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Al Martinez

'A lot of doctors I know have been smoking marijuana for years.' : Getting Through The Night

September 08, 1986|Al Martinez

I had a cup of coffee the other day with Barton Gilbert who spent an hour trying to convince me that the devil weed is good for me.

Gilbert is director of an organization working to legalize marijuana in California, an effort that has been under way at least since the Chumash Indians roamed the Santa Monica Mountains.

He is a pleasant man of 33 with a wife and three kids, a resident of Burbank and a registered Republican, which is not at all what I expected him to be.

Just being a Burbank Republican would qualify him as the guy next door, assuming, of course, that the guy next door likes to cop a buzz occasionally.

The only other exponent of marijuana I ever knew was a dream-walking drummer in Berkeley who drifted through life in a cloud of cannabis and called everyone brother.

Gilbert, on the other hand, seems clear-headed and sincere, although I guess that's no guarantee he isn't the devil himself.

My mother used to say Old Nick often came dressed in fancy clothes, and would point to Herbert Hoover as the perfect example of her belief.

She held Hoover personally responsible for the Great Depression, although my father would often speculate that Protestantism probably had a hand in it too.

You never know.

I was 30 minutes late for my meeting with Gilbert at Bob's Big Boy, which made me feel a little guilty right off. Not for being at Bob's Big Boy, but for being late.

I listened with some sympathy as he talked about inequities in the law that allow us to drink booze and smoke cigarettes but place the use of marijuana on a level of satanic ritual.

He had a point, I guess. We protect whiskey and subsidize the tobacco industry and then spend billions trying to stomp out grass.

But then he began saying what terrific stuff marijuana is as a pain-killer and as a medical tool for the treatment of epilepsy, glaucoma, menstrual cramps, anorexia, asthma, depression and some other things I might have missed.

Not only that, but Gilbert springs on me that smoking dope makes a mother's milk flow easier, and I think that's where he lost me.

True, I'm a guy who will buy almost anything.

Stop me on the street and warn me that the end of the world is near and I will stock up on canned hash and frozen broccoli.

Tell me you need money to furnish vodka to the thirsty people of Ethiopia and I'll lay a twenty on you.

I am convinced that garlic wards off vampires and that playing with yourself causes hair to grow in your palms.

But marijuana as a beneficial agent in mother's milk? Please.

Perhaps Gilbert was told that by one of his medical friends.

"A lot of doctors I know," he said to me, "have been smoking marijuana for years and are as coherent as I am."

I see.

"Writers and other creative people use it too. They all function properly."

Well, some.

The only ones who are really terrified of cannabis, he said, are members of the older generation.

I don't know what the cut-off point is for the older generation, but Bart seemed to be eyeing me suspiciously.

"My generation isn't afraid of marijuana," he went on to say. "We've smoked it for years and compared to other substances, it's basically harmless."

No one, Gilbert added firmly, has ever died of marijuana, which may or may not be true. You could probably O.D. on Vitamin A if you took enough of it.

Then he started defending pot as a natural substance, which is a phrase you hear a lot among people who live on seaweed and wheat germ for good health and then smoke dope with their goat milk.

"It isn't any sort of refined chemical," he said staunchly, "and there are no harmful aftereffects."

As a final attempt to sell his point of view, he gave me a copy of a pro-marijuana book called "The Emperor Wears No Clothes," which, among other assertions, suggests that the Three Wise Men were probably stoned on their way to the manger.


Well, I guess Barton Gilbert believes what he's selling up and down the state, and quite possibly they will discover some day that marijuana is good for you and that playing with yourself does cause hair to grow in your palms.

But I doubt it.

The truth is, smoking a couple of joints probably won't help anything except a severe case of stark terror over what tomorrow might bring.

It draws you into a cognac-colored world clear of life's iniquities, and that scares me.

Half of humanity is already free-floating on booze, pills, shots, smoke and things we stick up our nose, and I somehow doubt that we need one more method of learning how to dream walk.

Maybe it's fair and maybe it isn't. I don't have any of the answers that Barton Gilbert seems to have, but I guess I'm glad he's out there working for whatever he believes in.

Perhaps that's what it takes to fill his own head and keep the demons of reality at arm's length through the scary night.

And it probably won't grow hair in his palms either.

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