Freedom. At the end of the day, it’s all cannabis advocates want. We strive to defend the plant and its many uses, dismantle stereotypes and advocate for fair regulation and taxation. Regardless of political orientation, cannabis users demand the freedom to utilize the plant. In an increasingly polarized political landscape, however, impassioned fights for freedom and liberty can conjure images of gun-toting, Fox News-watching right-wingers—a clichéd stereotype that ignores the root of the neoconservative movement: freedom. The pursuit of happiness. Isn’t that what we all desire?
A particularly intriguing, largely conservative American faction known as the prepper community raises questions of bipartisanship, as well as the shared values that transcend party lines. Preppers are largely rural, retired or soon-to-be retired, and often ex-military. Their ultimate goal is to be self-sufficient, prepared for many what preppers see as inevitable societal decay, whether it is through a stock market crash, nuclear war, global pandemic, famine—anything which would change the social order so dramatically we would cease to have a recognizable government.
Shows such as Doomsday Preppers provide a glimpse into this typically tightlipped group, displaying preppers’ intricate gardening ecosystems, surveillance and security mechanisms, food storage capabilities and general goal of being entirely “off the grid”—able to successfully function when SHTF (Shit Hits The Fan). Preppers typically desire to remain under the radar, with Doomsday Preppers being an anomaly in an otherwise media-avoidant community, and the show is widely discredited and mocked by most preppers. Their desire for anonymity doesn’t stem from a “holier than thou” attitude, however; with many preppers, security is of utmost importance, and sharing personal details or speaking to the media is strictly verboten—something I quickly discovered when I set out to profile potential cannabis preppers.
My two sources, both ex-military, were surprisingly more than happy to discuss their insights on prepping and the community at large. Personal details were scant, but they answered every question I posed with generous detail. As a liberal feminist living in a large city, I anticipated some level of pushback, or a clashing of ideals. What I found was that we had more in common than I ever could have imagined.
I’ll refer to my first source as The General. A retired, disabled veteran, he reached out to me after I posted on a popular prepping forum, wondering if anyone out there had plans to utilize cannabis in their off-the-grid, post-apocalyptic scenario. As a healing plant, I figured cannabis would be useful in a world without reliable access to pharmaceuticals, and was curious if anyone would respond to my post. The next day, I had an email waiting for me from The General, detailing his background and brief stint with medical marijuana, which he used as pain relief from multiple war injuries.
“Preppers are nothing like you think they are,” he told me. “I’m a hell of a lot greener than liberals, and I teach people about it every day. If you’re really concerned about the environment, I’m your best friend.”
His overall view on cannabis seemed to be one of “live and let live”—he personally didn’t enjoy the sensation of being high, but did appreciate the healing effects, and the fact that the plant wouldn’t damage his liver, unlike the multiple pain-relieving drugs he’d been prescribed by doctors. The General used no moral judgements when discussing cannabis, and instead emphasized that cannabis should be used responsibly, never in a situation where impaired judgment could endanger the lives of others. Although we’re worlds apart, his sentiments could easily have been written by one of my fellow cannabis advocates, most of whom are left-wing liberals.
We continued an email correspondence. He described prepping as a hobby, rather than a lifestyle, emphasizing that he simply wanted to be prepared in case of a disaster. The General said he personally didn’t know of many fellow preppers actively including cannabis in their plans, but that he is currently storing cannabis seeds in air-filled, desiccant-moisture absorbed bags, as the seeds do not have an unlimited shelf life and need oxygen to remain potent. He claimed that, if and when SHTF, he would indeed use the seeds, perhaps for trade or to help with pain relief.
Intrigued by The General’s responses, I kept digging. During my research, I saw one name pop up again and again: Chris Walsh of Revolutionary Realty (revrealty.us) in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I reached out, and a few days later we chatted on the phone for nearly two hours. Intelligent and to the point, Walsh is just about as conservative as they come. He revealed that he did indeed vote for Trump, and supports a wall being built between Mexico and the United States. I wondered if he and I were going to be able to see eye to eye.
And yet, throughout our conversation, he circled back to a theme of political unity, stating: “I’m a conservative with a lot of liberal thoughts.” And he was. He spoke of the underlying similarities between Republicans and Democrats, arguing that each side wants the same thing—the pursuit of happiness, freedom—but we’ve been poisoned against one another in the media. I immediately prepared to go on the defense; phrases like “liberal media” tend to do that to me. But I stopped myself. Wasn’t he, on some level, correct? Here I am, working at a company that defends the plant, fighting for equal rights, for freedom…and he’s doing the same thing. As Walsh said, “liberty and liberalism is good for everybody, all the time.”
Unlike The General, Walsh had confirmed knowledge of preppers who not only grew and used cannabis regularly, but also intended to utilize cannabis in an off-the-grid society. With a large network of prepper friends and neighbors, in addition to around 150 new clients each year, he estimated that anywhere from 10-30 percent of his fellow preppers smoke and/or grow their own cannabis. Walsh said that at least weekly, someone new—often someone he never would have suspected—reveals their cannabis use to him, typically in a nonchalant way. Despite being a largely conservative group, according to Walsh, preppers typically believe that personal freedoms trump moral judgements, an attitude that makes them, well…quite liberal.
Walsh agreed. “Preppers are nothing like you think they are,” he told me. “I’m a hell of a lot greener than liberals, and I teach people about it every day. If you’re really concerned about the environment, I’m your best friend.” As part of his job, Walsh teaches preppers how to go completely off-the-grid, setting up the homes he’s sold with solar-powered electricity, sustainable compost and gardening systems, and various green tactics most save-the-Earth, “elitist” liberals fail to implement in their day-to-day lives.
I thought about my own energy consumption with a twinge of embarrassment. These conservative preppers were greener than me. A lot greener. Walsh chuckled at my realization, then clarified: “It’s not about saving the planet,” but rather, “about independence”—not relying on an electrical grid for energy, or a grocery store for sustenance. The motivations may differ, but liberals and conservative preppers both want to be green. Can environmentalists and rural preppers somehow work together, crossing political lines to help our planet? Or are we too divided to even consider the possibility of a united front?
“This story itself is about a lot more than dope,” claimed Walsh, cheekily referencing both the plant and the name of our publication. “It’s about freedom.” Liberals, conservatives, rural preppers, unprepared city-dwellers—can we all come together under the banner of cannabis, a plant that has been unfairly criminalized? The possibility for understanding is there, waiting for us, if only we can drop the negative assumptions about the “other side.” Cannabis has brought people together for centuries—let’s hope it continues to unite us. We can use all the help we can get.
I originally wrote this article with both sources requesting to remain anonymous. I sent a first draft over to The General and Walsh to see if they approved of its publication. Walsh, who in my original draft I simply referred to as “The Mogul” for anonymity’s sake, loved the article so much he insisted I use his real name.