Legalize Marijuana? What I Told My Grandkids About Drug Use—Theirs and Mine

2333236110_2afb88d203_zDear Shelby, Jacob, Cody, Teanna, Sierra, Deon, Derrick, Hailey, Gunnar, Christian, Matej, Jonovan, Flora, Natael, and Trey’Shawn,

It’s both wonderful and rare that we’re all together so I’m sending you this letter to let you know I love you. Like all parents and grandparents I want you to live long and healthy lives. Like all people everywhere you have to deal with many challenges in life, including dealing with drugs.

I can’t tell you my perspective about drugs without being honest about my own drug use over the years. The first drug I tried was at age seven when my parents served me wine on a Friday night as part of a Jewish Seder. Drinking a little wine as part of a meal was standard practice in our home. In college I tried marijuana. I didn’t like to smoke, since my parents both smoked cigarettes, so someone made me a marijuana brownie. I got a bit “stoned” and giggled and laughed a lot. I tried LSD a few times after college, which was fun and gave me a mystical experience, but a few times was enough for me.

Some people assume that since we live in the hills of Mendocino County I grow and sell marijuana. I don’t. I still drink wine on occasion with a meal, but that’s the only drug I use these days. As you know I’ve been a counselor for more than 40 years and have treated both kids and adults who have problems with drugs. Drug abuse can be very harmful for some people, even though most people who use drugs, including marijuana, don’t have a problem with it.

Most everything people hear about drugs is about the problems. We rarely hear about the majority of people who don’t have problems. We know that most people drink responsibly, but what we hear most about in the news are problem drinkers and drug abusers. It might surprise you to know that the United Nations Office on Drug Control, the global coordinator of the war on drugs, says that only 10% of drug users ever have a problem with their substance. 90% of people don’t have a problem.

I’d prefer that all of you wait until you are an adult and your brain is fully formed before trying any drugs whether we’re talking about alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, marijuana, LSD, or any other drug. However, I know that some of you have already tried one or more drugs and some of you will experiment before you are twenty-one.

I’ll tell you a quick story about your uncle J (one of our five children). When he was a teenager we had a talk about drugs. I bought him a book, which I felt was the best at the time, by a respected physician Andrew Weil, M.D. It’s called From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs. Unlike most books, Dr. Weil tells the truth about the negative and the positive sides of drug use and more importantly tells people how to be safe with whatever drugs they use in their lives, whether it’s a drug like alcohol or a drug like marijuana. Uncle J shared the book with all his friends and they all learned the truth about drugs and how to stay in right-relationship with any drugs they might choose to use.

Obviously, alcohol is a legal drug and marijuana is an illegal drug. I’ll tell you honestly, I think our current drug laws and our current “wars on drugs” do more harm than good. I’m a lot more worried about how the drug laws will harm you than about how drugs will harm you (though even if only 10% of you have a problem with drugs, it means, on average, one or two of you could develop a drug problem some time in your lives). I’d rather have you get treatment if you develop a problem, than have you end up in jail.

Drug wars have been going on for a long time. It’s really misleading to call them “drug wars.” It would be more accurate to call them “wars on certain people who frighten the people in power.” If you study history like I have, you’ll learn that the first anti-opium laws in the 1870s were directed at Chinese immigrants. The first anti-cocaine laws, in the South in the early 1900s, were directed at African American men. The first anti-marijuana laws, in the Midwest and the Southwest in the 1910s and 1920s, were directed at Mexican migrants and Mexican Americans. Today, Latino and especially Black communities are still arrested more often and sentenced more harshly than Caucasian communities.

When we talk about drugs, it’s hard to know who is telling the truth and who you can trust. Matthew Fogg is a former US Marshal and drug enforcement agent. When he asked why so many poorer, African-American communities were being targeted rather more affluent Caucasian communities, this is what his superior told him. It was a rare admission of truth:

“You know, if we go out there and start messing with those folks, they know judges, they know lawyers, they know politicians. You start locking their kids up; somebody’s going to jerk our chain. They’re going to call us on it, and before you know it, they’re going to shut us down, and there goes your overtime.”

After he retired Fogg, joined the organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). Founded on March 16, 2002, LEAP is a nonprofit organization made up of current and former members of the law enforcement and criminal justice communities who are speaking out about the failures of our existing drug policies. You won’t believe their web-address: Here’s what they have to say:

  • We believe that drug prohibition is the true cause of much of the social and personal damage that has historically been attributed to drug use.
  • It is prohibition that makes these drugs so valuable–while giving criminals a monopoly over their supply.
  • Driven by the huge profits from this monopoly, criminal gangs bribe and kill each other, law enforcers, and children.
  • Prohibition costs taxpayers tens of billions of dollars every year, yet 40 years and some 40 million arrests later, drugs are cheaper, more potent and far more widely used than at the beginning of this futile crusade.
  • We believe that sending parents to prison for non-violent personal drug use destroys families.
  • We believe that in a regulated and controlled environment, drugs will be safer for adult use and less accessible to our children.
  • And we believe that by placing drug abuse in the hands of medical professionals instead of the criminal justice system, we will reduce rates of addiction and overdose deaths.

When drugs are legalized we’ll all be better off. It will make it easier to do research and find ways that drugs can improve our health. Even a drug like marijuana has been shown to have important ingredients that can help people with certain health problems. Another great book that you will find super interesting is by a journalist named Johann Hari. It’s called Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.

So, thanks for listening to me. I’m sure there is much more to say and you may have questions to ask me. Know that I’ll answer as best I can and will tell you the truth. I love you.

Grandpa Jed

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  1. marguerita ferdinand says:

    I do like your letter. It makes so much of sense. Can only hope they will legalise it one day. I’ve never had the need to try drugs or drink & smoke, but then thats just me. I do not judge others who do.

  2. Bill Bright says:


    Paradigm shift, I know addiction and its damage and so I always thought legalization was tantamount to condoning ; I have never considered the damage from criminalization and being in the criminal justice system . The older I get the more obvious is the corruption, overtime and the reduction there of makes so much sense when you combine it with a retiree’s pension benefits, now we are talking real money. If drug use is bad for society, and I believe it is, then it is bad for all economic levels. If law enforcement targets only those with out influence because of the fear of economic reprisals then I might have to question the entire system of prevention through law enforcement. We arrest drug users to prevent the damage that drug use brings but we don’t arrest the family and friends of the political class for fear that we will make less salary and pension. I think we have to start to question the entire premise of enforcement if it is not exercised across the full spectrum of citizenry because it will never effect any change in use. Maybe legalization requires another look.

  3. This was an excellent letter and I agree. Why tear apart families for possibly years because mommy or daddy smoked a joint just like people a few miles away in a more affluent part of town? I like your sober approach on the issue: You ask that the kids avoid illegal psychoactives at least until their brains are more fully formed. Then you speak to knowing this may not happen and provide some thoughts to help them make wise decisions.

  4. Well said Jed.

  5. Hi Jed,

    I hope those kids understand what a fantastic and wise, loving grand dad they have.

  6. Friends, Thanks for the comments. Although none of us were here to see it, during prohibition, the whole industry created huge profits for the underworld and murders increased as rival gangs fought for territory. Legalizing alcohol didn’t solve all the problems of use and abuse, but it helped us regulate the use of alcohol (street dealers don’t care much about selling to kids. They are just another customer. Now you can lose your license if you sell alcohol to kids) and things have improved. This will happen when marijuana is legalized.

    Its also good to remember that less than 10% of alcohol or marijuana users, use in a way we would all abusive or addictive. 90 plus percent have their cocktail or a puffs of marijuana without problem. Legalization also allows us to put money towards prevention and treatment and allows us to explore the medical benefits of cannabis which is hard to do when it is illegal.

    Legalization won’t solve all our problems, but it is a step in the right direction, I believe. Keep your comments coming. I appreciate them and so do our readers.

  7. We only have to look to Portugal to see the truth of your arguments.

    Also, is that 10% who have a problem 10% of the total population? I have heard 1-2%. Figuring out statistics is like trying to hold a greased pig.

    • The 10% number is for all drugs used. It’s the highest percent of the people who use the drug that may abuse it. For marijuana, the percent of users who abuse it, as you point out, are much lower than alcohol and the abuse potential and problems of abuse are much more serious and detrimental to the person and society for alcohol use than marijuana use.

      As was made clear, making a drug illegal and criminalizing it, doesn’t work, even for a very dangerous drug like alcohol. It certainly makes no sense for a drug like marijuana.

      • Here’s my story about how the drug war affected the life of a young black man.

        I drive a big truck with my husband. Our company has centers located throughout the country where we can come get a hot meal and a clean hot shower. Some of the centers employ people who are re-entering the workplace after jail or prison time. They do maintenance and cleaning at these centers.

        One day I met the greatest kid working at our Indianpaolis center. He took real pride in how he cleaned the showers so the drivers would have a clean place in which to bathe. I began to talk with the young man.

        He said he would like to drive a big truck but that he had” too many felonies.” You guessed it. He’d been incarcerated for trafficking in marijuana.

        “I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said. “I just did what the older guys in the neighborhood told me to do.

        We talked a bit further. I thanked him for doing such a good job on my shower room, for making it so clean and inviting.

        I told him to keep at it and encouraged him to take classes at community college, a prospect in which he was very interested.

        I don’t know what ultimately happened to him. But I was haunted by his story for a long time. This kid was bright, and ambitious – that’s how he got into trouble. The shame is that nobody but the drug dealers in his neighborhood knew how to show him a way to put his talents to work.

        The letter to your grand kids is a good one. God bless.