History of Marijuana

November 29, 2009 – Marijuana used for medicinal purposes has a history that dates back all the way until 2737 BC. The issue of Marijuana being used as medicine has been a long debated topic where people have been fighting for both sides and very little has been accomplished. People such as politicians have been fighting to say that marijuana is an illegal drug no matter the benefits. Marijuana offers a remedy to medications and treatments that have extremely painful and long lasting side effects.

Some states have taken action on the matter and voted to decriminalize the use of medicinal marijuana for people with serious illness’ that would benefit from the drug. With this came serious regulations dealing with the distribution, possession, and who can receive the product. Medications with side effects such as loss of appetite and vomiting leave patients with more pain and potentially additional health problems than the disease its self causes. With all of the advantages that Marijuana offers medically, and how enormously effective the drug works with reducing pain, it should be obvious that medicinal marijuana should be legalized for the purpose of treating patients that are unable to deal with their pain.

Cannabis, commonly known as marijuana, has a history that dates back to ancient times. The first recorded use of marijuana came in 2737 BC, when Emperor Shen-Nung of China prescribed cannabis to people to help treat illnesses such as constipation, gout, and malaria. Marijuana was used quite frequently in ancient times for uses in medicine, and it is believed that Gautama Buddha survived by eating nothing but cannabis seeds. Medical Marijuana in the United States of America is not a new discovery. In 1850, Marijuana was added into United States Pharmacopeia, a publication that contains legally recognized standards of every aspect of a drug, and was prescribed for numerous medical conditions including labor pains, nausea, and rheumatism until 1941 when it was removed from the publication.

During the time period between 1850- 1930, cannabis was beginning to lose its image of a medicine and was starting to be viewed as an intoxicant and was looked down upon. In the mid 1930’s, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics started an initiative to depict marijuana as a controlling addicting substance that could possibly lead to addiction.

With the gaining support of the people, along with the encouragement from the press, the federal government passed the marijuana tax act in 1937, which federally prohibited the smoking of marijuana for any purpose. In 1970, the government passed an additional bill known as the controlled substance act, which created five categories based on drugs usefulness. Marijuana was considered as a Schedule 1 drug which said that cannabis had a high potential for abuse, and no medicinal purposes. (Booth)

As states began to legalize medicinal marijuana, conflicts between federal and state laws became evident. Although marijuana was legal in the state of California, patients that were prescribed the drug were being arrested because medicinal marijuana conflicted with both the controlled substance act, and the marijuana tax act, and federal law always overrides state law. Not until the court case of Gonzales v. Raich did users of medical marijuana have protection against being arrested for breaking federal law.

The issue presented to the court asked, is the Controlled Substances Act a constitutional use of the Commerce Clause? The court voted 6-3 in favor of the defendant and stated that, “the Controlled Substances Act is an unconstitutional exercise of Congress’ Commerce Clause authority,” and finally users of medical marijuana were protected under law from being arrested for breaking federal law. (Gonzales v. Raich)

Marijuana is widely known as one of the safest, low risk active substances if used properly. To this day, there have been no recorded deaths due to an overdose, and there are very few dangerous side effects. In addition, there is no evidence to show that marijuana carries a risk of true addiction to the body.(Gottfried) The same cannot be said for other medications that are used to treat diseases such as AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy.

Serious life threatening diseases require extreme amounts of medication on a daily basis that have the potential of causing the body extreme harm and great amounts of pain. For example, when an individual is diagnosed with cancer, one of the only effective treatments for the drug is known as chemotherapy. The drug is delivered to the patient through an IV causing symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and extreme pain are all side effects of the drug and coping with the pain can put a person through hell. (McMahon) The main chemical in marijuana known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or TCH, is known to stimulate a person’s appetite when the drug is broken down by the body. Not only does TCH stimulate the body’s appetite, but it also helps alleviate the symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and pain that come along with the chemotherapy treatment.

Additionally, marijuana serves as an effective and long lasting treatment for glaucoma. Glaucoma is a disease when excessive pressure builds up on the eyeball, and almost always leads to loss of vision completely. Treatments for the disease include several different eye drops and oral medications, but with time the body builds an immunity to the drugs and they become ineffective. It has been proven that when smoked; marijuana reduces pressure on the eyeball making cannabis an excellent and long lasting way for glaucoma patients to deal with their pain. (Williams)

Similar to the treatment of cancer, hepatitis C also requires a long term treatment with medications that have very similar side effects to that of chemotherapy. Treatment for hepatitis C requires six months of therapy with the combination of two extremely potent drugs identified as interferon and ribavirin. Side effects of the treatment leave patients with severe fatigue, nausea, muscle aches, loss of appetite and depression. A recent study was conducted with the combined efforts of scientists at the University of California at San Francisco, and the Oakland substance abuse center. Researchers closely monitored the progress of 71 patients who were taking interferon and ribavirin to watch their progress. Out of the 71 patients, 22 of them smoked marijuana on a consistent basis to help ease the pain caused by the treatment. At the end of the six months, 19 of the 22 patients that used marijuana to help manage the effects of the treatment successfully completed the agonizing treatment while only 29 of the 49 people who chose not to use marijuana successfully completed the course. Months after the treatment, researchers went back to follow up and found that 54 percent of the group that were using marijuana during the treatment had no signs of the virus while only 18 percent of the non smokers achieved the same result. Although there was no documented evidence that shows the marijuana acted as a medicine itself to cure the illness, it appears that the people that chose to use marijuana were able to deal with the side effects and complete the treatment that many people are unable to endure. (Weiss)

Today in the United States of America, there are hundreds of laws prohibiting the use, possession, and distribution of marijuana. In the State of New Hampshire, possession of any useable amount is considered a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to one year in jail, and a fine of no more than 2,000 dollars. To this date, there have been 12 states that have decriminalized marijuana strictly for medicinal use. These states include Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Although medicinal marijuana has been decriminalized in these states, laws have been put into effect to strictly regulate when a person can be prescribed and how much of the drug they will receive. In state of California, you must obtain written permission from a physician stating that you have a disease or illness that would benefit you from the use of marijuana. Under the law, eligible patients or their personal care givers are able to possess up to eight ounces of marijuana and no more than six marijuana plants. Patients are allowed to obtain more than state law allows under special circumstances if a physician decides that their patient would benefit from it. Frequent conditions that allow a physician to prescribe medicinal pot include cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, glaucoma, arthritis, and migraines. (Akhavan)

Medical Marijuana is a largely debated topic that brings serious questions up. There have been thousands of studies conducted over the past century to find out if indeed marijuana has medicinal values. Marijuana has been shown to greatly reduce effects of medications that are given to patients with serious illnesses. Effects such as loss of appetite, nausea, and even depression are quite often side effects of treatments that could decide the fate of an individual’s life. Legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes leave some people thinking that the drug will be available to anyone who wants to get their hands on it. These views that people seem to have are completely irrational because such regulations have been placed on the drug that it is still almost impossible for people who are suffering to obtain medicinal marijuana legally.

Often times, people become so desperate because they have been suffering for so long, that individuals risk being arrested and take matters into their own hands and search out the drug illegally. People that need medical marijuana didn’t chose to have an illness that they are suffering from, it came upon them and there is nothing that anyone can do to cure it a lot of times. The fact that people are being arrested and punished because they are despite enough to risk going to jail to obtain medicinal marijuana saddens many people. Many states have realized how they are preventing their own citizens from obtaining medication that is only going to help, and have decriminalized the use of medicinal marijuana. With all the evidence that has been presented by world renown scientists that show the positive medical uses of marijuana, you would think that all 50 states would allows their citizens to obtain medical marijuana if they were suffering enough, not just 12. Source.

November 16, 2009 – Medicinal use of cannabis is being discussed more actively than ever. Although prior to its prohibition in 1937 cannabis was used widely in conditionsmap_340pharmacies, there was little debate about its usefulness to treat various symptoms such as inflammatory pain. Cannabis remedies were well known, publicly advertised and widely prescribed.

“Marijuana,” on the other hand, was virtually unknown Mexican jargon before becoming the “assassin of youth” in propaganda films. Such depictions led to an unceremonious vote by Congress to effectively criminalize Cannabis sativa in all of its forms. The strongest opposition came not from the public (which did not equate the new “scourge” with cannabis remedies) but from the American Medical Association, whose congressional liaison decried the legislation as speciously motivated by “indirect hearsay evidence.”

Over the next 72 years, the image of the American cannabis user morphed from the immigrant madman and criminal deviant of the ’40s, to the counter-culture crowd of the ’60s to the unmotivated slacker of the ’80s. In the ’90s, a “new” image arose: the medical marijuana patient, who is driven not to get high but to get well. It is linguistically ironic that “medical marijuana” may usher in a new chapter in the ancient relationship between human society and the cannabis plant.

Now the American Medical Association has turned heads by again weighing in on cannabis policy. After extensive review of scientific and clinical evidence regarding the harms and benefits of cannabinoids (molecules found in cannabis) as well as recent legal precedence regarding medical marijuana, the AMA announced that the federal Schedule I status of marijuana (most prohibited) should be reconsidered in order to advance clinical research with botanical cannabinoid medicines. The AMA report furthermore expresses that “physicians who comply with their ethical obligations to ‘first do no harm’ and to ‘relieve pain and suffering’ should be protected in their endeavors, including advising and counseling their patients on the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes.”

The emphasis on research is important. There is a future for botanical cannabis-based medicines, but patients and physicians should be empowered to base health care decisions on real evidence rather than hyperbolic claims of marijuana’s dangers or virtues. Not surprisingly, the AMA does not support legalizing medical marijuana through state ballot initiatives, such as the one Floridians could vote on next year if a petition by the group People United for Medical Marijuana gains traction. Cannabis is a plant and modern standards for purity, packaging and delivery of drugs play an important part in assuring reliable predictability. Also at play is the arena of pharmaceutical development — new drugs are being pioneered to enhance the body’s THC-like “endocannabinoid system,” intended to achieve therapeutic effect with improved specificity and minimal psychoactivity. Research is clearly needed to ensure efficacy and safety of these new drugs.

Nonetheless, the perceived promise of such drugs highlights a need for greater maturity in social discussion of medical use for cannabis and/or its constituent molecules. Whatever else might be said about the apparent sea change of public opinion about cannabis, the oft-repeated claims by federal drug czars that medical marijuana is a “smoke screen” or lacks even a “shred of evidence” must be laid to rest as a relic of socially juvenile, 20th century reefer madness. Public policy should be based on sound scientific evidence — not a roadblock to it. Cannabis has been used safely as a folkloric remedy for thousands of years, but in modern America inappropriate Schedule I listing of marijuana has obstructed research to find promising therapies for debilitating human conditions. This is a paramount reason why the scheduling should be changed. By Gregory L. Gerdeman and Juan Sanchez-Ramos. Source.

Gregory L. Gerdeman, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of biology at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. Juan Sanchez-Ramos, Ph.D./M.D., is the Helen Ellis Professor of Neurology and chair for Parkinson’s Disease Research at the University of South Florida College of Medicine in Tampa.

Sanchez-Ramos was a physician involved in the “Compassionate Use Protocol for Marijuana” sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration. In this study, marijuana was prepared and shipped by NIDA to patients with various medical conditions. His patient suffered from muscle spasms and pain caused by a rare disease, successfully treated with cannabis.

October 18, 2009 – Marijuana has been used by people around the globe for thousands of years – here is a brief overview:

2737 B.C.: A Chinese medical treatise discusses medical uses of marijuana.Picture 24

2000-70 B.C.: People in Egypt, Greece, India and Rome use marijuana to treat everything from sore eyes to pain.

1621: British clergyman Robert Burton promotes marijuana as a treatment for depression.

1799: Scientific members of Napoleon’s army investigate marijuana’s pain-relieving and sedative effects.

1839: William O’Shaughnessy writes the first modern medical article about marijuana.

1850-1937: Medical professionals turn to other medications and marijuana loses favor as a remedy, although individual researchers continue writing about its favorable effects on mental and physical illnesses.

1923: Louisiana outlaws marijuana.

1937: Congress passes the Marijuana Tax Act, which effectively shuts down the marijuana trade without specifically making the drug illegal.

1941: Marijuana is removed from the U.S. Pharmacopeia, the standards-setting authority for all prescription and over-the-counter medications.

1970: The U.S. Controlled Substances Act classifies marijuana as a narcotic with no medical value. It replaces the Marijuana Tax Act.

1971-96: Research into the medical uses of marijuana continues. Defendants in a handful of drug cases throughout the United States successfully argue that their marijuana us is a medical necessity.

1996: California voters legalize marijuana for medical use. The state’s Health Department develops rules and a structure for marijuana prescriptions and dispensaries. Federal authorities continue drug busts at the dispensaries and other organizations that handle medical marijuana.

2008: Michigan voters approve medical marijuana.

February 2009: Newly confirmed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder indicates the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency no longer will raid California medical marijuana dispensaries that comply with California law.


October 16, 2009 – A nine-block section of downtown Oakland, Calif., has become a modern marijuana mecca—and a model for what a legalized-drug America could look like. Why the stars are aligning for Picture 22the pro-weed movement.

On the corner of Broadway and 17th Street in downtown Oakland, nudged between a Chinese restaurant and a hat shop, Oaksterdam University greets passersby with a life-sized cutout of Barack Obama and the sweet smell of fresh marijuana drifting from a back room. Inside, dutiful students flip through thick plastic binders of the day’s lessons, which, on a recent Saturday began with “Pot Politics 101,” taught by a ponytailed legal consultant who has authored a number of books on hemp. The class breaks for lunch around noon, and resumes an hour later, with classes on “budtending,” horticulture and cooking, which includes a recipe for “a beautiful pot pesto.” There are 50 students in this class, the majority of them Californians, but some have come all the way from Kansas. In between lectures, the university’s founder, Richard Lee, 47, rolls in and out on his wheelchair greeting students, looking the part of a pot school dean in Converse sneaker, aviator glasses, and a green “Oaksterdam” T-shirt.

Locals refer to the nine-block area surrounding the university as Oaksterdam—a hybrid of “Oakland” and the drug-friendly “Amsterdam,” where marijuana has been effectively legal since 1976. Nestled among what was once a rash of vacant storefronts, Lee has created a kind of urban pot utopia, where everything moves just a little bit more slowly than the outside world. Among the businesses he owns are the Blue Sky Coffeeshop, a coffee house and pot dispensary where getting an actual cup of Joe takes 20 minutes but picking up a sack of Purple Kush wrapped neatly in a brown lunch bag takes about five. There’s Lee’s Bulldog Café, a student lounge with a not-so-secret back room where the haze-induced sounds of “Dark Side of the Moon” seep through thick smoke, and a glass blowing shop where bongs are the art of choice. Around the corner is a taco stand (Lee doesn’t own this one) that has benefitted mightily from the university’s hungry students.

An education at Oaksterdam means learning how to grow, sell, market, and consume weed—all of which has been legal in California, for medicinal use only, since 1996. For the price of an ounce of pot and a couple of batches of brownies (about $250), pot lovers can enroll in a variety of weekend cannabis seminars all focused on medicinal use. But “medicinal” is something of an open joke in the state, where anyone over age 18 with a doctor’s note—easy to get for ailments like anxiety or cramps, if you’re willing to pay—can obtain an ID card allowing access to any of the state’s hundreds of dispensaries, or pot shops. (“You can basically get a doctor’s recommendation for anything,” said one dispensary worker.) Not all of those dispensaries are legally recognized, however: there’s a growing discrepancy over how California’s laws mesh (or don’t mesh) with local and federal regulations. But Oakland is unique in that it has four licensed and regulated dispensaries, each taxed directly by the city government. This past summer, Oakland voters became the first in the nation to enact a special cannabis excise tax—$18 for every $1,000 grossed—that the city believes will generate up to $1 million in the first year. Approved by 80 percent of voters, and unopposed by any organization, including law enforcement, the tax was pushed by the dispensary owners themselves, who hope the model will prove to the rest of California that a regulated marijuana industry can be both profitable and responsible. “The reality is we’re creating jobs, improving the city, filling empty store spaces, and when people come down here to Oakland they can see that,” says Lee, who smokes both recreationally and for his health, to ease muscle spasms caused by a spinal chord injury.

The arguments against this kind of operation are easy to tick off: that it glamourizes marijuana, promotes a gateway drug, leads to abuse. Compared to more serious drugs like heroine, cocaine or even alcohol, studies have shown the health effects of marijuana are fairly mild. But there are still risks to its consumption: heavy pot users are more likely to be in car accidents; there have been some reports of it causing problems in respiration and fetal development. And, as the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow, put it recently, there are a number of medical professionals, and many parents, who worry that the drug’s increased potency over the years has heightened the risk of addiction. “It’s certainly true that this is not your grandfather’s pot,” says Mark Kleiman, a drug policy expert at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Nevertheless, like much of the country, Oakland is suffering economically. The city faced an $83 million budget deficit this year, and California, of course, is billions in the red. So from a public coffers perspective, if ever there were a time to rethink pot policy, that time is now. Already in Sacramento, there is a legalization measure before the state assembly that the author claims could generate $1.3 billion in tax revenue. And while analysts say it has little hope of passing (it faces strong opposition from law enforcement), the figures prompted even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger—who’s vetoed every marijuana-related bill to come across his desk—to proclaimed that “It’s time for a debate.” On a federal level, marijuana is still illegal—it was outlawed, over the objections of the American Medical Association, in 1937. But in February, Attorney General Eric Holder stunned critics when he announced that the feds would cease raiding medical marijuana dispensaries that are authorized under state law. “People are no longer outraged by the idea of legalization,” wrote former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown in a recent op-ed. “And truth be told, there is just too much money to be made both by the people who grow marijuana and the cities and counties that would be able to tax it.”

Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron has estimated that the cost of cannabis prohibition is $13 billion annually, with an additional $7 billion lost in potential tax revenue. Even the students at Lee’s Oaksterdam cite the job market as a reason for showing up: one man, there with his 21-year-old son, told NEWSWEEK he’d lost his business in the housing bust; another was looking for a way to supplement his income as a contractor. “Alcohol prohibition, the result of a century-long anti-alcohol crusade, was fairly quickly repealed in part because of the onset of the Great Depression,” says Craig Reinarman, a sociologist at UC Santa Cruz and the coauthor of Crack in America. “I think we’re in a similar situation now, where states are so strapped for money that any source of new revenue is going to be welcomed.”

Oakland has become a kind of test lab for what legalized marijuana might look like. City Council member Rebecca Kaplan tells NEWSWEEK that the new tax revenue will help save libraries, parks, and other public services, and that the once-destitute area where Oaksterdam now thrives has seen a clear boost. Over the past six years, 160 new businesses have moved into downtown Oakland, and the area’s vacancy rate has dropped from 25 percent to less than 5, according to Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency. And while that can’t be attributed to Oaksterdam directly, some local business owners believe it’s played a key role—particularly as it relates to local tourism. Lee hosts 500 students at Oaksterdam University each month—about 20 percent of them from out of state—and has graduated nearly 4,000 since he opened the school in late 2007, inspired by a “cannabis college” he discovered on a trip to Amsterdam. The Blue Sky Coffeeshop serves about 1,000 visitors a day, half of them from out of town, and neighboring stores say the traffic has helped drive business their way. Regulation, say advocates, has also made consumption safer. They say it gets rid of hazardous strains of the drug, and eliminates the crime that can accompany underground dealing.

Presently, 13 states allow medical marijuana, with similar legalization campaigns underway in more than a dozen others. And a number of cities, such as Oakland and Seattle, have passed measures making prosecution of adult pot use the lowest law enforcement priority. Now Lee, along with an army of volunteers, has begun collecting signatures for a statewide legalization measure (for Californians 21 and over) that he plans to place on the November 2010 ballot. Backed by former state Senate president Don Perata, he’s already collected a fourth of the needed 434,000 signatures, and pledged to spend $1 million of his own funds to support the effort.

In California, where voters rule, getting an amendment on the ballot doesn’t take much more than a fat wallet, but the amount of attention Lee’s campaign has received has drawn attention to just how far American attitudes have changed over the past decade. In April, an ABC/Washington Post survey showed that 46 percent of Americans support legalization measures, up from 22 percent in 1997. And in California, a recent Field Poll showed that 56 percent are already on board to legalize and tax the drug. “This is a new world,” says Robert MacCoun, a professor of law and public policy at UC Berkeley and the coauthor of Drug War Heresies. “If you’d have asked me four years ago whether we’d be having this debate today, I can’t say I would have predicted it.”

The fact that we now are debating it—at least in some parts of the country—is the result of a number of forces that, as MacCoun puts it, have created the perfect pot storm: the failure of the War on Drugs; the growing death toll of murderous drug cartels; pop culture; the economy; and a generation of voters that have simply grown up around the stuff. Today there are pot television shows and frequent references to the drug in film, music, and books. And everyone from the president to the most successful athlete in modern history has talked about smoking it at one point or another. “Whether it’s the economy or Obama or Michael Phelps, I think all of these things have really worked to galvanize the public,” says Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and the coauthor of a new book, Marijuana Is Safer; So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?”At the very least, it’s started a national conversation.”

That conversation, in some sense, has always existed. In 1972—a year after President Nixon declared his “War on Drugs”—the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse urged Congress to decriminalize possession of marijuana for personal use. That never happened, in part because marijuana regulation has always been more about politics than actual science, say advocates. But these days, the masses, at least in California, seem to be heading toward greener, shall we say, pastures. “This is sort of the trendy thing to do right now, but I also think there’s an expectation that the time has come to simply acknowledge the reality,” says Armentano. “Hundreds of thousands of Californians use marijuana, and we should regulate this commodity like we do others.” It’s a fight that’s heating up. And the pro-pot crowd in Oakland is ready to light the way. By Jessica Bennett. Source.

On the one hand, marijuana is practically legal—more mainstream, accessorized, and taken for granted than ever before. On the other, kids are getting busted in the city in record numbers. Guess which kids.

September 14, 2009 – New York City, New York – Any righteous cannabisalista knows the timeline, the grand saga of humanity’s interface with the vegetable mind of the planet. Back in ewnc8000 B.C., before Genesis in Sarah Palin’s book, the sentient were weaving hemp plant into loincloths. The Chinese had it in their pharmacopoeia by 2700 B.C. The Founding Fathers used pot processed into paper stock to write a draft of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, which made sense, since Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, along with their slaves, of course, had been raising the crop for decades. There are other, darker dates, too, like June 14, 1937, when Congress, four years after repealing alcohol prohibition, passed the “Marihuana Tax Act,” which essentially outlawed the use of “all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L.,” including the “growing,” “the seeds thereof,” and “the resin extracted from any part of such plant.”

As far as yours truly is concerned, however, the most important date in pot history took place on a chilly early-December night shortly after the Great Blackout of 1965, when, seated on the pitcher’s mound of a frost-covered baseball diamond in Alley Pond Park, Queens, I first got high on the stuff. That means I’ve been a pothead for going on 44 years now, or approximately 72.1 percent of my current life. Should I live to be 100, that percentage will increase to 83 percent, since, as Fats Waller implied when he sang “If You’re a Viper,” you’re always a viper.

I mention this so you know where I’m coming from, but even if I once knew a guy who claimed to have been the dealer to several members of the Knickerbocker championship teams, I make no claim to being a weed savant. For me, grass is simply the right tool for the job, a semi-reliable skeleton key to the such-as-it-is creative, an enabler of brainwork. Outside of continuing to smoke it, sometimes every day, sometimes not for months, or years, I pretty much stopped thinking about marijuana as a cosmologic/shamanic/political entity around 1980, that insufficiently repressed beginning of the somnambulant Reagan time tunnel, when grass came with seeds and stems and zombies still skulked Washington Square Park reciting their “loose joints” mantra: “Smoke, smoke … try before buy, never die … smoke, smoke … ”

Back then, despite the occasional shouting in the street and polite libertarian proselytizing by William F. Buckley on Firing Line, there was not much thought that pot would ever be legal. Illegality was key to its ethos, central to the outlaw romance. All over the U.S. of A., people were tanking up, driving drunk, killing themselves and others, and still those hot Coors girls were on the TV selling beer at halftime. The whole country was strung out on Prozac. But get caught smoking a joint while reading a Thomas Merton book in the park and it was the Big House for you. What could be more emblematic of the rapaciousness of the culture? That’s how it was until … maybe now.

Could it be that, at long last, the Great Pot Moment is upon us?

The planets are aligning. First and foremost is the recession; there’s nothing like a little cash-flow problem to make societies reconsider supposed core values. The balance sheet couldn’t be clearer. We have the so-called War on Drugs, the yawning money pit that used to send its mirror-shade warriors to far-flung corners of the globe, like the Golden Triangle of Burma and the Colombian Amazon, where they’d confront evil kingpins. Now, after 40 years, the front lines have moved to the streets of Juárez, where stray bullets can easily pick off old ladies in the Wal-Mart parking in El Paso, Texas, even as Mexico itself has decriminalized pot possession as well as a devil’s medicine cabinet of other drugs. At the current $40 billion per annum, even General Westmoreland would have trouble calling this progress.

Compare that with the phantasmagoria currently going on in California, where the legal medical-marijuana dispensaries ask only a driver’s license and a medical letter attesting to some vague ailment—insomnia will do—to begin running a tab at a state-sanctioned, 31-flavor dispensary. Somehow, even with many medical-marijuana outfits advertising “validated parking” and “happy-hour specials,” Western civilization as we know it has not tumbled into the sea. In November 2010, initiatives are expected to be on the California ballot to “tax and regulate” (i.e., legalize) marijuana altogether. Taxing the state’s estimated annual 8.6 million–pound, $14 billion pot crop (more than any amber wave of grain, high-fructose corn syrup included) could bring as much as $3 billion to $4 billion in revenue, enough to buy a couple of B-2 bombers or, failing that, keep a few libraries open an hour more a day.

The silent majority of pot smokers.
Pot hasn’t been the preserve of the Birkenstock wearer for years. At least the last three American presidents have been tokers, and you know Bush inhaled, for all the good it did the Incarcerationrest of us. Obama will no doubt tread lightly with the health-care loonies on his neck, not to mention the conservative black clergy he doesn’t want to alienate, but he’s already presided over curtailing federal busts of medical-marijuana dealers who are in compliance with state laws. A lively blogosphere debate ensued over whether Obama could really afford to expend any of his political capital on a bud-in-every-bong policy, as the legalize-it forces were hoping. But the move confirmed officially what many had long known. Pot smoking simply does not carry the stigma it once did, even in the straightest society.

As it turns out, not all those bong-using college students gave up the stuff when they graduated. The other day, I was scanning Andrew Sullivan’s blog, reading posts from salarymen, think-tankers, and Big Board watchers, baring their souls over their continued pot use, long after they were supposed to have put aside such childish things and switched to single-malt scotch. The drug of the counterculture now belongs to a hitherto unglimpsed silent majority, one that knows how to get things done, even legislatively.

The real engine of this is the pot itself. In the old days, there were two basic varieties of grass, the shit that got you fucked up and the shit that didn’t. But now, as is known to any stoner not still searching the skies for that last DC-3 full of Panama Red, pot has been gourmandized. You got your indicas, your sativas, your indoor-grown, outdoor-grown, your feminized, your Kushes, your Hazes, with a new, horticulturally hot number rolling down the gene-spliced pike every day. Historically speaking, a good deal of this flowering comes courtesy of our friendly drug warriors over at the DEA, whose G-man interdiction/kill-at-the-source policy did much to wipe out (anyone remember Jimmy Carter’s paraquat crop-dusters?) international shipments, thereby mobilizing ex-Berkeley botany majors and other supposedly lazy Mendocino/Humboldt County hippies to grow their own.

Beyond this is a budding secondary market. With upmarket pot prices holding at $60 to $70 for an eighth of an ounce, what high-end toker can be satisfied with an intake system based on a 75-cent pack of Zig-Zag when, for a mere $600, you can have a sleekly designed ashless Volcano “vaporizer” to place next to the Bialetti cappuccino-maker? For those about to be drug-tested, there is the Whizzinator, a strap-on extra prick containing “clean” body-temperature piss that you deftly whip out any time your employer/coach/drug counselor hands you a plastic cup. All of this is available in the Internet’s seemingly infinite gray market, where grass-centric URLs offer capsule commentary on the myriad pot strains, including breeding-lineage descriptions right out of the Racing Form (e.g., “Blueberry strain—blue haze X Aussie Duck, from Azura and award-winning Jack Herrer”), date and place of incept, maturation times, buzz properties, etc.

On a recent sweltering afternoon, in lieu of downloading a few seasons of Weeds, I made my way to a top-secret mid-Manhattan location for a little remedial “tasting” administered by the esteemed senior cultivation editor of High Times magazine, known by the nom de guerre Danny Danko. Along with a mini-minyan of like-minded devotees, we hovered over a small but mighty collection of strains: the Chem Dog, the Purps (so named for its red-blue neonish hue), and an assortment of Kush (OG and Bubba) from medical-marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles and the city by the Bay now referred to as Oaksterdam.

While preparing the samples, Danny Danko, 37, a self-confessed “pot nerd” with a seemingly bottomless capacity for THC ingestion, explained his ethic. A green thumb is not enough to assure the creation of meaningful marijuana, Danko said. “Just because you can grow a tomato that might win a prize at the 4-H club, or a summer squash that’ll knock the socks off the Iron Chef, doesn’t mean you can grow good weed. Give two growers the same seeds and the same conditions, and you can get two completely different qualities of pot. There’s nutrients and care, but there’s an intuitive factor, too—a deep understanding of the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of cannabis. This isn’t a geranium, it is an art, an act of alchemy.”

We started out on the Purps but soon hit the harder stuff. With the lexicon of winespeak now lapping over into pot punditry, kindgreenbuds.com describes the Purps as possessing “hints of buttery caramel coffee and woodsy floral pine.” Couldn’t say I understood all that from a couple of hits, but the Purps, a spicy little thing, did provide a gleeful cheap amusement-park high not unlike chubby Orson Welles’s tumbling down the fun-house chute in The Lady From Shanghai.

The contradictory state of marijuana use in the city today.
This playland was soon bulldozed by the Kush. An ancient indica strain supposedly dating back Picture 33to the Hindu Kush, where the stubby plant is used mostly to make hashish, the Kush in its multi-variegations has long been the rage among suburban and ghetto youth who gravitate toward the strain’s stinky olfactory properties and Romilar-esque “couch-lock” stone.

It was here that I learned something about pot, then and now. Prime in the canon of present-day prohibitionists is the claim that today’s pot is so much stronger that it bears no relation to the stuff nostalgic baby-boom parents might have smoked. The message: Forget your personal experience, the devil weed currently being peddled to your children is a study-habit-destroying beast of a wholly other stripe. No doubt, there is merit to this argument (after decades of some of the most obsessive R&D on the planet, you wouldn’t think the pot would be weaker), but I couldn’t fully buy it. This was because the fancy weed I was smoking, and paying twenty times as much for, wasn’t getting me more smashed, at least not in the way I wanted to be.

“I hear this a lot, because back then, you were probably smoking sativas imported from Jamaica, Vietnam, and Mexico,” Danko informed me. Sativas imparted “a head high,” as opposed to the largely “body high” of indicas. The problem with this, he went on, was that tropical sativas, being a large (some as high as fourteen feet!) and difficult plant to grow (the Kush has bigger yields and a shorter flowering time), especially under surreptitious conditions, were rare in today’s market. My lament was a common one among older heads, Danko said, adding that “the good sativa is the grail of the modern smoker.”

Luckily, following the various Kushes, I was able to cleanse the mind-body palate with the mighty Chem Dog, a notable indica-sativa hybrid, reputedly first grown by a lapsed military man—the Chemdog—who came into the possession of a number of seeds following a 1991 Grateful Dead concert.

It was after some moments of communing with this puissant plant life that I was in the proper state to confront the conundrum of the day, i.e., “The Existential State of Weed in Its Various Manifestations in the Five-Borough Area of New York City, circa 2009.”

Race has always been the driving wheel of reefer madness.

And what a woolly hairball of contradiction it is!

There is all of the above, the whole Mendelian cornucopia of the New Pot with its dizzying array of botanical choice and intake gizmos. Yet the cold, hard fact is, New York City, which first banned pot in 1914 under the Board of Health “Sanitary Code” (the Times story of the day described cannabis as having “practically the same effect as morphine and cocaine”), has always been a backwater when it comes to reefer.

The Big Apple viper may gain some small comfort from the fact that getting stoned in California usually leads to being surrounded by stoned Californians, but this does little to mitigate the envy. Here, in the alleged intellectual capital of the world, where we have no medical marijuana (even borderline-red states like Nevada and Colorado do), at the end of the day, you know you’re going to be calling that same old delivery service that comes an hour late and won’t do walk-ups above the third floor.

In this day and age, nearly 30 years after the AMA began flirting with decriminalizing marijuana, you might think New York City marijuana-possession arrests would be in deep decline. You might even figure that Charlie Rangel, the four-decade congressman from Harlem and longtime leader of the Select Committee on Narcotics, had his finger on the pulse when he told a House subcommittee that “I don’t remember the last time anyone was arrested in the city of New York for marijuana.”

Uh … wrong!

The fact is, New York City is the marijuana-arrest capital of the country and maybe the world. Since 1997, according to statistics complied by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, 430,000 people age 16 and older have been pinched in the city for possession of marijuana, often for quantities as little as a joint, a reign of “broken window” terror-policing that kicked off in the nasty Giuliani years and has only escalated under Bloomberg and Ray Kelly. More than 40,000 were busted last year, and at least another 40,000, or more than the entire population of Elmira, will be busted this year. Somehow, it comes as no shell-shocker that, again according to the state figures, more than 80 percent of those arrested on pot charges are either black or Hispanic.

From the days of Harry Anslinger—who, as the more or less permanent head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (J. Edgar Hoover–like, he served for 32 years, appointed by the Hoover, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy administrations), raved about how most pot smokers were “Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers” whose “Satanic music, jazz and swing” was driving white women into a sexual frenzy—race has always been the driving wheel of reefer madness. It was no fun to find this dynamic still at work in the beloved hometown.

Why cops prefer pot busts.

But there they were, down in night court at 100 Centre Street, one marijuana arrestee of color after another, standing before the judge to have their class-B misdemeanor possession case Arrestheard.

Legal Aid lawyers defend most of these people. Said one lawyer, “The cops have their areas of concentration when it comes to these violations. Sometimes we’ll get a lot of arrests for so-called trespassing, which often means a person was caught hanging out in front of a project; it doesn’t matter if they live right across the street. But marijuana is very constant, a hardy perennial, you might say, rolling in regularly like the tide. The amounts are almost always tiny, which shows that for all the talk about going after the big guys, cops are mostly arresting low-end users. A lot of people say they were nabbed only minutes after they got the stuff, so it seems as if the cops are just sitting on known spots and busting whoever comes out. Most arrestees will receive an ACD, or ‘adjournment contemplating dismissal,’ a kind of probation. It is rare, but repeaters could get time. At the very least, it messes up your night riding around handcuffed in a paddy wagon.”

Harry Levine, a Queens College sociology professor who has been compiling marijuana arrest figures for years, says, “The cops prefer pot busts. They’re easy, because the people are almost never violent and, as opposed to drunks, hardly ever throw up in the car. Some of this has to do with the reduction in crime over the years. Pot arrests are great for keeping the quota numbers up. These kind of arrests toss people into the system, get their fingerprints on file. The bias of these arrests is in the statistics.”

The NYPD (good luck on getting the Public Information department to respond to your phone calls or e-mails on this particular topic) belittles these charges, saying the arrest stats are “absurdly inflated.”

The kicker in this is the apparently almost unknown fact that possession of 25 grams, or seven-eighths of an ounce—much more than the few joints that are getting people arrested—is not a crime in New York State and has not been since the passage of the Marijuana Reform Act of 1977, or 32 years ago. (Right here add sound of potheads slapping their foreheads, like, how come they didn’t know that?) There are exceptions, however. If the pot is “burning or open to public view,” then the 25-gram deal is off. It is this provision that has been the basis for the arrest outbreak, many civil libertarians contend.

The scenario of what happens on the street, as told to me by several arrestees, is remarkably similar. It goes like this: You’re black, or Spanish, or some white-boy fellow traveler with a cockeyed Bulls cap and falling-down pants. The cops come up to you, usually while you’re in a car, and ask you if you’re doing anything you shouldn’t. You say, “No, officer,” and they say, “You don’t have anything in your pocket you’re not supposed to have, do you, because if you do and I find it, it’ll be a lot worse for you.” It is at that point, because you are young, nervous, possibly simple, and ignorant of the law, you might comply and take the joint you’d been saving out of your pocket. Then, zam: Suddenly, your protection under the Marijuana Reform Act vanishes because the weed is now in “public view.” The handcuffs, the paddy wagon, and the aforementioned court date soon follow.

Now that he is ahead of Rudy’s numbers, Mike Bloomberg, who once famously answered a question from this magazine about his pot use by saying “you bet I did, and I enjoyed it,” has presided over more marijuana busts than any mayor anywhere. This could be compared with the record of another New York City mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, who, in response to the 1937 federal ban on pot, requested a report by the New York Academy of Medicine, which concluded that, contrary to Harry Anslinger’s claim that pot was an “assassin of youth,” marijuana was not medically addictive; not under the control of a single organized group; did not lead to morphine, heroin, or cocaine addiction; and was not the determining factor in the commission of major crimes, and that “publicity concerning the catastrophic effects of marihuana smoking in New York is unfounded.”

Once upon a mid-seventies time, the Yippies, then fronted by downtown immortals Dana Beal and the garbologist A. J. Weberman, staged a pot-legalization march up Fifth Avenue that ended in a rally at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park. The big attraction was a giant glass jar filled with joints; anyone picking the number of reefers in the jar would win it. The winner, some shambling longhair troglodyte, broke open the jar and threw the joints into the crowd, prompting a crush toward the stage. Alarmed, Weberman took the microphone and started screaming, “It is only crappy Mexican! Don’t kill yourself for crappy Mexican!”

Could New York pass a medical marijuana law?
“Ah, the good old days,” says Richard Gottfried, sitting in his state-assemblyman office on lower Broadway. Gottfried, who was a 23-year-old Columbia Law student when he was first elected as assemblyman from Manhattan’s West Side in 1970 (he’s been there ever since), is the author of the 1977 Reform Act. Hearing what people were saying about alleged police use of the “public view” phrase of the law, Gottfried rubbed at his still red-flecked professorial beard and said, “Why, if these searches are being conducted in this way … that would be a textbook example of entrapment, wouldn’t it?” He seemed shocked, absolutely shocked, that such practices were going on right here in New York City.

In 1997, Gottfried, a largely unsung hero of sane drug policy, wrote New York State’s first medical-marijuana legislation. “It stayed in committee a while,” says Gottfried. “With things like this, politicians tend to be very, very timid.” Nonetheless, Gottfried is confident medical marijuana is on the immediate horizon. It was passed by the Assembly in 2007, and Gottfried says it would have gotten through the Senate this past spring “if June 8th hadn’t happened.”

“Strange as it sounds, I think this is one issue that might actually be nonideological,” says Gottfried. “During the floor debate, these legislators, liberal and conservative, were almost in tears as they told their personal stories about how they and their loved ones had been helped by marijuana, how it brought relief from chronic pain, how it aided family members in last days of terminal diseases. It was quite moving.”

This doesn’t mean we should expect Californication 2 here, Gottfried says. “Medical-marijuana laws differ radically from state to state. There’s California and everywhere else.” In Maryland, you can’t be jailed for medical marijuana, but there’s no provision for obtaining it, which leaves elderly M.S. sufferers in the bizarre situation of having to potentially go out and score like a randy teenager. The New York version of the law will be “modest,” Gottfried says. As opposed to the “doctor’s letter” mills in Cali, permissions will be very carefully monitored, with legal possession limited to two and a half ounces. “The penalties for violating the medical-marijuana laws will be stiffer than regular possession,” Gottfried says.

What really mattered was that my kids understood that just because I used it didn’t mean they should.

If this was the best that could be done at this time, so be it. But why not simply be aboveboard about it? How many medical-marijuana patients are there really, at least compared with those who use the stuff for mental and emotional well-being, not to mention flat-out potheads?

You’re talking about recreational users?” Gottfried asked. “You’re talking about tax-and-regulate legalization?”

“Well … yeah. How do you feel about that?”

Gottfried smiled. “If marijuana had a similar status to liquor in this country, a locally controlled system of distribution, the way some states allow booze in the supermarket and some states are dry—I wouldn’t have a problem with that.” But I shouldn’t hold my breath, the assemblyman said. “We are in a period of transition. It could be a long transition.”

“I’m functioning in the shadow of something that is bound to change, except no one knows when or how,” says Francis R., who has been in the pot-delivery business for almost twenty years.

Mostly a painter “with some music thrown in,” Francis started off as a “runner” for a large Manhattan delivery service during the late eighties, in the wake of the massive drug sweeps like “Operation Pressure Point” that successfully ended the hard-drug street scene in many parts of New York. A gentrifying city had no place for such violence-prone local color. The delivery services, like the bar-based cocaine trade and the banishment of prostitutes from street corners and into “escort services,” where everything is done quietly and by appointment, proved to be a pragmatic compromise between law enforcement, human nature, and the need to keep the nightlife industry going.

In business for himself since shortly after 9/11, Francis has about 180 clients, of which 50 or so are “regular reorderers.” Employing an easy-to-park 250-cc. Japanese bike, Francis works “like 35 to 40 hours six days a week,” starting at around one in the afternoon. For this, he clears an average of about $150,000 a year, or about $1,000 “retail” on a crappy day and up to three grand on “a great day.”

Up until about 2004, Francis got much of his supply from Canada. “It was mostly indicas trucked across the country from Vancouver, then across the St. Lawrence Seaway, or Lake Erie. The first time I did this, I couldn’t believe it. It is totally dark, you couldn’t see ten feet. Then out of fog come these Indians … Indians, in canoes, paddling, like right out of the fucking Last of the Mohicans, bringing in the weed.” Eventually, however, the connection dried up. Some busts were made, but mostly the quality decreased.

What Francis thinks about legalization.
Now everything Francis sells is from California. He recently made one of his regular trips to Mendocino County. “I had $25,000 in my suitcase, and some friends tell me to drive up toward Ukiah, to the Million Dollar Corner, which is called that because like a million dollars is changing hands there in pot sales like every other day. High as an elephant’s eye, dude.”

I took a pinch of Francis’s new stuff to Danny Danko’s “tasting,” as sort of a blindfold test to see if the experts would be able to identify the strain. This got kind of funny, these half-dozen pot gourmets investigating the inch-and-a-half-high bud, smoking it, poking it, checking out its tricombs under a magnifying glass like a no-shit Sherlock Holmes CSI team. Someone thought it was a clone of the original Skunk No. 1, others were certain it was in the Sour Diesel family. One gentleman, who referred to himself as a “pot snob,” put Francis’s high-priced spread down after a few tokes, declaring it “standard product … nothing to write home about.” He based this opinion primarily on the extreme “tightness” of the bud structure, which he characterized as “your typical ass pellet.” This was a sign of “insufficient curing,” the pot snob said, a giveaway that someone had rushed the crop. He also objected to the blackness of the ash and the fact that it had taken three match strokes to get the smoke going.

Francis was much put out by this assessment. “Everyone’s a fucking critic,” he protested, defending his weed. “Got you stoned, didn’t it?”

Francis said the cops weren’t all that much of a factor. “For the most part, I walk through the town unopposed.” But what about the busts?

“What busts?”

I showed Francis a copy of the New York State marijuana-arrest stats. He couldn’t believe it. He didn’t know a soul who had been pinched. He was not, however, surprised by the ethnic breakdown. “I hate to say it, but there’s no way I’m hiring a black guy to work for me. The chances of a black guy getting stopped is about 50 times more than a white guy. I can’t afford that. Fact is, pot is legal for white people but not for black people, which is total bullshit.”

Francis spends “a lot of time” thinking about legalization. “It is coming, not tomorrow or the next day, but it is coming,” he says. This is the general opinion among his colleagues, Francis says. “I’ve heard of guys buying liquor licenses, you know, to stay on the inebriation side of things.

“Can’t say I don’t have mixed feelings about it,” Francis went on. “I like this job. It’s served me well. Everyone is happy to see me when I come around. Can’t say that for a dentist. Still, it’ll be a great day if they legalize it. Because pot should be legal. You know what would really bother me, though? If gangster corporations like Philip Morris or Seagram’s got a big piece of the action. That would really chap my ass. Because, basically, with a couple scumbags here and there, this is an honorable business, a little-guy business. It should stay that way.”

Then Francis, being a swell fellow, told me he happened to have run across “a little something” just the other night, something sweet.

“You got sativa?”

Francis shook his head. “October … maybe late September. Maybe. But this Dog ain’t no bad dog.” He’d let it go for like maybe a nickel off, because I was putting him in a magazine article.

So I went down the road, to the F train, thinking about how I’d never drawn a legal puff of marijuana in my life. The scenic overlook of the paradigm shift shimmied before my eyes. I could already see the YouTubes of the near future, the debates raging over government versus corporate private-sector control, when every right-minded left-libertarian pothead knows either would be a disaster, a slo-mo shakedown to the Big Bud-weiser versus earnest microbrewers. No, it wasn’t going to be a total picnic when legalization came and people started scoring inside 7-Elevens instead of behind them.

And there was another issue. I’m not one of those potheads who wax on about the first time they got stoned with their kids. Sounds like a landmine from every angle. I mean, why make some moron hippie ceremony out of it? They knew I smoked, I knew they smoked, unless it was some burglar who stole my stash that night. Still, it is a crossroads, when you smell the smoke coming from their room. You feel obligated to tell both sides, even the D.A.R.E. side, citing all sorts of facts and figures, including how, according to a 2008 Australian study, men who smoked at least five joints a day for twenty years had smaller hippocampuses and amygdalas than nonusers. What really mattered was that kids understood pot wasn’t for everyone, that just because I used it didn’t mean they should. Young brains didn’t need that extra noise, I said, happy to set the legal pot-smoking age at 21, like booze, or at the very least the day a high-school diploma is attained. Beyond that, there is nothing left to do but to pray none of them has the addictive chip that makes people lose their good sense.

The DEA’s suggested alternative to medical marijuana.
And, despite the best advice (“Whatever you do, don’t get fucking caught!”), kids sometimes can, and do, lose their good sense, if only temporarily. Really, pinched with a gram, in the middle of a celebratory smoke toast in honor of 420, the equivalent of pothead New Year. How does that even happen? So then, there you are, the pot dad and the newly crowned pot kid, sitting in the office of a court-mandated drug professional who is explaining why this two-month, four-nights-a-week, $10,000 program is actually the right thing, because “marijuana is a gateway drug.” At this point, the temptation is to cover your ears like a Munch painting and shout that mutual back-scratching between the criminal-justice system and high-priced treatment centers is one more reason that idiot drug laws have to go. But it is not that easy, because no matter how much you want the kid to get the same benefits from the mighty weed that it has given you, there is a deep conviction that it would be better if he didn’t smoke at all, at least until he gets his act together, which might take a lot longer than it has to if he keeps smoking. Still, it wasn’t like he needed some cop to participate in that decision-making process.

You can feel it, the war is on. A couple of months ago, the Times ran a big piece (“Marijuana Is Gateway Drug for Two Debates,” July 17, 2009) with updated Harry Anslinger–style quotes from poor souls made homeless by their marijuana problem. Words like dependence and habitual were prominently featured. The DEA is on record as being against the legalization of “smoked” marijuana for medical purposes. They say if people feel sick, they should take Marinol, a nice pharmaceutical that is THC without the fun.

Liquor was against the law for fourteen years. Pot’s been banned for 72. Neither the cartels nor the prohibitionists are going to just fold up and go away.

Not that I can worry about that. If I never smoke pot again, I’m cool. I appreciate what the stuff’s done for me already. I ask only one thing: Should I contract an illness that even grass, in its alleged miracle-drug mode, can’t cure, then just wheel me over to that guy sneaking a toke on the corner. I’ll breathe deep and, like the whiff of a just-baked madeleine, be transported to the place inside my head that’s always been home.

By Mark Jacobson. Source.

September 9, 2009 – It’s too early to say that there is a general revolt against the “war on drugs” that the United States has been waging for the past 39 years, but something significant is richardnixon4601happening. European countries have been quietly defecting from the war for years, decriminalizing personal consumption of some or all of the banned drugs in order to minimize harm to their own people, but it’s different when countries like Argentina and Mexico do it.

Latin American countries are much more in the firing line. The United States can hurt them a lot if it is angered by their actions, and it has a long history of doing just that. But from Argentina to Mexico, they are fed up to the back teeth with the violent and dogmatic U.S. policy on drugs, and they are starting to do something about it.

In mid-August, the Mexican government declared that it will no longer be a punishable offense to possess up to half a gram of cocaine (about four lines), 5 grams of marijuana (around four joints), 50 milligrams of heroin or 40 mg of methamphetamine.

At the end of August, Argentina’s supreme court did something even bolder: It ruled that, under the Argentine constitution, “Each adult is free to make lifestyle decisions without the intervention of the state,” and dismissed a case against youths who had been arrested for possessing a few joints.

In an ideal world, this ruling would have a powerful resonance in the United States, whose constitution also restricts the right of the federal government to meddle in citizens’ private affairs. It took a constitutional amendment to enable the U.S. Congress to prohibit alcohol in 1919 (and another amendment to end alcohol Prohibition in 1933), so who gave Congress the right to criminalize other recreational drugs nationwide by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970? Nobody — and the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule on the issue.

A million Americans a year go to jail for “crimes” that hurt nobody but themselves. A vast criminal empire has grown up to service the American demand for drugs. Over the decades hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the turf wars between the gangs, the police-dealer shootouts and the daily thousands of muggings and burglaries committed by addicts trying to raise money to pay the hugely inflated prices that prohibition makes possible.

Most users of illegal drugs are not addicts, let alone dangerous criminals. Legalization and regulation, on the pattern of alcohol and tobacco, would avoid thousands of violent deaths each month and millions of needlessly ruined lives each year, although psychoactive drug use would still take its toll from the vulnerable and the unlucky, just as alcohol and tobacco do.

But there is little chance that American voters will choose to end this longest of all American wars any time soon, even though its casualties far exceed those of any other American war since 1945. The “War on Drugs” will not end in the United States until a very different generation comes to power.

Elsewhere, however, it is coming to an end much sooner, and one can imagine a time when the job of the history books will be to explain how this berserk aberration ever came about. A large part of the explanation will then focus on the man who started the war, Richard Nixon — so let us get ahead of the mob and focus on him now.

We can do that because of the famous Nixon tapes that recorded almost every word of his presidency. It turns out that he started the war on drugs because he believed that they were a Jewish plot. We know this because researcher Doug McVay from Common Sense on Drug Policy, a Washington-based NGO, went through the last batch of tapes when they became available in 2002 and found Nixon speaking to his aides as follows:

“You know, it’s a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob? What is the matter with them? I suppose it is because most of them are psychiatrists.”

Nixon had much more to say about this, but one should not conclude that he was a single-minded anti-Semite. He was an equal-opportunity paranoid who believed that homosexuals, Communists and Catholics were also plotting to undermine America by pushing drugs at it.

“Dope? Do you think the Russians allow dope? Hell no… . You see, homosexuality, dope, uh, immorality in general: These are the enemies of strong societies. That’s why the Communists and the left-wingers are pushing it. They’re trying to destroy us.”

The reason for this 39-year war, in other words, is that President Richard Nixon believed that he was facing a “Jew-homo-doper-Commie-shrink-lefty-pope” conspiracy, as Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten put it in a gloriously deadpan article in 2002. But that is just plain wrong. As subsequent developments have shown, it is actually a Jew-homo-doper-Commie-shrink-lefty-pope-LATINO conspiracy. Source.

August 27, 2009 – People have used marijuana since before the beginning of recorded history. It is known to have been used thousands of years before the birth of Christ and NORML_Remember_Prohibition_its use was legal for the vast majority of that time. It was legal in the United States until the early 1900′s, when a campaign of lies and propaganda brought about its prohibition. Recently many prominent people, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo have advocated the legalization of marijuana, or at the very least having a national discussion on that possibility.

Many people have come to realize that if marijuana were legalized, regulated, and taxed many of the problems caused by its prohibition could be erased, and tens of billions in revenue could be generated. Thousands die yearly in accidents or due to health related problems resulting from the use of alcohol, yet it is legal, and it should be. It is the responsibilty of those who choose to use it to do so responsibly. Shouldn’t the same common sense rules apply to marijuana?

This is the first article in a series which will expose the truth behind the passage of our nation’s foolish laws governing the use of marijuana, the harm those laws cause, and why it should be legalized. In this article I’m going to look at the reasons marijuana was outlawed in the U.S. One might imagine that solid scientific evidence was used, or that factual accounts of criminal activity attributed to its use and a legitimate concern for public safety may have compelled our government to criminalize marijuana. Not so. In fact much of the so called evidence that was used had no basis whatsoever in fact. Racist propaganda was used to stir up anger. Incompetent and corrupt politicians and government officials spurred by greed, the prospect of personal gain, and the hope of career advancement were a major force behind the movement to ban its use, possession and cultivation. Horrible tales of ruthless violence, including brutal murders and vicious gang rapes were totally fabricated in order to frighten the public and gain support for anti-marijuana laws.

The first marijuana law in America was passed more than 150 years before we declared our independence, but it wasn’t intended to restrict marijuana. In 1619 a law was enacted at the Jamestown Colony in Virginia that actually required farmers to grow Indian hempseed. Over the next 200 years there were several laws passed making its cultivation mandatory. In fact between 1763 and 1767 you could be jailed in Virginia for not growing it.

Of course it was not being grown just so early settlers could get high. Hemp had many uses at the time. It was used for rope, clothing, and food, among other things. The census of 1850 showed there were more than 8,000 hemp plantations in the country that grew a minimum of 2,000 acres of the plant.

It was the early 1900′s before marijuana began to be seen as a problem. California was the first state to pass a law outlawing the “preparations of marijuana, or loco weed.” At the time there was tension near the Mexican border due to the revolution in that country. Violence as a result of the revolution sometimes spilled over the border. Many people in the American west were also angry that large farms were using cheap Mexican labor which hurt smaller farms. The fact that many Mexicans smoked marijuana was used to help pass the law in California, not based on facts or science, but on the anti-Mexican sentiment that existed among many people at the time. The law was intended more to target Mexicans than to protect the public from marijuana’s “harmful” effects.

At around the same time Utah also outlawed marijuana. According to Charles Whitebread, a Professor of Law at the University of Southern California Law School, Mormons returned to Salt Lake City from Mexico with marijuana in 1910. Church leaders were not at all happy with its use by members of the Mormon Church. Whitebread speculates that may be one of the reasons Utah outlawed marijuana, althought some members of the Mormon community dispute his theory.

Several other states used the racial prejudice towards Mexicans to help pass laws against marijuana. Wyoming was first in 1915, followed by Texas in 1919, Iowa, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Arkansas in 1923, and Nebraska and Montana in 1927. In Texas a State Senator promoted the outlawing of marijuana by saying, “All Mexicans are crazy, and this stuff is what makes them crazy.” The Butte Montana Standard quoted a Montana lawmaker’s statement on the floor of the Montana Legislature: “When some beet field peon takes a few traces of this stuff… he thinks he has just been elected president of Mexico, so he starts out to execute all his political enemies.”

In the eastern states racist statements were also used to turn public sentiment in favor of making marijuana illegal. It was said by one newspaper editorialist to “influence black men to actually look into the eyes of white men, and look twice at white women.” Oh, the travesty!

In the 1931 New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal, Dr. A. E. Fossier wrote that “Under the influence of hashish those fanatics would madly rush at their enemies, and ruthlessly massacre every one within their grasp.” Within a very short time, marijuana started to be linked to insanely violent behavior.

In 1930 the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was established as a new division of the Treasury Department. Harry J. Anslinger was named as its first director. Anslinger’s ambition rather than facts was behind his campaign to outlaw marijuana. He saw it as an issue that could be seized upon to further his own career. Anslinger knew he could create a national crisis by using racism and claims of brutally violent crimes to draw national attention to the “horrific problems” caused by using marijuana.

“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US,” said Anslinger, “and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.” This wasn’t Anslinger’s only completely ludicrous statement. He also claimed that “Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.” If you do a little research into Anslinger you will find many such ridiculous statements.

As late as 1961 Anslinger spoke about his efforts to outlaw marijuana, and still used propaganda and completely false stories to justify them:

“Much of the most irrational juvenile violence and that has written a new chapter of shame and tragedy is traceable directly to this hemp intoxication. A gang of boys tear the clothes from two school girls and rape the screaming girls, one boy after the other. A sixteen-year-old kills his entire family of five in Florida, a man in Minnesota puts a bullet through the head of a stranger on the road; in Colorado a husband tries to shoot his wife, kills her grandmother instead and then kills himself. Every one of these crimes had been proceeded by the smoking of one or more marijuana “reefers.” As the marijuana situation grew worse, I knew action had to be taken to get the proper legislation passed. By 1937 under my direction, the Bureau launched two important steps. First, a legislative plan to seek from Congress a new law that would place marijuana and its distribution directly under federal control. Second, on radio and at major forums, such that presented annually by the New York Herald Tribune, I told the story of this evil weed of the fields and river beds and roadsides. I wrote articles for magazines; our agents gave hundreds of lectures to parents, educators, social and civic leaders. In network broadcasts I reported on the growing list of crimes, including murder and rape. I described the nature of marijuana and its close kinship to hashish. I continued to hammer at the facts. I believe we did a thorough job, for the public was alerted and the laws to protect them were passed, both nationally and at the state level. We also brought under control the wild growing marijuana in this country. Working with local authorities, we cleaned up hundreds of acres of marijuana and we uprooted plants sprouting along the roadsides.”

Randolf Hearst, owner of chain of newspapers, also campaigned against marijuana. While Anslinger’s motive was ambition, Hearst’s was profit and bigotry. It is fairly well known that Hearst held strong anti-Mexican views. This was probably due to his loss of more than 800,000 acres of timberland to Pancho Villa during the Mexican revolution. He had also invested heavily in the timber industry to support his newspaper chain and wanted to stop the development of hemp paper. Spreading terrible lies about Mexicans, and claiming marijuana caused extreme acts of violence sold newspapers. That not only made him money, but helped insure that hemp production would be halted.

Some of Hearst’s newspapers made ridiculous claims about marijuana. One column in the San Francisco Examiner said that “Marihuana makes fiends of boys in thirty days, Hashish goads users to bloodlust. By the tons it is coming into this country, the deadly, dreadful poison that racks and tears not only the body, but the very heart and soul of every human being who once becomes a slave to it in any of its cruel and devastating forms…. Marihuana is a short cut to the insane asylum. Smoke marihuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters. Hasheesh makes a murderer who kills for the love of killing out of the mildest mannered man who ever laughed at the idea that any habit could ever get him….”

Anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that the claims made by Anslinger and Hearst are far more dangerous than marijuana could ever be. Such statements themselves encourage racist views and could have easily incited acts of violence against blacks and Mexicans. Since it is impossible to overdose on marijuana, and not a single death has ever been cited as the medical cause of any person’s death, there is one absolute and undeniable certainty. More violence has been caused, and more lives have been destroyed by the campaign against marijuana, and the laws that came about as a result of it, than by the drug itself.

If you want to point to the crime and violence surrounding the drug trade in America, you can trace it all right back to the beginning of the war on marijuana that was started during the first half of the 20th century by dishonest politicians, corrupt government officials, and the greed and racism of figures in the corporate world.

I will publish part two of this article within the next few days. By Darren Pope. Source.

August 15, 2009 – A special section – Woodstock Nation. Third of a three-part series. Part 1 | Part 2

BY SHEILA LENNONwoodstock_poster1
Journal-Bulletin Lifestyles Editor
Despite two days of uncomfortable conditions, peace and music are both holding out. Sunday is the acid test.

The storm bore down on us, all hard rain and whipping wind, just after Joe Cocker ended the set that opened Woodstock, Day 3. “The ground was slippery red clay, and then it really looked like Baghdad,” remembers Dottie Clark, one of the many from southeastern New England who were there. “People selling the junk of the time were packing up, my friends were crying, and I was laughing. I thought it was funny. I said, ‘Someday you’ll see that this was something.’ “

Cocker had finished his set with what may have been the best live performance ever given: With a Little Help From My Friends.

“I ran into a friend from school standing at the stage when Joe Cocker was performing,” says Stephen Schechtman, “and I just remember tears in his eyes, this guy just standing there crying. He was really moved by it.”

The storm that followed, with clouds straight out of a Hollywood epic, “was almost like a test from some god,” says Kathleen McDevitt. “That was really hard to get through. But I remember being exhilarated. People on stage were saying ‘hang in there,’ and everybody did.”

These people had been too long wet, hungry, hot and cold. Spontaneously, the rain chant began – “No rain, no rain, no rain . . .” When the hour-long deluge stopped, the field was a giant mud puddle. But the Woodstock attitude held: Another bad situation was turned around. With a slight shift of perspective, any kid could see a perfect hill for sliding. The long coast to the stage was fun.

“It looked like a picture from the World War II archives, the refugees after a town had been blitzed or invaded,” says John Haerry. “Here were all these people, cold, wet, miserable, hungry, thirsty, but still keeping it together.

“I remember people walking around quietly asking, ‘Do you have any spare food, or anything to drink?’ At the same time, if people had anything, it was ‘Well, we’ve got a bag of potato chips, here, have some of our potato chips.’ “

“To the media it was a catastrophe, but to us, it was the very best life,” says Carmino Scaglione.

“There were enormous garbage bags and people sitting all around them,” remembers Dottie Clark. “It was Felliniesque.”

“It stunk on Sunday,” Rico Topazio recalls. “People were burning clothes to keep warm. Then a helicopter came over the field and started dropping things. It was scary, people freaked out, until they saw they were flowers.

“It was like a reward for just being there, and staying,” says Kathleen McDevitt. “There was someone somewhere concerned about us.”

Lee Blumer, assistant to the security director then, said last week that the gesture had been arranged by Michael Lang, the man who thought up the whole idea of a festival that would bring together the counterculture so we could see how many of us there really were.

A recent reminder

Dawn Jabari-Zhou, who was forced to leave China last month after teaching there two years, said the students in Tiananmen Square in June reminded her of Woodstock. “In Beijing, people did make that analogy: They hadn’t seen these many people since Woodstock. People were orderly, friendly, and shared food and shelter. There was a tent city at Tiananmen.”

Woodstock also had shadows.

Two deaths were reported.

Without checking underneath, a farmer moved his tractor out of a field dotted with sleeping people. A 17-year-old who slept Friday night under a tractor was killed when the farmer started it up and ran over him.

Another young man died, but it is not clear whether it was from a heroin overdose or a heart attack.

I suspect that Margaret Chevian speaks for many when she says, “At the time people were sucked into being liberal; what you were then and are now is not the same. We went along with the crowd. I don’t know why we didn’t die from bad sanitation.”

And others would agree with Ed Dalton’s statement that ” Woodstock was a promise unfulfilled because I don’t think my generation accomplished what they set out to accomplish: change the world. When we saw all of us, we knew we had force and power.

“I think the whole generation has sold out, and I hope the kids turn out better than we did.”

Most of us who were at Woodstock also know somebody who tried to stay there no matter where they were later, and became casualties of drugs and alcohol.

Tom of Providence was 14 at Woodstock, doing drugs. “I regret that Woodstock set me on this path. I wish I’d spent more time studying, learning a trade. Because I was so young and doing drugs, I didn’t have a chance to have a real adolescence, to grow up.” He’s been in AA two years.

One caller from North Kingstown wouldn’t identify herself but wanted to say that her parents didn’t let her go to Woodstock, and her friends who did all developed serious addiction problems.

Three births and four miscarriages were reported at the festival, but, so far, no one has come forward waving a birth certificate to prove, “I was born at Woodstock.”

No unknown garage band

Crosby, Stills and Nash had only played one concert, in Chicago, before Woodstock, but this was no unknown garage band.

David Crosby had been a founding member of the Byrds; Stephen Stills played in Buffalo Springfield with Neil Young, and Graham Nash was stolen from the Hollies. Their first album together, Crosby, Stills and Nash, would stay on the charts for 107 weeks. But that night at Woodstock, Graham Nash sheepishly greeted the crowd with, “We’d like to a do a medley of our hit.”

Several people named them as a favorite memory, but on Suite: Judy Blue Eyes the harmonies were so badly offkey that the tracks would be redubbed for the album. It didn’t matter, except to festivalgoers who swore later they were offkey but couldn’t prove it by the movie.

Neil Young joined CSN at Woodstock, and again two weeks later at the Big Sur Festival at the Esalen Institute, where Joni Mitchell first sang Woodstock, the anthem she wrote for the festival without ever having been there.

Mitchell was living with Graham Nash at the time, but spent the festival weekend in New York City with her manager, David Geffen. Geffen convinced her she might not be able to get out of Bethel, N. Y., the town 50 miles from Woodstock where the festival was being held, in time to make a TV appearance on the Dick Cavett Show.

Bulletin board of the air

The stage announcements were sometimes witty, often humorous, and excessive. The bulletin board of the air was full of lost people, headlines about what the world thought was happening to us, happy news, call your mother, come get your medicine, and colorful – if meaningless – warnings about specific colors of bad acid. There were probably fifty shades of green acid, and if anybody had just taken some, this was no time to hear it was polluted.

Cheryl Godek Curran knew people who had taken green acid. “They said, ‘Take us to the doctor,’ so we went to the bad trips tent. There they said ‘If you took it and you’re having a good trip, just go back and enjoy the festival.’ And they did.”

David DelBonis had helped build the children’s playground, the hospital tent (which Abbie Hoffman ran) and the kitchens. During the festival, he roamed the crowd, bringing people whose mental circuits had crossed back to the bad trips tent. Rick Danko of the Band and John Sebastian dropped in to play a sort of mellow rock for people who weren’t digesting mind-altering substances well.

Del Bonis explains a bad trip as “being with too many people and thinking you can party on LSD. Your brain can’t sort it quick enough. You feel scared and paranoid.” A good trip: “It’s searching; it’s kind of like looking for yourself. It’s a very spiritual thing.”

From his observations, “The drug thing was totally overblown. Certainly there was marijuana used, but not as many drugs as people imagine.”

“Not everybody at Woodstock used drugs,” Phil Kukielski says, “and people didn’t drink much. A little wine, maybe. But this was a place you could safely smoke grass.”

For some, the novelty of being able to take a social puff in public was the big thrill. A joint lit up in the crowd got passed all over. “It was nice not to feel worried about the police,” said one Rhode Islander. “That was very liberating.”

Although there were dealers, most people were wary of what they might be selling. Street drugs could be anything.

“LSD is more dangerous for anybody to experiment with now,” says Dennis Lemoine, now a Corrections Officer at the Rhode Island Training School for Youth. “Then it was made by chemists in universities and people with real knowledge of it. People now make it in cellars from a book in the library. They use strychnine (a favorite poison in old murder mysteries) to get a physical effect.

“Back then, the marijuana was less strong than what it is now. The grade has accelerated. People got stoned, laughed, sang and got happy. Now kids smoke it, sit back and nod and that’s it. The old Mexican was destroyed with Paraquat. This stuff they’re importing has a higher THC content. And they don’t stick with pot anymore.

“I know people who did heavy drugs for years on the streets, then crack and freebasing got them in a year. They’re chasing that first big high from then on.”

“We did drugs, but not the dangerous drugs. We were a whole different generation who cared for each other. We were against war, we had goals . . .”

Last week I asked Wavy Gravy, who ran the bad trips tent, what he thinks of drugs now.

“You need to differentiate between smack, crack and smoking flowers,” Wavy said. “Cocaine is horrible. It’s nature’s way of telling people they have too much money. It makes them mean to their friends and their kids.

“Psychotropic stuff in moderation can lead to extraordinary results. I like to say, ‘My father’s mush has many rooms.’ “

Wiring repairs halt show

There was music through the night, but the sound system was shut off during the storm, which soaked some dangerously tattered wiring. While repairs were made and new wires were laid, the show did not go on.

So the Sunday bands played too late to too few still awake. And the movie crew slept at night, which is why so many great sets are missing. Sha-Na-Na made it into the film only because the crews were getting up to shoot Jimi Hendrix.

“We tried to book Roy Rogers to sing Happy Trails as the closing number for the festival,” Michael Lang told Joel Makower in The Oral History of Woodstock. “His agent declined.”

Instead, Hendrix insisted on closing the show with the national anthem.

“Obviously, he got the meaning of this thing sufficiently enough to know to play the Star Spangled Banner at the very end,” Lee Blumer told Rockfax, a small music paper published in Norwich, Conn. “. . . He saw Woodstock come from out of dust to a nation and he played an anthem.”

But not before he tossed off what was probably the strangest line of that long strange weekend: “Maybe the new day might give us a chance, blah-blah, woof-woof.”

It was 8:30 Monday morning when Hendrix started to play. He was in lavender fringe with a head band, “letting his freak flag fly,” as one member of the group would write.

There were fewer than half a hundred thousand left when he did it. Most people had gone.

Hendrix played in the early morning sun with garbage all over, and he was loud. Too loud, I remember, for my frazzled nerve endings. His guitar seemed to frizz my brain, but I was finally next to the stage, 10 feet from Jimi, and I had to watch his face. It seemed illuminated from within.

I could hear Vietnam in this anthem, bombs bursting on guitar. It flew and dived and made brand new a song that had always seemed to me a war chant. The anthem of Woodstock Nation was the anthem of America loosened, freed of its rigid measures. It was okay to be different.

The song ended at 10 a.m., 65 hours after Richie Havens began it.

We had pulled it off. It was over, and we left on whatever roads have brought us to where we are now.

An invitation to dinner

“On the way home,” remembers Tom Mulligan, “we were slogging to the car and noticed some people standing around a house. We walked over and they invited us to dinner. They were making a huge meal for anybody who wanted to come by.”

Phil Kukielski and David DelBonis both remember being handed flyers as they left. They read, “Come to Chicago” for the radical Weathermen’s Days of Rage.

People stayed for weeks, reluctant to leave, cleaning up Yasgur’s Farm.

“On the way back I was bummed out and didn’t know why, because I’d had a good time,” says Jim Edwards. “At first I thought, ‘Every high has a crash,’ but then I really felt like I had just attended an Irish wake.”

Woodstock’s promoters flew to New York to explain to the bankers and lawyers why they threw a free festival and spent the bank’s money to drop flowers on the crowd.

So what came out of all that mud and music 20 years ago?

Joe Landry, a Providence native who at 29 was one of the oldest people at the festival, seemed to sum it up: “That it’s no good for me if it’s not good for everybody.” Source.

A special section – Woodstock Nation. Second of a three-part series. Part 1 | Part 3

August 16, 2009 – The first of the “3 days of peace and music” – and mud – woodstock-posterhad been just a prelude to Rock ‘n’ Roll Survival Weekend.

BY THE TIME CARLOS Santana finished playing Soul Sacrifice Saturday afternoon at Woodstock, he was a major star.

“Every band changed the vibes,” recalls Dena Quilici, one of the many there from southeastern New England. And the crowd came alive for Santana. The by-now broiling sun, the hunger and thirst and mud, the Army helicopters intermittently turning fire hoses on us full-force to cool us off – “all those troubles kind of went away once you just settled down and started listening to the music,” says Ty Davis.

Santana was a salsa band without a contract, who came at the Dead’s insistence. “Santana came out and just blew everyone away,” says Ron Gamache. “We kept saying, ‘Who are these guys?’ We’d never heard such rhythms.”

Quill had opened Saturday’s show about noon. Only Ty Davis seems to remember them, “as one of the totally unimportant bands. But they were one of the first Boston bands to get any notice.”

Michele Keir had a tremendous time at Woodstock, even though she heard only one band and doesn’t recall which one.

Many of us who were there don’t individually remember much of the music for which Woodstock has become a synonym.

The quality of the sound was fantastic near the stage, deteriorating to terrible at about half the depth of the crowd and beyond. And the bands were faraway specks to many, competing with the human kaleidoscope around us.

Musicians had to touch and amplify some powerful human chord just to get our attention.

“You knew you were there more for the experience than for the music,” says Dennis Lemoine.

There were bubbles and banners and weirdly dressed people. Many of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters were evolving into the Hog Farmers, members of a New Mexico commune who cooked, and counseled and taught survival skills. Both groups were at Woodstock.

Mel Ash didn’t know who the Pranksters were then, but he later read Tom Wolfe’s chronicle of their bus trip across America playing theatrical cosmic jokes, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. “The next year, I said, ‘These are famous people.’ “

The experience was intensely visual. The Hell’s Angels arrived, and started ferrying medical supplies.

“I remember one guy with an American flag headband and a flag cape, going around with some sign about ‘If we all coordinate our energies, we can end the war this weekend’ – a very intense wired cat,” remembers John Haerry.

“We were next to a blanket containing a really huge guy dressed only in athletic shorts,” Tom Mulligan recalls, “getting his body painted by his girlfriend. That was my first exposure to body-painting.”

“I don’t remember the music so much as the people, but it was a background,” says Dena Quilici.

“It got so big the music was just a little part of it,” says Walter Williams.

Food lines

We seemed to be spending as much time searching for food as our ancestors had.

Joe Caffey lined up to buy overpriced tomatoes. “You knew you were gonna get ripped off, but you’re starving. And the guy had a 10-gallon can of tuna fish. Then a guy comes out of nowhere, naked, sticks his hand into the pot, grabs a handful and goes off into the woods.”

“Somebody came in with a soda truck and started selling cans for a buck,” David DelBonis recalls. “Everybody got really ticked off, and kind of confiscated the truck, passed out the soda. But they started handing the guy what he should have been selling it for – a quarter, at that time. They just starting throwing the money at him, saying ‘This is what the can’s worth, you got it.’ He tried to scalp everybody . . . but they didn’t steal it.”

I had a half-full bottle of Vin Rouge Superieur left from Friday night, and I desperately wished for a miracle that would turn the wine into water. When the water truck arrived, I dumped out the wine. For two days that empty bottle was my most precious possession.

“There was a premium on cold things,” Tom Mulligan remembers. “People with beer and soft drinks were held in high esteem. Someone nearby had a basket with raw carrots and shared it, but nothing went very far.”

Mel Ash of Providence, a vegetarian, had the foresight to bring about 2 1cans of sardines to barter with. “I hated fish, but they could be opened with keys, so they were convenient. We traded for watermelons.”

At the Hog Farm across a road from the music area, where street signs read High Way, Groovy Way, and Peaceful Way, Woodstock Stew was on the menu. It was a sticky vegetable and grain glop that tasted strange to those of us raised on canned soup casseroles, but was very filling. They served free brown rice and vegetables all weekend, and more.

When Ash went there looking for food, “They were handing out cones of granola, and Wavy Gravy (the commune’s leader) was saying some Zen saying, ‘A day without work is a day without eating.’ So we volunteered to clean the pots. Then we went closer to the crowd at the stage and said, ‘Free food this way, eat all you can, if you can’t eat it, give it away.’ Over and over again for a couple of hours.”

Demand for pay

We settled in to wait for Bob Dylan.

With every helicopter that landed behind the stage, rumors spread that it was Dylan, who lived in Woodstock – the town, not the nation – 50 miles away. He never came. He was playing the Isle of Wight on the English Channel for $87,000, a booking he had before Woodstock asked him to play.

Jimi Hendrix, the highest-paid act at Woodstock, got $18,000. Santana earned less than $2,500. The Who ($6,250) and the Grateful Dead got nervous about the free concert and refused to play unless they were paid in cash. A local banker was roused after midnight and whisked by helicopter to the bank in his pajamas to get $25,000 cash.

The performers didn’t share our physical hardships. Helicopters were delivering delicacies and champagne to the performers’ area. David’s Potbelly Restaurant from New York City catered and offered to ferry them back to the hotel and the party in the bar.

But they had to face the biggest, most distracted crowd in rock history and were looking at major flop sweats.

If other bands griped about facing a crowd too big to reach, Creedence had a different problem. They followed the Grateful Dead at 3:30 a.m. and the biggest crowd in rock history was dead asleep. John Fogerty has said he saw one guy flash his lighter, and played the whole set to that one person.

Power acts

Rock’s power lineup was on Saturday night’s bill, but by then many of us were exhausted. “The music was 24 hours, so you had to pick and choose,” says Mel Ash. “My friend and I took turns waking each other up. There was a lot of sharing of blankets and what not.”

Still, with all the distractions wrenching our attention from the music, among us we have a composite memory good enough to reconstruct most of the action.

To many, Janis Joplin was the only woman really out there on the edge alone. The reigning folk and rock women – Baez, Grace Slick, Joni Mitchell, Michelle Phillips of the Mama and Papas, Judy Collins – were romantic figures, and Mama Cass was a 300-pound hot ticket in a quartet. But Janis was beyond the pale, a brazen hussy singing her soul out as she swigged Southern Comfort. A lot of us were rooting for her, but the woman who wailed, “I’m gonna show you that a woman can be tough,” seemed born too soon and too alone.

She is reported to have said, “Me, I was brought up in a middle-class family; I could have had anything. But you need something more in your gut, man.” Her emptiness seemed bottomless, and the more she battled the blues with hard liquor, heroin and one-night stands, the deeper she seemed to sink.

Woodstock isn’t generally considered one of her great performances. She seemed genuinely distraught as she wailed and sobbed in a skimpy dress with spangles instead of her customary feathers. Her band – neither Big Brother and the Holding Company nor Full Tilt Boogie but the Cosmic Blues Band with saxes and trombones – didn’t seem to work with her.

To some it didn’t matter.

“When Janis sang Ball and Chain . . . We all felt tied down like that,” says Carmino Scaglione.

David Weinrebe had plopped down in a ditch to sleep. “I woke up to Janis Joplin shrieking. She was a goddess. To be waking out of a dead sleep to Janis . . .”

When Sly Stone followed, he did something with I Want to Take You Higher, that had the entire crowd on its feet shouting “higher” for 45 minutes.

Dawn Jabari-Zhou remembers Sly for the “enthusiasm and energy it created in concert. Everybody was up, paying attention, shouting and clapping, Sly in a bright white outfit, an Indian jacket with tassels long the sleeves. He almost looked like he was a bird and like he was gonna take off and fly.”

The Who and Abbie

The Who played at 2 in the morning. What everybody remembers is Pete Townshend bashing Abbie Hoffman with his guitar.

Abbie had seized the mike to urge the crowd smoking flowers so freely to mobilize on behalf of John Sinclair, head of the White Panther Party, who was serving a 10-year sentence for having passed a joint to a narcotics officer. Somebody turned the mike off and Townshend made like a bayonet with the guitar and jabbed Abbie in the head and off the stage.

In Soon to be a Major Motion Picture, Abbie wrote, “Townshend, who had been tuning up, turned around and bumped me. A nonincident.”

But Townshend told Rolling Stone magazine, “I kicked him off the stage. I deeply regret that. If I was given that opportunity again I would stop the show. Because I don’t think rock and roll is that important. Then I did. The show had to go on.”

Rico Topazio of Bristol, who now plays in a band called the Pink Cadillacs in Los Angeles, says, “I liked Abbie, but it was the wrong time for Abbie to be on stage. As a guitar player, I knew that. Pete didn’t know who Abbie was. Woodstock wasn’t political in that way. It was as if Bob Hope were at a USO show, time to get away from all that, to see how many of us were together.”

The crowd seemed to agree with Pete that Abbie was out of line. There were no boos or shouts, and The Who continued playing. “The Who were in their prime, not like they are now,” Haerry recalls. “Roger Daltrey still had his voice, and Pete Townshend still had his voice, and they did a hell of a show.”

It’s unfair that Abbie is remembered for a stupid act at Woodstock. Abbie had organized the medical tent, worked in the bad trips tent, and been an extraordinarily competent man to have around. His death by suicide earlier this year, so close to this anniversary, seems to mark the end of yet another era. Wavy Gravy, the man on the record saying, “There’s a little bit of heaven in every disaster area,” suggested to me this week that if we cared, it would be fitting to “do something for the Yipper.”

Just as dawn broke, the Jefferson Airplane took the stage. They had been waiting to play since 10:30 the night before, and Grace Slick played with her eyes closed.

“I remember waking up at about 5 in the morning,” said Haerry, “and all of a sudden hearing Grace Slick out of nowhere, ‘Good morning, people, it’s time to wake up,’ ” BOINGGGGGGGG, Whoa, yeah] and going down to the stage, treading my way through what looked like the aftermath of a battlefield, all these bodies and getting right down to the front of the stage and there was Jefferson Airplane, 25 or 30 feet away.”

“I had to see Grace Slick,” Mel Ash says, “because I was in love with Grace Slick and I thought the Airplane represented at that moment everything the culture stood for.”

Grace Slick in a white fringed minidress in the blue dawn is an image burned in many brains.

“The sun was coming up over the hills,” recalls Carmino Scaglione, “over the campfires of the people who’d been up all night,” and she sang White Rabbit, the song that let the East know what the West had been up to in the summer of ’67.

Do You Want Somebody to Love? sent ripples up spines; hearing only Volunteers on the concert tape is one reason to have been at Woodstock.

It was Sunday morning. Time enough to sleep. BY SHEILA LENNON. Source.

A special section – Woodstock Nation. First of a three-part series. Part 2 | Part 3

August 16, 2009 – The Woodstock Music & Art Fair began 40 years ago this Friday afternoon at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, N.Y. I had seen an advertisement in the July 27, 1969 Sunday New York Times Arts section, and woodsmordered tickets — $18 for all three days, Aug. 15, 16 & 17, 1969.

Twenty years later, I was lifestyles editor of The Providence Journal, and the task of doing the 20th anniversary package fell to me by default, since I’d been there. I interviewed 50 other Rhode Islanders who were also there, and published a 3-day series on the concert.

Two years ago, these stories became part of a college history textbook, Time It Was: American Stories from the Sixties, published by Prentice Hall.

There’s a lot of Woodstock revisionism going on now, so long after. The facts haven’t changed.

Here’s Part 1 of that 1989 series. Parts 2 and 3 will publish Saturday and Sunday.

A special section – Woodstock Nation. First of
a three-part series.

Journal-Bulletin Lifestyles Editor

The rain of Friday night had turned Max Yasgur’s dairy farm to cowdung mud, and now the August sun was pumping it back up as steam. In little puffs it rose to meet the cloud of marijuana smoke hovering over the sweaty people drawn here by the promise of three days of peace and music.

“The sun was beating and beating with the rhythm of the ‘copters,” says Dottie Clark, one of the many from southeastern New England who answered the call. “It had a jungle look.”

Since the night before, tiny helicopters had been dropping musicians and their instruments behind the stage. The drone was familiar. But now big green Army choppers, the same Hueys that strafed Vietnam on the nightly news, were sweeping in behind our backs, loud and low.

“Nixon could wipe out the antiwar movement in one fell swoop here,” murmured a voice behind me, setting off a nervous ripple in our neighborhood. “Paranoia from the sky,” recalls Jim Edwards. A rustle spread over the peaceable hillside, a wrinkle of bad vibes.

“Everybody looked up. I was just gripped with fear,” remembers Mel Ash. “I was 16, but I was actually thinking about my death.”

From the stage, the deep velvet voice of Chip Monck boomed, “Ladies and gentlemen, the U.S. Army . . . Medical Corps,” as the choppers’ red crosses came into view.

All weekend, the National Guard would drop sandwiches and blankets and performers and instruments, evacuate casualties and laboring mothers, and assault us with fire hoses to cool us off.

Sunday, as we stood 6 inches deep in mud, a tiny private plane swooped down to spray us with daisies, a gift from Festival organizers.

Welcome to Woodstock. These are our war stories.

Rumors of The Woodstock Music and Art Fair had been in the air all summer.

Joe Landry ran a folk club in Cleveland at the time, and hung out with musicians. “Everyone was hyping it as the happening of the century. They were gonna make it as big as they possibly could,” he remembers. “Of course they succeeded beyond their wildest expectations.”

By late July, bright posters with a whimsical logo of a dove perched on the neck of a guitar began popping up on telephone poles throughout the East. The magic words were “3 days of peace and music.” It was like broadcasting a radio signal, and anybody tuned in would get it. Somehow they’d find White Lake, N. Y.

This festival was fielding a band list that read like the course description of Rock ‘n’ Roll 101. If we were typed by the music we liked, all kinds of people would show up here, fans of Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Tim Hardin, Richie Havens, The Incredible String Band, Ravi Shankar, Sweetwater, Keef Hartley, Canned Heat, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Mountain, Santana, The Who, The Band, Jeff Beck, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Jimi Hendrix, Iron Butterfly, The Moody Blues or Johnny Winter.

With a lineup like this going on in his backyard, it seemed likely that Bob Dylan would drop by and sit in. What the heck, maybe the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, too.

By surrounding the music with an art show, music and craft workshops, a bazaar, food booths and hundreds of acres for camping, festival organizers guaranteed that nearly everybody under 30 except Tricia Nixon would want to be there. Coming together seemed long overdue.

Rhode Island’s ‘beats’

” Woodstock Nation was pre-Vietnam,” says David DelBonis. “There was a beatnik culture on Thayer Street. The guy who lived next door to me in Johnston – Richard Carbone – used to take me to the Tete a Tete coffee house, to Jone Pasha’s. He bought me e.e. cummings’ poems, at 7, 8 years old. That changed my whole life. I knew there was an alternative.”

Jack Kerouac explained the “beat” attitude as “a weariness with all the forms, all the conventions of the world.”

“They were nice people,” DelBonis said of Rhode Island’s beats. “They had their own little business and their own little community and they played music. They were much more sensitive than the people I knew in Johnston. They didn’t want any part of the ‘commercial’ world. They were interesting, and they were interested in art, they traveled and enjoyed the things of the world. Everybody can’t be that way or we couldn’t function, but I saw a whole other world.”

Pop art, Eastern religious ideas, John Kennedy’s Peace Corps and Bobby’s idealism, Dylan and the Beatles, anthropology courses on cultures that ate “magic mushrooms” and peyote buttons for spiritual visions were absorbed along with Buddy Holly, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, Percy Sledge and Hermann Hesse’s mystical novel, Steppenwolf.

At Hope High, Shelly Lynch decided a beatnik was something to be. She went to NYU’s theater department in Greenwich Village. “We were gonna grow up and live in a little white house,” she says. “Then the ’60s happened.”


When the ads appeared in the underground press and the New York Sunday Times Arts section July 27, the response was overwhelming. At $7 a day and a pricey $18 for the weekend, the official expectation was a crowd of 150,000. But before the festival opened, Woodstock Ventures had sold 200,000 tickets, and had requests – but no more printed tickets – for 100,000 more.

The festival was almost held in the ominously named Wallkill, but the town balked. Less than a month before the festival was to happen, Yasgur, a prominent citizen of Bethel, agreed to rent his cow pasture, a natural amphitheater, for $60,000 for three days.

In Hebrew, Bethel means a holy or consecrated spot. A good omen. With the help of 80 people from the Hog Farm Commune in New Mexico, a staff who were into the music and into the lifestyle, Woodstock Ventures began to build a city.

By Wednesday night, 50,000 people had already come to Bethel. In Providence, WBRU was announcing that Woodstock would be a free concert. There hadn’t been time to build the gates.

The road to Woodstock

Hope High senior Joseph Caffey and his friends took the bus to New York City, planning to catch a bus to the festival. There was no bus, but there were 250 kids. They improvised:

“We rented U-Haul trucks and hired bus drivers to drive them,” said Caffey, now director of rental rehabilitation for the City of Providence. “We chipped in, collected from everybody and headed up to Woodstock.” The trip was a metaphor for what was to come, physically uncomfortable but high-spirited. At one point they were stopped by police for having the back doors open, and had to finish the trip in the hot, stuffy darkness of the box.

“The water pump went and the truck broke down 20 miles away,” says Mike Kaprielian, who had joined the Navy two months earlier rather than be drafted. “We knew something special was happening, because when we piled out of that truck and stuck out our thumbs, 50 cars must have lined up to pick us up.” They couldn’t get closer than 10 miles, “so we walked in the rest of the way. I had just finished basic so I was in shape,” Mike recalls, “but Joe was huffing.” Five minutes after getting to the field, they got separated and didn’t see each other again for 19 years.

By Friday, thousands of people had converged on the Port Authority terminal at Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street, lining up under signs that read “Woodstock Festival Load Here.” Among them was John Rossi, who had seen an ad for the Aquarian Exposition in Providence’s underground newspaper, Extra. Rossi, 38, now works for the Department of Defense in Washington, D.C., as a computer systems software specialist, devising ways to ensure the security of top-secret information, but at the time he had just graduated from Mount Pleasant High School. The atmosphere of the “party bus” set the tone for the weekend: He recalls a camaraderie never experienced before or since. Rossi’s bus stopped within a mile of the field.

After the festival, the Short Line bus company ran ads featuring pictures of the drivers who manned the party buses, along with little quotes such as “We have a lot to learn from them about getting along together,” “They don’t look at the public the way the public looks at them,” “I don’t understand why they wear long hair but now I don’t care . . . And they’re the most no-griping, no-complaining, patient and generous, respectful kids I’ve ever met. Come on kids and ride with me. It’s a pleasure driving you.”

A bit later in the day, the bus carrying Dena Quilici of Providence, then 19, gave up three miles away. Meanwhile, her future husband, Jim Edwards, who worked at India Imports of Rhode Island, was driving the company van towards Woodstock, accompanied by anybody he knew who needed a ride. He didn’t know Dena.

He found a dirt road and followed it. It led directly to the festival grounds.

‘The endless vans’

Friday morning, the New York State Thruway was jammed with cars, long hair streaming out of every window, peace sign decals on back windows and Make Love Not War bumper stickers. Most amazing were the psychedelically painted vans and school buses with faraway license plates – California, New Mexico. The communes had come East flying their colors.

“The endless vans,” said Dottie Clark, “were kitchens, bedrooms, dance floors.”

Near the site, traffic slowed, and people with guitars, bongos, flutes, pan pipes, whistles or bells clambered up on hoods and trunks, serenading the bumper-to-bumper traffic. There was dancing on van roofs, and anticipation in the air. People tired of walking hopped on your hood and rode with you for a while. These were, as John Haerry of West Greenwich put it, “the days of high hippiedom.”

At the White Lake exit, one lone policeman had closed the ramp, but cars crossed the median strip and exited from the southbound lane onto the gridlock of Route 17. Complicating the mess was a junkyard of overheated cars by the side of the road. Amateur mechanics swarmed over them. If they couldn’t be restarted, their passengers were scooped into any vehicle still moving, and the beat went on.

Michelle Keir of Warwick recalls tossing a deli pickle to the car behind her, never dreaming how precious that pickle would seem the next hungry day.

Chris Heinzmann of Pawtucket, who had piled into his father’s International Travelall with his two older brothers and five friends, remembers that “everybody was yelling back and forth, having a good time.”

Cheri Light spent Friday night in the woods 10 miles away. Saturday she walked and rode to the site on the hood of a car behind a giant moving van. When traffic jammed, the back doors opened up and four bikers zoomed down a ramp and up the road.

John Sousa of Rumford remembers that “When cars got stuck (on the already wet dirt roads), people would literally lift them up. We were spontaneously working together.”

The traffic jam was fun.

Cars were ditched at whatever point their drivers decided this was as close as they were getting. These pioneers circled the wagons and cordoned themselves off in the center of a parking lot with a 10-mile radius.

Rental is right. It a housing job.

Dennis Lemoine parked in a field where he could hear the music. “A farmer came up on a John Deere with a shotgun,” he says. They moved, and the woman who owned the second field came out and said, “Please don’t make a mess, and don’t keep us up all night.”

By Friday night, police blockaded the main roads. Most people who heard what was happening Friday and tried to crash the big party were just too late.

David Del Bonis, who arrived in Bethel on Wednesday to pitch in, watched the crowd swell. “If all the people who were blocked out had gotten in, you would’ve had a mess, from sheer numbers and from the partiers who were trying to get there,” he said. “The people who came early enough to get in were a different kind of people. The authorities did a great job. They blocked it at the right time.

“You had a good balance: The people who were there ahead of time had already gotten into the feeling of the whole thing and the helping and the sharing, and then enough people came to give you the masses. So the powers that ran it had already set the tone, and that’s why it never got out of hand.

“Security was just to keep people mellow,” he added.

For those who did make it, the long walk in the company of thousands made an indelible impression. Dottie Clark, who had parked about 5 miles away, thought the road “looked like an old movie of refugees leaving Berlin.”

Friday, the people who lived by the roadside couldn’t help enough. One middle-aged woman urged me to take oranges and drink from her hose. There had been radio reports that residents were charging a dollar for a drink of water, and she was outraged. “We’re not that kind of people,” she said.

John Sousa remembers families on the lawn flashing peace signs and, amazingly, police doing it, too. “It was the first reassuring element,” he said. Others would follow: A farmer who milked his cows and gave away milk, and hoses that ran constantly.

Six or so abreast, we streamed up a country road lined with streetwise types quietly muttering the menu, “Acid, hash, grass . . . Owsley acid . . . Afghani, gold weed . . . sunshine, blotter . . . red Colombian . . . Vietnamese . . . Thai stick.”

(“New Yorkers,” says David Del Bonis disgustedly. “Hard-core New York City people came up and that’s where all the drugs came from.”)

We exchanged sidelong glances. The dealers were being discreet only in the volume of their voices. The police were directing traffic, discussing crowd control, returning peace signs, accepting flowers, smiling and being polite.

We weren’t in Richard Nixon’s America anymore.

Colors on top of a mountain

Blue and brown were the colors of Woodstock. Blue jeans and sky, tanned skin and mud and bare stage.

Coming up the road and over the hill behind the stage, the first view of the festival field was stunning. Many of our brains could not process what our eyes saw.

The hillside was seething with moving bumps as far as I could see. Cheryl Godek Curran saw colors on top of a mountain. We each asked our friends, “What’s that?”

“That” was rows of densely packed heads stretching to the horizon.

How many of us? The respectable conservative estimate is 400,000. Ty Davis, who was at both Watkins Glen (which officially drew between 600,000 and 650,000) and at Woodstock, says Woodstock was bigger. There was no way to know. Little festivals were going on wherever the traffic stopped. Some people who never heard a note report having a wonderful time.

To Phil Kukielski, it was like “walking onto the set of a Fellini film. I had a sense of what the world would be like if it were run by people 18 to 25.”

Freedom in the air

The concert that came to be called Woodstock began a few minutes after 5 p.m. Friday, August 15, 1969. Black folksinger Richie Havens was tapped, simply because he was available and no other bands were. Woodstock Ventures had rented every helicopter they could book, but the ferrying process was way behind schedule. When the helicopter came for Havens, he was the only performer available who didn’t come with complex equipment that would demand a time-consuming sound check. Havens’s acoustic guitar set could be the sound check for the evening.

The crowd, growing by the minute, was happy it was finally underway. There had been a false start earlier when Swami Satchananda took the stage and talked about peace, but that had merely been the invocation.

Havens sang every song he knew, including Here Comes The Sun and The Universal Soldier, which drew cheers from this group who were facing a test of their core philosophy: make love, not war. Then he made up Freedom, the song on the album, on the spot, because he felt freedom in the air, and nobody was ready to follow him. Woodstock, the concert, was off to a fine start.

‘What’s it spell?’

Country Joe McDonald was near the stage when Havens came off. McDonald’s band, The Fish, wasn’t around, but Michael Lang asked him to kill time with an acoustic set. What happened next is one of the few Woodstock moments everybody who was there remembers. Everybody. It was called the Fish Cheer.

After a lackluster 20 minutes, Country Joe (nobody called him McDonald) was dying out there. With nothing to lose, he called out, “Give me an F. . .”

Well trained by football cheerleaders, the crowd came to its feet and followed along through four letters that don’t spell fish.

Then “What’s it spell? . . . What’s it spell? . . . What’s it spell? . . . What’s it spell? . . . What’s it spell? . . . What’s it spell?”

“Country Joe, like Abbie Hoffman, seemed to understand we had a tendency to take ourselves too seriously,” said Jim Edwards.

Chris Heinzmann recalls, “Half a million people didn’t say that word in public at the same time.”

John Sousa, a member of the Rhode Island National Guard at the time, remembers, “It felt great. I felt free. The F word is horrifying for some people to hear. This was freedom of speech.”

Besides, “The F word was common in basic training.”

With the sound of the liberated word still vibrating in the air, Country Joe segued right into the catchy little ditty called I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag. The audience picked it up, singing along and dancing merrily. It was fun.

If there’s a collective memory for our deathbeds, a song that took permanent root in the consciousness of a generation, this is it. This ditty became the de facto anthem of Woodstock:

. . . Now come on mothers throughout the land

Pack your boys off to Vietnam
Come on fathers, don’t hesitate
Send your sons off before it’s too late
Be the first one on your block
to have your boy come home in a box

And it’s one, two, three,
what are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam
And it’s five, six, seven,
open up the pearly gates,

Well, there ain’t no time to wonder why
Whoopee! We’re all gonna die

The cheers and whistles rocked the night. For a moment, time had stopped for me. I was stunned. Looking around in midchorus, I realized that some of these joyous, vital young men around me would indeed come home in a box, as had so many before them. The horror of war usually brings the message home, but war had never seemed so senseless to me as at that lighthearted, macabre moment.

Country Joe soon found it hard to get bookings, perhaps because booking him was not only political, the Fish Cheer might be part of the package. The IRS audited him. He suspected his phone was tapped. His career stalled. He had become identified with one song that summed up an era people would soon try to forget.

The veteran whose Woodstock performance is burned in our brains says he never said they wouldn’t fight; he just wanted to know – and still does – “What are we fighting for?”

John Sebastian followed Country Joe. He had just left the Lovin’ Spoonful – the San Francisco band that sang “The magic’s in the music and the music’s in me” – but was not booked for Woodstock. He had just come to hear the show, but couldn’t resist the chance to play this crowd, despite having just swallowed God knows what chemical compound. He wore tie-dye from head to toe, and sounded spaced out and hokey – hippie-dippie – to me. But Cheryl Godek Curran felt the combination of Country Joe and John Sebastian left the crowd feeling unified against the war.

Tim Hardin, who wrote If I Were a Carpenter and Reason to Believe, seemed too fragile for this population. I liked his songs, but he played a disappointing set.

Chris DeLuca especially wanted to hear the Incredible String Band, a Scottish band whose work is described as avant-garde folk. They had played at Newport, opened for for Judy Collins and Tom Paxton, and were riding a crest after a lovely album entitled The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter.

But “the audience was unresponsive to them,” says a disappointed DeLuca, who heard rude comments about their performance in his neighborhood.

Nobody seems to remember Bert Sommer, a folksinger who had been in the Broadway musical Hair, which introduced the notions of the Age of Aquarius and hippie nudity to the masses in 1968.


The long road to the stage passed by a pond full of unself-conscious skinny-dippers. Most of this multitude of middle-class kids had never seen groups of people of both sexes take their clothes off together. It was apparent that we were about to examine our taboos.

Most of the nudity that so shocked the older generation about Woodstock came as a result of being mud-crusted and ripe-smelling, hot and miserable. Bathing in their birthday suits became, for many, the lesser evil.

Several people we talked to volunteered that they were among the nude bathers. But the 1980s, like the 1880s, are Victorian enough that we present their comments without attribution, to spare them both their good names and obscene phone calls.

* “I remember going swimming, washing up. I took my clothes off to wash up and cool off. No one watched. Everyone did things at their own pace,” said one woman.

* “I was taking a bath. That’s all it was. I would rather be nude than dirty,” said a practical man.

* “I was naked, or maybe wore just underpants. I felt completely at ease – as if skinny-dipping with best friends. I didn’t feel I was naked among half a million strangers. It was truly wonderful.”

* One festival worker had been standing all day in the hot sun, and was getting sunstroke. She was ordered by a festival honcho to get cooled off.

* “You took your clothes off and went in the pond because you didn’t want to get your clothes totally wet. That was basically the nudity, except for isolated incidents. When the sun came out, some women took their blouses off, but it wasn’t craziness. We didn’t even pay attention to it. It didn’t mean anything.”

Although it seemed important to passers-by to be nonchalant, different things were going on inside them.

“I didn’t see anybody getting intimate together, but I did see a little bit of nudity,” Chris Heinzmann says. “Being 14, I thought it was great. I wasn’t gonna take off my clothes, but I thought it was neat. There weren’t that many people doing it.”

Phil Kukielski wasn’t shocked. “It wasn’t lewd. There was a gentle, nonpredatory ambiance to it,” he recalls. “It was a celebration, an expression of being comfortable enough to take off your clothes without embarrassment, like brothers and sisters.”

Susan Vogler saw some bare-breasted women, and remembers walking over people making love. “I was embarrassed, but I thought ‘Good for them.’ I couldn’t do it but look at them – that’s what everything was about. Be free, don’t worry about what the future brings.”

John Haerry’s first response was, ” ‘Wow, naked women]’ But after a while,” he says, “it was ‘Hey, nice pond, chuck your clothes and go swimming.’ “

Al Puerini says he “felt like a voyeur. We’d look in amazement, shake our heads and say ‘This is unbelievable.’ They were totally self-unconscious.”

John Sousa remembers “one guy doing cartwheels in the nude all the way down to the stage.” His was perhaps the only way to get all the way from the back of the crowd to front, and quickly, too. He was roundly cheered.

‘Friendly people’

All this freedom didn’t really lead to “Why don’t we do it in the road?” It depended on who you were, how old you were and with whom you had come.

Certainly, lovers who had been intimate at home probably found a way to be so at Woodstock, but without a tent, it wasn’t easy. Maybe on the West Coast people were freer, but making love in the mud surrounded by a half-million people trying not to step on you was not most people’s idea of a good time.

Joe Landry was 29. He spent a lot of time at Woodstock with the people from New Mexico’s Hog Farm Commune, who were older and much less conventional than the college students still living at home. David DelBonis, who also hung out at the Hog Farm, said “The Hog Farm people were totally outrageous. They were in another universe.”

“There was a lot of love going on,” says Landry.

But “free love” didn’t mean a free lunch.

“I got turned down by more women at that time,” DelBonis chuckles. “I don’t think the ’60s were as wild as everyone thought they were. People made easier attractions, maybe. I never thought of it as a sexual revolution.”

Mike Kaprielian, who was 19, says, “I went to Woodstock a virgin, and I left a virgin.”

“It wasn’t the type of environment that was conducive to forming really close personal bonds,” said John Haerry. “A lot of people came with a group they were hanging out with, and they tended to stay together and keep an eye on each other. Other contacts were just ships passing in the night.”

People were constantly roaming, all day, all night. “Everyone was so friendly to each other. It was a constant movement of people, hooking up with a group of people for a while, sharing with them, then moving on,” says Dena Quilici.

Cheri Light remembers, “There was never a pass the whole weekend, not even a suggestion of it. Men walked up and talked to me, but it was just friendly people making conversation.”

A soaking

Friday night, Woodstock almost felt like a pretty normal outdoor concert. Jim Edwards remembers actually buying a hamburger (from an ad hoc group of New Yorkers misnamed Food For Love who, the day before the concert, threatened to pull out unless they could keep all their profits, and threatened the promoters enough that they called in the FBI. By Saturday, their staff was trading burgers for anything useful, then giving them away.)

Then it began to rain hard during Ravi Shankar’s set. Phil Kukielski, who had come with his future wife just for “folk night,” was holding a wool blanket over their heads as an umbrella. As the rain soaked in, “The blanket got heavier and the smell of wet wool got stronger, to the point of misery,” he remembers.

The rains whipped for about 15 minutes, and then died. The concert resumed, with everyone wet and a mountain chill in the air.

Then Arlo Guthrie came on, and his cheerful good humor changed the vibes. He goofed on how many freaks there were, on how the New York Thruway was closed – something most of us didn’t know. We were unaware of the million or so people trying desperately to get to the exact spot where we shivered miserably.

“Arlo made the crowd totally relax. It was like, ‘Thank God, he’s funny, we can relax.’ If all those people ran, you knew you’d get trampled,” said Dena Quilici.

Troubles went away

“All those troubles kind of went away once you just settled down and started listening to the music,” Ty Davis says.

Sweetwater came and went, leaving no mark on the memory of anyone we spoke with.

About midnight, Kukielski, who lived not far away in Newburgh, N.Y., left the festival. During the long walk to his car, the mud sucked his shoes off his feet. He drove barefoot, taking whatever passable road seemed to lead away from the site.

He pulled into a field and slept in the car with his girlfriend under an airplane beacon that revolved all night with a bright white light, and went home in the morning. After hearing the news reports, his parents hadn’t expected to see him for days.

A new kind of freedom

The only real taboo at Woodstock was violence. Hundreds of thousands of people roaming the woods at night could have meant real trouble.

Despite an atmosphere which John Haerry describes as “The only rule was that there were no rules other than what people established for themselves,” there was no real trouble. The announcers, the bands, all said “We’re in this together. It’s up to us to make it work.”

“You knew you really had to cooperate with the people next to you,” says Dena Quilici.

Kathleen McDevitt remembers, “It was a little bit frightening to have such freedom, like another world where you could do anything, say anything, be anyone, nobody would stop you. It was hard on all of us having that much freedom, it could have gone the other way and been really dangerous. The balance was unnerving, and everybody at the end said, ‘We did it.’ “

“It would be so embarrassing to (be violent) in a sheer crowd that was obviously enjoying itself and full of good feelings. There was a feeling that you were among a select group of people who could gather in such huge numbers without any problems,” said Stephen Shechtman. “We probably thought that half a million of our parents couldn’t get together and do as good a job with it.”

“I knew something could go wrong, but I didn’t feel that it would, same Chris Heinzmann, and about a dozen others.

Points of light

From the stage, announcer John Morris asked us each to light a match, just so we could see how many of us there were. At first, the response was slow but then little lights appeared, far, far away, and we began to get the idea. The cynicism faded. Your light was a gift to everybody else, and marked your place in the big picture. All along the hillside and into the woods as far as you could see were tiny fires.

Michael Craper lit his match and just watched in awe. “I had never seen anything like it,” he reports. “I was mesmerized for about an hour.”

Melanie was on stage next, and and all this incendiary business went on during her set. She later wrote a song about Woodstock called Candles in the Rain, and audiences lit matches whenever she sang it. Now, flicking one’s Bic is a polite way to request an encore.

Joan Baez finished it all off, pregnant and sweet.

Dawn Jabari-Zhou had earlier met someone who knew of an empty chicken coop she and her friends could sleep in. They followed him into the woods, where there was an abandoned coop that didn’t smell. Rain poured in. She rolled her bag out on a plank that was probably a former chicken roost. “Back then, we trusted each other completely,” she says.

Woodstock, Day One, was over.

Bid goodnight from the stage with a solemn reminder that the person next to us was our brother, hundreds of thousands of wet, tired people crept off to the woods, under or into vans, or stayed on the field, sleeping where they had roosted.

Tens of thousands of others, too keyed up to sleep, milled all night by firelight. This convention of the unconventional had just begun.

There were easily 500,000 points of light in Woodstock Nation that night.

By Sheila Lennon. Source.

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