Jews: America’s Original Marijuana Touts
THANKS TO Reefer Madness, the History of Marijuana in America (Bobbs-Merrill, 1979) by Larry Sloman, we have undeniable evidence as to who played a predominant influence in promoting marijuana as a recreational drug. According to Sloman, marijuana was first used by jazz musicians in Harlem, but it was Milton Mezzrow, “a Jewish kid from Chicago who … developed an ideology that justified its use and even laid a claim to a higher moral standard.”
The author says “by the late 30s it wasn’t unusual to see Jewish working-class kids from Prospect Park hanging around the Savoy (a black dancehall) digging the music and looking to score.” Mezzrow is portrayed as a pot peddler “typical of the early marijuana trade [that] was more proselytizing than mercenary.” Describing marijuana addicts as “vipers,” Sloman continues. “One of those early would-be vipers was Bernie Brightman.” Today “Bernie lives in a nice renovated brownstone overlooking Prospect Park in Brooklyn … a charming, good-humored, graying hipster who at the ripe age of 53 chucked his middle-class businessman’s trip and went back to his reefer roots to establish Stash Records.” Brightman is described in many four-letter expletives, of which the author is very fond, as a pioneer in the marijuana and jazz record trade.
Most of Sloman’s book is a criticism of the late Harry Anslinger, first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Of sturdy Pennsylvania Dutch parentage, Anslinger had a long investigative background for the Pennsylvania Railroad, Pennsylvania State Police and the U.S. Department of State. Sloman particularly dislikes Anslinger for his effectiveness as a publicist against the use of marijuana, his decisive role in the passage of federal and state laws against its use, and his talent for enforcing those laws. Significantly, one of Anslinger’s earliest and foremost critics was a psychiatrist named Walter Blomberg who said marijuana was not linked to violent crime. Anslinger tirelessly insisted it was.
Sloman has done considerable research into the history of marijuana and its use in the U.S. He nominated Allen Ginsberg, the hipster-beatnik poet, as pot’s most famous, and some would say elegant, spokesman. Ginsberg on a television show with Norman Mailer and anthropologist Ashley Montagu discounted the Federal Bureau of Narcotics’ support of tough marijuana laws as “too extreme.” The author hails this as the first time the weed was given public support. Soon marijuana became an important weapon in the burgeoning counterculture that sprang up in the sixties and launched a frontal attack on the American way of life. “Pot would be politicalized,” as Sloman writes, “its powers established, its myth enlarged, its use further ritualized.”
Ginsberg, along with his loved-one, Peter Orlovsky, is credited with being the founder of LEMAR (Legalize Marijuana) in 1964, which was bankrolled in part by Max Palevsky, the minority multimillionaire who throws a lot of weight in the Democratic party. Additional financing was supplied by High Times and Playboy. In 1964 Ginsberg marched in front of the Department of Welfare Building in Washington, D.C., with signs reading “Smoke Pot — it’s cheaper and healthier than liquor.”
Another organization Sloman touts is NORML (National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws), whose lawyer is Marc Kurzman. Sloman also signals out Bill Gluck, owner of a lucrative head-shop in Pennsylvania and Burt Rubin, a “fine example of this new breed of hip entrepreneur.” “At the age of 31, Rubin is one of the new marijuana millionaires and a mother’s dream.” Sloman’s roster of pushers of the marijuana concept include Gene Schoenfeld, nationally syndicated counterculture medical columnist known as “Dr. Hip,” Roger Friedman, Vera Rubin and N.E. Ginzberg.
* * *
Source: Instauration magazine, November 1979