During his time as a wrestling commentator, Jesse “The Body” Ventura was a breath of fresh air on the mic — a frank and unfiltered voice that always provided a unique perspective on things. During his term as Governor of Minnesota, that reputation grew as he continually questioned the establishment, championing causes that more traditional politicians would never touch. As an author, Ventura continues to challenge the status quo. With nine U.S. states voting next week on legalization, to varying degrees, of marijuana for medicinal and/or recreational use, Ventura is once again leading the call, through his new book Jesse Ventura’s Marijuana Manifesto.

“The astounding thing for me,” Ventura told SLAM! Wrestling from his home in Minnesota, “is that (if you applied today’s laws), George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and probably Benjamin Franklin, if they lived today, would be raided by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), convicted, imprisoned, and probably would be doing 10 to 12 years in a federal penitentiary for being major drug dealers. Washington and Jefferson both grew it — it was their major crop. It was the backbone of the United States economy for its first 160 years of existence. It just goes on from there.”

It was in the 1930s that the U.S. government’s — and society’s — views on marijuana changed, Ventura says. This was driven by powerful people with deliberate personal agendas, and as a result the entire country was harmed.

“William Randolph Hearst,” he said pointedly, “(was a) newspaper baron who owned 26 newspapers across the United States. This is when we were dominantly white power government. He’d say ‘it’s the devil’s weed’ and ‘black people and Mexicans smoke it.’ He’d use total racism to get the white people behind his movement to ban marijuana and hemp. Then he paid off the politicians in Washington and was successful (in criminalizing it).”

“And why? In capitalism, the basis is to compete. Well, one way to compete is to become a monopoly and eliminate your competition. And that’s what he did. He went to Washington and got marijuana and hemp to be declared illegal. He owned thousands of acres of timberland, and from that point on, we had to buy his timber for paper — we were not allowed to use hemp (even though it) makes better paper.”

What Ventura wants to see is the full legalization and regulation of marijuana and hemp products, nationwide, be it for medicinal use, recreational use, or commercial use.

The book provides a great deal of well-researched scientific and anecdotal evidence that support his stance, extoll the virtues of the product while tearing into the restrictive and prohibitive laws — and the people in power that are trying to preserve those laws — that restrict its widespread usage. Indeed, there’s not one argument that Ventura doesn’t seem to have a counter-argument for, be it political, moral, economical, or otherwise.

From a medicinal standpoint, in the book Ventura cites a plethora of evidence that demonstrates the benefits that marijuana patients enjoy. And he counters Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton’s views that more research still needs to be done on the matter.

“No it doesn’t,” he said, rejecting the premise. “There’s a hemp university over in Israel, that’s financed by the United States. The doctor over there, they’ve done all the testing. They’ve come out and said it would help the concussion issues out there in the National Football League, that marijuana would help relieve post-traumatic stress for all the soldiers coming home from these horrible wars. And yet our government won’t allow them to use it.”

He also points to the case of Steven Kubby, a noted marijuana activist, notable Libertarian party member, and a cancer patient, who wrote the foreword to Ventura’s book. In it, Kubby detailed the arguably-miraculous results he had with medicinal marijuana.

“(He) was dying from inoperable adrenal cancer and doctors have stated he was given a five-year death sentence. Dying. Dead. And he’s now lived 35 years and it’s all from the use of cannabis marijuana. It’s caused the tumour to shrink and go benign. And our government tried to stop him from staying alive. The DEA broke into his home, arrested him, and threw him in jail. Anyone who reads that introduction alone will realize how abusive our government is, how our government doesn’t care one bit about you. Marijuana was keeping this man alive, and our government tried to stop him from staying alive.”

Steve Kubby.

According to Ventura, the resistance to change the laws is due to pressure the government is succumbing to from private interests whose agendas compete directly with a thriving marijuana market.

“Follow the money,” he said, a refrain used several times during this interview. “Follow the money, because that’s what it’s all about. Once they have the ability to turn marijuana over to big corporations, then you’ll quite possibly see it legalized. (You may see it) legalized, but only if a major corporation, say (a company the equivalent of) Anheuser-Busch, and maybe one other company, got the sole rights. That way, they can get their big cut (of market share and tax revenue).”

Obviously that’s not what marijuana advocates like Ventura would want to see happen.

“(We) want it available for average people, for poor people. We want to see it treated identical to alcohol or tobacco — available but regulated, with age limits. We want to see it legalized to all citizens so that the citizens have the ability to grow their own and not have to buy it from big corporations if they don’t want to. If poor people could grow it in their backyard and use it freely like tomato plants, what’s the matter with that? There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Hearing Ventura talk about marijuana, there’s a definite excitement in his voice — deep, gruff, and unmistakable to fans who watched him on TV back in the day. His passion is palpable and comes from the fact that he has a vested personal interest in seeing the laws changed.”Marijuana has give n me back my quality of life,” he explained. “Not me directly, but someone very close to me developed epileptic seizures, seizing three to four times a week. I was having to directly deal with this, and my quality of life was gone. The person who was seizing, their quality of life was gone. Four different pharmaceutical medicines didn’t work, they all had horrible side effects. Finally, (this person went) to Colorado, got medical marijuana, three drops under the tongue three times a day, and the seizures immediately stopped. Today, it’s legal in Minnesota so the person can take a pill in the morning and a pill at night, and for two and a half years, has not had a seizure. So I attribute my quality of life as having been saved by marijuana, and that’s why I’ve made it my focus. I’m 65 now, and I would like to see before I die, marijuana to be completely legal in the United States. And hopefully Canada will do it first.”

To that end, Ventura has been following Canada’s progress towards Prime Minister Trudeau’s commitment to legalize marijuana in the country with keen interest.

“I urge Canada to do it,” he implored. “Take that step forward, be bold, and don’t listen to the United States of America. I urge the Canadians to beat the Americans to the punch — it’d be a smart move to do that.”If the laws changed in Canada, he continued, and the laws in Mexico did as well (that country is currently also in the process of pursuing legalization), he believes the United States would ultimately have to bend as well. In the meantime, he is urging Americans to use their voice at the voting booths to force the changes.

“This could be a defining moment for the people of America, the marijuana issue. It could be the defining issue of us taking back our government. Because our government is acting as a parent here, they’re acting like Big Brother, telling us what’s good for us and they’re making us feel like they’re in charge, not us. Well, now 50 percent of Americans say full legalization, that’s over half, for the first time. Well, it’s time now to let them know — and this is the issue that it could be done on — that we are in charge, not you. That the government works for us the people. It’s not the other way around.”

“Which is what’s happening state by state. What would the federal government do if in 10 years all 50 states have legalized it state-wide? You’d think they wouldn’t have a choice, because that would be the people speaking, wouldn’t it? Because every time a state legalizes it, it’s because of a vote. A vote by the people. And when that happens and enough states override the federal, the feds are going to have to respond in some way.”

And while the citizens of nine American states will have their say on the issue this Monday, Ventura believes the best way to fast-track the process is to elect a Presidential candidate that shares the same view as him — Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.”That’s who I’m voting for,” he declared. “Gary Johnson has come out and said that he’d end the war on drugs just as he’ll end the wars in the Middle East. And those are my major (issues), I want both of these wars ended. And that’s why I’ll proudly vote for Gary Johnson for President. Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party might, I haven’t really focused on her, she may be for it too. But you’re guaranteed Hillary (Clinton) and Donald (Trump) aren’t, because as Democrats and Republicans they’re puppets on strings. They’re controlled by the alcohol industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and all of the industries that don’t want marijuana made available. They want people to suffer, it’s that simple.”

While it’s safe to assume that’s not going to happen, would this issue be enough to get Ventura to throw his name into the hat in four years time? While he has floated the idea in the past, he won’t necessarily lock himself into a comment at this time. Instead, he’s going to focus on two issues, one of which is the marijuana issue.”(My other focus is that) I want to do whatever I can to make the United States and Russia friends. I do not want us to go into another Cold War, which is what they’re directing us to. I think it can be avoided as long as we keep talking, and whatever I can do to create that bridge between the United States and Moscow, I’m going to do it. That’s personal for me, because my father and mother are both World War II veterans and Russia was our major ally in World War II, but before the war was over, they became our major enemy. I could never figure that one out when my dad spoke so highly about getting to Berlin and meeting his Russian counterparts, and the friendships he developed. And then all of a sudden they became our mortal enemy.”

“I mean, I know what happened,” he clarified. “(It’s) because they were socialist and our country is run by Wall Street, and on Wall Street the major thing they fear is socialism. They would rather get in bed with Nazis and fascists than they would socialists. But in Russia it’s no longer socialism anymore, it’s capitalism. In fact, I was there in December, and they’ve embraced capitalism so much that all the stores in Moscow are open 24-7. That’s embracing capitalism, that’s called competing. So what is the reason now? Why do we hate Moscow?”As part of that bridge-building, Ventura has signed a deal to do a show on Russian Television America. Ironically, Ventura notes, it’s the one station where he feels he has the most freedom to talk about the issues he is concerned with.

“I’ll be doing 16 shows a year for them,” he confirmed. “I met (Russian president Vladimir) Putin in December, and they’ve guaranteed me they’ll never censor me — I can be creative in any way I want to be. I find it strange that I’ve lived through the Cold War, and it turns out that the American mainstream media has blackballed me and it’s the Russians that are giving Jesse Ventura his free speech.”

Other than that show, his books, and a few other non-mainstream media appearances, it’s unlikely, he believes, he’ll get many more opportunities to reach out to the public in this manner. Certainly, he thinks, it won’t be on WWE programming, at least not in the foreseeable future.

“Many people ask me why I’m not invited back to do WrestleMania with all the old-timers — after all, I did the first six of them. The only reason I can give is that I won my court case with Vince McMahon, so if I appear there, he has to pay me royalties if he takes it to any type of reproduction. And his ego won’t let him do that. So it’s highly doubtful Jesse Ventura will be at a WrestleMania before I die.”

Though Ventura doesn’t follow the product anymore, he did have fond memories of his time in the business — and even shared a story that tied in directly to his crusade towards marijuana legalization.

“When I was there, (Vince) started implementing drug tests. I said, ‘Nobody’s negotiated with me that I’d be required to take drug tests — I will not take one.’ And he never made me. He made Bruno (Sammartino) do it, can you imagine that? Oh, I had fun the next day. After they came up and told me I had to urinate in a cup and I refused to do it. The next morning we were (at) TV, and I ran into Bruno, and I said, ‘Bruno, did you give a drug sample last night?’ And Bruno said, ‘Oh, of course. Everybody had to.’ I said, ‘I didn’t.’ And I started playing it up. I said (with over-the-top incredulity), ‘I can’t believe that they would make the great Bruno Sammartino prove that he was innocent of drugs.’ Boy, I had Bruno fit to be tied, and he swore he’d never take one again. I was an instigator a little bit, but I couldn’t help it. I mean, Jesus, who’d drug test Bruno? He’d been retired already for 10 years, and they were going to drug test Bruno Sammartino? Give me a break.”

But for now, Ventura is focused on promoting his book and furthering the marijuana movement.

“People should do the research,” he urged. “They’ll see how the government is hurting them (with these laws). They’ll see how legalization — full legalization — will have so many benefits, how it will help people who are dying, how it will create an economic boom, how it will create thousands of jobs, and how it will change the country in so many positive ways. It’ll be a long struggle,” he conceded. “But in the last decade, milestones have been crossed.””And I’m going to do whatever I can to keep it going.”