Shame and Mary Jane 

J.M.'s question: Should he come out of the closet to his mom as a pot-smoker?

When I was 17, I flunked out of high school.

It wasn't a slow descent into failure, as it is with a lot of kids. It was an abrupt, spectacular, fail-every-class-my-senior-year crash into the deck. Despite the darkest, most-fervent efforts of my subconscious, I almost made it anyway, barely falling short of a D in biology. I missed graduation by one credit.

For the next 10 years, I lied about it. In fact, some of my oldest friends, the ones who were there when it happened, probably still don't know, because I lied about why I wasn't at graduation. I told people I was banned from the ceremony for skipping school, a feasible explanation, since all my friends knew I had skipped literally almost half of my last semester. I told that story for a solid decade. I eventually got past the shame, and now I couldn't care less who knows about it.

Yet to this day, my mom still doesn't know I smoke pot. It's a festering wound on my psyche, a sometimes annoying but mostly unimportant fact that lingers around the fringes of my personal and professional life, sparking some fear and guilt and shame where there should be none. I'm not the only one walking around under this cannabis cloud, and it isn't the first time I've written about it.

Since I mentioned it last year, I've talked at length to some completely, utterly legit folks who are involved in the medical-cannabis industry—but they won't talk on the record. I've talked to a surgeon in the biz—won't let me turn on the recorder. I've talked to a politician with ties to the biz—nope. No notes, please. I've talked to a cannabis medical researcher who won't do patient certifications because of fear that colleagues would no longer take her seriously.

Shame sucks in ways that kill people, or at the very least sometimes make them miserable. Just ask a few gay folks. I had a friend some years ago who was from rural Oklahoma, probably one of the harshest places in America to be a gay man. His parents, racked with fear and shame and guilt, tried numerous draconian measures to cure him. His father beat him mercilessly while his mother watched, failing horribly to make a Real Man out of him. His parents eventually agreed to commit him to a mental institution, which he promptly left at age 18 to head for more gay-friendly San Francisco, then Tucson, where he lived somewhat disjointedly ever after, especially where relationships are concerned.

I'm not trying to equate secretive cannabis use to being a closeted gay man in rural Oklahoma. Clearly, there is little comparison, but there is some. The same emotions are involved; it's all fear and guilt and shame. It's all about second-guessing what other people think about you, despite the fact that what they think about you is none of your business.

The scope of things is changing, people. We need voices like that peanut farmer who recently spoke out for legalization. Um, having a former and much-beloved former president of the United States of America on our side should help coax some of us out of the closet. But will it? Dunno.

So as I sit here staring at my computer screen, I wonder if it's time to come out of the closet to my mom, to lift the veil and cast off some shame and guilt of my secret cannabis life. I'm actually a pretty decent guy, despite my persistent railing and flailing and occasional tilting at windmills. I am a relatively well-respected, upstanding member of the community, a well-groomed, well-educated individual who contributes in numerous ways to the greater good.

But I'm afraid to tell my mom I smoke pot.


More by J.M. Smith

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    • May 8, 2014
  • The End Is Near

    Mr. Smith reflects on the life of his caretaker as he rages against the dying of the light
    • May 1, 2014
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