San Francisco Weed Week: A Personal History

San Franciso mayor London Breed on the first day of Weed Week. Photo: Jonah Raskin.

When I grew marijuana in northern California from about 1977 to 1986, I did not once think or imagine that one day it would be legal to do so. I was not a cannabis activist or a cannabis advocate. I wrote about weed, but I did so for High Times and other publications under the pseudonym, Joe Delicado. I tended to my garden and kept a low profile.

I certainly never imagined a day like April 5, 2024, the first day of SF Weed Week, when Mayor London Breed spoke to the organizers of the event and to fifty or so participants and gave the whole extravaganza her official blessings.

“San Francisco is where legal cannabis began and has proudly stood as the birthplace of the movement and industry,” Breed said. “Today, our City is home to the most exciting week that celebrates cannabis.” Breed didn’t hang around. It was the opening day of the baseball season and she was off to Oracle Park to see the Giants. “So happy to join the fans and team today to kick off this season,” she tweeted. “Let’s Go Giants!”

I suppose that a week devoted to the worship or at least the admiration of weed was bound to happen. Yes, Weed Week runs for more than seven days, and yes it culminates on 4/20 with a rite and a ritual that takes place on Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park where hippies, hipsters and their friends have shared weed for decades.

 I also suppose that Weed Week was bound to happen in San Francisco where for decades citizens spearheaded the nationwide drive to make medical marijuana legal and sought to make it available for free to anyone and everyone who wanted it and needed it. Still, back in the day, I didn’t feel comfortable in the company of advocates and activists such as Dennis Peron, who worked both sides of the street, and kept one foot in the underground economy and another in the very public political arena.

When something is illegal, as cannabis was for too long a time, advocates for normalization and acceptance are often forced, for their very survival, to do a kind of intricate dance. It was no fun to be demonized by the mass media, by so-called medical experts and by law enforcement agents who depicted marijuana as the devil’s own weed and marijuana users, aka stoners, as brain-dead dumbasses.

On April 5, 2024, I felt totally at home and comfortable with the organizers of the event, including longtime cannabis journalist, David Downs, who heard about SF Beer Week a year or so ago and knew he wanted to do a similar shebang for weed. Downs assembled a team and reached out to many of the key players in what’s now called “an industry,” though it was once known as part of the counterculture, then became an agricultural crop, and morphed into a business often abbreviated as the cannabiz.

I’m glad that Downs decided to call it “Weed Week,” and not cannabis week or marijuana week. After all, it’s the peoples’ weed.

Xóchitl Selena Martinez, an Apache, a Yaqui and a 10th generation San Franciscan, honored it on April 5 and at the start of Weed Week with her drumming.

Ever since the 1960s, the weed world has evolved rapidly, so much so that the original hippies who grew it in the hills and valleys of northern California, probably would not recognize it today. Many of them assumed that one day it would be legal and that they would not be arrested and sent to jail for growing it, but what the brave new weed world would look like, they didn’t know.

They certainly didn’t imagine government taxation, government regulation and enforcement and the arrival of corporate weed. In the 1970s and 1980s, I didn’t know a single grower or dealer who grasped what the weed world would look like in the 21st century, and I knew dozens of growers, dealers, and users.

Marijuana is a strange and a wonderful plant. It seems to have a mind of its own and to frustrate the plans and the hopes and wishes of those who want to destroy it and alternatively those who harness it to make lots of money. Some may think I’m superstitious or just plain stupid. But read the history of marijuana and the role it has played in human societies and cultures from ancient times to the present day, all around the world, and see if you don’t agree with me that it has special properties, unlike any other plant.

I didn’t arrive on the first day of Weed Week with any marijuana. But I didn’t need to bring any with me. There was plenty of it on hand. I asked a fellow who had a jar filled with marijuana buds to roll me a joint. He did. It was a perfect joint, not an easy thing to do. I didn’t smoke it at the event, but I took it home and smoked it there. It helped me relax. It might not have inspired me but it certainly didn’t prevent me from writing crisp sentences, creating paragraphs and using correct spelling and punctuation.

Marijuana can be a valuable tool. It can help those who smoke it or eat it – which is healthier than smoking—to cook, write, run, play sports, enjoy music, sex, and conversations with friends and family members. I’m glad I wasn’t busted for growing a plant and glad I never went to jail for growing. Millions of Americans have gone to jail for growing, transporting and selling. Some are still arrested and in jail. Now, that’s what I’d call a crime.

Maybe one day marijuana will be universally recognized and lauded for its medicinal uses. That day can’t come soon. If SF’s mayor, London Breed, came out in favor of weed week, other mayors in other cities are likely to follow her. After all, marijunistas are also citizens and voters.

Those who grew weed when it was illegal to do so might be viewed today not as criminals or even as outlaws, but rather as men and women who practised civil disobedience of the sort that Henry David Thoreau practiced and that Martin Luther King, Jr. and members of the civil rights movement employed to end segregation.

Jonah Raskin is the author of Beat Blues, San Francisco, 1955.