Happy New Year, everybody, from the heart of the Motor City at the end of a long and treacherous year—the first in the era of Resident Rump and his gang of right-wing maniacs in Washington DC who are trying to turn our country into the even uglier monstrosity it used to be when the white people ruled supreme and racial segregation was the law of the land.
I know it’s a myth that all pot smokers are more open minded and politically liberal than the average bear, but if you’re getting high and dreaming about Making America Great Again with our fake president and his insane clown posse of an administration, you’d better select a different strain before you lose your mind completely.
When marijuana use began to creep into the fringes of American society around a hundred years ago, the weed was sort of a culture bearer in itself. It came from a place where it was passed on from one person to another in a ritual called “turning people on” where the wonders of marijuana were carefully shared between friends and fellow travelers.
After the Harrison Tax Act of 1937, smokers were also bound together by their shared identity as criminals and outlaws under the draconian narcotics laws that replaced the oppressive anti-alcohol machinery of the Prohibition Era.
In Michigan, for example, until 1972, possession of weed carried a 10-year prison sentence; selling or giving weed to another mandated a 20-year-minimum prison sentence upon conviction, with a maximum of life.
This was serious business, and it had to be taken into account at all times. One had to be careful with whom one smoked, from whom one obtained one’s weed, with whom one might share it, and who might find out that one smoked weed. A roach left in an ashtray in your room could lead to the landlady calling the police. The person who wanted to get up on your weed with you could well turn out to be an undercover police officer trying to entrap you into an arrest for narcotics possession or sales.
This was a sick world, but one strictly created by the forces of law and order who believed that weed was at the center of an insidious plot by blacks and Mexicans to degrade and abase the white race by addicting its women to marijuana and subjecting them to jazz music and exotic sex.
The original U.S. commissioner of narcotics, Harry J. Anslinger, said as much when he sold marijuana prohibition to Congress in 1937, and to paraphrase William Burroughs, the senators and representatives in Washington swallowed this tissue of horseshit like some greased and nameless asshole.
The ugly, ignorant, all-pervasive mythology of the War OnDrugs misinformed and controlled our lives as marijuana smokers for decades. Many of us were hounded, harassed, arrested and imprisoned for marijuana offenses, but the vast majority of smokers developed survival and elusive skills that enabled them to get through life as marijuana habitués without serious damage from the authorities.
The culture of marijuana was a wondrous thing that united millions of people of disparate backgrounds in what Jerry Rubin once called a “conspiracy of saliva” where the values of the marijuana culture were passed along with the joint.
Sharing, valuing friendship above all else, supporting one’s friends and their endeavors, watching the other person’s back, keeping your hands out of the other person’s pocket, standing up for your beliefs, pursuing your own personal happiness in your own waywithout interfering in the pursuits of others—these are some of the precepts you took in along with your intake of the holy smoke.
As far as obtaining and sharing one’s weed, everything was strictly on a black market basis and one was fortunate to find appropriate suppliers who came through with the good stuff at a reasonable price on a consistent basis.
While most smokers were content to track down their own supply and insure that they had it safely in hand, some were motivated to fill the important roles of suppliers and distributors and—in this writer’s view—heroically stepped up, found the source of the weed that could be had for purchase, arranged for its transportation to their own locality, and distributed it to the people who would get it to the people who wanted to smoke it.
From small circles of smokers in the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s to much larger numbers of tokers in the ’60s and ’70s, this pattern held for years and the fabric stretched to accommodate what became millions of marijuana users.
This culture first flourished in the segregated African American neighborhoods and their entertainment districts throughout the country, then organically crossed over to white people through the conduit of jazz musicians, writers, artists and the caucasian intelligentsia who defied convention to follow the music and culture of black America during the long period of strict racial segregation.
When the marijuana culture spread in a huge way during the 1960s, heralded by the hundreds of rock & roll musicians who were smoking weed and extolling its virtues to all who would listen, the patterns of use and distribution developed in the black ghettos likewise spread and took root in the hippie enclaves across the country where marijuana smoking was endemic.
It would not be inaccurate to say that the marijuana culture became the hippie culture as this new mass movement of mostly young white people embraced the ideals, the rituals, the logic and the spirituality of the marijuana culture that had evolved among Mexican-Americans and in the black ghettos of America. As the joints were passed from one music lover to another, so were the practices and principles of marijuana culture at its best.
The marijuana legalization movement as we know it had its origins in 1964 when the first legal challenge to the marijuana laws was mounted in San Francisco. Early in 1965 poets Allen Ginsberg and Edward Sanders formed New York LEMAR to agitate for marijuana legalization, and the movement spread from there to Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo and the West Coast,culminating in the formation of Amorphia—The Cannabis Cooperative, the first California Marijuana Initiative in 1972, and the institution of the $5 fine for marijuana offenses in three cities in Michigan: Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and East Lansing.
This is as far as it went for the next 20 years despite the twin towers of NORML and High Times magazine holding firmly to control of the legalization movement. The future would come in the form of the medical marijuana movement and its victory in California in 1996, and now we’ve had 20 years of steady progress toward legalization. Here in Michigan I’m sure the issue will be on the November ballot and the citizenry will once again affirm that the weed must be freed.
But as we all know, it’s a different world now whether or not one has even experienced the “old days” of the marijuana culture. Big business beckons and the old ways are seen as irrelevant. But me, I’m like so many of us, just a smoker who wants to get high and not get arrested, and I’m feeling that I should be thankful for whatever progress we have been able to achieve. Bring it on! Free The Weed!
December 26, 2017
© 2018 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.