Sometimes it takes a while to get off the wrong road.
In this case, it’s been more than 80 years.
It all started back around 1930 when day by day it was becoming ever clearer that America’s Noble Experiment was going down the drain.
The brewing public sentiment for repeal of prohibition was coming to a head and Prohibition Commissioner Harry J. Anslinger realized if he didn’t find something new to prohibit real soon, he’d be soon out of a job.
In a fit of genius, he hit upon marijuana. Other than a few Mexicans and jazz musicians, nobody much used it so he could gin up a whole national crusade without much annoyance to the good white burghers who invariably ran the show.
He definitely hit upon something, and Harry hung onto his job for more than 30 years after making himself the first generalissimo in the government’s war on drugs.
But almost from the beginning there were folks beginning to think Anslinger and his compatriots were playing the rest of the country for dopes. As early as 1939, New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia appointed a commission to investigate the effects of marijuana use. The commission reported back that cannabis was neither addictive in itself nor did its use lead to the use of narcotics or other drugs.
Instead of reefer madness, the country was confronted with reefer mildness — not that the government was paying any attention.
But apparently we were curious as to what all the fuss was about. Folks started surreptitiously puffing on clumsily hand rolled joints filled with whatever vegetable matter the shadowy figure at the backdoor of the neighborhood’s least reputable saloon sold them.
By 1962, cannabis had worked its way into mainstream American culture far enough for sci-fi author Philip K. Dick to include Land-0-Smiles marijuana cigarettes in his alternate history novel, “The Man in the High Castle.”
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It took a few years longer for those smiles to make it to Houston County, but before the Johnson administration was out even in Caledonia, grass was more than something to mow and the pot wasn’t something to pee in.
We’d light up after school down in Smitty’s basement where the cat box and a fusillade of smoldering Old Gold’s gave a modicum of cover. It was the ultimate forbidden pleasure, a felony sentence might have been a high price for a mediocre high, but to my recollection, nobody ever got busted.
Heading off to Winona State things went on pretty much the same … the ritual stuffing of towels under the door, incense lit and the occasional cheap cigar clouding the already stuffy air in Prentiss Hall. Still, way more guys got busted for illegal beer than daring to defy Harry’s prohibition.
After a while though, I guess most of us sort of lost interest.
Some developed a taste for good Scotch, others quite accurately figured it easier to explain away the social aftermath of a DWI than have to ‘fess up to a misdemeanor charge of possession of a small amount of marijuana.
Oh, we’d enjoy the rare occasional bowl if the opportunity presented, but as time passed, fewer and fewer happened to still know somebody who knew somebody who had a reliable supply of good weed.
Then Colorado happened. “The Man in the High Castle” was streaming on Amazon, and any Tom, Dick or Heinrich could stroll into a pot shop in Denver and pick up marijuana easy as buying a beer.
And lo, the republic did not collapse. The world did not end. Nobody’s even cared enough to check if Harry Anslinger is really spinning in his grave.
Sales of Taco Bell and Chips Ahoy were up, but that’s about it. How better an indication of how small a big deal legal pot has become than when Gov. Tim Walz — U.S. Army Master Sergeant, high school teacher and football coach — is telling legislators to get their acts together to make Minnesota Ditch available over-the-counter with a cut going to the state treasury.
Yeah, there are a few GOP no-funskis, still on the lookout for someone, somewhere about to have a good time and ready, willing and eager to put a stop to it — but it’s just a matter of time.
Meanwhile, stuff a towel under the door, light up the incense and book a flight to Denver.