Donald Trump won the presidential election, but there was another big winner: pot. Now legal in 29 states and D.C., medical marijuana is available to more than half of Americans. But these newfound freedoms are based on state laws; federal law—which treats marijuana the same as heroin—hasn’t changed. The incoming administration may decide to enforce federal laws, leaving vulnerable everyone from growers to smokers.
No matter what happens, we’ve got your back. playboy has been at the forefront of so many social issues (sexual freedoms, civil liberties, equal rights) that it’s no surprise the magazine was ahead of the curve on cannabis too. Founder Hugh Hefner recognized that marijuana, like sex, is an issue located at the intersection of public health, personal freedom and privacy. Naturally, Hef experimented with pot in the 1960s, mainly to enhance sex. Yet playboy‘s take on marijuana has never been simply and solely to advocate a good time. Instead, it has been to inform readers of their rights, to question the criminalization of a useful medical treatment and to present a fair-minded picture of pot and the politics surrounding it. This attitude reached beyond the magazine’s pages; in 1970 the Playboy Foundation donated money to form the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws—a group that still works toward that eponymous goal.
“playboy was the first mass magazine to chronicle the emerging drug culture in a straightforward way,” writes David Standish in The Illustrated History of Playboy. The magazine continues to report on marijuana from every angle imaginable—including what it can mean for your pleasure (see How to Live the High Life). Dip into the playboy archives with us for a mellow hit of the first four decades of our wide-ranging cannabis coverage.
playboy gathers eight jazz players, a music critic, an attorney and a psychologist to talk about music and drugs. Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie (pictured) remarks, “Nowadays every policeman can smell dope three miles away, and the guys are just scared.” Narcotics and the Jazz Musician marks not only the inaugural Playboy Panel but also the beginning of the magazine’s marijuana coverage.
The Prodigal Powers of Pot gives readers an even-handed evaluation of the drug and its history, noting its popularity among artists: “Allen Ginsberg, an outspoken enthusiast of marijuana, said recently that among the younger poets of his own circle, ‘Almost everyone has experimented with it…. It’s all part of their poetic—no, their metaphysical education.’ ”
JULY AND AUGUST 1968
Cartoonist Shel Silverstein travels to San Francisco to report on the free-love scene. He returns with an illustrated report from the “Hashbury” that runs across two issues and includes humorous caricatures of pro-drug locals.
“It is an irony of our time that George Washington would be a criminal today, for he grew hemp at Mount Vernon, and he was not harvesting it for rope,” wrote Dr. Joel Fort in Pot: A -Rational Approach. Fort conducted an extensive inquiry into marijuana, concluding: “Not only is marijuana comparatively harmless on the face of all the evidence but there are even reasons to believe it may be beneficial in some cases. We should not let lingering puritanical prejudices prevent us from investigating these [medical] areas further.”
playboy’s expert panel assesses the “drug revolution.” Writer William S. Burroughs declares, “Cannabis is the least harmful of all the drugs in common use, with the exception of coffee and tea.”
“Right now we’re the biggest financial supporter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, because I think making criminals out of people who smoke marijuana is very damaging to the social fabric of society.”—Hugh Hefner, Playboy Interview
We cover both ends of the marijuana spectrum in a single issue. One extreme finds blissful freedom at an Austin concert extravaganza, Willie Nelson’s Third Annual Independence Day Outdoor Brain Fry, Ball Break and Mixed Doubles Doping, Picking and Trashing Ejacorama. But a Forum report on unjust marijuana laws in Missouri, where a teen with no criminal record was busted for selling a third of an ounce of pot and sentenced to 12 years (that was lenient; the maximum sentence would have been life behind bars), sobers us up.
A helpful Forum report lists countries that have decriminalized pot and those with the harshest penalties for possession. Two months later, a related editorial note appears in Forum: “We receive several letters a week from young jail or prison inmates who are astounded that they are locked up for merely possessing a little pot.”
Our reporter asks, Who’d Profit From Legal Marijuana? The answer: government. “Individual marijuana busts for making a buy or possessing the stuff are not only socially costly, they instantly catapult an otherwise law-abiding person into a criminal role or, worse yet, into a prison cell. Meanwhile, marijuana is a flourishing, multibillion-dollar industry that’s not contributing a nickel in tax revenues. Why not explore an alternate solution—legalization, regulation and taxation?” More than 30 years later, smart state governments are, of course, already pursuing this path; Colorado took in more than $135 million in marijuana tax revenue in 2015.
In The War on Drugs: A Special Report, Laurence Gonzales reveals: “In the early 1970s, the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse undertook the most comprehensive research survey of marijuana ever attempted. The commission ultimately found that, in the words of one of its members, ‘what we have done in this country is create a Drug-Abuse Industrial Complex, a new growth industry that spends more than a billion dollars a year.’”
playboy: What do you do with all that amazing-looking marijuana you use in your movies—send it back to wardrobe?
cheech: No, the crew always steals it. We went through three huge batches on our third movie.
chong: Too bad we don’t have Smell-a-Vision.
“We used to be terrified if we even saw somebody taking a puff on a joint. But now, if you’re a parent, you pray to God that’s all your child is doing is smoking marijuana."—Spike Lee, Playboy Interview
Presidential contender Governor Bill Clinton causes a stir when he admits to trying marijuana—though he says he didn’t inhale. The remarks of the future “playboy president” don’t sit well with our resident gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson, who tells playboy in The Unmaking of the President: “When they asked him about it, he should have told them to crawl back where they came from. ‘What do you mean did I inhale? I inhale everything…it is my business to inhale. I’d die if I didn’t inhale.’ Every intelligent person in this country who ever smoked marijuana would have laughed with him—instead of at him.”
Hef pens Just Say No, an editorial excoriating the drug war begun by Nixon—“It corrupted the entire country and made violence and crime a way of life in America”—and perpetuated by Reagan and Bush. He sympathizes with the many Americans behind bars for minor drug offenses, labeling them “political prisoners.”
In March NORML executive director Keith Stroup testifies before Congress about marijuana laws; seven months later, Forum excerpts his testimony: “The responsible use of marijuana causes no harm to society and should be of no interest to the government in a free society…. The war on drugs has become a war on marijuana smokers.… This is a travesty of justice.”
A doctor and marijuana researcher realizes almost too late that marijuana could ease the pain and nausea of his son suffering from terminal leukemia. In Prescribing the Forbidden Medicine, Lester Grinspoon’s declaration is still relevant today: “[Marijuana’s] Schedule I classification persists—politically entrenched but medically absurd, legally questionable and morally wrong.”
A version of this article appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of playboy.