Legal if it makes you feel better, but not if it makes you feel good?
August 03, 2014
Legal if it makes you feel better, but not if it makes you feel good—the fine line between medicinal and recreational marijuana makes people uneasy. As well it might. People smoke pot for lots of reasons. Should it matter?
Medical marijuana laws have created a strange situation: the exact same act, performed by the same person at the same time and place (say, 7:30 pm in one’s own home), is either lawful or criminal, depending on the mood lifted. That’s beyond absurd.
Relaxing in the backyard after a tough day, do you crack open that ice-cold beer to medicate or enjoy yourself? Assuming you can fulfill your obligations, does the law have good reason to care?
In 2012, I wrote an editorial arguing that such distinctions are arbitrary. As an example, I pointed to the mixed bag of symptoms and diseases that Oregon law permits marijuana to treat. In particular, I criticized the omission of post-traumatic stress, for which so many war veterans and other trauma survivors find pot effective. Our enlightened state legislature and governor have since added PTSD to the list of conditions qualifying for medical marijuana use. Thank you, one and all. Gosh, I’m legal at last—what a concept.
But the basic absurdity remains: the law cares why someone uses marijuana. Medical reasons, good; recreational, bad.
Okay. How about professional?
As someone who enjoyed a long, lucrative freelance career, I can tell you that a calm, focused mind is an excellent thing to bring to any assignment. Distractions fall away, you tumble headlong into your task, and productive hours flow. Such hours, clients are happy to pay for. Better yet, you’re happy to live them. I realize this picture of someone smoking pot while engaged in serious work flies in the face of stoner mythology, but people are complicated and clichés miss a lot.
For those like me, whose childhood featured abuse and humiliation instead of support and encouragement, calm focus offers another benefit: silence those nagging doubts about mastering some difficult skill, and you’ll do much better. You could surprise yourself. The resulting leap in confidence can kickstart a virtuous cycle; you could end up with an enlarged vision of what’s possible, and the conviction to see it through.
Fact is, four decades after my seriously problematic launch, two decades into a warm, supportive marriage, I’m just not that traumatized anymore. Long stretches pass in which daily life is pleasant and equable. The calm I used to have to fight to attain, the calm that was an end in itself, now can help me attain the real payoff: enhanced creativity.
That pot can enhance creativity should not be news; those who’ve reported the experience include Louis Armstrong, Charles Baudelaire, George Carlin, Bob Dylan, Richard Feynmann, Steve Jobs, Lady Gaga, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Norman Mailer, Alanis Morissette, Willie Nelson, Carl Sagan, Oliver Stone, and Oscar Wilde. And me.
(Carl Sagan describes the experience especially well in this essay, except for his statements about driving. No, driving is not a skill that marijuana enhances; please don’t.)
But we’re so focused on our problems, and the right and wrong ways to medicate ourselves, that we lose sight of the obvious: marijuana’s effects are not confined to the narrowly medical, and why should they be? The mental state that pot produces can help you see the familiar in a new light; make fluent, fruitful connections; grasp underlying patterns; picture an entirely new way to approach a problem. Comes in handy sometimes.
Clearly, not every pothead creates great works; neither does every non-pothead. If you’re not creative to begin with, no drug will magically make you so.
A calm trauma survivor is a good outcome; so is a joyful, creative person. Please can we stop medicalizing life? It’s inaccurate, irrelevant, and a bore. We are more than just the sum of our afflictions.