Jesse Ventura has been making a spectacle of himself his entire life. A Navy vet who fought in Vietnam, Ventura returned from the war and plunged into a world of professional physicality, working as bodyguard for the Rolling Stones before ascending to pro-wrestling superstardom as the loud-mouthed, trash-talking bully character “The Body.” Then things got really interesting. In 1990, Ventura swapped the physical for the political and got himself elected mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. Eight years later he found himself the duly elected governor of Minnesota.
Since serving one term as governor (and declining to run for a second), Ventura’s enjoyed a career as a tell-it-like-it-is pundit and conspiracy theorist—imagine a male Ann Coulter with libertarian leanings and a non-reptile heart. His empire includes bestselling books (American Conspiracies and 63 Documents the Government Doesn’t Want You to Read), cable television programs (Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura and Jesse Ventura: Off the Grid), and federal court (Ventura sued the “fascist” TSA over airport pat-down searches in 2011; the lawsuit was dismissed).
He is also a vocal advocate for cannabis legalization. Ventura’s latest project, Jesse Ventura’s Marijuana Manifesto, is a new book co-written with Jen Hobbs. In it, the large straight-shooting former governor lays out his arguments for the sensible legalization of marijuana, in his own peculiar style of hyperbolic rationalism. In advance of the book’s Sept 6 publication, Ventura chatted with me over the phone from his Minnesota home.
DAVID SCHMADER: The DEA recently rejected two new bids to reclassify marijuana, once again citing the FDA’s claim that cannabis has “no accepted medical use.” Meanwhile, a full half of U.S. states legally prescribe marijuana for medical use. How do we fight back against such hypocrisy?
JESSE VENTURA: First of all, the question needs to be asked: Why does the DEA make that decision? They are a law enforcement unit. They are not scientists, and they certainly shouldn’t be allowed to make laws which they operate under. That would be like the police making their own laws. The police carry out the laws the legislature passes, and its utterly ridiculous to put the DEA in charge of marijuana’s legality. It’s the proverbial fox in the henhouse. Of course they’re not going to approve it, because they make their living off enforcing its illegality. They have an extreme conflict of interest.
The DEA always falls back on the findings of the FDA, which still claims we lack official proof of weed’s medical potential.
And that’s baloney, because the United States has been subsidizing marijuana research for years in Israel! Always, when you deal with government, go back to that scene in All the President’s Men, when Deep Throat tells Bob Woodward something that’s universally applicable to government: Follow the money. I’ve been a mayor and the governor and trust me, that’s all you ever have to do on any issue like this. The lobbyists own elected officials and they lobby against legalizing marijuana, so the only way it gets passed is by the people, who get it on the ballot and vote. That takes the elected officials out of the equation, and the payola that goes on between them.
Speaking of getting citizens to fight, what do you think it’ll take to get people who are still against legal weed to change their views? Will this be like the fight for gay rights, where the general public needed a personal connection to an actual gay person to care about the issue?
Yeah, I think so. That’s how it works. I had someone very close to me develop a late-in-life epileptic seizure disorder. This person got put on four different pharmaceutical seizure medications. None of them worked, and they all had horrible side effects. This person went to Colorado, got medical marijuana, because at the time you could not get it in Minnesota, so they had to break the law and go to Colorado and get it. And the seizures stopped and this person’s been seizure-free ever since. And they had to break the law to get well.
When you experience something like this, and then your government insists that cannabis has no known medical benefit, you’re left feeling powerless and lightly insane. As you point out in your book, one of the few weapons in the sane citizen’s arsenal, along with ballot measures, is jury nullification.
Absolutely. If you’re on a jury that’s considering a marijuana-related crime, you can acknowledge the party committed the alleged crime, but decline to prosecute because of an unjust law. That’s the way we can fight back as citizens. We’re supposed to be a free society—how can you be prosecuted for committing a crime against yourself in a free society? The fact is our judicial system is corrupt. When Donald Trump made that statement that our federal judges are corrupt, he is correct. The problem was he brought in the race of one particular judge. Corruption doesn’t need race. Had Trump simply said, “Federal judges are corrupt,” I would agree with him totally. But he brought race into it and that didn’t need to come in.
How long do you think it’ll be before the whole issue is settled?
I’m 65 now, and I want marijuana legalized fully in my lifetime. This is a magnificent plant. You can make clothing out of it, biodiesel fuel, do all the medical things with it, and that’s the reason that I am so passionate about it. I want to see full legalization happen and I’m going to work toward that end. This is going to be my fight the rest of the way.