Saturday, December 11, 2010

Why I Came Out of the "Marijuana Closet"

Where My Head Is At

In the past year or so I've become somewhat of a visible and vocal proponent of cannabis legalization, and I've been asked quite a bit about this - "Aren't you afraid people you work with will see your posts?"; "Are you worried about the police?", etc. In a nutshell, I've just decided "Enough is enough". In a way I've been inspired by Gay and Lesbian folks who have stood up for their rights and pushed for the acceptance they deserve. It's easy to marginalize cannabis users because of lazy cultural stereotypes, which is why I believe folks like myself need to step forward and speak up.

RE-legalize it! Cannabis prohibition has been going on since the 1930's. Just as alcohol prohibition was a total failure and an expensive joke, so too has cannabis prohibition been a waste of lives, money, time and energy. And I can no longer stand by while people are put in cages because they choose to use a naturally occurring plant. The State has no more right to ban cannabis than it does to ban oxygen.

So, how have we gotten to this strange place where a plant that has been used by civilizations for centuries has been demonized, stigmatized, and banned by fearful and greedy self-interests?

Everything You Know Is Wrong

The prohibition on cannabis that started in the USA in the 1930's was motivated by moneyed interests, racial fear and profiling, and just a general environment of panic, paranoia, and unquestioned submission to government strong-arm tactics. Tycoons like William Randolph Hearst held interests in timber companies that supplied the materials for his newspapers. Hemp was a more affordable and sustainable way of making paper (the first draft of the Declaration of Independence is, famously, printed on hemp paper) and a threat to Hearst's interests. At the same time, government stooge and propagandist Henry Anslinger of the Federal Department of Narcotics, with support from Hearst, disseminated outright fiction and lies in order to get Hemp banned, and also to help demonize immigrants and minorities. Here is one of Anslinger's humdingers that was published in a Hearst newspaper:

"There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others."
What?! But the populace of the time was scared, and easily manipulated

There is also an incredible amount of ignorance and hypocrisy when we look at the impact various drugs have, and the number of deaths caused by their use:

DrugAvg. Annual Deaths in USA
Alcohol & Prescription Drugs100,000
Aspirin & Over-The-Counter Drugs7,600

No one has ever died from cannabis use. A joke about that goes like this: "How much marijuana would it take to kill a man?", "800 pounds, but you would have to drop it from 50 feet directly onto a person's head."

Rather than trust the authorities, many people, like me, wanted to find out for themselves. And when we started trying marijuana and realized how that the "established wisdom" was "bullshit squared", we tended to generally disregard any kinds of warnings or guidance from "The Man". I relied on my own experience - goodness! what was all the fuss about?

Pushing Back Against The Stereotype

Boring, tired, cliched, obsolete.

The "brain-dead stoner" stereotype is an unfair generalization that has, in many ways, been a lazy cultural classification for anyone who smokes cannabis. To be sure, there are plenty of folks who embody (and even embrace) the stereotype - and that's fine. Generally speaking the stereotypical stoner is usually labeled as lazy, easy-going, non-confrontational, and  forgetful. Contrast that with a stereotypical drunk - loud, rude, and often violent. And yet alcohol is accepted and celebrated in our society while merely possessing cannabis can get you thrown in jail.

In reality, most of the people I've known who regularly smoke cannabis are some of the brightest, most creative, and most ambitious people I have known. Unfortunately, almost 100% of those cannabis enthusiasts have been forced to keep their drug of choice a secret out of fear of police, cultural stigma, and potential career suicide. I've known software engineers, doctors, athletes, lawyers, CEOs, chefs, musicians (almost a requirement) and scientists that are regular cannabis users. Most have been for many years. In all honesty, I'm more suspicious of people that have never tried cannabis in their whole lives. The experience can be one of life's true pleasures.

War On Drugs? Are You Kidding Me?!
Pills, pills, pills. Every day.

During an evening of television watching, how often to you hear a commercial that goes something like this:

"Jimjamfibronozil may cause side-effects. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience joint pain, suicidal thoughts, dizziness, migraine headaches, double-vision, stomach bleeding, shaking hands, skin rash, confusion, itching, constipation, runny nose, depression, coughing up blood, or anxiety."

"Ask your doctor about Jimjamfibronozil and start feeling better today!"

And these advertisements are delivered in all seriousness, with a "straight face", usually with pleasant looking folks walking through breezy fields under blue skies...

And often these new drugs are treating conditions we didn't previously even know existed! Who had ever heard of "erectile dysfunction" before Viagra? Now, with every new condition that, coincidentally, has a corresponding new pill to fix it, we ask ourselves, "Do I have that? Am I fatigued more than normal? Gee, maybe I have lost some hearing over the last 3 decades.", "Maybe I should ask my doctor."
No side effects.

The US government purports to be fighting a "war on drugs", and yet only certain drugs. Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, prescription drugs, and over the counter drugs are, apparently, OK. In fact our culture promotes drug use almost constantly - "Schaefer is the one beer to have when you're having more than one!" Recently I had surgery for the tenth time, this time to address severe spinal problems (spondylolistesis at L5/S1 and other damage), and my doctors were more than happy to prescribe any narcotics and pills in as much quantity as I would have liked. This has become commonplace these days. I'm not 100% certain, but I'm pretty sure that doctors sometimes even get bonuses from pharmaceutical companies for passing out subscriptions (if anyone knows for sure, please let me know).

Don't get me wrong - I believe that pharmaceuticals have their place. It's just that our culture has developed a very "loose" acceptance of this stuff. 

Cannabis vs Lorazepam on the Streets of Europe

Back in 1978 I severely injured my back while long-jumping in a decathlon in Metuchen New Jersey. The injury eventually ended my pole vaulting career, but was more or less manageable for the next few decades. You get used to things after awhile, and the pain was sometimes bad, but usually minor. From time to time it would flare up pretty significantly, but in early 2010 time caught up with me and the pain became severe. I hadn't used cannabis much for about 4 years, but I knew of it's potential to help with pain, so, lucky to be living in a state with medical marijuana laws, I went to a doctor to get a recommendation. And it really helped. After a day of work I would return home in flaming pain, but a few hits of a strong cannabis strain and the pain either subsided immensely or completely dissipated.

But in September, for our 25th anniversary, my wife and I had planned a trip to Spain and France. I spoke with my doctor about the trip, and about how I would not have legal access to my normal method of pain relief for my back. She prescribed some Lorazepam and Vicadin for me to take with me on the trip. I had hoped to avoid taking either of them, but figured that I would go ahead and try them if the pain got bad enough. In Barcelona, after a long walk - the pain got bad enough.

The pharmaceuticals worked "somewhat", but not as well as the cannabis. And they also came with ugly side-effects like anxiety, nervousness, and weird dreams. I had to take them every night and at some point I noticed I was developing a dependency on them. When I stopped taking them I had terrible bouts with insomnia, and when I could sleep I had bizarre and freakish nightmares. Thanks Doc! On my return to California I was able to spark up again, and the pain returned to being manageable.

I should make it clear that I am in no way suggesting that cannabis can be a substitute for pharmaceuticals in every case. After some of my surgeries I relied on opiates because of severe pain, and they worked well for that. But even then I would have hallucinations, weird dreams, and difficulty stopping the medication. So while cannabis might not be an "apples-to-apples" replacement for different narcotics, there are many situations where it is a much better alternative with no scary side-effects (except perhaps a craving for ice cream, a pleasant mood, and a tendency to not take life too seriously.)

Who You Callin' "Unmotivated"?

A nice Sativa/Indica hybrid: Blue Dream
In our culture there is a severe bias of thought regarding "partakers of ganja". Folks that have bought into the fear-mongering propaganda of the Feds, and/or have no direct experience with Pot, tend to easily go along with the shallow myths about cannabis use.

Cannabis Myths: The Usual Suspects:

  • Marijuana is a gateway drug.
  • Long-term use will turn a person into an unmotivated, lazy loser.
  • It has no medical value.
Gateway drug: If cannabis is a gateway drug to things like cocaine and heroin, than I suppose beer is a gateway drug to cannabis. A lot of people, especially when I was young, would experiment with alcohol (usually beer) before trying cannabis. You never hear anyone claim that beer is a gateway drug, because it's obvious to anyone with any experience that that is ridiculous. The exact same thing is true with cannabis. There are those (myself included) who are simply curious and want to experience these things. Yes, it can be dangerous. No, there isn't any amount of government effort or any law that is going to keep people from experimenting. Just as we have people who abuse alcohol, we have people that abuse other substances. It's not the right of the government to tell use what we can and cannot do. Now, if I drink a bottle of Jack Daniels and get in a car, I am risking and endangering other people, and I should be arrested. Same with anything.

Anyone with any experience at all with drugs and alcohol knows that there is no such thing as a "gateway drug". There are lots of drugs that do lots of different things. There are lots of people that have lots of different tendencies.

Long-term use and motivation: I had just turned 18 when I first tried marijuana. That's probably a little older than when most people start. I grew up in a very suburban, middle class, whitebread world, and didn't think too much about if and when I might try Pot. On the other hand, I started drinking beer at 13 and was going to bars at 16 (it was easier back in those days...) Over the last 30 years I've used cannabis off and on, sometimes going years without thinking about it, sometimes smoking (or "vaping" now) every day. I've had a pretty rich and varied life, but one thing you could not accuse me of is being "unmotivated". And, in my experience, folks that have used cannabis for a fairly long time are generally some of the most active people I know.

During my 30 years off-and-on use of cannabis I have:
  • Become a self-taught software engineer and architect.
  • Written and recorded over 80 songs and 5 albums.
  • Created a handful of oil paintings.
  • Written a book of poetry.
  • Won a state pole vaulting championship.
  • Been married for 25 years and raised a son who is now 23.
  • Moved around the United States and lived in many different places.
  • Run my own successful Software Consulting business.
  • Competed in and sometimes won martial arts competitions.
So I guess it's time to put down the pipe and start to do something with my life.

Untitled, oil on canvas, 1997, Jay Hill
Hypercubism, oil on canvas, 1998, Jay Hill

My last album, under the name Mass Driver, can be found on iTunes: Mass Driver, Dub For Unity (2007)

Takin' It To The Streets, Blogs, and Tweets

Now, for me, the time has come to actively promote cannabis legalization, in whatever ways I can. The widespread anger over the idiotic arrest of Willie Nelson might be a catalyst for more of us to speak up. Willie seems to be starting a "teapot" party, but I don't know how serious the effort is yet. For my part however, I intend to speak up whenever/wherever possible. Marijuana is actually a safer choice than alcohol, so it is hypocritical to ban the less dangerous of the two. But it is completely useless, pointless, hopeless for the State to try to ban any substances that people want to consume.

Wandering around in San Francisco it's hard to believe that Pot is still illegal. It's pretty prevalent around here, accepted, and not a big deal. Which is really all I'm trying to say here. With years of personal experience and experimenting I can tell you without hesitation - Cannabis use is really not a big deal.


1 comment:

  1. Brilliant work good sir. I'll have to link through my blog &