Coming of age with Kerouac 

City Sage

LEGALIZE IT!!! Those of us young enough to remember the dope-loving slogan of the '60s stoners who popularized marijuana use may or may not rejoice at the prospect of Colorado legalizing the demon weed.

Polls suggest voters will pass Amendment 64 on Nov. 6. If approved, that new Colorado law will permit anyone 21-plus to "possess, use, display, or transport marijuana accessories or one ounce or less of marijuana."

You happy adults can also "possess, grow, process or transport no more than six marijuana plants, with three or fewer being mature, flowering plants ... provided that the growing takes place in an enclosed, locked space, is not conducted openly or publicly, and is not made available for sale."

There's a lot more — 3,626 words. To put it in historical perspective, the original U.S. Constitution contained 4,543 words, including signatures.

Far from being inspired by our gracefully worded founding document, authors of Amendment 64 stuck to bureaucratic legalese. A few sentences might have sufficed, if the amendment's only purpose had been to legalize marijuana — but that's just one little piece. Actually, 90 percent of the verbiage concerns taxation, licensing and regulation.

The amendment creates a perpetual, mandated regulatory agency with a simple goal: Bureaucratize dope, and take all the fun out!

I'll miss the outlaw culture. A few decades ago, when no one smoked except jazz musicians, burlesque queens and beatniks, marijuana was cool.

How cool? Here's my story:

In the fall of 1958, I was a freshman at Wesleyan University, a then-obscure liberal arts college in Middletown, Conn. I was 17 and thought I was pretty cool. It didn't take me long to realize that I wasn't cool at all. I was a slow-witted country bumpkin from a little town just east of Pikes Peak.

But I knew what and who was cool: On the Road and Jack Kerouac. I'd read the book a dozen times, and I longed to be free, to have a hot girlfriend, to experience life unshackled by convention, to dream, to create, to reach for the stars.

Given that Wesleyan was a stodgy, intensely literary all-male college, none of those dreams were within reach — especially the hot girlfriend.

The coolest guy at school? That was Eliot Glassheim, an upperclassman who actually knew Kerouac. Or maybe he didn't. But in any case, he arranged for Kerouac and Gregory Corso to participate in some kind of dreary literary seminar. I went to the seminar, listened worshipfully to the great men, and somehow ended up hanging out with them for an after-party at Glassheim's place. I was sitting on the floor near Kerouac when he took a pouch from his jacket pocket and carefully rolled what I later realized was a gigantic spliff. I wondered why a famous author couldn't afford to buy a pack of Luckies for 25 cents ... and then I figured it out.

Marijuana! I'd read about it, but I'd never seen/smelled/smoked it. Kerouac took a leisurely hit, glanced down at the floor, and passed me the joint. "Hey kid," he said, "you want some reefer?"

Oh, yeah!

The rest of the evening passed in a stoned haze. Around 1 a.m., Kerouac, Corso, Glassheim and one or two others joined me in a midnight raid on my fraternity's kitchen, where tasteless loaves of sliced white bread and monster jars of peanut butter and jelly were available to the brothers 24/7.

We ate, we talked, and we left. Corso kissed me on the lips. Kerouac looked at me foggily and said, "Someday you'll understand everything." I never saw them again.

Romantic outlaws? Absolutely. Changed my life? Yup.

But today's weed ain't the same thing. It's tame stuff, grown indoors by law-abiding folks who are happy to let the state set the boundaries. It's powerful, soulless, regulated, taxed and government-approved ... everything that Corso and Kerouac despised.

They're both dead now. Corso is buried in Rome, next to fellow poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. He wrote his own epitaph.

Spirit / is Life / It flows thru / the death of me / endlessly / like a river / unafraid / of becoming / the sea

Farewell, guys, and thanks for the reefer.



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