February 29, 2016 | Anna Heyward | The New Yorker
Next time you go to jail, David, ask for a kosher meal. They have to give it to you, and the food is better.” This was the advice that Diane Goldstein, a retired police officer, gave to David Bronner, an activist in the movement to legalize marijuana, over dinner one night at an Upper East Side organic vegan restaurant.
Bronner, an athletic-looking forty-two-year-old with a ponytail, has been locked up three times (once for planting hemp seeds on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s lawn). Until recently, he was the president of Dr. Bronner’s Soaps, the company that his German-immigrant grandfather founded, in 1948, after escaping from an Illinois mental institution. Bronner now calls himself C.E.O., for Cosmic Engagement Officer. Last year, the company sold ninety-five million dollars’ worth of products, including that minty liquid soap, packaged in a big plastic bottle, whose ransom-note-style label, in the seventies, touted the stuff’s efficacy for everything from killing aphids to preventing pregnancy. (The current label features more modest claims: besides washing, the soap makes a good denture soak.)
“It’s not you, Adam. It’s men."
Bronner, who wore cargo pants and a black T-shirt with a psychedelic design, was in town from California to meet with a bunch of fellow-activists in the cause of legalizing what he refers to as “the sacrament,” and to discuss the progress of legalization as a civil-rights movement. The month before, he had received the Seattle Hempfest’s Cannabis Activist of the Year award. Over a hemp-infused banquet, which included hemp-portobello steaks, spaghetti and wheatballs, and seitan piccata, the friends discussed Hillary Clinton and marijuana. (“She’s not the best on the issue, but she might improve,” Bronner said. “She might do something dramatic to attract young people.”) He is more enthusiastic about Bernie Sanders. “He’s the most progressive across the board on marijuana,” he said. “He talks all the time about the impact of prohibition policy. He talks about how racist it is.” As for the Republicans, Bronner said, “at least Cruz is being a principled Republican on states’ rights.” And: “The real libertarians kind of get it. Rand Paul is great.”
Other topics of conversation included Nixon’s legacy, the genetic inheritance of trauma, peyote, Bush choking on a pretzel in 2002, marketing snack bars made of hemp seeds, agribusiness, Burning Man, and how best to manage kids and cannabis in the house. (“It’s important to tell the other moms on playdates,” said Claire Kaufmann, who runs an organization called Le’Or, dedicated to convincing American Jews that marijuana should be legal, and whose children are nine, six, and five.)
Kaufmann asked, “Where does Jewishness become part of the marijuana conversation?”
“The consciousness in Jewish history!” Ethan Nadelmann, the head of the Drug Policy Alliance, said. “The racism that permeates the drug war!”
“Suffering!” another diner said.
“The excellent weed in Israel!” said a third. Rick Doblin pulled out a copy ofMarie Claire, with Miley Cyrus’s face on the cover. “We’re on page 384,” he said, and flipped to an article on the use of MDMA in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, research undertaken by his organization, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Doblin and Bronner met at Burning Man in 2004, when they were both suing the D.E.A. Doblin mans a tent at the festival every year which is dedicated to talking people through bad trips. “Trips gone wrong are the worst possible publicity for the cause of legalizing psychedelics,” he said.
Talk turned to the cold winters of Boston, where Doblin’s organization is situated. “I love to get stoned and shovel snow,” he said.
“I like getting high and doing the dishes,” Bronner added.
One dinner guest had brought a joint for after dinner, so a few members of the party headed out to the sidewalk with it. The joint was wrapped in a fancy gold-leaf rolling paper.
“This is an exercise in white privilege,” one smoker said. It was long after midnight, and Lexington Avenue dog walkers sniffed the air and looked over their shoulders as they passed. ♦