Now that I’m back in Pensacola and playing Mr. Cab Driver again, I am reminded and astonished anew at how many cab drivers smoke weed. One driver candidly admitted to me that it was rare that he wasn’t stoned when he drove.
I’m not sure this phenomenon is limited to my town. The late, great singer/songwriter, Harry Chapin sang about it in his hit song, “Taxi,” back in 1972. It’s about a guy who wanted to be a pilot – even joined the Air Force – but it didn’t happen for him. So he ends up driving a cab in San Francisco. One rainy night he coincidentally picks up an old high school sweetheart who had wanted to be an actress but married into money and had her plans change as well. The song ends…
And here, she's acting happy
Inside her handsome home
And me, I'm flying in my taxi
Taking tips, and getting stoned
I go flying so high, when I'm stoned.
I think that most pilots do not realize how pervasive weed is in the general population. Being conservative, rule-abiding types, we might drink alcohol but we view illegal drugs with disdain, which is also how we feel about the people who partake of them. So we tend to gravitate toward people like ourselves. Thus, we are often shocked when we learn that a non-aviator acquaintance gets high…regularly gets high.
It’s enlightening to look back and see just how marijuana got lumped in under the category of “Drugs.” It it not synthetic; it grows naturally on the planet. Unlike most other drugs (including most forms of alcohol), nothing further needs to be done to weed: Plant it; pick it; dry it out; smoke it. Just like tobacco. Wacky tabacky. But many countries felt it was such a threat in the 1920s and ‘30s that they decided to make it illegal. The theory was (and still is) that marijuana is a so-called “gateway drug” because it leads users into trying something stronger. No hard empirical data exists to support this, but nowadays it is generally accepted as fact.
So for all intents and purposes marijuana is a narcotic.
But so is alcohol, and so is caffeine and so are hundred of other products we routinely and legally take to make us "feel better."
But let’s not get into the politics of pot. The states of Washington and Colorado have legalized the personal use and sale of marijuana. The tide is turning and more states are surely to follow, like it or not.
Many people misunderstand the effect that weed has on you. It does not put you into a euphoric, catatonic state (like heroin or LSD). Contrary to some claims, weed does not impair your motor skills like alcohol does. Neither does it make you aggressive like alcohol. You never hear about a person going out, getting stoned and then crashing his car on the way home. You never hear of a guy going out, getting stoned and then going home and beating his wife. …Or getting into a fight in a bar. You never hear of Jamaica attacking or invading any other country ("Tomorrow, mon!"). You cannot ingest a fatal overdose of weed in one sitting while listening to your favorite Pink Floyd album.
By itself, weed is “fairly” harmless. (But combined with other intoxicants…that’s another story.) By now, I think most young people understand that weed is not the same as “harder” drugs like crack and meth and coke.
I know more than a few people who smoke but self-regulate their intake. They don’t smoke until they’re zonked-out and unconscious. They merely take a hit or two off a joint to just “take the edge off.” This allows them to go about their day normally. You probably wouldn’t even know they were stoned unless you knew the specific signs to look for – and they vary slightly from person to person. (But if you’re in a taxi in almost any city in this country, chances are good that your driver has smoked weed within the last twenty-four…uhhh, make that twelve hours.)
I am often offered weed. Smoking weed is a social thing…a group-bonding activity. But I always refuse. Here’s why: It’s not that I have any strict aversion to marijuana, or that I think it’s akin to mainlining heroin. It’s simply that I don’t smoke cigarettes – I never have. So smoking weed is incredibly harsh for me. To me, the high you get from pot is not worth the discomfort necessary to ingest it. “Oh, you get used to it,” my pot-smoking friends say. Well…yeah…except that I don’t want to. I’ll take my Rum and Coke, thank you.
Which is why I don’t think that marijuana is a “gateway drug.” But you know what the real gateway drug is? Cigarettes. I’m telling you, it’s a small step from a cigarette to a joint. If you see a teenager who smokes cigarettes, I’d bet you real money that he/she also smokes weed. Anectdotally, everybody I know who smokes weed also smokes cigarettes. Coincidence? I don’t think so.