Young Voices is a series of interviews conducted by Occidental College students, assisted by the Keck Grant, for Professor Jan Lin's Urban Sociology course. Each interview highlights an individual who has made an impact in their communities.
Tim Ryder is the founder of Cannabis Clubs United With the Community, an Eagle Rock-based grass roots organization that aims to "unite the medical marijuana collectives with the community through education, interaction and music."
[Ed. note: This interview was conducted earlier this year before the L.A. City Council approved a ban on pot dispensaries in July, which they subsequently repealed on October 2.]
Can you describe the identity and the goals of Cannabis Clubs United With the Community?
It's a local grass roots organization started in Eagle Rock. It's kind of a backlash against the local prohibition crusaders who make up stories and misinformation about our local medical marijuana dispensaries. I believe we are the open-minded residents who choose to work with the dispensaries. We decided to actually go into the collectives, talk to the people there, try to address some of the concerns in the community and build up a dialogue. This is opposite to what is called the neighborhood council, which has some prohibition crusaders in charge. They don't even go to the collectives and talk to them. If they have a concern, they just yell and scream at council meetings. We decided to try to unite the collectives with the community and this is how it all started.
Your organization specifically deals with supporting the business of medical marijuana, which has always been a controversial issue. How does your organization try to reach out to the local community and appeal to them?
[One] method is to go to the monthly neighborhood council -- that's a good place to voice your opinion. I also try to talk to everybody involved in this debate of the day. Everybody has opinions and I respect that. I try to educate, which is also one of the main aims of the organization. We try to use statistics showing that marijuana is less harmful than tobacco or alcohol, as well as dispute some of the fear-mongering by the prohibition crusaders.
I'm a longtime member and resident of the community and I see myself as a part of it. If I even thought for one second that these dispensaries were a threat to my family or any of the school children around here, I would be the first one to ask them to get out. But I haven't seen any data or facts showing they're a threat in any way. So I look at them just like I would any other business in the community.
How do you reach out to the new generations?
The one good thing about the medical marijuana debate is that the young people, 70 to 80 percent of them are for legalizing marijuana. They are not conditioned to the fear- mongering and reefer madness that older generations may have seen. We send flyers and information to Occidental College, which is a big part of our community and we try to pull them into our events.
To what degree is social media important in your work?
The Internet is a very powerful tool. We use Facebook a lot, I've been on radio shows as well as local newspapers such as the Boulevard Sentinel and Eagle Rock Patch. I definitely make use of the Internet. The great thing about the Internet is that everybody has access to information now. It's not filtered down by some government or corporation. Anyone can now look into the history of the prohibition on cannabis and find out it was all founded on lies.
You live in Eagle Rock, you've been around for years and obviously very active locally. To what extent do you or the cannabis scene reflect the local culture?
Eagle Rock is a small community and everybody kind of knows each other. Here is this little place between Glendale and Pasadena, where you see the same people all the time. That's why you don't try to anger your neighbors too much and even if you disagree, especially on this marijuana subject, you try to respect everyone's opinion. This issue will eventually die down but you still have to see your neighbors every day.
We also like to promote local/small businesses here, and support the local Chamber of Commerce. There is not a lot of crime here. We have a great Lead Officer, Sergeant Orange who keeps everyone informed at the neighborhood watch meetings. Eagle Rock is just a great place and we're open-minded, to a certain extent. We usually don't bow down to anyone, particularly to the federal government on the prohibition issue.
Can you comment on the participation of younger or older generations in the cannabis movement?
We're relatively new, you know, we're still grass roots. But we do look at statistics and we know how young people think, which is pretty much on board with legalizing cannabis. Young people also like fighting for good causes such as Occupy LA and they will step to the front in social issues. The thing is that younger people are very busy with their education and other things. We're counting on them to vote but they tend not to vote because they're busy, but if they did, there wouldn't be any prohibition on cannabis. It would end tomorrow. To tell you the truth, I wouldn't do this unless I knew that the pro-freedom group was in the majority.
What impact has the cannabis movement had on economic change in Eagle Rock?
There are many positive monetary impacts that come with the medical marijuana dispensaries. When you actually put the facts out on the table, these are new businesses with employees, taxes and they pay rent which alone cost them about $2,000 a month. All this money goes into the community. We also don't have any crime around the dispensaries, so we waste a lot of law enforcement dollars. Most dispensaries have their own security guards, surveillance cameras and such.
Are there any problems regarding working with local collectives? And what are some of the reactions coming from the community?
The only problem that I have encountered working with the local collectives is that they're a little bit skittish. They don't know if you're an undercover cop or DEA federal agent. The first time I visited a collective they looked at me really weird. So I had to develop trusting relationships with the collectives. They know who I am and what I'm up to now. There are also a few collectives that are not as welcoming and are very competitive with the other collectives, so some have refused to work with me. Otherwise, I don't really have a problem working with them. In my opinion, 99 percent of the people in this community are completely unaffected by the medical marijuana dispensaries.
What is your own reason for leading such a cause? It certainly isn't the most welcoming and supported subject, and it is still very much an uphill battle for the fight for medical marijuana.
There are certain types of people who do certain types of things. You've got to be a fighter and a little bit feisty to do this. I became a Libertarian about 7 years ago, and they go back to the original constitution, the Bill of Rights. As a Libertarian you start looking at things a little differently. The federal government should be restrained and not tell us what we can put into our bodies. It comes down to personal liberty and freedom.
Another reason I'm involved is that I read somewhere that this is a $14 billion industry, and I thought to myself maybe I could get a little piece of that. This is a capitalist country and this industry attracts a lot of money. It's also one of the fastest growing industries in America right now. I see the medical marijuana industry like a tsunami, just sweeping across the nation and I'm on a surfboard riding the crest of the wave.
How did you initially get into the advocacy you do and how has it developed over the years?
I didn't know about the medical marijuana debate until about 3 years ago. I myself haven't been near marijuana for over 20 years. I didn't even know there were medical marijuana dispensaries in Eagle Rock until I went to a neighborhood council meeting. [They] said that these dispensaries are causing a lot of trouble and they should be shut down. I was shocked! I walk my dog down this boulevard every other night and I didn't even notice them; that's how quiet they are. So I went to the collectives and I didn't see a problem. It occurred to me that they are making these accusations up and I guess I'm against fear mongering, particularly after Bush's invasion of Iraq. That's why I got into it, to draw a line in the sand after 50 years of cannabis prohibition.
What are your future plans for your organization and how do you perceive Eagle Rock will fare in the future?
I think Eagle Rock will be just fine, regardless of what Tim Ryder or CCUWC does. We'll make a little splash, try to educate and get the truth out. We'll have more and more ideas on how to unite the collectives and the community together.