David Bienenstock is a cannabis journalist/author with an almost 20-year long trajectory reporting on all things weed. He’s worked for High Times and VICE Media, written his own book on How To Smoke Pot (Properly), and currently hosts Great Moments in Weed History, a podcast exploring humanity’s 10,000+ year relationship with cannabis.
In this interview, David shares his (almost) lifelong connection with cannabis, fueled by not only a love for the plant but a profound need to push back against the oppressive systems and institutions used to govern society.
“I like to say that cannabis is not the cure for being an asshole, but it’s a good place to start”, says David, chuckling a little bit.
His sweet laugh and gentle manner immediately set the tone for our hour-long conversation about his 20-year career in cannabis.
“My first above-ground weed job was working at High Times” confesses the ganja-journalist.
“I was really lucky. At that time, High Times was an independent publication started by a radical, left-wing, anarchist weed smuggler [Tom Forçade]. And it really retained a feeling of resistance, defiance, and truth-telling at a time when that kind of information was hard to come by.”
“My first above-ground weed job was working at High Times”
David had already worked as a writer and editor prior to joining High Times, and had been smoking cannabis since he was a teenager. But becoming the magazine’s Head of Content really kick-started not only his career, but also he’s profound love for both the cannabis plant and the community surrounding it.
David first tried cannabis, like most of us, when he was a teenager and yet, he felt the plant had a profoundly transformative effect on him.
“The first time I really felt the effects of cannabis, I had one of the best, deepest, most cleansing and healing laughs of my life, and I came away with a lasting, different understanding of myself. It helped me open up to people, starting with myself”, he says.
“It helped me open up to people, starting with myself”
Over time, David says cannabis also helped him address issues around anger. It helped him automatically gravitate towards like-minded people, and provided hope at a time when he felt disconnected and disaffected from the dominant cultures around him.
“Whether it be the criminal justice system, the educational system, or sports culture, I feel like a lot of mainstream institutions are detrimental to us; their power is abused, there is a lack of humanity behind them, and they’re reflective of big problems in our society, such as racism and prejudice” David says.
“Capitalism is a really damaging system that we all live under. Being able to look at these institutions, separate yourself from them, question their authority and abuse of power, and realize that you don’t have to be participatory in them was really helpful to me.”
“A big part of my work was writing about people who had their lives destroyed by the war on cannabis”
His role at High Times strengthened his connection with cannabis, that is no surprise. But also opened him up to a global community that shared his love for the plant, similar ideas about society, and an equally profound need to push back against the dominant cultures and institutions governing it.
Moreover, writing for High Times only amplified David’s activism and rebellious spirit, mainly because he spent most of his days writing about people oppressed by the War on Drugs.
“Cannabis has long been used as an excuse for social control, for creating a police state and an incarceration state. A big part of my work was writing about people who had their lives destroyed by the war on cannabis and how the criminal justice system was using this plant to fight a proxy war on marginalized communities; people of color, the poor, young people, anyone who broke the law or simply held political views that the government was afraid of.”
In 2012/13, roughly 10 years after joining High Times, David started writing a column for VICE Media. He also produced a mini series, Bong Appetit, which explored cannabis food culture. In 2016, he also published his book, How To Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High.
Despite its name, David’s book actually does a lot more than just share tips on how to get high.
Instead, it explores cannabis and its compounds. This ranges from it’s potential benefits and how it delivers them to the plant’s long history alongside mankind.
Vice & Bong Appetit
Today, David no longer has any association with the publications he worked for previously.
Instead, his main focus has been Great Moments in Weed History, the podcast he hosts together with Abdullah Saeed (ex-VICE journalist and host of Bong Appetit.
On one hand, Great Moments in Weed History stays true to its name. It highlights important moments from mankind’s 10,000 year-long history with cannabis. One of the podcast’s latest episodes, for example, told the story of Brownie Mary, a hospital volunteer who distributed weed brownies to AIDS patients in San Francisco in the 1980s.
On the other hand, however, the podcast does something much more important: it helps reconstruct the way we see cannabis and its role in society. And this at a time when we might be closer than ever before to seeing an end to prohibition.
“We hear from people all the time. My favorite messages are those that come from people who use cannabis but have absorbed a lot of the stigma around it. Our own community often forgets its history. We think these stories are emblematic of what makes cannabis such an interesting, vibrant, and important community. And we also know that if we don’t tell them, they’ll be erased.”
This month, Great Moments in Weed History celebrates its 50th episode. If you haven’t done so already, subscribe to the podcast here, burn one down and rekindle your love and appreciation for this special plant.