Back in the day the college chapter of NORML at the University of Central Florida represented the gold standard for student cannabis activism in the United States. It was my privilege to speak before this stoned student body every year, and a lot of the stories in this series started out as UCF shtick:
“OK. Let’s have a show of hands,” I began. “Who here started smoking weed when they were 13-14 years old?”
Almost half of the several hundred students raised their hands.
“See that?” I asked as everyone looked around the room. “You guys start young nowadays. I know that because I’m the old guy at High Times, and everybody is half my age. Stoners in their late twenties and early thirties surround me, and every one of them, almost without exception, started smoking in their early teens. And they are all hard working, smart, talented and well adjusted. Well… somewhat well adjusted. But I admire every one of them, and they all started getting high in their late tweens.
“Now, here’s the kicker,” I said. “In a few years my daughter is going to turn thirteen.”
There was a rumble in the room.
“Ask me if I want my thirteen year old daughter to smoke marijuana.”
“No… No… No…” murmured more than a few.
“Damn right, I don’t want her to smoke weed. But if that’s true – and it is true – I have to honestly ask myself: Why?
“I mean, if I believe that marijuana is non-addictive and can be life enhancing… If I’ve smoked marijuana for thirty-nine years and found it to be a worthwhile pursuit… If everyone I know who started smoking pot when they were thirteen is hard working, moral, talented and true… Well then, why would I object to my thirteen-year old smoking weed? It’s a reasonable question.
“There are lots of things that adults do that young teenagers should avoid. Sex immediately comes to mind.
“Sex, of course, is great! It’s the most intense language of human intimacy and the most physical expression of human love. And, at its core, it can be one of the most pleasurable pursuits imaginable. When it comes to killing a happy hour or two, nothing beats a good romp in the hay.
“But taken too young, the experience can be confusing and even dangerous. It can lead to unwanted babies, lifelong emotional scars, and it can be a breeding ground for low self-esteem. I am not a prude. One day, I want my daughter to enjoy a rich and fulfilling sex life, whatever that might be. But I would prefer she not know intercourse before she learns intimacy, I don’t want her to know sex before she knows romance, and I don’t want her to lose her virginity until she gains some judgment and holds in her heart the thread of common sense.”
I summarize my idyllic preferences, saying, “Who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky.”
“But I don’t worry about marijuana,” I admitted. “I worry about drinking.”
I told them I was a recovering alcoholic and that I hadn’t had a drink in twenty years.
“But that’s my problem, and it doesn’t apply to the vast majority of adults who enjoy red wine with lasagna or cold beer on a hot day. And I don’t think we should outlaw alcohol just because I can’t hold my liquor.
“I wish that I drank less when I was your age so that we could go down to the pub tonight and bullshit over a beer. But I didn’t, so we can’t.” I smiled mischievously. “I guess we’ll have to settle for smoking some weed.” A wave of expectant laughter rippled through the crowd.
“Now, let’s have another show of hands,” I said. “How many here like to drive fast?”
Without exception, every male raised an arm and a smattering of badass lady hands shot up too
“Of course. Almost everybody likes to drive fast because it’s fun. That’s why speedometers go to one-twenty. If I gave my daughter the keys to the family car she could, no doubt, start the engine, put it in gear and take it down the block. She could probably even negotiate a turn or two. But without some experience, without some judgment and common sense, the odds are pretty good that she will wrap that car around a tree, hurt herself, or hurt somebody else. That’s why I don’t give her the keys to the car.
“I don’t want my underage daughter having sex, drinking alcohol or driving a car. What do these things have in common? They all tickle the senses one-way or the other. Taken too young, any one of these pursuits can cause the senses to overload:
Sex excites the hormones but often checkmates judgment…
Fast driving releases adrenaline but dramatically increases the odds of an accident.
And drinking relaxes the body before it inevitably dulls the mind.
Now, the sensual benefits of cannabis are also legendary. Food tastes better, music sounds great, colors shine brighter and, speaking as a fifty-six year old man; it beats the shit out of Viagra. Marijuana can make time stretch and space contract, and, despite puritan insistence, the effects can be quite pleasant and without consequence. But taken too early, like a lot of things, cannabis can overload the senses. Without experience and judgment marijuana can be too seductive and distracting to an adolescent mind. Too much delight can lead to delirium
“Marijuana” I told the UCF students, “is best employed by a seasoned mind.”
A tentative, thoughtful, youthful silence filled the room. Finally, someone asked:
“So, how old do you have to be to smoke marijuana?”
“Well,” I said, shamelessly, “after much thought I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a place for everything. And it’s called college.”
And the crowd goes wild.
“OK. I think we’re done,” I said. “Let’s wrap this up…”