The sky was indeed some poet’s romantic “blanket of stars.” From my corner of the hot tub I felt smothered in one vast Milky Way, so close it seemed as though I could reach out and stir through it with my hand.
“Time to go Pop.” It was my son Tom. We had spent the past thirty or forty minutes above the gently rolling surf in one of Esalen’s famous cliff side hot springs.
“Really Tom? I feel great. I mean great!” was my response.
“I’m sure Dad, but it’s time.”
Esalen is located on California’s famous Big Sur coastline. It’s a popular retreat where guests come to enjoy the ‘healing arts.’ In addition to traditional mineral bath and massage services, Esalen offers yoga, meditation, and workshops dealing with an assortment of disciplines ranging from such esoteric options as “The Buddhist Path to Awakening,” “Secrets of Lasting Intimacy” and “The Tao of Personal and Global Ecology.”
My wife Elayne loved massage, mineral baths, and all the associated spa-type services that Esalen has to offer. In fact, we had driven through Big Sur on several occasions and even stayed at one of the local resorts, but Esalen was off-limits for us because of its hot tub clothing optional policy where guests, men and women together, enjoy mineral bathing “au naturale.”
That feature never bothered me, so I was delighted when my son suggested we visit the spa for a hot tub that evening under a special arrangement that Esalen offers its Big Sur ‘locals.’
Ahh… but there’s a back story here.
The display of little packages at the checkout counter a few days earlier caught my attention. They seemed innocent enough. Each appeared to contain only a single chocolate chocolate chip cookie, yet the price was $5.00. I was intrigued. The label read “Medicinal Cannabis Infused.”
“Why not?” I thought. I’ve never tried the stuff in a marijuana cigarette, because I don’t smoke; never learned how. I’m eighty-plus; too late to sky dive or bungee jump. “It’s just a chocolate cookie,” I thought to myself. “What the hell; it’s legal in over 30 states.” So I added it to my basket of groceries.
“Do you have a prescription?” asked the clerk at the cash register.
“I’m sorry?” I replied.
“California law says you must have a prescription to buy marijuana,” the clerk explained patiently in deference to my age.
“That’s OK,” said a voice from behind me. It was my son Tom. “I have a prescription,” he said as he handed a small card to the clerk along with the rest of our grocery order. That little store was in Morro Bay. Tom and I were driving up the California coast to the ranch he manages in Big Sur, one of the state’s famous tourist destinations.
On the rest of the drive up I kept thinking about that chocolate cookie.
Geoff Nate’s take on the legalization of marijuana is to some extent marginalized by my long involvement as a board member of Phoenix House, a not-for-profit treatment option for drug and alcohol abusers.
Even though I’m a non-smoker, God knows I’ve had many opportunities over the years to at least try a puff. Knowing my lack of resolve in dealing with most of life’s other temptations in my youth, I must have been dissuaded by “Reefer Madness,” that terrible adults-only movie I sneaked in to see as a teenager back in Minneapolis. Watch the trailer if you dare. [Click Play Below]
Several equally terrible copycat films such as “Marijuana Menace,” “Reefer Blues,” “Assassin of Youth,” and “She Shoulda Said No” followed “Reefer Madness.”
However, the latest movie, 2014’s “Kid Cannabis,” gets four stars from Rotten Tomatoes. Actually, marijuana has been hip for many years. The magazine “High Times” has been around for forty.
A Brief Marijuana Chronicle
There’s an interesting story associated with the making of the original film “Reefer Madness” involving the Jazz Age, gang wars and prohibition. It was always rumored that publishing giant William Randolph Hearst, the E. I. du Pont Family, and industrialist Andrew Mellon were sponsors of this film in a conspiracy to prevent the cultivation and importation of hemp in America. It appears that hemp, which George Washington and Thomas Jefferson actually grew on their plantations, can be harvested and inexpensively woven into fabric which would have been serious competition for du Pont’s new synthetic fiber, nylon, in which Mellon had a substantial investment.
Marijuana, a byproduct of hemp, has a long history. It’s been around for generations. Napoleon encouraged its use by his troops because unlike alcohol it left no hangover. Queen Victoria used it for menstrual cramps, and in the mid-1800s doctors prescribed marijuana to treat poor sex drive, low appetite, insomnia, gout, rheumatism, depression and insanity. And prior to the “Anslinger Act of 1937” the U.S. Department of Agriculture was actively encouraging farmers to grow hemp, primarily for its use in textiles.
When “Prohibition” was repealed in 1933 the Federal Bureau of Narcotics turned its attention to marijuana. Its head, Harry Anslinger, a former Prohibition agent, began a crusade against the growing, cultivation and distribution of hemp. He’s quoted as referring to the plant as evil and as “hellish as heroin.”
Recognizing its popularity among jazz musicians, he is quoted as saying “Reefer makes darkies think they are as good as white men.” He publicly maintained that marijuana was a “degenerate’s habit indulged in by negros, hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers.” And that, “Their satanic jazz music together with the drug causes white women to seek sexual relations with negros, entertainers and others.”
Anslinger was able to harness the propaganda muscle of Hearst, who at the time was the nation’s most powerful media mogul. Hearst owned or controlled 28 major newspapers, 18 magazines, several radio stations and a movie studio.
The American Medical Association challenged Anslinger’s testimony before Congress, because of marijuana’s therapeutic potential. They maintained that it should be classified as a narcotic subject to regulation by the AMA. Nevertheless, Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 which virtually prohibited the growing or sale of the product in any form for any purpose, thereby making it a violation of Federal law.
Anslinger then went after high profile users. Actor Robert Mitchum, stripper Candy Barr, band leader Gene Krupa and many other celebrities were arrested for simply smoking marijuana. The major movie studios handed virtual control of film content to Anslinger and his committee. It is said that in the ten year period, 1937-1947, the government spent two hundred and seventy million dollars fighting marijuana.
Still actively in control of drug enforcement policy as late as the 1950s, Anslinger convinced President Harry Truman to sign the Boggs Act which substantially increased the penalty, not just for sale but for simply the possession of marijuana.
In 1961, Anslinger addressed the United Nations and convinced 100 countries to sign an international agreement to outlaw marijuana. By then that one man’s war on marijuana had cost the U.S. tax payers 1.5 billion dollars. People in this country were being sentenced to as many as 50 years in prison for violating the Boggs Act.
And if you haven’t had enough, some enterprising movie producers rediscovered the original poorly written and badly acted “Reefer Madness” of 1936 and produced a musical adaptation of the original film in 2005. Take a drag on this preview. [Click Play Below].
Times are changing. We’ve come a long way in the last fifty years. As of this writing, the sale and possession of so-called medical marijuana in many forms is now legal in thirty-three states and the District of Columbia. Three states, Washington, Colorado and California have lifted virtually all restrictions on growing the product, and have authorized its sale to adults over the age of twenty-one.
Harry Anslinger must be turning over in his grave, because this year on December 16, 2014, buried inside a 1,603 page federal spending measure, is a provision that effectively ends the federal government’s prohibition on the cultivation, sale and possession of so-called “medical marijuana.” This signals a major shift in the Nation’s drug policy.
Back to Big Sur
Meanwhile back at the ranch in Big Sur: Tom’s house, which he presently shares with his friend Michelle and her dog Greta, is perched on a cliff, below which pelicans and sea lions play on the rocks and in the breaking waves. I actually saw several migrating whales accompanied by their usual coterie of sea birds.
The ranch is owned by a movie/TV executive and consists of a main house, Tom’s house and several additional dwellings. The owners have two more buildings in one phase of design or another, both of which will involve Tom’s supervision.
A Malibu boy born and raised, my son is happiest when living by the sea. Actually, he and his friend Susan Manchester had once managed an estate on Santa Cruz Island off the coast of Santa Barbara before it was “captured” by the National Park System. Therein lies a story that would make a blog-and-a-half.
As we unpacked and put away the groceries, I took the time to read the information on the wrapper containing my little chocolate cookie. “Gluten Free” it said on the label, as well as instructions to “Keep out of reach of children.” In small print it referenced some California health and safety codes. It identified its various ingredients including a reference to “THC of 120 mg,” which meant nothing to me.
The “highlight” of that trip, no pun intended, occurred on the last evening of my short visit to Big Sur.
“Check the surf Dad,” said Tom shortly after lunch that day, handing me a pair of binoculars.
“Looks great Tom,” I replied. “Why don’t you get out your board? I’ll come along and take some photos.”
While Tom, who certainly never needed an invitation to go surfing, was suiting up, I went into the kitchen to get a couple of apples and some water to take along.
It was then I happened to notice the $5.00 chocolate chocolate chip cookie.
“It’s my last day,” I thought. “I can’t bring it home with me.” So I opened the package, and broke off half. It tasted like a very ordinary little chocolate cookie. Nothing happened. In fact, nothing happened all afternoon. I just forgot about it.
Tom arranged for us to have dinner that evening at one of the better restaurants in the area after which we drove over to Esalen.
The walk down the hill to the resort from visitor parking was probably 200 feet or more. The place was humming. Though it was after 9:00 PM, classes were being conducted in the session rooms, and other guests seemed to be in transit to one place or another.
The hot spring pools themselves were further down the hill just above the surf. There were lights on the path, but they were very dim, for reasons that became obvious as Tom led me into the open changing room.
Most of the hooks on the wall were taken, but I found one between a pair of jeans and some ladies undergarments.
Elayne was right. There were people everywhere, and no one was wearing anything, or at most a towel. I must have missed the stack at the entrance, but so I guess did just about everyone else.
Our pool was very small. There was another person, a man, but I could barely make him out in the dark. He was gazing up at the sky as if in a trance. The water was quite warm, but not uncomfortable. There were several other occupied pools around us, but everything was dark and very quiet. It was quite beautiful. Elayne would have loved it.
After a few minutes, a young woman entered our pool. As if on cue, its original occupant departed. The newcomer slid in next to Tom… RIGHT next to Tom. Periodically my eyes would drop from the stars to the “couple” with whom I was sharing the pool. Perhaps it was the lapping of the surf, but I didn’t hear any conversation pass between them.
Then about 20 minutes later, she slipped out of the pool as quietly as she had slipped in and disappeared into the darkness. After five or ten minutes more Tom whispered, “Dad it’s time to leave,” and we too climbed out of the pool and made our way back to the showers and dressing room.
My walk back up the hill for some reason proved to be a challenge. I tried to stay close to the lights on the edge of the path but had trouble with my balance.
“Let me help you Dad,” offered Tom. “The path is uneven, and the lights are very dim.”
“Boy,” I said to my son, “I’m feeling a little wobbly. It must have been that beer I had at dinner. Or maybe… Do you think it might have been that cookie I had this afternoon?”
“You ate that cookie Dad?”
“Not all of it… only half.”
“Dad… half that cookie contains 60 milligrams of THC.”
“Is that a lot?”
“Yes… it’s a lot… about the equivalent of six marijuana cigarettes.”
After a few more paces he wisely suggested that I rest on a nearby bench while he brought down the car.
I don’t really remember the drive back to the ranch that evening. The walk up to Tom’s house, on its uneven path, proved to be a challenge. I think he lent me a hand. I vaguely remember getting undressed. Greta was there at the side of my bed, but I managed to work my way around the sweet setter.
I didn’t crash, if that’s the appropriate expression, I’m sure of that. Just the opposite; I must have lain there for several hours. I remember everything and nothing. The whole room had come alive. The walls seemed to open up. I was surrounded by a constantly moving potpourri of brightly colored semi-discernible psychedelic objects. It seemed as though I had been drawn into a beautiful kaleidoscope.
Semi-conscious as I was, I knew one thing for sure; it wasn’t an ordinary nightmare I was having. I was really on a “trip”… the kind of trip that hip people talk about. I had been a little high before in college, but this wasn’t the kind of high I had experienced after a scotch or a few beers. Even in my semi-conscious state I knew it must have been the cookie, the damn chocolate chocolate chip cookie.
That was when I started wondering how long this high was going to last. I had to get on a plane the next day and fly back to Los Angeles. Could I have done something terrible, some kind of permanent damage? “Oh, fuck it… What the hell.” With that I was swallowed whole by a beautiful woman and crashed.
I woke up the next day feeling great, with not even the slightest of hangovers… but with a voracious appetite.
How about that? Grandpa had tripped out big time, and lived to tell the tale. Should he install a hot tub in his back yard and get himself a prescription? Well… maybe a hot tub.
From Geoff Nate’s perspective, the jury is still out on the long-term impact of the lifting of marijuana sanctions and its virtual decriminalization. I’m having trouble discounting the “Gateway Drug” arguments posted by many professionals in the treatment field who believe that the habitual use of marijuana has the potential to encourage young people to experiment with stronger habit-forming drugs. However, the opinions of the so-called “experts” are divided. That debate in itself, coupled with my own chocolate cookie episode, is enough to concern this eighty-plus blogger. My advice to adventurous youth is… Don’t press your luck.