ETC / Interviews

Amanda Chicago Lewis: the Politics of Cannabis

According to the Japanese (well, one Japanese news anchor at least), Amanda Chicago Lewis looks like Cher. Now, as much as we’d like a person who has a sideline job as a Cher look-alike on Elevate the Conversation, it always helps if our guests have other things up their sleeves, too. Amanda definitely has lots of other gigs, having written for Rolling Stone, GQ, BuzzFeed, Vice, the LA Review of Books, Vice, The Awl, Pop-Up Magazine, and LA Weekly and probably lots of others we probably don’t know of.

More importantly, Amanda likes honesty, trampolines, and long hikes, which are some of the main reasons why we’re talking to her. Well, that, and her interest in cannabis, of course! So, without further ado, here’s more from Amanda Chicago Lewis …

Could you tell us your “cannabis story”? Tell us your beginnings, what attracted you to the world of cannabis, and so on …

So, I’ve been a cannabis user since I was a teenager. I’ve lived in Los Angeles since 2009, and started writing for LA Weekly in 2011. At a certain point, they noticed that the things I was writing about cannabis were a bit more well-informed than the things other people were writing, so I started doing a column for them about it. I was doing that for a little over a year, and then I got a job for BuzzFeed and covering cannabis for them. And now I write a column for Rolling Stone!

Do you use cannabis for medical purposes at all?

I use it if I have trouble sleeping, or if I have menstrual cramps. There was a time when I had a kidney infection, and cannabis was very important to medicating that. I don’t have a serious condition or anything like that.

Could you tell us how you used cannabis for your kidney problems?

I had a kidney infection in 2010. With a kidney infection, there’s about a week or so where you can’t really walk around or do much, and if you do, you’ll get a fever. It was sort of like I had to sit in bed and do nothing. I realized that if I smoked cannabis, I could do whatever I needed to do.

Do you have any favorite strains or products?

Yeah. I like different strains for different occasions. It sort of depends on what I’m doing. I like all the pineapple strains a lot.

What have you found particularly useful in getting information that you needed, both as a professional and as a patient?

I think just talking to a lot of different people and having access to a wide variety of products and being able to pit them against each other and see how what they say compares to what they claim. Being in California, I’m around a lot of different people and a lot of people using cannabis for different reasons, so I have a lot of test cases around me at all times, sort of toggling how I see this stuff working in people.

How do you feel about things going recreational in 2018 in California?

I hope that the licensing authorities are ready for what’s about to happen! I have a lot of thoughts about it. I don’t think the state is really ready to handle the situation, and I don’t think they’ve created the incentives to get as many people involved as they should. You know, we don’t even have the details of what a lot of the regulations are going to look like. So, I’m like, “It’s September. We should probably have some more information.”

Doctor Frank is convinced they’re not going to be ready! We find that, when states go recreational, the medical patients sometimes get forgotten about. In some ways, they can sometimes be left in worse situations as getting the right information gets harder to access when patient services begin to be left behind. What are your thoughts on that?

Yeah, that’s a probably going to be a problem, and it’s a problem in Washington, too. I also think patients aren’t going to get solid information until, you know, federal legalization or at the very least a much more significant amount of research is allowed.

When you have lots of different state laws and you can’t transfer product over state lines, it’s much harder to create medically-orientated products for just the medical market. But if you could create such products centrally and transport them across the states, that would make much more economic sense.

In California, the medical market is big enough that it probably won’t go away. I think the people working with patients will continue to work with patients and carry on making the products they’re making.

Photo by Get Budding on UnsplashDid you support Prop. 64?

Actually, I did not vote either way on that. Usually, journalists will not try to take a political stance on the issues they write about. And I think I knew too much about that law anyway, so I didn’t vote either way.

How much has the landscape changed, in terms of what people are interested in reading about?

In the past year, there’s been a lot of concern that the entire thing could reverse, and we would “undo” all the legalization, which has created a lot of uncertainty. When I started writing about the topic, there was a confidence that we were moving forward, that things were getting better, that we were advancing. And now, with Trump and Sessions, there’s a sort of sense that progress has either halted or is going to reverse. I don’t think that’s necessarily that accurate.

Do you think medical demand will get big enough that even the fiercest opposition will be able to keep cannabis illegal?

Yeah, you’d think so. I think there’s a good chance that Congress will do something in the next couple of years. But I think the current government is a bit unpredictable, so I don’t think you can say anything with any logical certainty.

What would you like to see in the next couple of years in the cannabis space?

I’d like to see cannabis taken off the controlled substances list and a lot more research happen in an unfettered way. And then proper regulations, research about dosage and all of that, with federal agencies fully participating. I’d like to see interstate commerce and information and federal legalization. I think that will solve lots and lots of problems. Once we have banking, we can track it properly.

Amanda will be appearing on Elevate the Conversation this Wednesday 09/27/2017 at 6 pm PST. It’s not often that we get to hear from people who have been at the forefront of some of the media storms – and privy to so much of the information and misinformation –  that has surrounded the cannabis industry. Make sure you tune into ETC and have a listen!

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