It's hardly headline news to find a musician expressing enthusiasm for marijuana. After all, weed has been the drug of choice for the hippest players going back decades. Likewise, artists advocating for certain political causes have become an instinctual experience for many songwriters since the '60s.
These days, however, the need to take a stand seems more urgent than ever. And with Florida on the cusp of becoming the first state south of the Mason-Dixon Line to legalize medical marijuana, there's clear cause to speak out. At least that's the opinion of Ellen Bukstel, an artist and entertainer who's won the devotion and appreciation of the masses by appearing on both sides of the stage since she first began performing as a child.
Bukstel's become fired up (pardon the pun) by the stream of misleading ads and propaganda unleashed by those opposed to Amendment Two, the ballot proposition that would allow certain patients access to medical marijuana. She's fed up with what she sees as "pandering, fear-mongering, folly... deceptive attempts to fool people into giving up the freedom and choice in alternative ways to seek medical attention."
So Bukstel wrote and recorded "Who's the Pusher Now?" the latest in a series of politically inspired songs she's penned over the years and one that pointedly decries the government's war on drugs and insistence on imprisoning people who smoke for recreational purposes.
And Bukstel's clearly got the credibility to write this tune. Her list of awards and accolades includes kudos from the John Lennon Songwriting Competition, the New Zealand Peace Song Competition, and the Public Domain Foundation Music to Life competition.
When she's not onstage, she's a promoter by trade whose venue, the Shack in the Back in Western Broward County, combines the intimacy of a house concert and the modern advantages of a traditional concert locale. Here are a few lines from the song and the tune itself. We recently caught up with Bukstel and asked her to share her stance.
While the big drug money machine - Sells Oxy and Morphine/
Cannibus guaranteed - harmless as a garden weed/
When your body gives you pain - smoke some medical Mary Jane/
Let the government take a bow - Let the government take a bow/
Who's the pusher now?"
New Times: How long have you been actively involved in the push for legalizing pot?
Ellen Bukstel: I have been in support of complete legalization of marijuana for decades and in the past few years have been openly and actively campaigning to spread the truth about cannabis and the injustices that have been perpetrated on our citizens for decades as a result of the drug wars.
At the very least, and as a start, voting yes on 2 will bring medical marijuana to Florida and give our citizens a compassionate and long-awaited viable alternative to prescription drugs.
As a singer/songwriter, I have spent the last decade writing and performing songs of social conscience and varied subjects of significant political interest to me personally. Because I am in support of the compassionate use, as well as total legalization of marijuana, I began to research the history of marijuana in our country for a song I wanted to write. What I found out was very disturbing and motivated me to speak out and write -- or, should I say sing about it -- and I didn't stop until I finished my song.
What was it you hoped to address specifically?
My outrage at who I discovered was the instigator of this anti-marijuana campaign. "Who's the Pusher Now?" is about their hypocrisy, and it very candidly expresses my deep concerns about the drug wars that have for decades incarcerated people for fallacious marijuana laws while at the same time providing legal protection for pharmaceutical drugs that harm and kill hundreds of thousands of people every year.
The war on drugs has been ruining lives and tearing apart families by unjustly incarcerating millions of Americans for simple use and sale of marijuana and using obscene mandatory sentencing to impose extreme punishments that do not fit the "so-called" crimes. Now we bear the sad burden of being the number one country in the world for incarcerating our citizens mostly for nonviolent, drug-related, victimless crimes.
The song was an attempt to educate people and tell he truth about medical marijuana use and exposing the hypocrisy, lies, and propaganda about cannabis that we've been fed for decades. I hope by election time that it will reach more people who might just realize the importance of voting yes on Amendment 2.
Have you always been prone to take a public position on pot?
My own willingness to speak out about the big lie about cannabis came late in my life, but not too late to try to do something about it. I'd been around marijuana since the '70s, and the biggest worry people had was getting caught. We never realized that for so many decades, our prison system was growing with human beings being incarcerated for profit. One can easily assume the reason is the pervasive abuses of our legal system.
Are you hoping we'll eventually go beyond medical marijuana and legalize it across the board?
Absolutely. I'm still hoping for cannabis to become completely legal here in Florida, but for now, allowing medical marijuana is a good, compassionate start. With Colorado and Washington state taxing and regulating recreational weed sales and medical marijuana legal in more states (and counting), the financial benefits are becoming evident. I'm certain that the medicinal benefits will change the face of disease and suffering in our country dramatically. I see this as a peaceful and beneficial revolution that goes hand in hand with the peaceful nature of the substance.
Are you optimistic the amendment will pass? If it doesn't, what's next?
I hope for a continuing peaceful cannabis legalization revolution! I believe people will not give up until marijuana is legal in every state and, hopefully, around the world. I hope to convince intelligent, educated, and compassionate leaders in government who will recognize the benefits of cannabis and the right that we have as citizens to choose our own course of medical care as well as our own recreational means of pleasure and enjoyment in life.
The stigma associated with pot smokers as a result of decades of propaganda and lies about the plant needs to change, and changing the law is the first step.
What do you say to those who believe the amendment will open the door to legalizing it, and that, in turn, would be a danger to our youth, our society, the world as we know it, etc.? For example, do we need another legalized vice?
Prohibition does not work, and the drug wars have been more of a danger to our youth than the substance itself. Cannabis prohibition has produced more than half a century of black-market wars and needless death, not to mention a deterioration of our inner cities and the proliferation of private prisons that have produced the largest number of adults and juveniles unjustly incarcerated in the history of the world right here in our own United States of America.
What is wrong with this picture? With legalization, there would be laws controlling the dispensing of marijuana. I don't advocate for anyone to drive while under the influence of any mind-altering substance. But with legalization, there is more likely to be education and guidelines, just as there is education and guidelines about driving under the influence of alcohol. A test is being developed to determine how recently a person ingested marijuana to determine whether a driver is under the influence.
If one considers smoking marijuana a "vice," then I would say it's certainly a harmless one. At the same time, a powerful and compassionate medicinal solution for so many in need of alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs.
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