Author David Downs’ guide to getting lit

Wendy Medina,
Copy Editor

Journalist and author David Downs has been at the heart of the weed whirlwind that has swept California for decades.

His latest book, “The Medical Marijuana Guidebook,” which focuses on medical research, plant to human biology, business how-to guidance and medical marijuana policy, debuted in an Aug. 17 pot literature showcase “Lit. LIT!” that revolved around cannabis to discuss information about growing, medical uses and laws pertaining to marijuana.

Downs produced the showcase, which happened at the headquarters of Meadow, a medical pot delivery service in San Francisco. He has hosted several of these showcases, but this time he wanted to organize a cannabis event in the Bay Area that would be something more interesting than reading, something more contemporary and fun to go to, he told the Pioneer.

In 2007, Downs founded Legalization Nation, a column in the East Bay Express that discusses marijuana news and culture. The award-winning journalist talked to the Pioneer about how his involvement in journalism and marijuana activism reacted to yield his career.

While in college, Downs began to believe strongly that it was unjust for students to lose financial aid because of marijuana violations. Some students are solely dependent on financial aid as a means of paying for tuition; take that aid away for a weed infraction, and no more school. He interviewed former Sen. Barney Frank and wrote an article on financial aid reform regarding this issue while he worked at UC Santa Barbara’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Nexus.

“Ever since college and applying for financial aid, and realizing that [a marijuana infraction] was hanging over plenty of good kids’ heads, I’ve always been interested in cannabis policy, public health and American politics,” he said.

California voters will decide whether or not to legalize recreational cannabis in just two and a half months. According to Prop 64, or the “The Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act,” if passed, the law would make it legal for recreational purchase and cultivation of weed, as long as the user is 21. Prop 64 would also enact a state excise tax of 15 percent on retail sales, according to the Attorney General’s Office. California would be the fifth state to legalize recreational use of weed.

Pro-pot opposition lies within one of the initiative’s clauses to “designate state agencies to license and regulate marijuana industry.” In other words, there is fear that revolves around the security of the purity of the product, unwilling to see it go down the same road as tobacco, contaminated with tons of other toxic chemicals. According to Downs, pro-marijuana criticism people are “worried about trading the outside chance of being put in a cage for a very real possibility of being an economic waste slave and oppose legalization landscape,” he said.

As a journalist, Downs tries to be objective and do the factual reporting for his readers, but as a citizen he believes current marijuana policy is failing, since thousands of Americans are behind bars or will be arrested on pot charges. Of 700,993 marijuana law violations, 88 percent of those were for possession only, according to a crime report released by the FBI in 2014. American Civil Liberties Union, the nation’s individual rights defender, report that not only do marijuana arrests make up over half of all drug arrests in the United States, but that Blacks are four times more likely than whites to be arrested for weed.

“I’m hearing the economic criticism of allowing the marijuana market to be exposed to capitalism, but I see that as a problem with capitalism, not with legalization,” Downs told the Pioneer. “Legalization is coming at a time when the gap between the rich and poor has never been wider, and people are viewing legalization through that lens, and it’s starting to drag down momentum for reforming these laws.”

Three national polls all conducted in 2015 — Gallop, General Social Survey and Pew Research Center — found that at least 52 percent of the U.S. is in favor ending pot prohibition.

One of Downs’ colleagues, Cannabis Now Magazine content editor Ellen Holland, told the Pioneer, “If Proposition 64 passes, activists within the movement will have to work to challenge and alter some of its components. For example, with Proposition 64 in place, a condition citing no smoking in public will allow local law enforcement to have a pretext for continued discrimination against minority groups. The challenge will be in defining what ‘public’ means.”

Downs has a strong voice in the cannabis literature community and has frequently published articles about the culture of the marginalized plant since 1996. For more information about his recent guidebook, visit his website