It is a truth universally acknowledged that a musical group visiting Humboldt County must be in want of getting very, very high. Who hasn't been to a show here where the singer opens by complimenting our cannabis?
Sunday's highly anticipated Run the Jewels concert was no different, with DJ Nick Hook starting his set by announcing he had gotten high about "five minutes" before coming on stage. The crowd —mostly Humboldt State University students — screamed its approval. Not a huge surprise. Because I opened this column with a dorky Jane Austen joke, it should be equally unsurprising that when it became hard to see the stage in the normally staid Van Duzer theater, I first assumed it was because of a smoke machine. Nope, I'm just old and stodgy, and in the last 15 years it's become socially acceptable again to smoke indoors, as long as what you're smoking is weed. Students on either side of me lit up when Killer Mike and El-P took the stage to a remix of Queen's "We Are the Champions." (For a full description of the show, see Monday's blog post and photo slideshow, "Jewels of Wisdom.") El-P reported that they had been offered "handfuls" of cannabis since arriving in Humboldt. Killer Mike took a minute mid-set to ask the audience to behave, to ask the young men "not to press up on the young ladies who don't want to be pressed up on," but also to say, "Let me say to security: Do not fuck with the kids who are smoking weed. We will sit down and we will stop playing." Cue more cheers, more clouds of smoke, etc.
Of course, the Van Duzer doesn't allow smoking inside and Humboldt State University technically prohibits cannabis use on campus. But, logistically, it's hard to imagine how they would actually adhere to the letter of that law, given the sheer mass of people clogging the aisles, unless they were willing to turn on the sprinklers. Having spent most of my early 20s in bars that allowed smoking (there used to be a few that evaded the smoking ban by being employee-owned and I knew them all) I recognize the futility in trying to nanny-state college kids into taking care of their sweet virgin lungs. I feel for the asthmatics in the audience and for anyone wearing a jacket that needs to be dry cleaned, but what I'm really curious about is when sparking up publicly will cease being a political statement.
Killer Mike, who stumped for Bernie Sanders and is a prominent activist against police brutality, was probably not just asking security to let the kids keep having a good time. He has written eloquently in Rolling Stone about how people of color have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs, saying "the people most likely to be victims of marijuana prohibition are the least likely to profit in its aftermath." This refers to the restrictions barring those with convictions on their records to operate legal marijuana businesses. Until there's parity in sentencing or cannabis use has been completely legalized and normalized, getting lit on the dance floor may remain an expression of solidarity that will need to be defended against authorities of all stripes. Of course, many of those getting high in Sunday's audience weren't doing it on behalf of social justice, but rather because a) it was raining b) they could and c) no one wants their high to wear off before the headliner starts. We've all been there. Next time, though, I'll probably hang out in the balcony.