|Just Say Now|
The crack epidemic was but one facet of the burgeoning drug problem brought about by prohibition that became ever more apparent in the United States throughout the 1980s, where he Reagan administration declared War on Drugs in 1982. Eric Schlosser has described in an award-winning article, More Reefer Madness, how this 'war' was initiated as an assault on marijuana and entailed bringing in swingeing prison sentences and giving the enforcement agencies wide-ranging powers, including the authority to confiscate the property of people who were suspected (never mind convicted) of growing or dealing cannabis. These measures effectively removed any element of altruism from the distribution of soft drugs in America, where amateurs got out of the game in the 80s.
From the professional criminals' point of view, the War on Drugs made moving cannabis too risky for too little return. However much you compact it and vacuum pack it, pot is bulky and it's smelly and, if you get caught with it in America, you stand to get much the same treatment from the law as you would for carrying cocaine. So you might as well deal in cocaine, which is infinitely more profitable. Or, even better, crack, which is practically odourless and couldn't be more compact. Consequently, pot became scarce on the streets of the inner cities, where increasingly violent crack dealing became endemic
Faced with escalating drug use, Nancy Reagan urged all right thinking young Americans to 'Just Say No' when offered drugs and many corporations started to subject their employees to random drug tests. This repressive atmosphere did not stifle the vast pot smoking subculture in the United States, however, but galvanised it into action. Those old hippy favourites, The Grateful Dead, continued to tour constantly and their concerts became gathering points for a new breed of environmentally-conscious and morally righteous cannabis activist who believe not only in the individuals' right to smoke marijuana, but that the cannabis plant can actually save the planet.
High Times, the American pot smokers' journal since 1974, had always given coverage to the non-intoxicating properties of the cannabis plant (its first issue contained an article entitled 'Hemp Paper Reconsidered') but had lost its focus by the early 80s. In 1985, Jack Herer first published his seminal work, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, in which the espoused the proud history of cannabis hemp, told the shameful tale of prohibition, and postulated a plausible conspiracy theory to explain it all. The book quickly became an underground classic and alerted the editors of High Times to the burgeoning hemp movement.
At the same time, advances in hydroponic gardening techniques provided a solution to the scarcity of pot on the streets, if not a way of avoiding the fallout from the War on Drugs. Since the late 60s, determined pot farmers had been experimenting with hybrid plants to increase their hardiness, yield and potency and, by the mid-1980s, premium prices were being demanded and happily paid for a superior variety of pot known generically (because of its pungency) as 'skunk'. Skunk is not smuggled across international borders, it's home-grown and, as High Times demonstrated, anyone with sufficient ingenuity and the right equipment could now grow their own and thereby secure a regular, good quality supply without having to consort with drug dealers.
Jello Biafra, the singer with West Coast punk band, The Dead Kennedys, spent the 1980s fighting censorship, pulling political pranks and increasingly performing solo as a stand-up speechifyer, sounding off on all sorts of issues. When he read The Emperor, Biafra was moved to tell the world about it and to write a speech he called Grow More Pot, in which he summarised its contents and proposed that the solution to America's drug problem was not to wage war on the American people, but to encourage them to grow more pot...
Biafra was credited as an "inspirator & conspirator" of Michael Franti's Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, who re-wrote and updated the classic Dead Kennedys' song, California Über Alles to include a report from the frontline of the American War on Drugs:
Now its 1992
Knock knock at your front door, hey guess who?
Its the suede demin secret police
They've come to your house for your long haired niece.
Gonna take her off to a camp
'Cause she's been accused of growing hemp