Penn Jillette is, by his own admission, a bit of an unlikely candidate for keynote speaker at a Marijuana conference. Despite the fact he has long been in favor of cannabis legalization and an advocate for legalization, he isn't a marijuana user. In fact, despite appearing on the cover of "High Times" holding copious amounts of cannabis, he's never even tried it once.
Still, the veteran Vegas magician and performer started his keynote at the 5th Annual Marijuana Business Daily Conference this morning by explaining how his advocacy for cannabis legalization comes from his deeply held libertarian mindset. He believes the government's right to use force can't justifiably extend to the enforcement of the war on drugs.
"I certainly wouldn't use a gun to stop people from using marijuana, " Jillette stressed. "It seems like people who use marijuana have got to be the best citizens we have. They don't seem to bother anybody."
"But more important than that, " he said to the conference's mostly cannabis-business audience, "for a libertarian who does not smoke marijuana, does not use marijuana, and is a father and has a family, the most important thing about the legalization of marijuana is getting the money out of the hands of bad people and putting into the hands of you people."
But Jillette's most pointed advice for the business audience was more about art than economics. Drawing on Vegas as a metaphor, Jillette reminded the audience about the mob run Las Vegas of the 1970's and 1980's.
"It was run by really bad people, " he told the audience, "it was run by crazy people... It was dangerous. It was illegal. But it was funky. It was really, really interesting. The casinos had personality and the casinos had style."
As corporations moved into Vegas in the late 80's and early 90's, Jillette says many great things happened.
"People didn't get beat up as much. Things were safer. Things were fairer. Things were out in the open. There was transparency. It was really, really terrific."
And then everything that made Vegas great - what Jillette calls "the funk" - went away. "All of a sudden it was boardrooms and corporations making all the decisions for how Vegas was done."
Jillette then told the business conference audience he believes the marijuana industry is at a very similar crossroads. Due it's illegal nature, "Marijuana was handled by outsiders, " says Jillette. "There was this nice sense of funkiness and individuality and living outside the law."
He holds this essence of cannabis culture's history in high regard, and warned against allowing corporations to make cannabis just another boring commodity. As he watched the cannabis legalization election results unfold in Nevada, he said he felt a mixture of happiness at the ballot result, but also expressed fears about corporate culture taking over cannabis.
"What I really don't want to happen is for our country to turn into McPot, " said Jillette. "I don't want McDonalds to make all the decisions. I don't want all the same people who tone things down -- The only thing that a committee can agree upon is beige."
Neil Bonner and Dan Culberson are on the ground in Las Vegas, covering the Marijuana Business Conference & Expo for Civilized. Look for more stories in the days to come.
Banner Image: Penn Jillette at a 2013 Press Tour. (Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com)