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Doobie, Doobie Do: a Time Not Out of Joint.

By admin | December 1, 2004

Rex Murphy
Nov 27, 2004.

Social pressure accounts for the decline of smoking. It is surely not the
risible Health Canada public-service messages, or the extravagantly inane scare
pictures on cigarette packs, that have worked. These latter are wildly over the

There’s one picture of a carious mouth, a portrait of such dental horror that it
must have been lifted from some mummy comic book. If two-year-olds were ardent
smokers, this campaign would have its perfect audience. Mix it up with a
health-service warning from the tooth fairy and there wouldn’t be a two-year-old
lighting up anywhere.

It isn’t the official stuff that cut down on the tobacco habit. It’s the frown
of acquaintances, the increasing chill that ever-so-superior non-smokers send
out to the last wastrel of their set who dares to take out the Players Light
pack. Social opprobrium is the scourge that reforms. It’s really very simple.
The only thing stronger than nicotine is the fear of friends’ disapproval.

Alas, reform is never a straight line. Just when it might be thought the art of
inhaling was going the way of the Hula-Hoop and the dodo, we have a report this
week that there is something of a renaissance of pot smoking. Hemp is hip again.

Since 1994, the number of people smoking pot in this country has doubled. Even
more impressive, a key component of the population — the very element most
government campaigns are most urgent about “saving,” namely the young — has
taken to pot with a vengeance. The same study also revealed that almost 30 per
cent of 15- to 17-year-olds and 47 per cent of 18- and 19-year-olds used
marijuana in the past year.

It went further, reporting — and I’m really glad to hear it — that “It’s
easier to get marijuana on a school ground today than it is to get alcohol or

(Just as a footnote here, I can’t remember when it was ever particularly easy to
get booze on a playground, but then I grew up in circumscribed and difficult
times. The Most Holy Rosary Parish School of Placentia Bay, Nfld., had few
supplements to the basic curriculum, and tots of vodka or rum during recess were
most definitely not among them. It might have helped. There were problems in
trigonometry that definitely needed some form or remedial lubrication.)

Back to the pot front. I think what we’re seeing here is another illustration of
that wonderful irony that goes under the rubric of The Law of Unintended
Consequences Peer pressure and remorseless rudeness (driving smokers out of
doors) has whittled away at the cohort that looked to tobacco for a friendly
lift during each day’s many mortifications. But vague signals of approval toward
marijuana as an alternate solace, its much-hyped value as a “medicinal” tool
(remember the tired line from every party, “I only drink for medicinal
purposes”), and the official moves to decriminalize pot, have worked to
celebrate the mellowing weed.

No one is going to frown at a pot smoker. She may be mollifying a pain. She is
certainly not to be branded as a slave to Big Tobacco. And just look at her
teeth. They’re perfect. No mummy’s curse has scarred that mouth. And the young,
bless their adventurous and experimenting hearts, they know more than any others
what is hip and what is not. Cigarettes are so pass. Besides, they offer no
real mood change.

Come to think of it, this may be the real appeal of marijuana. As well as the
comforts of addiction, a joint offers a bland, smooth, edgeless few moments in a
turbulent world. It puts a soft blanket over transient anxieties, suspends the
critical judgment, and enhances beyond all measure of their intrinsic worth the
reception of some truly awful songs.

It is impossible to understand the popularity of some ancient bands and singers
– the Mamas and the Papas, the Grateful Dead, Joan Baez (eech), Peter, Paul,
and Mary — without allowing for considerable numbing of the brain, and a benign
stupor that buried their dreadful lyrics beneath the radar of any self-regarding
consciousness. The entire fame and popularity of Bob Dylan is only explicable on
a similar subtraction of critical response.

I suppose the question that remains to be faced is whether the switch from one
form of cigarette to another — pot is mainly smoked, and while RJ Reynolds may
not be rolling them, joints are cigarettes — is a good thing. Do we have the
same alarms about the second-hand waft from a doobie as we do from the
less-noxious Export A? Are we to worry about the “passive relaxation effect?”

These are deep questions. They require meditation. Wind chimes, an old Cheech
and Chong soundtrack, a few doobies, and Health Canada beside us in the
wilderness — we’ll figure them out.

Rex Murphy is a commentator with CBC-TV’s The National and host of CBC Radio
One’s Cross-Country Checkup.

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