How did I, a cannabis grower and seller, end up in a cramped church meeting room with 17 strangers who blame marijuana for almost everything that’s gone wrong in their lives?
These people had formed a group modeled after Marijuana Anonymous, which is to marijuana what Alcoholics Anonymous is to booze.
Everyone around me — including a junior college professor and the part-time pastor who led the group — believe marijuana is as addictive and potentially fatal as alcohol, heroin and cigarettes, and that they needed to strengthen each other, lest they fall back under the spell of the devil’s lettuce.
I was part of a group consisting of 12 men and five women. I’d been assigned a sobriety buddy, a quiet woman several years younger than me. We’d been encouraged to exchange phone numbers and email addresses, and were told to check in with each other at least three times a week.
“Whenever you feel like going back to marijuana, talk to your buddy, so you stay strong and just say no,” the group leader advised.
My new buddy, whom I’ll call Joan, suggested we meet for coffee after we’d spoken on the phone a few times. She said there was something she wanted to talk to me about in person.
During our meeting, she confided she’d been using cannabis since she was 12 years old. She said she was molested by an older cousin who introduced her to weed as part of his grooming activities. He’d threatened to harm her and her immediate family if she told anyone what he was doing. In exchange for sexual compliance and silence, Joan’s cousin plied her with marijuana.
Traumatized by this non-consensual incest and years of sexual assault, Joan spent her adolescence in what she called a marijuana blackout, barely earning the grades to qualify for a middling college far away from the predatory cousin.
She hoped to wean herself off weed when she moved away from home and left the molester behind, but found that cannabis was everywhere on her college campus — and besides, when she tried to quit, she suffered panic attacks and nightmares relating to the years of abuse she endured.
After college, Joan applied for jobs that required drug testing and once again tried to quit cannabis, but “it was impossible” because without cannabis, her earlier traumas would come back to haunt her.
Joan then joined the marijuana support group because a counselor told her she needed to be sober, and at the time of our meeting she had been abstinent for five months.
“I still want to get stoned, but the group keeps me strong,” she told me.
Sober Support Groups Demonizing Cannabis
Sharing personal stories about past and present struggles is typical of substance abuse support groups. I heard many woeful tales from group members who variously described cannabis as a “seducer,” “demon,” “black magic,” “crutch,” “black hole” and “life killer.”
The anguish, anger and hopelessness they felt about their use of cannabis was painfully authentic, but I found it bizarre that they professed hatred of the plant, while also admitting it was difficult to quit because it made them feel good in ways nothing else could.
Stories of marriages destroyed and lives ruined that I’d expect to hear at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting were shared by participants.
A 37-year-old electrician who I’ll call Doug said he “lost everything” because of weed. He’d started consuming marijuana at age 19, but married a conservative woman and had a family with her. While Doug’s wife drank alcohol and used Xanax, she made clear she’d divorce him and take his kids away if he ever used “illegal drugs.”
Eventually, she found his stash and confronted him. When he said he didn’t see anything wrong with cannabis, she left him. Because of his marijuana use, the judge granted her sole custody of the kids, and now Doug has to pay her more than half his take-home salary in alimony and child support.
“I was a good husband and father,” he lamented. “I only got high just before bedtime. She made me feel like a criminal in my own home. And now I have no home and my ex-wife is getting most of my income.”
Higher Power, Not Higher And Powerless
Every session of our support group ended with the group leader guiding us in meditation and hypnosis to implant within us his modified version of the anti-marijuana pledge that Marijuana Anonymous and other anti-cannabis support groups use.
If you’re familiar with the Alcoholics Anonymous pledge and its 12 steps, you’ll note the similarities:
- I am powerless over marijuana and it has made my life unmanageable.
- Only a higher power can help me overcome the insanity of marijuana use.
- I will turn my life over to the higher power so it can help me.
- I will examine my life and make a complete list of all the wrongs I’ve ever done.
- I will confess to the higher power my wrongs and ask for forgiveness.
- I will ask the higher power to cleanse me of my wrongs.
- I will make amends to everyone I’ve ever wronged.
- I will examine my behavior and thoughts every day and fight against all my wrongs, and against marijuana.
- I will pray for a spiritual awakening.
- I will tell the truth to as many marijuana addicts as I can, to free them from marijuana slavery.
This pledge troubled me in many ways, including its reliance on a “higher power.” In our group counseling sessions, everyone but me used the word “God,” and they meant the God of the Bible.
I’m a secular humanist and I see no evidence that there are invisible beings. When people talk to me about God, I tell them to read the incomparable book by the late atheist Christopher Hitchens, titled God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.
I rejected the pledge’s disempowering claim that I’m “powerless” unless a God helps me. I believe that if I truly desire to quit cannabis, I can do so without a higher power’s influence.
What I didn’t tell Joan or anyone else in the group is that I did not want to quit marijuana — I was only attending meetings because I’d been caught growing and was out on pre-trial bail release. The judge set a bail condition requiring I attend the group meetings or get substance abuse counseling.
I also had weekly urine testing. If I failed a drug test, I went to jail until trial, and forfeited a $7,000 bond.
Demonizing Cannabis Growers And Sellers
The group leader and some members described growers and sellers as “drug pushers” and “enemies of our community” who they blamed for luring them into using marijuana, for not being concerned about whether they became “addicted.”
Several group members had been arrested because of marijuana. The group leader advised us to nark on growers and sellers to “help drug pushers become clean and lead a life of service to God.”
As a grower and seller, I was offended by their antagonism, yet I couldn’t say anything about it.
However, there was one part of the group code I actually bought into, which involved examining your life, cataloging your wrongdoings, and making amends.
It’s good for all of us to frequently take a moral inventory of our actions and impacts. Most of us are doing things that harm the environment and other people, but we refuse to acknowledge it.
When I examined my actions, I realized I needed to apologize to several people, especially to my parents. I asked for forgiveness. But my wrongs had nothing to do with cannabis. Rather, they were just typical human failings we’re all guilty of.
The other group members believed marijuana was responsible for making them into bad people who’d done wicked things that needed amends and forgiveness. It sure seemed that cannabis was their scapegoat.
Reaction Formation And Cannabis
To be fair, some group members had legitimate concerns about how marijuana had affected them. Some complained that cannabis harmed their ability to remember things. Others said it made them too hungry, leading to their morbid obesity. They complained about the cost of weed, respiratory problems, and fear of being arrested.
Several group members said they had to quit weed because they were subject to workplace drug testing. Others quit marijuana when they became parents. They didn’t want to “set a bad example,” or risk an arrest that would shame the family.
But they found it so tough to quit, that they believed cannabis to be an addictive drug.
What fascinated me is that about half of these people used cigarettes, alcohol, or were on prescription drugs. Our group meeting had a five-minute break so that the chainsmokers among us could go outside and dose themselves with nicotine.
While they wanted “liberation from marijuana addiction,” they weren’t concerned about liberation from other substance abuse. It seemed that whether or not a substance is legal influenced their idea about whether that substance is harmful.
I also noticed among the Marijuana Anonymous group a pathology psychotherapists call reaction formation, in which the person desires something so much that it hurts them — so they begin to hate it.
We sometimes see reaction formation when a love affair breaks up. You now hate the person you love, because continuing to love them would break your heart.
A virulent reaction formation directed against marijuana was present in this offshoot Marijuana Anonymous group. The members claimed to hate marijuana — so why did they think about it and talk about it so much? Because deep down, they still loved marijuana. It had long been their drug of choice, giving them feelings so pleasurable that they consumed it all the time and became fearful of its power over them. Hating marijuana was a way for them to stay away from it.
Leaving Behind The Marijuana Haters
When my legal problems were resolved and I was no longer required to go to the substance abuse meetings, I went one last time to be honest with the group about why I had been there and what I felt about their anti-marijuana sentiments.
These substance abuse support groups build firm friendships and quick trust between attendees because we’re sharing our innermost struggles, fears and failures. I thanked them for being caring people who wanted to help each other, and I told them I had no doubt they were sincere in their belief in God and that cannabis caused most of their problems.
However, I told them I know many people, myself included, who lead productive, energized, moral lives while consuming cannabis, and that the plant has much medicinal value. I asked them what they’d do if they had multiple sclerosis or cancer, and marijuana turned out to be the best medicine they could use? I also brought up the Bible verse from Genesis, in which God said he’d given humans “every herb bearing seed.” If God made marijuana, how could it be the devil’s lettuce?
And without hinting I was a grower, I told them that cultivators and sellers are doing society a favor, providing a medicine and intoxicant that’s far safer than many prescription medications people commonly use.
Some of my comrades reacted angrily and defensively. I was accused of being a hypocrite, mole, traitor and drug addict.
The group leader “suggested” I leave immediately. As I walked out the door, he shouted, “We’ll pray for you to be released from the demon of marijuana.”
A couple of days later, I got a call from Joan. I’d feared hearing from her, feeling I’d let her down and violated her trust, but she said that while she’d been instructed not to contact me, she admired my courage and honesty.
She was thinking of leaving the Marijuana Anonymous group and consuming cannabis again, not because she was addicted, but because it’s medicinal.
“My hating on marijuana is a deflection,” she admitted. “My real problems come from what was done to me when I was a girl. I have PTSD and anxiety attacks almost every day. If I get high, I’ll feel better and I can handle counseling.”
Marijuana Anonymous and support groups like it are part of an anti-cannabis backlash that’ll probably never completely go away, and may even be intensifying as legalization gains ground. All you need do is look at a blog like this one from Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, and you’ll see what I mean.
Even now, whenever Wednesday night rolls around, I think of my former groupmates sitting in that cramped room, sharing marijuana horror stories.
If they want to hate cannabis, they have every right to. As for me, I’ll keep growing and consuming, and I expect that one day, some of them will go back to getting high again, too.