What's in a Name? - Will Fertman Interviews Editor of the Other Culture
“You’re not a lawyer, are you?”
This was the first question David Burton asked me, and it wasn’t an unreasonable one. It’s not because Burton edits a magazine devoted to marijuana, which is legal for medical use in California, where Burton is based. It’s because his magazine is also called Culture. Fortunately, his publication’s tag line is not “The word on weed” but rather "Southern California’s medical marijuana lifestyle magazine.”
Since 2009, Burton has been bringing his readers a mix of cannabis news, reviews, recipes, and interviews with luminaries of the cannabis world. (Sound familiar?) But who really wants to get into a messy trademark fight? Instead of focusing on what could divide us, why not look at what unites us? With that in mind, I posed a few questions to Burton.
WF: How would you describe your audience?
DB: What sets our Culture readers apart is their singularity of purpose. There’s a false belief that our readers are simply potheads . . . for them, this is a very serious subject. They also want to know that if you’re writing about them, you know what you’re talking about; with much of mainstream media, readers are used to reporters not really knowing the subject they're covering. For a magazine like Culture, you have to know what strains are out there, you have to know the different court cases and legal challenges. That’s what compelled me to educate myself as quickly as possible.
For some reason there seems to be a fascination among marijuana growers these days with the concept of cheese. One of the most popular strains, in fact, is called “cheese”—very crumbly, with a decidedly cheesy smell to it. It’s extremely popular right now, so you’re getting all these medical marijuana varieties named for types of cheese.
WF: Currently, the FDA bans the sale of fresh, unpasteurized cheeses, many of which are at the pinnacle of the craft. What strategies might you recommend to push for the decriminalization of these cheeses?
DB: Going by my own experience, the most important first step is to make your numbers known. Everyone who’s a fan needs to raise his voice and be counted. There’s a tendency by government to put all its citizens in the same box, but we’re all different. Why not establish a regulatory process similar to those of state liquor stores? Rather than a wholesale ban, which would treat us like children, let’s regulate that cheese safely.
WF: At the same time, we’re experiencing a cheese renaissance in the U.S. How might you pitch the benefits of local production and consumption?
DB: This renaissance coincides with a push toward more environmental sensitivity. You have growers, distributors, and users all operating close to one another when the laws regulating this product are more relaxed. So the “food miles” are shortened. Just from an economic standpoint, that cash is consumed locally, not shipped overseas to some megacorporation—it’s all made and expended locally.
In a tightly prohibitive environment—like the 1970s—everything had to be brought in from across the border, which was ultimately not as good for the environment or local economy.
WF: The poison is in the dose—overconsumption can be a problem among cheese enthusiasts. Any thoughts on moderation?
DB: As a society we need to remind ourselves that democracy is a messy business.
No matter what regulation a government puts in place, there’s always going to be a fixed number of people who are going to overconsume. I’ve met people who consume four to five liters of Diet Coke a day. Are we going to ban it because they can’t control themselves? Should we base our entire life-pattern on those of us who overconsume? That doesn’t make any sense to me.
One thing that your industry should be aware of: just as there’s a danger of reducing everything to the lowest common denominator, there’s also the risk of judging everything according to the palates of the most elite aficionados. That pushes the price up and up. If it’s priced out of reach of low-income consumers, it may as well be illegal.
Editor’s note: As this issue went to press, we learned that David Burton was leaving the other Culture to work on a book about “the medical marijuana wars” in California.
A Boston-based writer and raconteur, Will Fertman is also the director of advertising and publicity at Boston Review.
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