Ah, yes, one of my fave subjects. Hell, one of my fave things, period, as I approach a half century of regular “toking”. I was “turned on” rather earlier than most, as my introduction to Cannabis preceded the “Hippie” beginnings of 1967 by four years.
In late January of 1963, at the age of eighteen, I took a train across western Canada from Saskatoon to Vancouver, and there continued down the west coast to Los Angeles. It was that time of discovery in life in which most young men find themselves. I spent my first night in a downtown YMCA and awoke late to a dreary day of chill and drizzling rain. That was when I found the headline of the morning paper to read: “Robert Frost Dies”.
Frost happened to be my fave poet. The news of his passing, the deathly pallor of the sky, and my state of total aloneness fell upon me like a leaden blanket of depression. I found a diner and picked my way through breakfast. Then I walked in the drizzle for hours until I finally found myself standing before a movie theatre featuring a double bill that starred Bridgitte Bardot, the Angelina of her day. I went in and sat through both, only to find that each ended with her character committing suicide. Swell. Just what I needed. I left the theatre thankful I thought too much of myself ever to be suicidal. Sometimes a bit of Narcissism can be a good thing.
It was not an auspicious introduction to Southern California. I managed to find myself a cheap apartment hotel off Wilshire to hang my hat for a while, but, directionless, I soon hopped a bus for Palm Springs to spend some time under the welcoming wings of my maternal grandparents. There they escaped the impossible winters of Saskatchewan. After a week or so of hints and suggestions, I decided it was prudent to continue my education – such as it was – at least in an area of interest, namely that of writing. I tried to get into UCLA, but lacked the one year residency requirement. USC was not so picky, and I enrolled in an assortment of night writing classes. As I had graduated with senior matriculation from high school in Saskatchewan I was allowed sophomoric status in California, where the educational system – as in most of America – wallowed in mediocrity.
Somehow I got into a writing class of seniors, two or three years younger than any of them. It was taught by Willard Marsh, a writer who had published in such prestigious magazines as the New Yorker and the Atlantic Monthly, and whose story “Mexican Hayride” was chosen for a Foley edition of Best American Short Stories. Wanna guess what the “Mexican Hay” was?
For some reason Willard liked both me and my immature writing, and I became sort of a “teacher’s pet”. This did not endear me to the other students who resented someone they thought a lowly frosh to be the object of obvious favoritism by the teacher. One day Willard invited me for dinner to his home, where I met his wife. They had an interesting lifestyle. During the winter while he taught classes she worked as a temp in assorted office jobs. Their apartment was decorated in Spartan Studentia – wood and brick bookcases, orange crate side tables, and limp cotton drapes. They had no children, and saved every cent over the approximate seven month window of acedemia in order to spend the other five months in Mexico. There they lived a life of relative luxury, renting a finely furnished villa with two full time servants to cater to their needs.
After dinner Willard brought forth a small, handcarved wooden box. He opened it to reveal some oddly shaped cigarettes. He offered me one.
“What is it?” I asked, even more ignorant and naive than Harry Anslinger. Now that’s green.
“Marijuana,” Willard answered matter-of-factly.
All the cliches of “Reefer Madness” flashed immediately through my mind. I envisioned myself in the corner of a dark room desperately stabbing a needle into one arm. I, like most of the North American public, had bought into the Anslinger propaganda of utter bullcrap and mistakenly equated “marijuana” with “heroin”. That’s like equating caffeine with alcohol.
Of course, being a rebel by nature and a risk taker by choice, I accepted the offering and “toked up”. Ten minutes later I was asking myself what all the goddam fuss was about.
I recall the LeDain Commission in the ’70’s in Canada. The government of the day appointed Gerald LeDain, a former dean of the Osgoode Hall Law School and a later judge of the Supreme Court of Canada, to head a group of intellectuals to travel across Canada in order to study and to make a legal recommendation towards the non-medical use of drugs. I attended the public dialogue held in Saskatoon at the Memorial Union Building on the University of Saskatchewan campus. LeDain later ruled that Canada remove cannabis from the narcotic control act (after all, it is not a narcotic) and that its’ use be regulated by the provinces. Naturally the government, having spent millions in dollars of the day to arrive at the facts, then put them on the shelf while they dropped their drawers and opened their nether regions to the ticklings of the alcohol and tobacco lobbies. Soon of course, new governments were elected, and, like most, their main mandates were those of self-preservation, not servitude to the wishes either of reason or the public itself.
So there I was, a toker four years before the Hippies flowered in Haight-Ashbury, suddenly feeling justified with my natural inacceptance of authority, and here I am, a half-century later, still toking, and still marvelling at the ignorant idiocies permeating the liquified masses of protoplasm that pass for the brains and balls of our semi-elected leaders. The lessons of alcohol prohibition went unlearned among lawmakers, although recent history has seen a slight swing toward reason with the current legal attitudes of the American states of Washington and Colorado.
We live in a society that publicly sells – and actively promotes – two of the most virulent poisons and addictive substances known to mankind, namely tobacco and alcohol, while at the same time criminalizing a naturally grown weed that has a plethora of positive uses, both medical and practical (and never mind the effect that it just damn well feels good). Go figger.
Our elected officials and lawmakers – to say nothing of their ignorant and over-zealous enforcers (the immature high-school grads with guns) – have cost our countries’ people incalculable grief and uncountable dollars.
When are we all going to wise up? Sheesh, I hope in my lifetime…
In the meanwhile, I’m going to toke up when and where I choose (within reason – I’m not going to light up and bend over in front of some gun-toting nazoramus) and I will promote the judicious use of cannabis whenever and whereever I can. Let us remember that with all drugs, even such poisonous and addictive ones like alcohol, tobacco, and narcotics, the idea is to use, not to abuse.