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Living the High Life : No longer a youthful rebellion, pot is a lifelong habit for some boomers. Even those with kids and careers.


One day 14 years ago, Zelda put away her youth and her traveling shoes and decided the time had come to settle down. So she dressed in borrowed finery from her mother and headed for a singles bar in Brentwood.

At first, Zelda was unmoved by one guy who offered her a drink and told her right out of the box that he wanted to get married and make babies. There didn't seem to be anything particularly interesting about him.

Until he offered her a joint.

"I thought, 'At least we have something in common.' We were engaged three months later and married six months later," says Zelda, 44, a Hancock Park homemaker, artist and mother of two. "The fact that he smoked and I smoked was really the main thing in the relationship. I couldn't have married someone who didn't smoke because even though it was recreational, it was still my first choice of entertainment."

Lo these many years later, Zelda and her husband, Chip, 45, (not their real names) are still toasting their union a few times a week with a marijuana cigarette.

"It just puts me out of the everyday humdrum for a brief time," she says. "And it doesn't affect me in any way that I can't deal with anything that comes up."

The boomers who once brandished pot as a rebellious emblem of their generation have finally inherited the Earth. A mere six years after legal scholar Douglas Ginsburg was forced to drop his U.S. Supreme Court bid after acknowledging he'd smoked marijuana, two admitted pot experimenters occupy the top jobs in the land.

What's more, they picked a surgeon general, Dr. Joycelyn Elders, who says patients who need pot for medical purposes should be able to get it (marijuana is espoused for treating glaucoma and alleviating nausea in AIDS and cancer patients). And while President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore and others say their interest in pot was minimal and abandoned long ago, many of their contemporaries have continued to puff their way into middle age.

In fact, a federal survey released in June showed that Americans age 35 and older comprised the only group that isn't thinning its ranks of illegal drug users. According to an annual drug survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), those older Americans now make up 23% of illegal drug users, far more than their 10% share in 1979.

And marijuana remains the illicit drug of choice, not just for middle-aged druggies, but the country. Pot is making a comeback in music and fashion, with rap groups like Cypress Hill singing its praises and fellow travelers sporting weed emblems on hats and T-shirts.

More Americans have tried pot than haven't--a whopping 60%, according to the current edition of Scientific American Medicine. Twenty million Americans regularly smoke marijuana. And 1.9 million people over 34 have used marijuana or hashish in the past month, the SAMHSA survey found.

Indeed, film director Robert Altman, 68, told Time magazine last year that he'd stopped drinking for his health but continued to enjoy the occasional toke. "I do smoke pot. I sit on the front porch like a grandpa and try to enjoy the weather."

Still, the landscape for those pot smokers has changed since the insouciant '60s and '70s, when most were initiated into the recreational uses of Cannabis sativa. Many shoulder the midlife responsibilities of work and home, with children nearing the age the parents were when they started smoking grass.

Parents cope in a variety of ways, some turning on their kids in the hope that pot will help bring them together. Some shield their activity, mindful of a few publicized cases of parents who have been turned in to police, primarily by children who have gone through the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program.

DARE, launched 10 years ago in about 50 L.A. elementary schools, has grown into the country's most popular drug-education program, offered in a quarter of all grade schools. The federally funded course sends police officers into the classrooms to turn kids off to drugs before they get started.

Critics say some officers go too far by using information that children provide in DARE classes to arrest their parents. Six months ago, an anti-DARE parents' group in Fort Collins, Colo., pushed through a requirement that students obtain parental permission before they take part in the program.

LAPD Sgt. Hugh Decker, a DARE supervisor, says DARE has not resulted in any arrests of L.A. parents. "Goodness knows we have plenty more to do than worry about what parents are doing as long as they're not harming their children," he says.

Chip is in the odd position of being a sixth-grade teacher in the L.A. school district and a pot smoker. Although he's mum about his leisure activity at school, he says he sometimes challenges the DARE officers' statements. "When they try to use scare tactics, that if you smoke marijuana, you will automatically do something else, i.e. smoking pot leads to heroin, I ask them, 'What's your source?'

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