Sunday, January 15, 2006

Smoke's definitely being sent up somewhere

From the Metro East region of my hometown St. Louis metropolitan area, the salacious tale of a so-called "double life." The story gets off to a good enough start:
Monday through Friday, he commutes to St. Louis. He wears a tie to work. He is 30 years old, single, and shows up for his job promptly every day at 9 a.m. For 40 hours every week, he is a fully functional computer support technician, earning $38,000 per year.
For those of you joining us from nearer to the coasts, I can attest that $38,000 is a sufficiently comfortable salary for a single male in these parts, given the relatively low property values and cost of living around here. From here, though, things begin to get a little more dicey:
Then comes the weekend. And the weed. Lots of weed. From 7 p.m. on Friday until the late hours of Sunday night, Robert is a marijuana addict.
That's funny; I'd never heard that one could have an addiction on a weekend-only basis. Thanks to the high quality of our media's coverage of the War on Drugs, though, I get to learn something new and previously presumed to be completely inconceivable every day. Just look at what an out-of-control maniac this guy turns into:
He lights up on Friday evenings, as soon as he arrives back at his house in Collinsville. He usually smokes with friends, though many times, he gets stoned alone. He stays high for much of the weekend, watching television, surfing the Internet.
So, let me get this straight. Here's a guy who's got a pretty well-paying job, lives a seemingly contented life well within his means and seems to have no problems fulfilling any of his obligations to anyone. Sounds to me like he's a pretty stand-up guy. But no, because he enjoys smoking marijuana on the weekends while hanging out with his friends or watching TV, he's an "addict." In the words of Charlie Brown, good grief.

How abnormal is Robert's behavior? Let's see. He's a single 30-year-old computer technician who lives in Collinsville, IL. I'm not quite 30 yet myself, but I'm awfully close. And I have to tell you, bumming around the house on the weekend watching some tube is not a terribly uncommon activity for the single male members of that demographic. Even more so, I imagine (if the reader will permit me a single prima facie politically incorrect observation) this is the case among single male 30-somethings who also happen to be computer technicians. In short, aside from the fact that he likes to spark up a joint when he finds himself with a little free time on his hands, there's just absolutely nothing about this guy that sounds out-of-the-ordinary to me in any way. But, as the story goes on to describe:
He rarely goes outside, hardly ever speaks with his neighbors. His house is well kept, and he hides his weed in a shoebox even though he lives alone.
Wow, so now not only does his job performance at least meet all expectations and his punctuality stand above reproach, but it turns out that he also actually keeps a notably clean home and is smart and courteous enough to keep his marijuana use out of sight. As far as his interactions with his neighbors are concerned, it's not clear to me how his marijuana use ought to be held accountable for his generally private disposition when his smoking is only confined to the weekends. It seems James Frey isn't the only one whose incredible tale of the allegedly catastrophic consequences of recreational drug use is getting some exposure this week.

There's a disturbing trend in the media of salacious stories of drug use that just don't pass the smell test. not that this is anything new. As we observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, let us remember that fishy stories even worse than these were commonplace in the early days of marijuana prohibition, as Black users were routinely depicted as menaces to society. The overt employment of derogatory racial stereotypes may no longer rule the day, but the prohibitionists' hysterical tales of woe remain with us still.

The article cites a NIDA-sponsored study that estimates the number of regular marijuana users in America to be somewhere in the vicinity of 20 million. NORML estimates the number of regular users to be closer to 11 million, but no matter. The fact remains, there are many millions of regular marijuana smokers in the United States, the overwhelming majority of whom are safe, responsible users whose lives are not the least bit adversely affected by their marijuana use. From what I can tell, attempts at anti-marijuana spin notwithstanding, Robert definitely falls into that category. The article even includes a favorable quote that puts the relative risks and advantages of marijuana use into perspective:
Many decided long ago that they didn't like the taste of alcohol, the feel of a hangover, or the sickness that comes with drinking too much. According to the users, marijuana has "all the fun with none of the side effects."
Call me crazy, but that actually just plain makes sense to me. But despite commendably including a sensible comment about the actual effects of marijuana use, the article still couldn't even resist resorting to the "leading a double life" cliche three times, and twice in the span of two sentences!
When Manning was in his 20s, he led a double life. Like many users, he led a double life, working a white-collar job Monday through Friday, then getting high and staying that way for an entire weekend.
The article goes on to relate his story, in abbreviated form, the details of which sound remarkably similar to Robert's. Except the author avails himself of the completely unsupported and unsubstantiated "gateway drug" theory, and then discusses at length an outfit called Marijuana Anonymous. (Their somewhat dubious list of twelve warning signs of marijuana addiction are listed here, with a note that exhibiting as few as one (1) symptom is evidence that you may be a problem user.)

Look, I'm not saying that there are no problem marijuana users whatsoever. My issue, rather, is the total disconnect with reality when it comes to the media's portrayal of recreational drug users. When they go out of their way to describe an overwhelmingly responsible recreation user like Robert as a crazed fiend, I can't help but think that there's got to be something up with the accuracy and objectivity with which our media report to us on drug-related issues.

On top of that, there are opportunistic hacks like James Frey who peddle these stories for profit because they've succeeded in duping a tremendous portion of the American public into believing that such tales capture an "essential truth" about the inevitable consequences of recreational drug use. There's only one problem: none of these stories are true. Try as they might to defame his character, the Collinsville Herald's depiction of Robert left me convinced that he's precisely the sort of marijuana user that every marijuana user ought to be. And it turns out Frey's story was, in significant portion, made up.

So maybe someone could help me understand, because I don't think I quite get it. If these stories about the evils of drug use need to be exaggerated and outright fabricated in order to achieve the desired effect (i.e., shock value), then what's the essential truth? What's essentially true about any of these hysterical tales when their purveyors, when pressed, are forced to admit that they embellished them because they would otherwise be completely toothless in their capacity as a cautionary tales? It seems to me that the only essential (and sad) truth is that our nation's drug education has managed to produce a populace that's overwhelmingly unable to discern drug fact from drug fiction when they see it. But then again, I might have just missed something; after all, like I said above, thanks to our media's coverage of the WOD, I get to learn something new and previously presumed to be completely inconceivable every day.


Anonymous said...

Gee, I wonder if you would treat someone who is an alcoholic with the same kind of disrepect.

You are sick.

Allen Thompson said...

Did someone say something? Oh... "anonymous"? I guess not.

I didn't find anything disrespectful or sick about the post. But to address the nameless commenter/troll: An alcoholic would not be able to contain his drinking to the weekends.

800 pound gorilla said...

I assume that when they said "recreational drug user" the recreational referred to the user. There is no such thing as a recreational drug - but that doesn't stop drug war advocates from abusing that term just like they abuse "drug dependency".

Someone who used alcohol exclusively on weekends might be referred to as a "Problem drinker" - especially if that use invariably resulted in severe intoxication and hangover. There are many people who do this - especially at the younger ages and lower income groups. As you get older and wealthier you can afford to drink lightly on weekdays but the severe intoxication and hangovers interfere with the work regimen.

When you are at the top echelons of business and politics however another scenario appears. It's called "bonding with colleagues and clients using drugs". It's the gateway to success. While those who choose to drink and drive or boat and drive are stigmatized as irresponsible those who drink and conclude multimillion dollar contracts or multibillion dollar appropriations bills are labeled as successful in their fields. And those people often find their entire week steeped in inebriation and rewarded handsomely for their "people skills". When they do into rehab, society is far more forgiving.

These proficient "people skilled" people often do develop real drug dependencies in later life [or in some cases earlier life] because chronic use of alcohol takes its toll on bodily functioning - so they become drug dependent on medications to take care of high blood pressure, diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver and who knows what other effects of chronic alcohol use. And a lot of this can occur WITHOUT an addiction. A lot of these people are abusive and emotionally dependent. The crave external rewards and are prone to workaholism - which is praised and rewarded by society. I should know I lived a goodly portion of my life with such a person.

Remember: it isn't a drug dependency unless the drug is used for medical reasons. But a lot of drug addictions are connected with emotional dependencies - that are encouraged at all levels of society [except when it leads to use of "dangerous drugs"].

Joe Bartlett said...

Just to clarify, yes, I was using the term "recreational" to refer to Robert's use, not to the drug itself. I agree with you, 800#, that drugs are not in and of themselves recreational, medical or otherwise. As to whether the writer of the article in the Collinsville Herald was savvy enough to understand the distinction, I can't say. Given that he seems to have bought so fully into the government's line of propaganda about drug use, I honestly have my doubts.

Anonymous, if you're still with us, you might want to pay special attention to this part. Here's a man who's never late for work (even on Mondays after he supposedly stays high "until the late hours of Sunday night." His job performance never falls below his employer's expectations. By all accounts, his marijuana use has not interefered one iota with any aspect of his life, yet the author of the article describes him as an "addict." (The article even expects us to buy the completely ridiculous explanation that he's a weekend-only addict, because otherwise it's just too hard to account for how upstanding and productive he is in his daily life and activities.) And you think I'm the one who's treating him with disrespect?

I posted a few weeks ago about a group of Colorado mothers who were profiled for their responsible, recreational use of marijuana. Looking back on that story, their use sounds remarkably similar to Robert's use in this article. The only difference I can see is that the author of this article had a different agenda. But, Anonymous, maybe you've actually got an intelligent response to what I've written, rather than petty name-calling. If so, I'm still waiting to read it.

Anonymous said...

Some interesting points here, but this post is much too long for the blog format. Extended essays such as this tend to lose an internet audience that likes to scan for interesting nuggets of information.

800 pound gorilla said...

Then my blog at is way too long. Admittedly I do post many that are limited to 200 words or so. You just can't make a coherent case against prohibition using short blurbs; you're going against a taxpayer funded machinery that churns out a ridulous amount of disinformation in short blurbs. None of those blurbs can hold up to scrutiny but they won't get it because there is such a HUGE volume of lies out there. They have even polluted the language of discussion changing drug addiction into drug dependency and not even mentioning real drug dependencies as problems.

The fact is that EVERY SINGLE argument put out by drug war advocates is either false or misleading. They have to rely on testimonial evidence and listeners have to make certain logical assumptions to reach the false conclusions. With so many blurbs out there there must be something substantial behind it - right? How can so many people be in on a hoax? That will be the topic of discussion some day in the distant future when people are using the same tactics promoting some other evil agenda - and nobody in authority will ever make the connection.

Jesse Stout said...

Joe, a short story. When our Brown SSDP chapter was young, we learned the weekly meeting time of the Marijuana Anonymous group on campus and attended. We wanted to see what, if any, outrageous claims they were making, and protest or refute them if appropriate. As the event unfolded, however, it became clear that it would be way inappropriate for any of us to speak up. The people sharing their stories around the circle definitely had serious problems staying off my favorite friendly weed. I can point out that these count as psychological, not physiological, addictions, but the fact remains: I was in a roomful of marijuana addicts. In MA's defense, their list is of 12 indications you may have a problem.

Anonymous said...

Well, I just was scanning the web for "useful nuggets of information"- no, wait, I wasn't doing that, I was looking for thoughtful longer pieces that were different from the echo chamber. And this sure hit the spot.

The one thing I would suggest is to send a copy of the post to the reporter who wrote the piece, in a friendly and respectful way. The journey of a thousand li begins with a single step, you'll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, &tc.

Really, I think dead-tree journalism is now in the Ronald Reagan Retirement stage- the journalists do what they've always done to produce what they've always produced for readers who habitually view the paper on a daily basis without actually reading it. Everyone is semi-embalmed and most of the readers wouldn't even notice if the stories were printed in the goofy 'typesetter's latin' that's used to illustrate how the page will look if held at arms-length.

Anyway, good catch.

ye olde serial catowner

Jonthon said...

"Either you repeat the same conventional doctrines everybody is saying, or else you say something true, and it will sound like it's from Neptune." ~Noam Chomsky

I don't find these posts to be extraneously long, and when they are, I find that it is with purpose. I challenge that "Anonymous" stands on weak argumentative grounds, and thus calls for brevity to mask their relative lack of knowledge.

Jonthon said...

I am from Troy, IL, the next exit down the highway from Collinsville. In fact, my grandpa lives there, and my dad went to high school there. And there's some context being left out of the Herald's article.

First, the school system in Collinsville is in a state of disarray. The city has some of the worst drug problems of our county, and I'm not referring to marijuana with that statement. They find crack and meth in kids lockers on a semi-regular building. Add to this that the entire school is physically located above a subsiding mine, and you see a learning environment some might deem unfavorable.
So for Robert to come out as only a marijuana user, and only on weekends, actually might put him on great grounds for marriage and a child (which, at the age of thirty, it's amazing he doesn't have already).
What I am attempting to shed light on here is that for local media to shine a light on Robert isn't just to attend to the old ways and demonize a weed - it is to willfully turn your eyes away from real problems. The school needs more funding. They need better teachers and more committed parents. They need smarter and more honest drug education programs.
Unfortunately, the Journalist in question takes the same route as the national government - scapegoat marijuana, suggest that it alone leads to all the other problems, and then focus time and energy solely on punishing its users. And when nothing changes, usage rates go up, the schols get just keep saying the same thing (hey, why not, the funding is there now).

We need to get more honest about how we diagnose and address social ills, and one great first step would be to spend the anti0drug money elsewhere - I'd suggest teachers.