Last week, Alaska KTVA’s Charlo Greene made the move from reporter to newsmaker by quitting her job live on air to commit her time fully as owner and founder of the Alaska Cannabis Club. The video of her “fuck it, I quit” resignation quickly went viral (#FuckItIQuit) and Greene (whose real name is Charlene Ebge) has used the attention to further her cause, launching an indiegogo campaign with the original aim of raising $5000 and currently sitting at $11,223 with 8 days left to go. She and her team will be using the money to cover travel and other expenses as they raise support for November’s Ballot Measure #2 vote which would legalize recreational marijuana in Alaska (upto 1 oz, and 6 plants). In recent days, she has appeared on multiple news outlets, making an extra special appearance on Snoop Dogg’s online show ‘GGN’. An obvious supporter, during the Skyped interview the Doggfather agrees that if the state passes Ballot Measure #2 he’ll head to the Northern Frontier to put on a concert (a “wellness retreat concert” he calls it). Is Greene’s appearance a well-designed method of gaining support for her cause or is it more a chance to smoke with Snoop via Skype? Will the Hip Hop legend’s support move the public needle when it comes to the November vote?
Alaska, as it turns out, has an interesting history with marijuana’s criminalization and legalization (in both directions), well outlined here by Jason Brandeis. As a state that deeply values liberty and personal autonomy, Alaska set legal precedent in 1973’s Ravin v State, saying that rights to personal privacy protect an individual’s possession of a personal amount of marijuana in their own home. That landmark ruling has served as both foundation and obstacle over the next four decades as the state decriminalized possession of all marijuana under 4 oz in 1982, criminalized all possession for the first time in 1990, approved medical marijuana use in 1998, overruled the 1990 Initiative in 2003 (saying that constitutional right can’t be superseded by local statute), rejected broad decriminalization initiatives in 2000 and 2004, and re-criminalized possession in 2006 by the Alaska Legislature.
Amidst all this, Greene’s Alaska Cannabis Club has staked its claim as the state’s “only legal medical marijuana resource” and a tenet of their campaign is an increased number of legal dispensaries. In an August interview with Alaska Dispatch News, one of the club’s founders appearing under condition of anonymity explained how they provide for the needs of their clients:
“The club connects cardholders to card-holding growers, the founder explained. Growers are offered “donation” points for their wares, the website states. In this way, no illegal sales are taking place. Once paired up, the club steps out of the way and lets the cardholder and grower go from there. Donation amounts are decided by the club. Growers are reimbursed for the costs associated with growing each strain. ‘It’s not for a profit, it’s for a reimbursement, so that it’s self-sustaining,’ the founder said.”
The primary opponent to the November Ballot is the ‘No On 2’ campaign whom Greene has frequently accused of fear-mongering and lies, aiming to scare the voting public into rejecting the legalization measure. Much of the counter campaign focuses on the danger of weed concentrates (“dabs”) and edibles, which are both considerably stronger than ordinary weed and have caused problems in Colorado. They also make some sprawling claims about “Big Marijuana” (a take on Big Tobacco) moving in to Alaska as the primary beneficiaries of the new industry and not homegrown businesses.
Reactions to Greene’s appearances and tactics have expectedly been mixed. Twitter is abuzz with support from the weed community (@CEOCharloGreene), while opponents on the outside like ‘No On 2’ as well as inside the legalization community have been critical of Greene, such as Ryan Fox, CEO of Kindman, one of Colorado’s largest providers of recreational marijuana products. Fox released a statement on Tuesday, calling her outburst unnecessary, accusing her of “being self-indulgent and glory-seeking to meet her personal agenda”, and saying
“If she and her supporters are trying to publicize the cause of marijuana legalization with voters in Alaska, they certainly need to speak about it and they certainly need to get the information out.” he added. “But Washington and Colorado accomplished this two years ago without anyone behaving like that.”
There is a danger I think in not presenting these arguments, moral shifts – progressions to be sure, but changes nonetheless – with proper preparation and a sense of professionalism. Sure it’s a fun idea to smoke a joint on Huffington Post Live as Greene did on Thursday or to quit your job by dropping an f-bomb on live tv, but does that actually translate into progress or simply make her look like an outlandish, uncontrolled weedhead? Some would say any news is good news and certainly most of us would never have heard of Greene or of Alaska attempting to legalize weed if not for her outlandish behavior in quitting her job. Is the increased visibility valid reason enough?
Let’s be clear: I support the legalization of marijuana and the overall social shift that sees weed as akin to alcohol (and considerably less dangerous). I believe it should de-stigmatized and that there is large value in it being regulated and taxed (though I do believe this could result in lower quality weed, at least in the shortterm). I find it encouraging that Washington and Colorado were able to pass reform for recreational marijuana, a big step from the medicinal intermediary position being debated not long ago and I believe we’re probably about a decade away from that reform sweeping across most of the country. As such, I want to support Greene and her outward fight for the cause that she and I believe in. I worry, though, about the image she presents. Real reform requires a voice people respect and when you allow yourself to be turned into a character, you open the door to being discredited.
She speaks in the Huffington Post interview about the confrontation with her neighbor that has made news in recent days. I obviously don’t know definitively where the truth lies in this situation but I can tell you this: if Charlo smokes as much weed as she claims then there is no doubt the smell seeped into her neighbor’s apartment. And while active THC wouldn’t travel along with said smell in order to then make his daughter sick/high, the idea that that neighbor should have to endure an apartment smelling of weed or worry about it affecting his child is, to me, a legit concern. Now Charlo also claims that the same neighbor pulled a gun on her and her brother, hurling all types of racial epithets and that she was the one who called the police so, again, who knows where the truth lies in this situation? Personal attacks are going to happen when you make yourself a lightning rod for change so I wouldn’t be surprised if it were revealed that the neighbor’s story and restraining order are, in fact, bogus. But Charlo’s feigned disbelief, “[the weed smell seeping through the walls] would be a first in history,” she claims during the interview, smacks of someone stretching the truth.
In her interview with Snoop Dogg, she talks about her organization’s dedication to fairness and expounds on marijuana as compared to the dangers of alcohol use. While I agree with her overall sentiment, she makes some spurious arguments about driving under the influence (still an impairment with weed), a lack of health concerns, etc. It’s in these small moments of indignation that I as a marijuana supporter find some concern with Charlo Greene. You don’t have to stretch the truth to support a righteous cause and you don’t have to outlandishly show off in order for your cause to be normalized. Miss Greene wouldn’t appear on cable news swigging a liquor bottle, so why ostensibly light up a joint? She’s never made any claims that KTVA did wrong by her, so why put them at risk/do them harm by cursing on the live evening news? Perhaps the high profile that Green has garnered for herself and her cause warrant such antics; the ends may justify the means. Personally I’m undecided. If Alaska becomes the next state to legalize recreational marijuana in November I will be decidedly in favor of Greene’s actions, as that only furthers the national initiative. In addition, I’m a supporter of Seize-the-Moment moments and it seems she got the most bang for her buck, shining the biggest light possible on her cause through the use of her journalist position as well as the subsequent viral fame. And I don’t want to rag on Charlo – like I said, I support her cause. I simply think that she could use a little less pissed-off-teenager and little more crusader-for-change.