interesting times

Yes, I’m Dependent on Weed

Not such a bad place to be. Photo: Nathan Benn/Corbis via Getty Images

Do I smoke too much pot? It’s a question I’ve asked myself over the years, and it raised its uncomfortable head this week as I absorbed the results of the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

The first thing to note about the report is the good news. One of the major and legitimate fears of those who have opposed legalization is that teen use would increase. Weed is genuinely harmful to the developing adolescent brain and those of us who passionately advocated legalization argued that making it legal would actually make it harder for teens to get hold of on the black market, and thereby could actually reduce teen use. And so far, happily, we’ve been proven right. Teen use of weed is now at its lowest since 1994, and has dropped by a statistically meaningful amount since 2014, when the first states legalized it for recreational use. Adult use has continued to rise — so that now, 21 percent of the 18–25 age bracket smoke weed monthly or more (up from 13 percent in 1990), and 14.5 percent between 26 and 34 (up from 9.5 percent in 1990). But it’s only marginally up since some states legalized — and at the same time there’s been a small but meaningful drop in alcohol consumption. Slam dunk for our side.

But what stood out for me was how much of the use is concentrated among us daily stoners. In 2002, we were only 12 percent of users; now we’re over 18 percent. Of the total amount of weed consumed, we comprise a much bigger percentage than anyone else. And daily use of weed is around three times as common as daily use of booze. So what? Well, the question is really something called “dependence.” The DSM IV definition of this is a little vague. It’s not a physiological condition like addiction. Rather it’s defined thus by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: problems with emotions and mental health, difficulties with family and friends, taking time off from work or school, and being unable to cut down. As a percentage, more pot users admit to such problems than boozers.

Am I in denial about these worries when it comes to myself? A little perhaps.

I fit a rare profile for a daily stoner. I didn’t touch the stuff until I was 36 years old, largely because I have chronic asthma and the idea of smoke in my lungs repelled me. But I was literally seduced into it. A beautiful, blue-eyed, hairy-chested dude I was completely bowled over by turned out to be a hard-core stoner. The night we met, he invited me to smoke with him. I pretended I was totally cool with that, pulled a Clinton by not really inhaling, and thought I’d get away with it. I was, however, busted. “You don’t know how to smoke pot, do you?” he asked. And then he showed me. I have a vague memory of what happened next — some incredible nonlinear sex was definitely part of it — and woke up in the morning after an amazing night’s sleep with a ravenous appetite. This alone was a revelation. I’d been a chronic insomniac since childhood as well as finding it very hard to sleep well next to someone else. Boom! That was over. More surprising was hunger. At that point, I was taking well over 30 pills a day to handle HIV (in what subsequently turned out to be massive overdosing), and there hadn’t been a single day since I started the meds that I hadn’t felt nauseous. Boom! Instantly healed. As I tucked into some scrambled eggs at breakfast, I actually enjoyed my first meal in years.

That was enough for me. Disrupting my work? Impeding my productivity? A couple years later, as a daily stoner, I was writing a blog round-the-clock along wth a weekly column. In many ways, it helped my productivity by finally ending my insomnia. It’s always been hard for me to turn my brain off, and linear, analytical thoughts crowd my mind often to the point of mania. But now, with a mere joint, I unwind quickly after every day’s work and fall asleep within minutes of lying down. My friendships? Yes, I spend less time socializing than I used to, and my friendships have dwindled to a loyal core. But work itself was more of an impediment than the weed for a long time. And cannabis also gave me a whole new set of stoner friends, some of them now my closest buddies. There’s a brotherhood out there that I would never have encountered before.

My mind, moreover, shifted into a much more nonlinear and creative mood when I was high. I never write when stoned. But I do let my mind wander, revisit my writing in my head, see better its flaws, drill down past my defenses, and allow myself to explore alternative ideas. One more thing: My experience of music changed. For the first time, I was able to turn off the ordeal of consciousness and allow myself to listen properly. It hasn’t really enhanced my appreciation of food (eating still basically bores me) but it has sharpened and deepened my visual capacities. It can make Cape light even more transcendent and transforming.

But my memory? Much worse. My lungs? They’ve taken a hit, even if vaping has helped. Weed may shorten my life by hurting my lungs — but endless insomnia might have shortened it more. Could I go cold turkey? I have from time to time, but it’s not easy, largely because the insomnia always returns. In that sense, I’m busted. By some criteria, I am dependent. Others may find that dependence an impediment to their lives and work, and legalizers don’t need to deny that. We’re all different, and weed most definitely isn’t for everyone. But compared with all the other substances available, and most other avenues to chill and friendship, it remains, it seems to me, a no-brainer to legalize it, and for many sane adults, one of God’s great gifts to humankind.

I’m an alum of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. (Fun fact: I was in a class with Bill O’Reilly for one semester). And I fully appreciate its outreach, especially in its Institute of Politics, to both sides of the political divide. We need more of that kind of thing in universities, even if it does give a sinecure to Robby Mook, the campaign manager whose staggering incompetence gave us President Trump. But this week’s announcement that it will host Chelsea Manning and Sean Spicer as fellows struck me as out of bounds. The morning, mercifully, Harvard disinvited Manning, its dean admitting to a mistake.

He’s right. Manning is a convicted felon who leaked more than 700,000 classified documents as a way to undermine her own country at a time of war. Of the 22 charges against her, she was found guilty of 17. Six of them were violations of the Espionage Act. Her maximum sentence was 90 years. She hasn’t been found innocent; she hasn’t received a pardon; and she is currently showing no remorse. Her leaks led to the deaths of many Afghans who had risked everything to help us defeat a Taliban that would have executed her in a heartbeat. The documents she leaked enabled the Belarus government and Robert Mugabe to initiate internal purges. She has no record of scholarship (her alleged expertise on AI is laughable); no political experience; and her views remain a puerile parody of the left of the left. Her Twitter feed, when it isn’t jammed with lame emoji, contains such deep insights as “abolish the presidency.” “human rights trump ‘the law,’” “no more borders,” and “abolish ICE.” She had already responded to former acting CIA director Michael Morrell’s resignation from his Harvard position in protest with one word: “good.” She has also tweeted her hope that Spicer be removed from his fellowship as well. She has no class either.

She is also one of the worst representatives for trans people I can imagine — especially for those in the military as they come under renewed, irrational assault. One of the oldest slurs against gay servicemembers was that they were all potential traitors, subject to blackmail and attracted to intrigue. But as Jamie Kirchick noted, Manning’s legal defense actually cited her conflicts over gender identity as one of the reasons she betrayed her country! She made Trump’s arguments for him. We know, of course, why Harvard did this — hiring trans people is the highest form of virtue-signaling possible right now. But of all the trans people with distinguished careers and sharp minds, they chose a felon? And of all the trans servicemembers who have served their country honorably and proudly, they picked the one traitor?

But they shouldn’t be left off the hook with Sean Spicer, either. He is, after all, not your ordinary former White House spokesman. He is someone whose soul fell out on the way to the Oval Office. He willingly, famously told blatant lies to the press — again and again and again. He put ambition above any sense of integrity or duty to his country. He was a central, shameless part of this president’s assault on a free press, on liberal democracy, and on the very idea of truth. A university whose motto is Veritas should have nothing to do with him, let alone present him as a “mentor to students,” one of the explicit roles of the IOP fellows. How would he mentor them? By introducing them to the advantages of shameless mendacity? Yes, he’s become a celebrity, largely as a laughingstock, thanks to the genius of Melissa McCarthy. But what he aided and abetted has nothing funny whatsoever about it. If the Institute of Politics is supposed to defend a free press and ethical public service, it just proved it doesn’t. One mistake corrected. One more to go.

I watched part of Ben Shapiro’s talk at Berkeley last night. He was a bit of a prick to begin with, and couldn’t resist cheap shots at times. But mostly, it was extremely encouraging, especially the question-and-answer session. He was effectively pwned on at least two questions, climate change and abortion. One student asked whether a revenue-neutral carbon tax wouldn’t be both conservative in that it doesn’t require much of a bureaucracy, and prudent, given the possibility that climate change could be disastrous — and why not prepare for the worst? Shapiro said he’d never considered such an idea and needed to look at it further. Weak; lame. The idea has been banging around forever. And Shapiro can’t say whether he’s for it or not?

Then he was trounced by a liberal student on the question of why women who have abortions shouldn’t be prosecuted. If Shapiro believes, as he does, they have killed a human being, how could they not be? He dodged at first simply saying he’d prosecute abortionists. When pressed, he argued that many women have abortions without knowing that they are terminating a human life (they’ve been indoctrinated into believing a fetus is the equivalent of a polyp), and so you couldn’t prosecute them for murder or manslaughter because they don’t have the specific intent — the mens rea — to kill. But what, the student responded, about those women who absolutely do know what they are doing and still go through with it? Why not second-degree murder, or accessory to manslaughter, or some other charge. In any other circumstance, someone who plays an essential part in a killing would absolutely have to be charged, right? Shapiro retreated to an incoherent position that even though such women have committed a serious crime, in his view, no one wants to prosecute women for such a thing. But that wasn’t the question. The question was whether he should logically support prosecution. And of course he should.

Those kinds of exchanges are exactly why campuses exist. Kudos to Berkeley for making it happen. They certainly challenged Shapiro more than accusations of his being a “white supremacist” whose speech is “violence.” But look at the extraordinary measures and staggering cost it entailed. Security cost $600,000. Traffic was stopped, concrete barriers were erected, and a whole swath of the campus was under lockdown, including the student union and the student center. The place was swamped by cops. Only 18 months ago, Shapiro had spoken at Berkeley with just two bodyguards.

I understand why the university and city did that. But if that’s what it now takes for a conservative speaker to talk on a college campus, free speech in this country is, quite literally, under siege.

See you next Friday.

Yes, I’m Dependent on Weed