SOME OF THE BEST PEOPLE SMOKE POT
THE INTERVIEWS THAT follow may shock you or touch you or make you mad or make you laugh. They will make you think. We have all heard that marijuana, once the “noxious,” “crippling” and “degrading” preserve of criminals, jazz musicians, delinquents and, latterly, hippies, has shown a tremendous upward mobility in the last few years. This is true. It’s no pipe dream — it’s here. The virtues and dangers of marijuana are debatable but its wide acceptance is obvious. Many of my acquaintances, in the silly lexicon of this underground revolution, “turn on” and profess to believe that doing so is harmless as well as wonderfully pleasant. I don’t know any criminals, jazz musicians, delinquents or hippies. I do know a lawyer who says, “Half the law students in the country smoke pot. It is just a matter of time until our legal institutions are comprised mainly of pot-heads. Do you think it will be illegal then?”
Most marijuana users in the middle and professional classes expect that it will be legalized with solid public support. I had no trouble finding a gallery of them, and I discovered that they were anxious to talk about themselves. They asked for anonymity, of course, but they weren’t frightened. The simple fact is, they smoke with impunity. Police, in resolutely confining their investigations to intractable youth, have not only failed to check pot’s upward mobility, they have failed to grasp it. “I think we have pretty good control of the problem,” says the head of a 20-man RCMP drug section in Toronto. He adds that, of the more than 300 Toronto marijuana arrests up to November of last year, not one involved a member of the professional classes. “No arrests have ever been made, to my knowledge, of professional people.”
It’s a safe bet that no one is ever going to arrest the Toronto lawyer who likes to take a stroll in Nathan Phillips Square on his lunch hour, puffing pot. (Source: another lawyer, who also indulges.) No one is likely to nab the pusher whose beat is the floor of the Toronto Stock Exchange. (Source: a psychologist at the Ontario Hospital at 999 Queen Street West.) No one is going to bash in the front door of a big house in Vancouver’s Shaughnessy Heights where a wealthy hostess offers marijuana from a handengraved silver cigarette box. (Source: a 23-year-old student at Simon Fraser University who is the son of a vicepresident of a large company. “These cigarettes are machine-rolled and filtertipped,” he says. “You don’t get any little bits of grass in your mouth. It’s very elegant.”)
The biggest enclaves of these newly typical pot smokers are in Vancouver and Toronto, although Montreal, Winnipeg and several other cities have their share. The smokers are mostly in their 20s and 30s, affluent, articulate and prepared to do anything to promote the legalization of marijuana, short of risking the seven-year jail term they could still conceivably get for possession. Most of them are as disparaging of hippies and the quasireligious implications of pot smoking as they are of the law. “I have no sympathy for the Yorkville hippies who get bust,” says a lawyer. “Let them listen to the latest platitude-filled guru and squat in doorways. I know I’m not going to find The Way through marijuana. It’s good, that’s all.” If the smokers have anything else in common it seems to be a certain glibness and self-indulgence. An RCMP officer asked me, “How do you know they’re not kidding you?” A better question might be, how do they know they’re not kidding themselves? But who can really say whether they’re right or wrong, deluded cop-outs or the perceptive champions of a better, safer, cheaper and more portentous crutch than alcohol?
THE LAWYER SMOKES POT
“THE FIRST TIME I used it, I realized why marijuana is illegal,” says Paul, a hard-driving 34-year-old Toronto lawyer. “Because it’s just so damned good.” He had some with a friend about a year ago, then overcame his wife’s fears and turned her on. They now share a pipe of marijuana about twice a week.
“The effects are different every time,” Paul says. “I usually first notice a mild hallucination. My ankle bones seem to vibrate. There is a similar feeling at the back of the neck. There is a mild and pleasant vertigo. There is some visual distortion. I get a buoyant, youthful feeling. I really feel about 18 when I turn on. Things seem funny and I laugh a lot. Sometimes I get terribly thirsty, but that might be just from the smoking. A friend of mine will often drink two quarts of milk when he turns on. And they have called it the killer drug! Or you can get hungry. One night at 4 a.m. my wife and I made an enormous Swiss fondue and ate it all. We were high as kites. That’s the only thing my wife doesn’t like about it — she’s little and watches her weight. It affects taste in funny ways. Some things like cold, fresh fruit taste fantastic. But a glass of wine might be disgusting. You never know. Music seems clearer. I can follow contrapuntal music like Bach horizontally, whereas straight I’d likely hear it vertically as melody and harmony. Rhythmic responses are much better. I’m a lousy dancer but when I'm high I dance very well. Anyone who says it is a sexual depressant is crazy. It stimulates you in the same way as when you go away on a trip and forget your day-to-day hang-ups.” Paul has evolved a certain self-discipline about how he uses pot. “I would never drive when I’m high or go to work high. I know lawyers who do and I disapprove. On the other hand, I think it’s probably better than going to the office, drunk. I know a computer programmer who will sometimes stay high for weeks. He says he can work effectively, but it’s hard to believe. I think it’s probably possible to become psychologically dependent on the stuff. That’s why I only turn on twice a week. Also, you want to have time to appreciate it. I work long hours, sometimes at night. We tend to devote spare time to it, as if we were going to a movie. It seems to be compatible with relaxation. I don’t think I’d ever use it to calm tension. It might work, but I just don’t think it’s the right time. If I’m tense I might have a drink with dinner or a glass or two of wine. The beauty of pot is that it’s so different from booze. There seems to be no price you have to pay. It’s not poisoned like liquor. I mean, you never get sick. There’s never any hangover. I’ve never felt a single adverse effect from pot physically, nor do I know anybody who has.”
He says the use of marijuana is so common among the young middle class “that it can be assumed.” He is acquainted with pot-smoking lawyers, architects, writers, photographers, businessmen, musicians, doctors and dentists. He himself buys it in bulk — usually a pound for $200 to $300 — and deals it to his friends at no markup, keeping a few ounces for himself. “Two ounces would make 25 pipefuls and last me three months.” Paul’s pusher is an insurance executive. “I understand he gets it from a guy he went to college with, a really big distributor who brings in 40 or 50 pounds. It’s probably from Mexico. I don’t ask questions.”
THE PROFESSOR SMOKES POT
SHOULD AN 11-YEAR-OLD try pot? Graham, a 46-year-old Vancouver university professor and the father of six, was dubious at first. “The three older children, teenagers, all use it when my wife and I do,” he says, reclining in a leather chair at the faculty club. “That’s only about once a month — we’re a somewhat abstemious family.
I wasn’t sure about the younger boy. But the other kids talked me into it. I let my kids have a glass of wine with their meals — the liquor laws are crazy — so why not a joint? I don’t think the 11 year-old got a real high. I hope I haven’t done him any harm.” Graham, who is small and aestheticlooking, buys his marijuana from contacts his older children have established. He started smoking it after one of his lectures, at the end of 1966. “I was talking about ingrained thought processes limiting the imagination. Four kids who were obviously stoned came in to listen. I could see that they were the only ones who were getting anything out of the lecture.”
He says that six out of 10 of his faculty colleagues indulge. “Sometimes I think getting stoned is a state we could learn to flip into,” he says. “I think we use pot as a trigger to get there now, but maybe we don’t need it. When I use it I resonate more easily to things like music, taste, smells. And once or twice it has made a helluva difference to an evening of love-making. It seems to give me all the advantages of youth to go with the advantages of age that I’ve already got. A couple of my girls reckon that they have achieved a sort of telepathic communication with pot. One thinks she could taste something the other was eating. I never experience wild things like that, but my wife does. It has made things very good for my wife.”
THE DOCTOR SMOKES POT
AT TORONTO’S Central Library a handbook called Weeds of Canada and the Northern United States is well-thumbed at page 27. That’s where there is a botanist’s description of Cannabis sativa, the hemp or marijuana plant. A tall, rough annual, native to Asia, with coarsely toothed, finger-shaped leaves and tiny greenish flowers, hemp was once grown in Canada and the U.S. as a source of fibre for rope. It still thrives as a weed in many locations. Author F. H. Montgomery states that plants growing this far north “are probably of no value” as a source of marijuana. But he may be wrong about that. At any rate, some very facile minds have been concerned with finding the hemp plant, with cultivating it in flower pots, gardens and rural lots, and with harvesting its small top leaves, flowers and stems.
Among them is a Toronto general practitioner who shall here be known as Dr. Lefferts. A scholarly bachelor in his mid-30s, he has been smoking pot for seven years. He started at college. He says it is neither habit-forming nor harmful, “an entirely innocent diversion.” In his analytic way, Dr. Lefferts has acquired a considerable fund of information about his longtime interest. Sometimes he will drive through the southern Ontario countryside looking for it. He has also taken to growing it at home. The procedure, he says, is simple. “The marijuana you buy contains seeds. About half of them will germinate in warm water. Then you plant them in sandy loam— alkaline, not acidic — and nurse them along with plant food. They should mature in about six months. Meanwhile, they are a rather nice house plant. The root structure seems to be such that you can grow a big plant in a 10-inch pot. When it’s ready for harvest you can dry the tops in an oven for 20 minutes at 250 degrees, or in a laundry drier in a cheesecloth bag. I’ve had home-grown pot with friends and found it less potent than the imported stuff, but quite pleasant. It is my ambition to grow enough for my own use.”
This decision stemmed from a recent and frightening experience. Dr. Lefferts attended a convention in New York and came home with several ounces of marijuana in his briefcase. He had a lot to carry off the plane and before going through customs asked a colleague to give him a hand. The colleague took the briefcase. Dr. Lefferts went through first and absentmindedly headed for the door. He was horrified to hear his friend, who didn’t know what he was carrying, make a little joke. “Hey, here’s your bag of marijuana,” he called, holding up Dr. Lefferts’ bag of marijuana. The customs inspector looked up, startled. “Ho, ho, ho,” he said, after a second or two.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST SMOKES POT
TEN YEARS AGO Tracey played drums in a college band and smoked pot regularly because it was cheaper than liquor. Free, in fact. The lead guitarist had a friend in Tijuana who sent it up in half-pound tobacco tins. Tracey liked it — when he was high he felt he was as good as Gene Krupa — but he forgot all about it, he says, after the band broke up. A year ago, Tracey, now a Vancouver psychologist of 35, a well-tailored bachelor with greyflecked sideburns, tried marijuana again at a party at the home of a doctor friend. He loved it.
“More than half my friends use it,” he says. “It’s ridiculously easy to get. I know maybe six people I can get it from at any time. Friends offer you grass or a drink now, the way Air Canada offers you tea, coffee or milk. I am associated with about a dozen doctors and four of us get stoned more or less regularly. What do I get out of it? It adds another dimension to my thinking that wasn’t there before. When I’m stoned it seems as if my mind is working on five or six channels. I know it’s just what I believe at the time and maybe isn’t really happening. But that’s what’s important, isn’t it? What I believe, I mean.”
Last winter Tracey went to a ski resort near Vancouver with a friend. “The first night we met a couple of girls, secretaries, and asked them out for a drink and they said, ‘Look, why don’t you come up to our hotel room and turn on?’ It sounds licentious, but it was very innocent and pleasant. Later that week I met a barmaid and she had some stuff, and we went back to her chalet and smoked it through one of those water pipes, but we used crème de menthe instead of water.”
THE PSYCHIATRIST DOESN’T SMOKE POT
DR. EDWIN LiPiNSKi is a Vancouver psychiatrist who does not smoke marijuana. As if that were not odd enough, his views on pot pushers and certain users — but not the drug itself — are distinctly jaundiced. “I take the occasional drink and wine with meals, but I don’t use marijuana,” he says. “It’s just not a part of my life. On the other hand, I don’t become outraged when people around me use it.”
An internationally renowned expert in forensic psychiatry, Dr. Lipinski is in close daily contact with the consumers of various drugs. He says that, of the teenagers and college students among his patients, 90 percent use pot “more or less regularly.” Among his personal friends, a quarter are users.
“It’s quite common for people listening to music and attending social functions of various kinds to smoke pot,” he says. “You have this thing where they believe that people become more sincere and open and get closer to one another. Pot is a marked social facilitator for many people. Yes, I suppose that’s what alcohol is to other people. Me, for instance. And pot is probably a far more innocuous compound in every respect.”
But he feels that the pushers are deluding themselves. “They are usually the bright kids. They become occasional users, then they make a bit of money selling pot. The next stage is that they begin to develop a rationale about the system being wrong and the law an ass that should be flouted. They see themselves as defenders of the people against the system. These marijuana peddlers! It falls down when you ask them to stand up and accept responsibility for their actions the way Martin Luther King accepted responsibility for his advocacy of civil disobedience. Then it becomes a different matter. Before long, these young people are pushing Speed and LSD and then a few of them go over the top, pushing the hard stuff.”
Multiple users — people who progress from pot to some of the wilder hallucinogens — are caught up in a similarly dangerous and self-defeating game. And a pathetic one. “There is no end to the areas multiple users will investigate,” says Dr. Lipinski. “1 understand some have even tried meat tenderizer taken intravenously, just because the word got around. It didn’t matter that it was absurd and didn’t do anything.
“Here’s a little story that tells you something about pot smokers. In Vancouver not long ago a group of hip social workers tried a psychological experiment on some runaway kids. They got them together in a psychodrama and gave half of them pot and half of them dried parsley. About half the kids smoking pot turned on — and 40 percent of the parsley smokers turned on, too. You always get about 40 percent of people who respond to the suggestion more than the stimulus.” □