Every political movement needs good music to rally around. And when it comes to marijuana legalization, activists aren't exactly lacking music sensitive to the cause.
It's a precarious balance, though. There's a difference between the 40-minute long whale song that sounds good when high and the thoughtful music that supports the values of the movement and highlights the right aspects of the debate. Basically, we don't need the Insane Clown Posse speaking for a movement that should be taken very seriously.
So here are 14 tracks that make the best kind of argument for legalization:
1. “Legalize It” by Peter Tosh
The title track of the movement. Every verse song makes a short, sweet, self-contained argument for legalization. And the spacey reggae refrain is, simply, a lethargic "legalize it."
The first verse debunks the myth that only burnouts and junkies use marijuana: "Doctors smoke it / Nurses smoke it ... Even the lawyer do."
The second describes its medical applications in some surprisingly sophisticated terms: "Good for tuberculosis / Even umara composis."
Listen up, House Republicans.
2. “The Next Episode” by Snoop Dogg
Snoop Dogg has done wonders for the legalization movement. He's been speaking out in favor of legalization for the entirety of his career. He's helped make the drug seem less threatening to daytime television viewers by cracking jokes with Martha Stewart and discussing tricky parenting issues involving teens and drug use with Larry King.
"The Next Episode" is only one of his many pro-weed songs. Between his "blaze it up," his carefree "Da-de-da-de-dah" and his epic line, "Step up in this motherfucker just a-swangin' my hair," it's clear this is a man who is happy with his life.
3. "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" by Jimi Hendrix
Jimi was a dedicated marijuana smoker. He was also the best guitarist of all time.
He laid the foundations for numerous new genres of music, including hip-hop, funk, punk, hard rock and metal. He inspired musicians ranging from Miles Davis, to De La Soul, to Kirk Hammett of Metallica.
Yet, after four incredible albums, it was two perfectly legal drugs — alcohol and sleeping pills — that ended up killing him. If the shredding on "Voodoo Child" doesn't make an argument for legalization, then, I don't know what does.
4. "Don't Step On The Grass, Sam" by Steppenwolf
Every so often the '60s psychedelic band Steppenwolf came down off their epic magic carpet rides to present the public a piece of straightforward, sober social critique. In "Don't Step On The Grass, Sam" lead singer John Kay berates Uncle Sam for wasting valuable taxpayer dollars on a fruitless cause:
"You waste my coin Sam, all you can
To jail my fellow man
For smoking all the noble weed"
Back in 1968, when this song was written, the U.S. government was arresting around 50,000 citizens per year on marijuana-related charges. Now those numbers have skyrocketed to about 700,000 arrests per year, resulting in $10.7 billion wasted on enforcement. Kay's song was prescient, but it's more relevant than ever now.
5. “Crumblin’ Erb” by Outkast
Outkast's entire first album is riddled with weed puns and shout-outs (ex: the ad-lib "Hootie Hoo" is a shoutout to White Owl, the group's blunt of choice), but the band has always taken their discussions of the drug to higher planes.
The deep smooth beat is its own argument for legalization, but Andre 3000 makes it explicit on the chorus: "I'm just crumblin' erb, I'm just crumblin' erb / Niggas killing niggas they don't understand."
He pitches getting high as a kind of necessary spiritual pause — a step back from the daily hustle. But they, more than anyone else, have always pointed out that marijuana use is a means to an end — not an end in itself.
6. “What A Job” by Devin the Dude feat. Snoop Dogg and Andre 3000
These three men have written some of the most sultry weed ballads ever to grace a stoner's ear. The three of them together — Snoop and Andre especially — couldn't help but make an epic, laid-back weed anthem about how great working hard on music is (and how it's a better drug than weed).
And, of course, the album is called Waiting to Inhale. Of course.
7. "Good Music" by The Roots
Off The Roots' debut album, Organix. This was long before Jimmy Fallon, before their Grammys, back when Questlove and Black Thought were grinding out shows in London coffee shops and smoking weed at the pad afterward to cool down.
It's a simple song, describing the healing power of music, the simple joy of burning one and creating beauty with good friends. And their careers are, perhaps, more professionalized than almost anyone else's in music. Nobody holds down a day job like The Roots.
8. "And Your Bird Can Sing" by The Beatles
Most of the conventions of modern pop, rock and alternative music that we know today can be traced back to a single fateful joint, rolled by Bob Dylan and smoked by The Beatles in their suite in the Hotel Delmonico (now Trump Park Avenue) in New York City in 1964.
That joint turned The Beatles on to a whole new world. It helped them kick the destructive habits they had been developing at their club residencies in Germany. And it inspired the strange and wonderful years of music to come.
This song isn't an argument for legalization, but it does refer to that night. The line "You say you've seen seven wonders" refers to how Paul McCartney, high for the first time, cried out, "There are seven levels!" thinking he had found the meaning of life. Everyone burst into laughter.
Many years later, McCartney said of the incident: "Actually it wasn't bad. Not bad for an amateur ... looking back, it's actually a pretty succinct comment; [the number 7] ties in with a lot of major religions, but I didn't know that then."
So, if anything, the song testifies to his faith in marijuana's supernatural abilities. Granted, that's maybe not the most rational of the arguments for weed legalization. But its musical legacy is undeniably powerful.
9. “The Times They Are Changin’” by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan's classic protest song is an oddity in his catalogue — it's hard, from just listening to it, to pinpoint a single political issue he's addressing.
Given his own affinity for the drug, that makes this multipurpose protest song ideal for the movement:
"Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall ..."
10. "Sweet Leaf" by Black Sabbath
It wasn't marijuana that made Ozzy Osbourne the incomprehensible buffoon he is today. In fact, the man made his best music when he was just singing about weed, before his heroin and cocaine dependencies started slowly melting his mind in the late '70s and early '80s. See above.
11. "Muggles" by Louie Armstrong
Long before the word "muggle" had anything to do with wizards or witchcraft, it was the slang for marijuana. This was a path-setter for musicians: It's the first song to explicitly refer marijuana and reach a large, popular audience.
12. "Mary Jane" by Rick James
Though Rick James is more widely remembered for his ludicrous cocaine habits, he still penned one of the most memorable odes to marijuana. The down-low funk track lives on as one of the most, if not the most, sampled song in popular music today.
WhoSampled.com counts 77 songs that sample it — including Kanye West's "Runaway," Jennifer Lopez and Ja Rule's "I'm Real," and Lana Del Ray's "Blue Jeans." It's again significant that an ode to the drug's better nature had such a lasting and visionary influence on music.
13. “Let’s Go Get Stoned” by Ray Charles
Ray Charles always tried to treat his subject fairly — he, more than most other singers, acknowledge that marijuana isn't exclusively wonderful: The most sinister aspect of the drug that Charles could think of: "It ain't no harm, you're taking just a nip / Just make sure you don't fall down bust your lip."
The pain in his voice is so honest, so palpable. That probably happened to him once. Poor guy. Maybe we shouldn't legalize it.
14. “Get Up, Stand Up” by Bob Marley
Bob Marley had one mission on this earth: to touch the soul of every living being on earth and entreat them to appreciate their lives and promote peace. The catalog he left behind continues that mission to this today.
His music has the power to heal as many emotional ailments as marijuana does physical ones. He always saw the two — his drug of choice and his healing music — as part of the same equation.
So he would be happier than anyone that national legalization is inevitable. And this song is one of the best arguments you can make for it to come sooner rather than later.