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Frank Gruber

It's the 40th Anniversary of . . . what was that I was sayin'?

By Frank J. Gruber

I'm thinking 2007 hasn't yet been recognized as the anniversary of something big in American culture. The exact date -- or maybe even the year -- is suitably cloaked in an appropriate haze of memory, but doesn't it seem like 1967 was the year when smoking pot became a commonplace rite de passage for middle-class American teenagers, and so that 2007 is the 40th anniversary?

In '65 and '66 it was still pretty much the more hip and artsy kids, but by '67 grass was everywhere.

The phrase "credibility gap" may have been coined to describe the relationship between the Johnson administration and the public over Vietnam, but among the young the biggest rejection of received information was over marijuana. Millions didn't buy it that smoking dope would ruin their lives. And by and large, their parents agreed.

I was fifteen in 1967 and hadn't tried dope yet myself, but I remember one Passover Seder around then when an older cousin insisted (yes, kids in the '60s were obnoxious) on smoking a joint instead of drinking the four cups of wine called for in the service -- his sacrament, he called it.

Now 40 years later the Santa Monica City Council will soon be considering whether to allow "medical marijuana dispensaries" to set up shop like other retail businesses. (see story) Two young entrepreneurs want to open a dope store on Main Street near Pacific.

One thing that is clear is that the public in California and particularly in Santa Monica couldn't care less about anti-marijuana laws. Landslide majorities in Santa Monica have endorsed marijuana use, first by supporting the "wink-wink" medical marijuana state initiative in 1996 and then more recently by voting to make marijuana possession the lowest priority of our police force.

Marijuana has also been reliably reported to be California's highest value agricultural cash crop.

It's taken ten years since the medical marijuana initiative, but with retail pot "dispensaries" on the street, marijuana is now approaching the availability of liquor. Apparently there are enough doctors around willing to prescribe marijuana that no one need be denied a therapeutic joint.

Certainly liquor is a lot more addictive and intoxicating than marijuana, so my first instinct is to shrug and say why not. Probably my final instinct, too, but before I get there I have to confess to some queasiness.

Why? Because I have a seventeen-year-old kid, and he's a lens through which I get a close enough look at high school pot-use that I realize that however commonplace grass is, it's not what I'd call an overall positive.

Just about every parent I know smoked dope at one time or another, and many dropped LSD or did some coke, too. Yet very few parents I know -- although there are some -- still smoke dope. (Nearly all of them drink though -- probably because drinking goes better with food and doesn't make your clothes smell bad.)

Now our kids are teenagers and pot is readily available -- at every high school, public or private. I don't know if a Main Street dispensary will make it more available, but in any case, what do you do? It's hard to give the kids the same b.s. that was shoveled at us, given that we grew up okay and the collective wisdom of the electorate is screaming to legalize pot for grown-ups, but by the same token we would like our kids not to make the same mistakes we made.

Like wasting a lot of time high? Let's face it, there's a reason stoners are called slackers.

And we all know the kids who ended up addicted to other, worse drugs (although not as many who ended up alcoholics). Marijuana doesn't cause the use of more addictive and more dangerous drugs (the logical failure of the old "leads to" line), but it's obvious that people who get into harder stuff start out with pot because it's the first illicit drug for nearly everyone.

Obviously it's disrespectful of school to go to school drunk or high, but are the schools doing the right thing when they kick kids out of school for drug and alcohol offenses? I can think of one example -- a friend of my son -- who recently was expelled from Samohi for being caught high a second time.

Is a teenager getting high or carrying pot in his knapsack -- or, rather, getting caught for doing so -- something worth ruining his education over?

The aura of illegality that surrounds marijuana makes it harder to evaluate objectively just what the downside is, and probably makes more exciting something that most adults look back on wondering what the fuss was all about. (A higher level of consciousness? I don't think so.) Illegality paradoxically makes it harder for parents to educate children on the realities of marijuana use.

My biggest fear as the parent of a teenager -- "biggest" based objectively on the statistics and the potential harm -- is that he'll drive drunk or get into a car with a drunk driver. I'm sure it's happened, but personally I've never heard of a kid high on pot driving a car into a telephone pole.

Liquor is legal, marijuana is not. Kids don't seem to have trouble getting their hands on either.

So getting back to the dope store on Main Street issue, as predicted above my final instinct is to shrug and say why not.


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If readers want to write Frank Gruber, email frank@frankjgruber.net The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of
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