When marijuana activist Dana Larsen first started writing his pot-themed fan fiction, he just thought they would be fun for other cannabis users to read. But after years of selling thousands of copies of his parody children's stories like Green Buds and Hash and Hairy Pothead and the Marijuana Stone, Larsen realized they could be more: a tool in his campaign for legalization.
In Canada, where Larsen lives, a nationwide legalization policy probably isn't far off. Possessing and selling weed is still illegal across the country, but this spring, the Canadian government will propose new laws that could make it the first major country to legalize marijuana across the board. Marijuana activists hope that this shift in regulation up north will trickle down to the United States—and eventually the rest of the world—in a major victory against the war on drugs.
That's where Larsen believes his books come in. And he's not the only one: An emerging collection of books—from It's Just a Plant to If A Peacock Finds A Pot Leaf—are looking to make marijuana part of children's literature. We talked to Larsen about how he believes his children's book parodies can open up new dialogues about cannabis and can help usher in a new era of legalized, normalized weed.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
VICE: So, how did this all start?
Dana Larsen: Well, I wrote the Hairy Pothead book quite a few years ago. It came out in 2008 and it's been re-published a couple of times since then. I read the Harry Potter books to my daughter and thought they were quite good. When I was reading them, I could just see this whole parallel world of it all being cannabis related. I just wrote it all down and people liked it. I've got a sequel to that coming out, but it's taking a while. I'm hoping to put out Hairy Pothead and the 420 Code next year sometime. I wrote the Green Buds and Hash poem quite a few years ago and I just posted it online. It picked up a lot of traction and I thought, Well, this should be a book.
Are these books meant to be for children?
I didn't really write them for kids. I write them because they amuse me and I enjoy them. What actually struck me—especially with the Green Buds and Hash book—is how many parents do read it to their kids, and often it's because either the parent or the child is a medical marijuana user. It's a way for them to have this dialogue in a nonjudgmental way with their kid. There's plenty of children that I know that who have epilepsy and use cannabis medicinally or their parents do, and I've had some kids send me drawings of characters from the book that say, "My daddy's medicine" or something. That's not what I expected when I wrote it. I don't really write these for kids but I don't see any harm in anybody of any age reading a story or thinking about these ideas. I don't think that an eight-year-old is going to read this book and start lighting up a joint or whatever.
Are you hoping your market shifts towards more children in the future?
I have had many parents tell me they read my books to their kids, or that they're buying them for their kids to read. But usually those kids are teenagers or older, and not children. If I had written Green Buds and Hash for children, I wouldn't have had lines like, "Do you suffer from sclerosis, epilepsy or neurosis?" I doubt many pre-teens know what those words mean. However, that book does get read to some young children and it does please me to know that some parents are using my books—and that one especially—as a way of talking to their kids and teaching them about marijuana medicine. Especially when parent or child is a medical cannabis user themselves.
I don't think reading Hairy Pothead will make someone start smoking pot, any more than reading Harry Potter will make them start practicing witchcraft. Right now, I have four books and I do see an age progression in them. Green Buds and Hash is the early reader; The Pie Eyed Piper is for elementary school age. Hairy Pothead and the Marijuana Stone is for teens and the Cannabis in Canada history book is for young adults and up.
If children are reading these books, how does that help normalize weed?
Much of the information that we get about cannabis is government and corporate propaganda against it. Cannabis and cannabis users are regularly demonized and mocked in the mainstream media. Even pro-cannabis media often portray cannabis users as dopey, lazy, and ignorant. In my stories, cannabis users are usually a little smarter than non-users—like they're part of a secret group that has extra insight and wisdom. My stories portray cannabis as a magical substance with many uses and transformative powers, which I think is a valid assessment. Although the stories are fantastical, the cannabis information is accurate and the stories can be educational.
The first Hairy Pothead book is 242 pages long—that's close to the same length as the original. How long did that take you to do?
It took me about a year to write it. The sequel has been taking me a while because it should be about double the length. I'm also working on a new series coming out next year called, The Hash-tastic Voyages of Sinbad the Strain Hunter. He goes around finding giant cannabis plants that are hundreds of feet tall or finding little, tiny microscopic ones or other crazy adventures that sort of parallel all those stories from The Arabian Nights. I've got Jack and the Hemp Stalk and Little Green Riding Hood. I'm hoping to put out some of those stories next year as well.
Are you smoking pot every time you sit down to write?
Yeah. I smoke pot all day, every day, pretty much. I'm a very chronic cannabis user and have been for the last 20 years or so. I run dispensaries in Vancouver and do a lot of political activism work, so writing is not really my main focus. Most of my work is more like, I led a big referendum campaign in 2013 to collect signatures to try to force a vote here. We didn't hit the signature target because it's brutally hard in British Columbia compared to any American state. I work with the New Democratic Party; I do a lot of political stuff and I'm a big part of the dispensary movement here in Canada.
What are your goals for legalization and how do you see it playing out?
I think that legalizing cannabis is going to be the first step in a bigger shift to ending the whole global war on drugs. I think it's going to take many years for all of this to play out, but to me, the war on drugs is really a war on the world's best, most medicinal and culturally relevant plants—opium, poppy, coco, mushrooms, peyote, cactus, cannabis flowers, etc. These are things that are safest and most beneficial in their natural forms and it's really prohibition that makes them dangerous. My work has been focused on cannabis because although users of other drugs might have it worse in some ways, most of the policing, most of the enforcement, most of the money in the war on drugs goes against cannabis users because there's more of us. I think that comes out in my fiction a lot, where a lot of my fairy tales end up in a transformative kind of way where everything changes because the metaphor of prohibition in that story is eliminated in some way.
It's really a testament that Canada [could be] the first major country [to legalize marijuana nationally]. People will look to Canada and see what we do here and it will definitely have an influence around the world with what other models come out there. Canada will hopefully be an example and we'll keep pushing here. Once it starts to happen, it's going to happen everywhere.
Do you think educational tools like your books will help transform the overall perspective on pot over time?
Yeah. These things can be dangerous and risky, but they can also be wonderful and positive. I think a thing to compare that to, in a way, is sex. You want to be honest with your kids about sex and want them to understand how it works. We have sex education classes in school. You might tell your children that abstinence is better and you'd prefer them to be abstinent, but if you're going to have sex, it's better in a loving relationship and it's better if you use condoms or birth control. I don't see any dichotomy or contradiction between those things, between encouraging abstinence and also saying, "If you're going to do it, here's a way to not kill yourself and to be safer." With cannabis and drug use, that message can be there too. You might not want your kid taking anything, but if you're going to use something, cannabis is a lot safer than other substances.
I hope that my books and stories help normalize cannabis, because cannabis is normal. Especially in the Hairy Pothead book, as Hairy goes through his time at Hempwards School of Herbcraft and Weedery, you learn along with him. You learn a lot about hemp and cannabis and extracts and all the different classes. I sneak in a lot of learning and information in there. If people learn a little bit while they're laughing and enjoying my stories, that is exactly what I want.
Follow Sean Neumann on Twitter.