Recently Arizona passed a medical marijuana law. It's still a very contentious topic, each side vehemently arguing against the other. Back in the ’60s and ‘70s I would have predicted the complete legalization by now. At this stage of my life I have mixed emotions about it though. I have some very fond memories from when I was in college at the University of Oregon in the early ’70s that include pot smoking. It seemed so innocent back then. Friends would gather. We'd be having a few beers, listening to music and someone would roll a joint and pass it around. Then we'd all become quiet, listening intently to the music until at some point something would strike one of us as funny and we'd begin to laugh hysterically. The laughing and giggling wouldn't stop until we realized we had a terrible case of the munchies and then we'd raid the frig.
One of the arguments used against legalization is that it is a gateway to other drugs. I think there is some validity to this argument, but for me it was a gateway to mystical experiences. I was influenced by authors like Aldous Huxley, John Lilly, Carlos Castenada, Joseph Chilton Pierce and Ram Dass. I was never tempted to drop acid even though it was the holy grail of psychedelic drugs. As a war veteran I was extremely afraid of getting stuck in a bad trip. I felt I could control marijuana. I knew just how much to smoke to get into a comfortable heightened state of perception. It helped me to understand that peace is in the present moment. It also taught me to let go of past and future, which is the only true freedom. But of course when the drug effect wore off, I was flung back into my neurotic self, feeling lethargic and sometimes with a bad cough and a headache.
I never heard of marijuana until 1967. I was on leave from Army training and getting ready to ship out to Vietnam. I went to a friend’s house to visit him and his girlfriend. They put on some strange music (Vanilla Fudge) and said it sounded even better when you're high. I thought they meant high on alcohol and I said “Well then let’s have a few beers.” His girlfriend looked at me like I was nuts and said, “Don't you know that stuff will kill you.” They told me marijuana was a much safer drug than alcohol and it made you peaceful instead of violent. They asked me if I'd like to try some, but I declined. They weren't too interested in hanging with me anymore after that, so I left.
The first time I smoked a joint was in Vietnam. The doobies over there were almost cigar- sized. You could purchase a bunch of them already rolled and neatly placed in a baggy for about five bucks. One evening in base camp, my black friend Mitch invited me over to his hooch to listen to music. Mitch was from Chicago. He wasn't trained in intelligence like the rest of us, but he was a grunt, an infantryman, assigned to our detachment as an aid to the First Sergeant. Our First Sergeant was an old man, probably in his 40s. He fought in World War II in the German Army. We used to refer to him as the First Nazi, behind his back of course. He could barely conceal his prejudicial thinking. How Mitch got assigned to him I'll never know, Karma I guess. Mitch had an attitude. He was a draftee and didn't care for Army life. He wore his helmet at a rebellious angle and when he wasn't wearing a helmet, he would stick his large comb in his barely perceptible afro hair-do. The First Sergeant could get pissed off just looking at him.
Mitch called me “Little Bro”. He said I was the only white guy he ever called that. I don't know if I believed him, but I liked it. We both loved Motown music. On the top of our favorite musicians list were Marvin Gaye and The Temptations. Smokey Robinson was like a God and then there was Mitch's local Chicago band The Impressions led by “my man” Curtis Mayfield. That night in his hooch, Mitch said he had some music he wanted to turn me on to. It was the smooth jazz electric guitar of “his man”, Wes Montgomery. While we were listening to Wes, he lit up one of those honking doobies, took a hit and passed it to me. I had already adopted the Vietnam “what the fuck” attitude and took a big hit. He told me to hold it in, which I tried to do until it exploded from me in a fit of uncontrollable coughing. After he and the rest of the guys in the hooch stopped laughing, Mitch coached me in how to inhale and avoid this happening again.
I'd like to say we then kicked back and enjoyed the smooth jazz together, but I became hyper aware of the explosions and small arms fire in the background. I thought I had become used to it. But it seemed louder and closer. I couldn't sit still anymore and got up to leave. I felt I needed to get my rifle, flak jacket and helmet from my hooch and then dive into a bunker. I was aware that my heart was beating hard and fast. Mitch stopped me and said I was just feeling the effects of the pot, but I wasn't convinced. He finally sent someone over to get my friend Rob. Rob was college educated and older than the rest of us. He was 22. Rob took me outside and talked to me until I finally calmed down.
Mitch and I had plenty of opportunities to practice the art of smoking Ganga and I became quite efficient at it. One day Mitch was gone. No one could tell me where he went. I assume he really pissed off the First Nazi and got sent out to an infantry platoon. I don't know whether he survived the war or not, but I hope he did. No one else ever called me “Little Bro”.