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WOSTER: A farm kid’s first look at weed

The movement to legalize the, as they say, recreational use of marijuana has made headlines in recent times, particularly with the early days of the Colorado experience.

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Terry Woster, Daily Republic ColumnistI know only what I read on the news sites, but I gather recreational use is legal in Colorado for both residents and visitors. I’ve heard folks joke of marijuana getaways, referring to a long weekend in Denver or its front-range neighbors. Well, I suppose destination vacations are what folks make of them.

I recall interviewing some out-of-state folks who had come to Deadwood early in legal gaming days from states that didn’t have legal card games and slot machines. It didn’t appeal to me, but I’m not much of a gambler.

I’m not much of an expert on marijuana, either. I was a junior in college before I ever saw someone actually smoke the stuff. That was in Minneapolis, at a place called the Triangle Bar not far from the campus of the University of Minnesota. We went to hear Dave “Snaker” Ray play the blues. Dave Ray, born in St. Paul, was a master of the 12-string blues guitar. He was only a few months older than I was, but he’d already had a big hit album (OK, a big hit album in select circles) called “Blues, Rags and Hollers,” which he did with Spider John Koerner and Tony “Little Sun” Glover.

It was a pretty big deal to see a guy like that in person, and it was only incidental to the performance that I noticed a couple of guys in the corner rolling their smokes. The guy I was with confirmed that they were about to smoke some dope. A farm kid from South Dakota, I had a moment of panic, thinking that any moment now the cops would kick down the flimsy back door of the triangle-shaped bar and storm through the place. “The French Connection” hadn’t been filmed yet, but I was thinking “Everybody up against the bar, Popeye is here.” Relax, the guy I was with said. Nobody’s going to bust in here over a joint or two.

I relaxed for the most part, because Dave Ray was playing the daylights out of his guitar. I returned to campus at Brookings a more worldly person, although one with no desire to test the evil weed on my own. For one thing, it was illegal. For another, all of my pals were content to hang out in Horatio’s and B&G Billiards and Jim’s Tap in downtown Brookings and swill 3.2 beer.

Even if I had been interested, I would have had no clue where to score the stuff in Brookings. I didn’t know anyone who smoked — at least not anyone that I knew smoked. It might have been happening all around me, but I never knew it. And in 1964 or 1965, it probably wasn’t all around. By the time I left campus, I knew a kid in one of the dorms whose roommate knew a kid at Northern who knew a kid from New York state who knew where he could buy marijuana if he wanted it. That was as close to the drug culture as I knowingly came during my college career.

(Aside: My big sister and her husband went to a John Denver concert in St. Paul around 1970. Apparently the auditorium was a haze of smoke, and my sis whispered loudly to her husband, “Can you smell that? Someone’s coat is on fire.”)

Many people probably don’t remember when the South Dakota Legislature came “this close” to de-criminalizing marijuana, making possession of small amounts a petty offense. Instead of jail or prison time, a petty offense would have been punishable by a $20 fine. That came, if I remember correctly, during a comprehensive revision of the state’s criminal code in 1975. The Legislature got a nice little write-up in a magazine called “High Times.”

The revision bill, however, included a delayed implementation date, to give lawmakers a chance to review the body of work and decide if they’d made any mistakes. Next session, a bill was introduced and passed to re-criminalize simple possession before the act took effect.