Even if Bob Dylan hadn’t introduced The Beatles to marijuana at New York’s Delmonico Hotel, the boys would have lit up soon enough. From that August 1964 night onward, “let’s have a laugh” quickly became their code phrase for “let’s have a toke.” And laugh they did. At least until the infamous Sgt. Norman Pilcher and his drug-sniffing dogs Yogi and BooBoo came snooping around their London abodes.
The cop and his canines found 12 grams of cannabis in a binocular case in John and Yoko’s apartment in October 1968, and a few months later discovered a small amount in one of George’s shoes during a raid on his home. The response of “The Quiet Beatle” to this search and seizure? “I’m a tidy man,” he said. “I keep my socks in the sock drawer and stash in the stash box. It’s not mine.” Nice try, George. (Some say Sgt. Pilcher was the namesake of Semolina Pilchard, who climbed the Eiffel Tower in John’s song “I Am the Walrus.”)
Paul was the most prolific pot puffer of the bunch, busted 5 times in all. Actually, wife Linda took the rap on one occasion, when cops pulled the couple over for running a red light in L.A. and found cannabis in their Lincoln Continental.
Paul’s first bust, in Sweden in 1972, cost him $2,000. Fear of serving time in prison for such an offense supposedly inspired him to write “Band on the Run” (stuck inside these four walls / sent inside forever.) His second arrest came in 1973, when police found more than your average garden-variety weeds growing in the soil of his Scotland farm. Paul pleaded agricultural ignorance, saying he was merely growing seeds sent to him by a fan. How was he to know they would sprout cannabis?
His famous drug bust at Japan’s Narita Airport in January of 1980 landed him in a Tokyo prison for 9 days. (It’s been rumored that Yoko set him up by tipping off airport security officials ahead of time.) Interestingly, the Japanese were among the world’s biggest Beatle fans. They probably bowed like crazy all the while they were charging him. I love the fantasy of Paul wrapped in a blue and white yukata, sitting on a jail cell tatami mat, taking song requests from prison guards. “Beatle-san, prease pray “Prease, Prease Me.” Arigatou gozaimasu!
You’d think he would have finally learned a tough lesson about the dangers of pot-on-the-go, but NO. Almost four years to the date after the Narita Airport arrest, he and Linda were busted in Barbados. AND, returning home from the trip, Linda was arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport for the prior day’s incident! As Paul’s “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” lyrics testify, he truly believed in hands across the water, heads across the sea.
As Americans cheer (or jeer) the marijuana legalization bandwagon that’s moving from state to state, it’s interesting to note that as early as 1967, prominent Britons were petitioning the government for the reform of cannabis laws.
The Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein were 5 of the 64 people – many of whom were medical doctors and pillars of society – to sign a petition that appeared as a full-page ad in The Times on July 24, 1967, titled “The law against marijuana is immoral in principle and unworkable in practice.” It advocated research into the medicinal uses of marijuana, demanded that the smoking of weed on private premises no longer be considered an offense, and asked the government to commute the sentences of those convicted of using cannabis.
It’s no surprise that Paul paid for the ad, which cost about $2,300. It inspired a public debate that actually did liberalize laws against marijuana use in Britain.
But today, according to Wikipedia, it’s still illegal to “possess, grow, distribute or sell [cannabis] in the U.K. without appropriate licenses.” Charges range from a “warning” and/or fines, to 5 years in prison for possession, and up to 14 for production and trafficking.
Still, both the U.K. and U.S. have become a lot more accepting and forgiving of former drug offenders. After all, the Queen knighted pot-head Paul, and the American public elected one-time hash-hound Barack Obama as President.
And as for Mr. McCartney, it appears he’s retired his roach clips, pipes and Zig-Zag papers for good. In 2012 he told The Daily Mail: “I smoked my share. When you’re bringing up a youngster [10-year-old daughter Beatrice], your sense of responsibility does kick in, if you’re lucky, at some point.” Ah, but the nose knows better. During a concert in 2013, he stopped mid-set and said, “That’s some pretty good weed I can smell up here. “Whew! What are you doing to me?”
Paul invited us all to get “Hi, Hi, Hi” with him in 1976! The video features his lovely Linda and the band Wings. Oh, yeah…Paul really was the cute Beatle.
© Dana Spiardi, July 25, 2014