Student journalism and service journalism have long been one in the same. Today’s case in point is the Yale Daily News (where, disclosure, I sometimes write and used to edit), which covered the marijuana beat fastidiously during the 70s—long before the New York Times said pot was cool. Back in 1971, the YDN went so far as to publish a front-page report on marijuana prices across the Ivy League, the perfect candidate for a Thursday throwback.
The 1971 report was a high point in the paper’s remarkably extensive coverage of campus weed prices (not to mention weed scandals) throughout the decade. Archived materials from the YDN and other campus papers provide a detailed–and often very amusing–account of Ivy League drug use at a time when Clinton did not inhale and not all of the schools allowed women.
So how did the entitled little shits of 1971 take their drugs? Cheaply, frequently and publicly, in short. We pored over back issues of Ivy League student papers to capture and create, for fun and posterity alike, a definitive guide to getting high during the Nixon administration, starting with costs and moving outward to campus culture:
- Brown: Brown’s weed costs as low as $8 per ounce, the YDN reports. Most students buy in bulk at around $130 per pound, which helps explain the low prices. (For comparison, the paper tells us a pound at Harvard costs $280.)
- Columbia: Prices vary, says the Columbia Daily Spectator. The cheapest weed on campus goes for $10 per ounce, but a decent ounce from Mexico will set you back twice that at $20. The best of the best, like prized Colombian red, costs $60 with the help of “time and well-placed friends” to acquire.
- Cornell: Weed costs $10 to $40 per ounce, according to a 1979 article in the Cornell Daily Sun. The paper says prices vary based on product quality and the “arbitrariness of dealer markups.” (Curiously, though Cornell was not mentioned in the 1971 YDN article, a short brief in the Sun covered the Yale report yet failed to acknowledge the snub or offer its own pricing data for comparison.)
- Dartmouth: Marijuana goes for $10 per ounce — comparatively low for the East Coast. “Being from a rural area, there is a fair amount of homegrown stuff.”
- Harvard: Most weed is $15 to $20 per ounce. The “really good stuff,” shipped to Cambridge all the way from Vietnam, costs $25. The Crimson says potent hash oil, also popular on campus, runs $20 per gram and $350 per ounce.
- Penn: Pot costs $25 per ounce, up 50 percent from the previous year.
- Princeton: It’s $20 per ounce, but who’s buying? The “novelty of dope” has passed through Princeton, where a source tells the YDN most students prefer Boone’s Farm to reefer. “There doesn’t seem to be much of a market anymore,” as one former dealer laments to the Princetonian. “People are more serious now, more interested in graduate school.” Of course.
- Yale: Prices run from $13 to 18 per ounce, though the YDN reports prices depend on residential college. Other articles, like this 1974 feature on drug dealers at Yale, suggest a typical price of about $15. (That story includes a notable sidebar entitled “How to Buy An Ounce,” including “5. Do not accept seedy or overly stemmy marijuana.”) Elsewhere, the YDN reports that growing your own dope is a popular option, noting that the average Yale closet “can produce about twenty full-sized marijuana plants a year, enough to supply a moderate smoker.”
How do those prices compare to today’s? For one thing, we need to account for inflation: that $20 per ounce in retro-time Cambridge is now $118, according to the current consumer price index. Today’s dollar has roughly six times the buying power of 1971’s currency, so most of the prices above can be adjusted with that multiplication.
We compared those numbers to the current High Times CPI for marijuana. The latest data, from June 2014, pegs the average ounce at $291. And all those numbers together (with the old prices adjusted for inflation depending on the year in which they were reported) give us the following chart:
But there’s another factor to consider: changes in quality. There’s truth to the oft-repeated claim that weed potency increased since the 1970s. The Centre for Drug Research, over in Amsterdam, says that “the average THC content of a marijuana plant was about 1.5%” in 1970, a number that can be compared to around 13% today. That means that while Harvard’s hippies could probably afford more weed than the quarter of modern Harvard kids who smoke more than once a semester, they were also buying worse product.
To learn more, we asked cannabis journalist David Bienenstock for his thoughts, who told us that while “comparing cannabis prices from the 1970s to those of today is instructive,” it’s also “potentially misleading.” He suggested that looking at the price per milligram of THC, rather than price per weight, “could provide a more accurate measurement in many ways.” He also pointed out that much of the weight from those 1970s-era ounces was probably seeds and stems, which were wistfully sighed at and discarded rather than smoked.
To plot a more accurate pictogram, we took a look at High Times’ “schwag index,” a subset of the magazine’s full consumer price index that solely looks at the lowest quality weed, which would likely be most similar to the stuff from the 1970s. High Times’ most recent average comes to $103 an ounce, so we threw that in the chart for a low-THC comparison.
What’s the big takeaway from all of this? Not much, practically speaking, unless you have a time machine. But the wheels of history turn quickly, and the drug use of our forefathers (and at some schools, foremothers) soon will be forgotten if not catalogued and preserved. Without those records, we risk a kind of revisionism, an alternate version of Ivy League history where everyone wears letter sweaters and no one gets high. The pot and the protests are just as much a part of Ivy history—and Ivy present—as white dudes with superiority complexes and soulless automatons. So “be the change you wish to see in your archival research” is basically what we’re saying here.
And to the college newspaper editors out there? Bring back the pot index.