Legalize It

Originally Performed ByPeter Tosh
Original AlbumLegalize It (1976)
Lyrics ByTosh
VocalsPage (lead), Trey (backing)
Phish Debut2013-09-01
Last Played2013-09-01
Current Gap322
HistorianMartin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Last Update2013-09-06


Though Phish is generally an apolitical band, they occasionally take mid-show delight in the news of the day. Considering that the Department of Justice had just updated the Federal Marijuana Enforcement Policy as necessitated by Colorado and Washington voting to decriminalize pot in November 2012; the 9/1/13 debut performance of the Peter Tosh demand to “Legalize It” was not particularly surprising. 

The song was originally released in 1975 as a single (featuring both international and Jamaican versions) on Tosh’s Intelligent Diplomat of His Imperial Majesty record label, and would also serve as the title track to his first solo album. Legalize It, despite being an amalgamation of largely previously recorded material from this founding member of The Wailers, was still well regarded when released by Columbia Records in 1976. Columbia of course elected to go with the safer international version of the song on the album, rather than the far trippier Jamaican version. Both tracks featured the glorious backing harmonies of Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt. These of course were missing from Johnny Clarke’s cover version of the song also released in 1976 on Island Records. 

Peter Tosh, “Legalize It”

One of the earliest (if not the first) live performances of “Legalize It” occurred during the Wonder Dream Concert (10/4/75) at Kingston, Jamaica’s National Stadium. This concert, featuring Stevie Wonder and the last appearance by the original members of The Wailers who reunited for the gig, was a benefit for the Jamaican Institute for the Blind. 

The tune was a Tosh setlist staple in near constant rotation during Tosh’s touring schedule from October 1976 through December 1983 and was often a potent jamming vehicle. Although met with great joy and a few extra billows of smoke from the crowd, the debut Phish performance of the song, as the schwag filling the bowl of a late second set Mike’s Groove, certainly was not. Resolving from the ashes of the Mike’s jam, it clearly evokes the question “Is that a wind, or a bug?” Rather than bust out this TAB tune last played by Phish in September 2000, Trey opts for the Tosh song from which it was lifted. Unfortunately Page can’t remember the bulk of the lyrics (and changes others... Sour Diesel, anyone?) so the message of the song, which justifies the legalization of Jah Herb, is completely lost. Not unlike the campaign for which it has become the rally cry. 

On the surface, the crusade to decriminalize the possession and recreational use of cannabis can be seen as the Stoner Party’s simple desire to “Fight for Your Right to Party.” Digging deeper into this de rigeur legislative battle, the putrescent history of prohibition is laid bare and we are forced to acknowledge its undeniable links to our ongoing global ruination at the hands of a cabal of central banks, petrochemical conglomerates, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and the military industrial prison complex. As we celebrate the first ripples of what will assuredly be a tsunami-like deluge of individual states exercising their right to self govern and “Legalize It” we should turn a cynical eye to this pseudo-Libertarian policy change and ask “Why now?” Quick, somebody check if Monsanto just submitted a patent on a particularly virulent blend of weed killer...wait...flip that, perhaps a GMO strain of killer weed that will ruin the DNA of all our favorite flavors. Either way, somebody is about to start making a major profit from the rescinding of pot prohibition, and its likely that it isn’t your favorite local grower. “Cui Bono?”

Phish, “Legalize It” – 9/1/13, Commerce City, CO

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