Prop 19: The ‘Okie from Muskogee’ Got It Wrong

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In 1969, one of Shasta County’s more famous residents, Merle Haggard, released a song that since has become something of a signature for him. “Okie from Muskogee” was an overnight hit and remains a staple of country music to this day. It was, if you will, a protest against a protest in that it derided those who were regarded as unpatriotic, anti-war hippies, and praised so-called red blooded Americans for, as the song said, “Livin’ right and bein’ free.”

Everyone is entitled to his opinions, but I believe that history is telling us that the anti-war people were right and Mr. Haggard was wrong, at least so far as Vietnam is concerned. But that dispute is not where the real problem with “Okie from Muskogee” lies.

The song starts out with this: “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee” and the chorus ends with “And white lightnin’s still the biggest thrill of all.” The message is, of course, that smoking marijuana is bad, while good, red blooded Americans drink hard liquor, even illegal hard liquor, with pride. In point of fact, those red blooded Americans would have been a lot better off smoking marijuana than drinking alcohol. Many, many people have died of alcohol poisoning, including some that are even more famous than Mr. Haggard. Hank Williams, Truman Capote, Billie Holiday, W.C. Fields and Errol Flynn, just to name a few. Nobody has ever died of marijuana poisoning. In fact, taking aspirin is much more dangerous than using marijuana. Further, while there is fighting whiskey, I have never seen or heard of fighting marijuana. In fact, according to Mayor LaGuardia of New York, when marijuana was legal, the police were often called to bars where people drank, but essentially never called to tea houses where people smoked marijuana.

Granted, people have been injured or killed because they did stupid things like drive cars or operate machinery while they were high. But doing any of those things while impaired is extremely dangerous, whether the impairment is due to alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs, fatigue or illness. The fatal error is attempting these activities while impaired. The source of impairment is irrelevant.

I do not use marijuana. I like to wind down with a drink or glass of wine at the end of the day. But the fact that I don’t choose to use marijuana does not make keeping it illegal sensible. In fact, making the use or possession of marijuana illegal has never made a lick of sense from the moment Congress did it nearly 80 years ago. In addition, my usual position is that everyone should vote against every initiative on every ballot in every election. Initiative measures either have unintended adverse consequences because they have not been carefully thought through, or they have been carefully thought through by people who are concealing the real purpose of the initiative so they can make lots of money once the new law is passed.

Proposition 19 is an exception. Its purpose is to undo something really, really stupid that Congress did decades ago. (I suppose that we can all take some kind of comfort in the idea that stupidity in Congress is not a modern development – it has always been there.) By legalizing marijuana, proposition 19 will do a bunch of things, all of them good, for our society. It will:

  1. Stop making criminals out of perfectly good citizens whose only fault (if you can call it that) is preferring to relax with a puff rather than a drink.
  2. Take a major source of revenue away from organized crime.
  3. Stop the damage that is being done to our forests by growers who tear up the landscape and kill plant-eating deer so they can grow their crop away from the prying eyes of the police.
  4. Remove the burden of prowling the forests rooting out illegal marijuana plantations from our police. Do you have any idea about what it costs to operate just one of the helicopters that are flown around looking for marijuana on a daily basis? Trust me. It is VERY expensive.
  5. By passing this initiative, we take at least one step toward getting the government out of the lives of our citizens. There are lots of areas where government interference with the desires of individuals is necessary (especially laws protecting children and elders), but we do not need government sticking its nose where it is not needed.

If you want to strike a blow for freedom, do enormous damage to organized crime, save tax money, take some of the burden off of our police and stop throwing people into jail unnecessarily, VOTE YES ON PROPOSITION 19.


Dugan Barr has practiced law in Redding since 1967. He has tried more than 200 civil jury cases to verdict. He is married and has five children. The offices of Barr and Mudford, LLP, are at 1824 Court St. in Redding and can be reached at 243-8008.

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Dugan Barr
Dugan Barr has practiced law in Redding since 1967, primarily in the areas of personal injury and wrongful death. He has tried more than 200 civil jury cases to verdict. He is married and has five children. He can be reached at Barr & Mudford, 1824 Court St., Redding, 243-8008, or
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31 Responses

  1. Avatar No on 19 says:

    Marijuana and Muslims –

    The economic savior of the Godless crowd

  2. Avatar Bob says:

    No doubt you've read this but in case you have not:

  3. Avatar Adam Mankoski says:

    Dugan – Thanks for an incredibly sensible piece. I have countless people in my life who have escaped a burden of poisonous prescription and over-the-counter "medicines" for insomnia, chronic pain, and the affects of HIV and cancer, as examples, by smoking/vaporizing/eating medical marijuana – a true, unaltered, natural medicine.

    It's time to stop lumping marijuana with cocaine, meth and heroine as a dangerous chemical substance. Marijuana is a plant and when grown organically and left unaltered, is a safe, effective medicinal treatment.

    We have a lot of myth-busting to do from marijuana's hippy, counter-culture, "pot," Cheech and Chong legacy, but legalization for medical uses in 1996 (yep, it's been over a decade) and Prop 19 are huge steps.

    Thanks again for presenting a rational, intelligent side of the subject.

  4. Avatar Adam Mankoski says:

    And great cartoon, Phil!

  5. Avatar Kirsten Plate says:


    Finally a reasonable and sensible way of looking at this issue. I'm with you. Now- any reason we could not collect sales tax on these goodies?


  6. Avatar gamerjohn says:

    Still, anytime a lawyer says "trust me" even if it regarding the cost of operating a helicopter, I half choke/half laugh.

    I bet Merle has changed his opinion on lots of things over the past 41 years, especially while he hangs around Willie Nelson.

  7. Avatar Ann Webber says:

    Yes, Dugan! Thank you for your comprehensive examination of this issue! It helps so much that you step into the forefront and bring some respectability to Marijuana.

  8. Avatar rob says:

    Good piece. It just makes too much sense to pass this proposition. I'm getting the feeling it won't pass as too many people think that after it passes people will:

    1) be able to smoke pot on the job without repercussion.
    2) it's too poorly written and has too many loopholes. (should have thought of that prior to passing Prop. 215 which is FILLED to the gills with loopholes)
    3) Think it will increase the level of substance abuse on the roadways

    Believing this just proves you're a moron. Please get your priorities straight.

    All this while overlooking the fact that, as this piece states, passing it does more good than harm. Saves MILLIONS of dollars for the states and makes our public lands safer.

    Prop. 19 won't take the bite out of the drug cartels but it will take away a revenue source. They will go elsewhere for that but cocaine and other illegal drugs will still be in demand in California.

    Prop. 19 won't solve all the "drug problems" but it is the beginning of the end of the governments failed drug enforcement policies.

    One thing does concern me..a 5 x 5 square foot area, if properly cultivated, will produce way more than an ounce of product. Way more. An ounce can be grown by 5 small "potted" pun intended.

    I'm voting yes.

  9. Avatar Pruno says:

    Reading article this online and this song comes up on my 20K + song 'puterized jerkbox on random shuffle. Is the machine developing sentience? No, I haven't smoked pot since the last time I got blackout drunk on moonshine (I kid you not – shine is the new Gentleman's hobby) a few years back.

    Okie was 1969 – 12 years later "Are the Good Times Really Over?".

    Some things never change: Substitute Nixon with Bush, Vietnam with Iraq, Coke with Meth. GM and Ford – 30 years too late.
    He's all over the map here. Always a Patriot but still a Sexist. Anti-Drug but snortin' and smokin' his way through the 80's like everyone else.

    Country music has always been schizo. Sinnin' out on the road, back home, clean up and go to church with the family. Cut a gospel album then go back out and do it again.

    As a "poet of the people" Merle captured the mood of the country in '69 and continues to this day. Let's hope "the common man" has grown and continues to grow like Merle.

    Are the Good Times Really Over? – Haggard – 1981

    I wish a buck was still silver and it was back when the country was strong
    Back before Elvis and before the Vietnam war came along
    Before the Beatles and yesterday when a man could still work and still would
    Is the best of the free life behind us now and are the good times really over for good?

    Are we rollin’ downhill like a snowball headed for hell?
    With no kind of chance for the flag or the liberty bell?
    I wish a Ford or a Chevy would still last ten years like they should
    Is the best of the free life behind us now and are the good times really over for good?

    I wish Coke was still cola and a joint was a bad place to be
    It was back before Nixon lied to us all on TV
    Before Microwave ovens when a girl could still cook, and still would
    Is the best of the free life behind us now and are the good times really over for good?

    Are we rollin’ downhill like a snowball headed for hell?
    With no kind of chance for the flag or the liberty bell?
    I wish a Ford or a Chevy would still last ten years like they should
    Is the best of the free life behind us now and are the good times really over for good?

    Stop rollin’ downhill like a snowball headed for hell
    Stand up for the flag, and let’s all ring the liberty bell
    Let’s make a Ford and a Chevy that’ll still last ten years like they should…
    The best of the free life is still yet to come and the good times ain’t over for good

  10. Avatar No on 19 says:

    Greed – Pure Greed

    How many plants to you and your friends have going Dugan ?

  11. Avatar clitav says:

    Thank you for the very upfront and honest essay in support of Prop 19! I understand Prop 19 deals with Recreational use, but I am for the decriminalization and reform of All Cannabis Regulations! I am a MMJ advocate as well as a patient! I suffer from horrible, uncontrollable muscle spasms that make me appear to be having a seizure, sometimes several times a day! Also I have permanent external numbness and constant internal nerve “impulses” that NEVER cease, day and night on one side of my body from arm to toe! Much like when your leg falls asleep and then you get up and have to walk across the floor. This is the "left over" damage from having had my cervical vertebrae shattered and been brought back from paralysis! I live every minute of every day convincing myself to “ignore” these constant “zappings” and to get on with living. I have been prescribed numerous drugs from several genres of pharmaceuticals. I can nearly have my pick, unfortunately most have not been very successful. I was not able to maintain the different "Nuero" Drugs nor any more Anti-Depressants! I rarely take any of the prescribed Pain Pills I have on hand, just in case I have been overdoing it, but they mostly make me feel like I am living in a dim fog, make me sick to my stomach and more… Occasionally, mostly at my family or Doctors insistence to cut down on the likelihood of a Herky-Jerky when I go out and about, I do take a Valium that leaves me with a significant “Hangover” and is extremely addictive! Flexeril helps a lot, especially when combined with the Valium but makes me feel like I cannot even pick myself up to get to the bathroom and or why even bother and then I have my Ambien, which although it helps me sleep, then leaves me groggy for several hours in the morning requiring COPIOUS amounts of caffeine AND is HIGHLY addictive! I choose MMJ as my main drug for pain relief, nerve tonic and sleep aid! It is NOT some SAVIOR or even any Cure for what ails me, but I have a lot more of my faculties, seem to be able to “ignore” the pain much easier and I can still function. I believe it was erroniously criminalized in a wave of underhanded politics and that the situation needs to be resolved and corrected!

  12. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    Thank you Dugan for a great article. If you asked Merle now, he would tell you that he now uses marijuana medicinally.
    Take distribution out of the hands of cartels, bring agriculture out of the woods and into the valley, and keep recreational users from going to jail.
    It should be as illegal for young people to smoke marijuana as it is for them to drink alcohol. Both drugs can sap the energy, health and motivation out of the people who need those things the most. No one should be able to show up stoned to a workplace where they can't show up drunk, or under the influence of prescribed narcotics.
    Again, thank you for a great article.

  13. Avatar Mike Stuart says:

    Rational folks could take both sides of this argument and score some points- anyone can get marijuana anytime they want it anyway. Like you, I have some issues with some of the ideas in Merle's song. But, come on, Dugan, I know you are an attorney and used to "shaping the battlefield" and framing arguments around issues to that prove your case, but comparing extreme alcohol use with casual marijuana smoking is a stretch. Let's compare extreme marijuana use with extreme use of alcohol – both really bad in different ways. If I had to choose which way for folks to mess themselves up with heavy use, I would probably choose marijuana, but that does not mean this initiative is good as it has other things in it besides just making marijuana legal.
    You don't actually believe that reasons 2,3, and 4 are true do you? If marijuana is illegal in Cal, there is still a huge market in the other states and since there is always a market for illegal substances over the legal ones as folks want to try substances more "exciting and rebellious" than the legal, don't you think the cartels will move on to producing some other hallucinogens illegally in the forests that they can make a profit on?
    Anyway, the debate over marijuana is a legitimate one, but I am not sure this particular initiative will work. By the way, The anti-war people may have been right about 20% but wrong about 80%. A younger generation of historians will be more objective in writing of the history of America during this period. Since you manged to slip the anti-war movement into your marijuana argument,- a brief reaction – I found it interesting when I came home from Vietnam in March of 1968 after serving as a paratrooper in an airborne infantry unit and going back to college to find my peer group almost more in uniform than I was in the Army. They all dressed the same – tie dyed shirts, granny dresses, the back to nature thing – wearing hiking shorts and boots – and taking big back packs to schools right from moms house or the dorm – thinking the same, carrying Mao's little red book and idealizing Che, Fidel and "Uncle Ho" and talking about having the same type of "revolution" in the U.S. when the most difficult thing they had done was clean their rooms when mom told them to do so. (hard to find anyone that will admit they were like this in their youth) The hypocrisy of being critical of the lifestyles and politics of "middle" America, was fully on display – they took conformity to a new level among themselves. They were right about some of the social issues but were wrong about much of what they believed and what they did. Merle's song was flawed as was much on the other side.

  14. Avatar Pat J says:

    VOTE NO ON 19 !!! Mr. Barr, You are a PINHEAD.

    • Avatar J P Adams says:

      Pat J,

      Mr. Barr's rationale on this subject is clear, forward, intelligent, and makes a lot of sense. Your comment however suggests you're backward, and you drink that Kool-Aid a lot that Bill O Reilly pours on FOX NEWS.

  15. Avatar Pat J says:

    J P Who really needs another bad habit?? I do watch Fox News, but I also watch CNN and the all the other news channels. I'm an Ind. with a mind of my own. If it is backward to listen to both sides, so be it.

    • Avatar J P Adams says:

      So what have you learned?? And since labeling Mr. Barr "PINHEAD", do you regard the majority of folks who have commented and agree PINHEADS as well?

  16. Avatar Pat J says:

    I certainly don't think smoking pot is a good example for your children/grands, and hard to believe it would be any more healthy than cigarettes, which we all know are bad for you. As for your last ?, Guess.

    • Avatar t-goku says:

      lol, its hard to believe it would be any more healthy than cigarettes? It's people like you who don't research these things before you post your propaganda. Pot is way more healthy than cigarettes. There have been no known cases of lung cancer attributed to Pot, 0 deaths have ever been attributed to Pot nor has there been any long term effects attributed to smoking Pot. 400,000 people die a year smoking Cigarettes yet no one has died smoking pot in 400 years of recorded history. Please people, do your research and think outside of what your leaders have told you. Pat J, you clearly have no idea what your talking about. MMJ has no chemical that you can get addicted to unlike niccotine. Cigarettes are the real drug and they don't even come close to the medical value that MMJ has.

    • Avatar Badger says:

      "I certainly don’t think smoking pot is a good example for your children/grands"

      Then don't do it.

      But quit trying to dictate what I can and can't do based on your misinformed opinion.

      You don't have any better reason than you don't like it, everything else you have is misinformation that you willingly hang on to.

      I imagine you voted for Prop 8 as well because you didn't want children seeing gay people.


      It's my personal theory that folks like you could never own a pug. The couldn't stand the sight of it…

  17. Avatar Budd Hodges says:

    Good story Dugan and a funny toon Philbert. Thank You !

    Okies from Muskogee…just down the road from Tahlequah and Fort Gibson were smoking lots of marijuana at the time of Hag's song. White Lightin' was an antique swilled by Older Okies and unknown or bitter to the youngins'.

    A 'Yes' vote on prop. 19 seeks to take control of this illegal market and turn it over to regulators, lawmakers And licensed business; A boon to much needed taxes.

    It frees up jails and the need for a lawyer.

    A 'No' vote continues to abdicate control of the market to criminal gangs and drug traffic.

    It's high time to vote yes on 19 !

  18. Avatar Badger says:

    Thank you for this work on this story Dugan!

  19. Avatar Pat J says:

    Hey Guys…How about taking a break from calling people names for their opinions. i.e. pinhead and stupid. We all have a right to our opinions…right or wrong. My "new project" is the ice cream quarrel.

    • Avatar J P Adams says:

      Right… and if you can't AT LEAST contribute with a relevant question or statement, stop posting!

    • Avatar Badger says:

      You're the only one who did this, now you're telling others to take a break from it.?!?


      What is it what YOU smoke?!

      "I see Tea People."

  20. Avatar pmarshall says:

    Anything can be justified; That does not mean that marijuana is morally justified. Whatever happened to morality? Oh, yeah, just a lot of baloney. Just where are we headed? No use arguing, Pat J. They have their "opinions", and we have ours and never will the "twain" shall meet.