The Man Behind NUG Magazine: Ben G. Rowin
By: George Alberts
NUG Magazine is a beacon and a source of information for patients and advocates that shines light on the issues surrounding patientsâ€™ rights and legalization. It is a tool that benefits a lot of aspects of our community â€“ art, music, literature and culture â€“ and not just cannabis. It brings us together on the subject and we owe a lot to one man, his family and the experiences that molded his views about one of the most beneficial plants in the world. Ben G. Rowin has been around cannabis and its culture his entire life. It has had a tremendous impact on him as a patient, a grower, and a family man. He has roots within the community because of his familyâ€™s history and his efforts in educating and supporting the movement through his publication. He is a product and a reflection of the medical marijuana community. And aside from the few who know the man behind the curtain, Ben G. Rowin is NUG Magazine.
Benâ€™s roots in San Diego run deep. His grandparents owned multiple businesses in downtown, including a restaurant, a social club, an arcade and a construction company. His grandfather was the first president of the San Diego Chapter of The Sons of Italy and his great grandfather helped build Balboa Park for the Worldâ€™s Fair. With looking at his familyâ€™s rich history that contributed to our now vibrant city, there is no question that Ben was destined to create a name for himself in San Diego.
He began working in the publishing business at the age of 19. He had to hide his cannabis use to blend in with the blue collar environment, as most people do. After Prop. 215 was passed in California in 1996, Ben began researching cannabis as medicine before opting to become a patient in early 2000. Ben has always suffered from debilitating migraine headaches. â€œI also suffer from a rare blood disorder that leaves my liver very vulnerable. I cannot use prescription medication or pills as they are absorbed through my already susceptible liver. I chose to look into becoming a patient.â€
Ben met Steve McWilliams in the summer of 2001 when he was 24. After a year of knowing Steve and learning more about the efficacy of cannabis as medicine from him, Ben joined Shelter from the Storm cannabis coffee house as the eighth member in 2002. â€œSteve and I became great friends. I learned quite a bit from him and miss him very much.â€
It was around this time when Ben began working for then start-up publication San Diego CityBEAT and running their circulation and doing ad sales. The publisher at that time brought him on board to revamp their distribution. He was the first boss that Ben had that knew he was a medical cannabis patient and didnâ€™t hold it against him. â€“â€œFinally feeling like I was in a position where my cannabis use didnâ€™t matter was an incredible feeling.â€
He connected his friends, Steve McWilliams and Barbara McKenzie, to the publicationâ€™s editorial department to inform them about the stories and events that were surrounding their struggles, and San Diego CityBEAT became one of the first publications to cover the medical marijuana struggle in San Diego. â€œI had sold the first cannabis evaluation ad to Dr. Sterner and things were looking great in the medical cannabis community.â€
Ben and Steve only disagreed on one thing â€“ Activism! â€œI felt that if you were quiet you would be left alone, but Steve always told me that you had to be VOCAL for those who could not. Steveâ€™s suicide was a tragic loss to the San Diego medical marijuana community and to me personally!â€ Moving forward after his death, Ben continued to hold onto his â€œbe quiet and get left aloneâ€ philosophy. He was accessing medicine like most patients at local dispensaries until they all closed down again in 2006. Once again San Diego patients were left with no access besides street dealers or trying their hand at growing their own medicine. â€œI chose the latter and began to grow my own medicine in 2007. I was discreet and only grew for myself and my ailing mother-in-law. Things were great! I was married to my beautiful wife, who I have been with since I was 17-years-old, and we had an amazing son, who was six at the time. But, things took a turn for the worst when a joint task force of local and federal agents raided my home in March of 2008. My son was terrified and my wife and I were treated like criminals. We kept telling them that everything we were doing was legal. I had my paperwork up-to-date and posted in the garden, as well as the proper paperwork for being a caregiver. They arrested both my wife and myself and charged us with ridiculous overstated charges. We were taken to the local DEA headquarters where they searched and fingerprinted us and then said they had NO federal charges to hold us with, but would be taking us both to San Diego jails.â€
Ben was confused about how they were going to be charged by the state for following state law. They posted bail and got an attorney, which was a considerable amount of money! Benâ€™s attorney told them that the DA would use his wifeâ€™s charges as leverage to get Ben to take a plea deal at arraignment, and thatâ€™s exactly what happened. â€œThey told me if I pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of possession of concentrated cannabis, they would drop all charges on my wife and all other pending charges on me. I asked my attorney what would happen if we fought it all the way and his advice was that we were in a good position to do so as far as the evidence was concerned. BUT, there was a chance we could still end up in prison, so he thought the deal was a good one. I took it and got only three years probation.â€
To overcome the strong emotions they felt as a result of this experience, they began to read and hear other stories just like theirs, about the horrors happening to legitimate patients and their families. Anger began to set in for Ben and his wife because they knew something needed to be done â€“ it was time for someone to bring a voice to the community concerning this issue. Unfortunately it took some time, as this created a substantial amount of financial ruin for Ben and his family. From the costs of bail, lawyer fees and business losses, they found themselves swelling with a debt of about 50k, which ultimately cost them their home and the ability to live in their community.
After everything was settled, Ben decided to launch a cannabis magazine, NUG, which came together in July 2009. He wanted people and patients to have access to the information he had to search for. He wanted the general public to see what was going on in our community and give a voice to those who did not have one! â€œI wanted to make up for my lack of activism and wanted my old friend Steve to be proud of me. I wanted to move forward with the movement, for the patients and people who choose to smoke cannabis for ANY reason! I strongly believe that, patient or not, NO ONE belongs in a cage for using a plant!â€
This was a difficult decision for Ben, and even more difficult for his family. They were all nervous that the same problems Steve had were on their way for him; so, he chose to write under a pen name that he coined while writing a grow article for CityBEAT years before â€“ Ben G. Rowin. â€œIt was not a choice to hide my identity for the sake of looking cool or being a â€˜characterâ€™ of the marijuana movement, but more out of fear of local officials coming down on the person who is publishing the information they DONâ€™T want people to see.â€
His fears were validated in July 2010 when NUGâ€™s P.O. Box was approached by the local sheriffâ€™s department to obtain the address and name of the box holder. Less than two weeks later, his home was raided a second time, but no cultivation was going on and he had less than an ounce of medicine with a valid state card; plus, he had the knowledge to speak with authority on what his rights were as a patient! This time he was treated fairly and all his medicine was returned. The authorities left without making an arrest.
Through its publication, NUG has brought about many wonderful opportunities for the local community and advocates alike. Benâ€™s love for music, tattoos, art and skateboarding became the inspiration that molded NUG into what it is today, and the blueprint continues to change and grow. Various artists and musicians, both local and national, have graced the pages of our publication, including Subliminal Trip, who was also the inspiration behind Benâ€™s decision to startup NUG Records. With the new label in full swing, Ben wants to cater to all the up-and-coming bands and musicians who would not normally be given the opportunity to succeed. He believes in promoting the indie way of life, which also led him to pursue sponsoring events like IndieFest and the San Diego Music Awards.Â Also, most people donâ€™t know that in addition to playing guitar, drums, bass, and singing, although not yet publicly, Ben spends a lot of his free time tattooing friends, family and a select few clients out of his private studio.
Ben G. Rowin LOVES San Diego; it has been his familyâ€™s home for over four generations! Through NUG, he has become a homegrown hero and an important member of our community. Aside from his strong love for the local cannabis culture, he is a firm believer in freedom of speech and a proponent of civil liberties. He will continue to provide a voice for the community and give writers and musicians a chance to be published and heard.Â Through his passion, hard work and ingenuity, Ben has created an outlet for all of us. NUG is his contribution to San Diego; it is his legacy.