Reflections On 420: What Will My Friends Think Of The Facebook Photos?

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I had a little freak-out this morning. It’s something that marijuana reform advocates go through from time to time, and no, it’s not weed paranoia. It’s something much deeper, and it’s something I need to talk about.

In the aftermath of a great 4/20 festival where I was one of many speakers, my facebook newsfeed was plastered with photos of me and my friends and colleagues, speaking out about the Drug War, embracing each other, dancing, smiling – all against a backdrop of marijuana smoke so thick it obscured much of the crowd in front of the stage.

I am not ashamed of my activism – in fact, I have been honest about putting it out there where everyone can see. And I do this knowing many of my old friends from school, from various jobs, from all of the non-cannabis-related interests I’ve explored throughout my life are looking at these photos and rolling their eyes. “Vanessa turned into a pothead,” I imagine them saying. “What a joke.”

I’m probably not going to change those people’s minds. That’s okay. I also imagine other old friends outside the reform movement are silently cheering me on and wishing they’d been part of a celebration like the one I attended.

Which brings me to the freak-out part. It was intense enough that I called a friend, a long-time activist whose public persona has, as he has told me, made him a pariah among the parents of his daughter’s classmates.

“Shit,” I told my friend. “What am I going to do?”

Because, you see, I am starting the process of applying to adopt a child, and at this point, even if I de-activated my facebook account, all a social worker or adoption agency would have to do is google my name, and up would come countless articles about marijuana reform, with photos of my smiling face attached.

“You’re just exercising your Freedom of Speech,” my friend told me. “Think of all the truly bad people who end up being approved to foster children.”

But that did little to ease my panic. I wasn’t thinking about all the bad people – I was thinking about me. With two strikes against me – a history of cancer and being single – I was already going to have to jump through some serious hoops to qualify for a state-sanctioned adoption. Why on earth was I very publically doing something that was going to make things exponentially harder for me?

 I wasn’t thinking about all the bad people – I was thinking about me. With two strikes against me – a history of cancer and being single – I was already going to have to jump through some serious hoops to qualify for a state-sanctioned adoption. Why on earth was I very publically doing something that was going to make things exponentially harder for me?

To answer that question, I need only to take a deep breath and think about the past few years of my life. Surviving Stage III cancer in my 30s has made me entirely certain about two things: #1. Life is short. #2. Marijuana really helps when you’re going through chemotherapy.

Once I’d realized both of those things, I felt a calling, much like I imagine other people do in vastly different arenas. How could I not add my voice to the reform movement, because yes, life is short, and it can be made immeasurably worse through suffering, or immeasurably better through relief.

In using cannabis during cancer treatment, I did what I needed to relive my suffering. By speaking out about it, I am part of a reform movement that will create the change needed to bring relief to others who are suffering.

What I wish those old friends on facebook knew is being a marijuana reform advocate is much more than celebrating at 4/20 events. For me, it’s almost always about reading legal briefs, meeting with legislators, talking with doctors, listening to patients, learning about science and writing about all of it. The parties are few and far between.

So why attend the rallies and the festivals? For starters, I’m not ready to turn down any speaking engagement that offers the opportunity to spread awareness and help our movement gain momentum. And honestly? When you bang your head against the wall dealing with prohibitionist politicians day in and day out, it’s pretty nice to speak to a crowd that cheers for you.

And while advocates and activists across the country were celebrating 4/20 last weekend, what was the rest of the world doing?

Looking through various “straight” friends’ facebook posts from last night, I was struck by the number of drinking photos I saw: Groups of well-heeled 30-something women holding up shots. A smiling couple holding mugs of beer. The well-stocked bar at a formal dinner party.

Looking through various “straight” friends’ facebook posts from last night, I was struck by the number of drinking photos I saw: Groups of well-heeled 30-something women holding up shots. A smiling couple holding mugs of beer. The well-stocked bar at a formal dinner party.

This is socially acceptable in our society: parents, professionals, politicians, all enjoying their weekend and all drinking alcohol. Not a problem by me, but certainly food for thought. Having a few drinks on a Saturday night does not a bad parent make. But if people like me stop fighting to end marijuana prohibition, we might never reach the point where choosing to smoke a joint on a Saturday night is a socially acceptable alternative.

I’m looking forward to the day when parents – or prospective adoptive parents – can, without fear or self-doubt, post photos of themselves at events where people are enjoying cannabis in the same way that parents today post photos of themselves at events where people are enjoying alcohol. Someday, I tell myself, this will be no big deal. It will be the norm.

Every time I seek confirmation of where I’m going – or where I’ve been – Shakespeare’s words echo through my head: “This above all; to thine own self be true.” I need to remember to make these words my mantra the next time I freak out about my activism and how it will affect the rest of my life.

I’m going to keep advocating for medical marijuana and for legalization. I’m going to keep speaking at rallies and festivals. I’m going to keep posting about it on Facebook. And I’m going to be a great mother.