On the Privilege of Getting High with Dave Chappelle

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Dave Chappelle’s recent run of outdoor comedy shows in Ohio apparently featured lots of cannabis and magic mushrooms.

Breaking news: Dave Chappelle is a fan of marijuana.

Though the former “Chappelle Show” star’s name may not be synonymous with cannabis like Snoop Dogg or Tommy Chong, he’s made no secret of his affinity for weed over the course of his career. In addition to the countless references and stories about the plant featured across his taped specials, Chappelle also starred in the beloved 1998 stoner comedy “Half Baked.”

Far from using cannabis solely as a prop, Chappelle also frequently smokes joints while performing.

[That those performances include insanely callous, bigoted thoughts on transgendered persons is a worthy point best left aside in this context. Ditto Chappelle’s willingness to host disgraced comedian Louis C.K. as well as his choice to blast critics in a recent Grammy acceptance speech for doing literally what he also does for a living (critiquing culture).]

With such gross but necessary caveats aside, let’s focus on Mary Jane for a moment.

In the wake of COVID restrictions, Chappelle’s 2020 performances have taken the form of a summer series that takes place in a cornfield. The outdoor events, set in a pavilion near Yellow Springs, Ohio, has been running since June. In that time, Chappelle has welcomed an array of famous friends (including the aforementioned C.K.) to join him in his home state for “socially-distanced” comedy shows.

Now, some of the folks who have made the journey are sharing behind-the-scenes stories about the copious amounts of cannabis consumed by both Chappelle and his fellow performers.

As first reported by Marijuana Moment, comedian Chris Rock “spilled the beans on behind-the-scenes festivities at Dave Chappelle’s recent comedy shows, telling Ellen DeGeneres that the parties have included ‘way more weed than anyone should ever have’ as well as ‘a lot of mushrooms.’”

In many ways, this admission from Rock — appearing on DeGeneres’ talk show to promote his own appearance hosting the return of “Saturday Night Live” — is fairly pedestrian.

For as long as we’ve had celebrities and a press to cover them, we’ve heard tale of the “wild” things that can take place when money and power combine. Smoking cannabis and sipping magic mushroom tea (reportedly Chappelle’s preferred method of consumption), however, are decidedly not that.

Instead, several comics who have performed with Chappelle during the series — which is currently on hiatus following a possible COVID exposure within Chappelle’s inner circle — have shared fairly harmless stories about getting high with the man himself. Speaking with Jimmy Fallon, Tiffany Haddish said she “got peer pressured” into drinking mushroom tea with Chappelle.

Another comedian, Aziz Ansari, has also talked about taking mushrooms with Chappelle to celebrate after it was announced the latter had won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

It’s enjoyable fodder for chit-chat and largely nothing more. What is interesting, however, is the ways in which Chappelle’s celebrity appears to afford him immunity from the law.

“To be clear,” Bed Adlin notes in Marijuana Moment, “both marijuana and psilocybin mushrooms are illegal in Ohio, although possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana carries no jail time and a maximum penalty of $150. The limit is higher in the village of Yellow Springs, where officials last month decriminalized possession of up to 200 grams.”

Adlin goes on to note that Ohio’s Senate voted in July to “double the statewide cannabis possession decriminalization limit to 200 grams as well” but that the bill has yet to be enacted into law. By contrast, possession of psilocybin (classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under Ohio law) remains a criminal offense.

No one wants to see Dave Chappelle get arrested.

As evidenced by America’s failed War on Drugs, punitive punishment is not the solution when it comes to substance abuse and policies concerning psychoactive substances. That said, it is somewhat telling that Rock, Haddish etc. can candidly discuss their possession and consumption of illegal substances without any fear of repercussion — a privilege the vast majority of Ohioans are most certainly not afforded.

It helps when local law officials write any admissions of guilt off as just being part of the act.

“Chris Rock’s a comedian. Chris Rock is probably looking for jokes,” Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer told local media outlet WHIO in response to Rock’s quotes. “People have been making jokes about marijuana and drugs for years. Hopefully that’s what he’s talking about.”

Again, the goal isn’t to see Chappelle punished, but rather to ask why anyone should be punished when, as long as you’re rich or famous enough, the law clearly doesn’t matter.

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