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Ex-Guv/Aspiring Weed Tycoon Jesse Ventura Talks Timberwolves, THC, and Trump

The Navy SEAL/wrestler/actor/politician/conspiracy buff/businessman also reveals exactly how many speeches he has ever read off of a teleprompter.

Facebook/Lauren B. Photography|

Gov. Ventura, seen here circa 2015 in a promotional photo for ‘Marijuana Manifesto.’

The improbable rise of Jesse Ventura's political career, and the truly inscrutable political ideology it unleashed, are far enough in the rearview to process with a level head.

Our own Anders Lee did just that when he reevaluated the loud, complicated, and reliably outrageous years of Ventura's gubernatorial reign. (Much has been made of how Donald Trump cribbed Jesse's campaign playbook, which shows you just how many ways populism can cut.) And earlier this year TPT released the enjoyable Jesse Ventura Shocks the World!, an archive-mining documentary that attempts to encapsulate a singular, larger-than-life biography that, when crammed into just 56 minutes, feels all the more impossible.

The doc is already dated, since it couldn't squeeze in the latest era of 72-year-old Minnesota icon who can't sit still: boutique THC edibles entrepreneur. Launched over the weekend in collaboration with Columbia Heights-based Retro Bakery, the Ventura Farms line of cannabis products is a father-son affair, with Jesse's son Tyrel co-helming the biz.

Ventura's entry into the weed game shouldn't come as a shock. As governor, he championed the recreational and medicinal benefits of the plant, but the political climate wasn't even close to ready for legalization chatter. He even wrote a book titled Marijuana Manifesto in 2017. And now, nine months after Minnesota became the 24th state to legalize cannabis, The Body/Mind is in full pitchman mode for Ventura Farms...

Last Friday, Ventura made time for a 30-minute phone conversation with Racket, deploying the same gruff-yet-twinkling charm offensive that helped him conquer a mind-boggling variety of fields, the latest of which just happens to include phrases like Dabbalicious Bubblegum Indica Vegan Gummies.


How are you feeling about this big media blitz for Ventura Farms? 

Well, yeah, the new business we launched... I couldn't be more pleased. I chose this rather than becoming commissioner of cannabis I guess. The governor had mentioned that to me, and I told him I couldn't do it because it'd be a conflict of interest. 

I hope your rollout goes a bit smoother than the one for that position

Oh well! You never know who you're going to get on things like that. Of course they're waiting to criticize, "The sky is falling!" 

Let's start with a little basketball talk. I met you when I was 10, about 25 years ago at Target Center, where you shook hands and greeted me and my dad—it was a big thrill for both of us. How excited are you for the T-Wolves in the playoffs? 

I've been watching 'em all year, I spent the winter in Arizona but I watched every Wolves game out there. I enjoyed this year because last year we didn't get to see the Twin Towers together [Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert], because Karl got hurt so much. So I was glad they gave it this season for it to all come together. We came within an eyelash of having the best record in the NBA West, we're ready for the playoffs, and it's bright things I see for the Wolves. They're a veteran team, with [Mike] Conley and Rudy, and yet they've got the youth beyond belief. The guy who came in here from Denver [GM Tim Connelly] is doing a helluva job putting together a contending team. Ya know, they poo-poo us on the national level, but I've seen us beat Denver and go out there to Boston and push 'em right into overtime when they had their big winning streak. We can play with anybody. 

You wanna venture a playoff prediction? 

I don't want to predict anything because it's all going to come down to: Do they want to keep playing tough defense? Because here's the deal with defense, if you play tough defense you're in every game. You may lose the game, but you're going to be in it. The Wolves gotta get focused back on that lockdown defense, and the offense will follow.   

Let's talk weed, that's why we're here. Tell me about the first time you tried marijuana. 

End of my senior year of high school.

And it was kind of a constant through your life and career, correct? 

Off and on. In the Navy a little bit, ya know, they didn't drug test back in the '60s and '70s, so you could get away with it. And of course in Southeast Asia it was quite prevalent, there's no doubt about that; you'd rather be on weed than the other crap they had. So off and on all the time, I'd go to rock 'n' roll concerts—I saw Led Zeppelin in '72, Jimi Hendrix in '70, Joplin in '70—all out in California, and all under the influence of cannabis. Then when I went into the wrestling world; you had to be careful but it was a great painkiller. It allowed you to sleep at night, and it kept you away from opioids and other painkillers when you're pounding and brutalizing your body. I mean, people need to understand that, at one point in my wrestling career, I wrestled 63 consecutive nights in a row. 

Oh my god, crazy. 

Your body takes a beating, you want to sleep at night, you need nutrition. Cannabis fulfills all of that. 

You hear more and more pro football players today saying, if the choice is between narcotics and marijuana, the choice is pretty easy.   

Totally easy. Look at the generation of young people today. I used to push light beer for Miller, "Less filling, tastes great!" The whole thing! Well, I now heard there's an entire generation of young people, the beer industry is going crazy, because they've lost 'em. They're drinking the THC mineral water drinks. Because why? You don't get sick when you drink it, you're not going to end up out in the alley throwing up because you drank too much. And you don't get a hangover the next day! You don't wake up with your head pounding, you're all dehydrated, your stomach feels like hell. With cannabis, THC, and the marijuana industry, you don't get any of that. It's much better.

The craft breweries are thrilled too, because of what a boon to business it has been. They have a whole market they didn't have before. 

Exactly. And it's a better drink. I mean, you don't see no one doing that and going out in the alley and heaving. Who hasn't done that, Jay

No comment Mr. Governor. No comment at all. [Laughs.] Let's talk about the climate of legalization when you first started talking about it as governor. How much different was it back then? 

I couldn't even get anyone to carry the bill or even attempt to. I tried, I talked about it, I did everything. But these elected officials are all scared for their jobs. They're terrified. They lick their finger, and they hold it up to the wind to see, "Well, let's not do necessarily what I believe in. Let's do what's politically correct and what'll continue to get me elected over and over. And, oh gee, cannabis, that's a controversial thing, I better steer clear of that." It takes someone who truly goes over there with public service, and I like to say I'm that person. I didn't go over there to get rich, meet lobbyists, and set myself up for years down the road. I went over there and simply did what I thought was right. And in my opinion, especially in light of what occurred with my wife and her bout with seizures, I don't want anybody to go through what we went through, and they should. Not. Have. To. 

I know you've not watched the recent TPT documentary on you, but I think it paints a really fair portrait of your tenure as governor. I definitely recommend it.

[TPT reporter] Mary Lahammer, I tip my hat to her. From the very beginning, she was very fair to me and that's why I cooperate with her today. I have a trust level that Mary is going to report things fairly, and that's all you ask for. Don't do it with the attitude of today's media, "Oh what do I have to do to make more money?!"

Let's talk media. You're a very attuned and longtime media critic, and believe me, I don't take any of it personally; I find the jackal stuff funny to this day. But it feels like, when you first brought up legalization, there was kind of a Reefer Madness mindset in the media. Have reporters done a better job covering the issue over the past few years? 

Much better, and why? Because they saw when Colorado boldly did what they did, they saw the sky wasn't going to fall. All of us pot people knew it wasn't going to fall. There was an entire subculture and industry that was always there, from the '60s on. People got enough courage to bring it above board, and we've dispelled the myths. My friend [comedian/fellow THC seller] Tommy Chong... now I love to quote Tommy, and right away you get a laugh from people. Which you should! Because Tommy is terrific. But you need to know the real Tommy Chong, and you'll find out he's like the real Jesse Ventura; he's a very astute, intelligent guy.

Tommy said to me, "They make a mistake when they divide cannabis into recreational and medical—the entire plant is medical." Those that smoke it for the euphoric feeling, they're doing it for mental health. Your post-traumatic stress people, things of that nature. And then you've got the people that do it for its actual physical capabilities: stopping seizures, glaucoma, the list goes on and on. This is a remarkable plant. And I'll go on record and say this to ya: The people that outlawed this plant, they should be the ones going to jail. 

In your 2017 book, you got into the long and atrocious history of how racism is kind of tethered to the pot prohibition movement. 

It was horrifying, when you see how they locked cannabis in with racism against Black people, Latino people... it was horrible. William Randolph Hearst, he deserves the credit. Why did he do it? He owned tons of acres of timber land. Well guess what? Marijuana hemp makes better paper; it's more renewable. But he used his power on Congress. We cut down all these trees that only grow a foot a year—hemp will grow 18 feet in the summer! 

I'm going to ask your advice because you're in the edibles business now. I'm a complete and total lightweight, and get embarrassingly messed up from like a 5 mg gummy. It's like I took acid or something. Do you have advice for people like me who maybe want to try edibles, but they're a little gun shy? 

No. Because you know what I do? When I go into Colorado and buy it out there, I walk in and say, "I'm a product of the '60s, you ain't got nothing in here that can make me walk out on all fours—I'd like to see you try." I tell 'em to give me the most potent stuff you got! In the words of Joe Walsh, and his famous song, "It's hard to leave when you can't find the door." Anyway, I'm not the person to ask on that. Maybe I've got a stronger tolerance than you. I don't know. Maybe what to do... cut it in half! 

Maybe that's the ticket. Start with 2.5 mg.

Or quarter it! Eat that, see how it goes. If that's OK, next time try a half and then whatever.

That's good advice.

And make sure you do it under the right circumstances. You're home at night, you got nothing to do. I'll tell ya the perfect one: Watch the Twins. 

Watch 'em lose a lot right now, if I'm watching 'em. 

No, it don't matter whether they're winning or losing. Watch baseball. 

Just chill out, a tranquil experience?

Yeah! Slow and easy. Sit back on the couch, you'll feel great. Pretty soon you'll fall asleep, wake up about the eighth inning, and find out everything that happened.

Alright, well I've got governor's orders to try that. So in your opinion, should we legalize other drugs too? How far should we go? 

Well, I don't know. Because you run the risk then of human nature, and you always run the risk of people who'll abuse it. You can abuse aspirin, but you don't keep aspirin from the general public because you got a few knuckleheads who won't use it the correct way. So certainly, there are probably going to be a few cases where negatives happen; we've lived with alcohol. I'll tell you what's worse than all of 'em right now... you ready?

I'm ready.

How about texting! 

Texting on the phone? 

Yeah, if you're driving a car. 

I swear to god, every car I pass on the freeway, the person is texting right next to me. It's an epidemic. 

It's worse than drunk driving right now. For all these people that want to say this and that about using cannabis, hold your horses people! There isn't nothing more dangerous than a guy driving a semi truck down the freeway and he's texting. 

About 10 years ago the great director Werner Herzog made a mini doc PSA about it. He tried sounding the alarm bell. It seems like it has just gotten worse. 

You shouldn't be under the influence of anything when you drive. And I would say this, from experience of using cannabis: If you're on cannabis when you drive, chances are they're going to honk at you for going too slow. [Laughs.] Because you're gonna be overly cautious. 

I know you're a first-rate product pitchman. About every year I watch your '80s ad for Chicago-Lake Liquors, where you have a keg over your shoulder. So I want you to give me your best pitch for Ventura Farms right now. 

Join the modernization of society, let's join the young people! The name of the game today is cannabis. It's new, it fits in like electric cars. We always move to the future, and cannabis is the plant of the future. So join Jesse Ventura and his step into the future. 

What can folks expect from your keynote address at the Ventura Farms launch party this weekend at Hook & Ladder? What are you going to touch on? 

Uh, I don't know. I've never used a prepared speech in my life. 

Is that true? 

Never. OK, I'll retract that. The only prepared speech I have ever done in my life was the State of the State Address. 

You were using a teleprompter? 

You use a teleprompter, and you have to be completely accurate in everything you say because it's the State of the State. Every other address I did, from campaigning to being governor, the most I got was bullet points from my staff. 

It's probably more fun to do it that way. 

Absolutely, because then you communicate with the people. You're not lecturing them. 

And you don't sound like a politician. 

I do it like I did wrestling interviews. When I did wrestling interviews, all they'd say is, "Jesse! You got two minutes. Tito Santana. Denver." Then you'd walk out, and you had two minutes to promote me against Tito Santana in Denver, right off the top of your head. No notes, that's how you learn to do it. 

No safety net. 

Yup, and you find out if you're successful by how much money you make. 

There you go! I Googled your name right before we started talking, and the first headline that popped up was about you claiming on cable news that you could beat Biden and Trump. So I gotta ask: Why aren't you running? This seems like the perfect storm for Jesse Ventura. 

Sure it is, but here's the problem: I have no... how do you say it... machinery with me. I'm a lone individual. I was that when I ran for governor. I learned this when I dabbled with the Green Party: All this money they raise, it's so they can hire people to get them elected. It's job creation. They don't even have to believe in you, they're paid employees. When I ran for governor of Minnesota, we had one paid person: The late Doug Friedline, who ran my campaign. Everybody else was a volunteer. 

Now, getting back to how Jesse can do it, I can't! Because you need people to get you ballot access in all 50 states, which requires millions of dollars. That's why Bobby Kennedy had to make the choice for VP that he made. The two parties create a system that's a two-party dictatorship, as Ralph Nader called it. If I magically could appear on the ballot of all 50 states this fall, and if I'm allowed to debate these guys, I said I could beat 'em, and here's why: Never before have we had two presidential candidates where their negatives are this high. When I ran against Skip Humphrey and Norm Coleman, they were not disliked. Not a bit! These two are both disliked by a massive amount of people, they'd be easier to beat. 

And you'd be the spring chicken of the bunch at 72. 

Exactly. I would be your next president, there's no doubt in my mind. They'd be easier to beat than Norm and Skip were. 

I'm gonna give you an impossibly broad and difficult question before I let you go. It's a two-parter: What gives you the most hope for this country and what gives you the most worry? 

I'm 72 now, and I've seen a divided country before. During a time when a song came out that was banned on the radio: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, "Four Dead in Ohio." I see the division of our country again today, but that's the hope that I have. We've survived before, and we'll survive again, as long as we don't elect a dictator. 

Anything else we didn't touch on? 

Didn’t you say you had a two-parter?

Well, you kind of answered it. I asked what gives you the most worry, and it seems like that's a dictatorship. 

What gives me the most worry? I'll be blunt: The Republican Party.

What about 'em? 

They've, to me, turned into the Confederacy. They said "the South shall raise again," and it has. And ironically, this is the party of Lincoln. And I say that because of this: January 6, they ran through my Capitol with a Confederate flag, and not one Republican, including their top dog, has apologized to me for it. 

They're defending January 6 now. 

What?  

It has become politically advantageous for them to go to the mat for the January 6 protestors or terrorists or whatever you want to call them. 

To me, that's why I view the Republican party as the Confederacy. 

And of course you're not a fan of the Democratic Party either. 

No, I'm no fan of either of the two parties because of the dictatorship they run together. But if left to choose, my biggest issues are women's rights... in fact, I'll state this. You can headline with this, and I'm glad we got to it: The fate of our country, right now, is in the hands of women. I've maintained that for over two years now. If our country is going to survive, it'll be the women who determine the next election and save our country. 

Anything else you'd like to get off your chest? About your company, about the world? 

I can't think of anything right now. I'm trying to retire. I'll warn people of this: Be careful, when you try to retire, society won't let you. Every time I try to retire something comes along that I can't shy away from, and now it's cannabis. It's one of these deals where, I'm hoping someday I don't just drop dead having never retired.

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