Article by James McClure, Civilized
When it comes to early cannabis culture, there’s no icon bigger than Louis Armstrong. The renowned jazz trumpeter who had a special fondness for muggles – a synonym for marijuana that he helped popularize in the 1920s among musicians, including Bing Crosby.
“Louis’s influence on Bing extended to his love of marijuana, which he alternately called mezz…gage, pot or muggles,” Crosby biographer Gary Giddins claimed in the book Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams” (2002). “Bing didn’t develop the lifelong appetite for it that Louis did, but he enjoyed it in the early days.”
Satchmo was also one of the first celebrities busted for marijuana possession. In 1931, he and a friend were caught smoking pot in a parking lot. Recalling the incident later in life, the jazz legend said the arresting detectives hated making the bust. “‘When we found out that you was the one we must nab, it broke our hearts,’” one detective said according to Armstrong. But their hands were forced when the owner of a rival club ratted out Louis, who received a similarly positive reception from the cops booking him at the police station.
The judge, however, wasn’t a fan. He slapped Armstrong with six months in jail. But the sentence was soon suspended and Armstrong was free to go back to work. And the experience didn’t put a damper on his enjoyment of marijuana, which he reportedly called “an Assistant – a friend, a nice cheap drunk if you want to call it that.”
But the craziest story in Armstrong’s marijuana lore is the time he allegedly duped a president into smuggling marijuana for him. The story goes that Louis bumped into then-Vice President Richard Nixon in New York’s Idlewild Airport in 1958. Armstrong was nervous because he had a few pounds of cannabis stashed in his suitcase. So when Nixon – who was born on this day in 1913 – offered to carry Louis’ luggage through customs, the jazz legend was glad to accept the offer. Nixon was none the wiser.