Marijuana in pop culture
In May 1967, four months after The Bahamas achieved majority rule, the British rock and roll group, The Beatles, released its eight studio album titled Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Parlophone label in the United kingdom. It was released the following month in the United States.
At the time of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’s initial release, The Bahamas was still under the British. Independence on July 10, 1973, would bring to an end 325 years of British rule. Bahamians are not rock and roll enthusiasts. However, despite this, The Beatles’ Let It Be and Imagine are still popular in the country; and as I will demonstrate, the country has not escaped the massive influence of Beatlemania in changing the attitudes of Western democracies towards marijuana, especially with the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in the late 60s.
According to the controversial social commentator Bob Larson in his The Day Music Died, The Beatles were perhaps the most incredible phenomenon in the history of the entertainment business. John Lennon, according to Larson, once boasted that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ.
In its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Times, Rolling Stone made Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band number one. With the exception of the track Fixing a Hole, the album was recorded at the prestigious Abbey Road Studios in London.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band spent 27 weeks as the number one album on the United kingdom Albums Chart and 15 weeks in the United States. The Beatles would go on to win four Grammy Awards for the album in 1968, which was called by music scholar David Kastan the “most important and influential rock and roll album ever recorded”.
To date, The Beatles have sold a staggering 32 million copies of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The album’s front cover, which was designed by artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, is an Edwardian collage of images depicting Beatles members John Lennon, Sir Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Sir Ringo Starr; as well as noted personalities Marilyn Munroe, Karl Marx, Edgar Allan Poe, Lawrence of Arabia, Albert Einstein, Mae West and Sonny Listen, among others.
On the front cover, McCartney, Lennon, Starr and Harrison are gathered around a grave in bright psychedelic colors with The Beatles spelled out in flowers with neatly trimmed marijuana plants. The BBC took exception to the tracks Lucy in Sky with Diamonds and Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite, believing that both songs contained subtle references to LSD. With a Little Help From My Friends, a Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cut, is an overt reference to marijuana. Other songs such as Day Tripper, Magical Mystery Tour, Got To Get You Into My Life, I am the Walrus, Happiness Is a Warm Gun, She Said She Said, Tomorrow Never Knows and Strawberry Fields Forever are all indicative of The Beatles’ permissive attitude towards marijuana and other drugs.
About two months after the initial release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles endorsed a full-page advertisement in The Times newspaper calling for the decriminalization of recreational marijuana. Titled “The law against marijuana is immoral in principle and unworkable in practice”, the advertisement was endorsed by not only the Fab Four, but by 60 other prominent citizens of England, including renown molecular biologist and co-discoverer of the DNA Dr. Francis Crick.
McCartney paid £1,800 for the publication of the advertisement. Sociologists are convinced that the ad led to the subsequent liberalization of marijuana laws in the House of Commons, although recreational marijuana use is still prohibited in the United kingdom. In all things considered, the ad reminds me of the Regional Marijuana Commission report that was tabled at the 39th meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government conference in Jamaica last year. The arguments of the commission for the decriminalization of recreational marijuana are eerily similar to what The Beatles had argued in their Times ad in 1967. As a result of the CARICOM report, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has established the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana, co-chaired by the Rev. Simeon Hall and former Deputy Commissioner of Police Quinn McCartney. I understand that the commission is comprised of 25 persons, who are tasked with examining the issue of marijuana throughout the archipelago.
Music historians allege that it was Bob Dylan who introduced the Fab Four to marijuana in 1964. A year later, Queen Elizabeth II awarded each Beatle with MBE medals for their accomplishments in the field of music. In 1969, however, Lennon returned his medal to Buckingham Palace in protest against the Vietnam War. Only two Beatles members have been knighted: McCartney in 1997 and Starr in 2017. Lennon was assassinated in December 1980 by Mark David Chapman in New York. Harrison died from lung cancer in 2001.
All members of the rock and roll band had dabbled in Hinduism and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s transcendental meditation, spending a short while at the latter’s shrine in Rishikesh, India between 1967-1968. While the group gave up LSD and heroin for a short time due to the influence of Maharishi, they continued smoking weed. Marijuana is a drug used religiously by Hindus. In all things considered, The Beatles are credited with introducing Eastern philosophy and oriental mysticism to unsuspecting Westerners, who otherwise would have never been exposed to them. Today, yoga and Hindu meditation are widely practiced in the United States and even in The Bahamas by fitness freaks.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band played a pivotal role in conditioning the West for the eventual legalization of medical and recreational marijuana throughout Europe, North America and other Western nations as I have stated above. In Francis Schaeffer’s 1968 publication titled “The God Who Is There”, the following assessment on The Beatles’ massive influence in the 1960s hippie drug culture is stated: “The Beatles moved through several stages, including the concept of the drug and the psychedelic approach. The psychedelic began with their records Revolver, Strawberry Fields Forever, and Penny Lane. This was developed with great expertness in the record Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in which psychedelic music, with open statements concerning drug taking, was knowingly presented as a religious answer.”
Consequently, The Beatles laid the groundwork for the ensuing drug crisis which engulfed the United States and even its neighbor to its south: The Bahamas. Had the counter culture of the sixties failed in capturing the imagination of the baby boomers, whatever transpired on Norman’s Cay in the Exumas during the early 1980s along with the resultant 1984 commission of inquiry would have never happened. Ideas truly have consequences. North Americans’ insatiable appetite for narcotics fueled the drug trafficking industry during the 1980s.
Fifty-two years after the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, recreational marijuana is now legal in 10 U.S. states; medical marijuana is legal in 33 states. Recreational marijuana is now legal in Uruguay and Jamaica. The plant is either recreationally or medicinally legal (or tolerated) in Switzerland, Australia, Portugal, Peru, North Korea, Spain, The Netherlands, Argentina, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Italy, Estonia, Mexico, Germany and Israel.
In light of Bahamians’ penchant for copycatting Americans, it is not surprising that there’s a strong push for the full legalization of recreational marijuana. In my layman opinion, a strong scientific case can be made against such a move by the Christian community in terms of its negative health effects. In order for recreational marijuana to remain strictly prohibited, the church will have to argue along these lines. I am convinced that the current global frenzy for recreational marijuana is due to a certain degree to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
– Kevin Evans