Some of It’s Magic, Some of It’s Tragic: Jimmy Buffett and American Cannabis Policy

Blogs, Budding Trends


Budding Trends

Jimmy Buffett was a spirit animal of the Budding Trends blog. We don’t quote from him as often as we do the Grateful Dead, Phish, Widespread Panic, or popular movies, but maybe because in many ways his lyrics are too good for our material. After all, Bob Dylan, no stranger to the lyrical art, declared that Buffett was one of the best songwriters of all time.

I am a huge fan of his music, and I identify with it deeply. Maybe I’m not exactly a pirate (just a lawyer who talks about cannabis) but I’m certainly an over-40 victim of fate, and my occupational hazard may be that my occupation’s just not around.

Sure, he (apparently) smoked marijuana. And many of his lyrics suggest a, shall I say, laissez-faire attitude about the use of alcohol and controlled substances. But it was more than that. His lyrics empowered us, even challenged us, to both question societal norms and to seek out liberation and happiness whenever possible. And they did so with a knowing wink and a nod. Oh, and he grew up in Alabama, so here we are.

I don’t want to overstate this. An awful lot of things go into making and changing cannabis policies at the federal and state level. But in some ways, I do not think it is mere coincidence that Jimmy Buffett’s ascension to fame and his subsequent enshrinement into our collective consciousness did in many ways track the liberalization of American cannabis policy.

If cannabis advocates needed a face and a personality for the movement, they could hardly do better than Buffett. He was friendly, fun, creative, and maybe most importantly he was non-threatening. Maybe cannabis wasn’t so bad and scary.  After all, almost everyone liked Jimmy Buffett. Hell, a lot of people wanted to be Jimmy Buffett. Even those who didn’t care for him would be hard pressed to gin up any sort of hatred for his music and his lifestyle.

When I think of the federal government’s cannabis policy, I think of him singing “Is it ignorance or apathy?…Hey, I don’t know, I don’t care.” Doesn’t that just about sum about our federal government’s collective approach to cannabis policy? Whether you think cannabis has a medicinal benefit or that Americans should be allowed to use cannabis for certain purposes (as 80% of the states have determined), Congress somehow demonstrates both ignorance and apathy to this issue growing in importance to Americans. For people who follow closely, it’s hard not to remember that “[i]f we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.” This wasn’t a warning – although it certainly would be a valid one – it was a prescription. Speaking of prescriptions, one lyric stood out to me as I was thinking about Buffett’s relationship with cannabis, even though the lyric isn’t explicitly about the plant:

I know I don’t get there often enough

But God knows I surely try

It’s a magic kind of medicine

That no doctor could prescribe.

Many of his words sustain me. When a large part of your job involves decisions that are out of your control, being made by people who do not share your commitment and passion, sometimes I recall that “[i]t takes no more time to see the good side of life than it takes to see the bad.” And he reminds me to strive for happiness even if in moderation: “Some people never find it, some only pretend. But I just want to live, happily ever after, now and then.”

I’ve thought a lot about the words from Incommunicado this past week:

But now he’s incommunicado

Leavin’ such a hole in a world that believed

That a life with such bravado

Was takin’ the right way home.

The song isn’t about Buffett, but the stanza describes him beautifully – except the first line. Jimmy Buffett is far from incommunicado. He’s an important, maybe singular, voice of the past, present, and future of the cannabis world. And he will be missed as he was loved – greatly. Go rest in those cosmic Caribbean waters, Jimmy, your work on earth is done. Let the millions of Parrotheads and regular ol’ Americans who just want to escape to that island lifestyle for a few minutes take it from here, and your fans at Budding Trends continue searching for answers to questions that bother us so with your wit, charm, humor, poignancy, and effect.