The Psychedelic Library Homepage

Books Menu Page

High Culture:

  Marijuana in the Lives of Americans

    by William Novak

      10. Looking Back: When Grass Was Greener

I hope your book will correct the myths that every time one smokes marijuana, one is flown away to some la la land, that one is suddenly attracted to flowers, that one's intelligence is progressively or instantly depleted, that one will try the hard stuff next, that it's wrong.

— a smoker in Michigan


The 1970s

The vast majority of Americans who use marijuana began to do so in the 1960S or 1970S. The actual decade in which a user first turned on is of considerable significance and represents a dividing line between what are now two distinct marijuana-smoking generations, united by an uneasy truce.
    "I think our generation let yours down," a graduate student in her mid-twenties told me, "although you guys were a hard act to follow." Many smokers in their thirties would be quick to agree. They look back nostalgically to a time when, as they see it, marijuana stood for something, whether it was alienation from accepted standards, a spirit of community, freedom, or simply rebellion and mischief. Many smokers are reluctant to let go of the 1960s, which were, as one cynic put it, "too beautiful to live, too profitable to die." Mark recalls:
Our generation was forced to make decisions. It was us against the system, and both sides knew it. We fought against Vietnam, against racism, against repression. The draft was breathing down our necks, and anything we could do to avoid it was all right. We knew we represented a break with what had gone before. We knew we were different, that we would continue to be different. And dope was the glue that held the counterculture together.

    In sharp contrast to the sixties smoker, the seventies user tended to be far more casual and relaxed about marijuana. Smoking no longer had to have a meaning; it was simply there, to be enjoyed. Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of the difference between the two generations centers around the bong, a kind of elaborate water pipe with hoses and chambers to insure a cooled and potent smoke. Originally a Thai device from the late seventeenth century, the bong was introduced to American smokers in the early 1970s. It is popular because it is fun and also because it provides a more concentrated smoke that uses up less marijuana than most other methods. Every teenager and college student I interviewed knew what a bong was; even their friends who didn't smoke marijuana were familiar with it. But when I asked the same question of people who had begun smoking during the 1960s, I was frequently met with blank stares. Most of them, including daily smokers, had never even heard of a bong, much less used one. Similarly, the relatively older smokers were far less likely than their younger counterparts to visit headshops and showed less interest in High Times and other drug-oriented publications.
    It is the younger smoker, more affluent, better informed about drugs, and less fearful about being caught, who is responsible for the tremendous growth of the drug paraphernalia industry since 1975. A single issue of High Times in 1978 carried advertisements for the following marijuana-related items: hand-crafted wooden bowls for cleaning marijuana, priced up to $100 each; various kinds of scales to weigh cannabis; devices to detect the bugging of rooms and telephones; playing cards with pictures of marijuana leaves on them; a "Connoisseur's Calendar;" "stash" containers disguised as beer cans; marijuana-leaf jewelry; sterling silver roach-clips; a magazine called Dealer; books on growing marijuana in and out of doors; a special belt for hiding joints; various kinds of bongs and rolling papers; a "hydropot" kit for growing marijuana in water; and a "power hitter" that enables the smoker to inhale a rush of smoke squirted at him from a plastic tube.
    For those who preferred to shop in the comfort of their own homes, there was Ralph Garcia and his "tokerware parties." Garcia operated his New York business as though he were selling Tupperware, holding parties in people's houses to sell everything but the drugs themselves. The person giving the party had to invite at least eight friends, receiving 20 percent of the evening's earnings in return, as well as a complimentary pipe.[1]
    One of the biggest success stories in the paraphernalia business is E-Z Wider rolling papers. The company was founded in 1972 by Burton Rubin, a young smoker who observed that fellow users would inevitably glue together two cigarette rolling papers when making a joint. To make the task less cumbersome, Rubin developed and marketed a wider paper. Today, Robert Burton Associates is an impressive business with offices on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan and a factory in the city's downtown area. In 1978, one of their radio ads won a prestigious Cleo Award. It consisted of a sexy-sounding woman rushing through the following message:
E-Z Wider, the double-width rolling paper, knows that by now a lot of people are used to sticking two little pieces of rolling paper together in order to roll a good smoke, and why not? All you do is pull out two leaves of any ordinary paper, then carefully examine each to determine which pieces are striped with glue. Once you know for sure, take one of the papers and place it on the table. Then, holding the second paper with the thumbs and fingers of both hands, bring the paper to your mouth, stick out your tongue, and in one or two strokes, depending on how dry your mouth is at the time, lick the entire end of the paper, preferably the one which contains the glue. Then quickly reach for the paper you placed on the table earlier, and carefully affix the underside of the paper that you just licked. Be careful to line the papers up correctly before connecting them, and try to avoid excessive overlapping. Then all you have to do is wait for them to dry.

    The voice paused, and then continued at a slower pace:
Of course, now there is another way to do it. Just pull out one E-Z Wider double-width paper and start to roll. That's it. E-Z Wider is double width so you don't have to stick two papers together. The next time you buy papers, ask for the brown and white pack that says, "E-Z Wider, E-Z Wider, E-Z Wider."[2]

    In 1978 E-Z Wider grossed over $7 million. Only 20 percent of the papers are distributed to headshops; the rest are sold in chain stores, like 7-11 and K-Mart.
    More recently, there is Instaroach, which manufactures a rolling paper with a special feature: each sheet has a very thin wire embedded along its length. When the joint is smoked, the heat-resistant stainless steel wire becomes increasingly exposed, and by the time the joint is near the end, the wire turns into a convenient and disposable roach-clip.
    During the late 1970s, the paraphernalia business underwent an enormous growth, enough to support High Times, the slick monthly magazine for drug users, as well as several less successful imitators. At its peak, High Times has claimed an audited circulation of over four hundred thousand copies, and, according to an independent survey, the magazine enjoys an unprecedented "pass-along readership" of 9.4 readers per copy. In this magazine, readers—who are, on the average, fairly affluent young men—can read the latest drug information, including prices of illicit drugs around the world, and news of drug busts at home and abroad. Equally important, they can browse through page after page of colorful paraphernalia advertising.
    "The magazine is not wealthy," one of its founding editors assured me. "We're adequately paid, but we don't have a big budget. Many people assume we must be rich because of all those ads, but we have to adjust our rates to the type of money that these
    advertisers can pay. We're not exactly dealing with Mobil Oil." Asked about the origins of the magazine, he told this story:
High Times was conceived in New York in 1973. A group of us were sitting around one night in the Village, passing around some nitrous oxide. We knew we had a great idea, and that the market was just right. If anything, we were too modest in our vision. We thought it would take several years before we reached the stage we attained in just one year.
    It began with a group of people who had a common interest: we liked to get high, liked to talk about it, and knew that there was a lot of money involved. Like anything else, the drug industry had to have a medium of communication, and we intended to fill that gap.
    We have our finger on the pulse of the drug consciousness in this country as it develops, and of course we help to develop it. There are millions of people out there who have lacked a magazine, a spokesman, a voice. That's what we give them. We have various interests, but we concentrate on drugs the way Playboy concentrates on sex.
    I think High Times fills a gap left by Rolling Stone when they became a big publication. They used to be the bad boys, but that period is over. There's a very important need in this country for a bad-boy press.
    But a bad-boy press isn't necessarily a left-wing press. We get a lot of criticism from some quarters for not being political enough, or because we sometimes use sex to sell magazines. And a lot of people confuse our editorial content with our advertising, which is unfortunate.
    We pay a lot of attention to the government, and to the various government agencies which enforce the drug laws. We feel that our readers should understand the thinking of the man who wants to stop them from getting high. Usually, the authorities cooperate with us, even when they come out looking bad, because they have to remain visible, and nobody else is interested in what they do.
    We at High Times are often approached by the straight media when they want information about drugs. Most of the media people who come to us like to get high, but they feel awkward and embarrassed about drugs. We usually give them some help, but we really don't like to be in the business of lending credibility to other people's stories.

    A vital part of the High Times operation was the reporting of A. Craig Copetas, a young man who claims to be the only full-time drug reporter in the country. Copetas traveled widely for the magazine, and it was he who broke the Paraquat story of 1978:
I go out there with a critical eye. I'm there for work, not play. I have to tell our readers what's happening in Mexico, or Colombia, or whatever, because our readers can't be there in person. I don't say, "Oh wow, look at this!" Instead I ask questions: How long has this been going on? How much money is involved? How much are you growing?
    If another war breaks out in the Middle East, you know that I'll be there. During the civil war I went to Lebanon. I wanted to find out what the hell happened to all that hashish! It turned out to be a major consideration, because the Christians were trading hash to the Israelis in return for guns. The deal was consummated in Spain. That's an angle nobody else covered.
    No other publication has realized the vast potential of the drug beat. No newspaper I know of even has a full-time drug reporter; most of them are still covering drugs from the police desk, under the heading "narcotics." It's like where rock music was ten years ago. Then John Rockwell got hired at The New York Times, and suddenly rock found a place in respectable journalism. It changed the whole image. With drugs, it's just a matter of time before the same thing occurs.

    The world represented by High Times and by the paraphernalia industry remains foreign to many of the sixties smokers. Some are uncomfortable that drugs have become so visible. "It bothers me to drive to work and see high school kids smoking openly on the streets," says a stockbroker who has been smoking marijuana since 1966. Sixties smokers are more concerned with paranoia than paraphernalia, and they still recall a time when marijuana represented excitement and danger, when schools like Stony Brook carried an air of intrigue, when the "B" colleges (Buffalo, Brandeis, Bennington, and Berkeley) and the "weird three" (Antioch, Goddard, and Bard) were as well known for drugs as for their academic achievements.
    Sixties smokers look back to a time when, as they see it, marijuana involved a commitment to a countercultural way of life, and they lament its growing commercialism. "To get high used to be a beautiful thing," complains Sarah. "People would give you dope. Nobody would dream of making money on it. Now, it's just one more part of the capitalist system."
    A college teacher in his mid-thirties, who has been smoking for fifteen years, had a group of students over to his house one evening. The students asked if it was all right if they smoked, and he nodded his assent. Seeing that he was happy to join them, one wide-eyed sophomore came up and said, "I didn't know that you did this. You ought to try it for sex sometime." The teacher nodded. "Good idea," he muttered incredulously.
    Sarah and Mark have a problem with marijuana that they never had in the 1960s. Their four-year-old son enjoys playing with the rolling papers and pretending he is smoking a joint. They are afraid that the youngster may go into his "marijuana act" the next time his grandparents are visiting, which could lead to awkward problems.
    When recalled through the glow of nostalgia, the sixties take on a special quality. A journalist recalls that "grass used to taste purple back then," that it had a flavor of pioneering and excitement. He recalls a time when he and his friends "actually believed that marijuana was good for you." They don't believe it any longer. Sixties smokers are often critical of younger users who smoke marijuana as a substitute for alcohol, not for enhancement or growth but for intoxication.
    The younger smokers, for their part, are proud of their relationship to the drug. A college student from Minnesota describes a "bag night," an evening whose entire purpose is for a group of friends to come together to smoke as much marijuana as they possibly can. This student's older brother is not impressed: "5hthen we got stoned," he notes, "people used to talk about what it was like. Do that today and you'll just get a lot of weird looks."
    People who began smoking in the early 1960s were daredevils and risk-takers who became annoyed over marijuana's popularity later in the decade. Perhaps because it was centered in the universities, smoking during the middle 1960s was an elitist experience. "Initially," says drug researcher Lance Christie, "drugs were a means of taking a Hero's journey. A student who bought into the drug culture in 1965 was buying into an elitist high-performance group." One of those students, now a veteran smoker, describes the change:
Dope has become the psychedelic movement made safe for mass consumption, like rock concerts on TV, underground FM cleaned up for AM listeners, or condominiums replacing communes. Vanguards are always more real than what follows in their wake.

    For their part, younger smokers insist that the environment surrounding the use of marijuana is now healthier than it used to be, since the drug has been demystified and desanctified to the point where today it is almost free from the old attitudes of fear and paranoia. The seventies smokers enjoy their own nostalgia, as portrayed in this story from a suburban high school student about a young man known simply as "Fish":
Fish had done everything, he had been everywhere. He was really into grass, and parties. He was always carrying a bong, usually a fancy one with many chambers. He was known for his bongs.
    The thing about Fish is that he was always getting high, always getting other people high. When you asked them why they were hanging around, they would tell you that Fish was coming by later that evening. People would cheer him as he came, and say, "All right, Fish, all right." He even had a bong with a mask on it. There was something magnetic about Fish that drew people to him, and he was a genuinely nice person as well.
    Fish brought people happiness through his bong. At every party, Fish would be there, and he was known in the school just like the quarterback on the football team, and the captain of the debating team.
    Fish was always there, with those great bongs of his. God knows where he got them. And he always had good stuff too.


The 1960s

A decade earlier, there were few equivalents to Fish; marijuana was a more clandestine activity. For many, smoking was essentially a political act, as one former student radical explains:
Dope expressed us, and we all knew it without anyone's having to say so. It made us know we were outlaws in the eyes of America, which was quite a shock for us middle-class kids. And they wanted to put us in jail just for smoking it! And not only that, but we realized that it wasn't even the marijuana they hated so much. It was the high.

    As liberated as the 1960s may have seemed at the time, they seem almost quaint compared with today. For example, a government pamphlet published in 1965 warned: "It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the smoking of marijuana is a dangerous first step on the road which usually leads to enslavement by heroin." This document, published by the Bureau of Narcotics, went on to warn young people that they might be offered a marijuana cigarette, and that "then somebody usually already addicted makes it easy to try heroin." The pamphlet concluded: "Never let anyone persuade you to smoke even one marijuana cigarette. It is pure poison."
    But it was too late. By 1965 the first headshops had sprung up (both San Francisco and Toronto have claimed to be the site of this historical first), and the drug culture developed and spread with amazing speed. The popularity of marijuana reached a new peak in 1967 with the release of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which featured marijuana plants on the cover. John Lennon sang, "I'd love to turn you on," and Ringo crooned, "I get high with a little help from my friends."
    There are various theories to explain why the sixties provided the setting for the sudden growth of recreational drugs; the reasons include the new sexual freedom, the war in Vietnam with its resulting political alienation, and even the growing ascendancy of television. Whatever the cause, marijuana was soon a household word. By 1969, many smokers knew enough to prefer good grass to mediocre weed, and this rise in standards, which coincided with a stricter patrolling of the Mexican border, drove prices sharply higher. At the same time, the cultural changes had occurred so quickly that many smokers retained private doubts about the effects of marijuana on their health, even as they publicly mocked antipot propaganda.
    In the 1960s, marijuana smokers were likely to be male college students who were politically active. At first, small groups of students would gather furtively to smoke together; later, smokers would begin to use marijuana in connection with other activities, as they do now. Almost everybody who began smoking between 1965 and 1970 remembers frequent periods of giggling, a phenomenon that disappeared, for the most part, early in the 1970s. Perhaps the giggling was a reflection of nervousness, or the new and radical shock of an altered state of consciousness, or the thrill of a communal illegal act. Perhaps it represented the incongruity of one's becoming a drug user, or perhaps it was the sheer fun of getting stoned with one's friends.
    Marijuana culture during the sixties enjoyed special trappings such as strobe lights, underground "comix," psychedelic poster art, black lights, candles, flavored rolling papers, and incense—whose main purpose was to mask the smell of the smoke. There were many drug-related songs, such as "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" ("everybody must get stoned"), "Eight Miles High," "Mr. Tambourine Man," "A Little Help from My Friends," "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," "I Can't Get High," "Purple Haze," "Mother's Little Helper," "White Rabbit," "Along Comes Mary," "One Toke Over the Line"; even "Puff the Magic Dragon" was widely believed to be about taking a puff—a magic drag—on a marijuana cigarette.
    Users in the 1960s often smoked marijuana in a fairly elaborate social ritual. Smoking frequently took place while the participants were seated in a circle, perhaps on cushions on the floor. The room would be darkened, and great attention would be paid to the physical aspects of rolling the joint, passing it around, and the mechanics of retaining the smoke in the lungs. Male users would sometimes compete to see who could hold the smoke for the longest time, and who could hold onto the shortest roach. The doors would be locked, the shades drawn, and the windows closed. A towel might be crammed under the door to prevent escaping smoke from giving the users away. One joint or two at most were usually enough for a small group, and it was rare to see more than one joint being passed around at a time.[3]
    "R., the dope connoisseur" from High Times, suggests that the reason for the change in sensibility between the sixties and the seventies might be linked to the shift in the source of marijuana smoked in America, which was from Mexico in the sixties and early seventies, from Colombia in the late seventies:
Think about it. Compare the raw, fresh crackling energy of the Mexican dope in the Sixties with the more powerful but often immobilizing Colombian dope of the Seventies. Through the eyes of Mexican, the ways of the world as it was back then seemed too ridiculously fraudulent, too silly, to withstand an assault of activists. Could it be that, through the eyes of Colombian, the ways of the world appear too stunning and entrancing, too seductive to resist? Certainly that is the characteristic Seventies response: static, stunned entrancement.[4]

    Just as the sixties smokers look back nostalgically to their early days of marijuana use, so too the fifties smokers are equally fond of nostalgia, as this jazz musician recalls:
I smoked dope all through the 1950s, when it was still a disgrace. Actually, I was smoking it even before it was a disgrace. In those days, grass was truly illegal. People did get into trouble and go to jail, people you knew.
    As for quality, forget it. The only way you could really get high was to smoke hash, and hash appeared in Chicago only about once a year. So you hardly ever really got stoned. We didn't speak of dynamite grass in those days, mostly because there wasn't any. Really bad grass we called "lemonade." You could smoke it forever and you wouldn't get high.
    We measured it differently. We bought it in nine-ounce cans, Prince Albert Tobacco cans. It was about fifteen dollars for half a can, I think. Terms like nickel and dime bag were from the heroin world; we didn't use those words.
    Even in the jazz world, you were pretty secretive about dope. You pulled down the shades before smoking. Once, when I was new to the stuff, I went out on the streets to score some grass with a friend of mine. We went downtown and decided to ask the first black guy who walked by. This poor old black man comes walking up to us, and we ask him, "Hey man, can we score any pot?" He blinked a few times, and looked at us. "What, sir, you want to buy a pot?"
    That was a good lesson, and from then on we stayed in the music world whenever we wanted to buy any.



No account of marijuana use in the United States during the 1960S can fail to take Vietnam into account. At least half of the American forces in Southeast Asia sampled the local product, and this included large numbers of men from all classes and backgrounds. Vietnamese marijuana was potent, cheap, and almost unbelievably accessible.
    A Vietnamese veteran who was a machine-gunner recalls that when he arrived in Vietnam in 1969, he had already spent some time in countercultural activities. He had tried marijuana before joining the army, but was totally unprepared for its wide and almost continual use among American troops. "Even in combat situations and on week-long patrols in the jungle we smoked pot several times a day," he recalls, adding that men stationed in offices, air bases, and other stationary positions tended to use harder drugs. When the front-line troops moved back into safer areas for short respites, or for medical or dental care, they would indulge in "o-jays," marijuana cigarettes treated with opium.
    One veteran recalls that he and his friends believed that marijuana was actually influencing the course of the war:
We knew that stoned soldiers were not aggressive, alert, and effective soldiers, and because we opposed the war in a way that nobody but a grunt could experience, we used to say that smoking dope was a political statement. It was a passive-aggressive way of slowing down the war by slowing down our bodies with an indigenous (both to us and to the country we were in) plant. It also made our lives more tolerable. We enjoyed the idea that by getting high we were frustrating the President, Westmoreland, and all those warmongers in the rear. The lifers were reduced to headshaking disbelief as their troops walked around all day in a marijuana haze.[5]

    Men who served in Vietnam recall how they would buy a plastic bag, the size of a pillowcase, full of marijuana, and hire young boys to roll it into joints. In addition, it was possible to purchase Salem 100s from the local PX; the tobacco would be removed from the cigarettes and replaced with marijuana. Then the package was resealed to appear brand new. A package of nineteen cigarettes was sold for two dollars. A soldier could also request a package of marijuana cigarettes treated with liquid opium, at a slight premium.
    Apparently, the drug culture among American soldiers in Vietnam was helped along by the Armed Forces Radio Network, which used double entendres so obvious that only the most ignorant officers could miss them. For example, an announcer describing air traffic reports called himself "Parker Lane, the flying traffic cop"; prerolled joints were sold under the name "Park Lanes." A disc jockey might say that "the pigs are running in the streets," which meant that the military police were searching for drugs. The drug culture was so strong in Vietnam that according to one veteran, the divisions between users and nonusers caused more tension than did race.
    The following quotation is from a letter sent by a Vietnam veteran:
The Vietnamese didn't think much of pot, and called it "con sai" or "dinky dow," the latter phrase meaning crazy in Vietnamese slang. Old retired men could smoke pot, and that was tolerated, but not young people who were supposed to be working. Still, an old man who smoked pot or opium was considered like a wino would be back home, a pathetic old fool, one of life's losers.
    Of course, this Vietnamese attitude did not fit well with those ex-college-student American grunts who smoked dope as a counterculture protest, and to get high in a way they considered superior to beer or whiskey or wine. But I never saw a VN smoke pot, although I heard that VN soldiers did and once I found a VC cache which contained some marijuana, which surprised us because we had never heard of the enemy smoking pot in the field as we did. I think some VC smoked pot to prepare for a suicidal attack on an American camp or air base.
    Another interesting point about pot in Vietnam is that many grunts from the Deep South or from rural areas had no experience with pot before getting to Nam, but became regular smokers there. Do they smoke pot now at home? Has this made the American public more tolerant of pot?
    I also wonder if the sexual experience of grunts and other GIs in Nam under the influence of pot has carried over after they got home. We considered pot a way of making whores less distasteful. Do these men smoke before fucking their wives and girlfriends? I know I never fuck without first smoking a joint, even though my girlfriend has never tried pot.
    Red Cross girls, who were universally called Donut Dollies in Nam, were usually tall, blond, beautiful women, between twenty-one and thirty, straight out of Middle American campuses. They smoked pot often when they weren't working as high-priced call girls for the officers in their air-conditioned mobile quarters at various camps and air bases. I know this because I often sold them pot as an enlisted man assigned to serve as a perimeter guard around their barbed-wire compound at night. This caused some loud arguments some nights when whiskey-filled officers would walk from the bar across the dirt road into their trailers for a fuck and would yell at the girls for filling the trailers full of pot smoke. I listened to several good fights between Donut Dollies and majors and colonels about pot.
    Sometimes these women would be sent out to entertain the troops at very small, temporary fire bases in the afternoon. The straighter ones would be puzzled to find the audience of grunts sitting on the ground in a circle, prepared to play some silly game like Concentration. Most of us would be so stoned that we could only play their games very slowly. I remember hearing one Red Cross girl explain to another not to mind our inane behavior because we were stoned. The new girl was incredulous and angry, and said she was going to report this to her general, but the older girl convinced her to forget it because the problem was universal, and the generals were well aware of it. Even Bob Hope was reduced to making jokes about pot in his shows, and any antipot jokes cost him a lot of booing. I was one of the louder booers at one show he gave in Cu Chi during the Christmas week of 1969.

    A letter from another veteran tells a very different part of the story. In March 1971, while assigned to the forward command headquarters of the Laotian incursion, this man wandered to the edge of the base:
It was then that I heard the sound of voices coming from the thicket beyond what was a normal place for the troops. In trepidation I inched closer to what I first suspected to be a Vietcong camp. When I got close enough I heard the Grateful Dead's "Casey Jones" broadcast on 600, the North Vietnamese radio station. As I got closer, I yelled, "I'm an American," and I saw the six U.S. Army soldiers going for their M-16s.
    They proceeded to pass me a pipe. I smoked their dope as we sat inside the sandbagged bunker every night while I was stationed there. The weed was so good that we used to lay on top of the bunkers near the helipads staring into space.
    Although I had done mescaline prior to my trip across the pond, I had never tasted weed before this. At first I would sit inside the bunker, a candle burning, listening to American radicals and English-speaking Vietnamese Communists between the popular songs. At night the NCOs and officers were always too drunk to notice that we were wasted, or they just plain did not care. In a week's time I was sitting inside the General Officers' Club shortly after they left, smoking from pound bags of herb, watching the latest flicks from the U.S.A., totally blown out with other GIs.
    During the day I stuffed my tropical fatigues' pockets with the finest smoke available. One friend of mine would fill up a large-size Tide detergent box for me as I sat in his tent listening to Rare Earth crank out "If I Die" on a tape recorder, while the GIs inside the sweltering tent passed around pipes. Sometimes they would charge me two dollars for this quantity of weed, and sometimes there would be no charge at all.
    A number of guys expressed to me that they wished marijuana was soon to be made legal in the States, and that even those people who opposed the peace and tranquillity we found through smoking grass at war would try it and like it. For many of these guys, that was their last day of life, and their last few moments of peace.


After Vietnam

Officially, of course, drugs have never been and are not now tolerated in the military. In actual fact, the punishment for possession of marijuana depends pretty much on one's commanding officer. Some soldiers, when found with marijuana, go scot-free; others may be locked up for several years and, if they lose their appeal, may end up with a court-martial and a dishonorable discharge.
    Still, marijuana continues to be widely used among American military personnel at home and abroad. An air force officer writes that he "could not have survived the boredom of three years of service had it not been for grass." In 1978, an internal army survey estimated that over two hundred thousand enlisted personnel were using marijuana. This survey, Brig. Gen. John J. Johns told the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control in May 1978, indicated that the use of drugs in the military was less widespread than was originally feared. "The army views its drug abuse problems as serious but not of epidemic proportions," said the general.
    An air force man from the Midwest who had just been appointed class leader tells of opening a door in the barracks and finding a group of new recruits sitting cross-legged against the walls and passing around several joints. "They were just as surprised as I was," he notes, "and the tension in the room became as heavy as the cloud of smoke." He goes on:
I knew it was my responsibility to report this incident, but I felt no moral obligation to do it. On the one hand, I could probably get to be an honor graduate by the process of elimination. But I had no desire to see these kids busted and labeled as criminals for the rest of their lives. On the other hand, I had to do something, or else I would lose control of the situation. "Scoot over," I said, as I took a place against the wall and joined the worldwide fraternity of heads. Thereafter, I had not the slightest trouble out of any of them and received their willing cooperation in the accomplishment of extra duties assigned to our class.

    Currently stationed in Korea, this man reports that marijuana sells there for ten dollars an ounce and that the quality is good. Most of the dealers, he reports, are ex-servicemen who have elected to be discharged overseas. They are allowed to remain in Korea for up to a year, making a small fortune in the drug trade before returning to the United States at government expense.



1. Ralph Garcia: Howard Smith, "Scenes," The Village Voice, 2 January 1978. (back)

2. E-Z Wider ad: Larry Sloman, Reefer Madness, p. 333. (back)

3. This is ironic, since most marijuana is significantly stronger in 1980 than it was in 1970 or 1965. (back)

4. "R.": "Thai: The Dope of the Eighties?" High Times, May 1978, pp. 38-39 (back)

5. Marijuana in Vietnam: Robert J. Lifton, Home From the War: Vietnam Veterans: Neither Victims Nor Executioners (New York, 1974), p. 170. (back)

Chapter 11

Send e-mail to The Psychedelic Library:

The Psychedelic Library | Books Menu Page