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Is Knute Berger just another stoned hippie?

Mossback chimes in on legal weed, long hair, writing and counterculture.
A young Knute Berger in college.

A young Knute Berger in college. Unknown.

Maybe it's because I have frequently been accused of looking like Jerry Garcia. Maybe it's because I went to Evergreen and people often assume I have a stoner's proclivities. Maybe it's because I came of age in the late 1960s — a generational thing.

For whatever reason, I have been trying to escape marijuana for a long time.

My age and look — beard, often longish curly hair — suggest that I must have serious experience with pot. This is not the case. I don't smoke or consume it, hardly ever did even back in the day. Yes, there was teen dabbling and some college toking, but the truth is, I never liked being high. It turned out I was more of a tobacco and alcohol guy, Old Golds and Rainier beer.

I was passionate about writing in my adolescence, and drugs just seemed to get in the way. I remember once in a high school poetry class, I shared my work and everyone, including the teacher, was impressed. A classmate pulled me aside afterwards and said, "You only write that good because of drugs." The fact was, even in high school, I was drug avoidant and it enraged me to think that others thought my creativity came from a bong.

That might be true for some people — one thing I learned about drugs is that many aspects of highs are not universal. Some people get stimulated by them, others deadened or dissociated. Instead of helping me "find myself," drugs seemed more like an escape from self, or something designed to confuse my sense of self. As a budding writer, I was not interested in that, though I know creative people who have found drugs, marijuana in particular, helpful.

In the late 1960s, I identified with the counter-culture, no question. Being a hippie and being stoned were seen by the media as inseparable. The 60s were about getting high on something — dope, music, Jesus, meditation. I did hippie things, but I never felt like surrendering my individual agency to pick and choose among the new "freedoms" we sought.

If the era was about communal love, I chose individualism. If the era was about organic food, I chose cigarettes and junk food. If the era was about bubbling overflows of spiritual longing, I read about Buddhism but was more interested in politics, history, journalism.

There was the Time Magazine version of what a hippie was — and that's what has lasted in the public imagination: blithering, beaded, blasted, tie-dyed flower children. They did exist, but like all stereotypes, they leave out the true complexity and variety of individual experience. (For the record, I have never in my life worn anything tie-dyed.)

Being painted with the hippie brush because of my hair or clothes bugged the hell out of me. I remember the father of a friend of mine forbid him from going on a bike trip with me because my long hair made me suspect. I was likely a corrupting influence on his son. The irony was, his straight-looking boy probably took more drugs in a weekend than I had in my entire life.

While I embraced the rebellion of the counter culture, I hated to see it so narrowly defined. And because pot did nothing particularly pleasant for me, I resented that weed became a kind of cultural symbol for those "high" times.

I support marijuana legalization, decriminalization and an end to the Drug War and its inequities. I'm glad that Washington state is helping to lead the way. But I also can't get too excited about the details — the new pot stores and the lines of customers, the general media hubbub, the common whiff of smoke in the air these days. Partly, it's because of my history with pot; partly it's my ambivalence about people using it more or more people using it. While medical marijuana makes a lot of people feel better, I generally think that people, particularly young people, shouldn't use it much.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 7:51 a.m. Inappropriate

Well said! Very insightful. I yelled "me too!" several times in my head as I read your piece. You are not alone in suffering the shallow judgments of others that presumed too much about one's appearance. I'm glad to hear a hippie (sorry!) making the case for a more realistic portrayal of the stereotype.

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 8:04 a.m. Inappropriate

I work with marijuana growers. The legal ones. If they share a quality it is this - they're squares. Recently one of my best customers had to cut our meeting short to attend a Rotary function.

My clients wax poetic about the qualities of various strains. I wouldn't know, I haven't smoked marijuana in years. Last time I did the voices got real loud and I didn't like it.

The package isn't always an accurate representation of the product. Give me an eighth of Mossback. Yeah the package looks weird, but it's quality stuff...

Luke42

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 12:40 p.m. Inappropriate

This is a thoughtful reflection on surface appearances and the reality underneath. The main social arguments for pot legalization are based on individual liberty and fair treatment. In a society that celebrates alcoholic inebriation, it is fundamentally unfair to criminalize an alternative inebriation that by any reasonable measure is less socially harmful overall. In short, the alcoholics needed to stop punishing the pot heads. More critically, recently studies have borne out what we all suspected -- that pot laws have been selectively enforced against persons of color on a vast scale. Where pot is illegal, white middle class users are let off by the cops with a warning and a wink, while blacks and latinos are busted and sent to prison for the same behavior. In the past few decades American racism has lessened but not disappeared; in many ways it has simply become more subtle and clever.

woofer

Posted Sat, Jul 12, 8:16 a.m. Inappropriate

It won't end well. It might have had Washington been allowed to keep its state-run stores, with state pensions worth protecting, and without the bongs and patchouli oil, on odor when blended with sweat is perhaps the most depressing smell on earth.

But criminalization had to end. I saw some amazing disparities along the black/white divide. It would be good to see Republicans take the lead on expunging records for minor marijuana offenses going back some 20 years.

Posted Sun, Jul 13, 12:11 p.m. Inappropriate

I had the good fortune of meeting Mr. Berger a few times in the 1970s and found him to be very much as he writes today, engaging, intelligent. But my experience with pot in the 1960s provided me the lesson that people's tendencies are magnified by it. If a person is creative they probably are more so on it. If they are mentally different they are very much so on pot, especially the strong kind that came from Vietnam. That, in my judgment, may be the problem of widespread usage of it. Because we have a lot more people in close proximity because of too rapid population growth, we have more and more who have mental proclivities that are inimical to social harmony, and smoking easily available pot means many more interesting interactions resulting from it.

Posted Mon, Jul 14, 4:35 p.m. Inappropriate

Skip! You should call your old camper (and unabashed hippie) to get some great weed...fuck the stores and their ridiculous prices...hope you saw the KING5 story on me (http://www.king5.com/news/marijuana/Pot-dealer-Black-market-wont-go-away-266513281.html)

And the rest of you can order great pot for delivery too - I deliver to the greater Seattle area at reasonable prices to everyone over 21 (no medical card required...)

Just sign me:

Ben"Jammin"
Visit me @ www.facebook.com/seattlebenjammin
Cell: 206.228.2917

BenJammin

Posted Tue, Jul 15, 4:56 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes now smoking pot can take it's rightful place as a lame addiction just like smoking tobacco or drinking cheap beer all day.

Legalization is just the right thing to do. Nothing special, just right.

Now we can start helping addicts instead of giving the cops an excuse to hassle the undesireables.

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