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November 06, 2007

A Recent Bust...and How the Hippies Found Pot (Legal, Historical)

A key element in the development of what has become an increasingly grotesque American cultural anomaly was the introduction of pot to a youth-dominated hippie counterculture over forty years ago.

Recently, I promised to tell that story, and indeed, will do so. But, as so often happens, a local item in the San Francisco Chronicle is such an apt demonstration of “grotesque” and “anomalous” that I’m forced to discuss it first.
One might assume that in the tradition of Horatio Alger and Bill Gates, two hard working young brothers who became millionaires by starting a legal business, paying taxes, and playing by the rules would be left to enjoy their prosperity— not arrested on federal charges that could send them to prison for forty years— but, because the source of that prosperity was pot,  one would be wrong.

To complicate matters even further, their plight reflects the cowardice of the  US Supreme Court, which has passed up at least two opportunities to to resolve the conflict between a state law that allows marijuana possession for medical purposes and a federal law that absolutely forbids it. Could it be that the Court is skittish because the federal law is so illogical and increasingly bereft of scientific justification, while the one voters supported in 1996 makes more medical sense than ever? In other words, is their fear of being on the wrong side of history behind their embarrassing denial of judicial responsibility? Just how naked does our federal emperor have to become before our institutions (including the media and smarmy reporters) dare  notice?

Just asking.

To return to how hippies discovered pot, it all began in the late Fifties when Beat writers and hangers-on from New York City began to develop a following that agreed with their rejection of the cultural homogenization being pushed by Madison Avenue under the spell of TV during the Eisenhower years. In the early Sixties, they began interacting with similarly disaffected, but somewhat younger, Pranksters then based in Northern California. The Beats were generally ten years older; to the extent thay had an intellectual center, it was Columbia University, where Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg met as freshmen in 1946. The Pranksters’ was Stanford, where Ken Kesey had studied creative writing under Wallace Stegner before writing “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest."

The comings and goings of both groups, well documented in David Halbertstam’s classic generational history were heavily influenced by both drugs and the times. The Beats had tried pot through their admiration for blacks, whom they regarded as singularly free of American culture. What is also interesting to me is that what is known of their family relationships suggests they would have prized its anxiolytic properties.

Early on, the Pranksters had clearly discovered LSD and Peyote; in fact, they were disappointed in not being meeting Timothy Leary after their famous trip to NYC in “Furthur” because he was then recovering from an extended acid trip. Nevertheless, contact was established and a kinship of sorts developed between the two groups, as confirmed by the obscenity trial that followed Ginsberg’s memorable reading of Howl in San Francisco and the publicity  created in its aftermath.

Posted by tjeffo at November 6, 2007 01:38 PM