From the Archives: How To Talk to Your Kids About Pot (2004)

By David Katz

Doris sputtered to her husband, coughing out a huge bluish cloud of Hawaiian X Super Skunk #1 spiked with a touch of Master Kush, which drifted toward what they thought was their locked bedroom door and swirled about the head of their “I can’t sleep” six-year-old. Arthur, an inquisitive, intelligent and, to be honest, somewhat pushy offspring, stared at his parents in disbelief from the foot of the bed, his attention fixed on the gigantic spliff that Mommy was passing to Daddy to “help them sleep.” Unfortunately, Arthur had just attended his first Drug Awareness Day at school, and he had a lot of questions. Luckily, Arthur’s parents had yet to commence the Vulcan Mind Meld, sparing young Arthur many years of future therapy.

“But you said you don’t smoke cigarettes. You said they were bad.”

“That’s right, Arthur, they are bad,” explained Dad. “But this isn’t a cigarette—really.” Doris blanched. “Steve, you’re confusing him.” Arthur’s cute brown eyes narrowed as he gave his parents that intense look he reserved for little league, girls and liars. “I know what it is. It’s a joint! They told us about that at school.”

“Who told you it was a joint?”

“Jack the policeman. He came to our class and showed us a cigarette just like that one!” said Arthur, pointing at the funny-looking “cigarette” with two pointy ends and a big bulge in the middle. “You lied!” he yelled, pointing at his father. Steve looked in desperation at his wife. “Come here, honey,” Doris said softly, as Arthur climbed onto the bed. “Mom and Dad need to talk to you about something.”

Doris and Steve are wrestling with an increasingly common dilemma among parents who smoke pot: just what to tell their young and pre-teen kids about the mighty herb. The nation’s airwaves and cable markets are saturated with carefully crafted, government-sponsored “public service ads” designed to scare, shame, intimidate and coerce kids into not smoking pot. There’s the cheery Investigator, which glamorizes parents who give their kids the third degree, grilling them mercilessly for information about their activities and friends just like, well, cops. In Pick Up, a stoner forgets to pick up his kid brother. Another one, Pool, shows a toddler pushing a raft into a swimming pool, presumably to follow the raft in, while a casual, low-key voiceover intones: “Just tell your parents you weren’t watching her, because you were getting stoned.”

No wonder intelligent parents who want to have a toke or two after a hard day have been looking at various methods of raising kids and having their reefer, too.

Let’s start with something we can all agree on: Kids should not smoke pot. Just as you don’t start the day by handing your six-year-old a tumbler of Jack Daniels and firing up his Camel, parents should not be in the business of getting kids stoned—just ask former Hollywood child-tokers and subsequent rehab-grads Robert Downey Jr. and Drew Barrymore, both of whom were exposed to grass at a tender age by their swinging-’60s parents and the crowds they ran in.

Parents should follow NORML’s (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) guide-lines for responsible marijuana use:

“NORML believes that marijuana smoking is not for kids and should only be used responsibly by adults. As with alcohol consumption, it must never be an excuse for misconduct or other bad behavior. Driving or operating heavy equipment while impaired from marijuana should be prohibited.”

Nonetheless, in the real world, 20 million Americans say they have toked the bone during the past year, and despite findings that reefer reduces sperm count, millions of these proud and unashamed potheads are now raising, or have raised, kids who aren’t one-eyed freaks, Charlie Mansonites or pinheads, thereby refuting the myth that pot causes genetic mutations (at least not the visible kinds, which in America, the land of fleeting images, are the only ones that count). Of course, herb—like alcohol, nicotine and mercury-laden tuna—is another substance that has no place in a woman’s body during pregnancy. However, once the pregnancy is over and the child has finished breast-feeding, many parents return to smoking pot, for all the good reasons: responsible recreation and relaxation.

The New York Times recently reported that in a poll conducted by RoperASW, as many as one in 10 American parents of children under 18—about six million people—said they had smoked herb in the past 12 months. One in 20 parents, or about three million people, said they had smoked in the preceding month. The number of Americans who lit up in the last 15 minutes was unavailable, but considering the reluctance of those still holding jobs, or respected members of highly paid role-model professions—i.e., doctors, lawyers, teachers, talkradio jocks, governors—to admit to being anything other than a pharmaceutical junkie in Ashcroft’s America, one suspects that the number of regular tokers is a lot higher than reported. Life in prison in three-strike states like Texas is less than appealing; then again, it’s not Malaysia, where, if you get caught sucking on a joint, a swift trial is soon followed by death.

But short of that, getting nabbed blowing a doob in front of the children can have grave consequences, chief among them losing your kids.

Frank and Sara are the parents of Jake, a 10-month-old baby who was properly strapped in the back in his car seat when his parents were pulled over by cops in Oregon.

“First of all,” Frank told High Times, “the cop just said, ‘Give me the pot, or we’ll search the car.’ So my wife handed him the baggie! I was flabbergasted.” The cops separated the couple. “There was Good Cop and Psycho Cop. First Psycho Cop wanted to know if there was anyone higher than me. How could there be,” laughed Frank, “since I’d been drinking Scotch, too!” An incorrigible wise-ass, Frank’s flippant comeback—“Pablo Escobar?”—didn’t go over well, either. “Sara was only stoned, but her license had expired, which gave another new wrinkle to the situation. Then I got the Good Cop, while Nut Cop went to work on my wife.”

“It freaked me out,” recalled Sara. “The first thing he said is that they can take our son away for this. Then the cop gave me his card and said I had three days to rat out whoever sold us the pot. But we talked to the ACLU, who told us they were full of shit.”

“We never smoke in the car anymore, ” Frank added ruefully. “We shouldn’t have been smoking and driving in the first place.”

Both the US and Canadian governments use draconian drug laws to hassle groups and individuals who refuse to toe the antipot line, claiming that marijuana use—not to mention political activism—creates unfit parents. Divorced parents have used the marijuana laws to smite their mates, especially in nasty custody battles. Debra Cannistrad, a medical-cannabis user living in the San Joaquin Valley of California, was threatened by an ex-spouse for custody of her 12-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son, two days after holding a vigil for a jailed cannabis researcher. Fortunately for Debra, the father—a deadbeat dad—outpoints Debra for parental malfeasance, but nonetheless, the use of a joint as a loaded gun is an indication of the emergence of a snitch society, a la the late Soviet Union.

Other situations are even more bizarre. A couple in Washington State lost their daughter immediately after birth when hospital workers, without their knowledge or consent, tested both the mother and her newborn girl for cannabis. When both tested positive, doctors blamed minor medical problems with the baby on her mother’s cannabis use and accused her of endangering the child’s life. The baby was isolated and the mother not allowed to breast-feed her. The child was returned to the couple in a week, but they were first made to sign a contract with 13 conditions, including urine-testing, mental-health evaluations and agreeing to allow state inspectors to enter their home anytime they damned well pleased. So much for the Fourth Amendment. Once again, this woman obviously should not have been toking up during any stage of her pregnancy—but does that justify the extreme measures the hospital took?

As kids get older, the dilemma for parents who smoke pot gets even more problematic.

Even in a city as sophisticated and progressive as New York, there is a wide divergence in attitudes and styles among the city’s parents regarding their kids and pot, which one suspects mirrors the nation’s attitude as well.

Tahisa, an urban planner, and her husband are raising a 14-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl in New York’s most fashionably transgressive neighborhood, the East Village. She’s a pioneer, having lived in the EV more than 20 years, arriving long before the neighborhood’s recent resurgence and ultra-gentrification. Many of the tenement apartments, abandoned and trashed in the 1980s, now go for $2,500 a month, and uptown hipsters who once came to Avenue B for cocaine and heroin today travel downtown for gourmet coffee shops, expensive punk jewelry and haute cuisine. It’s now a prime residential neighborhood, attracting middle-class parents with children; its playgrounds and community gardens are packed with kids.

“I smoked when my kids were small, so they always saw us smoking, and all our friends smoke. So we never had to tell them that we smoke; they saw us smoke,” said Tahisa. When their kids started school, they started getting the standard anti-drug diatribes. Tahisa told them it was propaganda. “We told them pot was really good, that birds eat it, and that tobacco is much worse for you. Our biggest concerns were tobacco and glue-sniffing.”

Part of Tahisa’s agenda was to demystify pot. “We didn’t want to make pot seem so deviant that our kids would be attracted to it. We didn’t want to sneak around. If we were going to do this, we shouldn’t have to hide it. If they saw it as just a normal thing, we thought they would probably decide not to do it.”

Amy, a close friend of Tahisa’s, is medical researcher, and with her husband Ron, a media consultant, they have taken a similar tack with their 12-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter. “Pot is so much a part of our lifestyle, the kids take it for granted.” Amy, her husband and their friends have smoked weed for more than 30 years and have no intention of stopping. “When our kids have friends over—especially ones who we don’t know—we go into the bathroom, or up on the roof, to get high. And we certainly don’t buy pot with them around, say if a dealer comes to our home. But after all, this is the East Village.”

At a certain age, when Amy felt her kids were ready, she told them that she and Ron weren’t smoking cigarettes. “Then we went on to say that what we do is okay, but it’s against the law,” said Amy, “and we could go to jail for it if certain people found out.”

You don’t want to see Mommy and Daddy in an orange jumpsuit in chains behind bars, do you? That’s pretty effective. Amy and Ron also explained that not every law is good or just and that what they were doing wasn’t wrong; that some drugs, like medicines, are good, and other drugs, like heroin, cocaine, nicotine, PCP, glue, Ecstasy and acid, are very, very bad. “When they started school,” said Amy, “we told them never to mention that we smoke anything at all. And it’s surprising how well they understand.”

This medical tack is similar to the one used in a forthcoming 2005 children’s book, Just a Plant ( by Ricardo Cortes, an educator and Webmaster of the art-and-culture website The book tells the story of a little girl who discovers her parents smoking marijuana. Cortes then follows the efforts of the family to rationally explain to their daughter just what pot is and what it does.

“She goes to a farm, and the farmer talks to her about how it grows, how it has seeds and how it’s used for a lot of different things,” says Cortes. “People use corn for eating, people use marijuana for making canvas, paper, etc. Then there’s a medicinal aspect: How does it affect the body? In the story, she goes to a doctor to find out about it. He tells her patients use it as a medicine; there are many plants used as medicine. The doctor also explains that because it’s a medicine, it’s not something for children.”

Cortes takes care in the book to explain that there are things adults can do that kids can’t: driving a car, having a glass of wine, drinking coffee. Then he deals skillfully with the illegality of pot. “At that point in the story, the child is like, I learned everything there is to know about pot, and it sounds beautiful.’ But if you just stop there, that’s dangerous, because now the little girl goes to school and says, ‘Yeah, my mom smokes pot!”’

In the story, the girl then stumbles upon some kids smoking a joint and tells them she knows what they’re smoking. Then the cops roll up for the last lesson of the story: It’s illegal. Cortes brings in the history of Prohibition and tries to portray the cops as good guys, to an extent, by stressing that there are laws they don’t like enforcing. “The cop says that this is how our country works,” Cortes explains, “and if you want to change a law, there are certain ways to go about it.”

But as Tahisa found, as children get older, social institutions intervene to make changes in a parent’s pot policy. “We stopped smoking for awhile because we could see our kids were being pressured at school. They gave a citywide questionnaire to the kids. We kept our son home from school that day because he told us about it, and it was really like: Rat out your parents and rat out your friends. We didn’t want to put him on the spot by making him have to lie, so we stopped smoking.”

But old habits die hard for parents who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s. “My husband still doesn’t smoke pot, but I started again. Because, in the words of Louis Armstrong, it relaxes me,” Tahisa said with a smile.

Other parents take an entirely opposite approach to herb and kids; one of hide and deny. Dennis and his wife Dee are raising twin girls, now 13 years old. Both girls are very bright and go to top-tier public schools on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

“I don’t tell them. That’s it,” Dennis laughed, then became serious. “There’re two ways to deal with it. One is how I deal with it when I want to get stoned, which is to go into the bathroom, open the window and lock the door. That kind of works, although one time we were out on Fire Island and I had smoked a joint in the bathroom, and my daughter goes in right afterwards and says, ‘Dad, that incense you burned really stinks!’ She was 11 or 12—they don’t know anything.”

Dennis fears that his daughter will be at a rock concert and somebody will be smoking a joint near her, and, says Dennis, “Her friends will say, ‘Oh, it’s pot!’ And she’s going to say, ‘Oh, no it’s not, it’s incense!’ And she’s going to look like an idiot and figure out that I lied.” Dennis has also gone to extremes to conceal his THC jones by concocting marijuana butter. “The feeling was that smoking is bad for you, so I’ll try a different way of doing this. I thought that if I could get this down, I wouldn’t have to go to the bathroom to smoke. I’d go to the refrigerator!” Dennis cooked up a butter recipe he found in High Times, but the project backfired. “We ate the butter, went to a party, had a great time, got really, really stoned—like we were tripping—and then we went out to dinner by ourselves. And we were both super-paranoid, terrified, and we stayed stoned for the next two days.”

The problem with the hide-and-deny method is, what do you tell your children when they inevitably ask? Do you tell them the truth? “They hear in school that marijuana sucks,” says Dennis. “We were on a long drive, and one of my daughters asked my wife if she ever smoked pot. And I’m thinking, ‘What is she going to say? It’s never come out that direct.’ And she said no. Then I’m thinking, ‘What am I gonna say? Yeah?’ Then my daughter said, ‘Dad, and you?’ And I said no, and she said, ‘Good.’ I think it’s a scary thing to be asked, because of what they see on TV and what it means, like breaking the law. They’re brainwashed. And I don’t want them smoking pot, you know? When they’re in college, they can smoke pot. I don’t think they should be smoking pot in junior high school or high school—even if I did!”

That brainwashing is orchestrated straight from the top, at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). ONDCP reports directly to the president, and it serves as a kind of amorphous umbrella organization for all of the precisely calibrated “campaigns” that “target” parents and young people with misleading and disingenuous public-service advertisements. ONDCP coordinates overall drug policy, along with the efforts of other government/business coalitions such as the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, to keep America scared of marijuana with recent media campaigns like Parents: The Anti-Drug and My Anti-Drug, specifically directed at kids. ONDCP’s Ad Gallery features such gems as Wallet, in which a young teen takes us down to the basement to meet his wasted, long-haired, glassy-eyed older brother, who looks more like a dope addict than a pothead, and who “never did anything at all.”

From the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, the creators of Parents: The Anti-Drug (, comes Slam, a truly vicious commercial teeming with violence and anger, in which a father and his teenage daughter yell and scream with vein-popping animus (“I hate you!”), slamming the door repeatedly in each other’s faces, after Dad covertly searches his daughter’s room and finds—horror of horrors—a bag of pot! Once again, so much for the Fourth Amendment, at least if you’re under 18. By the way, the daughter in the spot looks well over the age of consent. The commercial condones this kind of despotic, foaming-at-the-mouth behavior with an ambiguous admonition to parents at the end: “Afraid of a few slammed doors? Get over it. Because to help your kid with their problem, first you have to get over yours.” Let’s look at this statement: At first it seems to imply that the parents should get rid of their explosive anger, but actually it justifies this oppressive approach. The problem parents have to get over is their reluctance to get violent and hysterical. Obviously compromise, conflict resolution and reasoned argument are for sissies.

The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign also sponsors My Anti-Drug (, which brings us, in Spanish, Dummies, featuring the famed crash-test dummies (which used to promote seat belts) toking it up and getting into a devastating accident in a lab dedicated to making accidents happen. You don’t have to speak Spanish to figure out La Causa. Ads also come in Cambodian, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. Dummies mines the same vein of malleable truth and outright mendacity as the spot with the poor Hispanic kid mourning the loss of a friend in a traffic accident and blaming it on pot. What the ad fails to mention is that accidents involving pot usually also involve alcohol. Liquor is metabolized by the body in hours, leaving pot—which can stay in the fatty tissues for months—to take the blame.

And, of course, the ad that has generated the most controversy is the 2002 Super Bowl Sunday spot that equated blowing a J with supporting international terrorism. (“Where do terrorists get their money? If you buy drugs, it might come from you.”) Presumably Osama bin Laden gets a cut from every nickel-bag sold in America. Quaffing down a sixpack is way cool, because it’s legal. Filling up your SUV with expensive gasoline from those good friends of the Bush family (and our valiant ally in the war on terrorism), the House of Saud, is also no problemo—save when the dough goes to support Muslim madrassas throughout the world where children learn that Jews are pigs and monkeys, the United States is the Great Satan, and the lust for death is far more powerful than the lust for life. Think of it as No Terrorist Left Behind.

It’s swell for Budweiser to spend 50 G’s a second to keep people drinking beer—that’s free enterprise. It is quite another thing for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to spend over $1.6 million each for two 30-second ads during the Super Bowl, the biggest media market in the United States, to blast government propaganda down the throats of 130 million people. Since 1997, over a five-year period, approximately $1 billion has been allocated to paid media—your tax dollars at work, on behalf of ad agencies and TV networks. And most studies have shown that these scare tactics increase, rather then lessen, a kid’s curiosity about illegal substances. The moronic This Is Your Brain on Drugs campaign, which likened the Stoner’s cerebrum to an egg in a frying pan, became one of the most parodied and ridiculed advertisements of its day.

Maybe it’s time to allow parents who smoke pot to raise their children their own way, exercising responsibility and good judgment, and with the guidance, honesty and intuition that only a parent can bring to their children’s lives. Take the billions being squandered on frightening our kids and freaking out their parents, and turn it over to libraries, colleges and our sorely underfunded public schools—or return it to the taxpayers as a rebate, so the citizens of America can finally afford some decent herb.

High Times Magazine, July/August 2004

Read the full issue here.

The post From the Archives: How To Talk to Your Kids About Pot (2004) appeared first on High Times.

From the Archives: Norman Mailer on Pot (2004)

By Richard Stratton

Thirty years ago, when High Times was in its infancy, I did a long interview with Norman Mailer that was published in two parts in Rolling Stone magazine. Mailer and I first met in Provincetown, MA, in the winter of 1970 and have been close friends ever since. At one time we owned property together in Maine, which was put up as collateral for bail when I got busted for smuggling marijuana in the early ’80s. The Feds were all over the connection between Mailer and me; he testified for the defense at the trial of my partner in Toronto, Rosie Rowbotham, who ended up doing over 20 years for importing hashish. Mailer later testified at my trials in Maine and New York. The government became convinced that he was some sort of hippie godfather to the sprawling marijuana trafficking organization Rowbotham and I ran, along the lines of Timothy Leary’s figurehead status with the Brotherhood of Eternal Love conspiracy out of Laguna Beach, CA.

But Mailer was more a friend of the cause than a co-conspirator. He certainly had what to an assistant United States attorney might qualify as “guilty knowledge.” He knew what I was up to. I remember standing with him on the balcony of his Brooklyn Heights apartment one night, looking out at the glittering behemoths of the Lower Manhattan financial district, then down at the containers stacked on the Brooklyn docks below like mini-skyscrapers and telling him, “Right down there, Norman, in those containers, there’s seven million dollars’ worth of Lebanese hash. All I have to do is get it out of there without getting busted.” The novelist in him was intrigued, but the criminal in him would always remain subservient to the artist. The government put tremendous pressure on me to give them Mailer, as though he were some trophy I could trade for my own culpability. They were star-fucking: John DeLorean had been busted in a set-up coke case; Mailer’s head would have looked good mounted on some government prosecutor’s wall.

When I went to prison in 1982, Mailer became—after my mother—my most loyal visitor and correspondent. And when I was released in 1990, I stayed in his Brooklyn Heights apartment while the Mailer family summered in Provincetown. I’ve known Mailer’s youngest son, John Buffalo, since he was born and turned to him when I needed someone to act in my stead here at the magazine while I finished work on the TV show I produced for Showtime.

But, as with my criminal enterprise, Mailer has no financial stake in the outcome of the High Times mini-media-conglomerate conspiracy. He’s an interested observer and adviser.

All this by way of saying there’s real history here, so much so that there was never any pretense at making this a typical interview; it’s more like a master speaking to an apprentice about what he has learned. I’d read Mailer extensively before I met him. His writing, in essays such as “The White Negro” and “General Marijuana,” his nonfiction The Armies of the Night and The Executioner’s Song, and the novels The Naked and the Dead, An American Dream, Why Are We in Vietnam? and Ancient Evenings, to mention just a few Mailer works, have reshaped post-World War II American literature. Mailer’s whole notion of the existential hipster living in the crucible of his orgasm probably contributed as much to my fascination with the outlaw life as the cannabis plant itself.

I’ve smoked pot with Mailer on a number of occasions and have always been impressed with where it took him: to the outermost reaches of the universe and back to the murky depths of the human psyche. But I had never really sat with him and got his thoughts on pot until we met, almost 30 years to the day of that first interview, and I asked him to expound on his views of the plant that became the inspiration for this magazine.

Norman Mailer: Looking back on pot—is it 30 years since I smoked?—by the ’70s I began to feel it was costing me too much. We’ll get to what I got out of it and what I didn’t get out of it—but by the ’80s, I just smoked occasionally. And I don’t think I’ve had a toke—and this is neither to brag nor apologize—in 10 years. But I look back on it as one of the profoundest parts of my life. It did me a lot of good and a lot of harm.

What I’d like to do today is talk about these dimensions of pot. People who smoke marijuana all the time are, as far as I’m concerned, fundamentalists. Their one belief is that pot is good, pot takes care of everything—it’s their gospel. I think they’re about as limited—if you want to get brutal about it—as fundamentalists. Fundamentalists can’t think; they can only refer to the Gospels. Pot people can’t recognize that something as good as that might have something very bad connected to it—which is not to do with the law, but what it does to you. That’s what I’d like to talk about. The plus and minus.

The other thing I’d like to talk about is the cultural phenomenon of pot. That is rarely gone into. Instead, people are always taking sides—pot’s good, pot’s bad; pot should be outlawed, pot should be decriminalized—there’s always this legalistic approach. But I think marijuana had a profound cultural effect upon America, and I wouldn’t mind seeing this magazine exploring all that pot did to the American mentality—good and bad.

Richard Stratton: Marijuana is already a huge cultural phenomenon. In the 30 years High Times has been around, pot has gone from a marginal anomaly in our society to something that’s almost mainstream.

Mailer: Yeah, only not mainstream yet. Too many attitudes have settled in on pot, and there’s too much dead-ass in the thinking of pot smokers now. Some 30 years ago when it was all new, we really felt we were adventurers—let’s say 40 years ago—we really felt we were on the edge of startling and incredible revelations. You’d have perceptions that I still use to this day—that’s part of the good. When I first began smoking, I was a typical liberal, a radical rationalist. I never believed in a Higher Power. I still dislike those two words—Higher Power. I didn’t believe that God was there. I couldn’t explain anything, because when you’re an atheist, you’re living without a boat on an island in the Pacific that’s surrounded by water: There’s nowhere to go.

It’s hard enough to believe in God, but to assume there is no God, no prime force—how can you begin to explain anything that way?

I was a socialist, more radical than most liberals, but I was altogether a rationalist. I was also at the point of getting into one or another kind of terminal disease, because my life was wrong. My liver was lousy and I wasn’t even drinking a lot. My personal life was not happy and I was congested, constricted. I couldn’t have been tighter. Then pot hit.

In the beginning, I remember that pot used to irritate the hell out of me, because nothing would happen when I smoked.

I’ve noticed that intellectuals with highly developed minds usually have trouble turning on. The mental structure is so developed, so ratiocinative. So many minefields have been built up to protect the intellect from pot, which is seen as the disrupter, the enemy. The first few times I smoked, I just got tired, dull and irritated. I was angry that nothing had happened. It went on like that for perhaps a year. Three, four, five times I smoked, and each occasion was a blank.

Then one night in Mexico I got into a crazy sexual scene with two women. We were smoking an awful lot of pot. Then one of the women went home and the other went to sleep and I felt ill and got up and vomited. I’d never vomited like that in my life. It was exactly as if I was having an orgasm of convulsive vomiting. Spasmodically, I was throwing off a ton of anxiety. I’ve never had anything like that since and I wouldn’t want to. Not again. Pretty powerful convulsive experience.

Afterward, I rinsed my mouth out, went downstairs to where my then wife was sleeping on one couch, and I lay down on the other and stayed there. Then it hit—how that pot hit! I don’t know if it ever hit any harder. It was incredible: I was able to change the face of my wife into anyone I wanted. It went on before my eyes. I could play all sorts of games in my mind. Whole scenarios. It went on for hours. When it was over, I knew that I was going to try this again.

A couple of days later, I was out in the car listening to the radio. Some jazz came on. I’d been listening to jazz for years, but it had never meant all that much to me. Now, with the powers pot offered, simple things became complex; complex things clarified themselves. These musicians were offering the inner content of their experience to me. Later, when I wrote about it, I would say that jazz is the music of orgasm. Because that was what it seemed to me. These very talented, charged-up players full of their joys and twists and kinks—God, they had as many as I did—were looking for the musical equivalent of an orgasm. They would take a song, play the melody, then go into variations on it, until they got themselves into a tighter and tighter situation with the take-off on the melody.

I can’t speak musically, but I can tell what was going on in that odyssey. They were saying: This is very, very hard to get out, it’s full of knots—but I’m going to do it. And they’d climb a tower of music looking to reach the gates at the top and break through. It wasn’t automatic; very often they failed. They’d go on and on, try more variations, then more. But often they couldn’t solve the problem they’d set themselves musically, whatever that problem was. And sometimes, occasionally, they would break through. Then it was incredible, for they would emerge with you into a happy land just listening to music. Other times they’d stop with a little flair, a sign-off, as if to say: That’s it, I give up. All that was what I heard while high, and I loved it. I became a jazz buff.

Over the next couple of years, I went often to the Five Spot, the Village Vanguard, the Jazz Gallery. I’d hear the greats: Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Coltrane, Miles Davis. Those were incredibly heady years, listening to those guys for hours on pot, or without it, because once pot had broken into my metallic mental structure, it had cracked the vise, you might say, that closed me off from music. I had become such a lover of pot that I broke up with a few friends who wouldn’t smoke it. At the end of a long road—10 years down that road—I committed a felony while on pot.

That didn’t stop me, but I did smoke a little less as the years went on.

I’m a writer: The most important single element in my life, other than my family, has been my writing. So as a writer, I always had to ask: Is this good for my writing? And I began to look at pot through that lens. It wasn’t all bad for editing—it was crazy. I’d have three or four bad ideas and one good one, but at the same time I was learning a lot about the sounds of language. Before, I’d been someone who wrote for the sense of what I was saying, and now I began to write for the sound of what I was writing.

Stratton: Like a jazz musician.

Mailer: Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but to a degree, yes. I’d look for the rhythm of the long sentence rather than the intellectual impact, which often proved to be more powerful when it came out of the rhythm. So occasionally the editing was excellent. But it was impossible to write new stuff on pot.

The experience was too intense. On pot, I would have the illusion that you need say no more than “I love you” and all of love would be there. Obviously, that was not enough.

Stratton: Let’s talk about the detrimental aspects of pot, how you feel it worked against you.

Mailer: Well, the main thing was that I was mortgaging time, mortgaging my future. Because I’d have brilliant insights while on pot but could hardly remember any of them later. My handwriting would even break down. Then three-quarters of the insights were lost to scribbles. Whenever I had a tremendous take on pot, I was good for very little over the next 48 hours.

But if you’re a novelist, you have to work every day. There are no easy stretches. You do the work. Marijuana was terrible for that. So I had longer and longer periods where I wouldn’t go near pot—it would get me too far off my novelistic tracks. When it hit, three or four chapters of my next book would come into my head at once. That would often be a disaster. The happiest moment you can have when writing is when a sense of the truth comes in at the point of your pen. It just feels true. As you are writing! Such a moment is most certainly one of the reasons you write. But if I received similar truths via pot, I was no longer stretching my mind by my work as a novelist.

In fact, with the noticeable exception of Hunter Thompson, who has broken—bless him—has broken every fucking rule there is for ingesting alien substances…indeed, there’s nobody remotely equal to Hunter—I don’t know how he does it. I have great admiration for his constitution and the fact that he can be such a good writer with all the crap he takes into himself. Unbelievable, unbelievable—but no other writer I know can do it.

Stratton: So you believe that, if you were to smoke some good pot right now, you’d let your mind go—and you might see the rest of the book in your head, but you might not have the impetus to sit down and write it?

Mailer: That’s right. One mustn’t talk about one’s book. For instance, I’m doing one now where I haven’t even told my wife what it’s about. She’s guessed—she’s a very smart lady, so she’s guessed—but the thing is, I know that to talk about this book would be so much more stimulating and easy and agreeable than to write it that I’d end up talking to people about what a marvelous book I could have done. I believe pot does that in a far grander way—it’s the difference between watching a movie on a dinky little TV set and going to a state-of-the-art cinema.

Stratton: Most of the writing I’m doing these days is screenwriting. And because of the nature of the material I’m working on, I usually have a detailed outline. I know where I’m going, I’ve already seen the movie in my head. So when I write, after having smoked some pot, I find that what it does for me is I can just sit back and watch the scene play out in my mind. And I don’t have to worry about getting lost, because I’ve got the structure of the screenplay holding me in check.

Mailer: I can see that would work for screenplays, but in a novel you’ve got to do it all.

Stratton: What about sex on pot?

Mailer: Sex on pot was fabulous. That was the big element. I realized I hadn’t known anything about sex until I was able to enjoy it on pot. Then again, after a few years, I began to see some of the negative aspects. Once, speaking at Rice High School—I had a friend, a priest named Pete Jacobs, who’d invited me to speak there; it’s a Catholic high school run by the Christian Brothers in Manhattan, and it’s a school well respected by a lot of Irish working class all around New York, Staten Island, Queens, because they give you a very good, tough education there. The Christian Brothers are tough. But Pete told me, “Say what you want to say. These kids will be right on top of it.” They were. They weren’t passive students at all. One of them asked me, “How do you feel about marijuana and sex?” And I gave him this answer: You can be out with a girl, have sex with her for the first time on pot and it might be fabulous—you and the girl go very far out. Then two days later you hear that the girl was killed in an automobile accident and you say, “Too bad. Such a sweet little chick.” You hardly feel more than that. The action had exhausted your emotions. On pot, you can have a romance that normally would take three to six months to develop being telescoped into one big fuck. But over one night, there’s no loyalty or allegiance to it because you haven’t paid the price. About that time, I realized that fucking on pot was crazy because you’d feel things you never felt before, but on the other hand, you really didn’t attach that much loyalty to the woman. Your feelings of love were not for the woman, but for the idea of love. It was insufficiently connected to the real woman.

It bounced off her reality rather than drawing you toward it. Other times, you could indeed get into the reality of the woman and even see something hard and cold and cruel in her depths, or something so beautiful you didn’t want to go too near it because you knew you were a lousy son of a bitch and you’d ruin it.

One way or another, I found that pot intensified my attitudes toward love, but it also left me detached. It was a peculiar business. So there came a point where I began to think: Who gave us pot? Was it God or the devil? Because by now, I was my own species of a religious man. I believed in an existential God who was doing the best that He or She could do.

God was out there as the Creator, but God was not all powerful or all wise. God was an artistic general, if you will—a very creative and wonderful general—better than any general who ever lived. By far. But even so, generals finally can’t take care of all their troops. And the notion of people praying all the time—begging for God to watch over them, take care of them—so conflicted with what I felt. I felt that God cannot be all good and all powerful. Not both. Because if He’s all good, He is certainly not all powerful. There’s no way to explain the horrors of history, including the mid-century horrors of the last century, if He is all good. Whereas if God is a great creator—not necessarily the lord of all the universe, but let’s say the lord of our part of the universe, our Creator—then God, on a grander scale, bears the same relationship to us that a parent does to a child. No parent is all wise, all powerful and all good. The parent is doing the best that he or she can do. And very often it doesn’t turn out well. That made sense to me. I could see our relation to God: God needs us as much as we need God. And to me, that was exciting, because now it wasn’t a slavish relationship anymore. It made sense.

Stratton: You feel marijuana helped you discover this existential God?

Mailer: No question. That was part of the great trip. But I began to brood on a line that I’d written long before I’d smoked marijuana, a line from The Deer Park. The director who was my main character was having all sorts of insights and revelations while dead drunk, but then said to himself, “Why is my mind so alive when I’m too drunk to do anything about it?” That came back to haunt me. Because I thought: Pot is giving me so much, but I’m not doing my work. I don’t get near enough to the visions and insights I’m having on pot. So is it a gift of God—pot? Or does it come from the devil? Is this the nearest the devil comes to being godlike? It seemed there were three possibilities there: One could well be that marijuana was a gift of God and, if so, must not be abused. Or was it an instrument of the devil? Or were God and the devil both present when we smoked? Maybe God needed us to become more illumined? After all, one of my favorite notions is that organized religion could well be one of the great creations of the devil. How better to drive people away from God than to give them a notion of the Almighty that doesn’t fit the facts? So, I do come back to this notion that maybe God and the devil are obliged willynilly to collaborate here. Each thinks that they can benefit from pot: God can give you the insights and the devil will reap the exhaustions and the debilities. Because I think pot debilitates people. I’ve noticed over and over that people who smoke pot all the time generally do very little with their lives. I’ve always liked booze because I felt: It’s a vice, but I know exactly what I’m paying for. You hurt your head in the beginning and your knees in the end, when you get arthritis. But at least you know how you’re paying for the fun. Pot’s spookier. Pot gives so much more than booze on the one hand—but on the other, never quite presents the bill.

Stratton: I’m not sure that’s true of everyone who smokes pot.

Mailer: I’m sure it’s not.

Stratton: A lot of people are motivated by pot. I am, for one.

Mailer: What do you mean, “motivated”?

Stratton: I mean that it doesn’t debilitate me. I don’t want to sit around and do nothing when I’m high. I get inspired, energized.

I don’t subscribe to the theory of the antimotivational syndrome. If anything, when I’m straight, I’m often too hyper and too left-brain-oriented. I go off on tangents and I don’t stop to look around and try to find a deeper meaning in what I’m doing. Marijuana will slow me down and allow me to connect with the mood of what’s going on around me. And that, in turn, inspires me to go further into what I’m trying to do.

Mailer: I ended a few romances over the years because when I got on pot I couldn’t stop talking. And finally I remember one girl who said, “Did you come to fuck or to knit?”


Stratton: That’s one of the interesting things about marijuana—how it affects everyone differently. It seems to enhance and intensify whatever’s going on in the person at any given moment. Let’s say that we were going to do some stretching right now and we did it straight. We’d be like, “Oh, man, this hurts. This is an ordeal.”

Now if we smoke a little pot and then stretch, it would feel good and put us more in touch with our bodies and the deeper sensations of the activity.

Mailer: I learned more about my body and reflex and grace, even, such as I have—whatever limited physical grace I have, I got it through pot showing me where my body, or how my body, was feeling at any given moment. Here, I can agree with you. Dancing—I could always dance on pot. Not much of a dancer otherwise, but on pot, I could dance. There’s no question it liberated me. All of these good things were there. All the same, when it comes to the legalization of pot, I get dubious. Pot would be taken over by media culture. It would be classified and categorized. It would lose that wonderful little funky edge that once it had—that sensation of being on the edge of the criminal. All the same, the corporate bastards who run most of America will not legalize it in a hurry. Pot is still a great danger to them. Because what they fear is that too many people would no longer give a damn about the corporation—they’d have their minds on other things than working for the Big Empty. To the suits, that makes pot a deadly drug. The corporation has a bad enough conscience buried deep inside to fear, despite their strength, every type of psychic alteration that they haven’t developed themselves.

High Times Magazine, Nov./Dec. 2004

Read the full issue here.

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