Thursday, July 12, 2007

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bong User

In high school, I was all about tolerance and acceptance. Still am, except in high school I was the president of our diversity group. One thing we never discussed was the stereotypes surrounding those students who used drugs (mostly marijuana). It would have been a touchy subject, since we couldn't support their illegal and risky activities, but thinking back, it would have been appropriate to break down the general attitude towards our drug-using peers. Particularly early in high school, before people really got into experimenting, many people still seemed to hold at least one of the following attitudes:

  • "Despite popular notions, research has shown a link between frequent marijuana use and increased violent behavior. Research found that among youth, the incidence of physically attacking people, destroying property and stealing increased in proportion to the number of days marijuana was smoked in the past year." -ONDCP Media Campaign
  • "Regular marijuana users often have shortened attention spans, decreased energy and ambition, poor judgment, high distractibility, and impaired ability to communicate and relate to others." -Above the Influence
  • "Research shows that recurrent or frequent use of this drug suppresses the immune system, damages brain cells and decreases short-term memory, attention span and motivation. " -Drug Free America Foundation

And so on. Basically, ever since the DARE program, those of us who had not formerly known anyone who smoked marijuana maintained that stoners were violent, criminal, stupid, unhealthy people who made bad choices. As the story always goes, by the time high school rolled around, the vast majority of us met (or became) at least one person who defied the prohibition-fueled stereotype. This leads to a lifetime of confusion and questioning the government, which may later develop into certainty that the government is bonkers. Here is my story about that magic moment in 9th grade when I realized that reefer madness is in fact madness:

I was walking through the cafeteria. I was not feeling so hot for whatever reason, and when I passed by this table of senior boys, I felt terrified that they were going to somehow harass me. They mostly gravitated around this one kid who was notorious for smoking pot - I'll call him Bud. I could have walked by with my head down, but I felt so vulnerable that I felt the need to keep my eyes on them. Bud noticed, and asked me something along the lines of what was wrong.

I froze in my tracks, then found myself walking over so that I'd be at a conversational distance. As angsty as this sounds, no one had ever bothered asking me directly what was wrong. I wasn't really ready to answer the question, though, so I blew it. I told Bud, in a very anxious tone trying to be casual, that nothing was wrong. Well, Bud readily soothed me by comically saying what is now one of my favorite phrases: "Hey, don't worry about it. I ain't got no beef with you!" I was kind of stunned, so he continued with this random-assed compliment about how he noticed me and didn't really know me but thought it was cool how I stood out (I wore all black at the time). Outside of my friends, it was the first positive feedback I'd recieved for standing out.

Was Bud just trying to ensnare a new victim into his reefer den? No. Bud didn't say a damn word about bud to me, ever. I almost expected him to, so there was an awkward pause, and then I snapped out of it and said thanks.

In the spirit of transcending stereotypes, I have to make it clear that of course, not every high school stoner is the angel in a hemp necklace that Bud was. But it would be good to start a dialogue about the way regular student drug users are percieved, for two reasons:

1. A lot of kids in various stages of insecurity live up to the expectations set for them. If smoking weed makes them a delinquent, according to society, they may incorporate that role into their defenses. On the other hand, if delinquency always goes along with drug use, then troublemakers may take it for granted that they're "supposed" to use drugs.

2. The same reason you don't want anyone to be on the fringes of society for superficial reasons: they're valuable, and they're not so very different than non-drug users. They offer unique perspective as a group, if they choose to identify with that group, and their solutions could be applied to better society at large. Not to mention each individual offers unique perspective and talents.

By building strong bridges in high school and college, it will be easier for the next generation to rise above the propaganda haze and do something about the fact that undeserving people are being incarcerated for their choices. When our peers, friends, and possibly selves are being sent to jail it's not about high school cliques anymore. (And curse the evil time when it was in the least bit about high school cliques!)


Eric E. Sterling said...

Your first category of the marijuana user who reacts to the label: "deviant," "violent," etc. is consistent with one of the major theories about deviance, labeling theory. This is explained very well in Howard S. Becker's classic text, Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance Free Press, 1963.
Chapter 3 is "Becoming a Marihuana User," and chapter 4 is "Marihuana Use and Social Control."
You'll enjoy this book.

Eric Sterling
SSDP Board (Appointed Member)
Adjunct Lecturer in Sociology
The George Washington University

Micah Daigle said...

Great commentary, Rebecca. The dissolution of trust for teachers, parents, law enforcement, and the government is one of the most overlooked casualties of the War on Drugs.

I often think: What kind of a schizophrenic country have we become when we readily dole out caffeine and amphetamines to children with one hand, while locking them up for marijuana and methamphetamines with the other?

Matthew said...

Great post Rebecca. That is a great point about children living up to the expectations society placed on them.

I agree with Micah that the distrust for cops, govt., parents etc. is an important aspect of the harm caused by the drug war.

I think that that the negative stereotypes you mentioned are incredibly important to address. Because of the ONDCP's media campaigns and DARE, a kid who experiments with pot is told frequently at school, on tv, at home, that people like him are criminals. Should we be surprised when he starts thinking of himself as a criminal?

JT Barrie said...

Actually my first knowledge/encounter with a marijuana user was when 2 teammates of mine on the track team were thrown out of school for possession. They were hard working dedicated and productive members of the track team. Although neither of them threatened school records they scored a LOT of points for the team and won some close dual meets for us.

I suppose that I could have surmised that their career would be ruined by pot use and their value decreased with continued use - but I saw no evidence of that with my beer guzzler teammates. I saw no temper problems that sometimes plagued beer guzzlers. They fit in quite well with all segments of the team which is quite amazing since track teams tend to drift off into niches [distance runners, weight people, sprinters and jumpers].

Ironically, the most "a motivated" slacker was a Korean student who was retained - despite many incidences of alcohol abuse both inside and outside of the academy grounds. There was no way this guy could have contributed to any athletic team. It was high tolerance for a foreign national to meet what were suspected of being de facto racial quotas [the military is a pioneer in social engineering] and zero tolerance for someone using weed. The Korean eventually graduated and was killed in an alcohol related accident within five years of graduation. And the Coast Guard lost two very fine officers due to zero tolerance.

Anonymous said...

Wow, times have changed. At my high school, a large percentage of the straight A nerd types smoked pot and nobody really cared.