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My grandfather might not appreciate my sharing this here if he were around, I don’t know. But he passed away nearly three decades ago, and I doubt that if I share this now it will bother him much. If I were able to ask him I would, but unfortunately I’m not able to, and I think this is too important to just keep it quiet.
In 1982 when I was 16 years old and visiting my grandparents, one evening my grandfather had a private conversation with me where he told me with some serious intensity that he was not in favor of marijuana being illegal. He had grown up on a farm and was a fairly conservative man, so I wondered if he was baiting me to see if I would tell him that I was smoking dope or something like that – which I had never even gone near.
This was also during the Reagan years. Just a short time before this I had witnessed a very public arrest of a business owner who was supposed to have been selling cocaine, and police officers had searched through my school with drug dogs to sniff all of our lockers. During that a couple of kids I knew had been taken out of class for a few days and would not talk about it after they came back. As a teenager I was also fairly inexperienced with life in general and felt a bit of fear that he was even expressing such a view. It seemed like you never knew if the authorities might hear us back there in the kitchen, and this might end us up in some sort of serious trouble.
My grandfather then described how there was a time when marijuana had been perfectly legal. He said it grew all over, on a lot of farms and even in the ditches along the public roads. He said in the 1920s his father had a couple of especially nice plants that he took good care of behind their barn, and sometimes when his friends would come over they would take some off them and smoke it in a pipe because they liked it.
I asked him why they didn’t just drink something, like beer or liquor. He responded that alcohol was illegal then, and in any case they wouldn’t have had much money to buy bottles of anything and transport them out to the farms. He went on to describe how the marijuana made him and his friends laugh and giggle, and so they called it “silly weed.”
Then one day they were told that marijuana had been declared illegal by the Government. They did not understand why, because they didn’t see anything wrong with it at all. But his father didn’t want any trouble with the Law, and word could spread real fast among the neighboring farms, so he got rid of the plants behind the barn.
My grandfather said that after this sometimes he and his friends would still meet out at night and take some off the blooms of plants they had found in the public ditches. People kept pulling these plants out of the ditches, though, and over time they became more and more difficult to find. Eventually nearly all of them were gone, although here and there one would still pop up somewhere.
He also told me that he knew many people who continued to smoke it on through the 1930s and ’40s, well after it was illegal, doing so quietly, and that other than being afraid of the law they were otherwise just fine as people. He did not tell me if he was one of those people, and I didn’t think to ask him at the time.
He described how a sort of code smokers of grass used was having a corn cob pipe to distinguish themselves from tobacco pipe smokers. I replied that I thought smoking with a corn cob pipe was more a sign that they didn’t have much money, so that as poor farmers they made their own pipes from what they had. He said no, nearly everyone who smoked had a wooden pipe, and they could easily make their own wooden pipes too. Not anyone wanted to give an appearance of being poor. Having a corn cob pipe took a bit of extra effort, which wasn’t worth it unless they wanted to be giving others a signal. He assured me, if I saw an old black-and-white picture of a guy with a corn cob pipe, he would be having a kind of clever smile because he was in on the secret that he was a weed smoker.
My grandfather said he wanted me to know this because the Government was acting like having anything to do with marijuana was a big crime and something worthy of severe punishment, and he didn’t want me to believe that was the case because it just wasn’t true. He said the law about it was what was wrong, not really the people who had a little bit of grass in a box hidden under their bed. I answered this with that they knew it was illegal, so they knew they were breaking the law. He said yes, that was true, but not to judge them too harshly because I didn’t know their circumstances or their life experience. He asked me to keep that in mind, and I told him I would.
Back then we were keeping this conversation just between us, and over about the next 20 years I only shared it with one other person, even after he passed away in 1986. But now this seems more important to tell than to keep quiet, because now marijuana is legal for adults where I live – and I know my grandfather would very much agree with this development. I also know he would encourage us to keep on going with setting those folks who enjoy a little bit of marijuana free.
This article was first published on the Finding Miss MJ blog. For previous Ladybud Magazine articles about cannabis prohibition, click here.
Photo Credit: Corn cob pipes from MuddyRiverTown U.S.A. located in Washington, MO.