This piece, while never published was written in early 2014, just as I was closing down the Gardens at my former home the Lake City neighborhood of Seattle.
Cannabis Coming of Age
The first time I saw some one use cannabis, it was about 1984 and I saw one of the adults that hung out with my folks in his truck with a little metal pipe. This was in Portland, OR and it was still a very quiet hushed, “Don’t tell”, “Don’t get caught” kind of world, especially if you were as young as I was. My generation was the first DARE generation. I was shocked to see one of my father’s friends smoking one of “those” pipes I had seen in “health” class at school. Our drug education at the time was definitely intended to frighten us, instead, in an era of increasingly popular horror movies, these stories made me question if drugs really affected people as portrayed in the “educational” films they showed us. I was supposed to “tell someone safe” if I saw such things, however life had already shown me enough that I knew better and just filed the image away.
It was either fall of 1986 or spring of 1987, when I was first introduced to cannabis. It wasn’t some pusher on the corner, this was again an image used to perpetuate fear; it was an older sibling, who said “Here, try this,” and showed me how to use the water pipe on the kitchen counter. I don’t remember anything special about it, other than falling asleep, and waking up rested the next morning. Since I was only 12 at the time, I didn’t connect the dots, but the stress related eczema that had plagued me the last two years, had almost gone away. I had never heard of medical marijuana; I had never heard of industrial hemp; all I knew was “Drugs are bad, m’kay?” Well, cannabis didn’t kill me, not any of the times I smoked it over the next year or so.
It was in 1988, at the Portland Rose Festival, that I first saw people advocating for legal reform for cannabis. At the time, I had left home and had been living wherever I could for about four months. It was customary to just say I was 18, and my physique and general maturity, made it believable, so I spent a weekend hanging out with these signature gatherers, flirting with this one guy, and marveling that they were so casual about pot (by this time I had learned how easy it was to spend a day or two in jail if the Portland Police even THOUGHT you were stoned). Here I learned the cannabis could be so many other things than something I smoked to feel good. On the second day, I was helping them talk to people and get them to go inside and sign the petition. This, though, was NOT really the beginning of my activism, so much as it was a formative moment in becoming one later. It was not until twenty years later I realized that this booth, this initiative, these people were associated with Jack Herer.
The next few years, there seemed to be more and more of this sort of thing going on in more places around me. There were two years of high school spent in Modesto, CA that made the Portland I had left feel like a place where cannabis was legal. In 1991, I was glad to be back in Oregon, but things were still pretty tight; most people would have NEVER lit a bowl outside, let alone casually walked around smoking, like so many people do casually these days. There were no vaporizers. A cool bong was cool because not everyone had them. Very few people even had glass pipes; blowing glass was, in fact, not such a common thing and the cops always thought you were smoking crack if the pipe was glass.
Maybe I would have become more of an activist for the plant at that time, except I got carried away with protesting war, but that is another story.
The truth is, I don’t know when I became an activist, one day I started paying attention and making phone calls and writing letters, collecting newspaper stories and hanging them on my walls to make my friends read them. Somewhere along the line, I just got involved and it happened-I was an activist.
This story, though, is not about me, this story is about the generation who remember the world when the tiniest scrap of cannabis was a felony everywhere; where a seed was propagation. This story is for the next generation, the young ones that are growing up in a world where “medical marijuana”, “industrial hemp”, “drug law reform”, and even “harm reduction” are everyday words.
This is a story about how “Yes we can.”, seems to be beating out “not in my lifetime”, at least for many. In Nevada, as late at 2001, it was a mandatory 10 year sentence if you had resin on your lighter. I was lucky to live there when they decriminalized up to one ounce. It was a beautiful day; now they have a medical marijuana system operated by the Department of Health. I remember when California passed 215, and how I felt like it was everyone’s victory. I remember when we voted in WA to allow medical cannabis, and in Seattle to make cannabis the lowest police priority. In 2003-2004, I used to walk around Seattle Hempfest and tell participants, “If I can see you, so can the police”. Look at us a decade later.
I have watched for 27 years of my life as cannabis has gone from a hush-hush topic to a mainstream headline, each small victory a seeming beacon for someone else, somewhere else to stand up and fight.
Since the voters in both Washington and Colorado voted to legalize cannabis, I have seen this effect on a worldwide scale, and I believe I might really see the end to cannabis hemp prohibition in my lifetime. We should not forget where we came from, or we will forget how far we have really come. Living in Washington, I am always surprised to hear people talk about how our legalization was “a step backwards” or that it “made things worse”. It has become a question of “Worse than what?”. As a user of cannabis for nearly 30 years, and an activist for at least 10 or 15 of those, I can see how far we have come. No, we are not done. Yes, we have a long way to go, but look how far we have come.