While there are plenty of celebrities openly touting their affinity for cannabis, even when it was still illegal, there have been many other marijuana enthusiasts in every possible field – from politics (including several of our US presidents who engaged in the delights of the greenery for medical and recreational reasons) to scientists and artists.
It’s easy enough to dig up some clever quotes by known stoners like Snoop Dogg (“I’m not smoking any more… but I ain’t smoking any less”) and Bob Marley (“When you smoke the herb, it reveals you to yourself”), but it is equally important and valuable to hear from other voices from the past: well known names in the sciences and arts.
All of these personages were born between 1901 and 1934, so they were clearly exposed to and lived during the times we like to call the Days of Reefer Gladness. The times may have changed by a century or so, but rest assured the positive attitudes towards marijuana still ring true and strong!
Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, Jazz Musician (1901 – 1971)
We’ll start with an easy one. Anyone who ever saw jazz trumpet player Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong (aka “Pops”) perform or interviewed on film should be able to know he used and loved marijuana just by looking at him and hearing him talk: Pops always had the biggest fattest smile pasted across his face, an infectious smile which got everyone around him smiling and chuckling, and when he spoke, he had one of the most gravelly voices you ever hear, as if he smoked a handful of blunts each and every day.
Rumor is it that he did like his pot rolled up like blunts, and he smoked regularly throughout each day. As he once told a good friend, “It makes you feel good, man, makes you forget all the bad things that happen to a Negro. It makes you feel wanted, and when you’re with another tea smoker, it makes you feel a special kinship.”
A popular story, which may or may not be true, has Richard Nixon (when he was Vice President) unknowingly smuggling in 3 pounds of pot for Pops on a return trip from a Jamaica gig he just finished. A big fan, Nixon asked if he could carry Satchmo’s horn case, which he had stuffed with pot. Pops kindly obliged!
As to its legality, Satchmo said “It really puzzles me to see marijuana connected with narcotics dope and all of that stuff. It is a thousand times better than whiskey. It is an assistant and a friend.”
Finally, here is a clip of Pops, talking about being high, getting high, and maybe getting even higher! And you will see that trademark grin and hear that gravelly voice.
Francis Crick, Scientist (1916 – 2004)
This British molecular biologist, biophysicist, and neuroscientist co-authored (in 1953 with James Watson) the academic paper which proposed the double helix structure of the DNA molecule. In other words, he discovered what DNA is and what it does. Clearly, something which could easily arise from a stoned mind, although there is no proof. What did end up occurring was a rumor which arose up only 8 days after his death claiming Crick made a deathbed confession that he regularly took small doses of LSD and used marijuana when conceiving and working on the DNA idea with Watson.
While no quotes by Crick concerning LSD or cannabis can be found (we attribute this to his being a classic tight-lipped British scientist), he was a great fan of Aldous Huxley. He was also a strong supporter of the Society Of Mental Awareness (SOMA), a cannabis reform group to which Huxley and other supporters of decriminalization and sensible use of cannabis belonged.
Most of all, we like the idea that perhaps, just maybe, a little THC helped uncover DNA…
Norman Mailer, Author (1923 -2007)
This tough man of all seasons, known as a novelist, journalist, essayist, playwright, filmmaker, actor, and liberal political activist, author of the famous works The Naked and the Dead and The Executioner’s Song, had a reputation of living hard and fast. For instance, in talking about preparing for writing, Mailer said, “I usually need a can of beer to prime me.”
That being said, it seems that Mailer had a higher and different regard for cannabis. Consider this quote: “One’s condition on marijuana is always existential. One can feel the importance of each moment and how it is changing.” Those two sentences hold much truth and give us much to ponder and consider.
William F. Buckley, Jr., Conservative Intellectual Author and Commentator (1925 -2008)
Included in our list is one very staunch conservative, known for founding and hosting the long-running (1,504 episodes over 33 years!) Firing Line, an American public affairs show, and coupled with his disdain of anything liberal, William F. Buckley, Jr. That being stated, he was unwilling to condemn marijuana usage, instead condemning an unfair system, as indicated by this quote: “Marijuana never kicks down your door in the middle of the night. Marijuana never locks up sick and dying people, does not suppress medical research, does not peek in bedroom windows. Even if one takes every reefer madness allegation of the prohibitionists at face value, marijuana prohibition has done far more harm to far more people than marijuana ever could.”
At one point, Buckley even sailed his yacht beyond the official United States border off the Pacific Ocean so he could try pot himself without breaking the law. His conclusion: he couldn’t see what everyone was making such a big deal about, as he was not very impressed. (Our conclusion: he got some real low quality pot to try, with little to no THC content!)
False, sensationalist propaganda didn’t deter him from admitting the stark truth about a plant (not a drug!) for which he didn’t personally care but knew was neither dangerous nor addictive: “The amount of money and of legal energy being given to prosecute hundreds of thousands of Americans who are caught with a few ounces of marijuana in their jeans simply makes no sense —the kindest way to put it. A sterner way to put it is that it is an outrage, an imposition on basic civil liberties and on the reasonable expenditure of social energy.”
Well stated, William!
Allen Ginsberg, Beat Poet (1926 – 1997)
One of the founders of the Beat Generation (along with Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs), Ginsburg (best known for Howl, his collection of beat poetry) was influential before the “hippie” era and the “newly discovered” enchantments of cannabis. As an artist, perhaps Ginsburg liked to party with the rest of them, but it didn’t inhibit his ability to take advantage of the creative juices unleashed whenever he partook of the herb, as is evidenced by the following quote…
“Marijuana is a useful catalyst for specific optical and aural aesthetic perceptions. I apprehended the structure of certain pieces of jazz and classical music in a new manner under the influence of marijuana, and these apprehensions have remained valid in years of normal consciousness.”
Yeah, Allen, pot helps you think and see things in a whole new light, often with enduring insights and consequences.
Carl Sagan, Scientist (1934 – 1996)
Calling Carl Sagan a scientist is the shortest way to describe this genius who was an astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, and astrobiologist who authored over two dozen books (such as The Dragons of Eden and Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space) as well as the creator and original host of the popular Cosmos series (with accompanying book).
As if often the case with personalities associated with “serious” institutions such as science and medicine in the last century, showing any interest, much less enthusiasm, for cannabis was discouraged. Even so, Sagan did make a few comments during his lifetime which indicated his approval of the plant, without necessarily placing himself in a controversial spotlight.
For instance, his statement that “The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps to produce serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world” clearly shows his direct experience of the benefits which billions of humans around the world and across the centuries of time have also enjoyed using cannabis.
This quote sounds exactly like something a brilliant scientist would imagine after having a joint or two… “It would be wryly interesting if in human history the cultivation of marijuana led generally to invention of agriculture, and thereby civilization.”
Come to think about it, Carl may be onto something. First-time partakers of cannabis often find themselves suffering from an acute case of munchies; imagining the first high humans thinking of a system for growing goodies to eat to accompany their cannabis buzz is entirely plausible!
“Dope” is Not for Brainy People… But Marijuana Is!
As you can see, Richard Nixon’s anti-drug campaign (which tossed cannabis into the same basket as heroin, amphetamines, and other addictive manufactured drugs) titled “Why do you think they call it dope?” was stupid. Demonizing cannabis and spreading false information as a form of scare tactic always backfires after someone actually tries that “devil weed” and realizes they were being lied to.
Take it from the intelligence, creative, and popular personalities above who endorsed cannabis (or at least condemned its politicization and criminalization): it is completely unrelated to addictive drugs and alcoholic concoctions responsible for thousands of deaths each year.
Perhaps Bill Murray, popular movie star and beloved comedian, stated it best when he said, “I find it quite ironic that the most dangerous thing about weed is getting caught with it.”
Finally, even that danger is slowly diminishing!