Dylan and the Beatles Make Marijuana History, 50 Years Ago

CANNABIS CULTURE – Today marks the 50th anniversary of an important event in marijuana and musical history. It was the date, in 1964, when Bob Dylan reportedly turned the Beatles on to weed at the Delmonico hotel in New York City.

In their early days in Hamburg, the Beatles were expected to play four and a half hours each night, and six hours on the weekend. Club owners freely dispensed Preludin, an amphetamine marketed legally as a diet pill, to their musicians. George wrote to a friend of “eating Prellie sandwiches” and John washed copious amounts down with alcohol. Paul was cautious about them and only then-drummer Pete Best abstained altogether.

The Beatles came to America in 1964, and New York Post columnist Al Aronowitz took Dylan to meet them at the Delmonico. When offered Drinamyls and Preludins, Dylan shook his head saying, “How about something a little more organic? Something green … marijuana.” (Dylan had mistakenly thought their lyric “I can’t hide” from “I wanna hold you hand” was “I get high.”)

By Aronowitz’s account, Dylan rolled a joint and passed it to John, who handed it to Ringo Starr, calling him “my official taster.” Ringo went to a back room and smoked it down, emerging wearing a grin. Paul recounted, “We said, ‘How is it?’ He said, ‘The ceiling’s coming down on me.’ And we went, Wow! Leaped up, ‘God, got to do this!’ So we ran into the back room–first John, then me and George, then Brian [Epstein, their manager].”

Pretty soon, the mop tops were taking millions with them on a Magical Mystery Tour, experimenting with sounds as they did with drugs (which they called “droogs”). They may have even smoked pot before being decorated by the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 1965.

Paul McCartney helped pay for a July 24, 1967 advertisement in the London Times that called for legalization of pot possession, release of all prisoners on possession charges, and government research into marijuana’s medical uses. All the Beatles, plus Epstein, signed on to the ad.

Later, John Lennon was nearly deported from the US, ostensibly on a pot charge, after he appeared at a concert to free Michigan pot activist John Sinclair in 1971. Harvard psychiatrist Lester Grinspoon, the author of Marijuana Reconsidered, met Lennon when he testified as an expert witness at his INS hearings. Grinspoon told Lennon that cannabis appeared to make it possible for him to “hear” his music for the first time. He writes, “John was quick to reply that I had experienced only one facet of what marijuana could do for music, that he thought it could be very helpful for composing and making music as well as listening to it.” George Harrison has expressed similar sentiments.


Now that McCartney has admitted that his 1966 song “Got to Get You Into My Life” was written not to a woman, but to marijuana, it makes you wonder whether Dylan and the other Beatles wrote similarly about pot.

In ’64, the year he turned the Beatles on, Dylan recorded “Mr. Tamborine Man”:

Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow

In 1970 Dylan wrote a song with Harrison called “I’d Have You Any Time” with the lyrics “let me roll it to you/let me grow it on you.” Makes you wonder if the Dylan song, “I just wouldn’t have a clue … if not for you” is about a person or a joint. Dylan and Harrison performed that song together, giggling, at the Concert for Bangladesh in ’71.

At Superbowl 2005, McCartney played “Get Back” with the lyric, “Jo Jo left his home in Tucson Arizona, for some California grass.” He recently played a concert to close San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, where the Beatles played in 1966.


The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz (2005)
Barry Miles, Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now (1997)

Ellen Komp is Deputy Director of California NORML and a regular contributor to Cannabis Culture. She manages the website VeryImportantPotheads.com and blogs at Tokin Woman.