I honestly can’t remember why I used to hate marijuana with such vehemence. You’d think I’d have been more intolerant of alcohol, as I grew up with firsthand understanding of the havoc it wreaks. An early memory: I’m eight, in the car with my mother as we drive past a liquor store. “I’d like to burn every one of those to the ground,” she says. I knew my mother to be gentle and kind; this was an introduction to the tangled relationship between alcohol and aggression, anger, and despair that I would come to understand well.
But still, I started drinking when I was 14. I drank too much, too often, along with many of my high-school friends. I had good, true friends who felt just as misunderstood as I did in high school and who railed against the judgment and hypocrisy that hangs thick in the air of a small town, like humidity. But I turned into a hypocrite myself when some of those friends took up pot, and I was aghast. I’d get drunk, yet make them choose between marijuana and me. I graduated high school more alone than ever.
It took a decade, lots of strained relationships, and some perspective, but I feel differently. Now I’m in my thirties–married, three kids, a graduate degree and a minivan–and you can light up around me whenever you want. It started with a small step: holding judgment. Next, I asked some questions. Marijuana is no more addictive than legal drugs and is not a “gateway” to other illegal drugs. Then, I got to know some incredible people who happen to smoke pot rather than dismissing them as potheads.
Finally, there are the anecdotes: I know people who have been raped, beaten, verbally assaulted, or otherwise abused by someone under the influence of alcohol. You probably do, too. On the other hand, the worst I’ve seen people do when they’re stoned is get quiet. Or maybe giggle uncontrollably, at worst. And as much as we joke about how easy it is to get medical marijuana in California, cancer patients, recovering alcoholics, and people who suffer from arthritis and migraines and MS don’t see what’s so funny. Innocent victims of the “war on drugs” aren’t laughing, either.
Despite my change of view, I still rarely smoke pot myself. I prefer to indulge when I’m alone and with a busy family, that’s not often. But as I’ve become outspoken in it’s defense, I’m floored by the variety of people who admit to smoking. They’re told in whispers and codes, these secrets I keep, because of judgment that lingers. These people aren’t gangsters and rastas. They’re engineers, lawyers, teachers, fathers, and mothers. Some of them might live next door to you. You would probably think nothing of splitting a bottle of wine with them, maybe raise your eyebrows if they lit a cigarette, but what if they offered you a joint?
It’s time to watch the prohibition go up in smoke.
(4/20 is National Pot Day, though you won’t see this marked on your Federal calendar.)