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Marijuana Addicts Anonymous

by Lance B.

An article in the June 23, 1987 Oakland Tribune caught my eye: "Grass not always green for long term marijuana users" described the formation of Marijuana Addicts Anonymous on the Alcoholics Anonymous' 12 step model.

I put a quarter in the can and poured myself a cup of Peet's espresso and was shown the stash of real half-and-half in the refridge instead of the simulated dairy creamer out on the counter. Flavoured mineral waters and juices for reasonable donations gave the scene a definite Berkeley ambience.

After overcoming my behavioural denial "mistake" of going to the wrong address and leaving the newspaper article with the correct address at home that set my visit back by a week I finally arrived at the meeting place.

Housed in a defunct computer software house's office building now dedicated to drug treatment.

I had to rehearse it numerous times before going in. "Hi, I'm Lance and I'm a marijuana addict", smile, and seem sincere. The words choked in my throat at first but became easier as I set the script in place to be recited. A room in the back was populated with angular chrome/naugahyde stacking chairs, a heterogeneous grouping of 20 to 30 men and women from early 20's to late 40's sat down in a circle and recited the "serenity prayer".

I studied the handouts I collected from the table. Blurry gray but readable copies of the lists of the 12 steps, serenity prayer, 12 questions. There was an undated hit piece by Daryl Inaba, recent convert to the NEW STRONGER DANGEROUS marijuana federal mythology that enumerated the usual litany of brain damage, immune system suppression, higher addictive potential, lung cancer liability, and harm to sexual functioning. While all of these claimed adverse effects are still problematic and indelibly tainted by the current policy of "its the signal we send them" school of psychopharmacology, the significant role of marijuana in facilitating other drug dependencies Inaba cites appears to have merit.

Fred, an extroverted unemployed mid-thirtyish balding man with workingman plaid cotton flannel shirt and thick glasses who giggled nervously, fidgeting, was chosen to read the "Questions" The following questions may help you determine whether marijuana is a problem in your life: "(insert 12 questions) He later went onto describe his other difficulties with paranoid schizophrenia and alcoholism. His monologue became disjointed and he would laugh an inappropriate laugh that sounded mighty stoned- the way weed made me feel 20 years ago.

For a few moments when different members of the group responded with the same laughs I felt the dry contact high.

Fred also attended AA meetings as did over half the group to deal with concurrent problems with alcohol. The protocol and routines of AA were easily modified to center on difficulties with marijuana abuse and dependence.

"Hi! I'm Cindy. I'm a marijuana addict." The temporary chair, Cindy, a slender woman in her mid 20's with a broad-jawed attractive face with aquiline nose described how it dulled her ability to do her ceramics and caused her to become withdrawn and shut down.

Helen, a short tense voluptuous woman in her late 20's described difficulties dealing with the feelings of anger she now attempts to cope with by working through instead of using marijuana to suppress her feelings. She described confronting her need to quit when her therapist refused to see her if she didn't. The group applauded her staying straight for the last month.

Bob, a rather overweight man in his mid twenties described undergoing a brush with temptation and death over the weekend when out hiking in the Mt Shasta area he stumbled into a marijuana patch and was confronted by the armed growers. He managed to talk his way out of the situation but was sorely tempted to buy some. He obsessed about it all the way back to San Francisco and has memorized the way to find the patch should he plan to go back up.

He still might.

Rick, a fourth year law student at Hastings in San Francisco described his need to give up cannabis after having detoxed and stayed clean from alcohol for the past six weeks. If he let himself go to pot it set him up to fall of the wagon and take that critical drink that would end in an uncontrollable binge.

Grace, a hefty dark hispanic in her 30's, brought along her two preadolescent daughters who sat quietly on the chairs or on the floor listening. A single parent divorcee grappling with her other main addiction of overeating to cope with her bad feelings as an adult child of an alcoholic family.

Many who attended AA or NA meetings complained that neither group would give appropriate support to participants concerned with kicking the cannabis habit. The AA groups, of course, were centered around alcohol. The NA groups were dominated by the heroinists and cocaine compulsives that discounted the concern with cannabis dependence.

The topic of the evening was denial. The moderator of the meeting after giving his potalog of his difficulties caused by his cannabis habit and then called for a volunteer to speak out. The substance may be different from alcohol but the addiction process is the same.

Denial springs like crab grass on the lawn needing extirpation all the time.

"Im ____ and I'm a marijuana addict" "Hi _____" the group choruses in response.

Avoiding the weed is a preoccupation that brings as a consequence the dealing with emotional issues nakedly instead of with the help of that mild sedative that cuts down the fear and anger reactions. Everything goes along OK until something goes wrong and then without thinking a joint is rolled and smoked. Back to square one.

Trying to interpose the detached less reactive marijuana-stoned self unfortunately has the consequence of emotionally distancing one from others with resulting problems with family and friends. Additionally, the sedation and spaciness from the weed cuts into concentration that causes problems on the job with the secondary worries from the impaired performance.

There were no horror stories of broken homes, violence, writhing-on-the-floor withdrawal but minor irritability, nightmares during the first week and then the yearnings for the herb in a social situation when it was offered by friends. The biggest factor in relapse was some stressful event.

As the hour and a half drew to a close the secretary of the meeting called for business announcements before all joined hands in a circle and recited the closing prayer.

After the meeting outside the back door many of the members carried on conversations in small knots- lighting up and often passing around nicotine cigarettes. Overcoming addictions is a step-by-step, drug-by-drug process for the afflicted is a life-long personal struggle.

Three members were looking over hand drawn tentative designs for a logo for the first chapter of Marijuana Addicts Anonymous in the world here in Berkeley with gossip about some proprietary marijuana dependence treatment groups. One of these for profit groups back on the east coast have already laid claim to a marijuana leaf with a red slashed circle superimposed.

There was clearly group pride and cohesiveness. This was indeed a group of self-helpers that are there to help its members hang on from week to week without the heavy exploitive hand of government agencies. Telephone numbers are exchanged so that a member in danger of relapse can reach out in his or her time of need.

MAA now meets in Berkeley and Oakland in two different locations three times a week. A new chapter will probably start up soon in San Francisco. I admitted after the meeting to a few people that I was active with NORML which didn't seem to put them off. I suggested that MAA solicit support from NORML since we all agreed the criminalization of marijuana didn't help anything... at least these individuals didn't. When I told NORML's west coast coordinator he liked the idea and will attend MAA with me in two weeks. Who knows?

Lance B.

Berkeley, California

August 12, 1987

Meeting number two was dominated by the potalog of Sheila an attractive blonde female physician in her early thirties who was recovering from alcohol and then finally kicking the pot habit described her feelings of loss of control as she found herself screaming at her patients. Speaking in a barely audible voice she described her success in dealing with the emotions she once suppressed with cannabis and other chemicals.

The number in attendance was pushing 30 and many were eager to share their stories of temptation and travail. The speakers would make efforts to refer to the previous offerings giving liberal strokes of acknowledgment of similarity or pertinence to his or her situation.


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