When April 20 (4/20) comes around each year it should be a punishable offense not to at least pay some sort of homage to the Waldos of 1971 San Rafael, California–the originators of the term “420.”

Ignite a joint in their honor; hum a Grateful Dead tune or something.  Or imagine, if only for a minute or two, their storied treks into the wilderness in search of the green El Dorado known as the Lost Pot Farm of Point Reyes.

Pay tribute to the fact that a dozen teenagers with varying degrees of THC coursing through their blood-brain barriers were even capable of meeting at a designated time (4:20 p.m.) and place (the statue of Louis Pasteur at San Rafael High School) to prepare for the day’s expedition by smoking even more dope. Then it was off to the Point Reyes Peninsula where they just knew they’d find the weed wonderland.  They never did.  But still, the Waldos’ story is a tale of adventure, camaraderie and balls-out motivation.

Pot Goes Legit

I was writing a story about the influx of marijuana vocational schools popping up like marmosets across America when nostalgia and dread suddenly gripped me.  It seems for every step marijuana takes toward the mainstream, it takes two steps away from the mystique and craziness that inspired the Waldos and other pot legends. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the owners of these pot trade schools are all mercenary MBAs with anchorman hair-dos. In fact, I’ve heard that some of these schools are actually quite helpful and, unlike many trade schools, charge reasonable tuition.  Still, institutions that advertise themselves as “California’s premier marijuana school,” and promise students “the training it takes to become a medical marijuana professional” sound about as Waldo as a Kenny G album.  And, even if these owners aren‘t profit-mad weed weasels, make no mistake; the weasels are out there, frothing for the Great Commodification of Cannabis.

The Numbers

In 1969 a miniscule 12% favored the legalization of marijuana.  Fast-forward 40 years to March 2010 and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press tells us that 41% of our countrymen now favor the out-and-out legalization of the stuff.  Generally speaking, public attitudes tend to change at a sub-glacial rate, so this 39% change over 41 years represents a super-collider of attitudinal change.

There are still a few demographic pockets that remain vehemently opposed to legalization, however.  Guess who those folks are.  Here’s a hint: In 15 years, most of the people belonging to the largest bloc of naysayers will have ceased to have opinions on anything.  The others are self-described social conservatives, the folks who long for the days of back-alley abortions and quiet minorities.  As adamant as conservatives are about keeping pot illegal, they are clearly fighting a juggernaut of opposition.

Here in California, the pro-legalization numbers far exceed the rest of the nation, so it is possible (be still, my heart) that voters will legalize marijuana in California by passing Proposition 19 this November.

Of course, even if pot does becomes legal in California, there will still be the ever-present DEA looking to throw every pot smoker, grower and seller in prison for the rest of his or her natural life on federal charges. But, if enough grease finds the right congressional campaigns, who knows, this damned prohibition could actually fade into history for good.

And, where might that grease come from?

Rumor has it that large tobacco corporations—the Weasel Kings of the Universe– have already staked out acres of prime pot-growing land throughout the country, just waiting for the green light. If they haven’t, something is seriously amiss with that industry’s R&D departments.

Whispers of, “Hey dude, you got any smoke?” will be replaced with advertising slogans like, “Buzzos–The Best Bud You Ever Had” and “Say Goodbye to Cottonmouth with ‘SmootheDoobs ®’ From Philip Morris.”

Progress

It all reminds me  of Henry Drummond’s (Spencer Tracy) speech about progress in the movie, “Inherit the Wind.” “Gentlemen, progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it. Sometimes I think there’s a man who sits behind a counter and says, “Alright, you can have a telephone, but you lose privacy and the charm of distance.” “Madam, you may vote, but at a price. You lose the right to retreat behind the powder-puff or your petticoat.” “Mr., you may conquer the air, but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline.”

All things considered, it will be a good bargain: We will sacrifice the mystique of marijuana for the end of this silly, cruel and destructive prohibition, and we’ll be better off for it.

But, somewhere in the back of my brain I hear Henry Drummond saying, “Californians, you may win the right to smoke marijuana, but you’ll never again have a group of kids called the Waldos, bonded in secrecy and coolness, trudging out into the wilderness to find the Lost Pot Farm of Point Reyes.”

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