It started in 1968, towards the end of the tenth grade. I was living in the tiny village of Wainfleet and attending E. L. Crossley Secondary School. On this particular occasion, we’d been herded into the auditorium for a health film and were more than happy to get out of our regular classes.
I still remember a few details from the film, including the fact that putting your feet up was good for your circulation, that blood travelled through veins and arteries, and that it was important to eat right.
The information was infantile, and the presentation suggested that we were all essentially brain-dead morons. But when they got to the issue of drugs, specifically marijuana, I was in full agreement with everything they said. Hell, so was everyone else. We were all from small towns and villages in a rural Bible Belt of Ontario, and drugs were virtually unknown. Anything we heard about them came from the media, and it was clear that they destroyed your mind and turned you into a raving lunatic.
The narrator of the film was especially harsh on peer pressure. As an example of how stupid it was to follow peer pressure, he said, “If your friends told you that getting hit by a truck was fun, would you do it?”
Hell no, I thought. That’s just dumb, I thought. I’m not one to follow peer pressure, I thought.
And then I began to analyse the statement.
Nobody had ever actually encouraged me to get hit by a truck, and I was pretty sure that if such people existed, they had never been hit by one themselves. On the other hand, the people who were out there telling us to try drugs (and there were hordes of them according to the film) had actually tried drugs.
So really, if the we were to make the analogy more accurate, the question would be: “If your friends, who had been hit by trucks, were telling you that it was fun, would you do it?”
Well, I was still pretty sure I wouldn’t, but it certainly put a different perspective on things. Besides, we weren’t talking about getting hit by trucks, but about certain chemicals that a large number of people were saying had really good effects.
Suddenly, it became something to look into.
Of course, living in Wainfleet, research materials were somewhat scarce, but fortunately at that time my mother had started a new job in Toronto, where I would be joining her at the end of the school year.
So I wrote to Flo, asking her if she could find a book on marijuana and mail it to me. What she turned up was The Marihuana Papers, edited by David Solomon and containing a few dozen articles such as:
- “Marihuana Problem: Myth or Reality,” by Alfred R. Lindesmith,
- “Therapeutic Application of Marihuana,” by Rbt Walton
- The Committee on Marihuana: including The Sociological Study; The Clincal Study; Medical Aspects; and Possible Therapeutic Applications.
While not all the articles were full-fledged advocates of the drug, few seemed convinced it was a major problem, and many suggested that it could even be beneficial.
Was it possible that the school authorities had been less than truthful about the subject?
The next year I was attending school in Malton (Westwood Secondary School, now renamed the Lincoln Alexander Secondary School), and one of my friends, George, got hold of a piece of hash. I came home from school that day and told Flo that Ian and I were going to be going out with George to watch him smoke hash. Flo put her foot down in no uncertain terms, making me call them over to our apartment so he could smoke it in the safety of my bedroom.
It was an interesting experiment, and Ian and I asked questions at each stage of George’s growing intoxication.
It was a few years later (about five years after that public health film in high school), that I finally had my first joint.
It wasn’t my last.
I discovered that while it was possible to get stupid and dreamy on it, it wasn’t by any means necessary. (I’ve often felt that the worst thing to happen to marijuana was the comedy team of Cheech and Chong and the “stoner” image they popularised.) It’s ability to help concentrate the mind, in fact, could be used to great advantage.
Shortly after getting married a few years later, my first wife and I moved to a small city where I intended to start a writing career. As fate would have it, our new apartment was across the road from the local newspaper offices. One drawback to my plan, however, was that I’d never learned to type. The closest I’d come was having a girl I’d been flirting with in high school show me the “home” position for my fingers on the keyboard.
A couple of days after we’d unpacked, I opened a small stash of grass we’d brought with us for the move and smoked a bit. Then I sat at the portable typewriter Flo had bought me as a house-warming gift, opened a “How to Type” book, and started practising. I worked throughout the night, and come morning I was typing at a rate of 30-35 words a minute. Not perfectly, but not bad.
A couple of days later, I smoked another bit of our stash, walked across the road, and told the editor I wanted to write a column.
My first byline appeared two weeks later.
And all because a health film in high school decided that I didn’t have any brains and that it was all right to lie to me.