the column of lasting insignificance...
I HAVE WRITTEN many essays about marihuana over the years, most recently bemoaning the cruelty of the ignorant martinets who insist that no matter how much anyone is suffering, or how near death they might be, there is no way they should be allowed to alleviate their agony with medical marihuana. Although I don’t normally advocate harm for anybody, I can’t help but wish that the late-in-life cancer suffering of such people should be as painful as possible. And that, of course, includes the nine men in black, who are apparently above the law.
Considering how many thousands of years the benevolent herb has been smoked and the millions of people in all ranks of society—and that definitely includes judges, police chiefs, university professors and politicians—who favor it today, I am constantly surprised by the ignorance that it still spouted about the benevolent herb. I have never made any secret of the fact that I smoked it regularly for 20 years and that I regarded it as a boon to society.
Dope smokers don’t become pugnacious trouble-makers like aggressive drunks; dope smokers don’t show indifference towards the plight of their fellow-humans; dope smokers are, in general, more attuned to a laid-back society, are invariably in less of a hurry. Admittedly there are exceptions, but the very act of smoking in company is one of tolerance and sharing.
Pot was to become a significant part of the impending youth revolution, corresponding to the black flag of anarchy in the way that it rallied the troops. Even if it began as an act of defiance, it soon became the one thing shared by all sectors of the anti-establishment throughout the Western world. There wasn’t any underground newspaper that I visited—Zurich, Rome, Amsterdam, London, Paris, to name but a few—where I wasn’t invited to share a friendly joint, just as we had shared pictures and stories. So it might seem contradictory that it’s not something I recommend for minors, my reasoning being that most young people don’t know when to stop. One of our truisms in those days was that the difference between a New York smoker and a California smoker was that we New Yorkers finished our day’s work before we turned on whereas our West Coast counterparts might reach for a joint before they got out of bed, and when it comes to dope, teenagers tend to be more like Californians.
The fact that I smoke rarely today is not in any way a rejection of the culture but rather the fact that as far back as the Seventies I was using the mode of being stoned as a way to think through problems, to come up with answers. Today, sadly, pretty much my only problems are physical ones which marihuana can’t cure—loss of hearing, diminished sight, disappearing teeth, random aches and pains. It happens to all of us, folks, although doubtless some may still find grass/boo/dope/pot—oh, the hundreds of nicknames!—a consolation for such diminution of their faculties.
One of my earliest pieces on the subject of marihuana, was written as far back as August 1964, for Paul Krassner's The Realist, employing the self-interview technique I have used many times since.
How did you get started smoking pot?
For many years I knew pot smokers who offered me joints but I was always too frightened to accept; I had all kinds of fears of what happened if you took so much as one drag. I thought that it was the first step to being a helpless junkie and as long as I didn't take that first step I would be immune. Then one day somebody doing research into the conscious-ness-changing drugs with Professor Tim Leary at Harvard offered me some psilocybin to be taken under supervision and with the proviso that I answer the questionnaire about its effects on me. My three-hour experience that afternoon changed the course of my life because it taught me there were things in my mind--as presumably in everybody's mind--that I had avoided thinking about, possibly through fear. I learned that the best way to handle fearful fantasies is to face up to them when they turn out to be not so fearful after all. My mind having been opened to that extent I was then willing to experiment with pot.
Are you ever afraid when you smoke pot?
Afraid of what?
I don't know; perhaps of completely losing touch with yourself
Well, as long as you are thinking rationally about what you are doing, you are aware of what is happening to you. No matter how high I get on pot, I always have the anchor of reality. I can always say to myself, 'Wow, I feel high and groovy but sooner or later this will wear off and I'll return to my normal state.
Aren't you afraid you'll start taking other drugs?
I think there is a great deal of misunderstanding about drugs. There are drugs which are addictive (ie, by their nature they change the chemical structure of your body so that to feel comfortable it is necessary for your body to have a regular supply of them) and there are drugs which are non-addictive which, for the purposes of this argument, we'll say act something like alcohol (ie, they make you feel good on the occasions you take them but the choice of whether or not to take them is entirely up to you). Anybody who doesn't want to be addicted--and I can't imagine any rational human being wanting to be addicted--will not take such drugs. I have been smoking pot for five years and I have never tried addicting drugs nor do I want to.
What are examples of addicting and non-addicting drugs?
The evidence is all in the medical records. Addicting drugs include cocaine, heroin, morphine, possibly amphetamines and others. Non-addicting drugs include psilocybin, mescalin, LSD and marihuana.
If these non-addicting drugs are harmless, why are we taught to fear them?
Some people are afraid of anything. The one thing that is common to all fears is a lack of knowledge about the thing we're afraid of. The emotive word 'drugs' has been used as a catch-all for every kind of substance that one can ingest. Marihuana, as one example, has been included with all kinds of really dangerous drugs, presumably for administrative purposes by the narcotics bureau. It makes no sense to me that in this particular country at this particular time in history somebody can be sent to jail for smoking something that he's grown in his own garden. Particularly in view of the fact that in many countries--Morocco is but one--kif, their version of marihuana, has been smoked apparently without any ill effects for at least one thousand years. There, alcohol is against the religion and contrary to local habits, at least partly on the basis that it is physically damaging to the human body, a belief that almost any medical expert in any country will substantiate.
If marihuana is not damaging, why is it illegal?
Well, the mere fact that something is illegal does not mean that it is 'wrong'. In some states it is illegal to kiss a girl in the street or make love to your own wife in the privacy of your home in anything other than a socially-accepted position. Laws are often made in response to uninformed public fears, scare campaigns by newspapers, religious and political pressures or the personal fears and prejudices of the legislators. You may remember that alcohol was illegal in this country during one disastrous period in your own lifetime.
Aren't you afraid of getting caught?
If I allowed my fear of what might happen to me to govern my actions I would never cross a street against a red light or leave a car without putting a dime in the parking meter or keep a book out of the library beyond the expiration date or take a woman who's not my wife to a motel or any one of a thousand things the law clearly and equivocally says are wrong.
Why do you smoke?
Why do you drink?
To relax, I suppose.
I smoke for the same reasons many others do. One of those reasons is that not only do I believe alcohol is harmful to me physically but that it also slows my reflexes, clouds my perception, makes me feel sick, dulls my wit--and besides, I don't like the taste of it.
What are some other reasons?
Pot is truly relaxing; we have already dealt with that. But it is relaxing in a particularly valuable way, because it teaches us--or has taught me, at least-- that there is more than one way of looking at things. I firmly believe that the average person finds it very difficult to stop being subjective. Everything that happens around him he evaluates on how it affects him personally. Usually he will be incapable of looking at a situation objectively as if he were not involved. With pot this objectivity is more easily obtained. I have discussed this aspect of pot smoking with numerous other smokers and it is a viewpoint on which all are substantially in agreement. As a matter of fact, on the rare occasions when more permissive countries have attempted to stop widespread marihuana smoking, it has usually been because the pot-smoking community was so relaxed and uninterested in meaningless work that a lot of it was not getting done. There are more details about this in by Robert S. de Ropp's Drugs and the Mind, a good book for anyone interested in seriously studying the subject.
If pot is so relaxing, how do you get any work done?
When I want to get some work done I just lay off smoking in the same way that somebody would lay off drinking for the same reason.
How often do you smoke?
No schedule....just when I feel like it, assuming I have any around. Just as a drinker takes a drink when in the mood. It might be every day for a week or possibly not at all for six months.
How do you get it?
It's easy enough to grow....in window boxes, flower pots, gardens. It grows as a weed in every country in the world. It doesn't require any special preparation...just grow it and dry the leaves. Some countries produce better pot than others: gange from India, gangia from Jamaica, Panamanian Red. Kif from Morocco makes you sleepy; Mexican pot makes you amiable and very talkative. As to getting it, as long as there is a demand for anything there will always be a supply and apart from individual smugglers (which includes every single person who smokes) many people make a substantial living from bringing it across the Mexican border. Supplies have also started to pour in from the Midwest in recent years,
If it IS illegal and it IS smuggled in, don't you feel you are supporting racketeers by buying it?
I suppose the same question might have seemed eminently reasonable during Prohibition and I'm sure that people would have given the same answer: that they did not recognize the right of non-drinkers to prevent them from drinking, and that the racketeers sprang up as a direct result of this curtailment of their freedom. If people believe a law is wrong they will challenge it, ignore it or defy it. And if this artificially-created market spawns outlaws filling the demand it can't blamed on those who didn't want the prohibition in the first place.
Do you think there's any possibility of this law ever being changed?
I think history has proved the absolute certainty that every law is eventually changed as legislators catch up with public opinion. There was a time when pot smokers formed a very tiny minority. They may still be a minority but it is no longer tiny. Everybody I know smokes pot. And this includes people in almost every walk of life and every social and economic level. Britain's most influential medical journal, The Lancet, recently editorialized that maybe the time had come to examine whether the question of legalizing marihuana should not be seriously considered. But then Britain's attitude towards drug addiction and drugs in general has always been more enlightened than our own. Over here we treat addicts by criminalizing them; over there they treat addicts by trying to cure them.
How much does pot cost?
Naturally, it varies according to where you are but in New York one ounce will retail for about $20. This means that it is one ounce of dried leaves, stems and seeds which has to be cleaned ('manicured', in the terminology) because seeds and stems cannot be smoked. When cleaned, this one ounce may yield 30 or 40 very thin cigarets although these days many have taken to smoking it in pipes. In Southern California, nearer to this country's major source of supply, Mexico, prices tend to be lower balanced by the fact that the penalties for possession are higher in California than in New York. This, of course, affects the market price. In Mexico a kilo will cost you $40; in Tangiers, $15; in Paris it is usually sold in $2 packets which, incidentally comes from Algiers and is very strong.
How is it smuggled or brought in through customs?
People driving from Mexico have tried all kinds of tricks, most of which are now familiar to border officials. who tend to search very carefully these days, especially where young people are concerned. Smugglers have stuffed spare tires, filled hubcaps, packed the oil filters, crammed it down inside the door frame, hidden it under floor mats, even carried it in brown paper bags in their purses. I tend to agree with The Lancet which suggested that more and more the younger generation is turning to pot while the older generation sticks to alcohol. But back to smuggling....I have known people who have had their cars towed across the border, ostensibly broken down but actually packed with pot.
How do you feel when you are high?
Well, I feel happy without pot. Why do you need it?
Because I'm happier with it. I don't need candy or kisses but I'm happier with them.
You say you smoke pot because it is very relaxing and it makes you more objective. How long does the effect last?
The relaxed feeling for a couple of hours and as long afterwards as I continue to smoke it. The objectivity for the rest of my life.
You mean you think it does, somehow, have a permanent effect?
I think that anything that teaches you more about yourself, and by extension about other people, must have permanent effects. And I can only say that my life has been happier, more productive (or 'efficient' if you prefer) since I began to smoke. You could maintain that these improvements are part of the normal process of maturing in which case I can only add that obviously pot hasn't retarded the process.
What about the other people you know who smoke pot. Do they also feel the same way?
A cross-section of pot-smokers would be like a cross-section of any other group. There are people who are strong, others who are weak; who are brave and who are frightened (although for the very reason that they have been willing to try it they are less frightened than those who haven't). And so people who smoke pot react in much the same way as those who drink liquor. Some get more neurotic and more excited and sometimes more frightened than before. Others get more amiable, more constructive, less inhibited and more loving. Some, it is true, begin to develop a neurotic, psychological dependence on pot, so that increasingly they feel unable to face life without it. I would guess that the percentage of pot smokers who get this way is roughly equivalent to the percentage of drinkers who turn into alcoholics.
Are you able to work when you're high?
If I knew I was planning to work I wouldn't get high, but if I was high and decided to do some work, I would be able to snap out of it sufficiently to do whatever was necessary, Marihuana is a very mild drug and no matter how high you are, you are able to talk and think rationally if you want to. The alternative is also open to you: to sit back or lie back and just let your thoughts wander; in essence to dig what exists without worrying about it.
Does pot make you sexually aggressive?
There's a lot of misunderstanding about the effect of pot on what we will euphemistically call the sexual mechanism. It has been widely touted as an aphrodisiac and there have been allegations that those high on pot are going to run amuck. In actual fact, pot has a tendency to improve any existing circumstances that are good and magnify any circumstances that are bad. It does not act as a sexual stimulant except insofar as to lessen one's inhibitions in the same way as might the effects of alcohol. However, if you are in a sexual situation when you are high it will greatly enhance that situation. the reason why this is so, I believe, is because pot has a capacity to suspend one's judgment of time so that the passage of a few seconds or a few minutes can seem so much longer. If you are high and there is no particular reason why you should be thinking of sex, the fact that you are high will not bring the thoughts into your mind.
You have mentioned your feeling when high on pot in relation to two areas: work and sex. But with other pleasurable sensations, say eating something you like, what is the effect?
In general, pot acts as a kind of magnifying glass on all the senses. There have been times when I have been high and hungry, because one of its inevitable effects is that it sharpens the appetite, and on these occasions food tastes even better than usual. My theory is that people tend to ignore or deaden at least some of their five senses and that pot facilitates the appreciation of these senses. As an example, you might be taking a hot bubble bath when you can feel the comforting warmth and slipperiness of the water on your skin even as you savor the aroma and hear the tiny bubbles bursting in your ear. Here's a near-perfect combination of three senses simultaneously; and if bubbles were edible you'd have a fourth.
What actually happens physically when you smoke pot?
Well, obviously like alcohol it must get into the bloodstream and head straight for the brain. But whereas alcohol seems to incapacitate the body, at least in some way by slowing the reflexes or something, that hasn't been my experience with pot. Its effects are usually short-lived, with no after effects and no hangovers.
You've given all sorts of advantages for smoking pot. What are the disadvantages?
The main disadvantage is that it is against the law, which means there will always be some busybody who wants to make trouble for somebody who smokes it. To my mind, the way to overcome this disadvantage is very simple: discover some harmless chemical in which marihuana can be smoked but which will not change its effect but will remove its incriminating smell. If it can be done with pipe tobacco....There's no way for anybody to recognize with surety that a pot smoker is high if the smoker doesn't want them to know. The symptoms are similar to those of alcohol, without the debilitating effects of the latter, and even some of the terminology --such as the word 'high'--is interchangeable. The second disadvantage is that pot does affect the time sense which means that your judgment might well be impaired if you are handling machinery or driving a car or doing anything in which a good sense of time is important to your safety. But then there are always nutcases who drive cars and operate machinery when they're drunk.... the third disadvantage might so be tagged by society at large but hardly by the pot smoker. I refer to the effect that pot has on the smoker's eagerness to work. When he's high he's less compulsive; he doesn't think it is as important as he might have done when he wasn't high. In my personal view this attitude should be fostered rather than discouraged. Compulsive people are a drag, not only to themselves but to everybody else.
What's the medical verdict on pot?
According to the politicians not enough is known. After all in some countries people have only been smoking it for a couple of thousand years and it rarely occurred to anybody to issue medical opinions on the subject. Of course, this may be for the same reason that nobody writes medical treatises about wine made from nettles or on all those herb remedies which tradition has proved cure things as efficiently as some of the equally unverified modern drugs which are foisted on the public, Multimillion dollar corporations whose alleged motives are to improve the human condition but whose real motives are to make profits have been known to make fatal mistakes as was seen with the Thalidomide scandal. It is possible, I suppose, that a harmless little weed that grows in everybody's garden might over a long period of time be harmful to the human body. It is possible but nobody has proven it. What they have proved is that another plant, processed commercially in vast quantities every year, is a deadly poison that kills thousands of people. That plant, poisonous as it is, is legally sanctioned by every country in the world. Its name is tobacco.
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- Complete column archives: 2006 - present
— From the archives... The religion of Violence & Statistics, otherwise known as college football; WPA II; Would it be called Indiastan or Pakindia?; Who you Gonna call? Crime Predictors; Being a Bank means you never having to say you're sorry; Oil vs. Democracy, and of course, the Wilcock Web...
— From the archives... The Mother of All Family Feuds, Otaku Means Geek in Japanese, Affirmative Action or 'It all depends on who you know', The Moonies are packin', and of course, the Wilcock Web......
— Dear Reader,
— Dear Readers...
— John Wilcock ... Marijuana, the symbolic center of the underground society
— John Wilcock ... From the Archives: Cuba Diary—Havana, April 2011
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Nineteen (continued)--Travels
— John Wilcock ... From the Archives: When you vote, don’t forget the Republican Paradox
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eighteen--The Quest for Magic: Around Europe by VW bus;
Regarding armchair travelers;
Pisa's Leaning Tower;
The magical Alhambra
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Seventeen (continued)--London's Magical library;
In the Cannes
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Seventeen--The Sorcerer's Apprentice
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Sixteen--JW'S Secret Diary (continued)
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Sixteen--JW'S Secret Diary
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Fourteen (Part Two--Manhattan phone book, JW'S Secret Diary
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Fourteen--Party Circuit
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Thirteen--Figaro Diary, part two, Soho Saturday
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Thirteen--Figaro Diary, part one, Soho Saturday
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Twelve (continued)--Traveling with Nomad; SoHo Confidential
— John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Chapter Nine (continued)--Rip Torn on stardom… Robert Mitchum's gift; London: Julian Beck’s critique; Emmett Grogan and the Diggers; Greece: The Junta, Charlotte Rampling, and art hero Daniel Spoerri
— John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Chapter Nine--Bob Dylan in the Village, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, Richard Neville and OZ, What Does London Need Most?, The International Times
— John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eight (continued)--Japan: a working honeymoon;
The Shinjuku Sutra
— John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eight--Art Kunkin's LA Free Press; In LA with Hunter Thompson, Lenny Bruce; Visit by Warhol; Hakim Jamal plays god; The San Francisco 'Be-In'; Underground papers meet
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Six (continued)--Tom Forcade: smuggler supreme; That pathetic drug czar
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Six—The weed that changed the world--Confessions of a pot smoker
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Four—Into the '60s--London's underground press; Jean-Jacques Lebel burns US flag; Everybody's friend: Jim Haynes; Lenny Bruce and the kitchen tapes
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Three--The Village Voice (continued) --Lasting insignificance: the 3-dot column, ECHO and Larry Adler, Woody Allen plays classic nerd, A sample Village Square column
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Two--Steve Allen derides TV columnist; Marlene Dietrich--glamorous grandmother
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter One--Chatting with Marilyn Monroe
— Manhattan Memories: Introduction.
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February 12, 2015
It was the first handwritten letter I'd received in 5 years. Or maybe 10. Signed by John Wilcock, a man I'd never heard of, and postmarked Ojai, Calif., it was waiting for me when I returned from my São Paulo-to-New York summer trip. Mr. Wilcock wrote that he had been an assistant editor at The Times Travel section back in the 1950s, and had written the first editions of “Mexico on $5 a Day,” “Greece on $5 a Day” and “Japan on $5 a Day” for Arthur Frommer in the 1960s.
By George, I thought. This man was the original Frugal Traveler.
Forty years ago the second of my three books about magic was published, A Guide to Occult Britain (Sidgwick & Jackson) covering a wide range of sites from Stonehenge to Loch Ness and King Arthur country to the witches of Pendle Hill. It is now available as an eBook on amazon.com.
"A GOOD WAY to describe John Wilcock is to say that he is a talented bohemian counter-culture journalist who once played a major role in the emergence of America’s underground press. Born 1927 in Sheffield, England, he left school aged 16 to work on various newspapers in England, and on Toronto periodicals before moving to New York City. There in 1955 he became one of the five founders of the Village Voice in which he and co-founder Norman Mailer wrote weekly columns. Wilcock called his column “The Village Square”, an intended pun. He and young Mailer were not quite friends, although Wilcock was at times annoyed, but always amused, by Mailer’s monstrous ego."
-From the preface of Manhattan Memories, by Martin Gardner