Carl Sagan, the near-celebrity of astronomy and physics, was one of the most brilliant thinkers of the 20th century. Sagan died in 1996, but his work in various science fields and communication are still relevant today. Sagan wrote an astounding 500 papers and essays during his life, won a Pulitzer Prize as well as an Emmy, co-founded The Planetary Society, won countless science awards, made the critically-acclaimed TV show Cosmos and penned a best-selling book. Oh, and he did all that while stoned.
Well, perhaps not stoned. Sagan advocated marijuana in moderation, feeling that casual use was easy and helpful.
“The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.” –Carl Sagan
Sagan first talked about the benefits of marijuana in 1969, when at the age of 35 he wrote an essay under the pseudonym Mr. X. In the piece he extolled the benefits of marijuana, saying that “The cannabis experience has greatly improved my appreciation for art, a subject which I had never much appreciated before,” wrote Sagan. “The understanding of the intent of the artist which I can achieve when high sometimes carries over to when I’m down. This is one of many human frontiers which cannabis has helped me traverse.”
The essay wasn’t revealed as his until 1999, three years after his death.
Sagan felt that marijuana should be available to all, stating that “The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.” Sagan said that smoking marijuana heightened his experiences and appreciation with a variety of things, including music, food and sex.
Barring legalization, Sagan was adamant that at the least marijuana should be available to the terminally ill, such as those suffering from AIDS or cancer. “Is it rational to forbid patients who are dying from taking marijuana as a palliative to permit them to gain body weight and to get some food down? It seems madness to say, ‘We’re worried that they’re going to become addicted to marijuana’ — there’s no evidence whatever that it’s an addictive drug, but even if it were, these people are dying, what are we saving them from?”
While he might not be a pop icon to most stoners, his support of the marijuana culture lent a tremendous amount of credibility to the drug’s otherwise dubious proponents. When one of the planet’s most brilliant and honored minds says something is amazing, you stop and listen. Thus Carl Sagan is perhaps one of the most influential advocates of marijuana across the globe, making him well-deserving of being a Pot Icon.
Shortly after his death, his widow Ann Druyan joined the marijuana advocacy group NORML as a member of their advisory board. NORML, a non-profit, has made it their mission to see weed legalized for recreational use, something Sagan would surely have approved of.
To read about other high-profile marijuana advocates, go to our Influential Tokers page.