11/27/19 Ngaio Bealum

Century of Lies
Ngaio Bealum
Drug War Facts

This week on Century of Lies, a conversation with comedian, activist, and journalist Ngaio Bealum.

Audio file



NOVEMBER 27, 2019

DEAN BECKER: The failure of the Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization – the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I am your host, Doug McVay, Editor of www.drugwarfacts.org.

There has been a lot happening in the cannabis world the past few weeks. HB 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Equity (Expungement) Act of 2019 was recently approved by the House Judiciary Committee by an overwhelming 24-10 vote. The Chair of that committee is Representative Gerald Nadler. He is the lead sponsor of this bill and he says that he expects it to go to the floor of the house sometime this session and he expects it to be approved by the house; the senate is another story. To talk about that and other things I have Ngaio Bealum. He is a comedian, musician, writer, actor, juggler, publisher, and activist. According to Wikipedia, he cohosted Cannabis Planet and published West Coast Cannabis Magazine. He writes a column in Sacramento News in Review where he answers questions from readers about marijuana and its politics. He is a very, very funny man. He is also somebody whose opinion I respect greatly and who is one of the smartest people in this marijuana issue. Ngaio Bealum, how the heck are you?

NGAIO BEALUM: After that introduction how could I be anything other than great! That is a lot to live up to! Apparently I have done a lot; I am shocked. Shocked!

DOUG MCVAY: The only comedian to speak truth to power. You have been a leader for a long time and it is time for people to acknowledge that. Let’s start out with the biggest news of the week and that is HB 3884 –

NGAIO BEALUM: This is big news, Doug!

DOUG MCVAY: The House Judiciary Committee approved a marijuana legalization measure by a vote of 24-10. The chair of the committee, Gerald Nadler is the lead sponsor. When he says he expects this to go to the floor of the house while I am not a gambling person, you could probably put money on that. What do you think?

NGAIO BEALUM: I am not holding my bald head. How many times is something going to get somewhere and then nothing happens? Even if it does get through the House, which it does stand a good chance which is a good first step but I don’t think that “Moscow Mitch McConnell” and all of his cronies – they are already holding up approximately 200 bills that have come from the House that Mitch has refused to put on the Senate floor; so why would they put this bill on the floor? You would think that the Republicans would see that this is in their best interest according to the latest (UNINTELLIGIBLE) poll. 67% of Americans think that cannabis should be legal now but I am pretty sure they have other things on their plate of (UNINTELLIGIBLE). You thought that was funny, didn’t you? Because that is a Russian joke.


DOUG MCVAY: I agree with you wholeheartedly and in fact it is worth pointing out that there is a version of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Equity (Expungement) Act (The MORE Act) is in the Senate already in a sense as it is sponsored by Senator Kamala Harris. Nothing has happened with it, and you are probably right that nothing is going to happen. Remember a couple of years ago they were talking a good game and Dana Rohrabacher was talking himself blue in the face about how Republicans secretly believe in all of this stuff.

NGAIO BEALUM: That guy also has problems. The challenge I think is on the list of priorities the Republicans want to get done, cannabis legalization is not high on that list. First of all private prison industry loves cannabis crimes and secondly they have bigger things to worry about. They have to prop up a failing President and a bunch of other things. If they were to decriminalize and reschedule cannabis federally I think it would be a big feather in their little Republican caps and I think it would bring around some poor, misguided people who don’t have any other reason to support Trump. They would all be saying that Trump legalized weed blah, blah, blah. It would be a good thing for them to do but when was the last time Republicans did a good thing?

DOUG MCVAY: The sound of crickets in response to that question. They don’t need to do anything. How many years have we seen this stuff about his secret plan to legalize, or that they are secretly behind us. No more secrets. Be public and vote yes. Simple.

NGAIO BEALUM: Yes. It is not that big of a challenge. I don’t think we are going to see any legalization until and unless we see a sweeping change in the Senate and the Presidency. If we get some Democrats, Progressives, or some “Greens”, or social democrats in there we maybe have a better chance but as it stands now I am not optimistic. I am not the young idealist I was in 1992 when we thought Bill Clinton was going to legalize weed, which he could have done in ’96. Obama could have rescheduled it in 2008 and 2012. There are billions of dollars to be made now and we know Republicans love billions of dollars but if they can’t really control it or get their billions of dollars first I don’t see how interested they would be in it. They already get billions of dollars from the private prison industry by locking people up, from using drug prisoners as a form of legalized slavery. I know I sound like a crazy Leftist and progressive right now and I am most of the time, but these are the bigger issues. I want to be excited about this first step and that it is going to pass but it is not. It is not. If it does, I will buy weed for everybody, but as it stands right now I am not optimistic.

DOUG MCVAY: I have to agree. It is dead in the water once it gets across to the Senate. I hope to God it actually does pass the House –

NGAIO BEALUM: If it even gets out of the House.

DOUG MCVAY: You don’t think it will?

NGAIO BEALUM: I don’t know. There are too many people who get too much money from weed being illegal. You can make more money from weed being legal but you would have to set up new revenue streams and these guys already have a thing happening so why would they even want to change it? It is not affecting them. Right? Rich white kids don’t go to jail for weed so it is not going to bother any of those guys.

DOUG MCVAY: You have a good point. Like I said, he is a smart man! On the other hand, you have also got the legal weed industry that is doing its own campaign contributions. Some of these companies’ stock values are horribly inflated. They are not worth even a fraction of what –

NGAIO BEALUM: Don’t get me started on those guys! I am glad they are spending money to lobby and things of that nature but those guys also have problems. An algorithm and five million dollars behind you doesn’t mean you know anything about the cannabis industry, cannabis culture, or even how to grow good cannabis. You would think that would be the first step would be to have good weed but these guys don’t seem to understand that.

DOUG MCVAY: That leads me to the next question which is about the California industry. There have been a wave of layoffs in the industry over the past couple of months by some big companies like FloCanna, Eaze, and MedMen have all seen layoffs. Some are saying that this is a sign that this industry is in trouble and overregulated while others are more skeptical. People like myself are saying that this is nothing but hypocrisy, cost cutting, and an attempt to boost profits so that the owners can make more money. Maybe during the next investment wave investors will think that because they fired a bunch of people they must be a good company so they want to pour a few million dollars in to that weed business.

NGAIO BEALUM: I think there are a lot of different factors here. First of all I would like to say that I feel bad for all of the people at FloCanna and some of the cats at Jedi Extracts because those two companies seemed to have the right idea and they have a decent amount of hippies on their staff so they seem to be wanting to do the right things. A lot of these other guys just show up with money and think that they are going to jump in the middle and take over everybody creating a Weedopoly and that is not how it goes.
Cannabis is decentralized due to its very nature even while federally illegal, it has been a decentralized industry forever so to think that you can just come in and take it over – have you ever hung out with hippies? Do you know how obstinate these people are? Do you know how headstrong hippies are? You can’t do that, especially if you are going to overregulate. California has overregulated and overtaxed the industry. They are raising the taxes again in 2020, which is not helping anyone in the legal regulated market. If it is cheaper to buy it from the black market, why not buy it from the black market? I know you could point to the vape crisis with regard to the unregulated, untested products causing severe health problems and that is true but it is different with flower. If slightly bad grown weed was going to kill you; we would all be dead. Weed is still weed and you can still find underground organic, fantastic weed everywhere for much cheaper than you can get in the club, even if the price is the same the weed club is going to add another 20-30% in taxes so now your eighth that was forty bucks is now sixty bucks. What are you going to do if you are working in this economy? If you have two minimum wage jobs saving twenty bucks is important to you and you need a little weed to get through your day sometimes because people can stress you out. I think they are going about it all wrong. I feel like Oregon had the right idea where they didn’t overregulate and they didn’t overtax. I felt bad for the growers because the prices dropped precipitously but also pushed out the weed man because the weed man is not going to be cheaper than the club. The club is going to sell you a joint for a dollar and an eighth for fifteen bucks – and it’s pretty good weed for that fifteen bucks. The growers don’t make what they used to make but the industry is thriving out there as opposed to what is happening in California. 70% of California cities and counties still prohibit weed businesses. You can’t always find a weed club if you are in Modesto, or Fresno of some of these other towns so I don’t know how they expect the market to grow if access is not opened up.

DOUG MCVAY: I live in Oregon so I can only say that you are absolutely right. It is so much nicer to live in Oregon.

NGAIO BEALUM: One of the coolest things about Oklahoma’s medical cannabis law is that they said that cities and counties could not prohibit cannabis cultivation and cannabis businesses. They have got to figure out a way to work with everybody. It is a weird analogy but it’s like a strip club. You gotta have a strip club. If the state allows strip clubs; cities can’t prohibit it. It is a first amendment thing, an access thing, and a freedom and liberty thing. I think California could not have messed it up any more than if they had actually tried to mess it up.

DOUG MCVAY: I don’t know. I give your legislators more credit than that. I think they could have easily screwed it up even worse.

NGAIO BEALUM: I don’t know if they could’ve because they are going about it the wrong way. They don’t think that they are making the money they thought they were going to make so they raised the taxes and said it was to keep up with inflation, but really it is not. They are going to kill the golden goose. The underground scene is thriving out here. Instead of what we used to call Farmer’s Markets, now they are called Sessions. There are so many different sessions you can go if you still have your medical letter of recommendation you can find a session on Instagram probably a half hour from your house. You can drive out and buy all the unregulated weed you want for super cheap and you can talk to the grower and the guys who have it. It is much more cannabis culture centered vibe than you get in a lot of these sterile clubs where the people working there don’t even know anything about weed, they are all brand new and they just see it as a business and not a lifestyle which I guess is cool but even the guy who runs the liquor store or book store; they know something about books and liquor. These cats only know money, units, market share, and disruption but they don’t have a fundamental understanding. I feel like Obi Wan Kanobi – you perceive the force as the spoon perceives the taste of food. (LAUGHTER).

DOUG MCVAY: Just to remind folks, you are listening to Century of Lies. I am your host, Doug McVay and my guest here with me on Skype is the Jedi master of weed, the connoisseur Mr. Ngaio Bealum. He is an activist, writer, and professional comedian. One of the things that you have been involved with over the last few years is the Minority Cannabis Business Association. You are outspoken on issues involving equity and social justice within the cannabis industry and in general. How are things shaping up? Are we talking a good game and falling short? Is anything actually happening?

NGAIO BEALUM: I have to smoke a joint before I talk to you. You are just pressing all of my buttons today, man. (LAUGHTER). I feel like Oakland is the only place that is doing it kind of right in the sense that they have opened up some minority clubs, their Equity Program seems to be proceeding at a pace. A lot of these other places up here in Sacramento are just now getting their Equity Program going even though they announced it two years ago but it is almost too late. They are not going to allow too many more licenses and it is still going to cost a person $200,000 to get in the game. There are no black owned clubs up here and there are very few in San Francisco and only a couple in Los Angeles if there are any at all. Last time I was there I think there was one or two but I don’t know if they have shut down. I don’t feel like the Equity Programs are doing what they are supposed to do and I don’t know if that is by design. They say never look for conspiracy when you can find incompetence. So I am not sure what the whole plan is on that but I wish it was better. I wish people would be more proactive about it. Up here in Sacramento we have an FBI probe, Ukrainian money, accusations of bribery and money laundering. Things happen when big money gets involved. People look at clubs and think that is an easy way to make a million dollars a year. Out of 30 Sacramento clubs they grossed about $140,000,000 in gross sales last year. When you look at that it is about 5,000,000 per club and think that is a pretty good deal, but that is not all profit. I just wish it would be better and I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t know how to change human nature. Greed is the one god that can never be appeased or even sated. It is the whole nature of greed worship.

DOUG MCVAY: I was doing an interview not long ago with Professor John Pfaff from Fordham Law School and we were talking about mass incarceration in prison and he was telling me how his thinking on this has evolved. Mass incarceration is the problem but the root of that is this culture of mass punishment. It’s not just about incarceration it is all the rest of it. If you fall short they feel they must smack you down. It is not just a question of changing the policy it is a question of changing the mindset that is really pushing this stuff.

NGAIO BEALUM: Yeah. It is the same kind of thing and I don’t know what can be done about changing human nature. When it comes to prison reform some of the Scandinavian countries seem to have a better idea. It should be about rehabilitation and reforming people to help them become productive tax paying members of society. If you have a private prison it is in your best interest to create more criminals so why would you want to help someone not be a criminal as that will just eat in to your profit. You want them to come back to jail; you want them to get out and come back six months later. They already know the routine. You don’t want to never see them again. You want to see them as often as possible. That is just one of those things when it comes to prison reform. I think private prisons should be abolished; it’s a farce and a scam.

DOUG MCVAY: And if it’s a private prison, it is also the private companies that are vendors to the publicly owned prisons. It’s the prison guards themselves! In California for instance they even have a union –

NGAIO BEALUM: That’s right. So powerful!

DOUG MCVAY: People get enough of my nasal whine and stammer, it is you that we want to hear from. You have a new writing gig that a little bird told me about. Why don’t you tell my listeners what you are doing these days/

NGAIO BEALUM: Yes, I am the new Cannabis Equity writer for Emerald Media. They have a print magazine as well as a really nice website. I am also starting a new podcast that should be premiering in January called Equally High, which will focus on social justice, social equality, and cannabis equity issues throughout the nation. We will be interviewing a lot of people and tell their stories and see what can be done. We will discuss the successes and failures and see what can be done to make the world a better place. I got in to cannabis activism first because I really like weed in general. I like the way it tastes, the way it smells, the way it’s grown. I also see cannabis activism as a social justice issue and that was one of the things that I like about weed activism – you are striking go on all kinds of fronts. Relegalize weed and that is a blow for personal freedom, and personal responsibility. It helps cops be less racist if they can’t just pull over black and brown kids because they smell weed or because they think that they have weed in their possession. They can’t just harass people for that anymore. These are all good first steps but we have to take it further because the same people who were making money from throwing us in jail are now making money from selling us weed and that is not fair to the people who used to have good jobs. You probably knew a cat or two that was the “weedman”, and I say weedman as a gender neutral term, I spell it with an ‘M’, so it’s W-E-E-D-M-A-N. If you spell it with a ‘Y’, you are probably not a weedman who had to get a job in a dispensary after everything got legalized and set in because they couldn’t make the money that they used to; at least in Oregon. In California, the weedman is still doing alright. We just want it to be better and these guys just can’t seem to get it together and I don’t think that they really listen to anyone who knows. Maybe they do listen to those guys, I don’t know. I have been to too many city council meetings where people make logical, thought out, persuasive arguments that make great sense and then they are completely ignored so what can you do about that? I used to be much more idealist; they say that a cynic is a lapsed idealist. They say that the cynic is a disappointed idealist and I think I am entering in to that phase in my career.

DOUG MCVAY: I know what you mean exactly but we can’t quit.

NGAIO BEALUM: There is nothing to do but continue to fight against it. I am not giving up, my eyes are just more open about it.

DOUG MCVAY: Do you remember P.D.Q Bach and Professor Peter Schickele? He had a saying that is practically my motto and should be my mantra and that is that ideas are like pollen, once they are in the air you never know who is going to sneeze.

NGAIO BEALUM: Fair enough. Fair enough. This is true.

DOUG MCVAY: That is why it is so exciting to me at least that you are going to be doing this podcast and that you are working on this equity stuff.

NGAIO BEALUM: Good ideas are also like pollen because some people are just allergic to them.

DOUG MCVAY: You do have a point. I was in debate for the longest time and I never really figured it out until recently that you are not really going to end up convincing the person on the other side; they are not ever going to just say that you were right and they were wrong all of this time. It is a competitive thing and they view it that way so they are just not going to do that but the judge – that is the person that you are trying to convince. In policy what we are trying to convince is the majority of folks who really haven’t given it a thought and don’t have a feeling one way or the other. If they are forced to they may make up their minds and it might be a knee jerk reaction in the wrong way but if we can keep putting out good ideas and calling people out for being jerks. I will never apologize for that. I think we need to continue trying to promote people to just be better. I think eventually it is going to work.

I was on the phone with the reporter right before Elvy Musikka got her federal marijuana card and became the third person in the country to legally receive medical pot so I have a different perspective on progress.

NGAIO BEALUM: We have come a long way. I can walk around California now with an ounce of weed in my pocket standing in line at the Starbuck’s with cops walking in and my blood pressure does not change. I was sitting on the corner smoking a joint on K and 8th Street the other day and two sheriffs walked by and one of them just nodded at me. It was great! They are also letting people out of jail and that is great. These are all great steps but we can definitely do more and people can definitely do better. This is what I am saying.

DOUG MCVAY: As long as you are out there encouraging it; it will happen. Again, my guest on today’s show has been Ngaio Bealum, he is a comedian, activist, writer, and many other things. We are coming up to the end of the half hour so I have to ask you if you have any closing thoughts and can you please give me all of your social media sites where people can find out where you are and what you are up to. You also perform a lot so I have to ask you what you have going on with your performances?

NGAIO BEALUM: I do. When does this show go on the air?

DOUG MCVAY: This show will be first broadcast right before Thanksgiving on my birthday.

NGAIO BEALUM: Okay. Happy birthday, Doug.

DOUG MCVAY: Well thank you very much.

NGAIO BEALUM: December 1st I will be performing at A Simple Bar, located at 3256 Cahuenga Blvd W, Los Angeles, CA 90068. It is a free show, come on out. You can follow me on all the social media at: ngaio420 on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. You can read my articles in the Sac News in Review and Emerald Media. I am the 3rd most popular Ngaio in the world so you can just Google me. I have to get my website up, I have been lazy. You can also listen to my latest album, “Weedier and Sexier”, you can stream it on all of the popular streaming platforms.

DOUG MCVAY: One of my favorite comedians, activist, and writer and a good friend. It is such a pleasure to have you on the show. Happy holidays to you.

NGAIO BEALUM: Always a pleasure. Happy Thanksgiving to you as well, Mr. McVay.

That was my interview with Ngaio Bealum. He is a comedian, activist, journalist and good friend. If you have a chance to see him live, do it! That is it for this week. I want to thank you so much for joining us.

You have been listening to Century of Lies we are a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network. On the web at www.drugtruth.net. I have been your host, Doug McVay, editor of www.drugwarfacts.org. The Executive Producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available by podcast, the URL’s to subscribe are on the network homepage at www.drugtruth.net

The Drug Truth Network has a Facebook page, please give it a like. Drug War Facts has a Facebook page, too, give it a like. Share it with friends. Remember, knowledge is power. We will be back in a week with 30 more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed War on Drugs. For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long.

For the Drug Truth Network this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition, the Century of Lies. Drug Truth Network programs are archived at the James A. Baker, III Institute for Public Policy.