CannaTalk – Who Are These “Not Good” People Who Smoke Marijuana? – Show #5 in the series ‘The History of Cannabis in America’
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By TLB Contributing Author & Show Narrator: Eleanor Cooney
What you are being presented with is the last episode in a series created by Eleanor Cooney chronicling the Cannabis story in America over the last century plus. All episodes are linked at the bottom of this presentation.
Do you suppose Jeff Sessions listens to jazz? Yeah, right, sure he does—the way I listen to polka music. Which is to say never.
So who was ex-AG, Jeff Sessions talking about when he declared last year that “good people” don’t smoke marijuana? For starters, he was talking about probably every jazz musician who ever lived. And what is jazz? It’s the very soul of black America, with its origins in the rich, exotic pressure cooker of the deep south—New Orleans, to be exact.
Sessions’ antipathy for cannabis had some serious irony to it. I wonder if he knows that way back in the glory days of the slave-trade, in the 16- and 1700s, European slave traders—the Portuguese and the British, mainly—gave cannabis to slaves in order to pacify them during the not-exactly-Carnival Cruise Lines trip across the Atlantic and to discourage rebellion once they’d arrived to their new lives of perpetual hard labor and serfdom. In other words, the slave-traders, dominant successful “establishment” entrepreneurs of their day, the folks Sessions would most definitely feel a kinship with, were responsible for unleashing the devil weed upon the Americas.
The Brits introduced it to Jamaica, and the Portuguese brought it to Brazil. From Brazil, so the story goes, and it makes sense, it worked its way north to Mexico, coming over our border in the early 20th century along with thousands of Mexicans fleeing the violence of the Mexican Revolution.
Cannabis was already in wide use medicinally in the US, a major component of patent medicines, and not used much recreationally, but with the birth of jazz just a little bit before the era of alcohol prohibition, cannabis as medicine for the mind was the escaped genie that could never, ever be stuffed back into the bottle.
You could say that jazz was the auditory manifestation of the effect of cannabis on the creative mind. No need to even smoke; a listener could get “high” and have his/her mind expanded just from listening to the music. And the music itself, inextricably intertwined with American blackness and so by association in the public mind with all that is societally dangerous, was feared and disparaged by the so-called “guardians” of order and morality. They hated jazz and the way it broke all the rules, both musically and socially, and the way it vectored black creativity and black experience and sensibility into pure unsullied white minds. Lines had been drawn, and jazz danced right over those lines, as unstoppable, and as potent, as pollen in the wind.
It’s funny how quotations from these old-time anti-marijuana warriors sometimes point to exactly what’s best about our favorite plant. A chemist named James Munch, working under Harry Anslinger during the era of aggressive criminalization, came up with an unwitting endorsement that surely recruited some new enthusiasts. He said, and I quote:
“If you are a musician, you are going to play the thing the way it is printed on a sheet. But, if you’re using marijuana, you are going to work in about twice as much music in between the first note and the second note. That’s what made jazz musicians. The idea that they could jazz things up, liven them up, you see.”
In other words, you’re going to improvise, cut loose, let your mind free. Danger! Danger! Ever notice how the first thing any oppressive regime tries is to repress certain types of music? Munch’s quote tells you exactly why. Because music sets you free. And in this case, it was black, marijuana-influenced music setting us free. No wonder they were so—pardon the expression—uptight about it.
Now let’s hear what one of the greatest of jazz greats, Louie Armstrong, had to say:
“It makes you feel good, man. It relaxes you, makes you forget all the bad things that happen to a Negro. It makes you feel wanted, and when you are with another tea smoker it makes you feel a special sense of kinship.”
So, was Jeff Sessions, were you prepared to stand up and declare that Louie Armstrong, Thelonius Monk, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and John Coltrane were not good people? Yeah, you probably would have. Well, then, how about the great French writers Baudelaire, Flaubert and de Balzac, who all used hashish (probably from Morocco or Egypt) to spur the creative muse? Also not good? But of course, all these people are mere writers and musicians, easily dismissed. The arts are always suspect, always expendable, always on the chopping block when far right legislators are in control and looking to cut corners.
Now I’m thinking about people I know personally who smoke marijuana and who could scarcely be construed as dreamy-headed slackers, even by Jeff. One of them is a retired professor of classics and literature at Yale. Another is an M.D. who got her degree from Harvard medical school. Another was the editor-in-chief of one of the best literary magazines in the world. Another is a genius computer programmer. And another is a high-powered criminal lawyer. Also not good people?
The medicinal effects of cannabis are almost too many to count. Here we are in a time when those effects are desperately needed—to assuage the effects of opioid addiction, to soothe chronic pain, to stop convulsions, to stimulate appetite in those enduring the hell of chemotherapy, and on and on—but the Sessions of this world and his ilk are perfectly willing to cut sufferers off from this nearly magic elixir because of obsolete, vicious and absurd lies from what sensible people—I daresay “good” people—know was an era of hardcore racist propaganda.
I have news for you, Jeff:
You are not “good people.”
Watch this informative presentation …
Other Articles in this CannaTalk series – The history of Cannabis in America:
About the Author/Narrator: Eleanor Cooney is a writer and a connoisseur of the absurd, the macabre, the bizarre and subterfuge, but chokes up over “brave dog” stories. She wrote three novels set in T’ang Dynasty China. Her nonfiction memoir DEATH IN SLOW MOTIONwas published by HarperCollins in 2004. She recently completed a novel called THE DEVIL YOU KNOW, a sly, dark, eclectic thriller for literate readers.
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