavves and his record label, Ghost Ramp. Williams, who doesn’t claim to be punk at this point in his life, thinks people can ethically operate in weed and other businesses by holding onto their values.

“I think, basically, the only thing is not playing ball with the people that you think are ethically doing something you don’t agree with,” he said, adding “I’ve been able to make money and do things my way, and I’ve had to pass up some opportunities for big money,” he said. Williams entered the weed space this past year with his San Diego-based brand Wavvy Supply Company. 

Are The Punks Already In Pot? 

It depends on who you ask. After only hearing from a few individuals, I stand by the hypothesis that there is a shortage of punks in legal cannabis. The responses I’ve received and years of first-hand experience lead me to believe that is the case. But maybe I’m just thinking of the classic image of a punk with their battle vests and hearts on their sleeves. Perhaps, like the average pot smoker, there is no standard look for a punk, especially an older one. 

As many punks age, the anger and resentment fade, which is good for a person’s health but may also reduce the fire that burns for change. Some feel that their personal evolution has led to a more mature, less agitated approach to life, justice and industry. While still deeply rooted in communal and equality-driven ethos, their actions have changed, often transforming into more workplace-suitable measures. I assume many of these individuals see themselves as making change from within as they gain power, money and influence. While this can certainly be true, it would be fair to assume many others avoid this path for fear of being “corrupted,” putting them at risk of becoming the problem they want to correct. 

Maybe the aggressive punk approach doesn’t work when social media is overflowing with angry hot takes about every imaginable topic. Fucked Up’s Abraham didn’t touch on that thought but suggested an educational approach that may help educate the masses. 

“We need Ian MacKaye,” he said, saying that the Minor Threat and Fugazi alum, who is credited with regularly challenging norms over the decades, is “Someone who’s doing it with some sort of ideal in some sort of sense…some sort of ethics about the plan.” MacKaye is also credited with birthing the anti-drinking, anti-drug lifestyle known as straight edge. 

Education is undoubtedly needed, but what about when the public or business leaders want to keep their heads in the sand? Will proponents of change continue to push up the hill, hoping to one day break through and reach the masses? Or, will many continue to operate in the unlicensed market, where plant passion and education are often more accepted? 

Maybe there are more punks in legal cannabis than I thought. If so, here’s hoping they can create change from the inside. But, at this current juncture, it’s more likely that the punk mindset and way of life will persist mainly on the underground instead of running up against the politics and capitalism running rampant in today’s legal space. 

The post Legal Weed Needs An Injection of Punk Ethos appeared first on High Times.


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