In Oxford, Ohio, a laid-back, prosperous college town less than an hour from Cincinnati, students, professionals, and country folk know where to get their hemp.
On the main street, nestled among upscale restaurants and retail stores, they flock to Hemptations, a locally-owned store that carries a full range of hemp clothing, cosmetics, stationary, incense, and delectables.
Hemptations is a boutique store in a big, open, well-decorated space, with hempy murals on the wall and a civilized atmosphere. In the rear of the store, ensconced in glass display cases, are dozens of “inhalation assistance devices,” so named because the US government has seen fit to regulate free speech by prohibiting hemp store owners and their customers from using “forbidden words” to describe pipes, glassware, and other sacramental objects cherished by the Cannabis Culture.
Customers and store employees engage in a humorous verbal game of cat and mouse as they try to communicate without using words like “bong.”
A guy named “Beach” is the outspoken, dynamic owner of Hemptations and a companion store in Cincinnati. He’s a tall, hyperactive, friendly, smart, opinionated dude, always ready to eloquently and forcefully discuss the intersection of politics and commerce that interferes with the rights of hemp store owners to ply their wares.
“We’ve watched in amused disgust as the government has tried to further criminalize and define the totally beneficial hemp plant,” he says, standing tall and proud in front of his store while baring his shoulder to reveal an awesome hemp leaf tattoo. “Our response, and the response of hemp manufacturers, has been to continue to produce and sell quality products in a professional atmosphere. My goal is that when people walk in the front door of this shop and look around, they instantly recognize that all the lies they’ve heard about the cannabis plant are total crap, and that the hemp industry, instead of being persecuted by the government, should be promoted and congratulated for thriving in spite of the stupid war against this plant.”
Like most hemp stores, Beach’s businesses sell Cannabis Culture magazine. The latest issue is displayed prominently near the cash register, right next to a copy of High Times. The CC cover features a Dutch lass eating a cake of hash. The HT cover displays a woman in a bikini, hitchhiking.
“This is a good example of why I like your magazine more than High Times,” a female customer says, comparing the two covers. “I think High Times is selling mostly to young boys, between the ages of 10 and 18. Your magazine has a totally different approach, your articles are more serious and journalistic, and you guys are putting your real names on articles and risking getting arrested. You obviously love women like we all do, but you don’t use them to sell fake pot. My boyfriend ordered seeds from you, and we had a good harvest. One reason I come to Hemptations is to buy the magazine.”
In another college town several hundred miles distant, another hemp store also sells Cannabis Culture magazine.
“Roots, Rock, Reggae” is located in a downstairs space almost directly across from the University of Virginia’s main academic buildings in Charlottesville, Virginia. Nearby is a massive statue of Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s founding fathers, who created the academic powerhouse that is today considered one of the top public universities in the country.
Jefferson loved travel, academia, and freedom- he also loved hemp. His farm journals contain numerous references to growing hemp, which he used for food, fuel, fiber, and clothing. The English settlers who invaded North America in the 1600’s and began slaughtering Indians and decimating the continent’s ecosystems at least did one thing right: they brought hemp seed from Europe and started cultivating it wherever they lived.
Inside RRR, a gaggle of students in town for a campus tour excitedly thumb through CC, buy glass, and ask if it’s safe to order from the Marc Emery seed catalog. Assured that safety is assured, two roommates make plans to plant a Jeffersonian victory garden in their closet.
As in Hemptations, everyone is very careful not to use forbidden words or express forbidden ideas while discussing the artistic collection of specialty inhalation artifacts on display.
RRR owner Lloyd Meacham says that nobody harasses his store, in part because he has integrated himself into the community.
“We sponsor running clubs, crew teams, races, and other groups and events,” says the soft-spoken Meacham, who looks a bit like Jerry Garcia. “Nobody around here views us as bad or unsavory. The government’s claim that hemp products are harmful- nobody believes them. Our customers include doctors, lawyers, nurses, working people, professors, students, and parents. We started as a cultural store, selling Native American and African goods. Now, we are focused on the reggae tradition, and on quality glass from the best blowers in the world. It’s a joy for me to come to work every day and help the community.”
Meacham’s store serves as a focal point for activists, friends, and artists. Its entrance stairway is graced by colorful paintings of nature scenes, and of reggae legend Bob Marley.
While I was enjoying a spring afternoon at the busy shop, famed surrealist artist Virginia Valentine Coles strode in, elegantly clad in leather pants and gloves, to deliver some new art cards that Meacham sells a lot of.
Coles, who is herself a work of art, thanked Meacham for carrying her cards in his shop.
“The government makes dumb rules about some of the products I sell,” Meacham says, “but they can’t take away the spirit and the community that our culture has. Hemp is stronger than prohibition.”
The work of Virginia Coles can be seen at www.studiovalentine.com