Former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel has found a new career in the marijuana industry — but maybe he was cut out for this all along.
Gravel, who represented Alaska in the Senate from 1969 to 1981, has always been a colorful political figure. Look no further than this ad from his 2008 presidential campaign (he didn't win):
Now he will be the chief executive at KUSH, a subsidiary of a the Nevada-based company Cannabis Sativa. The new business will offer a cannabis-infused lozenge called a "Kubby" (named after Sativa's chairman, Steve Kubby).
Fusion spoke with Gravel about the new endeavor and marijuana policy in America.
Why join the marijuana business?
Gravel said he's been opposed to marijuana prohibition since President Richard Nixon classified marijuana as a dangerous drug in 1971.
"People don't realize how mendacious Nixon was in this regard," he said. Nixon cowered to the demands of religious groups, according to Gravel, when he ignored a government report and placed marijuana on a list alongside heroin.
"That's what started this whole thing," Gravel said. "It's cost us a trillion dollars, it's put hundreds of thousands of people in jail who shouldn't be in jail. It's corrupted our society, just as the prohibition of alcohol in the '20s corrupted that society."
Still, the former senator said his new venture isn't just about ideology.
"For me it's a little bit of both," he said. "But it is a for-profit company, make no mistake about that."
What does he think about President Obama's marijuana policies?
The president has overseen some major changes to federal marijuana-law enforcement — namely allowing states such as Colorado and Washington to move forward with legalization. But Obama's hands-off approach isn't enough for Gravel, who called the president's policies "duplicitous."
"You should just straight up recognize that the war on drugs is a failure, a total failure, as bad or worse than prohibition of alcohol," he said. "It's not a gateway drug and people are entitled to use it and use it maturely, just like we're supposed to be using alcohol maturely."
Is marijuana safer than alcohol or tobacco?
"There's no question in my mind that marijuana is safer than alcohol," he said. "And of course it's a lot safer than tobacco. We know that tobacco eventually kills you.
Gravel said it's hypocritical to ban marijuana and then allow alcohol usage to run rampant. He cited the binge drinking common on college campuses. "Rather than binge drinking sprees, maybe take a little bit of pot and cool off that way," he said.
Has he ever used marijuana?
"Yes, I have. And it didn't turn me on. I used it quite a number of years ago, on two or three occasions, probably four occasions, at most. I did inhale it, but I just didn't get turned on by it."
Technically, Gravel still uses marijuana, but he uses it to help treat chronic pain from nerve damage and back problems. He takes a lozenge infused with a concentrate of CBDs, the chemical in marijuana associated with pain relief.
"I've had neuropathy for 20 years, plus all of my vertebraes in my back are squishing out," he said. "Those are difficult things to deal with."
Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.