June 5, 2023
From a federal prison, via a phone call arranged by JT Barnett, the original producer of Netflix's cult hit Tiger King, a familiar voice resounds. It's none other than Joe Exotic, the flamboyant personality known for his audacious presence on the famed show and his unconventional foray into politics.
Exotic is currently running for President of the United States of America while incarcerated. More on this presidential run later in this article.
'I'm All For Completely Legalizing Recreational Cannabis Everywhere'
"I think people have a right to freely consume cannabis, plus it's a smart business move," Exotic states. "I'm all for completely legalizing recreational cannabis everywhere... But you still can't transport it across state lines. We need to change that: It has to be done legally, with dispensaries, and every state needs to be able to profit from the tax dollars."
However, his advocacy for cannabis legalization is not just about the tantalizing promise of potential economic and fiscal benefits. For Exotic, it's an issue of justice, fairness, equitable opportunities and common sense.
"I served as a cop once," he recalls, "Back then, possession of anything under four ounces was just a ticketable offense in Texas. I never quite grasped the fuss because it's been proven beneficial in the medical world and… Can you even find a substantial number of incidents on the Internet where a person, solely high on marijuana, caused an accident and took a life? I bet you'd find very few, if any at all."
Joe's Exotic Weed Story
Despite being a staunch advocate for legalization, Exotic's personal encounters with cannabis are surprisingly minimal. The charismatic figure admits to having dabbled with marijuana only once.
"Here's a funny story for you," he chuckles, "The only time I've ever smoked weed was right after Travis died."
His friends, he recalls, said it would help him clear my his mind. "They noticed I couldn't dream about him. So, following their advice, I went to the gas station, bought a pipe, and procured enough weed for one bowl. I then found myself in my living room, surrounded by John Reinke, my manager at the Zoo, Anne [McQueen], Jeff Lowe, and Lauren. After two hits, I was so stoned and paranoid that I erroneously thought Lauren was making passes at me," he shares, laughing out loud.
Today, Exotic steps into a new light, becoming a cannabis entrepreneur in partnership* with Kingmaker Cannabis. An unexpected turn, considering his scant personal history with the substance, yet unsurprising when we consider his inimitable flair for embracing the unanticipated.
Incarceration, Justice And The Call For Reform
As the conversation unfolds, Exotic expresses his concern about the two-party justice system, which he believes treats different segments of society unevenly. "The problem in this country is we have a two-party justice system...We have a justice system for the rich and a justice system for the poor," he says.
Despite his incarceration, Exotic passionately advocates for the decriminalization of small amounts of drug possession and stresses the need for programs that help individuals overcome addiction.
Exotic's experience within the legal system has been frustrating, to say the least. "I've been waiting a year and three weeks now. I filed a motion a year and three weeks ago for a new trial, and the judge refuses to answer it," he shares.
He juxtaposes his situation with Brittney Griner, a professional basketball player who was released from Russian custody after ten months, despite her being aware that her possession of hash oil was illegal. As he puts it, "She [Brittney Griner] got her ass on an airplane... And flew internationally, across state lines and international lines with hash oil that she knew was illegal. Then she gets arrested, she gets charged, and gets freed within months... And I've been waiting five years for just a motion for a new trial."
Moreover, he criticizes the current political leaders, saying, "They [current politicians] don't have a clue what's going on in the real world because they've never lived in the real world. They've always been politicians...They're so far out of touch with what reality is and what's going on in the real world."
His unique perspective on drug use and the justice system is informed by his time in prison. He paints a stark picture of a prison system flooded with drugs and criticizes a system he believes transforms incarcerated individuals into drug addicts. "There are more drugs in this prison system. I made it 55 years without ever seeing heroin...until I came to prison," he assures.
A Presidential Campaign And Exotic's Vision For A 'Great' America
Currently serving time in federal prison while simultaneously pursuing a presidential campaign for 2024, Exotic remains unwavering in his pursuit of change. "If I die in here, I'm going to go in the history books and hopefully laws should be changed because I'll be the first presidential candidate to die innocent in federal prison," he boldly declares.
His perspectives on the system are clear, and he's unafraid to voice them: "Our system is so corrupt and so backwards that nobody can get the right help, nobody can get the right justice. And they're taking it out on innocent people because they can't get to the politicians."
In his presidential run, Exotic is driven by a desire to challenge the status quo, make history and amplify the voices of the unheard. He advocates for politicians to be held accountable for their actions, even suggesting a minimum 10-year sentence for those who violate their oaths. As he states: "I am going to say what nearly 200 million people in this country are scared to say: It is time to clean up Washington."
"We've got people in prison that are dying because they can't get medical help. They're treated like animals...They're not given the proper medical treatment. They're not given the proper mental health treatment," he says.
Exotic's perspectives serve as a reminder of the inherent complexities and contradictions within human nature. Whether or not one agrees with his viewpoints, there is no denying that Joe is unflinchingly authentic.
Cut The Wold Off
On international policy, Exotic is unabashed in his belief in nationalistic self-preservation. He asserts that America should prioritize its domestic issues, including climate change and economic struggles, over international crises. In this sense, he is staunch in his belief that American tax dollars should primarily benefit American citizens.
What’s more, he suggests a "$50 a month, non-citizen Social Security tax" for immigrants, which could contribute to the American healthcare system. His proposal? A five-year time frame for immigrants to gain citizenship or an alternative of three years of military service.
"Why should anybody from Mexico or Guatemala or Pakistan or China or Japan come here and not have to sacrifice anything and still not be an American citizen? My dad fought for our freedom in Korea," he elaborates. "So, why should you have to pay for somebody to come from another country to get free healthcare?"
Controversy And Conservation: Joe's Stance on Animal Rights
Exotic's stance on animal conservation is as controversial as the man himself. He argues that zoos might be the only way to ensure the survival of species like tigers, given the rapid decline of natural habitats. He passionately defends his decision to call his facility a "zoo" rather than a "sanctuary," asserting that he always provided a safe haven for animals, not exploiting them.
Reflecting on his zoo, Exotic says, "I had the most beautiful, privately owned zoo in the world… Anybody who ever complained about my cages being too small... All they had to do is donate money to build a bigger cage.”
Despite his many roles, from zoo owner and reality TV star to nightclub manager, one thing remains constant: Exotic's unwavering belief in personal autonomy. "I believe that you own your body and you have the right to pursue whatever you want for your body as long as you don't hurt someone else," he explains. He expresses dissatisfaction with the existing system and emphasizes the need for changes that respect the rights and freedoms of individuals, including abortion, regardless of their political affiliation.
LGBTQ+ Rights And Social Perspectives
An openly gay man, Exotic is vocal about LGBTQ+ rights, yet he fears that the push for acceptance of diverse identities may be becoming overbearing, risking setbacks for the community.
He also brings up the complexities surrounding ongoing discussions about transgender rights. He argues that while acceptance and inclusivity are crucial, the discourse must avoid alienating the larger public. In a moment of candor, Exotic shares, "I don't know why the hell I'm gay. I fight it every day and have for 57 years." Still, he champions the LGBTQ+ community's struggles and conquests, and remains an active advocate for its rights.
But Exotic's outlook is far from straightforward, and the controversy surrounding his life and views continues to attract attention. His perspectives range from the unapologetically self-serving to the passionately humane. There's no denying his steadfast belief in the power of personal autonomy and the need for an equitable justice system, even as he grapples with his own demons.
As a cultural figure, Joe Exotic's life and philosophies are a testament to the complexities of the human condition. His journey from the king of an exotic animal park to a federal prisoner and a presidential candidate has been filled with twists and turns.
Exotic remains an emblem of resistance, a symbol of justice for some, and a stark reminder of the deep divisions within American society for others. But above all, he remains Joe Exotic: candid, controversial, and unapologetically himself.
In his own words, "I've lived my life being exotic. It's about standing up for what you believe in, being yourself, not caring what anybody else thinks. I am who I am, you love me or you hate me." As he continues to navigate through his life, one thing is for sure, whether you love him or hate him, Joe Exotic will continue to make his mark, in his own unique and unconventional way.
* Author’s note: Exotic had previously announced a foray into the cannabis space in 2021, after striking a deal with “Wonder Years” star Jason Hervey. However, the deal fell through and the TV star found a new partner in 2023.