One of the first times I smoked marijuana was with Peter Tosh.
It was July 10, 1978, and the co-founder of The Wailers and his band was opening for the Rolling Stones at the St. Paul Civic Center. During “Legalize It,” the title track off Tosh’s 1976 solo album and the first mainstream-produced record to champion the medicinal and spiritual benefits of weed, the 34–year-old native of Westmoreland, Jamaica pulled out a spliff the size of a baguette and lifted it to the heavens. Cheers.
I was 19 years old, a few months older than my son is now. Mick Jagger had just been on stage, doing his bony-assed chicken dance while guest dueting with Tosh on their hopped-up version of the Temptations’ “(Walk And) Don’t Look Back,” so by sheer star power the then mostly unknown reggae legend had the 20,000 rock kids in the palms of his blunt-loving hands.
Singers smoke it
And players of instrument, too
Legalize it, yeah
That’s the best thing you can do
Doctors smoke it, nurses smoke it
Judges smoke it, even the lawyer too
So you’ve got to legalize it, and don’t criticize it
Sporting a floppy red, yellow, and green rasta tam, Tosh stepped to the lip of the stage as the sensual reggae churned behind him, lit up the joint and took a massive hit. Bedlam. As he exhaled, he squatted, leaned down, and in communion handed the big bat down to my brother Jay, with whom I’d camped outside the Civic Center for most of the day and survived a few hours of classic ’70s arena-seating pounding to land our spot in the front row, dead center under Jagger and Tosh’s microphone.
With our brother Terry a couple rows in back of us and ASIA security guard Jesse Ventura holding the line in front of us, Jay lifted the joint into the air, took a hit, and passed it to me. I repeated the ritual, to roars of approval from the throng, and passed it off into the pulsing night.
It’s good for the flu, a-good for asthma
Good for tuberculosis, even umara composis
Every man got to legalize it, don’t criticize it
Legalize it, yeah yeah, and I will advertise it
I thought about all this, and about my own history with smoking weed, as pot became legal in Colorado Jan. 1 and as other states — 20 and counting — prepare to enact similar laws soon. I read, listened, and watched as pundits both vilified and championed pot, and heard theory after theory posited — from pot makes you dumb to pot makes you smart, pot makes you more creative, pot is good, pot is bad, pot makes you less ambitious, pot is fun, pot is boring, pot makes you paranoid, pot is great for depression, anxiety, music, sex, food, pot makes you schizophrenic, pot is a gateway drug, etcetera.
What I know about so-called stoners comes from life experience, not punditry or politics, and to generalize they are some of the kindest, most open-hearted and open-minded people you’d ever care to hang with.
What else I know is that we are not truly a free people if smoking weed is considered a crime — not when guns, alcohol and tobacco are legal — and that if the powers that be who are still patting themselves on the back for legalizing gay marriage and building a taxpayers-funded football stadium for out-of-state billionaires can’t do this work of the people, then Minnesota is hardly the progressive state it likes to bill itself as.
In Minnesota, the land of 10,000 brew pubs, the government sanctions all sorts of potentially dangerous activities, from airlines to fast food to violent entertainment, but its heretofore staunch stance against medical and recreational marijuana suggests a lumbering body in bed with the prohibitionists of yore and a pharmaceutical industry that doesn’t want a populace regularly achieving a consciousness that questions authority, examines ways of being and living, and dares to demand the same liberty and freedoms afforded citizens of other states.
No, I’m not about to join NORML or become a champion of weed-smokers’ rights, but I will say that I know for a fact that many of your neighbors smoke weed, and that one of the last times I smoked was in December inside the Lakewood Cemetery chapel, after a friend lit up at the conclusion of especially poignant funeral, and on Christmas Eve in front of another buddy’s fireplace, when he offered me a hit of his liquid marijuana-spiked e-cig. In both instances, we were criminals and scofflaws, a designation the Minnesota Legislature should take seriously when it reconvenes Feb. 25.
“Dad, how can they do that?” was my son’s response a couple years ago, on our way home from First Avenue, where he and his girlfriend took in a concert by the Los Angeles hip-hop crew Odd Future, who blatantly smoked bags of weed on stage.
The best I could do was explain Minnesota law, tell him that the times are changing, warn him again about the effects of weed on the developing teenage brain, and recount for him my night in St. Paul with Tosh, whose largely unheard 40-year-old message should be ringing out far and wide across Minnesota starting right now.