Saturday, November 14, 2009

#48 - Reefer Madness




It was the decade when...

Pot became a wonder drug.


Have Crohn's Disease? Migraines? Fibromyalgia? Multiple Sclerosis? Arthritis? Hypertension? Insomnia? Urinary Incontinence? Crick in the neck? In fact, do you have any ailment whatsoever? Step right up and try nature's remedy. It goes by many names: Pot, Ganja, Reefer, Weed, Tea, Marijuana, Cannabis. According to many it is nothing less than a panacea for whatever ails you. And it's now legal for medical use in 13 states; in California it's practically aspirin.

Though marijuana decriminalization has been a liberal cause since the high-holy days of the 1960's, until recently it remained a fringe issue, associated with ex-hippies or free-market fanatics who would legalize Uranium if there was a market for it. For mainstream America however, pot remained tainted by its association with a counterculture seeped in anti-establishment ethos. Intimations of being a "gateway drug" have persisted for decades despite all research to the contrary. But the times, they are a-changin'. With a generation coming of age for whom the sixties were nothing but a historical epoch, the prejudices that besmirched cannabis's reputation simply hold no (bong) water. California in particular has become so lax in their marijuana laws that dispensaries are popping up everywhere, like doobie-stocked automats. Getting a legal prescription requires about as much subterfuge as jaywalking. What was the tipping point that pushed pot into legitimacy? My pet theory (probably concocted while high): really good stoner movies.

"Dude, Where's My Car?" (2000) was stoner film as written by Ionesco, an absurdist comic lark starring two clowns (Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott) as old-fashioned in their shtick as Laurel and Hardy, though a good deal more attractive with their shirts off. More chipper (and tanner) than Vladimir and Estragon, the Duo's confusion was nonetheless as existential as it was comic. (Or so I surmised while watching the film on Showtime at 3AM a few brownies in.) Another contact high was supplied by "Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle" (2004) which had as its comic highlights a Lothario version of Neil Patrick Harris doing his best to demolish his squeaky-clean child star image and a wild tiger ride though the backwoods of New Jersey. Awesome. In the backdrop of both was a general haze of pot smoke, though the subject was little discussed onscreen. (But seriously, why else would you drive around Jersey all night long for White Castle?) Proof positive that there doesn't have to be a joint in sight to qualify as a stoner film.

Joints were very much in sight (as were bongs, pipes and all other manner of marijuana paraphernalia) in the films of Judd Apatow. If pot-heads were to elect a poster boy for this past decade, the double-chinned visage of Apatow's favorite leading man, Seth Rogen, would have to be the winning candidate. "I want YOU...to grab me the potato chips." Jew Fro-ed, heavy lidded, prone to giggle at his own sarcastic barbs and suffering from a chronic case of the muchies, pot hasn't had such a cinematic champion since Cheech & Chong drove a "fiberweed" van into smokers hearts. If the gas mask bong employed in Knocked Up didn't make viewers want to toke up, Rogen followed the flick with Pineapple Express; this ganjapalooza was a genre mashing hybrid about a low-level drug dealer (James Franco), his best client (Rogen) and a gangland murder that these anything-but-action-heroes inadvertently wander into. The title refers a varietal of pot so choice it "smells like God's Vagina." Without question the longest advertisement for reefer put to celluloid in recent memory, the film is already a classic of the genre (for whatever that's worth).

So, as marijuana laws continue to be gutted, and with a new generation apathetic to baby boomer culture wars, it seems all but certain that Starbucks will be selling Maui-Wowie scones along side lattes in short order. Okay, maybe that's not going to happen anytime soon, but cannabis is, by any measure, integrated into polite society with a prominence never before seen in American history. When George Will, aka the political pundit least likely to ever say the word "blunt" in it's noun form, shrugs and admits the inevitable, the debate might as well be over. Marijuana is here to stay. Thank god that battle is over, I'm cached.

You AUGHT to remember...






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