inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #0 of 58: topic starter guy (bumbaugh) Thu 10 Mar 05 13:58
Joining us in the Inkwell is  Ricardo Cortes, 31, is an artist,
educator and creative consultant. He is the founder and director of the
Magic Propaganda Mill (MPM), a NY-based visual design agency that
combines art with progressive political education.  Since 1999, MPM has
championed a blend of psychedelic illustration and digital design
through fashion, a skateboard company, and even a project working with
members of the NYPD in an effort to legalize marijuana.  His work has
been featured in publications including New York Magazine, The Fader,
Time Out New York, The NY Post, Urban Latino, The Source, VIBE, Mass
Appeal and Soft Skull Press.
Ricardo's latest project is the coolest children's book about
marijuana ever made, "It's Just a Plant."
"It's Just a Plant" tells the tale of how a young girl learns about
marijuana: from her parents' own use to the farm where it's grown to
the doctor's office to a police officer's historical perspective. It's
fast becoming a preeminent alternative for parents to use in the face
of decades of misinformation about marijuana, and it has the
distinction of being labeled both "a glimpse of what enlightened drug
education could be" by Dr. Andrew Weil, and "an outrage" by just about
everyone else.
For more info:

Gary Greenberg joins Ricardo. Gary has a seven year old son with whom
one day he will have the conversation about drugs, which may or may not
include the statement, "It's just a plant." He's married, to the
mother of the child, as it felicitously happens, and the family lives
in a place that calls itself The Last Green Valley in Connecticut with
two decrepit cats, a lymphomic dog, and five hens that haven't laid an
egg since November. He writes for magazines, most recently Harper's and
Mother Jones, more distantly Rolling Stone and the New Yorker, and
sometimes they let him write about drugs and drug policy. But not on
drugs. Never on drugs.

Great to have you here, guys. I'm looking forward to this conversation
the next couple weeks.
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #1 of 58: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Thu 10 Mar 05 17:02
OK, for those of you whose childrearing days are way in the past, or who 
never had kids, I'll remind you what a kids' book is: a (slightly, in this 
case) oversized book with (beautiful, in this case) colorful drawings that 
are designed to hold the attention of the prereaders while you read to 
them, to give the emergent readers something like a palate cleanser before 
embarking on a new page, and to give the competent (and repeat) readers 
something new to look at everytime they read it. Taken together, the idea 
is to burn the book into memory--its language, its characters, its morals. 
That's good for business, of course, and, especially in the case of 
didactic children's literature, it's at least theoretically good for kids. 

So the idea of using children's literature for subversive purposes is a 
little edgy. Of course, it's been done for awhile, most notably in the 
injection of multi-culti, tolerant-of-everything-except-tolerance 
themes into the books. But it's one thing to give kids stories like the 
one my wife is reading to Joel right now--about a Haitian owl who thinks 
he's ugly but is in love with a Haitian sparrow and who discovers that 
he's not really ugly after all--as a kind of gentle indocrintation into 
the Liberal world view that kids' book authors seem to share. ANd it's 
another thing to indoctrinate kids into a view that is directly opposed to 
the law of the land. Which is what this book does. 

Later, we'll talk about how this book feels to this hemp-friendly guy who 
reads a couple of books a day to his kid. But for starters, Ricardo, maybe 
you should tell us why you wrote this book--or, to put it another way, why 
you decided to voice your opposition in this genre.
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #2 of 58: Ricardo Cortes (ricardocortes) Fri 11 Mar 05 09:56
I've written several essays and articles condemning the drug war
against marijuana.  Similarly, I've created numerous works of art in
response to the war and how it affects both our nation and the
individual family.  Nevertheless, a mountain of such journalism and
creativity has made little impact on how the war proceeds and how "drug
education" is taught in our country.  Recent advertising campaigns by
the Partnership For a Drug-Free America (PDFA) prompted me to realize a
new tactic was in order.  I realized that children were being targeted
with anti-marijuana "facts" that were both misleading and dangerous. 
An entirely new form of writing on drug policy was needed, and,
combining my skills as an author, an artist and as a child educator, I
felt it was time to take the conversation directly to the kids.

The fact is, despite our best efforts to restrict, to ban and to
otherwise hide it in every way we can... children learn about
marijuana.  Whether in the schoolyard or the classroom, kids are
inundated with information about it.  Unfortunately, most "drug facts"
are more frightening than educational (campaigns by PDFA blame
marijuana, through startling leaps of logic, for homelessness, teen
pregnancy and gunplay).  Parents today have few sources of scientific
information about the plant that puts the safety of their children
before politics.  Many parents are not comfortable discussing marijuana
beyond "just say no," especially if they have tried the plant
themselves to positive effect.  Some parents fear it would encourage
their children to experiment if marijuana use was discussed in terms
other than outright denouncement, but I believe we can deter early use
and abuse of drugs by opening channels of communication between
children and their parents.  I do not advocate marijuana use for kids;
my story explicitly addresses the potential harm of drug abuse and
insists that marijuana is something not to be experimented with by
them.  Nevertheless, most children will encounter marijuana in their
lives; shouldn't they be prepared with thorough information?  
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #3 of 58: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Fri 11 Mar 05 10:27
That's a really cogent set of reasons for revamping drug education 
overall. And, as Ethan Nadelmann says all the time, if you win the kids, 
you win the drug war. But what I'm wondering is about the specific choice 
of a book geared to the young. It's Just a Plant uses the language and 
format of books that pre-10 year old kids read. I'm sure there are 
plenty of 8 yr. olds exposed to pot, but I'm also sure that this is 
still relatively unusual. So why not a book in the style of the 
various series so popular with kids in 4th or 5th grade on 
up, you know, books that are essentially watered down versions of 
grown-up literature, both fiction and nonfiction? Why a book in the 
*young* readers style?
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #4 of 58: Ricardo Cortes (ricardocortes) Fri 11 Mar 05 12:25
A recent survey by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America found that
11% of parents interviewed admitted to using marijuana in the last
year.  I suspect the figure could be much higher (how many parents do
you think would tell the PDFA that they smoke pot?!).  In any case,
it’s evident that parents of young children use marijuana.  So how
should these parents conduct themselves?  Should they hide and sneak
around, hoping their children are none the wiser?  I’m not suggesting
that parents need to wave joints around in the presence of their
children; responsible marijuana use, as we know, is an adult behavior
and I believe it should be handled accordingly and with adult
discretion.  Nevertheless, sex is an adult behavior, and we don’t wait
until a child is in the fourth or fifth grade before discussing the
birds and the bees.  

A child’s awareness of marijuana is likely already being formed by the
time they are 12-14 years old; some kids are already trying their
first "hit" by age 10!   In kindergarten they are already beginning the
journey of “drug are bad – tell the police if you see them.”  Some
drugs are bad, but it takes a much more nuanced conversation to really
explain to a child which drugs are bad, when they are bad, why they are
bad, and why they are sometimes.. good.  Just like, I believe, you
might explain how sex can be something very beautiful in the hands of
responsible adults.. but definitely something dangerous and premature
for a child to consider.  

Finally, as an artist, I really just enjoyed the idea of crafting a
illustrated story that would awe a young child, oblivious to its
contested politics, while at the same time throw adults into a tizzy
and hopefully get them engaged in a discussion about drug policy.
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #5 of 58: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Fri 11 Mar 05 13:41
I like your analogy to the birds and the bees--another adult sphere that 
can't be kept entirely away from kids, and requires some explanation even 
at the youngest ages. But isn't alcohol a more fitting analogy? Do you 
think that a book like "It's Just a Distilled Plant" wold be a good thing, 
or does prohibition somehow make your book necessary?
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #6 of 58: David Gans (tnf) Fri 11 Mar 05 13:47

The laws and cultural biases against marijuana are so irrational and so

I saw you on "The O'Reilly Factor" the other day, Ricardo, and I thought you
ddid a pretty good job of standing up to his bullying.

What is going to happen in this insane, endless war?  The government's
credibility on this matter is as flimsy as their suppression is powerful.
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #7 of 58: Ricardo Cortes (ricardocortes) Fri 11 Mar 05 14:14
In regards to your earlier post… I do think that prohibition adds
another dimension to the issue.  In fact, the “Just” in “It’s Just a
Plant” alludes specifically to that element.  Many have criticized the
title and I agree that it’s not so simple to call marijuana “just” a
plant.  Then again, if the same punishment and oppressive tactics were
leveled at wine-drinkers, I think a book called “It’s Just Grapes”
might be in order.  

As to your second post… Wow.  The United States government position on
marijuana is incredible.. and tragic.  The Drug War is the longest and
most expensive domestic war in recent world history.  It effects
everyone from 8-year-old children shot as bystanders in drug deals gone
bad, to the tens of thousand of police officers who are assaulted
every year fighting the senseless war.  Why is it not on the front page
of the NYTimes every day like some of the other multibillion-dollar
Wars our government is currently engaged in?

As to the Bill O’Reilly spot.. I think it’s precisely that type of
audience that the anti-Drug War team needs to work with better. 
Prohibition is something the staunchest conservative would be against
if framed in the right historical context.  I don’t think this should
continue to be an “Us against Them” issue.  If it is, we’ll never win,
that’s for sure.  Instead I would rather work with unlikely allies;
already one of my favorites organizations is a collective of Police
Officers who are trying to end the drug war. Check for into
on them.  Furthermore, if you’re curious to see a transcript of my
conversation with O’Reilly, you can read it here:
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #8 of 58: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 11 Mar 05 14:50
(Note: Offsite readers who have questions or comments can send them to
<> to have them added to the discussion)
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #9 of 58: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Fri 11 Mar 05 14:58
My former husband started smoking pot at 11, I think. So aiming it at
10 year olds isn't unheard of.
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #10 of 58: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Sat 12 Mar 05 05:30
>Prohibition is something the staunchest conservative would be against
 if framed in the right historical context

Actually, the staunchest conservatives, at least those of a libertarian 
bent, are against Prohibition. It's the cultural conservatives, especially 
the ones who feel that their country was hijacked in 1966 or so and who 
can't seem go get enough retribution for that, who are prohibition's 
stalwarts. It's a kind of zealotry that is hard to stomach if you don't 
start with the same assumptions as they do. (When I have to interview 
someone int he drug czzar's office, I have to remind myself that my jobn 
is to get them to say what they think rather than to tell them why what 
they think is as wrong as can be.) And the basic assumption is that the 
drug war is about saving our kids from drugs. IN fact, this is the public 
position of ONDCP: the whole point of having an office of national drug 
control policy is to prevent kids from being harmed by drugs. Now, I 
believe that this position is equal parts sincere and cynical: they do 
sincerely worry that their kids, their friends' kids, and all the kids in 
the world will get fucked up by drugs, and they are also trying to enforce 
a cultural agenda that has its roots deep in our confusions about 
pleasure. This latter motive is steeped in bad faith, which is why you can 
have a culture that simultaneously prosecutes a vicious drug war and 
purveys Prozac, nicotine, and alcohol: illicit drug use threatens to 
rupture the fragile container in which we've placed our hedonism.

I think It's Just a Plant wants to challenge both of these motives. It 
exposes the bad faith by normalizing and depathologizing the drug and its 
use by making simple and incontrovertible statements like   It's just a 
plant, it's like drinking  a glass of wine or driving a car, it's 
something normal parents do, it's  something a mother and a daughter can 
talk about on a bike ride, etc. But I wonder about the second motive: "It 
gives many people joy, but like many things, it can also make someone sick 
if it is used too much" is, as near as I can tell, the only statement 
about the possible harms of pot. So I wonder why this is. Is it part of 
the agitprop of the book? Do you think this is sufficient? ARe you 
thinking that th rest of the culture will take care of that part of the 
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #11 of 58: virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Sat 12 Mar 05 05:34
Wow, Ricardo -- that O'Reilly transcript is great. Really well done.

I'm wondering how typical that exchange is of your public
conversations about the book. How difficult has it been being
understood as you're promoting this book? 
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #12 of 58: Ricardo Cortes (ricardocortes) Sat 12 Mar 05 11:17
First, a quick thank you, and response to Bumbaugh: I’m very quickly
learning the language of media communications and getting much better
at diffusing attempts to misrepresent my book and its intentions.  To a
certain extent, I knew a “children’s book about marijuana” would be
great bait to get people knocking and checking for the controversy. 
Once I have them, however, I try to twist the idea that “this is a
children’s book promoting marijuana” to “this is a children’s book with
educational information about marijuana.”  There’s a huge difference,
obviously; but of course the first thing some people want to paint this
project with is a brush of irresponsibility.  I try to point out
there’s nothing irresponsible about wanting to impart more information
– and there’s nothing irresponsible about pointing out the dramatic
failures of marijuana prohibition in this country.

To add to that, and to link back to Gary’s last comment, I agree that
people on the “other side of the fence” of this issue often have good
intentions at heart.  Most prohibitionists earnestly feel endangered by
illegal drugs and use incarceration as their only known option to keep
the threat at bay.  Most are historically and scientifically ignorant
to the hypocrisy this position holds when compared to how we treat
alcohol, tobacco, coffee, prescription drugs, etc.. as you mention.  So
I’m trying to be careful not to fight against these people.  Rather, I
want to appeal to their real concerns and address them respectfully.
Truth is on our side, in this case, and that can be used to our

For example, people are afraid of crime associated with illegal drugs.
 Well, there’s no greater argument to repeal prohibition than this. 
The Drug War, not marijuana itself, is the cause of the highly
lucrative black market that surrounds drug sales.  Every time an
innocent bystander is killed by a stray drug-dealer’s bullet, it should
be noted in the media as a “prohibition-related crime,” NOT a
drug-related crime.

Of course, marijuana is not a care-free commodity.  Gary also mentions
that I possibly diminish the harms of pot use with the statement: "It
gives many people joy, but like many things, it can also make someone
sick if it is used too much.”  To be fair, I think that’s a pretty good
assessment of the danger of marijuana (there are also parts of the
book where a doctor warns the young child that marijuana is NOT for
children).  It’s horribly vague, but yes, I expect that a parent will
be reading the story alongside the child and can supplement the book
with their own experience.  

There were several aspects of the plant and its history that I had to
fit into a short children’s story.  I tried to make this book a primer,
a starting point, for parents to use to open discussion and throw in
their 2 cents.

By the way, for all Inkwell readers, I’ve posted a special online
version of the story that will be available to read during our
discussion.  Although the computer screen hardly does the illustrations
justice, if you would like to read “It’s Just a Plant” you can do so
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #13 of 58: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Sun 13 Mar 05 07:33
Do you have kids, Ricardo?

inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #14 of 58: Ricardo Cortes (ricardocortes) Sun 13 Mar 05 07:52
No, no children.  I taught in NYC public schools for 6 years and I
continue to do community development project with youth, but no kids of
my own.
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #15 of 58: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sun 13 Mar 05 08:26
Is there any concern that publishing this book will impair your future
ability to do so?
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #16 of 58: Ricardo Cortes (ricardocortes) Sun 13 Mar 05 13:12
Hi Sharon,

I'm not sure what you mean by your question.  What does publishing a
book have to do with the ability to have children?
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #17 of 58: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sun 13 Mar 05 14:38
Well, I wasn't thinking so much of that, though the spectre of CPS is
always in the air. I was thinking, do you think you might have trouble
teaching and otherwise spending time with kids in the future because of
this book?
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #18 of 58: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Mon 14 Mar 05 03:55
Reason I asked, and maybe one of the reasons SHaron's question comes up, 
is that this weird thing happens when you have kids. You feel a kind of 
visceral protectiveness that, at least in my case, seems to come from a 
reservoir that was not only untapped but unknown previous to the child's 
arrival. It could be evolutionary (the only way mobile, autonomy-loving 
creatures could be hornswoggled into taking care of offspring for a period 
of time unparalleled elsewhere in the animal kingdom) or psychological 
(needing to control something crucial to you that is not you) or whatever, 
but it's real and it's huge and it makes you a little bit nuts. Or maybe a 
lot nuts. SO nuts, in fact, that I don't think it's much of an 
exaggeration to say that much of parenting is figuring out which of your 
anxieties about your kids is really born of concern for them and which is 
about taking care of yourself, i.e., which is altruism and which is 

In any event, this is all by way of saying that It's Just a Plant leaves 
me confused. On the one hand, I think it's a great and bold idea, and I 
love the irony it embodies and that its title captures: that simple facts, 
unembellished, can be deeply subversive. On the other hand, I can't 
imagine reading it to Joel. Now I'm not sure which kind of worry this is 
(and obviously the two can coincide). After all, since my friends and I 
have started to have kids, hempen activities have mostly been relegated 
to various closets, metaphorical and otherwise. That's not out of fear of 
secondhand smoke but out of fear of loose lips on the playground or in the 
classroom or during the DARE assembly. It's about self-protection, and I'm 
willing to hide and behave like a criminal in order to take care of my 
anxiety. But I do worry, especially with my thrill-seeking, 
pleasure-loving kid, what's going to happen when he's 11 or 12 or 13, and 
here I see the charm of zero tolerance: One less thing to worry about, 
this one truly about him.

I know how irrational that conclusion is (although I am certain that it 
is the impulse that gives the drug war its tenacious hold on otherwise 
thoughtful members of society), and I will resist it, believing as I do 
that the truth is generally the best weapon. But what I wonder is this: Do 
you know anyone who has read this book to their kids, or whose kids have 
read it? What has been their experience?
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #19 of 58: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Mon 14 Mar 05 05:14
Gary's second paragraph speaks for me. My daughter's dad was a
promising young athlete, and then he discovered pot, and it all went to
hell. That's not to say it wouldn't have all gone to hell anyway, but
I wonder. And it's something I worry about very much with my daughter.
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #20 of 58: Ricardo Cortes (ricardocortes) Mon 14 Mar 05 07:07
There is nothing irrational about what you are both saying: you have a
great concern to keep your children away from drug use. However, I
don’t see how hiding in the closet, metaphorical and otherwise, is the
way to make this happen. 

We all read two weeks ago that Pres. Bush decided to hide his
marijuana use from our nation because he didn’t want young children to
emulate him.  This is a noble perspective; I understand the logic, but
I think it ignores what happens in the absence of that dialogue.  8
year old children are learning about pot regardless if their parent
decides to play a part of that education.  They see it at school, and
some of them might be more perceptive than you imagine about mom and
dad’s Friday night jaunts to the attic (most kids have explored every
inch of their parents dresser drawer by nine years old). 

I believe the fear of talking to kids about this is based more on the
habit of cultural taboo… you’re falling precisely into the trap that
I’m trying to engage: that is, many parents worry that by honestly
discussing delicate subjects that they will “open the door” and perhaps
encourage their children to experiment.  

Haven’t you found, for example with issues of sexuality, that the
opposite is the case?  The more you talk about sex: the beauty, the
responsibilities, the dangers… the less likely a child will try it
before they are ready.  There is nothing in “It’s Just a Plant” that is
at odds with Zero Tolerance; the book explicitly says that marijuana
use is not for children.. ever.  The book is merely another tool that a
parent might use in a conversation with their children.

As to your question, I know several parents who have read the story to
young children.  I have read emails from parents thanking me from the
bottom of their heart, parents who felt stifled in talking about
something that was such a part of their lives.  I have also received
emails like the following:  

“Shame on you.  I have not read your book, nor do I intend to, but I
saw you on Fox News today.  If it is true that your book tells children
that ‘pot’ is for responsible adults then that is the best, most
successful way to MAKE SURE that all children WANT TO TRY IT!!  And
that very desire landed my child in jail last year.  A younger boy who
wanted to ‘try it’ asked him if he could get some for him.  The younger
boy got caught, ratted out my son, and my son wound up in jail on a
felony delivery charge because it happened at school!  He could face 10
years and a $10,000 fine for getting that boy one joint to try.”

Obviously there are extreme and heartwrenching concerns on either
“side.”  However, I really don’t know where any of us would disagree;
none of us want kids to experiment with drugs.  Reading books like
“It’s Just a Plant” and talking openly about drug use will either delay
this age of experimentation, or encourage it to happen earlier.  Of
course, I lean towards the former.
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #21 of 58: Coleman K. Ridge (ckridge) Mon 14 Mar 05 11:29
My twelve-year-old son asked me last night "Which is more dangerous,
smoking marijuana or smoking tobacco?" He is on schedule for being a
trial to his parents. When I asked how much marijuana, at what age, he
said "Twenty years old, Saturday nights." So what could I say? I told
him that smoking tobacco is the cause of all the deaths from drug use
that I know of personally, and that the only cases of people dying from
marijuana use that I have ever heard of come from driving high. I gave
him the standard warnings, that there is a genetic predisposition to
addiction on both sides of our family, and that marijuana has gotten 
much, much stronger than the stuff of which I have experience. Where
one could get pleasantly buzzed sharing a joint with one or two friends
in my day, I warned, a quarter joint or one hit might do the same work

Now this is the interesting part, and the part that shows the value of
talking about these things. He had been under the impression that one
smokes marijuana like cigarettes, a joint every half hour or so. It had
never occurred anyone to talk to him about relatively safe dosages.
That sort of information can be the difference between sticking a toe
in and drowning.
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #22 of 58: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Mon 14 Mar 05 18:22
That's one ugly screed, and also a little pathetic. Plus it's a great 
illustration of how drugs and drug users get blamed for the drug war's 

So what are some of the good things you hear from grateful parents?
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #23 of 58: Ricardo Cortes (ricardocortes) Tue 15 Mar 05 06:19
Coleman, I applaud your candor.  Answering as honestly as you did will
hopefully make your son feel comfortable being equally as open with
you.  And that  is a great key to keep our kids out of harm’s way.

According to the 2004 Monitoring the Future survey
(, a federally funded annual study on
teen drug use rates, eighth-graders rate the occasional use of
marijuana as being more dangerous than occasional use of crack cocaine,
everyday drinking and almost twice as harmful as regular tobacco use!!
 This is the current youth understanding of marijuana and goes to show
how (in)effective the propaganda is.

Otherwise... Gary, I'm not sure what you were refering to as ugly. 
Please refresh me.
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #24 of 58: Ricardo Cortes (ricardocortes) Tue 15 Mar 05 06:26
Whoops, my bad. I'm guessing you're refering to the email that was
sent to me?  Yes.. ugly.  Of course, I understand her horror: her son
became involved with marijuana and now faces considerate incarceration.
 Now, if we can assume that his health is ok and he had no problems
using the drug (the parent never even said the boy actually used it),
the tragedy is indeed related to the law and not the drug itself.  It's
the drug war that is threatening her son.. not marijuana.  For
example, the Federal Higher Education Act currently prohibits student
loans for student convicted of a drug crime (there are no similar
restrictions on rapists, murderers, etc.).  This is worng on so many
levels, but what takes the cake is the the Government has the gall to
turn around and say "marijuana can make you lose your student loans"! 
No, not marijuana.. Federal Law!
inkwell.vue.239 : Ricardo Cortes -- It's Just a Plant
permalink #25 of 58: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Wed 16 Mar 05 13:36
I just got this Salon piece in email. Very apropos.


Twelve years ago, back when you could put things in the mail without a
return address, my old college buddy Jim sent me a package. Opening the
plain, brown box, I was surprised at its contents: the small purple bong
he and I had put to very good use in the late '80s and early '90s. Along
with this stained relic he had scribbled a note of explanation: "Getting
married and planning to have children, so I guess I won't be needing this

I wasn't sure what unnerved me more: his decision that "growing up" meant
giving up something that he enjoyed without incident, or the implied idea
that I was stuck in a hazy past while he moved on to an appropriate, adult

The second time I experienced In Loco Bongus I thought: This is getting
weird (and also: What am I going to do with two bongs?). This time my
co-worker walked into my office, closed the door, and sheepishly explained
that while he and his glass two-footer had had some great times together,
his son was getting older, he had a second on the way, and he didn't want
anyone under four feet to stumble across it accidentally. "I don't want my
boy to think it's OK to be a pothead," he explained. "Well, that's not
true, I don't want him to think it's OK to be a full-blown hazed-out
pothead." Which is why he switched to a much smaller, more easily stashed

According to the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than a
third of Americans over the age of 12 have tried marijuana at some point
in their life 
 that's 80 million people who actually admit it, and I
suspect there are a couple more who don't. Many of these millions can look

and neither should you, little man.

That must be nice for them. I don't know many of these people.

The people I have spent the last decade working and playing with have
inhaled more than a few puffs and taken a variety of trips down Alice's
rabbit hole. Yet some way, somehow they have turned into able and
impressive members of the republic. These are people with good jobs, who
engage in charitable pursuits and who rarely cut in line at Whole Foods.
We've taken some of our old vices with us into adulthood without burning
down the house or checking into rehab. We've done a good job prolonging
our adolescence, but now we're facing adulthood's ultimate gut check:
children. And when it comes to kids, we have a drug problem.

What to tell the children about past at 
 and, in many cases, current offspring with a straight face 
and explain that while they once
experimented with drugs during the folly of their youth, now they don't 
use ain't easy. Should we practice what we preach? Should we lie? Where do
you draw the line between being a hypocrite and protecting your kids? Are
we worse parents if we get high in front of our kids than if we have a
couple of stiff drinks? How do we reconcile our own experiences with drugs

 ones that have been overwhelmingly positive 
 with the very real
possibility that our kids could run into trouble with what are in fact
potent substances?

Before you write nasty letters to the editor denouncing my friends and me
for advocating drug use, let's be clear: Scores of people have had their
lives and the lives of those around them destroyed by drugs. No one I know
believes that all drugs are good nor wishes a nation of junkies on anyone.
Drugs are not for all people, all drugs are not for all drug users, and no
illicit drugs are good for children.

Among my close friends, there's a general feeling that there are "good"
drugs and "bad" drugs. The good ones are empathetic and eye-opening (MDMA,
marijuana, hallucinogens). The bad ones are ego-driven and destructive
(coke, speed, heroin). Both types can destroy you 
 it's just that they
haven't in our case. In a topic that doesn't deal much in grays, this is a
nuanced and certainly unpopular point of view. So it's no surprise, if a
bit disappointing, that most of the people I talked to asked to have their
names changed.

"I'm not nervous at all about talking to my sons about sex," says my
friend Rob, a 32-year-old writer living in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his wife
and two small boys, aged one and five. "But I'm scared shitless to talk to
them about drugs."

Rob smokes as much as two to three times a week, but never when his
children are awake. He thinks the worst thing for him to have heard when
he was a kid would have been that smoking pot is acceptable. "I would have
been off to the races," he says. That's why Rob is hesitant to be
completely honest with his own children about his drug use.

"I probably won't be fully open about my drug use until my sons are in
their 20s, post-college maybe. I feel like I have to give him guidance
before that, but I'm not going to tell him about the time I dropped two
hits of E and two tabs of acid and had my brain melt while I watched the
Breeders and the Beastie Boys at Lollapalooza. I can't say, 'Make sure you
don't melt your brain like daddy!'"

"My push for parents is always to be open and honest," says Marsha
Rosenbaum, who leads workshops for parents on how to handle drug use among
their kids as director of the Safety First project of the Drug Policy
Alliance. "Kids have amazing bullshit detectors and are probably going to
know that we aren't telling the truth. To the parents who stopped using
drugs, I say tell them your story and tell them the real story."

Drug story hour's a tough one, but many of my friends want to tell their
 the good and the bad and the
hazy in betweens children about all of their experiences 
 eventually. Knowing whom to tell what when is the hard
part. Rob says he knows exactly what he'll say to his kids when they're
25; he just has no idea what to tell them when they're 10.

"My husband and I won't hide our pot use from our daughter because it's
just such a natural part of our lives," says Carla, a 35-year-old
communications specialist in Oakland, Calif., and mother of an 8-month-old
girl. "But while she's growing up will we tell her Mommy and Daddy loved
having sex on coke in a hotel room when she was staying with Grandma? Will
we tell a teenage girl that the occasional line of K [Ketamine] is a
blast? Absolutely not. The important thing is to explain that drugs are
for adults who are old enough to handle them, and that they will have a
chance to experiment soon enough in life if that's what they want to do."

Allie, a 33-year-old legal aid attorney in Washington, D.C., who has been
hypocritical known to enjoy a large cocktail of substances over the years, 
a family now and suspects she'll take a somewhat less tolerant 
 approach. "I won't tell them about my own use until they're
old enough not to be influenced by it, which I think is 16 to 18 depending
on the kid, because I won't tolerate any drug use from them," she says.
"It just seems like they'll have so many sources in their lives justifying
drug use 
 from friends to hormones to boredom to the internet 
 that they
will also need to have something on the other side balancing it."

I myself don't have kids. I may very well someday, and as I get older I
can increasingly understand the temptation to just out and out lie to them
about a variety of parts of my life, especially my drug use. I mean, do I
really want to tell Larry Jr. that daddy had a mind-altering moment on
mushrooms at Joshua Tree when he was 23, but my dear, my dear boy, if I
ever find mushrooms in your backpack you'll be grounded from now until
your freshman year in college?

"I would be much more concerned if my kids thought I was a hypocrite than
if they thought I was a pothead," says my friend Alan, a professor of
English at Indiana University and soon-to-be father of twins. Alan's been
thinking a lot about what he's going to tell his children about his daily
pot use, a habit he suspects won't be so compatible with the daily rigors
of daddyhood. "I'll tell them that I smoke, I like it, but that it's not
for everyone," he says. "I will tell them that I did certain drugs for
adventure and exploration, but never to counter self-esteem and an
inability to tolerate reality. I will tell them if they decide to try
drugs, I hope they tell me and I'll demand that they be safe."

Safe is actually less subjective than it may sound. "Just as you can't use
a chain saw or drive until you are a certain age, you shouldn't use drugs
until you are old enough to be able to handle it," says Mitch Earleywine,
a professor at the University of Southern California and author of
Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence. Earleywine
says new studies reveal that cannabis can interfere with the brain's
development before the age of 17. It stands to reason that a compelling
case can be made for telling your kids to hold off until after high school
graduation, even if you didn't.

A recent Office of National Drug Control Policy anti-drug campaign seeks
to help confused adults reconcile their past use with whatever version of
"just say no" they're trying to work out as they raise kids. Called
"Hypocrite," it reads: "So you smoke pot. And now your kid's trying it and
you feel like you can't say anything. Get over it. Smoking pot can affect
the brain and lead to other risky behaviors. So you have to set the rules
and expect your kid to live drug free no matter how hypocritical it makes
you feel."

"In the focus groups we asked parents to identify some of the barriers
that existed in talking to kids about drugs 
 and their own experience
with drugs came up as one of those barriers," says Jennifer DeVallance, a
spokesperson for the ONDCP. "These ads are saying: You need to step up to
the plate, regardless of what your experience was."

Unlike the folks in the government's focus group, most of my friends don't
think their own past makes them hypocrites, but rather better informed
parents. Jill, an interior designer who lives outside of Nashville, Tenn.,
with her teenage son, says that she's not so worried about her son's
experimentation because she has so much experience with drugs herself. "If
you never did drugs as a teen, or any other time in your life, I suspect
all you can think about is your kid behaving like he or she is a character
in Reefer Madness or that he's going to become Robert Downey Jr.," she

Jill has resigned herself to the fact that her son does drugs, but she is
tough with him about his use. "We talked about what some people can handle
and others can't." She explained to him that in her mind, pot is on par
with alcohol: Both get you high, both should be taken in moderation and
both can have devastating effects on your life if you overindulge. "Once I
knew about his use, I told him what I had done," she says. "Not everything
all at once. I didn't want my former experiments to encourage him, and it
was more information than he needed at one sitting."

"If you didn't think your drug use was a big mistake, don't tell them that
it was a big mistake, which is what the government wants you to say," says
Rosenbaum. "Tell them that they were probably attracted to it for the same
reasons that you were. And if you quit, tell them why."

Delia, a 47-year-old physical therapist in Manhattan with a 13-year-old
daughter, agrees. "I will tell her drugs were fun and seductive," she
says, "but ultimately they were a mistake." Knowing that Delia had a
pretty wild ride in the late '60s and '70s, I ask her if she plans to tell
her daughter the whole story. Her answer is an unflinching no. "I can't
ever tell her everything I did, especially that I tried heroin," she says.
"I tried it once and liked it so much that I knew it could destroy me. A
survival instinct kicked in, one I don't know would kick in for her. But I
can't tell her the entire truth of my use because I don't want to
influence her."

And there's the riddle: There's no more influential person in a child's
life than a parent. Therefore, in one way or another, every parent I
talked to felt that to a certain degree they had to lie to their kids
about drugs. Yet almost in the same breath, few want to mask what for at
least a certain period in their life was a very real, important and joyful
part of who they were and are as people.

"My goal as a parent," says Carla, "is to give her the tools to know what
she can handle and what's too much. I don't want her to say no to drugs,
because they can be freakin' fun. It's not a popular perspective, but it's
true. Fun is a big part of my life, and drugs are a part of fun."

"But you know what?" she says with a pregnant pause, "my perspective today
could change a lot in 10 years."

If so, I fear I'll be getting another bong in the mail.

Larry Smith is the articles editor of Men's Journal and has written for
The New York Times, Teen People, ESPN Magazine, and other publications.
This story originally appeared on


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