One of the many problems with the War on Drugs is the way it presents everything in simple, black and white terms. Pot, which is actually less dangerous than alcohol, is regarded by the law as being just as dangerous as heroin and cocaine, which is simply not true.
Similarly, people who smoke pot are regarded by the Anti-Drug Propaganda Machine as being equally worthless in the eyes of society. This lumping together of people who have something in common and viewing them all as equally inferior is called stereotyping and is one of the biggest barriers to break down when attempting to eliminate prejudices against a minority group.
Given this, one of my first questions was, who are these people, really? What sort of person goes to an event like the Cannabis Cup? I guess I was assuming that most of the people would fall into the classic dead-head/hippie stereotypes. But although that stereotype was certainly well represented, the gathering was really quite diverse.
Every sort of person you might want to meet was there, somewhere. There were college-aged kids, young parents with infants, and senior citizens. There were aging hippies, and the children of hippies, long haired weirdos and conservatively dressed professionals, men and women, blacks and whites, people from nations everywhere in the world and from all over the United States. Only one thing truly united these people: A love of marijuana, and a desire for the freedom to smoke it without persecution. Other than that, it was a totally diverse group.
Some of attendees were just people who enjoy smoking weed and decided to come out for the celebration. For others, this is a business. I met one fellow from Iowa who grows pot for a living and showed everyone photos of his crops like a proud papa shows photos of his newborn. I met a pair of women who've started their own business in North Carolina, selling hemp clothing products and accessories and "legal smoking alternatives," a pair for whom this is a legitimate business trip. I met a computer geek in a wheelchair, who suffers from a nerve disease and has need of cannabis for real medical reasons. There was a college freshman who went on this trip as a high school graduation gift from her parents, a man who owns his own hardware store, and a couple of people who work as waiters. And many, many others.
One of the most surprising things to me was the number of people who said they'd smoked pot with their parents, or with their kids. One man stood up at the microphone and told of how his 24 year old daughter remembers learning to remove the stems and seeds from pot on a record album at age 3, and how she now regards that as having been quality time with dad. "And it WAS quality time with dad," he said.
Which leads me to the most surprising lesson of all, and the thing that conservatives will have the hardest time accepting. The shocking truth about marijuana is, that for many Americans, it's a Family Value. Those of you who've never tried it will not be able to comprehend this, but I now am able to see that this really is true, and why. You see, contrary to the lies, pot doesn't make you crazy or violent. Fact is, it makes you relaxed and sociable. It puts you in a very good frame of mind for spending leisure time with other people. It's a bonding activity. It's something you do with someone else, an experience you share. It promotes togetherness.
Not only is pot enjoyed by people from every walk of life, but pot is also consumed with varying frequencies. There are people who smoke pot only occasionally, like at parties, perhaps once a month, and there are people who smoke pot almost every evening, or even every day. Remember, pot isn't like tobacco. It isn't physically addictive, which means you can smoke it as often, or as infrequently, as you care to.
Since this was a gathering of enthusiasts, it wasn't surprising that most of the people I talked to about usage indicated that they smoke every night. But I didn't meet anyone who said they smoked all day, every day. Most pot smokers seem to use the herb responsibly. When you have work you need to do, you don't smoke. It's as simple as that. You aren't compelled by withdrawal symptoms to smoke when you shouldn't; consequently, most pot smokers light up only in the evenings, when the working day is done.
Once again, there are many different attitudes among the people who smoke pot.
There are those who worship cannabis as the one true drug, and partake of little or nothing else. During one of the 4:20 meetings, there was some bickering between these purists and those who also smoke tobacco. If you can believe it, there really were people at this event who smoke pot and yet were complaining about the cigarette smoke. Some of the dual smokers thought this was hypocritical; others agreed not to smoke cigarettes around those who object to it.
Secondly, as I've already indicated, there are those who smoke both pot and tobacco, often mixed together in the same cigarette. Whenever someone started passing a joint around, purists therefore had to regard it with suspicion. (At the risk of stereotyping, I have a theory that purists prefer water-pipes, while dual smokers tend to like joints better.)
Then there's the whole question of alcohol. Some smokers drink as well, but many do not, hence the existence of a number of coffeehouses in Amsterdam where no alcohol is served (my favorite kind).
Doubtless there are also those who use hard drugs like cocaine and heroin in addition to marijuana, but I didn't meet any people like that at the Cannabis Cup.