So. On the first day of this year the use of “recreational marijuana” became legal in California, making it thirty states (and the District of Columbia) that legalize marijuana in some way, and eight states that specifically legalize its recreational use.
The actual coming of this long-awaited day has set off a peculiar, and uncomfortable, conversation between the Self that I was in, say, 1968, and the Self that I am, now.
My ’68 Self- well, perhaps you can imagine him: Full bearded, hair down past his shoulders. Bell bottom jeans riding low on a ridiculously narrow waist, topped with an old, patched work shirt that he found in a dumpster, beads and a nondescript amulet- and patchouli. Lots of patchouli, the smell of the era. The other smell, partly masked by the patchouli, would have been dope, just smoked, or about to smoke it. I smoked a lot of dope then; for that matter, I continued to do so for many years, after.
This version of myself, smoking cheap ragweed with friends, would laugh and talk about a future time we were sure would come, when dope would be legal, and we would no longer go in fear of The Man. More, it would be a time when everybody would get stoned together, and there would be no more strife and war- nothing but peace and harmony, man, because, hey, everybody would just mellow out and groove on each other. We would make wreaths of flowers for our hair and dance in the perpetual sunshine to bands that would always play for free, because bread didn’t matter, and we would sing and make love and all the world’s problems would be solved. All this was assured, if only we could, somehow, make dope legal.
Let’s be generous, and say that this vision of the future was not too well thought out, and we’ll leave our past selves, rolling another doobie and listening to The White Album.
A breath taking fast-forward, and here I sit, fifty years later. Thirty-five years ago I came to realize that the dope I smoked daily had stopped being “recreational” (although it wouldn’t have occurred to us to call it that), and had become habitual. Far from a fun thing, it had become, seemingly, necessary, in order to “deal with life”. I had become drug-dependent, without realizing it. That, in itself, wouldn’t have been a problem- lots of people depend on prescribed drugs to address medical or psychological conditions- but these were not prescribed medications, and they addressed no condition I was willing to admit to myself.
At the time, I was seeing a diminutive therapist, to whom I’ll always be grateful, about an issue that seemed to me to have nothing to do with the dope I was smoking daily. She thought otherwise, and told me I had a “drug problem”. I’ll spare you the account of my rageful, defensive response, our arguments, lasting several weeks, as she gradually, surely brought me to the understanding that my problems had a lot to do with the fact that I was constantly stoned, and that I was unlikely to address them in any effective way until I quit using drugs. At some point (I still remember the scene), I simply had to agree with her, if I was going to be honest with myself, and the next step seemed unavoidable: I had to stop.
Now, a brief cultural history note: in 1985, the year I’m speaking of, a strong wind of change was sweeping the land- at least, the corner of it in which I was living. Throughout my peer group, friends were sniffing the air, shaking their heads and redirecting their lives. It was as if we had, finally, received word that the 60s (and, God help us, the 70s) were over. Friends were quietly, one by one, dropping self-destructive habits, like drug use. We had seen our relatively benign marijuana smoking morph into smoking more exotic (and harmful) substances. We’d seen cocaine become the drug of choice, bringing with it a completely different, unempathetic culture of selfishness and crimes against one another. We saw, finally, where all this was going, as some of our friends went down a very dark road, a base pipe in one hand and an Uzi in the other, and a lot of us decided that enough was enough.
This phenomenon helped my make my decision. I remember telling my circle of closest friends that I was not smoking dope any more, and seeing nothing but loving approval in their eyes, and support in their voices and actions. That was, actually more like thirty-seven years ago (this summer), and it was a major turning point in my life, one I’ve never regretted.
So, to return to my current point, maybe you can get some sense of my ambivalence, my mixed feelings, about the coming of legal marijuana, our old Hippie dream finally coming true. Marijuana was not a benign force in my life. For nearly twenty years, I used it to avoid decisions I should have made, and to deaden emotions I might have felt. They were not “lost” years, but I cannot think of a single way in which dope helped to improve my life, or to set and work toward goals. It didn’t make me a bad person, but it sure as Hell prevented me from achieving what I might, or from seeing pitfalls before I stepped into them.
So, how can I feel the kind of happiness I anticipated feeling, when this day finally came? I’m a Psychotherapist now (I entered graduate school shortly after quitting dope), who has worked, for years with addictions. Shall I celebrate the new-found ease with which people can now buy dope that is far more powerful than anything I ever smoked? One of the questions to which no one seems to have an answer is, how many people will take it up, now that the legal question is settled (this, assuming the regressive forces in the Federal Government do not prevail)? It’s true that few people who wanted to smoke dope had any problem getting it, especially with the coming of Medicinal Marijuana, but now it’s as easy as walking down to the corner to pick up a quart of milk. Shall I celebrate this freedom, knowing that, for some people, it will be a trap?
More, I read that major corporations are angling for a piece of the multi-billion dollar action, writing and passing regulations, through their surrogates, that will, in short order, force the smaller, independent growers to the margins of the business. In a twist of irony that must make the gods howl with laughter, these “mom and pop” growers, if they cannot (or will not) raise the capital to make themselves legal, will become “illegal growers”, who will then be hounded by exactly the same police forces they faced before legalization.
So, here I sit, on a Friday afternoon. Since the first of the year, especially on weekends, there is a line snaking out the door of the “pot store”, a few blocks away; the foot and car traffic has become a problem for the neighbors, who are having (I read on a neighborhood email list) to deal with people ducking into their front yards, or sitting in parked cars, to light up. Marijuana smokers (or eaters) are not violent people, nor are they likely to commit any crimes, other than those of omission, but, still, these are problems the locals didn’t ask for.
On the whole, I am for personal freedoms- counterbalanced with responsibilities, sure, but let’s start with freedoms. I voted for marijuana’s legalization, partially because of this belief, and also because, somewhere not far under the surface, that Hippie, with his beatific smile, is still there, passing a joint around among his friends. Maybe that’s what I thought we could return to, but it looks like it’s going to be some other version of what follows the long awaited Day That Dope Became Legal.
Thank you for reading. As always, I appreciate your comments and thoughts. I’ll see you next week, with… well, whatever occurs to me in the meantime.
Until then, Happy Trails to you, and be well! -Buffalo