Marijuana and Mortality

Boomers should look kindly on the medical marijuana measure


His blanket is still wet from the night.

How he longed for the night to end.

Deborah Laake
Deborah Laake

To extricate his bare feet

from sinking in the gooey bog

of another life:

naked they are placedon scales one then another

to weigh their chance of remaining alive.

The hand of a young nurse --

for a thousand two hundred days he has known

no one like her -- holding his arm.

Supporting his hips, without noticing

touching what had been his privates and without

embarrassment continuing to talk about him

as though talking about ancient shards --

they could not understand how such a skeleton

could still remain alive.

They could not imagine that this was a man

who had fought the world


and soul,

it was not he who had given life a name

of such fatuity --

his blanket is still wet from the night.

Until the duty nurse arrives,

he will reclaim his bare feet

from the place into which he has now declined,

revive his frozen toes,

stroke his heels, feel

the dividing line between

a body feeble but alive

and a swamp that smells of death.

It was devastating to see Tom in his final, frail days; cancer, any cancer, horrifies me. What can you do? I find myself trying simply to embrace my friends and relatives, to stay in their company. I force myself not to flee. There is human warmth in the presence of the weakest breath. Marijuana, for some, helps. Whatever gets you through the night is a depressing sentiment when clung to early in life, but it will take on the resonance of Chet Baker's horn as the years pass.

Tom and I never smoked dope together. Not in the old days, not at the end. He wasn't that kind of guy.

I was that kind of guy.

The familiar patter of work comforted our awkward companionship, but the time apart eddied with anxiety. I never left Tom after a visit at the end that I didn't think: I could use a joint right now.

Today, looking back on this year of death and cancer, I believe that I was wrong to imagine that I'd hit an unlucky patch. I'm 54, the age when I should adjust to mortality, my own and everyone else's. My phone will keep ringing. Eventually, I will make my own phone calls.


There is a part of me that looks at the medical marijuana measure and wonders: Is this simply a marketing gimmick? Are the ballot organizers counting upon the demographics of baby boomers who are confronting death and cancer, the same way that I am, to pass this measure?

Of course they are. So what?

It is important to take steps to speak honestly about marijuana, and decriminalizing possession of pot, a key component of Proposition 203, is only the first step. But it is an important step, not for baby boomers who have figured out how to score their grass and not get busted, but for kids who confuse pot with heroin, speed, fumes and all the other toxic elixirs that overwhelm the will to resist.

The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards has said famously, "Let me be clear about this: I don't have a drug problem, I have a police problem."

Anyone who has ever taken a close gander at Richards knows that this is a lot of crap. Don't try to sell me the glory of being a junkie. Nor is anyone arguing that we should accept school-age kids using pot any more than we accept them using Jack Daniel's.

Endorsing a more sensible policy on marijuana is a conservative step that distinguishes the herb from the truly dangerous stuff.

Last week I sat in a school auditorium and watched an anti-drug program called Not My Kid. An Arizona mother and son team tours campuses lecturing about the dangers of drugs. The son was a stunning example of addictive behavior who, like Kitty Dukakis, appeared capable of ingesting anything in volume. In junior high he was bolting down shots out of a flask before class. In college, a friend had him snorting Ritalin, the pharmaceutical prescribed for kids with attention-deficit disorder. He had an interesting response to snorting Ritalin. He said that the grade school appearances of police officers in the DARE program had programmed him to think that snorting anything would lead to his death. When the Ritalin didn't kill him, he figured the authorities were full of it, period.

Perhaps if we were more truthful about the relatively benign effects of grass, kids would listen when we speak the truth about meth.

As I write this, a friend has e-mailed that he'll be in Arizona soon. He wants to sit down. He is making the journey because his mom has just been told she has breast cancer. I'm looking forward to seeing him. We'll have a shot and a beer. We'll have whatever he wants.

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