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Chelsea Handler: The Criminalization of Marijuana Is Racist and Specifically Aimed at Targeting Minorities’

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Comedian Chelsea Handler doesn’t pull any punches — not even when it comes to herself. When Civilized asked her recently what the epitome of white privilege is, she took an unflinching swipe at herself. 

My career,” she told Civilized. I get rewarded over, and over, and over again for just being a loudmouth and doing what I want. Being white, pretty, everything was at my fingertips. I didn’t have any real struggle and I never realized it until a few years ago. I’m embarrassed when you look around and see how easy it was.”

She also unleashed the ultimate backhanded compliment for President Donald Trump and his beleaguered administration.

This Administration has brought out a lot of beautiful things accidentally,” Handler noted. The women’s movement, the camaraderie between women, and the #TimesUp movement and all that stuff.”

She’ll be bringing that brand of outrageous honesty on the road this week as she kicks off a new Canadian tour: A Civilized Conversation with Chelsea Handler’ begins this Thursday in Calgary. And while she’ll definitely riff on Trump and other political figures, the tour’s main focus will be advocating for marijuana reform and promoting legalization.

Why is cannabis legalization such a passionate issue for you?

Because it’s so important for people that actually have real sicknesses and real pain. It’s not about getting stoned all the time. It’s about being a helpful alternative to the pharmaceutical industry. All these scientific studies are showing how helpful it is — for people who have seizures, for older people who have arthritic issues, for people who have sleep issues, which is why I started using cannabis again when it became more accessible. It’s just a life-changer and a game-changer. And it’s healthy, and it’s a way of life, and it’s a way forward.

So I feel like the more that we can engage and activate people to have these conversations, the more it becomes normalized. And I’m really passionate about reintroducing women into the industry because so many women have had bad experiences with weed or edibles, and it’s just not that way anymore. You can see what’s in every piece of product on the labels. Everything is written there, so you can see the THC ratio versus the CBD ratio, and I think all of these new elements just make it a game-changer.

Absolutely. And when cannabis becomes legal in Canada next month [Oct. 17, 2018], a lot of people are going to be trying it for the first time. So based on your experience, what advice do you have for the newbies?

I would say start in low dosages. We have like 2.5 milligram and 5 milligram mints and little chocolates, and blueberries here in the States. I’m sure you guys will have similar stuff. So start out light. Start out with half of a half of something, just to see where it takes you because you don’t want to be overwhelmed. You want people to come in and feel safe.

For me, that’s so important because I had that feeling like, Oh, I don’t like weed, it makes me paranoid, it makes me too out of control.” And it’s not that way anymore. So I would just say start slow, test the waters. I’ve been testing all of the stuff for the past year-and-a-half. Luckily cannabis legalization came right in conjunction with Trump being elected, so it made it much more tolerable. It’s still not tolerable but you know what I mean.

One problem with Canada’s regulations is that edibles won’t be available for sale until a year after legalization. So is there any particular advice you have for people who are going to be stuck with vaping or smoking?

Yeah, same thing. Start out small. That applies to everything. I think people get so intimidated by the volume. You don’t have to finish a joint. You can have a hit of one, then see how you feel. And you have to also go into it with a positive attitude about what you’re doing.

If you’re using CBD oils as an ameliorant because you have pain in a certain body part, that’s one thing. But if you’re ingesting it for the THC to get a little high to take the edge off, then that’s another. People with anxieties are huge candidates for that. It’s powerful to be able to not have to take an Ativan or a sleeping pill for those kinds of issues. So if you’re going after that aspect of it, then you start off slow and sample things, and find something that you like, and do it in a controlled environment that you feel safe in.

And then eventually you can graduate when you know what your limit is, and you know what your dose is, and you know what you like and what brands you don’t. But don’t be shy about trying. And women should feel empowered and emboldened. Cannabis isn’t a guy thing, it’s an everybody thing, and it’s a way forward, it’s a culture.

What’s the perfect setting for you to get high?

I like to laugh with my girlfriends. I don’t like to drink all the time. I mean, I want to but it’s just not conducive to being that functional. Eventually you’re just like, This is boring, I want something new.” So legalization came at kind of the perfect time for me. I just like to giggle. I like to take the edge off. And everything and everyone becomes a little bit less annoying when you’re stoned.

We can all agree with that. So you mentioned earlier the importance of having conversations about cannabis. If you could have a 30-second conversation with a legalization opponent like Jeff Sessions about cannabis, what would you say?

I wouldn’t have a conversation with Jeff Sessions about anything.

Waste of time?

Yes, everything’s a waste of time with him. The criminalization of marijuana in our country is racist and is specifically aimed at targeting minorities. That’s how it’s existed this whole time. Everybody needs to just relax — including Jeff Sessions.

What would you say is the biggest threat to legalization right now, either in Canada or the States?

I don’t think there is one. There’s just too much money in it — even from people who contribute to this administration. Peter Thiel has a massive amount of money invested in the cannabis industry. Everybody’s investing in it. There’s too many venture capitalists and too much money in it for it to go away, so it’s only going to go forward.

You mentioned before that you had stopped using cannabis for a while, then started up again when Trump got elected. How has your cannabis use changed over the years?

Well, now I do it more daily. I take a mint or I take a little piece of chocolate, usually every day. I definitely take it to sleep. My favorite thing about it is just that it makes me lighter. And it makes everything a little bit more tolerable. I really wanted to harness my outrage after the election in our country and really make myself of good use in a positive way. When you’re angry, angry, angry, it’s not helpful. And alcohol and anger don’t go well together. So I needed an alternative.

Could it make Trump more tolerable?

Nothing makes him tolerable, but yes.

So slightly less awful, but nowhere near tolerable.

No, not like a real human being.

How does cannabis factor into your creative process?

It’s been really great. I’ve been writing a new book, and I didn’t want to write a book until I actually had something to say. This is going more in depth than I’ve ever gone in a book. All of my books have been funny and silly and about sleeping around and blah, blah, blah. But this one is about real stuff that’s happened in my life, and talking about real issues, and how I’ve changed and what I’ve learned from having such success. And once I get the bones down for each chapter, I always go back through the chapter and punch it up after I take an edible. I’m like, Okay now I’ve got the bones down, now let’s make it funny.”

Yeah, that’s similar to George Carlin. He had the write sober, edit high’ approach.

Right. Well, I do it the other way around. I would say write high and then edit sober.

Could you tell us about the first time you got high?

That was probably in middle school — no, it was probably high school because I was a little bit of a virgin. I know that’s hard to believe, but when it came to that I was scared. And I was Miss You-Can’t-Do-That.’ All very judgmental and everything. Then finally I was like, give me a hit.” We were smoking out of a bong, and it was out of control and nobody knew what they’re doing or what you’re smoking.

And then there was a period of time, as I got older, where everything going around was Snoop Dogg level — super, super strong and made you zoned out. And I think the messaging here is that you don’t want to zone out, you want to be functional. I mean, unless you do, and then that’s your business. But it’s not one or the other [totally sober or totally stoned], it’s not black and white. There’s a lot of gray now in-between. Now there are standards that all of the cannabis companies have to meet. Everything is there, everything is labeled. All information is knowledge and is powerful to know. So you can know what you’re getting yourself into, there’s no reason to be scared.

And I’m just very much a proponent of women being informed and knowing that they can trust me. I’m right there with them. I’m passionate about this for a reason. And I wanted to help people, just help so many people in my life. 

What should the cannabis industry do to get more women involved?

It’s got to be pro-women. I think it’s the same with the spirit business and the alcohol space. It’s always been pro-men. I think we’re all finding out the world we live in has been pro-men in every capacity. So it’s important to me to get that messaging to women. Obviously, that isn’t my only audience, but it is the big bulk of my audience. And it’s really important for me to educate and help people understand all the great uses of cannabis.

When I get behind something, I really do my due diligence. I’ve been to cannabis grow-ops, I’ve been researching how to start my own line. If I go down that road, I’m going to invest in a certain company once I do all my research and find out. And I’ll share all of that with everybody because I think there’s a lot of power in having a platform where you can be honest with people. And people know that if I’m going to get behind something, it’s because I’m doing it myself.

Yeah, you definitely have a lot of fans out there. But also a lot of critics, especially among Trump supporters. Are they personae non grata at your show?

No, they’re welcome to come. As long as you can have a civil discourse, you can come. I think there’s something for everyone. I don’t want to hate every single person that voted for Donald Trump. It’s about decency at this point. It’s about — we had children in cages, so game over.

What would you say is the biggest misconception that critics or Trump supporters have about you?

I don’t know what they think about me. I don’t put a lot of time and effort thinking about that. I care about other people, and I want to use my voice for something that’s powerful. I don’t want to just cash checks to be rich and famous. I’ve been there, done that. So I’m really putting a lot of thought into what I’m doing moving forward, and how I treat people.

This administration has brought out a lot of beautiful things accidentally. The women’s movement, the camaraderie between women, and the #TimesUp movement and all that stuff. I know it’s a drumbeat now and people are having their own issues with it, but it’s important that we all stick together. It’s so powerful and it’s a collective. And I’m proud to be a part of it and to have a voice in it, and all of the above and below.

Right on, let’s move away from Trump supporters and talk about the midterms. How do you feel about the coming election?

It’s exciting. There’s more people of color that are going to be elected, that are going to be representing what this country actually looks like after November. There are more women running, there are more everybody running. We have had our first trans woman elected. We’ve had mayors that are trans, and we have more LGBTQ members of congress than we’ve ever had before. This is going to be an amazing year, especially for women. It’s going to be a year to say goodbye to 75-year-old white guys, who are not reflective of what this country looks like.

Is there anything you wish the Democrats would steal from the Republican playbook to win big on Election Day?

I guess you just got to get dirtier. As bad as it gets, you got to meet dirty with dirty. I’m not about going high when they go low. I mean, I’m not going to respond to a Donald Trump tweet. But I think in terms of politics, when they’re going at each other, they gotta go for the jugular. But it all comes out in the wash, this isn’t going to end well.

What sort of downfall is your dream scenario for Trump?

To have him dragged out of the White House in his underpants and landing in the Rose Garden with his hair flying around in circles. Is that specific enough?

Who’s dragging him? Melania, the Secret Service, Hillary?

Who cares? I just want him to be arrested, and I want him and his family to be pariahs. I want them in jail. They’re all so stupid, they’re all so dumb. There’s no nice thing to say.

Do you think Trump will make it to the 2020 election?

I hope not. But I think there’s a lot of exciting possibilities. That’s really where the Democrats can get their message going in a stronger way to find a candidate that is viable, and start getting on board instead of having 85 people run against each other.

But I think we’re all looking right now and seeing who has the best chances of doing that. Is it a Michael Avenatti, or is it a Kamala Harris and Joe Biden on one ticket? I don’t know, I don’t have the answer to that. All I’m doing — and what I’ve spent my time doing in the past year-and-a-half — is really advocating for people to be elected to government that are representative of our culture. Our culture is mixed, it’s not just white.

I’m doing a documentary for Netflix on white privilege. Actually I start shooting when I come back from Canada. And as a person who has been a product of white privilege, it is so important to stick your neck out for marginalized groups. Because there is such a thing as white privilege. It exists every single day in your life, and people don’t recognize it.

What would you say is the epitome of white privilege?

My career.

Wow. You’re really looking in the mirror on that one.

Yes, definitely. I get rewarded over, and over, and over again for just being a loud mouth and doing what I want. Being white, pretty, everything was at my fingertips. I didn’t have any real struggle and I never realized it until a few years ago. I’m embarrassed when you look around and see how easy it was. And you think I brought myself up from my bootstraps like, My dad was a used car dealer, oh it was tough for me.” No it wasn’t, it wasn’t tough for me.

I came to Hollywood where Jewish people are embraced, where being loud and crass and funny was a positive, and I was rewarded for it with one TV show and then another and then another and then another. And that’s not what it’s like for someone of color.

That’s a lot of what I talk about in my new book. It’s, embarrassing, it makes you want to do something more. It makes you want to stand up and stick your neck out for other people.

And a lot of people don’t believe white privilege is a thing. What does it take to open someone’s eyes about it?

I think it’s as simple as getting pulled over by a police officer. I’ve never been pulled over by a police officer where I haven’t challenged the officer. But when a black person gets pulled over by a police officer, it could be the end of their life.

Last question, what do you want audiences to take from each show during your upcoming tour?

It’s a fun night out. It’s a good night to just relax and laugh, and not have to think about anything, and talk about all the benefits of weed. I don’t want anything to be too serious.

Is it difficult to find that balance between commentary and comedy? 

Sometimes, but I’m a comedian, so everything has to come from a place of comedy for me. I don’t want to be serious for an hour, that’s boring. So the show’s more like stand up, but sitting down. Speaking of white privilege, I’ve decided I can’t even stand up anymore.

Buy tickets for A Civilized Conversation With Chelsea Handler by clicking here.

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