David Bienenstock thinks cannabis should transform capitalism.
Not on a small scale, either. The author of How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High (Plume, $15, 288 pages) believes this newly legal plant has the potential to remake the global economy.
Since his first puff from an apple behind a bowling alley, Bienenstock credits cannabis with helping him learn to question well, just about everything.
"Cannabis has taught me that it's society that's fucked up, not necessarily me," Bienenstock says. "Being weird in a society that's so off course in so many ways… hyper capitalistic competition over everything and doesn't value the strange beauty of existence."
Bienenstock spent a decade as an editor at High Times, and is now at Vice, which recently brought him through Portland to film a reprisal of Willamette Week's Puff Puff Pizza party with P.R.E.A.M.
He has a very Portlandy outlook, too: "Weirdness is something to be valued and cultivated. It's something we need to hold on to and promote."
Bienenstock says the roots of this book trace back to 2014, when he waited in line to buy the nation's first legal weed in Colorado on New Year's Day. He asked the rapidly growing crowd where they were from and why they were there. Most weren't from Colorado, and many already had access to cannabis in their home states. But these people were here to be part of history, Bienenstock realized. That's when he decided to share his 15 years of experience with not only growers, dealers and smugglers, but also artists, scientists and doctors.
"The people who care about cannabis need to educate themselves really well, to be ambassadors of this plant and ambassadors of this culture," Bienenstock says.
That's where How to Smoke Pot fits in. More than something to give to the reluctant but interested potential cannabis user, it's a collection of cannabis culture values he hopes will be shared and adopted by small businesses so they can rewrite the rules to provide living wages, good environmental policies and market cannabis positively—unlike the big-business model used by alcohol.
In five years, after the cannabis industry proves its model works, Bienenstock wants to use it as a template for everything else. Lofty hopes, but Bienenstock points to results from now-legal states.
"Everything they said that was going to be terrible clearly hasn't happened, everything good we said was going to happen did, including lower crime rates and traffic crashes," he says.
Even positive results haven't helped the cannabis industry much. A disappointed Bienenstock talks about how people with prohibitionist mindsets are usually the ones in charge of regulating cannabis. To him, being wrong is not a qualification, it's a disqualification.
"Maybe the ones that have been right all along should be the ones figuring out how to regulate cannabis," Bienenstock says.
The next frontier? Bienenstock will be trying to help create spaces, like bars, for cannabis users to toke.
"We live in a society that's alcohol-saturated," Bienenstock says. "Alcohol is how we celebrate a birth, how we celebrate a wedding, commiserate over a funeral. I enjoy alcohol myself, but it's important to give people an alternative—especially one that is a lot safer."
GO: David Bienenstock will read from How to Smoke Pot at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 503-228-4651, powells.com. 7:30 pm Tuesday, May 17. Free.