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Misspent Years, Squandered Lives

Suppose you were living in Mendocino County in 1972 and suppose that, being young and idealistic, you wanted your life to have meaning. You wanted to devote yourself to a Cause.

Plenty of options: You could choose to Save the Whales, Save the Redwoods, Save the Rainforest, Stop Acid Rain, Stop Nuclear Power, Off the Pigs, Stop Big Oil, or join Zero Population Growth.

Or you could devote all your time and energy to legalizing marijuana. Yes, you could defend and promote the sacred herb so that a world of uptight greed-freaks might mellow and find peace, truth and harmony among their brothers and sisters. It made so much sense to promote a natural, life-affirming, mind-expanding, love-enhancing gift from nature that you had no second thoughts devoting your life to marijuana’s future.

Which helps explain how you came to be sitting at a cheap folding table on the sidewalk in front of Safeway gathering signatures for an upcoming statewide vote to decriminalize marijuana.

Even if it meant missing your son’s Little League playoff games until enough signatures had been gathered. 

There was more, of course. Much more. There were leaflets to distribute, benefits to be organized, Hansen & Raitt (“Mixed Nuts”) to be recruited to play the Casper Inn next weekend For free. Again. 

Letters to the editor must be written and legislators harangued. Vacations cancelled because a big rally was planned in San Francisco that week, and you might get to speak at a panel discussion. Priorities, right?

But that’s how much it mattered, that’s how important a cause it was, the future hanging so much in the balance between corporate swine focused on profits versus a blossoming future focused on cooperation, trust, enlightenment and brownies. 

So much at stake, and it was only 1978! You’d hardly begun to waste your entire existence, the one life you were given, on so ephemeral a cause, so worthless a goal, filled with memories now too painful to recall.

But not in 1983. There were more rallies in Sacramento, another ballot initiative, t-shirts to be sold, Hansen & Raitt to be bullied (this time sweetened with a promise they’d actually be paid) and a two-day drive to Phoenix to take part in the annual NORML convention. Plus funerals for three teenagers who’d OD’d, and having to console their bewildered, weeping parents: How could we have allowed them to start smoking marijuana at 12 years old?!?

` Sad, but no stopping now. Weed proponents had recently come up with novel, semi-honest medical approaches to justify legalization, featuring stories like “Pot Cures Glaucoma” and “Marijuana Gives New Hope to Cancer Patients” and lots of others. 

Plus the half-measures in between, all modest but all triumphs: Zip-ties, 25 plants per person, turkey bags, less than an ounce for personal use, medicinal marijuana, THC-free hemp, CBD shops on every corner.

Then suddenly the heavens trembled, the blinding sun broke through, and cries of “Yes! We Did It” rang across California. But just as quickly dark clouds gathered and corporate money flooded into the once holy gardens of mom and pop growers. Greed slithered in, confusion set in, dissension elbowed in, dissolution swept the county, regrets were voiced and then shouted. 

Rather than free spirits dancing joyfully to the bliss of the cosmic high and mind-opening experiences, came a head-on collision of 21st century politics: business and reality. 

Inevitably, the rules, regulations, fees, paperwork and government bureaucracy overwhelmed growers. It quickly became easier to open a bubonic plague testing center than obtain a permit to legally grow marijuana in Mendocino County, unless your name was RJ Reynolds or Lorillard.

Now in the cold winter of your years you survey the wasted wreckage of a life dedicated to the idiotic promotion of a dubious product for the amusement of marginal sorts at a financial return of not enough to live on.

Maybe you should have remained in West Phlegm, Oklahoma and married your high school sweetheart. You might have taken the family on vacations to Grand Canyon, Disneyland, Niagara Falls and to see the redwoods in Northern California. 

You might have even dabbled (rarely) in marijuana, but at least your friends and neighbors wouldn’t all be criminals in the illegal drug trade.

And maybe today your oldest boy would be playing second base for the White Sox and your daughter wouldn’t have ended up in rehab when she was 15.

Oh well. Que sera sera. Live and learn, huh?

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