Is John Prine's 'Illegal Smile' a Pot Song?

Folk-singer John Prine's song, "Illegal Smile," on his debut self-titled debut album in 1971, has long been regarded as an ode to marijuana. The chorus goes:

But fortunately I have the key to escape reality
And you may see me tonight with an illegal smile
It don't cost very much, but it lasts a long while
Won't you please tell the man I didn't kill anyone
No I'm just tryin' to have me some fun

However, Prine said "the song was not about smokin’ dope. It was more about how, ever since I was a child, I had this view of the world where I can find myself smiling at stuff nobody else was smiling at. But it was such a good anthem for dope smokers that I didn’t want to stop every time I played it and make a disclaimer."

He added: "When I first started singing it I went on this underground TV program, and the only stage set they had was two chairs and this fake marijuana plant. I came on and sang 'Illegal Smile,' and they kept having the camera pan in, real psychedelic-like, on the plant."

On April 7, Prine passed away from the cornonavirus. His wife Fiona also tested positive. 

Prine, who was 73, released 18 albums from 1971-2018. He won Grammys for The Missing Years (1991) and Fair & Square (2005), both in the Contemporary Folk category. 

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.