That 60s drug is back


May 12, 1993|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Staff Writer

It can replace fossil fuels and save trees. It can feed the hungry and ease the suffering of the gravely ill. It can bring peace to an expensive and ultimately futile war.

Oh, and by the way, it also can make you high.

It's marijuana, and it's back. After years of languishing in the background as cocaine, crack and the subsequent just-say-no movement dominated the 1980s consciousness, the humble weed is generating renewed calls for legalization and sprouting up on the hats, shirts and, of course, lips of a new generation of high-minded inhalers.

"The first time I bought pot was from my school bus driver [in California]," recalls Kif Davis, 22, a marijuana activist whose mother, Pamela Snowhite Davis, recently was jailed for possession of the drug. "I started smoking on an everyday basis starting around eighth grade. Before, it was just on weekends."

While most studies show that marijuana use has declined over the years among adults, indications are that youngsters might be bucking that trend. In a1992 survey in Maryland, for example, more than 17 percent of 12th-graders said they had used marijuana in the past month, compared with about 14 percentin 1990.

"I view that as an early warning signal," says Lloyd Johnston, a University of Michigan researcher whose study found that 11 percent of eighth graders in 1992 had used marijuana at least once in their lifetimes, up from 10 percent. "There's a new generation growing up ... that is getting fewer messages telling them that drugs are bad."

University of Michigan researcher who headed a national study that found increased marijuana use among eighth-graders. "There's a new generation growing up . . . that is getting fewer messages telling them that drugs are bad."

"It's part of this whole resurgence of the '60s with the kids today -- the marijuana, the LSD, the clothes," says Mike Gimbel, a former drug abuser who heads the Baltimore County Office of Substance Abuse.

But just as fashions of the '60s and '70s -- bell-bottoms, platform shoes -- have come back in the '90s in slightly different guise, so too has marijuana: Joints are now called blunts, for example, after the Phillies Blunt cigar that some users hollow out and refill with pot.

Beyond mere slang, however, today's marijuana advocates are taking a different tack from their predecessors. While certainly not ignoring pot's traditional recreational value, they instead are emphasizing what they consider the political, social and, yes, even environmental value of legalizing it.

"We've had 12 years of the war on drugs being waged on us,

and there's a growing recognition that it's been a total disaster," says Dick Cowan, head of the newly revitalized National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, which, at 23 years, is the country's oldest pot-advocacy group.

Mr. Cowan, a former Texas oilman who in October took over what he calls an "organization in a state of disorganization," believes the drug war has been a waste of time and effort, and lauds Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke for raising the issue of decriminalizing drugs. Although he notes that Mr. Schmoke is one of the few politicians with "the guts" to speak out on the drug war, he sees hopeful signs in increased activism at the grass-roots level.

Advocacy groups blossom

A group of Baltimore-area advocates, for example, recently organized as a local chapter of NORML. In Washington, a 3-year-old group calling itself the Green Panthers and specializing in "ACT-UP, in-your-face" tactics has been promoting the legalization of the drug, says one organizer, Loey Glover.

"We're the radical fringe," Ms. Glover says of the group, which has painted pro-pot slogans and symbols on overpasses and sidewalks in the Washington area. "NORML is the grandfather of the movement, and they certainly have their part to play. But we thought there was a need for more than, 'Dear Congressman, we think this is wrong . . .' "

Ms. Glover, who says her 28-year-old son turned her on to marijuana, says her group made "green" a part of its name for the color of the leaf and its environmental benefits.

The eco-correctness of hemp -- the plant that bears the flower and leaf that is marijuana -- has been a major part of the new advocacy. Proponents say hemp can be used to make everything from oil (thus saving fossil fuels) to paper (instead of chopping down trees for wood pulp) to clothing (replacing those high-tech and unnatural polyesters) to food (ending world hunger).

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