RATHER than radically alter the preceding composition written in 1965 -- let it remain for the reader who has not smoked marijuana a manifestation of marijuana-high thought structure in a mode which intersects our mutual consciousness, namely language -- I wish to add here a few thoughts.
I have spent half a year in Morocco, smoking kif often: old gentlemen & peaceable youths sit amiably, in cafes or under shade trees in outdoor gardens, drinking mint tea, passing the tiny kif pipe, and looking quietly at the sea. This is the true picture of the use of kif in North Africa, exactly the opposite of the lurid stereotype of mad-dog human beings deliberately spread by our Treasury Department police branch. And I set this model of tranquil sensibility beside the tableau of aggravated New York executives sipping whiskey before a 1965 TV set's imagery of drunken American violence covering the world from the highways to Berkeley all the way to the dirt roads of Vietnam.
No one has yet remarked that the suppression of Negro rights, culture, and sensibility in America has been complicated by the marijuana laws. African sects have used pot for divine worship (much as I have described its sacred use in India). And to the extent that jazz has been an adaptation of an African religious form to American context, marijuana has been closely associated with the development of this indigenous American form of chant & prayer. Use of marijuana has always been widespread among the Negro population in this country, and suppression of its use, with constant friction and bludgeoning of the Law, has been a major unconscious, or unmentionable, method of assault on negro Person.
Although most scientific authors who present their reputable evidence for the harmlessness of marijuana make no claim for its surprising usefulness, I do make that claim:
Marijuana is a useful catalyst for specific optical and aural aesthetic perceptions. I apprehended the structure of certain pieces of jazz & classical music in a new manner under the influence of marijuana, and these apprehensions have remained valid in years of normal consciousness. I first discovered how to see Klee's Magic Squares as the painter intended them (as optically three-dimensional space structures) while high on marijuana. I perceived ("dug") for the first time Cezanne's "petit sensation" of space achieved on a two-dimensional canvas (by means of advancing & receding colors, organization of triangles, cubes, etc. as the painter describes in his letters) while looking at The Bathers high on marijuana. And I saw anew many of nature's panoramas & landscapes that I'd stared at blindly without even noticing before; thru the use of marijuana, awe & detail were made conscious. These perceptions are permanent -- any deep aesthetic experience leaves a trace, & an idea of what to look for that can be checked back later. I developed a taste for Crivelli's symmetry; and saw Rembrandt's Polish Rider as a sublime Youth on a Deathly horse for the first time -- saw myself in the rider's face, one might say -- while walking around the Frick Museum high on pot. These are not "hallucinations"; these are deepened perceptions that one might have catalyzed not by pot but by some other natural event (as natural as pot) that changes the mind, such as an intense Love, a death in the family, a sudden clear dusk after rain, or the sight of the neon spectral reality of Times Square one sometimes has after leaving a strange movie. So it's all natural.
At this point it should be revealed for those unaware that most of the major (best and most famous, too) poets, painters, musicians, cineasts, sculptors, actors, singers & publishers in America and England have been smoking marijuana for years and years. I have gotten high with the majority of the dozens of contributors to the Don Allen Anthology of New American Poetry 1940-1960; and in years subsequent to its publication have sat down to coffee and a marijuana cigarette with not a few of the more academic poets of the rival Hall-Pack-Simpson anthology. No art opening in Paris, London, New York, or Wichita at which one may not sniff the incense fumes of marijuana issuing from the ladies' room. Up and down Madison Avenue it is charming old inside knowledge; and in the clacketing vast city rooms of newspapers on both coasts, copyboys and reporters smoke somewhat less marijuana than they take tranquilizers or Benzedrine, but pot begins to rival liquor as a nonmedicinal delight in conversation. Already eight years ago I smoked marijuana with a couple of Narcotics Department plainclothesmen who were trustworthy enough to invite to a literary reception. A full-page paid advertisement in the New York Times, quoting authoritative medical evidence of the harmlessness of marijuana, and signed by a thousand of its most famous smokers, would once and for all break the cultural ice and end once and for all the tyranny of the Treasury Department Narcotics Bureau. For it would only manifest in public what everybody sane in the centers of communication in America knows anyway, an enormous open secret -- that it is time to end Prohibition again. And with it put an end to the gangsterism, police mania, hypocrisy, anxiety, and national stupidity generated by administrative abuse of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.
It should be understood, I believe, that in this area we have been undergoing police-state conditions in America, with characteristic mass brainwashing of the public, persecution & jail, elaborate systems of plainclothes police and police spies and stool pigeons, abuse of constitutional guarantees of privacy of home and person from improper search and seizure. The police prohibition of marijuana (accompanied with the even more obnoxious persecution of sick heroin addicts who all along should have been seeing the doctor) has directly created vast black markets, crime syndicates, crime waves in the cities, and a breakdown of law and order in the State itself. For the courts of large cities are clogged with so-called narcotic crimes and behind schedule, and new laws (such as the recent NY Rockefeller Stop & Frisk & No-Knock) spring up against the citizen to cope with the massive unpopularity of prohibition.
Not only do I propose end of prohibition of marijuana but I propose a total dismantling of the whole cancerous bureaucracy that has perpetrated this historic screw-up on the United States. And not only is it necessary that the Bureau of Narcotics be dismantled & consigned to the wax museum of history, where it belongs, but it is also about time that a full-scale congressional investigation with all the resources of the embattled medical, legal & sociological authorities, who for years have been complaining in vain, should be undertaken to fix the precise responsibility for this vast swindle on the administrative & mass-media shoulders where it belongs. What was the motive & method in perpetrating this insane hoax on public consciousness? Have any laws of malfeasance in public office been violated?
Not only an investigation of how it all happened but some positive remuneration is required for those poor citizens who have been defenseless against beatings, arrest, and anxiety for years -- a minority directly & physically persecuted by the police of cities and states and by agents of the nation; a minority often railroaded to jail by uncomprehending judges for months, for years, for decades; a minority battling idiotic laws, and even then without adequate legal representation for the slim trickery available to the rich to evade such laws. For the inoffensive charming smokers of marijuana who have undergone disgraceful jailings, money is due as compensation. This goes back decades for thousands of people, who, I claim, are among the most sensitive citizens of the nation; and their social place and special honor of character should be rewarded by a society which urgently needs this kind of sensibility where it can be seen in public.
I have long felt that there were political implications to the suppression of marijuana, beyond the obvious revelation (which Burroughs pointed out in Naked Lunch) of the cancerous nature of the marijuana-suppression bureaucracy. When the citizens of this country see that such an old-time, taken-for-granted, flag-waving, reactionary truism of police, press, and law as the "reefer menace" is in fact a creepy hoax, a scarecrow, what will they begin to think of the whole of taken-for-granted public REALITY?
What of other issues filled with the same threatening hysteria? The specter of Communism? Respect for the police and courts? Respect for the Treasury Department? If marijuana is a hoax, what is Money? What is the War in Vietnam? What are the Mass Media?
As I declared at the beginning of this essay, marijuana consciousness shifts attention from stereotyped verbal symbols to "more direct, slower, absorbing, occasionally microscopically minute engagement with sensing phenomena" during the high. Already millions of people have gotten high and looked at the images of their Presidents and governors and representatives on television and seen that all were betraying signs of false character. Or heard the impersonal robot tones of audio newscasters announcing mass deaths in Asia.
It is no wonder that for years the great centers of puritanism of consciousness, blackout & persecution of the subtle vibrations of personal consciousness catalyzed by marijuana have been precisely Moscow and Washington, the centers of the human power war. Fanatical rigid mentality pursuing abstract ideological obsessions make decisions in the right-wing mind of America, pursuing hateful war against a mirror-image of the same "sectarian, dogmatic" ideological mentality in the Communist camp. It is part of the same pattern that both centers of power have the most rigid laws against marijuana. And that marijuana and versions of the African ritual music (folk-rock) are slowly catalyzing anti-ideological consciousness of the new generations on both sides of the Iron Time curtain.
I believe that future generations will have to rely on new faculties of awareness, rather than on the versions of old idea-systems, to cope with the increasing godlike complexity of our planetary civilization, with its overpopulation, its threat of atomic annihilation, its centralized network of abstract word-image communication, its power to leave the earth. A new consciousness, or new awareness, will evolve to meet a changed ecological environment. It has already begun evolving in younger generations from Prague to Calcutta; part of the process is a re-examination of certain heretofore discarded "primitive" devices of communication with Self and Selves. Negro worship rituals have invaded the West via New Orleans and Liverpool in altered but still recognizably functiona1 form. The odd perceptions of Zen, Tibetan Yoga, Mantra Yoga, & indigenous American peyotism and shamanism affect the consciousness of a universal generation, children who can recognize each other by hairstyle, tone of voice, attitude to nature and attitude to Civilization. The airwaves are filled with songs of hitherto unheard-of frankness and beauty.
These then are some of the political or social applications of the public legitimization of marijuana as a catalyst to self-awareness.
A LITTLE ANTHOLOGY OF MARIJUANA FOOTNOTES
The English Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, Editorial, November 9, 1963. "At most of the recent references the question was raised whether the marijuana problem might be abolished by removing the substance from the list of dangerous drugs where it was placed in 1951, and giving it the same social status as alcohol by legalizing its import and consumption.
"This suggestion is worth considering. Besides the undoubted attraction of reducing, for once, the number of crimes that a member of our society can commit, and of allowing the wider spread of something that can give pleasure, a greater revenue would certainly come to the State from taxation than from fines. Additional gains might be the reduction of interracial tension, as well as that between generations; for 'pot' spread from South America to Britain via the United States and the West Indies. Here it has been taken up by the younger members of a society in which alcohol is the inheritance of the more elderly."
Anslinger, Harry J., and Oursler, W. C.: The Murderers (New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1961), p. 38.
"As the Marijuana situation grew worse, I knew action had to be taken to get proper control legislation passed. By 1937, under my direction, the Bureau launched two important steps: First, a legislative plan to seek from congress a new law that would place Marijuana and its distribution directly under federal control. Second, on radio and at major forums, such as that presented annually by the the New York Herald Tribune, I told the story of this evil weed of the fields and river beds and roadsides. I wrote articles for magazines; our agents gave hundreds of lectures to parents, educators, social and civic leaders. In network broadcasts I reported on the growing list of crimes, including murder and rape. I described the nature of Marijuana and its close kinship to hashish. I continued to hammer at the facts.
"I believe we did a thorough job, for the public was alerted, and the laws to protect them were passed, both nationally and at the state level."
"Traffic in Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs," Report by the Government of the United States of America for the Year Ended December 31st, 1938, by Hon. H. J. Anslinger, Commissioner of Narcotics, p. 7.
"The Narcotics Section recognizes the great danger of marihuana due to its definite impairment of the mentality and the fact that its continuous use leads direct to the insane asylum."
The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, Goodman and Gillman, 1956 ed., pp. 170-177: "There are no lasting ill effects from the acute use of marihuana, and fatalities have not been known to occur.... Careful and complete medical and neuropsychiatric examinations of habitues reveal no pathological conditions or disorders of cerebral functions attributable to the drug.... Although habituation occurs, psychic dependence is not as prominent or compelling as in the case of morphine, alcohol, or perhaps even tobacco habituation."
Report of the British East India Hemp Commission, 1893-94, Ch. XIII, pp. 263-264 (Summary of Conclusions regarding effects).
"The Commission has now examined all the evidence before them regarding the effects attributed to hemp drugs.... In regard to the physical effects, the Commission have come to the conclusion that the moderate use of hemp drugs is practically attended by no evil results at all. There may be exceptional cases in which, owing to idiosyncracies of constitution, the drugs in even moderate use may be injurious. There is probably nothing the use of which may not possibly be injurious in cases of exceptional intolerance....
"In respect to the alleged mental effects of the drugs, the Commission have come to the conclusion that the moderate use of hemp drugs produces no injurious effects on the mind....
"In regard to the moral effects of the drugs, the Commission are of the opinion that their moderate use produces no moral injury whatever ... for all practical purposes it may be laid down that there is little or no connection between the use of hemp drugs and crime.
"Viewing the subject generally, it may be added that the moderate use of these drugs is the rule, and that the excessive use is comparatively exceptional."
Panama Canal Zone Governor's Committee, April-December, 1925 (The Military Surgeon, Journal of the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, November, 1933, p. 274).
"After an investigation extending from April 1 to December 1925, the Committee reached the following conclusions: There is no evidence that marihuana as grown here is a 'habit-forming' drug in the sense in which the term is applied to alcohol, opium, cocaine, etc., or that it has any appreciably deleterious influence on the individual using it."
Proceedings, White House Conference on Narcotic and Drug Abuse, September, 1962, State Department Auditorium, Washington, D. C., p. 266: "It is the opinion of the Panel that the hazards of Marijuana per se have been exaggerated and that long criminal sentences imposed on an occasional user or possessor of the drug are in poor social perspective. Although Marijuana has long held the reputation of inciting individuals to commit sexual offenses and other antisocial acts, the evidence is inadequate to substantiate this. Tolerance and physical dependence do not develop and withdrawal does not produce an abstinence syndrome."
James H. Fox, Ph.D., Director, Bureau of Drug Abuse Control, Food and Drug Administration: Statement August 24, 1966, before National Student Association
Subcommittee on Drugs and the Campus. NSA Convention, Urbana, Illinois; Quoted Champaign News-Gazette August 25, 1966.
"My studies have led me to essentially the same conclusion as Mr. Ginsberg's. I think we can now say that marijuana does not lead to degeneration, does not affect the brain cells, is not habit-forming, and does not lead to heroin addiction. I would say that there may very well be some modification in government attitudes towards marijuana."
The Marijuana Problem in the City of New York, by the Mayor's Committee on Marihuana: The Sociological Study, Intro. by Dudley D. Schoenfeld, M.D. Reprinted in The Marihuana Papers. Bobbs-Merrill, New York, 1966.
7. The practice of smoking marihuana does not lead to addiction in the medical sense of the word.
9. The use of marihuana does not lead to morphine or heroin or cocaine addiction, and no effort is made to create a market for these narcotics by stimulating the practice of marihuana smoking.
10. Marihuana is not the determining factor in the commission of major crimes.
13. The publicity concerning the catastrophic effects of marihuana smoking in New York City is unfounded."
Ibid.: Intellectual Functioning, Florence Halpern, MA
6. Indulgence in marihuana does not appear to result in mental deterioration."
Ibid.: Addiction and Tolerance
The evidence available then -- the absence of any compelling urge to use the drug, the absence of any distressing abstinence symptoms, the Statements that no increase in dosage is required to repeat the desired effect in users -- justifies the conclusion that neither true addiction nor tolerance is found in marihuana users. The continuation and the frequency of usage of marihuana, as in the case of many other habit-forming substances, depend on the easily controlled desires for its pleasurable effects."
Ibid. Summary by George B. Wallace, M.D., Chairman
"From the study as a whole, it is concluded that marihuana is not a drug of addiction, comparable to morphine, and that if tolerance is acquired, this is of very limited degree. Furthermore those who have been smoking marihuana for a period of years showed no mental or physical deterioration which may be attributed to the drug.
No evidence was found of an acquired tolerance for the drug.
The sensations desired are pleasurable ones -- a feeling of contentment, inner satisfaction, free play of imagination. Once this stage is reached, the experienced user realizes that with further smoking the pleasurable sensations will be changed to unpleasant ones, and so takes care to avoid this."
Copyright © 1966 by Allen Ginsberg, first printed in The Atlantic Monthly, November 1996, reprinted with the permission of The Wylie Agency, Inc. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; November 1966; The Great Marijuana Hoax; Volume 218, No. 6; pages 104 - 112.