My 14-year-old heart was racing. He held my arm and pulled me gingerly through the open bedroom window into the dark night, his other hand clasped around the neck of a giant glass bong. We huddled behind a swing set in the yard, our figures outlined in sudden bursts of shadow cast by the flicking of a lighter. I inhaled rapidly, holding in the sweet smoke.
He had dirty blonde hair that hung down to his waist, and wore round prescription glasses, like John Lennon. His room was adorned with horror movie memorabilia, and posters of punk rock bands. I was enamored. High school was uncomfortable. With him, I didn’t feel so weird. This was supposed to be normal. Smoking pot was an activity that we had to hide from our parents, but it was a rite of passage, a necessary part of growing up. Right?
We stood in the kitchen. I was anxious, and waiting for…something. This was frustrating. I’d smoked a joint once before, and had felt nothing. My friends told me that not everyone gets stoned the first time they smoke weed. It was hard for me to comprehend this, considering how high everyone around me seemed to be.
I took a bite of some cake that his mom had made earlier. I took another bite. Suddenly, I was shoveling the cake into my mouth as I awkwardly tried to tell him how this was the best cake I’d ever had, while chewing simultaneously. He again took hold of my arm and steered me quietly out of the kitchen and back into his room, while holding one finger up to his lips to silence me in hopes of maintaining his parents’ oblivion.
This is it, I thought. I’m stoned.
Memories from this point on aren’t cohesive. There is a feeling of weightlessness, transcendence. I am laying in the floor, eating Oreos. They are playing card games, one of which I am now sprawled out on top of. There is a speaker next to my ear and the sounds coming out of it, disjointed notes from the striking of piano keys, are not only in the air around me but are also inside of my head and somehow inside of my lungs, my muscles, veins, my blood. Somehow, it is my mother who is in the room, pounding on her Steinway Grand.
They are putting the paper playing cards on top of me. I am in my coffin, being buried. A tear is streaming down my cheek as the funeral procession continues around me, the earth still being piled on top of me. I am somewhere else.
I don’t remember; I forget.
At the end of the night, I crawled into my bed and fitted headphones over my ears. I couldn’t stop marveling at how beautiful music suddenly sounded. Intense, rushing, multilayered thoughts filled my head. I had found the perfect escape. I decided right then and there that being stoned was how I was meant to be. I made a vow to myself to continue smoking weed until the day that I died. I had found my home.
Therein lies the problem with marijuana, or my problem with it, at least.
Opening various doors in my mind today, to explore these early stoner memories, feels as if I’m delving into the caverns of an acid trip. I’ve done more than my fair share of acid and other psychedelics, but no trip has ever come close to transporting me so far from reality than my first experience while stoned on marijuana. Would it have been reasonable for me to operate a vehicle, or make a life-altering decision in that state?
Should this psychedelia and alternate state of reality be legally accessible by all Americans?
Obviously, I am entirely aware that not everyone who smokes weed winds up tripping out on their boyfriend’s bedroom floor. Its almost impossible to write about the marijuana legalization issue without pissing people off, because marijuana use carries vastly different implications, depending on who you ask.
All I can do is offer my experience in the matter, and share conclusions I have drawn from my own marijuana use, in hopes of offering an explanation as to why the legalization of marijuana may have more negative effects than legalization advocates anticipate.
Marijuana is frequently referred to as the “gateway drug.” Does this mean that if you smoke weed, you’re automatically setting yourself up for other kinds of drug use? For most people, I would assume that the answer would be a resounding no. However, for me and others like me, getting stoned was like turning on a light on my brain that took twelve years to turn off – a burning light called addiction.
Once I had experienced the feeling of being high, it became a never-ending quest to maintain that high. No high could be be as good as the first, though, and eventually marijuana just wasn’t good enough. I turned to ecstasy and cocaine, and eventually to pharmaceuticals, psychedelics, and finally opiates.
There is much debate as to whether one is predisposed to the “disease” of addiction. I am certain that in my case, a part of my brain was, since its creation, ready and able to unleash its wrath, and lay dormant in wait until I succumbed to smoking weed. I suppose this would have occurred similarly with alcohol use, although I first smoked marijuana long before taking a drink.
If marijuana is legalized, how will its use be regulated? Will it be regulated at all? Will children in elementary school be just as entitled, legally, to purchase and smoke weed as adults? Will a whole new generation of drug addicts get an early start in latching on to the feeling of getting high and the eternal pursuit of that feeling?
Sure, this is a fatalistic way of looking at things, but hitting that bong in my boyfriend’s back yard long ago is what ignited my own downward spiral into addiction.
It is arguable whether or not marijuana is itself an addictive substance. I suppose this decision rests upon what factors are considered in determining what constitutes the meaning of the word “addictive.” I know that for many years I felt as if I didn’t possess the motivation to crawl out of bed and get to school or work without smoking a blunt first. If I didn’t have weed, I found it nearly impossible to get a good night’s sleep. I felt anxious and jittery, easily distracted and bored. Simply put, I just didn’t want to do anything without toking first. Withdrawal symptoms that resulted from ceasing to smoke marijuana certainly felt, to me, as if they were associated with an addictive substance, both physically and mentally.
Being stoned hindered my thinking capability and kept me from adeptly making decisions. It skewed my perception, dulled my vision, and altered my interactions with others. Alcohol often does these things too, but legally it cannot be purchased by any persons under 21 years of age. Will marijuana laws include age guidelines?
I’ve driven vehicles stoned before. I can remember arguing that stoned, I was actually a better driver. Looking back on these times, though, and forcing myself to be honest with myself, I must admit that I’m amazed I didn’t wind up in an accident. How will police officers doing roadside stops be able to determine whether or not a person is “too stoned” to drive, if being stoned is legal?
We have means of calculating blood alcohol levels, but no means of determining how much weed a person has smoked. There is a vast amount of difference between taking a hit from a one-hitter and smoking blunts all afternoon. I wouldn’t feel comfortable knowing that there are people on the road who are stoned out of their minds, especially with children in their cars. I know that this happens even today, but how much more often would it occur if one could legally take bong hits before taking their kids to school?
What’s going to happen to the people behind bars, serving out their sentences for marijuana-related crimes? How will the widespread legalization of this drug affect those who have marijuana-related crimes on their criminal records? What could make marijuana-related offenses somehow more forgivable than those concerning other drugs?
There are so many studies, too, concerning whether or not marijuana use creates negative health effects. I have seen studies which claim to prove that smoking marijuana actually benefits lung health, while other studies aim to show that inhaling marijuana smoke is dangerous for one’s health. Some doctors claim that marijuana use affects the way our brains transmit ideas, the way our cells communicate with one another. Has any definitive study on the effects of marijuana use been conducted? What’s true, and what’s just conjecture? With so much conflicting information out there, how do any of us know if blazing up is helping or hurting us, or not really doing anything to us at all?
Whew! I must take a pause and admit that I never thought I’d be writing an article like this. I was one of the kids in high school who got high in the school parking lot before the first bell even rang, and almost hourly throughout the day. Dazed and Confused was one of my favorite movies during this time, I was obsessed with Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic,” I attended marijuana marches in New York City…I even flew to Jamaica on 4/20 and spent a week there burning through seemingly endless amount of joints back when I was a sophomore. So what happened?
The fact is, I grew up. Sure, stoner culture is cool, and I still love listening to stoner metal, and pot leaf graphics, and all of that good stuff, but there was a point where I had to start being realistic about the implications of being a stoner myself.
I do think that, in certain cases, marijuana use is reasonable and even beneficial. I have known people who are terminally ill and rely upon smoking marijuana to induce enough of an appetite to ingest an appropriate amount of food to keep them alive, or to relieve their bodies of the excruciating pain they must live with every day. This kind of use, if regulated, seems perfectly legitimate to me.
I lived in southern California for a couple years, and saw the benefits of the marijuana “business” there. Some cardholding friends of mine grew their own marijuana plants at home, and were able to sell some to local dispensaries. This was one interesting strategy in the uphill climb toward economic stabilization.
I guess that while I don’t think marijuana should be legalized, I also don’t want to definitively state that it should not be. I think, though, that there are important questions that lawmakers and citizens must take into account and properly address before creating some kind of free-for-all where everyone can grow/sell/buy/smoke weed at their leisure.
I’m kind of wondering, all you stoners out there…would the legalization of weed even really cause that many significant changes in your life? Sure, you wouldn’t be playing a continuous game of hide-and-seek anymore, but…don’t you kind of enjoy the thrill of smoking an illicit substance? Isn’t the little song and dance ritual that you do with your dealer a source of pleasure and satisfaction?
Would marijuana still be “cool” if it were legal?
It seems important that we all calm down and take our time with this debate, and that we find a way to be completely honest with ourselves about the implications of marijuana legalization, rather than reverting to an adolescent “stoner pride” stance, or giving in to the allure of idealism, no matter how tempting that may be to all the potheads out there, and otherwise.
Read the counterpoint, Pot? Why not? by Beck Kilkenny
Photo of Ms. Stanley-Ayre by Gabe Hewitt