Features & Columns

E Cannabis Unum

Activist, yippie, comedian and author Paul Krassner has seen it all, but pot hypocrisy persists
THE GODFATHER: Paul Krassner became a legend for his subversive writing style and illustrations such as this. People magazine called him the "Father of the underground press," which led to his demand for a paternity test.

There were more than 400 authors at the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. The participants ranged from the late Rodney King (whose videotaped severe beating 20 years ago by sadistic police officers resulted in a riot that caused more than 50 deaths and devastating destruction) to Judy Blume (her books for children and adults have sold more than 80 million copies) to T.C. Boyle (the author of more than 20 novels).

There was a panel titled "E Cannabis Unum." This event served as one more step toward the decriminalizing of marijuana being accepted by the mass media and mainstream culture as the logical and humane thing to do.

The panelists were Mark Haskell Smith, author of Heart of Dankness: Underground Botanists, Outlaw Farmers, and the Race for the Cannabis Cup; Heather Donahue, an actress who has written a memoir, Growgirl: How My Life After The Blair Witch Project Went to Pot; and me, the editor of a collection, Pot Stories for the Soul, which includes true tales by Ken Kesey, Hunter Thompson, Michelle Phillips, Wavy Gravy and Jack Herer among others, with an introduction by the prolific science-fiction author Harlan Ellison.

That collection was published by HIGH TIMES Books in 1999. It won the Firecracker Alternative Book Award and later became a Quality Paperback Book Club selection. Now a new, expanded and updated edition will be published by Soft Skull Press in June. The attorneys for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series had originally sent a "cease and desist" warning. Although scientists and theologians alike agree that, while the soul cannot be located, apparently it can be copyrighted.

So the sequel, Acid Trips for the Soul, was retitled Acid Trips for the Mind, but the distributor insisted that it be changed to Psychedelic Trips for the Mind. The second sequel, Magic Mushrooms for the Soul, was retitled Magic Mushrooms for the Body, but then I changed that to Magic Mushrooms and Other Highs: From Toad Slime to Ecstasy.

I sent a copy of Magic Mushrooms and Other Highs to my friend the jailed activist Todd McCormick, who wrote two articles for that book, but the warden rejected it "because on pages 259261, it describes the process of squeezing toads to obtain illicit substances which could be detrimental to the security, good order and discipline of the institution."

This was pure theater of cruelty. Federal correctional facilities do not have a toad problem, and outside accomplices have not been catapulting loads of toads over barbed wire fences to provide the fuel for a prison riot.

The panel I was on was moderated by Dean Kuipers, an editor and writer at the Times, and the author of Burning Rainbow Farm. He called on me first. I told the audience that if they looked under their seats, they would find a little baggie. Several optimists actually looked. It was my Oprah moment.

"The priorities are insane," I said. "Tobacco is legal, and it kills twelve hundred people every day, in this country alone. Whereas, marijuana is not legal, and the worst thing it can do is give you the blind munchies that lead you to raid your neighbor's refrigerator. My position is, as long as any government can arbitrarily decide which drugs are legal and which drugs are illegal, then anybody behind bars for a non-violent drug conviction, they are political prisoners.

"I personally found out that pot enhances a nice dinner, it enhances going to a movie, it enhances making love—I even smoke a joint before I roll one, because it enhances the rolling experience. HIGH TIMES once published a questionnaire, and one of the questions was 'Is it possible to smoke too much pot?' And a reader responded, 'I don't understand the question.' I owe my longevity to never taking any legal drugs. Except, a few months ago I took an aspirin. But it was at a party. It was social toking. There was a lot of peer pressure."

A review of the panel in the Times stated:

"Smith held forth on his experiences tagging along with the folks trying to find the world's best weed (an honor that earns one an award called the 'Cannabis Cup') and Donahue described her life as part of a medical marijuana community in Northern California that she refers to as 'Nugget Town.'

"But it was Krassner who, to borrow pot parlance, Bogarted the show. An old hand at working the cannabis crowd for laughs, he rolled quip after quip that had the crowd chucking throughout."

I assume that was a typo, that the reporter meant "chuckling," not "chucking." As in upchucking. On the other hand, there were a few students who did vomit. But it wasn't my fault. I had seen them earlier, chasing toads around the campus, hoping to catch one and lick that slime at 4:20.