David Brooks of The New York Times made headlines exposing his youthful pot-smoking and its influencing his current opinion that it should not be legalized for recreational use. He was ridiculed, not because he admitted smoking pot, but because he locks the barn door behind himself after he has smoked the stash.
On one hand, he seems a hypocrite. It’s easy for those who have experienced something to tell others they shouldn’t do it, based on our word. On the other hand, he’s a well-respected and conservative-leaning opinion journalist. On other matters, we give him the courtesy of hearing him out, mainly because, even if we lean left, he is in the know, and doesn’t just spout his opinion without factually backing it up, as some other mainstream commentators do.
I wonder why Brooks makes himself personally vulnerable, and it forces me to examine if I care all that much which way this goes.
Unlike Mr. Brooks, I never achieved the level of expert pot smoker he apparently did. I experienced it second-hand at concerts where joints were passed down long rows. I deferred, not because I didn’t want to try it, but because…it came all the way down the row, through the hands and lips of everyone sitting between me and whoever. You don’t have to be one of seven children to know how gross that soggy end had to be.
I finally tried it with a friend who also was green. His older brother gave him a baggie full of grass, and he said we could try it. We did, and then compared it to inhaling cigarette smoke. We waited for enlightenment, and then went out for pizza, or maybe to work, or to play basketball.
By college, most kids I knew were divided into smokers, drinkers, and churchies. Based on my circumstances, I became a residential adviser, so I loved weekend beer.
Once in a while, at home for breaks, I met up with friends who were lighting up, but only one or two of them seemed serious enough about it to always have it on hand. Later, I had a boyfriend who smoked it more than anyone else I knew, and he gradually stopped doing it after he saw that it wasn’t my thing. Maybe he also stopped because his school studies seemed to take up more of his time.
The idea of legalizing pot probably never came up in our discussions because using it felt so dangerous. There was something Prohibition-era about it: relegated to darkly lit and musk-smelling apartments of older friends of friends, or in one case, a friend’s basement whose parents were smoking it upstairs. It never seemed like regular citizens — like my non-cool parents — would be users.
Fast-forward to me, turning 56 last week, in California, which is not a recreational-use state — in theory. In fact, it is: Students faking medical conditions get pot and leave it in mason jars on their kitchen counters, along with their gear. I don’t know how we made it through our 20s, enduring the aches and pains of…youth?
And a trip — I use the term in the most literal sense — to the Haight, in San Francisco over the weekend showed that California’s young citizens are poised for legalization. As we walked the streets with our Frommer’s guide, seeing where Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, and Charles Manson lived, staggering teenagers dressed in desert fatigues waved cardboard signs scrawled with the word “WEED,” as they were shooed from vintage-clothing-store doorways.
Nearby, a hillside dotted with immobile bodies in the middle of the day illustrates some of Brooks’ warning: temporary homelessness was voluntary for most middle-class kids seeking weed in the Haight 30 years ago. But I don’t believe that everyone sprawled out next to piles of meager belongings elects to be there, in 2014. In a way, I wish kids could see their future selves; it might instruct present actions.
If pot were legal and taxed, like alcohol, imagine fun for the whole family: celebrating 21st birthdays by getting high together, grandparents in tie-dye, asking deeply personals...maybe not.
Olive oil and garlic sizzling in a pan, a glass of wine on the counter — these California exports keep my mind curiously open.