Monday, August 31, 2009

High Time

Marijuana use is, of course, illegal. Under federal law, marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance (in the same category as LSD, heroin and peyote) and possession of it is punishable by up to one year in jail and a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first conviction. According to the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report, in 2007 there were 872,721 arrests in the U.S. for marijuana violations. But according to this article that appeared in yesterday’s L. A. Times, marijuana is going mainstream: so-called “cannabis culture” is purportedly “coming out of the closet.” For instance, just this past June, roughly 25,000 people attended the inaugural THC Expo Hemp and Art show in downtown Los Angeles. In addition, Barneys New York in Beverly Hills is celebrating the Woodstock 40th anniversary by selling $78 “Hashish” candles in Jonathan Adler pots with bas-relief marijuana leaves. Cheech and Chong recently concluded an international tour and claim to be at work on another movie.

Once depicted as a drug that could incite a murderous rage (Tell Your Children, aka Reefer Madness, 1936) and recently blamed as the cause for burger runs gone awry (2004’s Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle), marijuana is now just another banal fixture in film and popular music. According to the L. A. Times article, cannabis crops up on shows such as Entourage, Curb Your Enthusiasm, True Blood and Desperate Housewives, and on animated shows such as The Simpsons and Family Guy. The article goes on to say:

Marijuana’s role on TV and in the movies is no surprise, says Robert Thompson, a professor of television and pop culture at the University of Syracuse S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. “The people who are making movies and television shows, from the scriptwriters to the director and the producers - a very large chunk of those are probably people who grew up not only much more comfortable with marijuana’s presence in society, but probably as consumers themselves of it.”

“As a result,” Thompson said, “it’s almost switched with alcohol. Think back to Dean Martin and Foster Brooks - their whole comedy act was the fact that they were in the bag - that now is seen a lot less often. The stoner is the new drunk.”

I thought it might be interesting to assemble a brief cannabis culture chronology, beginning with its emergence as part of modern life with its use by jazz musicians in the 1920s and 30s.

March. Louis Armstrong, a lifelong pot smoker, is busted outside of an L.A. jazz club. Gage, tea, muggles, and reefer are some of the many names for marijuana among jazz musicians.

The cautionary tale, Tell Your Children, is first released; it is re-titled many years later as Reefer Madness.

Devil's Harvest (thanks Bent for providing a link to the poster art! Go here)

Actor Robert Mitchum is busted for marijuana possession during an undercover stakeout in Laurel Canyon.

The TV documentary, A Boy Called Donovan, about the British pop singer Donovan, reveals the singer smoking pot with friends. Later in the year, Donovan becomes the first high-profile British pop star to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Members of The Rolling Stones are busted several times this year.

May. Easy Rider premieres at the Cannes Film Festival, depicting scenes of marijuana use. The same year, Tommy Chong hires stand-up comedian Richard “Cheech” Marin to perform between the bands and strippers at his family’s Vancouver, Canada, night club. The rest is history.

Sometime during this period, future President Bill Clinton experiments with marijuana, but doesn’t inhale.

New York-based magazine High Times is first published; the magazine does for pot what Playboy did for sex.

Reggae musician Peter Tosh releases the album Legalize It.

The first classic stoner flick, Up In Smoke, is released starring Cheech and Chong.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High, with Sean Penn as a bong-smoking surfer.

The Breakfast Club: five high school stereotypes bond as a consequence of smoking of a joint.

Dr. Dre’s The Chronic—taking its name from a slang term for powerful weed and its cover art from a package of Zig-Zag rolling papers—is released. It and 2001 (1999), the latter with a marijuana leaf depicted on the cover, together sell over 10 million copies.

Set in 1976, the pro-pot Dazed and Confused is released with tag lines such as “Weed rules.”

California voters pass Proposition 215 allowing the medical use of marijuana.

October. Dazed and Confused star Matthew McConaughey is busted at his Texas home by officers who arrest him after observing him dancing naked and playing bongos.

Showtime’s Weeds depicts a widowed suburban mother played by Mary-Louise Parker becoming pot peddler. The show recently began its fifth season.

March. The UK Daily Mail publishes a story indicating that Keith Richards says he smokes weed “all the time.” He admits, “I smoke my head off. I smoke weed all the damn time. But that's my benign weed. That’s all I take, that's all I do. But I do smoke, and I've got some really good hash.”
August. Cannabis comedy Pineapple Express opens and becomes a hit.
November. Michael Phelps, the most decorated gold medalist in Olympic history, is photographed at a South Carolina party smoking pot.

April. Kalpen Modi, who as Kal Penn played stoner Kumar of Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004), accepts a position as the associate director in the White House’s Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs.


Bent said...

Devil's Harvest, 1942

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