The Gateway Myth

I guess I'm sort of a poster boy for the "war on drugs." When critics of getting high talk about how bad drugs are, they usually refer to someone like me—a former crackhead who lost everything to addiction, narrowly escaped death and ended up in rehab. "Don't do drugs!" the drug warriors say, pointing at me and my kind. "You will end up like him!"

Allegedly, my road to ruin was paved with marijuana. It is, after all, supposedly the "gateway drug." Sure, you start out on pot, which may seem pretty harmless, but that will only satisfy you for so long, and then you will advance to "harder" stuff. Before long, like me, you'll be "sucking the devil's dick," as some have called smoking a crack pipe. Then you'll be on the road to the same kind of disasters that befell me.

Frankly, that's bullshit. There are a number of reasons why I ended up on crack that have nothing to do with marijuana. For one thing, I come from a big Irish family with a generations-long history of addiction, primarily to the completely legal drug called alcohol. The constant recurrence of addiction in my family is probably an inherited thing; in other words, it's genetic. Like my ancestors before me, I was likely programmed from birth with a tendency to become hooked on any addictive substance I came into contact with during my lifetime. I could no more have changed that than I could the color of my eyes.

It also was no help that I live in a culture full of messages, both subliminal and blatant, that encourage instant gratification, prey on basic psychological needs to sell products, and convey, intentionally or not, a set of values completely in harmony with the encouragement of an addictive personality. I believe this culture of instant gratification has a negative effect even on normal people, but if you already have a genetic disposition to addiction, then the whole society can be toxic.

Of course, it isn't all about outside forces. There are also the things I did to myself. My attitude toward cocaine was once the same as that famously expressed by the Jefferson Airplane's Paul Kantner: "Cocaine is an IQ test—take it and you flunk." Unfortunately, Kantner's maxim implies that some sort of logical thought process is involved in choosing or refusing cocaine. But of course that ain't always so. At the time I got involved with crack cocaine, I was living with a boyfriend almost young enough to be my son. It was a challenge (although a pleasurable one) to try to keep up in bed with such a lover, and when my boyfriend started to bring cocaine into our bedroom, I found it was a great help in maintaining my stamina with a young stud.

To make a long story short, our relationship eventually went sour, but not before I had started a new romance with crack. Given my background, who could have expected anything else? The boyfriend was gone, but my downward spiral of serious addiction was well under way.

My point is, none of that had anything to do with marijuana. Would any of it not have happened to me if I had never smoked marijuana? Would my genetic makeup have been different? Would the culture have been different? Would my boyfriend have introduced a different drug into our sex play? Blame my genes, blame the culture, blame my boyfriend or blame my own damn stupidity, but don't blame marijuana as the "gateway" to it all, because it never played that role.

It is true that before I started having sex on cocaine, I had done other drugs stronger than pot. I had already tried marijuana's cousin, the dreamy hashish. I'd also gotten into psychedelics, both natural and manmade. I took drugs in combinations, like Ecstasy and Viagra to create Sextasy. I sped with speed and I dozed with downers. Sometimes I did pharmaceuticals and synthetic narcotics, like Percocet. I did just about everything except those drugs that required an injection, because I have a fear of needles. Considering my addictive tendencies, that phobia probably saved my life.

But none of this drug use had anything to do with marijuana. It may, however, have had something to do with the fact that marijuana is illegal, because when I first smoked pot, I had to go through illegal channels to get it. I had to learn about the underworld of drug dealers, some of whom sold other drugs in addition to pot.

Had marijuana been legally available at a store, I might not have come to know the people who sell heavier drugs.

The only way that pot was a gateway to harder drugs was that it was against the law, meaning that I had go to drug pushers to get it. But blame the government for that, because it was the politicians that passed the drug laws that keep the illegal pushers in business.

Because of my addictive tendencies, I now know and accept the fact that I can never get high again on anything. But why should the vast majority of people be deprived of a basically benign drug to protect the small minority of people like me? That's like pointing at the drivers who cause fatal car accidents and using them to argue that driving should be illegal.

Obviously no sensible person would claim that marijuana is harmless. If nothing else, the inhaling of the smoke has got to be bad for your lungs. But if harmlessness is the standard, then you had better be consistent and make cigarettes and alcohol illegal, too, because the sickness and death toll from those drugs far surpasses anything even the harshest critics have ever accused marijuana of.

In my opinion, the only reason cigarettes and alcohol are legal is tradition. They were legal before we discovered how dangerous they are, and now the power of custom and the financial power of the pushers who sell them with the government's permission are so great that we don't even seriously consider making either drug illegal. If that is our choice as a society—to keep the killer drugs nicotine and alcohol widely available—then so be it. But let's not be hypocrites and demand that a much less harmful drug like marijuana be outlawed.

I'm a recovering drug addict. I do not advocate the use of any drug. But please don't exploit me and people like me as examples of why we should deprive normal adults of the use of a gentle drug like marijuana. Let's stop punishing people in a futile attempt to prevent something that legal penalties can't stop.

Amherst resident and Springfield native Tom Devine writes about the personal and the political on his blog, http://www.tommydevine.blogspot.com.

Author: Tom Devine

Share This Post On

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest stories and posts from the Advocate. 


You have Successfully Subscribed!