Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ threat to make a run at state-legalized marijuana looks to be the next layover on the long journey to commercial cannabis.
Some would say it’s just another pothole on the road to riches.
In a single lifetime, Americans have advanced — if you choose that term — from being horrified to grudgingly accepting to wildly enthusiastic about the legalization of cannabis.
On several levels it presents the puzzle of the century. Is it the new “wonder drug” for the North Coast economy? Or are we setting our course on the road to deprivation? Either way, you will want to “keep the history” as my late friend and co-conspirator Harvey Hansen liked to advise.
Reading early stories about the early days of the drug culture here is a lot like reading a translation of Dante’s Inferno, so archaic is the language.
Regarding marijuana, “joint” is the operative term, of course, but a somewhat startling series of eight stories in this newspaper in 1970 (titled: “Turn on — to Nothing!”) introduced uninitiated readers to new words, like “narcs” and “tokes” and “roach.”
Taking a lesson from the old-timers, who loved to tell wild tales of Prohibition, we learn that we have to tell the old stories, the ones that remind us of the road that has brought us to this point.
To apply an appropriate lyric: ”What a long, strange trip it’s been.”
Some of these memories are oft told, like the late Lee Gleason’s account from his police department years in the 1940s and ’50s, working for the legendary Chief Dutch Flohr.
“I took a marijuana cigarette off a transient,” he told me in an interview in the ’80s, “and Dutch and I got to thinking about it so we took the seeds to Tony Campiglia at The Flower Shop … We asked him to grow us a couple of marijuana plants.
“When they were 5 or 6 inches high, I took them to a meeting of the Sonoma County Peace Officers Association and passed them around so the fellows would recognize marijuana when they saw it growing. They’d never seen it.”
By the late ’50s the black-clad “beat generation” had come to town, centered around a “coffeehouse” called La Bottega on Santa Rosa Avenue just footsteps from the courthouse. It had burlap wall-coverings and folk music and seemed very suspicious to Flohr, as did an adjoining paperback bookstore called The Annex, which was suspected of selling, among other things, the first copies of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” in the county.
The first “drug bust” in town didn’t come until the early 1960s but, soon enough, pot was front page news, like when several members of the Cotati City Council — Sonoma State students who had been elected in a unique campaign — helped themselves to marijuana that had been gathered in a raid by the Cotati police.
Things moved quickly at the end of the 20th century — too fast for a middle-aged columnist. I came to rely on trusted sources. One of them was a kid, just out of high school and interested in about everything that had happened and was happening in this town.
He prowled the downtown, finding truth in trash bins and poetry in the quiet nights. He also published the first online “zine” here, revealing some of these truths, before leaving town to make music.