Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Toni and The Duke

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Why does Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle wants to decriminalize marijuana?

Obviously, it’s that decadent jazz music she’s been listening to.

Last month, Preckwinkle attended a rally against the War on Drugs, where she declared that locking up small-time pot dealers was a waste of space at the Cook County Jail.

“If 70 percent of the people are there for nonviolent offenses - either accused or convicted and sentenced to time for nonviolent offenses - this isn’t the best use of our resources,” Preckwinkle said at the time.

Now, Preckwinkle is using the racial disparity in marijuana arrests as an arguments for laying off people who just want to smoke a joint: blacks are busted 15 times more often than whites.

Anyone who knows Preckwinkle knows she’s a fan of the great jazz composer Duke Ellington. And anyone who knows Duke Ellington knows he was one of the music world’s pioneering potheads. Ellington got high on a regular basis, and once said “jazz was born on whiskey, raised on marijuana, and will die on heroin.” (He was probably referring to Charlie Parker, who preferred stronger drugs.) Ellington also composed the song “Chant of the Weed,” which may have been about his favorite pastime. We don’t know for sure, since the song has no lyrics (a la “Eight Miles High”), but the dragging beat is a strong hint.

Ellington’s quote ought to provide ammunition for both proponents and opponents of decriminalizing marijuana. Obviously, it’s been smoked forever, and by people who led successful careers. But it’s also part of a drug culture that can lead users to more damaging addictions. As Dragnet’s Sgt. Joe Friday put it, “Marijuana is the flame, heroin is the fuse, LSD is the bomb.”

Of course, if you’ve ever heard Jack Webb talk his way through “Try A Little Tenderness,” you’ll agree that he could have used something to loosen himself up. Duke Ellington had the right idea there.

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