420 Interview: Shirley Halperin, Author "Pot Culture"


Posted April 20, 2009 - By Mike D'Alonzo

420 Interview: Shirley Halperin, Author

As it's 420 today, we had the inclination and the good fortune to get an interview with Shirley Halperin, co-author (with Steve Bloom) of Pot Culture: The A-Z Guide to Stoner Language & Life, in which she tells us about the draconian drug laws that relate to marijuana use, how she managed to get celebrities like Seth Rogen and Melissa Etheridge to talk about their stoner habits, and much, much more. So, without further adieu...

TheFeed: In the introduction (to the book), you characterize the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 as being "archaic and tragically out of touch." What updates would you hope are made to the way marijuana is perceived by the US govt. that would make it less archaic?

Shirley Halperin: For starters, I hope that one day soon, marijuana will be recognized for having at least some medicinal purpose and reclassified from a Schedule I narcotic (alongside heroin) to a Schedule III drug. With that in mind, a proper study of cannabis has been long overdue in this country and is one reason why many of our laws and prevailing attitudes are so out of touch with today’s reality. The way Steve and I see it, pot is ubiquitous — everybody knows somebody who’s a stoner — and it doesn’t kill you or make you want to kill someone. If anything, weed keeps people indoors; watching movies and ordering pizza — what’s the worst that could happen?

Decriminalizing and regulating the sale of marijuana can only lead to positive results: massive amounts of tax money, less non-violent offenders in our already overcrowded jails, pain relief for cancer and AIDS patients and perhaps a drop in America’s reliance on the black market and drug gangs. Stoners have high (heh) hopes that the Obama administration will face and address the marijuana issue with sensitivity and pragmatism and not simply mock its advocates — the funny-looking internet trolls that we are. 

Another pet pot peeve of ours is the long-held belief that marijuana is a “gateway drug.” We’d love nothing more than a reassessment of that notion, and even an examination of pot as — wait for it — an “exit drug.” Having watched our share of Celebrity Rehab, we’ve learned that when it comes to life-destroying addictions like heroin, cocaine, meth, meds and alcohol, multiples relapses are all too common. But what if, rather than going cold turkey, they were allowed to smoke pot — could it help curb their post-detox cravings? Again, a scientific study would help. How about it, Dr. Drew?

The layout reminds me of a school textbook. What about that design appealed to you?

I was going for the feel of an encyclopedia — where you could turn to any page and be entertained. If, in the process, you learned something, even better! But it was a challenge to cram it all in there. The book includes over 300 photographs, many of which demonstrate step-by-step How To instructions. It took almost an entire week just to shoot the various forms of paraphernalia, not to mention the many hand models who worked tirelessly to roll the perfect joint, and our trusty baker (of food… and weed… together).

How important is it that legalization efforts have celebrity endorsements?

Through the power of influence, celebrity endorsements help in normalizing what some perceive as evil or harmful rather than a simple recreational act or a legitimate medicine. But the day has yet to come when we see a picture of Paris Hilton on Us Weekly’s “Celebrities: They’re Just Like Us” page with a caption that reads: “They break their bongs!” Conversely, because of our history of archaic drug laws, plenty of pro-pot celebrities have records (and not the kind that play music), which, in some peoples’ eyes, doesn’t make them the greatest character witnesses.

Was it difficult to get celebrities to talk on the record about their stoner tendencies?

It depended on the celebrity. Musicians and comedians tend to be much more open about their marijuana use and we were thrilled to get original contributions by loud and proud stoners like Tommy Chong, Red Man, Doug Benson, Melissa Etheridge and Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas. But inexplicably, we had a hard time getting through to some of the most obvious pro-pot personalities, like Snoop Dogg, Bill Maher and Willie Nelson. Actors, we’ve found, are the most challenging. We’re now praying to the weed gods that our hero Seth Rogen will agree to participate in the sequel to Pot Culture, which comes out on 4/20/2010 and was due, like, yesterday.

How are you planning on celebrating 4/20?

Steve is a featured guest at the huge 4/20 smoke-out in Boulder, Colorado. It’s his second year attending and he’ll also be signing copies of Pot Culture at the Peace in Medicine Center in Denver. I will likely be writing, rolling solo, and watching several hours of bongtvlive.com and G420!

What are your own personal preferences for music, movies, food, etc. to enjoy while partaking?

I’m a longtime Phish fan and Deadhead, so hearing any of that music always brings me back to a special place — namely, the college years. Perhaps my all-time favorite artist to smoke to is the late, great Gram Parsons. There’s nothing better than driving through Joshua Tree National Park listening to “Hickory Wind.” But I write about music for a living, so I like to think I have a pretty wide palette. I might be puffing at a Foo Fighters concert one week, and spacing out to Vetiver or Devendra Banhart the next.

As far as movies, seeing Dazed and Confused in the theater literally changed my life and, even though I’ve practically memorized every line, I still love watching it. Perhaps the greatest moment of my entire stoner existence was attending the 10-year anniversary of the film’s release in Austin, TX. Director Richard Linklater hosted an outdoor screening at the actual moon tower and many of the actors, including Matthew McConaughey, were on hand along with a couple thousand fans. It was like going to a midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show, you could barely hear the dialogue, but the vibe was euphoric. Somewhere on the Criterion edition of the DVD, there’s a shot of me interviewing McConaughey and looking like I just walked through the pearly gates of stoner heaven. Indeed, I had.

Reality TV has replaced my former weekly ritual of gathering friends for sessions of Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place. Now it’s all about American Idol, Amazing Race and other infuriating/nail-biting competition shows. Naturally, Top Chef is the worst because those high-end munchies can do some serious damage to your wallet.

If you're interested in reading Pot Culture, you can purchase it here. We thank Shirley for her time!

420 Interview: Shirley Halperin, Author "Pot Culture"


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