Saturday, July 6, 2024

How age spared me from going to pot...

Written by Jim Heffernan/DuluthNewsTribune/7-6-24

I have confession to make: I have never smoked marijuana. Never. Why? Was I too pure…goodie two-shoes? Nah, too old.


Oh, I know a lot of people my age have tried it in spite of the dire warnings we received as teenagers. But not me.


My generation was influenced by what was called “Reefer Madness.” It’s actually the title of a movie made in the mid-1930s (even before I was born) sounding the warnings of marijuana use. “Reefer” was among the many euphemisms for marijuana cigarettes.


I never saw the movie but when I was in junior high school in the early 1950s (yup, I’m that old) the words in the title were a springboard for some all-knowing adults to preach about the dangers of smoking marijuana, scaring the bejesus out of us.


All this has come to mind with the widespread loosening of restrictions on marijuana just about everywhere in the country, with many states, including Minnesota, opening the door to broader marijuana growing, distribution and use. Police records of past marijuana offenders are being expunged in some places.


Well, how about that!


I’m not inveighing against these moves. I suppose people who know a lot more about such things than I are confident these changes are good for America. But it brings me back to junior high when we were given a different message about marijuana, or, I should say, the evils of marijuana.


Here’s what I took away from those messages:


If somehow I tried it, after taking one drag of a marijuana cigarette I would be irrevocably drawn into a life of hopeless drug addiction. In short order I would desperately need to move on, craving stronger drugs, especially heroin, poking needles into my arm while sprawled on a curb in the downtown bowery in rags and in need of a bath and a haircut, a boy with a golden arm. Reefer madness! EEK!


Whew, I was supposed to be a good Lutheran boy and those prospects were not attractive to me at all, not that I was a saint. I did take up smoking cigarettes in my teens. They only made you dizzy at first, but boy, did they ever make you cool, as in cool cat. And tough (in your own mind). I quit more than 50 years ago, and still miss it.


Practically everybody and her sister smoked cigarettes in those days — days that took me through high school and into college.


The only time I heard the word marijuana used in college (it was at UMD in the early ‘60s) was in a class called Psychology I. The professor talked about the effects of drugs on the human psyche and stated that marijuana could be found growing along the highway in South Superior.


What? South Superior? Cripes, I thought you had to go to Mexico to find it in the dusty provinces supplied by shady guys wearing sombreros and flared pants with shiny buttons up the sides. Then you would have to smuggle it across the border into the United States by hiding it behind the door panels on the inside of your car. If you got caught, you would be sentenced to up to10 years in prison doing hard labor wearing shapeless striped garments.


I never heard of any of my peers going to South Superior to find and pick marijuana. College students at the time were not into it at all. It sort of explains why I never tried it, I suppose.


Of course illegal marijuana use became pervasive in our society just a few years later, but by then I was too old to join in. I recall being at a large party one time when I was older and seeing a circle of younger guests seated cross-legged on the living room floor passing a joint among them. So, did I call the cops and did they all do five to 10 in the pen wearing those shapeless striped garments? No-no-no-no-no…I’m no party pooper.


Segue now to more recent times when I was working as a journalist at this newspaper. For one period of my career, I handled the letters to the editor mailed to the paper. By then there were many strong advocates for legalizing marijuana, seeming to believe that if restrictions were lifted life would be worthwhile, or at least better. They often wrote letters to the editor.


Suddenly, many of those letter writers stopped using the word marijuana, instead calling it cannabis. Cannabis? "What the heck’s that?" I recall thinking (this was more than 25 years ago). I guess the thinking among the advocates was that if you called marijuana something else, maybe they’d make it legal. It seems to have worked.


But why call it cannabis when the more recognizable pot, weed, grass and Mary Jane were already available? Reefer madness.


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at 

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