Allen Ginsberg: Marijuana Legalization Pioneer

Article by Martin Torgoff, Freedom Leaf

Controversial beat generation poet Allen Ginsberg was an avid marijuana advocate who helped found the legalization movement

The first time he was ever really high on marijuana, Allen Ginsberg was driving in a car with Walter Adams, a friend from Columbia University, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He began to realize how high he was because the streets and people were mutating into some vast robot megalopolis that seemed to be inside a great firmament of brilliant blinking lights, and he began to feel that he was floating in a boundless universe.

At first he was frightened by how fast and radical the changes were in his perception of space and time. He felt hopelessly lost in a place he knew well, and just parking the car seemed a titanic trial. When they finally got the car squared away and walked into an old-fashioned ice cream parlor at the corner of 91st and Broadway, they sat down at a table and he ordered a black-and-white sundae. When it appeared—“this great mound of snowlike ice cream but absolutely sweet and pure and clean and bright”—he couldn’t quite believe his eyes, but as good as it looked, that was nothing compared to what happened when he took his spoon and put some into his mouth. The hot chocolate syrup had become a chewy candy in the ice-cold vanilla cream, and each and every delicious molecule of it seemed to detonate on his tongue.

“What an amazing taste it had! I don’t think I ever truly appreciated what an outstanding invention a black-and-white ice cream sundae was—and how cheap it was, too!”

And then, as Ginsberg perceived the infinitude of the blue sky and looked out the plate-glass window and saw the river of life flowing past—the people walking dogs, smiling, laughing, weeping—he experienced a moment of profound synchronicity and well-being, “everything just perfectly joyful and gay.”

 Marijuana had been way more fun and interesting than Ginsberg had ever expected, and he began to think about how he might apply the high to other experiences. At the time, he was taking an art course at Columbia, and he became curious to see what would happen if he experienced the paintings of Paul Cézanne at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in that state of mind, so he arranged a special viewing and made sure to smoke a few “sticks” in the garden before going in. As he stood staring at the paintings, he noticed that he began to understand the artist’s use of space and color in a way he hadn’t before— the way the warmer colors seemed to advance toward him and the cooler colors receded. It was a new kind of funhouse “optical consciousness” that Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac would later call “eyeball kicks.”

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