In speaking to several younger and older people about drugs and drug issues in general, I noticed a variety of interesting differences and similarities. To begin with, I fully expected that the fellow students I talked with would be very supportive of marijuana legalization. After all, young people traditionally are more open about marijuana and do not have the negative associations with it usually held by older people. One student completely reflected this expectation I had. In fact, he became a little angry when we discussed legalizing marijuana. It was beyond belief in his eyes that the government would still criminalize the drug, especially in a society that widely promotes alcohol. He also insisted that, if marijuana were still illegal, it was only right that most fast food products and processed foods should be criminalized. His argument was that these “substances” have been proven to harm health. Then, he became even more emphatic in regard to alcohol. Thousands are killed on the highways every year, he said, because of that drug, and the same cannot be said about marijuana. He was pleased that many states have legalized medical marijuana and some have decriminalized it in other ways, but he was still offended by what he sees as an irrational attitude and unjust laws. He was also amused because, as he sees it, everybody uses marijuana and the criminalization is virtually meaningless. All of this was, again, exactly what I expected to hear from a fellow student.
When I spoke with a young woman I will call Sue, however, it was a very different situation. She told me that she had used marijuana herself and did not think it was necessarily a dangerous or harmful drug. Her experiences with it were mild. At the same time, Sue claimed that she had known more than a few people in her life who used marijuana regularly and were not the same as the usage went on. She said that they were generally fine, but she personally felt that the drug changed them. She found she was not as close to them over time because, in her eyes, they were becoming too lazy about everything in their lives. It was not that they were “stoned” all the time; it was that they just enjoyed smoking marijuana so much, it became the high points of their days. Sue compared this to heavy drinkers. She said that she noticed the drug as a priority in their lives, and all of their behaviors and interests were not very important because they had this thing to focus on and enjoy later. Sue also said that, even if the more relaxed attitudes from smoking were not upsetting in any way, she was uncomfortable with those friends who smoked. She felt, simply, that they were not themselves. Sue was not sure about marijuana’s being illegal as right, nonetheless. No matter her feelings, she was mistrustful of the government playing a role like this and people, she felt, should make their own choices. Still, she did not in any way support people using marijuana.
Sue’s feelings were like those of an older person I spoke with, a man in his late 50s. He also was very uncomfortable with the government criminalizing what he said was a basic freedom, the right to do anything as long as it harms no one else. He was, however, very against the substance generally speaking. He said it was “dope” and it destroyed young lives. He told me that he himself knew heavy users and watched them slowly lose everything they had. As we spoke, in fact, he seemed to change his own thinking. Given the evidence of his own experience, he wondered, it might be right that the law work to protect people from bad choices. He also told me that he had experience with the drug. It was a painful memory because the effects were nothing like what he had expected. His friends at the time assured him it would only give him a pleasing sense of peace, but instead he became very agitated. He understands that this was an unusual reaction, but he was clearly disturbed by this memory of using the drug and becoming, in his own word, “paranoid.” This having been the case, he considered that others might need to be protected from such experiences, even if the legal intervention was not right. He did say, however, that medical marijuana was fine because very sick people clearly benefit from the drug.
More surprising was the older woman I spoke with, named Jane. 70 years old, Jane is a family friend, and she very much echoed the feelings of the first student. Jane basically said that it was obscene that one drug should be illegal while others are not, and she thought it was ridiculous that the government still believed it had the right to act in these ways. Jane told me that, when she was a girl, her own parents would talk about the days of Prohibition, when alcohol was illegal. It was a “great experiment” that was a complete failure, and she said that the government never learned its lesson. People will find what they want and, when it is illegal, the government is then only opening up real crime and black markets. As a young woman in the 1960s, Jane said, everybody smoked marijuana, herself included, and it was wonderful. She stopped using it when she married and had children, but she said she has often regretted this choice. More exactly, she sees no reason why she should not return to using it, especially at this stage of her life, and when minor pains would be relieved by it. Jane even said that our talk made her think that she should talk to her doctor about getting medical marijuana.
In brief, then, my interviews with two students and two older people produced results somewhat surprising to me. While one student and one older person were more on the side of marijuana as harmful, and consequently less concerned about it being illegal, the other student and the other older person were absolutely convinced that illegality is ridiculous. The implication here is obvious. If I had believed that the younger people would both oppose illegality and the the older ones would similarly support it, and I did anticipate this, I was very mistaken. Age seemed to have little impact on the opinions. What mattered, it seemed, was personal experience beyond any other influence, along with some ideological feelings about the