8 – Politics & Protest


As the oil companies and Koch brothers show, our system is based on a combination of business and politics. However, that is not necessarily bad if the businesses practice socially conscious capitalism.
An oil company making a million dollar contribution to a politician as the ‘cost of doing business’ is more effective in getting what they want than 10,000 demonstrators who burn down their own city.
They are also more efficient than non-profits activist organizations who continually have to raise funds and beg for money in order to continue legal and political battles. This is why non-profits continually have to play defense against. You need steady money to play offense for good laws!
When you make money from creating a socially activist product or service you are in for the long haul. And that is how long it takes to change a law!

As a social enterprise, you can often easily work ‘within the system’. For example if your social enterprise is making eco-friendly shoes then you probably would not have to change any laws.

However, if you really want to make a difference then you will have to be involved politically. This is what we define as an ‘Activist Enterprise’. If your cause is local, national or volunteerational, your enterprise can and should be part of the political process.

Broadly speaking social activism is an intentional action with the goal of bringing about social change. If you feel strongly about a cause and are working towards a change, you could be considered an activist. An activist is anyone who is fighting for change in society.

Activism and change come in a variety of venues. To truly create social change, activism must happen locally as well as nationally. It can happen in small, everyday actions as well as creative ways using large-scale or far reaching venues like the media or social networking.

Marijuana is one of the greatest examples of using politically active small businesses to slowly change the laws over time.

No matter which country you live in, if you try to start an Activist Enterprise  you will have to deal with the government. When you are working on an activist enterprise business it often means that you are doing something new. Doing something that is not in the regulatory framework that does not sit well with government regulators.

Location is especially important with an Activist Enterprise. For example, if you were setting up an enterprise that reduces female rape in refugee camps you could locate your operation in the country with camps. But that might be difficult. So you might end up choosing a location in a Western country and then building a relationship with an established non-governmental organization in the country and support them from the outside.

The way we chose our location for Hedonisia Hawaii:

We chose Lava Zone 1: cheap land, less zoning controls from the government, many other communities nearby. Hawaii has Western system of property ownership with less corruption compared to other countries. As an activist enterprise we were a founding member of the Hawaii Sustainable Community Alliance, a lobbying group promoting legislation that legalizes intentional sustainable communities in Hawaii.

Government Relations:

At Hedonisia, the simple act of trying to create a small, sustainable community means complying with a multitude of existing county, state and federal laws in Hawaii.

The level of red tape we must get through is daunting. For example, under existing law, no more than five unrelated adults may live together on the same property, thereby making all intentional communities ‘illegal.’

At the same time, Hawaii is supportive of the idea of sustainable living in other important ways.  The tax incentives offered for those setting up solar panels to produce renewable energy is a good example of this. As sustainable living is a bottom line game!

We are forced, in most Western countries, to live in properties, houses and apartments that are zoned for the use of a nuclear family. While we completely understand there are millions of people who want to live in houses built for nuclear families, we also know there are millions who’d like to live in a community setting, yet it is illegal or exceedingly difficult to do so.

Going through the system does not only mean following a myriad of government regulations. It also means challenging unfair laws. We do that continually through local political activism while simultaneously working through the system.

Hedonisia Hawaii Special Use Permit Draft Application

Our Hedonisia community espouses the value of absolute transparency and directness with the government, and this sub-page elucidates the reasons why transparency and honesty are the best methods for engaging.

Hedonisia addresses this concern by clearly and directly stating that we are not conspiracy theorists, and we trust our government to function fairly.

There are many benefits to engaging directly with the government. First, it allows you peace of mind. You do not have to be afraid of the consequences of not following the rules and regulations set by the government. Secondly, it is productive. As a tax paying citizen you have a say in how the system runs, especially locally. You can be the change and revolutionize policy in your community and beyond, but only by engaging with and not running from the government. Thirdly, engaging honestly with the government provides you safety. You don’t have to fear calling the police if you need security assistance.

Ultimately, engaging transparently with the government is far more advantageous than running away from, or scamming, the government. If you disagree with how the system works, operate within that system to affect the change you want.

Changing the System – Know Your Rights and Use Them

Many times it is better to simply stay close to the line of the law and practice your Activist enterprise from there. In other words, though it may seem counter intuitive, despite their public calls for eco-friendly practices and businesses when it comes to actually “doing it” many Western governments have mind boggling red tape that controls how you live and do business in the name of “Public Health and Safety”.

Remember this expression for you will see it used as a catch-all phrase by government bureaucrats to stifle innovations in so many areas of life. Laws and legislation that protect Public Health and Safety were designed for very good reasons. For example, nobody wants to work or eat  in an unregulated restaurant where modern standards of hygiene are not followed.

However, as with most well intentioned laws, the government simply goes to far. For example, though it was designed to be eco-friendly and completely healthy, the Hedonisia eco-toilet is not approved under current laws. We have had over 5 years of continual use with no health complaints but the process to get it approved is daunting. However, we are going through the nightmarish approval process!

In Western governments it is possible to “go through the system” to change the laws and requirements so that a community can legally exist. We strongly recommend that you do go through the system at some point. For if you succeed you will create precedents that allows for other communities to exist in your area.

However, unless you live in a really progressive region with a responsive local government, we recommend you do what you need to do to start your social enterprise and then apply for approval once you have some working models. It is a backward approach but in some places such as in Northern Europe and California, government regulations are so intrusive that you will never be able to get your enterprise off the ground at all.

If you have time (and money) then you can start by trying to go through the system and of course that is the ideal approach. However, when you are making a profit from your product or service you can then, often as a tax-deductible expense, work through the system. Just like the oil lobby, the coal lobby, the gun lobby you can be part of a lobby! For example green businesses already have their own lobbies which are growing in clout and influence.

Activist Enterprise and Politics.

If you are deciding to create an Activist Enterprise research carefully and find the exact legal lines or legal gray areas of what is acceptable for your business.  And then stay there!  The guru Osho once said, ‘Right is easy and easy is right!” Find the point of least resistance. Starting any sort of business is never easy so you don’t want the government shutting you down when you’ve barely started!

For example with the Hemp movement in America and Canada. Marijuana is illegal in both countries but has proven uses as a substitute for paper, cloth and many other products. So over the 90’s many new companies sprang up selling hemp products which were totally legal.

Many were in California where they operated for years and built up their lobbying clout. They ended up playing an important role in the Medical Marijuana legislation that started in California and spread to other states. Now they continue to be a powerful voice for the legalization of marijuana. As profitable sustainable businesses they make money to lobby and be part of the political process.

If you go too far over the line then the government will destroy you and your activist enterprise.  However, as your enterprise grows and you begin to make a sustainable income you can become part of the political process. If your business is truly activist and genuinely improving lives and/or the planet, then you have great advantages as you articulate your cause to the government.
That is when you join a lobby of like minded organizations. Or start one. Or simply go through the permitting and planning process to make your business truly legal by pushing the boundaries.

Warning Pro-Choice example ahead!

The website Natural Miscarriage.org is an example of an Activist Enterprise. When we started this project we knew that we could never tell a woman what to do. That could mean crossing the legal line in some US states. However, we could use our right to freedom of speech as guaranteed in the US Constitution to provide information on reproductive choice and accurate data on natural abortion methods. This is what we have done and as result we have created an activist enterprise that has provided help and information to over one million women around the world.

Bureaucratic Government and Business.

In all countries including the corrupt ones, much of being in business consists of paperwork for government and business services. My father once described his job as a ‘form-filler outer’. He would help all different kinds of people in Canada fill out forms. Whether it was for taxes, immigration, social security, business registration, appeals against government decisions. One thing he taught me was that in a ‘civilized’ country, you never have to be afraid of the government. All you have to do is fill out forms to get almost anything you want! Sometimes a lot of forms, sometimes long or short forms. But the government exists on forms and applications. It gives those bureaucrats something to do!

He filled out thousands of forms over a 25 year career. And I saw how much hope he gave to people who lived in fear of government and business bureaucracy and regulation.

So be prepared to fill out forms. Do them right and do them thoroughly and be patient when they write you back requesting more documents and forms. Simply see it as a process! Be as patient as you would be watching a mango tree grow!

Miscellaneous Material:

As a current manager at Hedonisia, I am thankful for this module and the lesson it offers. I have lived and worked in other intentional communities before, and most were very ‘counter-cultural’ places, just by the nature of what we were pursuing: carbon neutrality, alternative building, and alternative energy supplies. However, with this counter-culture can come certain drawbacks. Mainly, for me, the primary drawbacks were:

  • 1) Conspiratorial Thinking (non-productive)
  • 2) Irrational Fear of the Government

These two drawbacks to counter-cultural living can create a certain edge to an intentional community vibe if this line of thinking goes unchecked. It may undercut the very alternative lifestyle you are trying to create.

Using Capitalism to Engineer Positive Social Change: The ‘Pro-Cannabis Movement

There is still much scholarly debate about exactly where and when the cannabis plant originated.  Some believe its origins were in central Asia.  Others however, believe that because of its extensive medical and agricultural documentation in ancient Chinese literature, the cannabis plant originated there.

One point that all can agree upon is that few plants have become so ingrained in societal practices, and none has seen its legal status subject to so much variance over the years!

A Brief History of Cannabis in the United States

Despite the subject heading, this article is not intended to provide a dry history of Cannabis in the United States!  Instead we hope to high light how Capitalism (when embraced and utilized correctly) can be used to further social goals.

As we will demonstrate this can be clearly seen when considering the achievements of ‘The Cannabis Movement’.

This has far reaching implications for all social ventures and ethical entrepreneurs. Historically most social ventures have revolved around a Cause, but it is still relatively uncommon for business to be involved in finding a solution to a social issue.

In fact, many social enterprises have faced hostility from charities who feel that it is better to just give aid rather than to offer products or services to address problems. But, the success of the Cannabis Movement brings the validity of this traditional reasoning into doubt.

However, to give the correct background to this complex social and legal issue a brief history of Cannabis in this country is required.

In 1985 the now seminal work and cult classic ‘The Emperor Wears no Clothes’ went to print for the first time. In this publication the author Jack Herrer laid out (as follows) what an important resource Cannabis had been to the United States during its early years:

  •  In 1619, America’s first marijuana law was enacted at Jamestown Colony, Virginia, “ordering” all farmers to grow Indian hempseed. More mandatory (must-grow) hemp cultivation laws were enacted in Massachusetts in 1631, in Connecticut in 1632 and in the Chesapeake Colonies into the mid-1700s.
  • Cannabis hemp was legal tender (money) in most of the Americas from 1631 until the early 1800s. Why? To encourage American farmers to grow more.
  • You could pay your taxes with cannabis hemp throughout America for over 200 years.2
  • You could even be jailed in America for not growing cannabis during several periods of shortage, e.g., in Virginia between 1763 and 1767.
  • George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew cannabis on their plantations.
  • Jefferson,3 while envoy to France, went to great expense – and even considerable risk to himself and his secret agents – to procure particularly good hempseeds smuggled illegally into Turkey from China.
  • The United States Census of 1850 counted 8,327 hemp “plantations”* (minimum 2,000-acre farm) growing cannabis hemp for cloth, canvas and even the cordage used for baling cotton. Most of these plantations were located in the South or in the border states, primarily because of the cheap slave labor available prior to 1865 for the labor-intensive hemp industry.
  • Benjamin Franklin started one of America’s first paper mills with cannabis. This allowed America to have a free colonial press without having to beg or justify the need for paper and books from England.

So while Cannabis’s positive contribution to the fledgling USA is undeniable, its fall from grace and ultimately its designation as an undesirable (illegal commodity) is equally irrefutable:

The Road to Prohibition

  • 1911: Massachusetts requires a prescription for sales of “Indian hemp”
  • 1913: Maine, Wyoming, and Indiana ban marijuana
  • 1915: Utah and Vermont ban marijuana
  • 1917: Colorado legislators made the use and cultivation of cannabis a misdemeanor;
  • 1923: Iowa, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont ban marijuana
  • 1927: New York,Idaho, Kansas, Montana, and Nebraska ban marijuana
  • 1931: Illinois bans marijuana.
  • 1933: North Dakota and Oklahoma ban marijuanaBy this year, 29 states have criminalized cannabis.

Although an extensive article could be written on the reasons (both overt and covert, both economically and racially driven) as to why Individual States started prohibiting Marijuana from 1911 on-wards that will not be covered here.

Instead our focus will be on the the efforts of individuals,  activists and lobbyists who have subsequently sought to change these (ridiculous) laws, and how their embracing of commerce and capitalism has propelled them forward to great success!!

Medical Marijuana and Counter Culture Capitalism: The Business of Getting High!

While Marijuana laws have failed to stamp out consumption in the US, they did serve to ensure that Cannabis was confined to the black market and that possibly beneficial medical research could not be undertaken.

It was against this back drop that two separate but intertwined movements were borne.

The first of these movements emerged gradually in the early 1960’s but came to be recognized as the one of the earliest examples of successful ‘Counter Culture Capitalism’.

These early social entrepreneurs set up stores selling paraphernalia for enhancing LSD trips and smoking marijuana in what have since become known as ‘Head Shops’

In doing so they were both furthering, and Capitalizing upon, the social disobedience that Americans had displayed throughout prohibition, when continuing through the exercising of their ‘personal choice’ to use Marijuana.

On a personal level Head shop owners (who had embraced an alternative lifestyle themselves) hoped their counter cultural wares and atmosphere would provide others with desperately needed public spaces where they could gather in peace without being harassed.

On a fundamental level, these entrepreneurs believed their products allowed people to alter their minds – and even their societies – through meaningful drug use.

Whatever their goals and original aspirations the contribution Head Shops made to the movement to challenge, undermine, ridicule, reform,  and in the future to ultimately eradicate America’s drug laws can not be understated.

Just the presence of these Head Shops was enough to bring Marijuana out of the shadows for the first time in decades and into contact with the mainstream. In doing so Head Shops promoted social discourse around a topic that had long been out of the media and collective public thought.

In September 1970, the Wall Street Journal even reported on the strange phenomena when publishing an article on the Free Spirit, “a highly imaginative, though not entirely problem-free, mod department store”

In this article the Journal informed the public that. ““Stocked within its doors are the furnishings and paraphernalia of the ‘turned-on, tuned-in’ generation, goods that most other merchants shun as too far out. Patrons can find several different departments in this “mod boutique,” selling pet lizards on leashes, incense, Eldridge Cleaver wanted posters and even cigarette papers for wrapping marijuana!” 

The Article carried an interview with the stores owner Jay Hansen in which he said: ““I’m a capitalist, but not in the true sense of the word. We feel a responsibility to our culture. We aren’t totally profit oriented [and] our customers are our friends.The role of the Free Spirit … is a cultural meeting place of young and old, rich and poor.”

The Journals summary was a little more suspicious and certainly more critical when they surmised of the Free Spirit: “Rock music pervades the store while salesclerks dress casually, even sloppily. Customers are encouraged to come in and just ‘rap’ about the draft or civil-rights or anything else on their mind, even if they don’t want to make a purchase.

While the Journal and its readership may still have been unsure about the value Head Shops were adding to society, others had no doubt at all! Marijuana reform groups like the ‘National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws’ were able to spearhead major campaigns for decriminalization with proceeds from paraphernalia they sold through head shops. While in turn Head shop owners distributed written materials on drug legalization in their stores and donated generously to reform groups.  

In addition, head shops’ blatant endorsement of illicit activity resonated deeply with young Americans who distrusted a federal government they believed was both waging an immoral and illegal war in Vietnam and enforcing unjust drug laws. If smoking pot and dropping acid were powerful forms of political protest or even revolution against the American state and the country’s repressive cultural norms – as a number of voices in the New Left and counterculture maintained – then it followed that head shops, by selling accessories to help people get high, were key accomplices in such acts of resistance.

In short, head shops were undoubtedly highly political spaces at the forefront of the struggle against drug laws!

But most important in the context of this article, is that the progress made by these early entrepreneurs was secured through commerce and by the operation of businesses that were established to generates profits! And they were successful in doing so!

In fact, they were so financially successful that by the mid 1970’s, head shops numbered an estimated 30,000 and organized their own trade groups and meetings. Eleven states would have even decriminalized minor personal possession of marijuana before the end of the decade.

By this time Head shops owners and counter culture entrepreneurs had found that thankfully they were not fighting alone! As in 1976 Robert C Randell had founded the Medical Marijuana movement.

With each movement supporting and galzensing the efforts of the other, they have been able to  achieve remarkable levels of financial and political success from the late 1970’s on wards.

The Medical Marijuana Movement, is a social Grass Root movement of the purest form. Its achievements are truly remarkable considering the opposition it faces. One of its most ardent opponents is the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

This is understandable given that marijuana has the potential to replace drugs from Advil and ibuprofen all the way through to Vicodin!

PhRMA is certainly a foe not to be underestimated! It is estimated  that in 2014 alone, PhRNA spent $16.6m on lobbying in Washington for its interests!  

To put that level of ‘investment’ on lobbying into context, it is worth noting that the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has only had resource to donate $109,900 for federal candidates since the 2002 election cycle, with contributions going mostly, but not entirely, to Democrats who have supported legislation freeing up access to medical marijuana and protecting state marijuana laws.

While the efforts of NORML (one of the oldest bodies to fight on behalf of Marijuana users ‘rights’) are dwarfed by that of PhRMA, there are numerous contemporary organisations each lending their support to the cause using both political and economic means to steadfastly gaining ground.

It would not be possible to give coverage here to all these organisations, rather what we hope to demonstrate is how the approach of these groups has evolved over time to have the maximum effect.

Early advocates such as NORML were formed to fight for the right of the ‘individual’ and as stated above engage in the political process to a degree by supporting electroial candidates whose views would be supportive of their own goals.

While the ‘Marijuana Policy Project’ (MPP) shares a similar platform to NORML in its backing state and federal candidates who support legalizing medical marijuana, decriminalizing marijuana use and/or regulating the substance like alcohol, recently it took an important step further.

In 2014, MPP’s lobbyist, Dan Riffle, looked to gain support for legislation to protect state marijuana laws, eliminate marijuana prohibition on the federal level, and give marijuana-related businesses access to banking services and allow those businesses to receive tax deductions and credit.

This embracing and promoting of Marijuana and related industries in purely  mainstream economic terms (rather than arguing from a perspective simply of personal choice) changes the landscape of the argument entirely.

The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), founded in 2014, is the sole group representing state-sanctioned marijuana-related businesses on the federal level. NCIA aims to create an economic environment that is not hostile to cannabis.