Relax, Kid

When I was 12 years old I went on a school trip to Philadelphia, New York City, and Washington D.C., one of those ostensibly educational jobs that are really less about seeing the Liberty Bell and more about parents shelling out a grand and getting to ditch a kid for a week. I wasn’t the ideal candidate for the “learning” part of this trip anyway; as the top of the class, straight-A student, I actually remembered the American history shit they had already taught us. I didn’t need visual aids, but my mom needed a week with 33% fewer children.

None of my friends were going, with most unable to afford it, and others the unfortunate spawn of overprotective parents who hated not having a visual of their target for longer than a school day. I was roomed with someone I only vaguely knew, from another elementary school, Cal.

Cal was like no kid I had ever met. He was wild and free, almost feral, with long black hair he kept tied in a ponytail. A ponytail! To 12-year-old me, he may as well have had a face tattoo and a gun. He lacked what I thought to be proper deference for authority, mouthing off with no concern for the consequences. Hell, back then, my mom wouldn’t let me watch The Simpsons because she was afraid I’d be influenced by Bart. Cal basically was Bart.

But he wasn’t just some mindless fuckup. That was obvious not only by talking to him, but by seeing how teachers and other authority figures responded to him. When kids considered dumb and hopeless act out, they engender anger and are merely punished. Kids like Cal, seen as having “potential”, cause adults to despair at their misbehavior. Cal seemed to know this, and relished pushing the buttons of those in charge. It secretly thrilled me.

One night we were in our hotel room when suddenly Cal produced a High Times magazine. I was scandalized. Marijuana wasn’t only illegal, it was used solely by burnouts and losers, never-was’s and never-will’s. To me, squarest of the squares, credulous Disciple of D.A.R.E., it was the quickest way to get nowhere. I demanded he put it away, afraid that when his inevitable (and justified) punishment hit him that I’d be caught in the blast.

Instead, he upped the ante: in the middle of the magazine was a centerfold calendar with twelve pictures of hairy, glistening buds, which he pulled out and hung on the wall. This was suicide. I pleaded with him to take it down, but he merely laughed. Defeated, I gave an impotent admonishment and an unconvincing promise that I wouldn’t be the one getting in trouble for this. Deep down, even if I didn’t realize it at the time, something changed in me. Cal was causing trouble and disappointing adults, and he was having fun doing it, a lot more fun than I was having. He seemed to think they were all full of shit, that they were hypocrites, that they weren’t being honest with us. I didn’t want to believe him. It took me a few more years, but I eventually saw for myself the basic human frailty present in all so-called “authority” figures and the facade cracked fully. He must’ve got a glimpse of it very early on.

Anyway, Cal, who since then has been a lifelong friend, was right: fuck these squares. I wouldn’t find out for a few more years, but marijuana is great and the adults were full of shit. It’s used by all types of people, D.A.R.E. was propagandistic garbage, and weed’s continued illegality is an outrage. The forces of good are winning the war, though. Slowly, and not in all places, but the trend is clear. The sky won’t come crashing down in Colorado or Washington now that both states have legalized marijuana, because it’s ultimately a phenomenally benign substance. Once a few more olds politely die off it won’t even be an issue.

While it is an issue, though, it must be framed in proper terms. I find the economic arguments pointless, since the people for whom they may be persuasive are likely inhumane technocratic types whose impartiality is often feigned. And I don’t go in for those easy comparisons of marijuana’s effects and consequences relative to alcohol. I understand the temptation, since plenty of marijuana’s loudest detractors shout about its ills from one side of their mouth and sip booze with the other, and few things have as powerful a corrective effect as pointing out someone’s hypocrisy. And while it can be marginally useful to compare the two when speaking to an audience whose only frame of reference for altered states of consciousness is drunkenness, if your advocacy starts from such a lowly position as that occupied by alcohol, you sacrifice the high ground. Pigs, mud, and all that.

I think marijuana is self-evidently a positive thing, and I’m not only referring to its manifold medicinal properties, which were not just exaggerated as an end-around in order to legalize it. Marijuana’s recreational benefits are just as compelling. I’ll concede it isn’t as plainly a social drug as alcohol, and weed bars are a lot less raucous than regular bars. But it could be argued that bud’s social boons are of a more real nature than the sodden illusions that cause drunk strangers to have bartop heart-to-hearts.

Marijuana is a disinhibitor, but not in the way you would think. It won’t make you take your clothes off or fight someone, but instead will make you think in new and interesting ways. You’ll see normal, even mundane aspects of your life from a whole new perspective. This is frightening to certain people, which is why so many dumb stoner stereotypes rely on mocking the questions people who get high begin to ask. To me, getting stoned is like lifting a veil from my eyes and allowing me to see the world in an unusual way, in some ways what feels like a more truthful way. This veil is necessary to operate on a day-to-day basis, but I think it’s healthy to sometimes see things without it. Even doing this once can be transformative. I heartily recommend it.

The creative benefits of this radical change in perspective are obvious, seeing as how creativity is nothing if not an attempt at seeing things differently. I never learned to properly harness marijuana to this end, though I was never in a position to really try, being more concerned with shutting down and tuning out, using marijuana as a psychic analgesic. I hope to someday wield it for more productive ends, but that day is not today, because I live in Scotland, where I won’t smoke weed for a few reasons. First, weed culture is much different here from what I can gather. There seems to be a real stigma attached to it, though I’m willing to admit it could just be the different types of people I mix with here relative to back home. Still, the UK did reclassify marijuana into a more severe tier in 2009, suggesting the country is somehow regressing on the issue. It’s also common here to smoke weed mixed with tobacco, and I don’t mean in the fun way like a blunt, but actually mixed up inside of a joint. When in Rome, I still ain’t smoking like that. Second, from what little I have seen of marijuana here, it’s expensive and shitty, and besides, I wouldn’t even know where to find expensive shitty weed if I wanted to. Third, and most importantly, I’m an immigrant on a visa and the last thing I want is to catch a case. For all its joys, marijuana sadly doesn’t fit into my life right now.

I look forward to the day when it will again, because it’s a wonderful thing. That uptight little kid I once was became a much more mellow adult, and I have Cal and his magazine to thank.

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