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Ideas | David Scharfenberg

Has pot lost its cool?

Tom Cocotos for The Boston Globe

Snoop Dogg’s first solo album, 1993’s quadruple-platinum “Doggystyle,” was a sun-splashed, blood-soaked homage to the most enduring outlaw symbol in American culture, marijuana.

Rapping over a Parliament-Funkadelic-inspired bass line and a high-pitched synthesizer, Snoop anointed himself the hoodlum king of California: an AK-47 assault rifle in one hand and a giant spliff of the “bubonic Chronic” in the other.

Cannabis, that emblem of social unrest in the ’60s and ’70s and rebuke to the “Just Say No” fervor of the ’80s, had a new gangsta sheen. The drug’s ever-shifting rebellion, it seemed, would live on.

Live on, that is, until it won.


First came the medical marijuana laws, edging the drug a little closer to the mainstream. And then, the breakthrough: In 2012, Colorado and Washington voters legalized recreational use. Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., soon followed. This fall, it was California, Maine, Nevada — and even uptight Massachusetts.

More than one in five Americans now lives in a place where they can puff without a prescription, without fear — and, increasingly, without the thrill of illegality.

These days, Snoop is making pot jokes on his VH1 cooking show with Martha Stewart. And in between episodes, he’s cultivating a marijuana brand with a marketing push that would make his cohost proud.

His Leafs by Snoop collection is for sale at cannabis shops with names like LivWell and Organix. His pot-infused chocolates are handmade and fair-trade. And when his G Pen vaporizer hit the market — think an e-cigarette for marijuana — the D-O-double-G offered up this endorsement: “What’s fly about the vaporizer movement is that it’s clean and convenient.”

So buy your G Pen at the online Snoopermarket, connect the battery to the USB cord, make sure it’s fully charged, load the marijuana onto the heating element, attach the mouthpiece, turn the pen on by pressing the middle button five times, and inhale.

This is the twilight of a marijuana uprising even more potent than you remember it.

Jazz musician Lester Young was born in Mississippi and grew up in New Orleans.

He wore a custom-made black porkpie hat and held his saxophone at a 45-degree angle. Billie Holiday called him “Prez” after President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “the greatest man around.” Young called her “Lady Day.”


Both names stuck.

Young’s career, as Tulane professor Joel Dinerstein suggests in his essay “Lester Young and the Birth of Cool,” reads as a sort of quiet rebellion against the legacy of black minstrelsy. “They want everyone who is a Negro to be a Uncle Tom or Uncle Remus or Uncle Sam,” he said toward the end of his life, “and I can’t make it.”

As a young man, he quit his father’s band rather than play in the Jim Crow South. When he got older, he was probably the first to wear sunglasses on stage and probably the first to use the word “cool” as we understand it now. If much of the jazz of the day was “hot,” his was tranquil and clean. “A free-floating style,” one critic wrote, “wheeling and diving like a gull.”

Young also smoked marijuana. Lots of it. The drug had spilled across the Mexican border just a couple of decades before and gradually worked its way into jazz culture — offering Young a perfect vehicle for his cool dissent. It was at once a mysterious mask and a provocation — sometimes quite a dangerous one.

After Young was drafted into the military, a commanding officer found pot, pills, and a pink liquid that reeked of alcohol in his trunk. He was court-martialed and sentenced to months in prison at Fort Gordon in Georgia, where he endured beatings, by some accounts. It was “one mad nightmare,” Young said, and he was never the same afterward.


But he continued to smoke. Marijuana was relaxation in a culture that kept black America on edge; Louis Armstrong called it medicine. “It makes you feel good, man,” Satchmo said. It “makes you forget all the bad things that happen to a Negro.”

Armstrong’s song “Muggles” was an ode to the drug. Ella Fitzgerald sang “When I Get Low, I Get High.”

And in 1941, at a legendary Harlem jazz club called Minton’s Playhouse, Lester Young gave a young admirer named Jack Kerouac his first toke. It was, as Martin A. Lee writes in his indispensable social history of the drug “Smoke Signals,” a “seminal, flame-leaping moment.”

Pot was in the hands of a small group of writers who would come to be known as the Beat Generation — evangelists for a new kind of freedom and nonconformity and, as Lee writes, “the key transmission belt for the spread of marijuana into mainstream America.”

Kerouac’s novel “On the Road” finished with drags on “the biggest bomber anybody ever saw” and a visit to a Mexican brothel. Allen Ginsberg, in a coda to his seminal poem “Howl,” yelled, “Holy the bop Apocalypse! Holy the jazzbands marijuana hipsters peace peyote pipes & drums!”

In February of 1961, Ginsberg made the first nationally televised case for marijuana on a talk show. Law enforcement was not pleased. A seven-minute retort from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics aired a few weeks later.

The bureau (a predecessor agency of the Drug Enforcement Administration) had been waging war against pot for decades. Its first director, Harry Jacob Anslinger, testified before Congress about pot’s role in “Communist brainwashing” and insisted it made white women lust after black men.


“How many murders, suicides, robberies, criminal assaults, holdups, burglaries, and deeds of maniacal insanity it causes each year, especially among the young, can only be conjectured,” he wrote.

Years later, in a classified missive, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover would urge his field offices to arrest “members of the New Left” on marijuana and other drug charges.

Marijuana — so disdained by officialdom — had become a major symbol of protest. Legalization was not a standalone issue as it is now, said Lee, in a recent interview. It was intimately tied to antiwar protest, gay liberation, and the fight against censorship.

“When a young person took his first puff of psychoactive smoke, he also drew in the psychoactive culture as a whole, the entire matrix of law and association surrounding the drug, its induction and transaction,” said Michael Rossman of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. “One inhaled a certain way of dressing, talking, acting, certain attitudes. One became a youth criminal against the state.”

This was peak pot. It would never be quite so influential again. The Vietnam War came to an end. The Baby Boomers aged, and so did their signature drug. But as long as marijuana remained illegal, it retained a real cultural power — as a symbol of social decay for conservatives and a vehicle for prankster dissent.


Ronald Reagan, who cast himself as a cowboy corrective to the excesses of the ’60s and ’70s, called marijuana “the most dangerous drug in the United States” and restarted President Nixon’s war on drugs. Even the casual drug user was “an accomplice to murder,” insisted Reagan’s wife, Nancy.

Her “Just Say No” campaign was everywhere. In schools. On talk shows. Its imitators were legion. “This is your brain,” said a stern-looking man in the era’s most famous public service announcement, an egg in hand. “This is your brain on drugs,” he said, as it sizzled in the pan.

“Saturday Night Live” added a side of bacon. Cheech and Chong smoked their way through a parade of stoner movies. And as the government helicopters swirled over Northern California’s Emerald Triangle, the pot farmers below took on a guerrilla chic.

But law enforcement wasn’t their only concern. As the legalization movement built momentum, they worried about a shift in marijuana culture. They worried that they’d be pushed out, that Pot Inc. was coming.

Here and there, on pickup trucks and deep-woods shacks, little green bumper stickers started to appear: “Save Humboldt County — Keep Pot Illegal.”

We are passionate about rebranding cannabis,” says Olivia Mannix, 27, the cofounder and chief executive of Denver-based marketing firm Cannabrand.

The company launched three years ago, when recreational marijuana was just getting off the ground in Colorado and the stoner aesthetic was still sovereign.

Walk into a pot dispensary, and you’d find marijuana posters hanging on the walls and yes, the occasional tie-dye.

There’s much less of that these days. Weed is now “cannabis.” Smoking is “consuming.” And the “marijuana space” has transformed.

One Cannabrand client, a medical marijuana dispensary called Gaia Plant-Based Medicine, turned into MiNDFUL, a boutique medical and recreational chain offering “the finest hand-crafted, mindfully-grown cannabis.”

Its color palette went a Starbucksian green, black, and white. Its signs took on clean lines and pleasing fonts. And there were new, branded uniforms for the MiNDFUL budtenders.

The overhaul of the Colorado pot shop was just the start. The green rush has brought high-end marijuana tours, pot sommeliers, and locally sourced dinners with cannabis pairings.

At Puff, Pass & Paint, an art class that fuses “Mary Jane and Monet,” you can pack a bowl and paint haystacks with your friends — or, if you’d like, with your grandmother.

“I actually had a class where a young woman in her 20s brought her grandparents,” said Heidi Keyes, the painter-turned-potrepreneur behind Puff Pass. “They just laughed the entire time. The grandmother said that she had not smoked in 40 years and she was like, ‘Pass that joint over here, pass that joint over here.’ ”

Puff, Pass & Paint has added Puff, Pass & Pottery and Puff, Pass & Pincushion to its offerings, and expanded to Portland and Washington, D.C. Keyes says she will begin offering classes in Oakland, San Francisco, the Los Angeles-San Diego region, Las Vegas, and Boston in the coming weeks and months.

All of those places may soon see what Colorado has seen, what Mannix calls the normalization of marijuana. Everyone knows someone who works in the industry. And the social stigma is evaporating. “If you’re at a party, or you’re at your house and you have people over, it’s just a very normal thing,” she said. “It’s like having a glass of wine.”

Indeed, the new marijuana cool is looking more and more like wine connoisseurship, with talk of bud density, fruity undertones, and aromatics. Pot is going bourgeois.

Going, but not quite there yet.

That’s the odd thing. Even as the scent of rebellion fades, it won’t disappear entirely. Lee, the author of “Smoke Signals,” suggests that has something to do with marijuana’s peculiar duality. As he writes in his book, cannabis has always been “medicine and menace, sacrament and recreant, gift and commodity.”

So, even as medical marijuana is available in more than half the states, the health care establishment remains deeply suspicious. Even as more states fully legalize the drug, it remains verboten under federal law.

And as long as that prohibition remains in place, Lee says, smoking marijuana will be a statement, if not a full-on rebellion.

If President-elect Donald Trump and his choice for attorney general, marijuana scold Jeff Sessions, decide to crack down on the serrated green leaf, well, the cannabis rebellion just might begin anew.

David Scharfenberg can be reached at david.scharfenberg@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dscharfGlobe.