Scenes From a Childhood in the War On Drugs

With the big news in Colorado, I’ve heard a lot of talk about the effect legalization will have on that nebulous but honorable population, “The Children.” Now, there are large swaths of the population which I really can’t speak for (underprivileged and minority children, for instance–although I imagine that they, like anyone, will certainly benefit from the projected drop in crime and drug-related violence that will come with widespread legalization, as well as the drop in incarceration rates). But such people despite being, yes, innocent and impressionable children, rarely seem to be part of “The Children” anyway. “The Children” are generally suburban and middle-class, attending good schools, with enticing college prospects ahead of them if only they’d buckle down for the sake of their “potential.” Having been one of those Children not too long ago, I feel I can speak for them.

I was raised in the War on Drugs era, with D.A.R.E. and all its attendant trimmings. It seems the next generation may be raised slightly differently. With the legal status of marijuana changing, there’s bound to be a difference in the way we talk to our kids about drugs. While sex education in this country proves that there’s nothing America hates more than explaining the complexities of life and the concept of risk management to those under 18, I think a change in tone might be a good thing. At any rate, whatever’s coming can’t be much weirder than what I grew up with. Here’s what I remember:

Scene 1:

I am three years old and during the commercial breaks on my favorite cartoon show, various animated characters and colorfully-dressed celebrities sing, dance, and beg me not to do drugs. I do not know what drugs are, or how one “does” them, but I’m certain they must be something just terrible, and I’ll never go near them.

Scene 2:

I am six years old. A package of prescribed pharmaceuticals has arrived in the mail for my father. I ask what’s in the box and my mother replies, “Oh, just some of Dad’s drugs.” I am horrified, a is my four-year-old brother. “Dad does drugs? Should we even have these in the house? Is Dad going to be arrested?” Once my mother has stopped laughing, she introduces us to the concept of illegal drugs versus medicine, which can also be called “drugs.” This is news to us, and quite surprising. It is still unclear why anyone would do the “bad drugs,” but we walk away with the idea that they’re a type of mildly poisonous pill that some people believe is medicine. In retrospect, this is not a terrible way to think of most of them.

Scene 3:

I am ten years old, and in my very first health class. Here is where I first meet the concept of the “drug pusher”: someone, usually a stranger or near-stranger, who is very hostile and aggressive in their attempts to give you drugs for free. Why anyone would do such a thing is not explored. We are told that in middle and high school, we will meet many of these people, and it is our duty to turn them away. This doesn’t sound hard to do.

Scene 4:

I am fourteen years old. High school health class is not taken especially seriously. By now we’ve all figured out that our parents most likely did drugs back when they were hippies, we’ve heard jokes about stoners, we know that one kid who smoked weed one time and now talks about it like an evangelist who had a divine vision of Paradise. A few of our friends have smoked joints to more subdued response, half the class drinks, and we’re just getting through this nonsense as quickly as possible. The focus is on memorizing the scientific names of different drugs. Has anyone ever been asked, “Psst, you want some cannabis?”

Scene 5:

I am fifteen years old. I witness a drug deal on my school bus. The buyers have been told that this is a special, extra-potent strain of weed, that grows purple. They are very excited. Glancing at the goods, they are pretty clearly radicchio, but my classmates smoke them anyway, and claim to get an amazing high.

Scene 6:

Someone I’m close to has accidentally gotten high. His friends brought in a tray of brownies to school, and he ate one without knowing there was a “secret ingredient.” He runs to me in a panic. “Help me, I think I’m stoned!” The school administration has absolutely no idea what to do in this scenario (somehow, my unwittingly baked friend had the presence of mind to turn himself in while claiming to have “forgotten” who gave him the brownie). It will be years before Shoshanna and the “crackcident” on Girls, but when I first see that episode, this is what I’ll remember.

Scene 7:

I am eighteen years old. I go to college in a state where medical marijuana is legal. The few times I am offered drugs, it’s in a spirit of friendship, or even romantic interest. I know that if I say yes, I’ll be met with smiles and a lighter, and if I say no, I’ll be met with smiles and an offer to go to Jimmy John’s instead. The one time I am offered something harder than weed, my frankly terrified refusal is met with a cheery “more for me!” My school-sponsored drug education looks incredibly weird in hindsight.

Scene 8:

I am twenty-one years old. Colorado has legalized marijuana. If I went there, I’d be old enough to buy some. Journalists in national newspapers are wringing their hands and clutching their pearls. “What about The Children?”

Yes, it will perhaps be difficult to talk to your children about something that previously had been a simple boogeyman (“It’s dangerous and illegal and will eat your soul.”). But surely honesty and sound advice and an open dialogue with The Children has some merit. Surely it’s better than this.