Pot and Kettles

by Patricia Pearson

This article first appeared in USA Today

I attended an elegant wedding recently, and amongst the victuals circulating as the party approached midnight were a hash pipe, courtesy of one guest, and a hydroponic pot joint, courtesy of another.

A small, appreciative crowd gathered around the pipe owner. ‘Wow,’ murmered a stock broker, ‘I haven’t seen hash in years.’ The architect who’d brought the pipe nodded. ‘You certainly don’t see good hash much.’ A TV producer joined the group: ‘Sometimes you get stuff that looks like reprocessed record vinyl. But otherwise I only see pot’

The hash, everyone who puffed the pipe agreed, was smashing. A velvet high, inspiring some happy, witty repartee. The hydroponic pot on the other hand, proved a bit strong, causing one fellow to forget what he was saying in the middle of a joke. ‘You have to be sparing with hydroponic, I find,’ said a lawyer, as the stoned fellow apologized with a laugh. ‘One hit usually does it.’

What was remarkable about this wedding party was the fact that it was so unremarkable. Marijuana in one form or another is so common at the weddings, New Year’s Eve parties and dinner soirees of thirtysomething professionals in urban America that it doesn’t merit scandalized remark. It has come to be perceived as a special occasion drug, like good champagne or port.

As George W. Bush Jr. and his fellow politicians prepare to answer the inevitable round of queries about whether they inhaled, I wonder to whom this news is shocking anymore, other than the pundits who jumped down the throats of Institute of Medicine researchers last month, when they dared suggest that marijuana is not, on the evidence, a gateway to harder drug use.

They cannot, you will note, argue that pot in itself is a ravaging drug: You never see a “pot addict” draining his life savings to feed the habit. You don’t see an epidemic of slaughter on the highways caused by “smoking and driving.” There are no violent uprisings at nightclubs after the inhalation of ganga. To the contrary, people who smoke pot tend to lie down on the couch and eat crackers.

Pot is like alcohol: People undone by it are usually trying to undo themselves, because something in their life is too painful or scary to soberly confront. The same is true of overeating, workaholism, abusing painkillers, or gobbling tranquillizers.

This difference between self-abuse and recreational pot smoking is, I think, tacitly understood by a vast number of Americans, which is why few people felt that Canadian snowboarder Ross Robligiati should be stripped of his Olympic Gold for pot use.

But people necessarily remain silent, preferring to keep the secret –of how, for instance, they smoked pot at a wedding and had a blast — to themselves.

The gulf between experience and rhetoric will not narrow until Americans come out of the closet, which is why eminent Harvard psychiatrist Lester Grinspoon did just that, at a conference on Prisoners of the War on Drugs in Toronto last weekend. Part of Grinspoon’s concern, which is also mine, is that this denial is a disservice to our children.

Last year, a newspaper ran a big feature about what steps parents could take to warn their teens off of pot. We’re talking about Baby Boomers here, who, according to the paper, were supposed to say to their kids: ‘I did try marijuana when I was your age, but we knew very little about drugs then, and it was an experience that I regret.'”

Yeah right. Like you regret the time that you smoked a bong with your first boyfriend in college during the Summer of Love and stayed up all night talking about philosophy and listening to Van Morrison, and then made love in a bubble bath.

And that time you were on your honeymoon in Jamaica and someone offered you ganga tea, and you sat on the beach in mellow bliss until the sun set? Never again, you vowed.

Either your teen was born yesterday, or they’re gonna look at you like you’re an idiot.

Is it not far better than playing this hypocrite’s game to instruct our youth on wise usage? We might tell them, for instance, that hydroponic is awfully strong these days, and too much will play havoc with their short-term memory.

We must tell them that they should never make hash brownies and leave the pan on the kitchen counter without telling anyone else what’s in them.

We should prepare them for the enhancements of their perception, which will make them more appreciative of music, comedy, beautiful starry skies and raw cookie dough, but can also enhance their self-consciousness, so that they keep wondering if they just said something stupid. Heightened awareness cuts both ways. They need to know that.

When I was fourteen, and found face-down in a snow-bank, bombed on Kahluha, my best friend’s dad knew exactly what to do. He knew how to sober me up, and he knew how to counsel me on appropriate drinking. I learned from him, and over the next few years of trial and gross error, I figured out how to drink.

My friend’s dad had no corresponding knowledge of pot, and nor did my parents. They worried, they panicked, they overreacted, they wondered what was so funny.

We do have the knowledge now. Our kids can use it. So let’s stop pretending we didn’t inhale.

© Patricia Pearson, 2001