I guess this my official coming out party. It’s my 15 minute Forrest Gump moment as part of the Psymposia’s Drug War Stories – Catharsis on the Mall: A Vigil for Healing the Drug War. This was part of the Drug Policy Reform Conference last November 20th in Washington, DC.
Lex Pelger: Thanks everybody for coming out tonight. It’s an honor to be here in the National Mall and thank you for Catharsis for setting up all this great tech and putting all the time to bring us all here together.
Psymposia does drug lectures and conferences around the East Coast, but the thing that we’ve been doing lately, it’s been the most powerful, is the story telling. It turns out that somebody delivering a story from the heart for 10 minutes, you can often get a more important lesson that you can from an hour long slideshow. That’s why we were so excited to be part of this, to get these stories out, to show part of the horrors that the war on drugs causes here amongst us.
I want to start with a really powerful speaker, Ian Benouis. He was in the US Army. He was a pilot of a Blackhawk helicopter and he was in Panama for Operation Just Cause. Then later, he went to be a rep for Pfizer and he was an intellectual property attorney as well. Then, he became a casualty of the war on drugs for cannabis. For the last 20 years, he’s been healing himself through a spiritual practice that involves plant medicines. Now, his hope is to keep continuing to heal his fellow veterans using such practices. Ian Benouis.
Ian Benouis: Thank you. What I figured I’d do is just, with this story telling is to tell my story. If I have any time at the end, I’ll open it up for questions.
I grew up in Hawaii. It was awesome. It was in the seventies, three years behind Obama. Cannabis was totally part of the culture. It was decriminalized, there was no drug trade because even though drugs came in, there was all the home grown cannabis and it was an island culture. It was totally integrated.
I remember the day I had this aha moment, my brothers and I were kicking a soccer ball or throwing a football around in our neighborhood and it went over into the neighbor’s yard. This Japanese couple, maybe in their sixties, retired, and they had two huge pot plants in their backyard. I was like, “Everybody smokes pot,” but it was integrated.
After I left Hawaii, I missed all the D.A.R.E. education. After I left Hawaii, they started the Green Harvest, which was the first use of US military in drug operations on US soil, which violates Posse Comitatus. Right? You’re not supposed to use US soldiers to conduct anything, but you know, military operations, not drug operations.
What that delivered to Hawaii as they went around and did this eradication was the country’s first and worst meth epidemic. Now, Hawaii is still in the grips of that. To me, it’s a pretty straight line between clamping down in cannabis when you had no problems and then causing a whole new problem.
Again, an example, right, of Prohibition. In this case, creating a problem that didn’t even exist to begin with. I went to West Point, like Lex said, I was a Blackhawk pilot in the Army, started deploying down to Panama in 1987 before Operation Just Cause, basically preparing for that. Of course, that was our big drug operation.
I got out after that. I had a bunch of things happen to me. I almost drowned body surfing off Santa Cruz and my house burned down. The guy who burned my house down was ex-military. He robbed it, burned it down, and then got help for his mental health issues, and was due to stand trial later, he killed himself the night before he was supposed to go to trial. Of course, we weren’t … There’s nothing we prosecuted in that but it was the state taking over.
I got out of the military, but those things happening to me started my personal spiritual quest. I got out of the army, moved to Austin, Texas. My first wife left me. That’s when, I’d been kind of sober at certain times in the Army just because I saw the dangers of alcohol in deployment and people medicating with that, and MDMA, yeah.
Back in high school, growing up in Hawaii. It was alcohol, cannabis, mushrooms, they grow all around my high school but MDMA was the thing that opened me back up as I started on my spiritual path and from there, it just took off. I basically spent the first three years of law school in Houston and first three years of my new marriage to my wife that I’ve been married 21 years with four kids.
I got my basic work sorted out enough where I could be a husband and a dad. My wife and I got a good setup to our marriage by basically tripping every other weekend at least for about three years on mushrooms.
Then I really know, my kids were really my medicine for the next 20 years or so. I taught my kids to get high on their own supply. I taught them properly. I was honest with them and upfront with them. We’d go out in the backyard in our trampoline, and just bounce for hours, and play games, and I would tell them, “This is you making yourself feel good. You’re making yourself get high on your own supply.” What that means then is that if you choose later to do something, that’s additive to it. Right? You’re not trying to cure some problem. Then, if you’re trying to do that, then that’s your body trying to tell you something that something else is wrong, and maybe that medicine is good for you, or maybe there’s some other medicine, or some other thing you can do.
I’ll even tell you real quick how I had that conversation with my kids about drugs because I know that it is a big challenge when this is so illegal how do you have that conversation. They were about 14 to I want to say 9 or something, around on that range. I had three of them with me, went to a soccer tournament in Houston at a hotel there where they had just mulched the ground with all of these cow manure mulch. It had just had a big rain. I remember driving in the parking lot and my mushroom sense is all tingling and … What’s, there something going around here. Oh my God. Dad’s going to go downstairs and walk around the hotel for a little while and come back. I came back with probably what ended up being about 60 or 70 grams, eventually of dried mushrooms. So, it was a pretty good haul. Just right there in the hotel parking lot.
My kids were definitely going to talk about that, right? There’s was no way that we’re not going to talk about that. They were like, “so, the mushrooms. What’s the deal with that?” I said, “OK. Knives, good or bad? You know, throw it out to the audience.” They’re like, “Good. Because you know, you can cut your food with it or bad because you can hurt somebody with it.” I said, “Well, there you go. A knife is technology, mushrooms are technology. Treat them appropriately, respect them, they’ll do good things for you.” But also I had that crazy DPS or Child Protective Services conversation where I said, “Look, we have to be able to keep secrets in our family.” Not the kind of secret like Dad’s sexually abusing you. No, not that kind of secret. The kind of secret like you didn’t get what you want so you’re mad at dad so you decided to call 911 and say, “My dad’s got all sorts of stuff in here.” That’s not going to do anybody any good.
Being honest with my kids I believe has really helped. I’ve been growing these plants for 20 years as well. When they see you growing these plants, growing and taking these plants versus going to the pharmacy and a prescription, they can kind of on their own figure it out what “drugs” are and not fall into this whole predefined system that the government’s trying to propagate to everyone.
Let’s see. So I got out of the army, started that spiritual path. I was a pharmaceutical rep for Pfizer, really at the height of … we launched Zoloft, that was the height of the synthetic opioids, which were all marketed right as, and they’ve always been marketed this way, same with heroin compared to morphine, right? Oh this new …. this “newer” reversion of this thing is less addictive than the old one. Actually, this thing will cure the addiction to the lower level, right, the less complex opioid, and so I saw some of the good that the pharmaceutical industry could do but I also saw that they are really just looking for customers. They are not … they want magazine subscriptions. They are not trying to cure things. They are just trying to get people on maintenance drugs, and have them, be on them the rest of their lives.
I said I went to law school, studied intellectual property. While I was in law school hanging out with a newer friend that I’d met down at Barton Springs in Austin. If anyone’s been there kind of the soul of Austin. Yeah, hanging out in the overflow, the free part where all the freaks hang out, and he’s like, “Hey man. You want to smoke some herb?” I’m like, “Sure,” but violated the number one rule in my opinion, right is don’t take any more or any form that you can’t immediately dispose of if law enforcement shows up.
So law enforcement’s hiding in the bushes, saw us, came up. “You guys are smoking pot,” and he’s like, “Do you have any still?” And he’s like you know, pulls out his bag of a quarter ounce. I’ll like oh my God dude, and fortunately, for me it’s Austin, Texas they have an official program now called Cite and Release but I got basically an early version of that. I was a year and a half through law school I think, or maybe the first year. I can’t remember. A year and a half, I was in the second year, and so I had … They wrote it down to drug paraphernalia. I wasn’t arrested but I was given a Class C misdemeanor ticket right there. I had to go to drug classes. I paid, if anybody knows from Texas, Jamie Balagia, “The 420 Dude“. He was my attorney, and it cost me 3,000 bucks to get it expunged, to get it out of my record so that I could be able to take the bar, and become an attorney.
I used some of the mushroom money, my mushroom scholarship from picking mushrooms. I did deliver probably about 10,000 one-gram doses to Austin between ’94 to ’97 saying the name of God over every one of them, and that was my … Some of my early political activism but keeping Austin Weird. Statute of limitation so it’s all good. It’s all past.
Yeah, for me thank God that I was able to … Right that I had that money, that I had that privilege, you know to be able to get my record expunged so that I could do the thing that I wanted to do, and since then I’ve been an attorney working in the corporate world, and like I said, raising my kids. Maybe with my wife taking MDMA a couple of times a year as a great marriage tool, and to do our work with each other, and psychedelics more occasionally.
Then about a year and a half ago I went to the first Veteran’s NORML Conference in Texas, and just connected with veterans and that was the beginning for me of healing 2.0. I’m like I’ve done enough work, like I said, be a good human being, be a good father and a husband, and a wife and all that but I still had a lot of work to do I found out when I met veterans, and I was first, certainly, say to that my PTSD is not caused by combat anyway. Maybe flying in the army, which is really dangerous, and sexual trauma, and car accidents, and other stuff but I want to show you how real and deep this drug war goes.
My mother has been an opioid addict for 40 to 50 years with degenerative disc disease. My youngest brother has been an opioid addict his entire adult life, and then my other brother, my other sibling, is his third time through rehab, and so far successfully but I’ve seen the choices that other people in my family make. I really try to make better ones, and so for me meeting with veterans was really the beginning of my, like I said, re-healing process, and connecting with veterans. For me, then starting my own healing process, again, which has involved mainly personally Ayahuasca, and yeah, I’ve been really then since then just trying to share that healing with other veterans, and what I want to do then is just share sort of two things I accomplished with the sacred plants as far as my trauma is just to really also share with you the power.
This whole time I’ve had a spiritual practice, and been doing yoga for five years. I’ve learned to do open eyed meditation, and so all these techniques, right, they are all supportive of this kind of work. Back in May I did a three-day Ayahuasca ceremony outside of Austin with a healer from the Santo Daime tradition but it really wasn’t a Santo Daime ceremony, and three days. So the first day was really just you know, getting my body all sorted out just clearing all the negative energy, getting that DNA scrub down to the sub atomic level, and then in the next day it was really a bunch of heart polishing. Clear the negative energy, polished the heart, break it apart, put it back together, blow it up, rinse, wash, repeat as many times as necessary.
When I was finally kind of … mother Ayahuasca had taken me through that process. I’m like, “Okay, cool. Let’s take this new heart out for a ride and see where it can go,” and it immediately went to this sexual trauma that I had when I was first or second grade where I was sodomized by an older neighborhood boy in the bathroom of my own house. When I went to that place, under the medicine, and I really I saw the young me, and saw this person, and your default thing in that scenario, your ego is to go towards yourself. I’m like the young me but instead my heart and my attention shifted towards this person, and I’m like, “What happened to you? Why did this happen to you? Why are you doing this?” Not in a questioning, threatening but in a caring, compassionate, empathetic perspective and when I did that the whole emotional content of that memory just completely evaporated, and it was gone.
That was some amazing healing, and then a couple of weeks later I’d planned to do this conscious cannabis ceremony in Colorado with this healer as a transpersonal counselor, and done work in native traditions. It was with cannabis because he wanted to test the proposition for vets especially, but it would be true for everyone, but prove it first with vets that you could use cannabis actually not just sort of as a maintenance for trauma but also to deal with the trauma. We did a ceremony in his house with a little altar, and I was lying down on … Like a yoga mat on the rug of his … The front room in his house. It was a guided meditation with music that he had all queued up.
He was talking to me but not really. I wasn’t talking to him. He was just sort of guiding me, and I took three puffs … Sorry, Seven puffs of this you know, only cannabis. I hadn’t smoked any that day. That was it, and I went into that psychedelic space. It was amazing, and I basically went to my first trauma, which was my sister dying when I was nine months old [Now I know talking to my parents after this talk about this car accident for the second time ever that I was four months old and she was a year and half]. She was a little bit less than two in a car with my parents, and my grandfather, and some other relatives, and I went there, and the short version is I got okay with everything, and totally let go of it. It was awesome. Same kind of thing like with Ayahuasca where the whole emotional trauma just literally evaporated and just to throw a fun wrench in all this, Mother Ayahuasca came along as an attending physician for the whole process to make sure that all worked out.
Yeah, here I am today. I’m a veteran working to share this kind of healing with other people, and am really honored and blessed to be you know, working the rest of you in this movement to get these plants resacralized, and I’ll just say the last thing is that … And I experienced this under Ayahuasca is that I came to the understanding that veterans are the moral conscience for this country because we go and exercise the politicians’ will, and are the instruments, deliverers, and witnesses of these horrible things that you know, no human being should experience, and then we have to come back and reintegrate, and there’s no real plan, or way that’s currently set up to do that.
I’ve seen that veterans are going to be the ones that get to prove this model to show how we can turn ourselves from warriors that are killing machines into warriors that are loving machines that can actually beat our own swords in to plowshares, and that’s what I see for veterans, and that’s what I’m committed to.