When I became editor of Civilized, I dreaded the conversation I would need to have with my parents about my new job. I only summoned the courage at the very last minute. The site was ready to be launched, and a feature story was scheduled to be published in the Canadian national newspaper, The Globe and Mail.
The night before, I drove to my parents house and sat down at their kitchen table - imagine, a 47-year-old father of two terrified to tell his parents about becoming editor of a cannabis publication. To my surprise, they were unfazed; they prepared supper as they casually asked questions about the new job. When I got up to leave, my mother said, "You didn't realize we were so liberal, did you?"
I thought back on that night when I watched the first episode of Weediquette - a VICELAND show that airs Tuesday nights (all episodes are available online at www.viceland.com on a three-month free preview until the end of May). In the opening scene of the first episode, host Krishna Andavolu calls his mother to tell her about his new show, and she has a very different reaction than my mother did:
"I've got a new show. It's about weed."
"Oh my god, don't smoke it on camera, please....Please, please, please, Krishna. You'll give a bad example to children."
In fairness to Krishna's mother, he actually did smoke marijuana on camera once, with the president of Uruguay for an earlier documentary about legalization in that South American country. He doesn't smoke a joint in the first Weediquette episode, but he does try cannabis oil - not to set a bad example for children, but to see the world through their eyes. The episode is titled, "Stoned Kids" and the oil is used to treat children with cancer.
"I'm about to take a very beginner's dose of highly potent THC oil...It should be an interesting afternoon for me," he says in the following trailer for that episode. After stumbling around for a few hours, followed by a camera crew, Andavolu says, "I took one-tenth of a gram. The dosage (for the kids) is generally one gram. Thinking about this...10 [times] this stoned is alarming."
Smoking a joint in the house of the president of Uruguay. Getting high on cannabis oil meant to treat sick kids and wandering around in the woods. This kind of personal journalism can appear self-indulgent, and often undermine the serious issues being explored.
Not so for Andavolu. In Weediquette, he speaks with people serving longterm sentences for minor marijuana offences, former soldiers using cannabis to treat PTSD, and children fighting cancer. These are arguably inappropriate kinds of stories in which to inject a first-person perspective, unless you've had some of these experiences first-hand.
But Andavolu successfully uses this technique to connect with his interview subjects in a very personal way - without making it too much about himself, and not enough about the people he's profiling.
This approach began with the documentary about legalizing cannabis in Uruguay. Andavolu says he decided - mid-interview with the president of Uruguay - to ask if he could smoke a joint in his house, and the president said yes. In a recent interview with Civilized, Andavolu said he didn't consider what his mother would think until that show was ready to air.
"I realized I hadn't told my folks this, so I called my mom. I said, 'Remember how proud you were that your young son was making good in the world of journalism and interviewing heads of state. Well, I smoked a joint with him.' And she was like, 'Oh my God!' Then we had a really deep and hard conversation about it."
Andavolu says he wasn't doing it merely for shock value, and the producers of Weediquette agreed. He told them this story when they first talked about the idea for Weediquette, and they told him his personal journey needed to be part of the show.
"I told [the producers] that story because for me, it was part of the journey I was going through reporting on this," says Andavolu. "They thought that gave another to dimension to the inquiry we were producing. They told me, 'yes, this is an unbelievable time for legalization. Yes, the culture is changing in a rapid way. Yes, some people are going through some intense human emotions. But Krishna so are you when you talk to your mom about stuff like that. We want that to be part of the show too.' "
I remember feeling a little embarrassed when I first sat down to first tell my parents about Civilized. Andavolu says he experienced something similar when he called to tell his mother about Weediquette.
"I'm mortified. I not sure how it comes off, but I'm dying during that phone call," he says. "It's become my journey in that sense, talking to my mom and my wife. That becomes part of the larger journey we're taking in the show."
Andavolu brings that personal touch to the stories about other people. One of the episodes, "The War On Weed," is focused on the family of Bernard Noble, who has been imprisoned for 13 years for the possession of two joints. Andavolu attends a family barbecue to speak with different family members about how they're coping with Noble's imprisonment. At one point, Andavolu is cutting meat with Noble's mother in her kitchen. "If he was here he'd be doing this," she says of her son.
There is a lingering social stigma around recreational cannabis use, and that makes conversations with friends and family difficult for people like Andavolu. He wants people to connect with his experience on that level, but he remains acutely aware that people like Noble are victims of a more serious and profound injustice.
At the end of the episode, Andavolu phones his wife, who is at home with their young child. He may have had reservations about talking to his mother, but at least he gets to have those kinds of conversations face-to-face.
"I'm just thinking about this story, and this dude got 13 years for two joints," he tells her. They're beautiful people, a really tight-knit family. They're just the way we are. I think about how painful and ridiculous it would be to be separated from you and our little one. I'm going to come home and see you guys, and this guy's not, for years and years on end."
How will shows like this change the cannabis industry? It seems like the more mainstream marijuana culture can become the more widely accepted it will be across cultural, political and legislative lines.
The business of cannabis seems all but inevitable, as more and more states vote to legalize both recreational and medical, and the health benefits of cannabis become not only more apparent, but more accepted as well.
But let's not kid ourselves. Money plays a big role in how cannabis is viewed in the United States. The more money that states start to rake in (Colorado is already making $100 million per month) in legal tax dollars, the more accepted it will become. Because many states won't have an option to turn down the piles of potential money that their neighbors are accruing just by legalizing a drug that is already available on most street corners.
The law, as it stands now, is meant to be changed. Laws always evolve with the times, and marijuana is one that seems like it's time has come, especially for the wide ranging uses for consumers in the marketplace.
One aspect that often gets overlooked as we see the cultural mores evolve is the use of social media. Prior to the days of Facebook and Twitter, information was limited to the local newspaper and the nightly news. Not necessarily bastions of progressive thought. But now the public has access to a wide range of information streams. And while this can be problematic at times (the 2016 presidential election would have gone very differently if there had not been Facebook to spread disinformation and fear), it can also be a wonderful tool for anyone with a smartphone to learn about potential new medicine, or even previously subverted truths about topics such as marijuana. With all the bile and vitriol on social media, we sometimes forget that the Internet is actually the great tool since the invention of the wheel to give anyone and everyone access to the collective history of human learning.
Whether it's dealing with pain symptoms, being used as a therapy for anxiety, a way to treat addiction, or for just plain old pain, our good friend tetrahydrocannabinol is a drug that could be just what the economic doctor ordered.
Mark Leger is the editor of Civilized. Weediquette airs Tuesday night on VICELAND. Past episodes can be viewed online at www.viceland.com on a three-month free preview until the end of May