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Drugs

Seth Rogen Is Actually Doing Something About the War on Drugs

Rogen may be another white guy profiting off legal weed, but he tells VICE there's 'no way' he can ignore prohibition's racist past.

by Manisha Krishnan
20 September 2019, 3:41am

Seth Rogen's weed company Houseplant is sponsoring National Expungement Week. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

Anyone who is even tangentially familiar with Seth Rogen knows he loves weed.

As a fellow Vancouver native, I’ve come to think of him as an unofficial ambassador for both my hometown and cannabis—the two of which are very much intertwined. So I wasn’t surprised in the least when Rogen and his childhood friend/collaborator Evan Goldberg launched their weed line Houseplant, a Canopy Growth brand, earlier this year.

By that point, the trajectory of celebrities jumping into legal weed had become a cliche—even Martha fucking Stewart is in on it.

Houseplant’s first press release noted that the company is “aware of the racial injustices that exist” and will work closely to help those unjustly incarcerated. It’s a solid sentiment, but I was waiting for follow through.

So it was refreshing to catch up with Rogen and Goldberg as they were promoting National Expungement Week, which Houseplant and Canopy are sponsoring from September 21-28.

The initiative, spearheaded by an organization called Cage-Free Cannabis, takes place in cities across the U.S., featuring events that range from public information sessions to legal clinics where people with cannabis convictions can get their records cleared or sealed.

“There’s just millions and millions of people in America who can’t vote, who can’t get a job, who can’t do things that many, many people take for granted because they have been arrested for something that isn’t illegal anymore,” Rogen told VICE. “To us, that is just unacceptable. Weed should have never been illegal in the first place, that’s the premise that we operate under.”

Goldberg added that he and Rogen were lucky to grow up in Vancouver, where cannabis consumption was embraced long before legalization.

“We just were born in a place where weed was more accepted and some people were not and their lives have been fucked up because of it,” he said.

We also talked about the hypocrisy of the legal weed industry, the worst reefer madness myths, greening out, and why British Columbia sucks so badly at selling legal weed. (I've got to admit, I was impressed by the depth of their weed knowledge—I’m talking boring, provincial regulation-level stuff).

VICE: People of color account for a disproportionate number of cannabis arrests but the legal industry is largely made up of white dudes. What do you make of that and what responsibility does the industry have to change that?
Seth Rogen: We can only talk for ourselves personally but we felt as though we had to acknowledge reality and it was not a tough pill to swallow in doing that. We are very aware that cannabis has been used to target marginalized groups of people and people who are not marginalized have not been targeted by it. In fact, many of them have been rewarded by being some of the first to flock to the industry and profit off it. We think it’s wildly important to understand the roots of the industry that you are trying to be a part of and to us there would be no way that we would even consider entering this space without really actively trying to rectify the issues that go along with being in the space, and one of the major ones is exactly what you’re saying. Weed should have never been illegal in the first place. If you go back, a large part of the reason it is illegal is literally racist and it’s very important to us to acknowledge that and not hide from that and try to help fix that in any way we can.

In places like LA they are giving out equity licenses to people harmed by the war on drugs so they can have a chance to get into the legal market. Canada has no such legislation, and no such initiatives are taking place. Do you think we should be looking into that?
Rogen: Yes. In fact some provinces have gone so far as to disqualify you if you were involved in the gray market from now being in the industry, which is completely ridiculous and counterproductive. It’s rewarding people who have nothing to do with cannabis and have not dedicated their lives to trying to bring it to people in a safe, responsible way. It’s in fact punishing those people and rewarding people who literally entered a lottery to try to make some money, which to us is not the way we would have gone about it if we were in charge.

Evan Goldberg: Yeah, but now that they’re there they have a responsibility—lottery winners and every single person involved in this industry to just acknowledge that reality and work toward making it better.

Do you guys think that cops should be allowed to be in the legal weed game? So many former cops jumped into it right away.
Rogen: [Laughs] I don’t know if they should or shouldn’t.

Goldberg: That’s a double-edged sword.

Rogen: I’d say as long as we’re in a climate where people's lives are being very negatively affected by convictions related to cannabis, it seems ridiculous that those who convicted them should be allowed to benefit.

Goldberg: But I guess it’s kind of a case-by-case basis. If those people are doing what they should be and helping people who were wronged and using their knowledge to better it, then perhaps.

Rogen: Then perhaps.

One of the stories I’ve been looking at is what’s happening at the border. Canadians who’ve admitted that they’ve smoked weed ever in their lives can be banned from the U.S. for life. Same goes if you’re living in the States but you’re not a U.S. citizen, you can potentially be deported. What do you guys make of that?
Rogen: Again it is absolutely ridiculous and shows the odd climate you’re creating when something is federally illegal but legal on a state-to-state basis. And it’s one of the reasons that we’re so supportive of trying to set these laws back on the right path and why expungement to us specifically is very important.

Goldberg: People can get into trouble at the border still but the people who need expungement have gotten into issues and it is fucking up their lives and they need help.

Speaking of acceptance, growing up in Vancouver weed is just everywhere. What do you guys think is the biggest reefer madness myth that persists today?
Rogen: That weed makes you lazy and unproductive and unmotivated or emotionally detached. I smoke weed all day everyday and I’m not lazy, I’m wildly productive. I have many deep emotional relationships with many people.

Goldberg: I am one of those people. We share our thoughts and emotions constantly and I can confirm he has deep emotions.

Rogen: To me it is no different from drinking coffee or wearing glasses or wearing shoes. We are physically not 100 percent cut out for the world we live in and as humans we’ve adopted many things to make that world more livable for us and to me and many, many, many millions of other people cannabis is one of those things that helps make day-to-day life more livable.

Would you guys say that cannabis is part of your creative process?
Goldberg: Absolutely, yeah. But it helps in every facet of our lives, really.

Rogen: I would say my baseline level of functionality is intrinsically tied into cannabis.

Do you guys have hope for things changing in America at the federal level?
Rogen: We do. Few things move the needle in America as much as money. And I think slowly now that it’s started the federal government will see how much money they’re missing out on by not legalizing it. I don’t think there’s any moral motivation for many things that happen on a government level in America, but there are many financial motivations so that to me is the hope I have. Is that someone will just realize that they’ll make more money if they make weed federally legal.

I’m going ask a hyper local B.C. question. Legal weed sales in BC are among the worst in the country; Alberta is kicking our ass. Does that surprise you given how much British Columbians love weed?
Rogen: I actually think the reason is that just they’ve been much slower to roll out the number of dispensaries or they’ve been much slower to change over the grey market dispensaries than they predicted they would. I think we’ve seen it play out in America as well, when each province and each state get their own interpretation of the rules and their own way to enact the rules certain provinces like Alberta I believe made it much easier for people to open dispensaries. And therefore there’s more dispensaries and much more weed is getting sold. B.C. has made it much harder for people to open federally legal dispensaries and therefore there’s less of them and less weed is getting sold as a result of it.

We’re about to sell edibles in Canada and there’s a lot of hysteria about greening out. Have you guys ever greened out?
Rogen: Edibles, it’s funny. Houseplant has a beverage we’ve been working on and a large part of our motivation was to create something that you didn’t have to wait 45 minutes to see how it was making you feel and instead maybe you felt it more as you were consuming it. That was very important to us and I think that’s some of the reason that we have negative experiences with edibles, is it’s hard to portion them because it takes so long for them to kick in and I think a lot of people have had that experience.

Have you guys greened out though? You must have.
Rogen: In life? Yeah. In California when they first started selling edibles they were wildly unregulated and far too strong [laughs].

Goldberg: It was almost like how strong it could be was part of the game—that no one wanted to play.

*Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More information on National Expungement Week is available here.

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This article originally appeared on VICE CA.