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The Canna-beat Cub

April 12, 2018
by Don Lattin

Everyone’s talking about marijuana—not to mention smoking it, eating it, vaping it, or rubbing it all over their bodies.

Just the other day, the San Francisco Chronicle GreenState website announced the winners of its 2018 Cannabis Awards. The Hepburns took the prize for “Best Pre-Rolls” and Kyle Kushman took the honors for “Best Cultivator.” HerbaBuena and its sensual lubricant won for “Best Intimacy Product.”

Berkeley, of course, won hands down for “Best Cannabis City.”

This was all just a few days after the editor in chief of this fine publication asked me if I wanted to write something about marijuana. She assumed I was a “pot expert” because I’ve written a couple books about psychedelic drugs.

My marijuana story needed a Cal angle and the first thing that popped into my head was a flashback—not an LSD flashback, but a journalistic flashback. Until that revelation, I’d almost forgotten (side effect) that my reputation as a journalistic “pot expert” dates back to the spring of 1973 when I was assigned to cover the Berkeley Marijuana Initiative for the Daily Californian.

At the time, I was a freshman enrolled in a residential, experimental “university-without-walls” program called “Arts, Technology, and Society.” It was the height of the “alternative education” movement, and the program only lasted one year. No one was sure what we were supposed to be studying, but much of our research involved smoking large amounts of pot and dropping way too much acid. So perhaps that’s why the Daily Cal editors put this 19-year-old cub reporter on the pot beat.

The first prize in the raffle was “1 Kilo of … Take a Guess!?” Organizers would only say that the kilo was “a vegetable substance” and that it was of the “highest” quality.

The Berkeley Marijuana Initiative of 1973 simply stated that the Berkeley Police Department “shall make no arrests for the possession, use, or cultivation of marijuana” without the prior authorization of the Berkeley City Council. Part of the organizer’s agenda was to get out the student vote and elect a left-leaning slate of progressive candidates to take control of the council.

To raise money for the campaign, the sponsors of the marijuana measure organized a “Win a Kilo!” contest. Tickets were available for $1 at tables set up on Sproul Plaza and at Leopold Records on Durant Avenue, just down the street from my dorm.

The first prize in the Berkeley Marijuana Initiative raffle was “1 Kilo of … Take a Guess!?” Organizers would only say that the kilo was “a vegetable substance” and that it was of the “highest” quality.

This was such a big story that I was assigned to obtain a sample of this mysterious vegetative substance and seek out other experts on the staff to form a Daily Californian Consumer Sampling Bureau. We reported our findings in the lead story of the April 6, 1973, edition with the headline “Experts Say Raffle Prize is Real.”

Not surprisingly, the Berkeley Police Department did not look kindly upon the Berkeley Marijuana Initiative or the “Win a Kilo!” contest. They arrested one ticket seller and threatened to arrest more for running an illegal lottery, prompting the campaign to modify the rules so that a voluntary $1 “donation” was not required to obtain a raffle ticket.

On Monday, April 16, the day before the election, nearly a thousand people gathered in Sproul Plaza for the “Win a Kilo!” raffle drawing. Berkeley police set up cameras to film the event, hoping to catch the lucky winner. So, to thwart that plan, the rally organizers had everyone in the crowd yell “Far Out!” whether or not they had the winning ticket. Mescalito, a short person dressed up as a four-foot-tall peyote button, drew the winning number, 04267, and the crowd went wild. The winner turned out to be a female undergraduate who lived in one of the South Side dorms. “It’s a lifetime supply,” she told the Daily Cal, which withheld her name for obvious reasons.

The following day, nearly 61 percent of Berkeley voters approved the marijuana initiative, only to have the ordinance thrown out by the courts. Six years later, the city adopted another initiative that succeeded in making marijuana the “lowest police priority” in the city.

In 1996, California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana. Twenty years later, California voters approved the recreational use of marijuana, which took effect on January 1 and has everyone either smoking pot or talking about it, eating it or rubbing it all over their bodies.

But it all began 44 years ago in Berkeley with the “Win a Kilo!” raffle. 

Don Lattin began his professional newspaper career as the “Berkeley stringer” for the San Francisco Examiner in 1976. He was a staff writer at the San Francisco Chronicle from 1988 to 2006. He is the author of six books, including Changing Our Minds—Psychedelic Sacraments and the New Psychotherapy, published last spring. More at Don lives in Alameda with his wife, Laura Thomas, whom he met at the Daily Cal in 1973.

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