By conservative estimates, there are currently enough wrongfully convicted people in prison in the United States to fill a football stadium.
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In 1967, everything I had heard about marijuana was negative. Then one of the young guys who worked for me started talking about his experiences with it. He was intelligent, fun to be around, and very good at his job. A small crack opened in my absolute certainty that all pot smokers were criminals and addicts.
Curious, I asked one of my younger friends to get me some marijuana. He sold me eight joints for a dollar each and gave me instructions on how to smoke them. I waited until my wife and daughter were visiting relatives for a couple of days. Then I locked the door, closed the drapes, threw my car keys on top of a kitchen cabinet (in case I went crazy and wanted to drive off a cliff), and lit a joint. I smoked the whole thing and sat down to await my new experience.
After half an hour with no results, I switched on the TV to amuse myself. I soon became engrossed in a program I had never seen before. The lighting, the music, the dialogue, the camera angles — everything about it was superb. I watched for probably fifteen minutes, fascinated, wondering what show this was. When the program suddenly ended, I discovered that I had been watching a commercial that had lasted all of thirty seconds.
Right away, I wanted to apply this newfound attention to every aspect of experience. The furniture, the walls, the backs of my hands, the cat — nothing was too ordinary or mundane to revisit with heightened understanding. I felt as if my mind were a window that had been dirty for years but now was washed clean.
My husband and I had two little ones, and money was tight. We used cloth diapers, ate homegrown veggies, and wore secondhand clothing. We were frugal in every way, except for one: my husband liked to smoke pot.
To save money, I planted some pot seedlings in our vegetable garden. They did unbelievably well, and my husband had a newfound interest in gardening that year.
At the end of the summer, I read in the local newspaper about someone who had been arrested for growing pot. I could see another such headline: “Mother Of Two Jailed For Growing Marijuana.” That night, after we put the kids to bed, my husband and I went out and cut down the plants by the light of the full moon.
Over time, alcohol got the best of my husband, who is now my ex. Perhaps I should have grown more.
I’m a shy person, but at parties in graduate school I learned that marijuana would release the “real me,” shaking and shimmying in perfect time to the beat of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”
Years later, my best friend had a radical mastectomy at age thirty-four and used marijuana to alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy. Many nights she and I sat in silence on her screened porch, savoring the evening sounds and slowly smoking a joint. The parties were fun, but those are the times I miss the most: the creak of a rickety porch swing, the still night air, the hooting of a distant owl — all of it heightened by the possibility that it could be the last time.
It’s a Friday afternoon, and I’m chopping vegetables at the kitchen counter when my fifteen-year-old daughter puts in a CD and says, “Come on, Mama. Let’s dance.”
I tell her I have to make dinner, but she won’t give up. I go with her to the living room.
“Teach me to dance like you and Daddy do.”
I start to explain the concept of leading and following, and we end up giggling like kids. At one point, she flings her arms around my neck and says, “Oh, Mommy, you’re wonderful!”
I know, without a doubt, that this moment would not have happened if I hadn’t had a few tokes earlier in the day.
More than anything else I’ve ever tried — and I’ve tried everything: reading, talking, agonizing, parenting classes, therapy — pot helps me to be a better mother. It puts me in touch with myself and with the moment. It sharpens my focus so that I really see my kids, instead of just looking at them. It allows me to enter their world and become interested in whatever fascinates them.
“It brings me back to myself,” I tell my best friend, Liz, on a long walk in the country. I’ve just flung my arm around her shoulder and given her a squeeze. I allow myself this spontaneous gesture of physical affection only because I’m a little high.
Pot frees me. It’s as if my very molecules are more open: to possibility, to insight, to feeling.
“You know what it is?” I tell Liz. “It’s like I’m in prison, and pot is the key to the door.”
“There must be another way,” Liz says.
There must be, I agree. But I haven’t found it yet.
In the eighties, four friends and I rented a large, run-down house in Eugene, Oregon. The men, myself included, were useless at household repairs, but Carolina could fix or build anything. She even built a privacy fence around the backyard, where we sunbathed nude all summer.
The following spring, Carolina plowed up the backyard and put in a vegetable garden: to save money on the communal food bill, she said. To save on our communal pot bill, she planted four marijuana plants.
Oregon was the first state to decriminalize marijuana possession: you could be fined twenty dollars for any amount under an ounce. But you could still get up to five years for cultivation. As our plants grew alongside the vegetables, I worried about getting busted.
To ease my mind, Carolina set up a ten-foot-square piece of plywood between the marijuana and the vegetables. Casual visitors couldn’t see our felonious plants, and they still got plenty of sunlight. But Carolina didn’t like the look of the bare plywood, so she painted an idyllic scene on it: a farm on a green hill, with white fences and clouds, trees, and a rainbow. In the middle of it all, she wrote:
Bless this garden
As we bless each other —
Like the harvest kiss
Of Gaea Mother.
Bless this garden
As we bless each other —
Like the harvest kiss
Of Gaea Mother.
One Saturday, Carolina’s golden retriever got into a fight with our neighbor Paula’s dog, who had dug a hole under the fence and crawled into our backyard. Carolina had compassion for all the world’s creatures — except for Paula and her slobbering Rottweiler, Max. Carolina chased Max back out the hole under the fence and called the police.
By the time the policeman arrived, Carolina and Paula were in a screaming match in the front yard. Paula stormed off, and the officer asked to see where Max had dug his way in. As Carolina and I led him into the backyard, I suddenly remembered our pot plants.
The policeman eyed the garden and said, “My wife would be green with envy if she saw your vegetables. She couldn’t grow a cactus in Arizona.”
I willed him to get back in his cruiser and leave, but Carolina began proudly pointing out different plants.
“What inspired you to make that sign?” the officer asked.
A few marijuana leaves dangled over the top of the painted plywood. We were screwed.
“My aunt always built a little altar in her garden,” Carolina said, as calm as could be. “I just wanted something to appease the food gods.” They both laughed. “Would you like some tomatoes or zucchini?” she asked.
“Nah,” the officer said. “Your neighbor would claim it was a bribe. Anyway, I need to go and write this report.”
We escorted him to the front door and watched him drive away. As we walked back through the house, Carolina said, “David, if you were any more nervous, I would have had to put a diaper on you. He was just a cop.”
“Sorry,” I said, “but I can’t talk casually to a cop while he stands fifteen feet away from our pot plants.”
Carolina’s eyes grew large.
We harvested the marijuana — leaves, buds, and all — that night.
Bowling Green, Florida
I teach in a tiny public school in a picturesque town in California wine country, where the cultivation and sale of marijuana are a major part of the local economy. The pot industry employs a significant portion of our town’s small undocumented-immigrant population. My undocumented students tend to consider the idea of getting an education so they can find work in the “real world” a joke. Many are already out in the real world making thousands of dollars selling marijuana. Besides, because they’re illegals, their only alternative is picking grapes in hundred-degree heat for a mere fraction of what they currently make.
Meanwhile, every weekend my husband and several of our friends — all comfortable, decent, middle-class folks — smoke marijuana recreationally. Though I don’t smoke marijuana, I do drink wine — made from grapes picked in hundred-degree heat by the struggling parents of my drug-dealing students.
I was ten years old the first time I smoked pot with my mom. We were in upstate New York for my grandmother’s funeral, and a group of us took a walk through the woods. My beautiful, rebellious, crazy mom smoked with the older kids while I tagged along, trying desperately to keep up. Then, finally, it happened: I, the awkward youngest child, the chubby one with the fogged glasses who wanted so badly to be a part of her mother’s beautiful insanity, was passed the joint.
At twelve, I couldn’t multiply, but I could roll a fat spliff. I didn’t like school. I didn’t like conformity. I didn’t like boundaries. I liked buying drugs and trying new drugs and stealing drugs and pretending that I was older than twelve. I thought I liked the fact that my mom was always stoned. I thought I liked getting new pipes and big bags of weed in my stocking at Christmas. When I was sixteen and my mom moved out of the house, I thought I liked the freedom. I was wrong.
I am now thirty-three with two children of my own. I still smoke on occasion. It is a comfort to me: soft, warm, familiar, and sad. I do not share it with my daughters. I send them to private school and nurture their innocence. When my daughter turned ten, I taught her how to bake bread, and we shared her first perfect loaf together. I was so proud — of both of us. Then I tucked her into bed, kissed her sweet face, and went to the garden to smoke a joint and cry, mourning my own lost innocence.
I smoke marijuana pretty much every day. My husband smokes, too, and most evenings find us out on the back porch, having a toke. We don’t quite fit the government’s image of drug users: we’re both educated professionals who work hard, pay taxes, have raised good kids, and participate in the community. But when evening comes, we turn to cannabis to give us some perspective on the day.
It’s the renewed vision the drug grants me that keeps me coming back. There’s no physical addiction. After twenty-plus years of use, the worst I feel when I stop for a few weeks is mildly irritable. But when I smoke again after a short abstinence, I see a holier universe. Cannabis heightens my connection to the world. Practicality is dethroned, and joy is given room to grow. My thoughts are less linear, more global. I am intense, creative, and focused in a wholly new way.
My only regret is having to keep my cannabis use a secret from all but my best friends. I miss the seventies, when joints were passed around at parties and strangers would stop you in the street to offer a toke. Pot was a currency of togetherness then. Now we are threatened with drug tests, task forces, harsher sentences, and infringement of our civil liberties. These days we smoke alone instead of with friends; that’s the real crime.
My eighty-seven-year-old mother was, and is, an all-time classic party girl. She comes from the “time to take your medicine” school of highball drinking: always at 5 p.m., not a minute before.
When my son went to college, my mother would kid him about his pot habit. (She guessed what was going on.) The next Christmas, he presented her with a tiny blue-and-white Chinese urn containing two tightly saran-wrapped joints. “You said if you ever smoked this stuff, Grandma, it’d have to be the very best,” my son told her. “Well, here it is.”
My mother beamed, thanked him, and said she’d save it for her deathbed.
She didn’t, though. The following October, she and I arranged a beach trip to get away from it all — and to smoke one of those joints.
Sitting on the motel bed with her legs out, favoring her recently replaced knee and rubbing her arthritic fingers, my mother kept saying, “I don’t know what the fuss is all about. I don’t feel a thing.”
Then my aching, forever put-out mother, prone to depression and endless bouts of romanticism — not to mention jealousy and anger that life didn’t turn out the way she’d thought it would — got up and danced around her cane. Why in the world, she asked, had she never heard of Ramsey Lewis, whose music billowed out of the boom box? “A true genius.” Then she laughed until the tears ran. “If I had known pot could make you laugh this hard,” she said, falling back on the bed, “I would’ve started smoking it a lot sooner. Lord, if my friends could see me now!”
Just before I pan-fried some scallops, my mother suggested, “We need a little more of that stuff.” I told her I didn’t have a roach clip, and she stood up and walked steadily into the bathroom, sans cane, healed as surely as if she’d been dunked into the Euphrates. She came back with a triumphant smile and a hair clip, ready for another round.
“You know,” she said, never one to be outdone, “I think your father tried some of this reefer back when he was a young man in New York.” The smoke curled up over her horn-rimmed glasses.
My mother is still saving the other joint for her deathbed. But I’ve told a few family members about our beach trip, and every one of them is dying to smoke with Grandma.
In 1971, I lived in an old adobe house in rural Texas, about half a mile from the Rio Grande. Behind the house, an acre of wild sage, mesquite, and swamp cypress obscured an ugly canal running parallel to the train tracks. There were no railroad-crossing barriers at the intersections, and every night I was awakened twice as the passing trains sounded their horns to warn cars of their approach. I was eighteen. I didn’t care about the noise or the loss of sleep. I was proud of my independence and my run-down-but-cheerful house.
One incredibly clear October night, I set out to take a load of dirty clothes to the nearby laundromat. I packed the clothes into pillowcases, shoved them into the back seat of my ’59 Chevy, and lit a joint. The corners of the pillowcases pointed up like little ears, and lopsided smiles and half-closed eyes appeared in the sags and folds. They looked like three enormously fat white cats. I couldn’t have been happier. I put “Stairway to Heaven” on the eight-track and drove off, singing and having a great time, leaving an invisible trail of goodwill in my wake.
There was a sharp rise in the road just before it reached the railroad tracks. If you were driving fast enough and hit the rise just right, you were guaranteed a moment of weightlessness that made your stomach do a flip-flop. There was no one around (no one was ever around), so I accelerated and flew up the rise, singing even louder. I glanced in the rearview mirror in time to see the pillowcase creatures bouncing happily against each other. We were the freest of the free, hurtling over the rise, across the canal, and down to the tracks.
I was briefly aware of a bright light shining straight through the window on my right. And then, a second after I’d crossed the tracks, the train sounded a late warning blast on its horn and rattled by behind me.
© Thomas Tulis
Seven years ago, I had breast cancer and was treated with chemotherapy. I was told not to fear nausea: this was the nineties, and there were wonderful anti-nausea medications. My body has always reacted idiosyncratically to medicines, however. The side effects of every anti-emetic I tried were almost worse than the nausea itself. (Really, there was just a low-level discomfort most of the time, but after each treatment I’d experience sudden projectile vomiting so violent my muscles would ache for days afterward.)
I did some research and found that there was one anti-emetic everyone thought was best — a drug I’d experimented with years before with no unpleasant side effects: marijuana. All one had to do to get it was stand in front of the high school a block from my home. My son was a student at that school. Before each chemo treatment, he offered to get me what I needed, but I never accepted. I could not allow my son to break the law on my behalf.
If I ever have chemo again, though, I will openly, publicly, without any sense of guilt or shame, go down to that school and buy some marijuana myself.
I was driving my fourteen-year-old daughter home from school one day when she asked if I had ever smoked marijuana. I let out an involuntary chuckle and said, “Well, yes, of course.” I went on to explain that the first time was when I was her age, in 1967, during the Summer of Love.
To my amazement, I had her complete attention. I took advantage of the opportunity to share a couple of stories from my teens, including my first rock concert (the Doors at Lowell High in La Habra, California) and how I’d turned down a ride to Woodstock because I didn’t have a ride back. My daughter soon tired of my stories, however, and changed the subject.
I was happy to have been able to answer her question honestly, even proudly, as if to say, “Hey, I was hip!” I was also grateful that there were no more questions, such as “When was the last time you got high?” To answer that one truthfully would have been much more difficult, since it had been only a couple of hours earlier that day.
You meet some pretty interesting people smoking marijuana. Once, in high school, my friends and I were so desperate to score that we drove to the house of a stranger we’d heard might be a dealer. Kile was a rail-thin yoga instructor with curly red shoulder-length hair. He seemed strung out and kept playing some Frank Zappa album over and over. His Doberman wouldn’t stop sniffing everyone’s crotch. We smoked some joints, made our buy, and were all just staring off into space when Kile casually announced that, being double-jointed, he could orally bring himself to climax.
There was a long silence, then nervous laughter. “You can do what?”
I am embarrassed to admit that we stuck around to watch him prove his claim.
In college, after attending a reading by Ken Kesey, I crashed a private off-campus party in hopes of meeting the author. I was standing just inside the front door amid a crowd of buzzing grad students when the door burst open behind me, and in walked Kesey. Throwing off his scarf — it was snowing — he pulled out the fattest joint I’d ever seen, fired it up, took a fierce toke, and said, “Snarls of mistakes curdle around us.”
Several hours (and several joints) later, Kesey was still going strong, singing and playing guitar, entertaining the few acolytes who were left. At one point, he told me the secret to life could be found in one word: competition. When I, in my sophomoric innocence, said I expected to live in peace and harmony with my fellow man, he laughed out loud and said, “Life’s a fight, son, and don’t you ever forget it.”
Another time I became friends with a Vietnam vet who taught driver’s ed. He was always insisting I take bong hits with him. One summer night, after a particularly colorful Fourth of July fireworks display, he matter-of-factly described how it had felt to spray Vietnamese villages with napalm from Huey helicopters, and how the villagers — mostly women and children — had scattered into the surrounding jungle like so many ants on fire, their heads and limbs aflame. Staying good and stoned, he said, was the only way he and his fellow GIs had made it through the war.
Santa Monica, California
My buddy Andy and I arrived at the ranch around 10 p.m. on the third day of our journey, after driving more than three thousand miles. A monsoon-like rain was falling, and we were dead tired. We couldn’t find the cabin at first, and we drove aimlessly around a vast meadow. Then we saw a woman coming at us, arms waving.
The flickering candlelight in the small cabin made it seem friendly and inviting, as did the smiling faces of people hunkered down inside. The room smelled of fire-licked wood, mud, rain, fresh mountain air, and some type of aromatic hay. Andy and I unrolled our sleeping bags and settled in for the night.
The next morning I awoke to see fifteen-foot marijuana plants — perhaps a hundred of them — hanging from the rafters high above us. Someone handed me a jar of coffee and a fat joint. Thus began my three-year stay on a northern-California marijuana commune.
The first months were blissful. Everyone was constantly stoned, and harmony prevailed. It was October: manicuring season. Andy and I spent our days clipping away leaves and readying the large buds for sale. During breaks, we enjoyed exotic coffee, finger-sized joints, and stimulating conversation. With the departure of the sun, jugs of red wine and more huge joints came out. It was difficult to live in cramped spaces with no electricity or running water, but the marijuana made everything crackle with immediacy and significance.
Over time, other drugs became readily available, and as we neared our third Christmas on the commune, Andy and I were strung out. Members of the “family” were arguing about where their patches would be and where they could build houses. Helicopters and camouflaged planes flew low over the land. The echo of machine guns could be heard well into the night. Children had nightmares about “the army people coming to take our family away.” Those I had venerated for their wisdom and understanding became drunks. A man we all loved blew his head off with a shotgun.
The owners of the land had become born-again Christians. There were now Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans, Rastafarians, and atheists all sharing the same forty acres. Small-scale religious wars broke out. Harmony was a memory. Sadness, distrust, and obscene intoxication had become the norm. Andy took a vow of silence and withdrew into a hut, where he consumed sheets of acid. I sought solace in altered states, but the bliss I had experienced upon arrival eluded me. Amid the grumpy faces and backbiting, I felt very alone.
On a wet October night, much like the one on which I’d arrived, I left.
I was a junior at a small Catholic high school in rural Connecticut. Every day after school, I took refuge from my troubles by toking in front of General Hospital. Somehow my mother, a lonely, overworked woman raising a teenage daughter by herself, remained oblivious to this activity. I grew increasingly sloppy and careless. Though I delighted in duping her, I’d often wonder, How could she not know?
One night, for some official mother reason that I can’t recall, my mom needed to have my driver’s license. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember where I’d put it. After digging together through the assorted junk on the kitchen table, we walked to my bedroom, where she grabbed my blue, flannel-lined L.L. Bean coat. (Who knows how many hours she’d worked to buy it?) Mom held the coat up triumphantly. “Oh, it’s probably in your inside pocket!” she said. “I always keep mine in there.”
Seasoned stoner that I’d become, I naturally had a joint tucked in the inside pocket. “Mom,” I said slowly, pronouncing each syllable, “if you trust me, you’ll take my word for it that my license isn’t in there.”
She looked me straight in the eye, and her confusion slowly turned to indescribable sadness.
“Trust me,” I said.
She handed me my coat and quietly left the room.
Spotting my license on the floor, I shouted to her fading footsteps, “Here it is, Mom! It must have dropped out of my book bag.”
When I raced to the kitchen to show her the license, she was sitting at the table with a cold cup of tea, her hands astonishingly still, her expression blank, as if she’d just lost something irretrievable.
In ninth grade, my best friend and I got detention for smoking in the girls’ bathroom, even though we’d both turned down offers of a cigarette. Soon afterward, my mother, thinking that my friend and I should be separated, sent me to boarding school.
I was a virgin whose main social outlet was the Methodist Youth Fellowship group. I had never smoked pot, rarely cussed, and said my prayers every night. Boarding school was wholly out of my league: a kind of juvenile detention home for rich kids.
It wasn’t long before I noticed how much fun the pot smokers were having: They laughed at everything. They actually liked the cafeteria food. They had the coolest taste in music. They wore floppy hats and leather necklaces and tattered bell-bottoms. And they had all been to New York City.
Wanting to try pot, I went to a local teenager, who sold my friend and me two matchboxes full of marijuana. We were so utterly inept at rolling a joint that he did it for us. Then we smoked it.
It was as if a door that had been closed was now open, and the room beyond beckoned to me with colors and textures and tastes and sounds I’d been too dense to perceive before. The sky was bluer. The trees were greener. When I returned to the dormitory, the music from the other girls’ rooms filled me with euphoria. Chocolate exploded with pleasure on my tongue. I could not stop laughing. My preacher back home would not have approved.
The following summer, a group of long-haired Jesus freaks accosted me at a park and lured me in with their “get high on Jesus” message. Soon thereafter I was “saved.” Woefully, I gave up pot and returned to boarding school with a large cross hanging from my leather necklace. The sky wasn’t as blue. The trees weren’t as green. Food was just food. School was once again unbearable. I wondered why Jesus wanted me to be so miserable.
One day I walked past a water fountain and saw a perfect two-finger baggie of pot sitting on the edge of the metal basin. I looked up and down the hallway. This had to be some sort of trick.
Seeing no one, I snatched the bag, ran upstairs, stuffed towels under my bathroom door, and rolled a joint using a page torn out of my math book. I inhaled hungrily. As the smoke curled in my lungs and Mick Jagger blasted through the walls from next door, I had an epiphany: The baggie on the water fountain had been a message from God. He didn’t mind if I smoked pot after all. Thank you, Jesus.
It’s near midnight on New Year’s Day. The smell of blond Afghan hash, nutty and sweet, fills my bedroom. Dennis and I have put our chairs against the door and opened the window, letting in the cold night air. Our parents are asleep down the hall, their door wide open. I hear my father snoring loudly. Dennis is home for Christmas, and the visit has been tense. This is the first time I’ve seen my brother since he got kicked out of the house for selling dope three years ago.
With a Swiss Army knife, Dennis shaves slivers from the rock-size chunk of hashish and drops them into a wooden pipe. I inhale and laugh to think how Dad calls it “hish-hash.” Whenever Walter Cronkite reports on college students or demonstrations, Dad says, “Those goddamn hippies do nothing but sit around smoking hish-hash.”
I also remember how violent my father became when he found half a kilo in Dennis’s duffel bag. Dennis cowered beneath the kitchen table, and Dad kicked him, calling him a “little son of a bitch.” I figure the same will happen to me if he ever catches me with a joint.
Three decades have passed since that night. Dennis and I get together once every three or four years. Inevitably, at some point during our visit, one of us will light up.
A few months ago, Dennis and I saw each other in Phoenix, where we’d both come to visit our parents. Mom was dying. Dennis got there before me and picked me up at the airport.
He said he was worried about Dad, who still tries to act like a thirty-year-old, even though he is almost totally deaf, is slowly losing his eyesight, and was recently diagnosed with what he calls “prostrate” cancer.
“Mom’s dealing with a lot of things, putting everything in order,” Dennis told me. “Last night, she stayed up late — at least, late for her — and we talked about when I moved out of the house when I was eighteen. She said she was sorry. I said I was, too.”
It was the first time I’d ever heard Dennis talk about “moving out of the house,” as if it were a decision he’d made on his own. For thirty years, he had always said that Mom and Dad had kicked him out.
That night, at our parents’ condo, Dennis and I stayed up past midnight. The TV was on, but we weren’t watching it. Any other time, one of us would have taken this opportunity to light up. Instead, we just talked.
Once, when I was in college in the sixties, a big guy with long hair came up to me in a store that sold bell-bottom pants. I’d seen him in my summer art class, but I didn’t really know him. He assailed me with come-ons, to which I responded politely. I didn’t like him, but my mother had taught me always to be nice and, above all, not to offend.
I was so “nice” that I ended up smoking marijuana with this guy in his empty apartment. He kept pressuring me: “Come on, baby. I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to make you feel good. I just want to help you loosen up.”
In my marijuana-induced fog, I was sure he had found out something true about me. I was uptight and anxious. I did need to loosen up. Every time I tried to say no, I would see myself as a typical New Englander with a terrible hang-up about having fun. After all, he was probably a really good person, and I could see that if only I could let go and relax.
We eventually had sex on the floor because I couldn’t bear the tension any longer, and it seemed the easiest way to get out of there. Afterward I felt terrible.
It wasn’t the only time pot influenced my decision to sleep with someone. There was Jay the auto mechanic, who kept different grades of marijuana in the different drawers of his red metal tool chest. (He proved he really liked me by rolling a joint of “top-drawer.”) And Fleming the Dane, with his snazzy hashish. And Robert, who came to my apartment to help fix the water heater. (He told me who the dealers were and then thought I owed him.)
Now my teenage daughter is experimenting with drugs. When I think of these men, and all the mouths I’ve kissed and joints I’ve smoked in an attempt to get free, and then I look at my beautiful daughter, I feel a strong need to protect her. I won’t tell her never to smoke marijuana, but I will tell her never to stop listening to herself and respecting herself. Whereas I learned to be sweet, cooperative, and agreeable, I want my daughter to be strong, honest, and tough.
I carried my parents’ sadness inside me everywhere I went until, at a senior Girl Scout meeting, a friend turned me on to weed. On the long ride home in my parents’ car, I guffawed uncontrollably. That my mom and dad had no response to my madness made the ride all the merrier. I was finally starting to live.
During college, my boyfriend went to Pakistan for the summer and left me with a pound of marijuana. Day and night I masterfully cleaned, rolled, and smoked with abandon while listening to Santana albums, watching old movies, masturbating, dancing, and eating. I left the house only to buy food.
In the third week of my solitary orgy, I was sure I heard someone tapping on the windows in the dark. Hysterical, I called the police. Minutes later, having completely forgotten the incident, I set up a bong full of red wine and reefer and put on a Grover Washington album.
Suddenly I heard a loud knock at the door. Blue lights flashed on the living-room drapes. Oh, shit.
The banging persisted. Running in circles, I grabbed the baggie, pipes, and rolling papers from the coffee table and stuffed them into the toilet tank. Then I opened the door to a pair of uniformed officers with a squawking radio. A cloud of pungent smoke billowed into their faces. They said they’d received a call about an intruder at this address. I insisted I hadn’t called them. (I still had no memory of it.) They hesitated for a moment — a century to me — and then said they would look around outside.
I turned the lock and sank to the floor in relief. When I lifted the lid on the toilet tank, the dope was soaked, and my well-seasoned pipes were waterlogged. I sat on the floor and sobbed.
Five years later, I awoke at 5 A.M. to find a .357 Magnum jammed against my temple. The gun was in the hand of a jealous lover who had just dreamed that I’d cheated on her. We made up with a bowl of Mexican in bed. I now smoked twelve joints a day and never got the munchies anymore. I’d lost forty pounds and a third of my hair. My head ached, and nothing felt good, not even the high.
At the time, I was working as a therapist in a drug-treatment center. The clinical director was also my dealer. We’d ride the back roads at lunch, sharing a joint, and spray ourselves with expensive perfume before returning to work.
Every week I took the adolescent patient group to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in town. One morning, as the Twelve Steps were read aloud from a huge poster on the wall, I was floored by the knowledge that the poster was speaking to me. I couldn’t breathe. I felt sick with fear and shame. I fled the room and the job, leaving eleven baffled youngsters to find their own ride back to the hospital.
I had been dying all that time.
New Albany, Indiana
I have smoked pot almost every day for the last seventeen years. In fact, I’m stoned right now.
People laugh when I say I’m quitting, because I’ve said it so many times, and because they believe pot is not addictive. But I’m addicted all right. Enough to make me scrape the pipe seeking remnants. Enough to make me tear the house and the car apart when I’ve run out.
I have confided in many a doctor, looking for someone to confirm my addiction. They have all said it’s no big deal. I’ve gone to twelve-step groups where members look down on pot smokers as lightweights.
Once, I went to a huge bookstore in hopes of finding a book about the dangers of smoking pot. In my most innocent voice, I asked the clerk, “Do you have any books about marijuana?”
“Right this way,” he said, and began walking toward the back of the store. I followed, feeling triumphant.
He led me to the gardening section.
On my own I located the addiction-and-recovery section. There were hundreds of books, none of them about marijuana. I left the store in disbelief.
Recently, when I thought I might have a rare and deadly disease, I swore that I would never smoke again — that I would honor my body for the rest of my short life. It turned out that I would live, but I needed major surgery. I vowed to quit smoking during the recovery period, which is two to three months. It has been six weeks since my surgery, and I have been stoned for three.
My little brother Jeremy smokes pot every day. Although I laugh when he tells me stories of his latest high, inside I feel uneasy.
Our father died when I was sixteen. After that, our mother was a mess, often locking herself in her room so we wouldn’t see her cry. Sometimes she cried in front of us, which made me feel even more alone. I remember her telling me that Dad had smoked pot several times a week. After the memorial service, my uncle cleaned out Dad’s office and found roaches everywhere. Mom said he was one of those people who work better when they’re stoned. That’s what Jeremy says about himself now.
The first time Jeremy smoked, he was only eleven. Mom packed a bowl and let each of us have a hit. She was in one of her weird moods where she wanted to hang out with us kids and not act like a parent. I don’t think Jeremy got high, but two years later, I let him smoke with me in my dorm room at college, and that time he was stoned for sure. All he did was giggle and eat pizza.
By the time Jeremy was sixteen, he was smoking every day, and dealing, too. Grandpa tried to scare him with stories about going to prison. Mom tried to keep him home at night. My brother Albert and I made fun of him for being such a stoner. But no one stopped to think of why he was turning to marijuana in the first place.
The day our father died, we were vacationing at a ranch in Montana. (Mom couldn’t come.) I’d gone to work in the ranch kitchen that morning, but Albert and Jeremy were with Dad in the cabin and witnessed his stroke. Albert ran to get help while Jeremy, only ten, stayed and watched helplessly as Dad vomited and his speech became slurred.
Jeremy is now nineteen years old. He has told me that he uses marijuana to escape, but he has never told me what he is trying to escape from.
North Bend, Washington
I first smoked pot at thirteen. It was the greatest experience of my young life — better than my first orgasm.
By sixteen, though, I began to notice my “faults” whenever I was high. I was paranoid even when I wasn’t smoking. Finally, I just stopped.
At twenty-one I was sent to prison, and my fellow convicts always laughed when I refused to smoke pot. My best friend, for whom I’d do anything, once begged me: “Please, take just one hit, Paco.” But his insistence just made me even more wary.
Five years into my sentence, the Department of Corrections started transferring me around as part of a bogus “behavior modification” experiment. It was hard, and my depression, for which I’d never accepted help, became worse. I was mad all the time and very aggressive. I assaulted several inmates.
After they stopped transferring me, someone gave me a little pinch of some “gold.” Angry at the world, I smoked it.
Immediately, I felt as if I was having a mental breakdown. I was flushed and hyperventilating. Everything turned an orange hue. All I could think was that I had to figure out what I was “doing here.” Just as I was about to “leave,” I grasped the answer: “to learn.” It felt as if a drop of water had fallen on my parched, dry soul.
I now smoke pot every chance I get, and I haven’t assaulted anyone in twelve years.
I discovered pot in the eighth grade and spent most of high school in a drug-induced fog. Later I quit a good union job to become a dealer.
When I found myself in jail at the age of twenty, it scared me straight. Once out, I was determined not to get caught up in the criminal lifestyle again. But I continued to enjoy a good smoke whenever I had a chance.
Last year, my thirteen-year-old son got caught smoking pot at a school function. In an effort to make me look bad, my ex had told him, “Your father was a flannel-shirt-wearing pothead when I met him.” This, combined with the fact that I still smoked occasionally, made me feel like the biggest hypocrite on earth when I lectured him. But I was also very aware of how pot can affect a boy’s motivation.
Not long after that, my son and his mother began butting heads, and he came to live with me. Since then, he has been making decent grades in school and has developed good friendships with kids who are straight. I’m really proud of him. But I still smoke pot myself.
Like a couple of adolescents waiting for Mom and Dad to leave, my buddy and I confer about whether our kids and spouses will be around for the weekend. Within minutes of sounding the “all clear,” I will dash over to his house, and we’ll break out our carefully hidden treasure.
We smoke so little at this point that it takes only a couple of hits to get us wasted. We savor that rush as we sit on the porch or in the garage and talk about whatever comes to mind. The warm, mellow feeling settles over us like a blanket. I don’t plan on giving up these moments anytime soon.
My wife and I are going to a Halloween party dressed as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Jane loves costume parties, and I play along because somebody at these functions usually has some pot.
We arrive, Jane jovial and gregarious in her dyed red hair and vintage fifties dress, and I stiff and awkward in my greased pompadour, black velour jacket, and two-tone shoes. Soon I’m toking in the backyard and keeping an eye on the house. Jane doesn’t like it when I’m stoned. I become an “asshole,” she says.
I go inside for a beer and tentatively approach Jane, trying to look normal. But she knows. She always knows. I bristle and crank up the volume in defiance. I drink, dance, sing, flirt, curse, and tell raunchy jokes. Only toward the end of the evening, when the buzz has begun to fade, do I notice that people are avoiding me. I feel a sharp pang of shame, but I conceal it.
When Jane and I finally leave, the silence in the car is oppressive. Hanging in the air like a neon sign is the accusation: you acted like an idiot.
At home, as we go inside, I pause in the open doorway for a moment, and our tabby cat Alice bolts out and runs under the house. “God damn it!” I shout. Jane’s obsession with keeping the cat indoors is a bone of contention between us. I think the poor thing would be happier outside, traffic be damned.
“Nice going, pothead,” Jane snaps. “How’re you gonna get her back in?”
I’ve reached my limit. “Fuck the stupid cat!” I yell. I grab the keys, stomp to the car, and peel out of the driveway. I’ll show her. I’ll stay out all fuckin’ night.
I get about half a block before I realize I’m still dressed like Desi Arnaz.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
To Name Withheld, whose Readers Write entry on “Marijuana” [May 2003] starts, “I have smoked pot almost every day for the last seventeen years”: I smoked pot myself for twenty-three years. I loved it. It enhanced my worldview and made me more creative. I married a man who also loved pot. We had children, and we continued to smoke, though not in their presence.
I eventually started therapy due to some unrelated issues, and my therapist suggested my pot use was a problem. She advised me to quit. A psychiatrist I saw, however, was noncommittal, and I used that as an excuse to continue smoking.
I became so dependent on pot that I scraped the pipe, hoarded roaches, and smoked stems. When we were without pot, I threw tantrums, yelled at my husband, and terrified my young children. Time after time, I wound up in the psychiatric unit of the local hospital.
Still, I denied my problem. Nobody gets addicted to pot, I told myself. And most of the counselors I talked to seemed to agree. In addiction counseling groups, pot was never discussed, and when I mentioned it, I might as well have said I was addicted to milk.
Then came the day that I threw a full coffee cup at my husband and shattered the window behind him. We were potless, and I was out of control. He gave me a look that I will never forget. Then he took the kids and left.
I went back to the hospital and entered an addiction-recovery program. I went to my first twelve-step meeting and was received with open arms. It’s now been almost two years. I have not backslid once. If I’m ever tempted, I have only to remember the look on my husband’s face when I threw that coffee cup.
The popular belief is that pot is harmless, but that’s not always true. Physical addiction to marijuana is real. I have no argument with anybody who can smoke pot regularly without melting down between baggies. But I urge Name Withheld to persevere. Keep going to twelve-step meetings, and don’t worry about what other people think.
I’m in love with a longtime marijuana user who hid a daily habit from me for years. Before this relationship, I had no real opinion regarding marijuana; now I do.
When high, this normally intellectual, loyal, honest, and kind person thinks it’s funny to tell “innocent” lies; thinks the most mundane forms of humor are witty and sophisticated; becomes volatile and is sexually inappropriate; says hurtful things and denies them later; can’t make decisions or forgets them; has no grasp of time or schedules; becomes either depressed and lethargic or manic and hyperactive; repeats the same philosophical discussions over and over, year after year, and still cannot draw conclusions about them; and misunderstands much of what others say.
It no longer matters whether or not my partner is using pot at the moment: the memory lapses and the sexual problems are part of our daily life. My partner doesn’t think pot is a problem, but rather believes it is the source of life’s finest, most creative hours.
Perhaps I don’t fully understand the role of marijuana in people’s lives, but I do know that with me, people are getting someone genuine and fairly consistent — and if not, I can address that problem within myself. My loved one can’t, because there is often no memory of what was done or said. I think we both deserve better.
I am sixty-three years old and have never tried marijuana. After reading your May Readers Write on the subject, all I can say is “Where can I get some?”