“Cannabis has really affected my life positively, so much. I am able to be more present in what I do, in my condition as a human being. It makes me whole. This allows me to be a positive influence on others. And that ripple effect really permeates [the fabric of society],” says stand-up comedian Jessimae Peluso, from MTV's Girl Code, while smoking a joint and sporting a Wu-Tang Clan T-shirt in her house in Los Angeles.
“It's so wild to think that just a cute, little plant could make such a big difference in someone's ability to be present and evolve into a more empathetic human being.”
There are two things that Jessimae undoubtedly and unapologetically loves: words and weed. And she is very committed. Of words, she’s made a career and a tool (“I love words. My mother was big into vocabulary and both my parents did crosswords every single day. So I'm kind of a nerd. Words are how most of us survive”). Of cannabis, she’s made a lifestyle. And also a cause.
Only a few weeks ago, the comic joined the U.S. Cannabis Council and HeadCount’s Cannabis Voter Project’s Cannabis in Common campaign, which is aimed at getting Americans to contact their legislators about passing cannabis reform at the federal level.
Other high level celebrities like Sarah Silverman and Seth Rogen, as well as nonprofit organizations and dozens of companies in the cannabis industry, have joined the campaign as well.
More on this topic, later in the article. But first, let’s pause and rewind for a little bit.
It’s The Environment, Stupid
“I really, truly believe your environment dictates what your vices are,” asserts the wordsmith.
Jess (“can I call you Jess?” “Okay”) grew up in upstate New York, where people around her were mostly drinkers. Weed was no stranger, but not very common either. And certainly not in the young lady’s party repertoire.
Booze was always more accessible and accepted. Even after moving to New York City, her habits didn’t shift much. After all, she was working as a bartender.
Then came California, and oh, how things changed. “You can't drink and drive out in Cali, like you can in Upstate New York. Not that I condone it, but that’s just what we did. There was no subway back home,” she declares.
“The environment really reflects what people enjoy. And in Cali, people enjoy marijuana. It's just more common in that environment.”
So Jess started to dabble in the dark herb, finding solitude and solace in it. “Cannabis could help me access a different part of myself that I didn't even know I had access to, because alcohol is such a numbing substance.”
Marijuana helped Jess open up creatively, emotionally and sexually. “It opened different avenues and areas of my life.”
Even though the effects on her personal wellbeing made her a friend of weed, it was its effects on her psyche as she dealt with her father’s illness that made her a devotee.
Pappa Peluso suffered from vascular dementia, a sort of brain disorder that causes memory loss, sometimes compared to Alzheimer’s. And marijuana really helped Jess cope, “slow down and survive the trauma and grief of losing my father while he was alive.”
As her career evolved, cannabis also became an aid, medicine, a way to deal with stress and anxiety, a means to find balance in life. “It created a deeper space of empathy for me, for other people and in the world and things that people are experiencing that I can't even imagine. It’s such an amazing vehicle and vessel for anyone who’s open to experiencing something on a deeper level.”
Cancel Cancel Culture?
“I don't agree with what's going on and how people have taken people down for words, because words are continuously evolving,” Jessimae states. Her profession is painfully pierced by this dilemma on a daily basis: What can I say? What can’t I say?
Deep down, it’s all about the how. Context is everything. “Words that once were appropriate have evolved into an inappropriate space. They're constantly interchanging each other out. We're always shifting a word to replace another word that was once deemed inappropriate. So I think I think people canceling people, especially comedians… I think people don't realize the importance of comedy and the importance of what a lot of (not all) comedians are trying to accomplish. Comedians are a reflective medium to society and what's going on in society. It's almost like killing the messenger.
“If what they say hit a nerve, that means there's some truth to it. And if you dig a little deeper, it probably goes beyond what a comedian is saying and into laws that are inappropriate, and councilmen and women who are functioning in an inappropriate way. Comedians aren't the ones to take down the people who are within your local government and people who are actually responsible for the health of people. Those are the ones you want to really spend your time and energy and canceling: Not people reporting on it.”
Back In The Weeds
Never shying away from controversy, Jess circles back to her participation in the Cannabis in Common campaign.
For her, it’s all about spreading the word about a plant that has helped her so much, while also highlighting the undeniable racial disparities in cannabis arrests. “This campaign represents my ability to do something more, to make a difference, to help.”
Bringing up how stats show African-Americans and Latinxs are four times more likely to be jailed for cannabis-related crimes, even though consumption levels are comparable, she adds, “We have to look at why that's happening and we have to change that. If we have the power to do that, we're changing lives, we're making sure that daughters have their fathers at home and that husbands have their lives back.”
And it doesn’t take much from other people to help advance this cause, she continues. All that’s needed is a call to your representative. It may seem small, but it adds up; there’s strength in numbers.
“I want to be a part of that. I want to be a part of helping people find some peace if they're going through traumatic things,” she says. “I think marijuana is really just amazing medicine for grief or trauma. There's been so many studies on how marijuana implementation has helped people with depression and PTSD, even cancer. There's just a wide multitude of ailments that this plant help.
“And the people who have been selling and have been arrested for it and are in prison, they should be exonerated. Enough is enough. Alcohol is legal, but cannabis isn't. It doesn't make sense. The stats are completely different. One causes detriment to a society and the other can really release and connect a community and society. So I want to be a part of that part. I want to be a part of the connection of society.”
As we delve deep into controversy, we touch on an article by Forbes’ Will Yakowicz, “Billionaire Charles Koch On Why Cannabis Should Be Legal.”
Many have critiqued Koch’s support of cannabis, calling it opportunistic. But one fact remains: the cannabis legalization movement needs all the support it can get. It needs to be bipartisan, or go even further, beyond party lines.
“A Republican supporting something that is traditionally not a Republican concern, that's what starts to move the needle, that's what starts to change people's mindset about different laws and different things. They get pushed through the Senate,” Jess acknowledges. “The important thing is changing people's minds about where these things are coming from and embrace change. That's the revolution we need.
“The intention is important, but I think achieving the goal is what people need to focus on.”
And she goes on to provide a more general recommendation:
I think anybody who hasn't tried cannabis but has an opinion about it… I just have one question for you: How can you have an opinion on something you've never tried?
I think that that's foolproof.
On the other side, it's a sure fire way to experience disappointment in your life to constantly think something you've never even attempted to try, to smell, or feel [can be judged].
It’s like going:
- I don't like pistachio ice cream.
- Have you ever had it?
- How do you know you don't like it? What are you reading about this? What are its effects on society? I really, really encourage you to hit a blunt and write in your journal and realize the freedom you can experience on the other side of that.
Jess isn’t always this serious. She also leverages her comedy to push cannabis forward.
“As a woman in the comedy industry, I’ve definitely I've experienced inappropriate behavior, advances, comments, glances, touches… all of the above,
But the one thing that's different is I don't want it to fuck me up, I don't want to fuck up my vibe. No one's going to tell me what I can or can't do. And if you try and tell me what I can or can't do, I'm just going to prove you wrong because that's what I've done my whole life. It's all about the language and what we're telling ourselves. Has it been a male-dominated industry, has the world in general been a male dominated world? Sure. But there's also been amazing women who have achieved amazing feats. And I think we discredit them by continuing this conversation and narrative of male domination.
Let's talk about the women who have done amazing things in their individual industries. It's all about really changing the language in your own narrative. For me, I've never said, "I'm a woman. I can't do this."
I've said "I'm a woman, I have to do this differently. And how can I do it differently? How can I approach this differently?"
“I think that's where it starts. What you tell yourself and the language you speak to yourself, the narrative you tell yourself, really will determine your stepping-out in the world and your footing in the world and how you approach your life and your career and your hobbies and your passions. And for me, I've never let any limitations other people have limits my desire to achieve anything.”
You can watch Jessimae host Tattoo Redo on Netflix; listen to her podcast, Sharp Tongue on Apple Podcast; and watch he Instagram Live show, Weedsday, a canna-friendly show that raises awareness and charity for Alzheimer’s, every Wednesday at 7 pm PT/10 pm ET. For tour info go to Jessimae.com.
This article was originally published on Forbes and appears here with permission.
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