Mary Jane, reefer, sweet leaf, grass, dope, pot. Cannabis (marijuana) had many names in the ’60s when its use soared among baby boomers. After World War II, the middle class swelled in numbers and there was a rapid birth rate. This generation became known as the Baby Boomers and historically, they are remembered as the generation that rejected traditional values.

Rebellious spirit led to rejection of the drug’s stigma

The ’60s brought us rebellion, bell bottoms, incense, sit-ins, tie-dye, hippies and drug culture who looked up to heroes including Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Jack Kerouac, Joni Mitchell and Hunter S. Thompson. White, middle-class baby boomers were teenagers and young adults during the decade and their coming of age coincided with the Vietnam War. They were anti-establishment and anti-war. They were at the forefront of a revolution that began testing all of the boundaries of many societal norms. They challenged everything: clothing, music, hair, politics, religion, education and sexuality.

Young people rejected the cultural standards of their parents and embraced whatever was viewed as rebellious. Most notably, they helped to destroy the stigma of marijuana use and, though it was illegal, they made it socially acceptable.

As baby boomers came of age and headed off to college, enrollment in colleges exploded nationwide. With these young activists came their revolutionary ideas, including the embrace of recreational drugs. Cannabis use was most popular and became socially acceptable. Pop culture icons like Bob Dylan, Jimmy Hendrix and Jerry Garcia were open about their pot smoking. In 1964, beat poet Allen Ginsburg helped to form LeMar – Legalize Marijuana. This group of pro-marijuana activists staged protests throughout New York City. Supporters carried signs reading “Pot Is Fun.” On the left coast, in 1967, hippies flocked to the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco. The “Summer of Love” was known for the quest of the counterculture to get high and “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”

Cannabis in pop culture

Popular music of the day reflected the cultural acceptance of cannabis. Many of the classic rock songs we love today are odes to Mary Jane. Bob Dylan referred to marijuana joints as “rainy day women” and pinned a song with that title, complete with the refrain “everybody must get stoned!” Traffic sang to its audience “light up or leave me alone” and the Beatles pined about getting high “with a little help from my friends.” After embracing the counterculture and trying drugs for the first time, Paul McCartney wrote the Beatles’ hit song “Got to Get You into My Life.”

The cannabis culture was openly portrayed in the movies of the era also. “Easy Rider” with Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda portray two stoners who get their lawyer stoned. (Jack Nicholson played their lawyer in this star-making role.) The movie also launched the hit song “Don’t Bogart Me” by Fraternity of Man. “I Love You, Alice B. Toklas” stars Peter Sellars as an uptight lawyer who falls in love with a young woman who is a hippie. The title refers to the writer Alice B. Toklas, whose 1954 cookbook had a recipe for cannabis brownies. “Maryjane” is a 1968 film starring singer Fabian as a high school teacher who is framed for pot possession.

The relaxed drug attitudes of Baby Boomers in the ’60s helped to diminish the stigma around cannabis use. Their attitudes of freedom, rebellion and individualism helped to pave the way for the legalization of marijuana that has happened during this decade.

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