LA JOLLA, CA — This summer I’ll be celebrating my 50th anniversary of smoking marijuana.
I smoked for the first time when I was 12. I was with my friend Boots Friedman and this weird kid named Milton, whose parents, we were convinced, were Soviet spies. It was summer in Baltimore County, hot and sticky, the cicadas in full chorus. We sat on the fragrant grass in the far reaches of Milton’s suburban back yard. I remember smoking, and then . . . I remember the sense that my perspective had changed. I had the feeling my face was floating above the rest of my body, a balloon tethered on a string. It’s like, all of a sudden, I had a different view of things. I was there, but I was also observing.
I’ve been thinking about all this because I’ve been given the opportunity to tell you some of what I’ve learned about weed. Besides just using with abandon, I’ve studied the subject pretty intensely, too. During the latter half of the drug-fueled 1980s, when I succeeded Hunter S. Thompson as the drugs correspondent for Rolling Stone, I was employed primarily to write about weed and other illegal substances. I’m not sure it was an actual job, but that’s what he called it. Ever since, it’s been an area of expertise.
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To date, there are 33 states with some form of medical marijuana laws that permit use. Ten states plus the District of Columbia allow recreational smoking. While the rules and the products vary from place to place, in general, weed is weed. And that’s where I come in. I’m going to try and add some context to the whole deal. You can write me with questions: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For me, getting high that first time — and every time since — didn’t feel like drug abuse. It was a matter of intentional use. I wasn’t trying to escape my desperate circumstances. I wasn’t trying to forget my problems; I didn’t really have any. And I wasn’t particularly trying to rebel against my parents, who were very good to me, though rebellion was a big part of the youth culture that was reshaping the landscape all around me. It was, after all, the time of the Vietnam War; the anti-war, civil rights and women’s movements had just begun to roil. The status quo of the old world was beginning to give way to the feelings and needs of the young, the female, and the disenfranchised.
In 1968, my decision to smoke pot — and believe me, I had to go to considerable effort to score, and to figure out how to smoke it — was about two things. First, it signified I had joined the revolution started by my slightly older comrades, the hippies. You grew your hair, starting with the forelock, then over the ears. You bought your first pair of jeans, which weren’t even allowed in school. You learned to Question Authority. And of course you smoked pot.
Second, at least in my own case, smoking pot was about pushing the boundaries of my sheltered suburban upbringing. I knew there was something more out there. Pot was just the first thing I could find. In that way, I guess you could say, I agree with the Just Say No crowd: Marijuana was a gateway.
And I’m here to tell you: I’m glad I went through.
Since then, I’ve circled the globe. I’ve smoked pot with all manner of human beings.
I’ve smoked with gangbangers, actors, construction workers, homeless guys, millionaires, friends and lovers. I’ve smoked at 14,000 feet in the Nepalese Himalayas with a Sherpa guide; at 36,000 feet in a commercial airliner back in the days when they had smoking sections; at just below sea level on the beach of Marlon Brando’s private atoll with a topless Tahitian translator.
I smoked pot (and other things) with Gil Scott-Heron and Rick James, the comedienne Roseanne, a guy who called himself the Pope of Pot and started the world’s first marijuana delivery service in lower Manhattan in the ’60s. I once made Snoop Dogg cough with my own preferred strain, which is called OGPR and which, four times a year, I drive a long way to procure. I’ve even smoked with my son — but only after he turned 18 and got his own medical marijuana card. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Most novice smokers notice immediately that smoking weed makes things look and sound and taste more rich, the munchies. Or that it makes you feel kind of tingle-y, which is good for physical relations. Some people with various ailments notice they have fewer seizures, or less pain, or a better appetite. But I’m here to take you to the next level of understanding marijuana, and this is what I’ve discovered: Smoking weed has opened the doors of my perception.
Smoking has led to meetings with new kinds of people outside my comfort zone, outside my community, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or economic station, people of like minds from worlds of their own. It has led me to the understanding that a person can find communality with any other person, in any setting, no matter how scary or how different they might at first seem.
When you share a bowl with someone, you share a part of yourself. Some of it is physical —you’re actually sitting together with this person or persons, handing something back and forth. Some of it is neurochemical — one of the copacetic effects of ingesting marijuana is disinhibition. Given this time together with someone else, engaged in mutual pursuit, we unconsciously let down our walls. We suspend our disbelief. Half a joint in, differences don’t seem to be as important as communalities.
Now here I am, 50 years since my first bowl.
And I even remember it.
Mike Sager is a bestselling author and award-winning reporter. His work has appeared in Esquire, Rolling Stone, GQ and the Washington Post. Many of his stories have been optioned for or have inspired films or documentaries. He has been called “the Beat poet of American journalism, that rare reporter who can make literature out of shabby reality.”
Got questions about weed? Ask Sager.
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