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I never would have thought that I would be speechless on the topic of Marijuana. I’m passionate about it. I live it and I breathe it. It isn’t for lack of love that I have no words. The Marijuana “issue” simply leaves me dumbfounded with its breadth. In fact there is no single issue, but a patchwork of issues spread across our nation.
In making the best argument for Marijuana reform, the difficulty is in determining which issue is more important: the patient deprived of safe, effective, and affordable access to treatment or the citizen who under current law is persecuted and incarcerated disproportionately by race? Is it the decades of research undone and knowledge not yet gained? Is it the fortune our country has lost to the drug war, or is it the homes and the families? Is it the very lives? Is it even, maybe, the only inhabitable world we know losing stability every day when good solutions are clear and present?
For me, the finger on this hand that grips the tightest is an impossible determination. I am officially intimidated. What I can tell you for sure, with focus and depth, is that my personal relationship with Mary Jane has been one of incredible beauty and dark fears, of bravery and camaraderie.
The first time I smoked pot I was twelve going on thirteen, decidedly and considerably too young by even the most open-minded standards. But there I was; twelve, in the yellow glow of a summer campfire next to a friend with the thick dark summer falling in just feet from us. My friend was older and when she pulled out a pretty glass pipe filled with this adorable green stuff and asked if I smoked pot I couldn’t help but say “Oh, but of course” while thinking “No but I’m about to. Woop woooop.”
I knew this network of folks: the potheads. They were magnificently kind and curious and inventive. I wanted common ground with these people. I wanted to taste some of the magic that knit them together, not to mention the thrill of diving into the taboo. That first encounter was uneventful, though. I didn’t feel a thing. Whether it was my technique or it really is true that you don’t get high the first time, I certainly did not get high the first time and, unimpressed, wouldn’t try again for a while.
Roughly a year later, I told my older brother how displeased I had been with the plant he and our friends held in such esteem and that it just didn’t do anything to me. He encouraged me to give it a second chance, and under his tutelage I smoked again using a different method. I recall still saying “It isn’t working I don’t feel anything” half a dozen bong rips in, but somewhere around the seventh it was as if the universe exploded into being all around me for the first time.
My thoughts had never been so colorful, and my mind seemed both wide and high. The music in the air had shape and texture; a spirit of thoughtfulness and delight attendant. Between then and now are countless smoke rides, sessions, and powwows. Years of enjoyment burst forth like a river from a mountainside. Eventually my use would trickle down. The realer shit got, the less time I could devote to this immense yet simple pleasure. I had jobs to do. I had a house to keep up, a child to raise, college. I’ve never abandoned my friend Mary, and I never will, but over the years we’ve had to grow up and spend less time together now than we did in that first decade or so of howling exploration together. My growing responsibilities may have lent to a decrease in my consumption, but they also lent to an increase in my knowledge of the Marijuana “issue.”
The second time the universe exploded into place around me with a single breath was when my son cried for the first time as his own person. This is and will be my single greatest responsibility for all my days. Not many years after he was born, I learned that kids are taken from parents who use cannabis. Having Mary in my life all these years without ever knowing her to be a troublemaker, I almost couldn’t believe something so absurd. But I read up, and this was real.
Once you begin to plumb the depths of the thick scary mess that is prohibition you learn all kinds of things you wish you hadn’t and having learned them you can hardly idle.
Current Marijuana laws are incarcerating people like my child, who is multiracial, four times as often as their Caucasian countrymen. Knowing this I cannot idle.
Current Marijuana laws deny our veterans an opportunity to heal the scars of war. Knowing this I cannot idle.
Current Marijuana laws are preventing the research of treatments for a range of illnesses from Parkinson’s to HIV. The laws are breaking people down and tearing their reputations and families to shreds. These laws line the pockets of cartels, while taking everything that means anything from decent people. They are burdening us economically while preventing us from cashing in on the miracle that is Marijuana to help mend our dying environment. For all these reasons, I cannot idle.
A month after it was established, I caught wind of the formation of the East Tennessee Chapter of NORML. The majority of all the fear I’ve felt as a result of my association with Mary Jane has been in the time since. Knowing what I know, I cannot idle but it’s scary sometimes announcing to the world that I’m not afraid of this big bad problem, and I’m not going to quiet down until it’s rectified. It’s scary raising a ruckus. The only thing scarier to me is the idea of the fingers of the Marijuana issue choking out my friends, family, and beloved country.
Photo Credit: Painting by Mary Cassatt under Public Domain