Ngaio Bealum is finally breathing easy.
During a recent lunch hour at midtown’s Hook & Ladder, exactly one week after Proposition 64 was passed by California voters, Sacramento’s leading cannabis celebrity reached into the pocket of his sports coat, pulled out a small baggie filled with Red Diesel marijuana buds, and slapped it defiantly on the table.
“It is a new day and age,” Bealum said in a most satisfied voice. “You can hand people marijuana on the street now. You don’t have any pot, and I have some pot, so I can give you some pot. It seems like such a little thing, but it makes everybody so happy.”
Bealum, 48, long had hoped for days like this, when a person could show off his or her weed in public like a prized bottle of wine and not fear punishment.
Over the past decade or so, Bealum has emerged as one of California’s most prominent pot personalities, with a cannabis-themed stand-up comedy act and hosting skills that have taken him to the stages of the “Sarah Silverman Program” and smoky hempfests around the country. Bealum’s likeness, with his signature Sherlock Holmes pipe and graying dreadlocks, even has been licensed for strains sold by the Natural Cannabis Company.
Ngaio riffs on pot in ways that focus on the topical (legalization efforts, prejudiced attitudes toward cannabis users) and the personal, such as parenthood while being a cannabis activist. “My kids know I smoke weed,” he says in one stand-up bit about his two children. “Thanks to weed, dad will take them to any animated feature ever. ‘What, the panda knows kung-fu? Get in the car!’ ”)
Bealum remained a staunch proponent of Prop. 64, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana in California, despite some push back within the cannabis community. In particular, some pot farmers feared the measure’s passage would put them out of business due to increased taxes and regulations and pave the way for corporations with deep pockets to corner the market.
Bealum, a cannabis activist since 1990, was sold on the decriminalization aspects of Prop. 64, also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. Bealum says he’s appeared in court twice over pot-related matters, including an arrest in Washington before the state approved recreational use in 2012.
“You don’t know how relaxing it is as a cannabis user that you can be driving in your car – not smoking weed in your car – and not be sweated over (possessing marijuana), especially as a person of color,” Bealum said. “I’ve been a road comic since 1990. I’ve had my car searched. Now cops can’t use, ‘You smell like weed a little bit,’ as an excuse to search you. That’s great.”
Despite the momentum for marijuana in the 2016 elections, with eight states passing recreational or medical marijuana use initiatives, Bealum remains nervous over the future of legalization. Though marijuana is now decriminalized in 29 states and Washington, D.C., cannabis remains illegal under federal law.
On election night, as Donald Trump was elected as 45th president of the United States, Bealum responded to a tweet that questioned if pro-marijuana measures would remain under a Trump administration. “This is a real and serious question,” Bealum tweeted back.
While states’ rights remains a core value of political conservatives, meaning that pro-marijuana laws could be preserved at the state level, some Trump associates haven’t been so keen to free the weed. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who initially served as the head of Trump’s transition team, told Fox News in 2015 that “marijuana is against the law in the states and it should be enforced in all 50 states.” Trump himself has expressed support of medical marijuana and states’ rights, but opposes recreational marijuana efforts such as those in Colorado.
“Colorado is making bank, Oregon is making bank,” Bealum said. “My hope is that with all the money and jobs involved, that will keep them from messing with the marijuana rules that have been established.”
For now, Bealum’s on a roll playing the cannabis circuit and says opportunities appear to be increasing in the wake of Prop. 64’s passage. Along with hosting his “Rollin’ With Ngaio” podcast at Cannabis Radio, he’ll serve as a judge at The Emerald Cup cannabis competition at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in December. He’s also set to headline the Sacramento Comedy Spot on Nov. 25 and continues to pen a weekly column for the Sacramento News & Review.
He says the challenge of being a pot comedian in an era of legalization is keeping an edge, as pot culture becomes less about Cheech & Chong stonerisms and more about the status quo.
“How can I keep my rakish, slightly outlaw image if marijuana is legal?” Bealum asked. “But it’s not so much that marijuana has gone mainstream. Marijuana culture has become bigger and more prevalent. There used to be only two or four marijuana events a year, and now you can’t swing a dead (joint) without hitting one every weekend.”
An evening with Ngaio Bealum
Where: Sacramento Comedy Spot, 1050 20th St., Suite 130, Sacramento
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 25
Tickets: $10.50 (includes $.50 online service fee)