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Back When The Grass Was Greener: Young and on Drugs in 1970s Phoenix

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Marilyn and I are sitting in the dining room of my high-rise apartment, smoking pot. Because we’re old and remember when this sort of thing was illegal and looked down upon by most of the people we knew, we both feel slightly naughty.

“I feel slightly naughty,” I tell my friend. She nods and smiles.

We live in a new world, Marilyn and I. Marijuana is now legal and can be purchased from shops instead of from miscreants who scare us a little. This new world comes with a virus that can kill us, and so for hygienic reasons, Marilyn has brought her own pipe.

“I brought my own pipe,” she says, holding up a wee mahogany teardrop.

We are sharing a strain that Marilyn says is called Cherry Tang, a gift from our friend Ruth Beaumont.

“Ruth said just one hit,” Marilyn cautions. A glittery hunk of Phoenix peeks through the window behind her.

Ruth is right; one hit of Cherry Tang is enough. “What if we hadn’t ignored all the scary stories we heard about pot when we were kids and tried it anyway?” I ask Marilyn, who considers this for a moment.

“We’d be sitting here doing something else, I guess.”

Wow, I think to myself. I am really stoned right now.

If this were an automobile instead of a reminiscence about my relationship with weed, I could drive you to the very spot where I first smoked marijuana. I’m horrified to admit I was all of 13 years old at the time, and that I was standing on the campus of the Phoenix public school I attended in the 60s and 70s. Looking back, I think I was too young to be playing around with illegal drugs. And what was I doing huffing pot at school?

The joint was passed to me through a chain-link fence that surrounded the school by Gina Hancock’s brother—I’m pretty sure his name was Donny. He was cutting class to make a drug deal and had stopped by our grade school to say hello to his sister. Donny was older than we were and in high school — or should have been, but who needed Algebra 101 when you sold pot for a living?

Marijuana was no fun at first. But after eighth grade, I got a job babysitting for a woman who paid me in pot. My friend Bonnie bribed me with joints to take the job off her hands. “Those kids are crazy,” Bonnie said as she handed over some weed tucked into a half-empty pack of Marlboro 100s she’d kipped from her mom. “Good luck.”

Lynda, the woman whose kids I was babysitting, taught me how to hold the smoke in my lungs. She sang Paul Stookey covers in a folk-rock club on 19th Avenue and brought her band home with her after every show. There was always grapefruit in her fridge and marijuana in a tin under a wicker hat in Lynda’s closet. “Help yourself,” she’d say. “And then listen to that Maria Muldaur record I left out for you.”

I helped myself. Maria Muldaur never sounded that good ever again.

If looking back I’m alarmed that my friends and I were getting high at such a tender age, I’m also resolute. I was anxious for adulthood, and an after-school doobie felt racy and grown-up. It also made writing a paper about The Rime of the Ancient Mariner a lot less dreary. Giving up marijuana felt like an adult thing to do — I thought of it at the time as “quitting drugs” — so I stopped for a couple of days until, on the first day of high school, I met my new neighbor who was an even bigger pothead than the kids I’d gone to grade school with. Missy’s mom worked, which meant we could get loaded and eat entire boxes of Moon Pies while listening to the new Loggins and Messina record.

Missy had a Ouija board and a friend named Beth Evans who wore so much mascara it looked like her eyes were mating with tarantulas. The three of us got high and talked to dead people, because it was the suburbs and it was the Seventies and what else was there to do besides homework and reruns of Gilligan’s Island and walking around Valley West Mall with other stoned kids?

When I recall those days, I try not to think about how grown women were giving me drugs and leaving me to look after their kids, or how easy it was for teenagers to buy marijuana.

It’s even easier today, and a lot less seedy now that the Smart and Safe Arizona initiative has passed. Like a really nice buzz, I enjoy the irony that growing and possessing cannabis is legal in Arizona. My sixteen-year-old self would be both delighted by how much marijuana and pot-infused-hard candy I have stockpiled from generous, better-than-middle-aged friends who have medical marijuana cards and a diagnosis of PTSD, and horrified that I rarely remember to ingest the stuff.

I haven’t turned my back on pot. Our relationship started early, but it’s remained consistent — more like a favorite acquaintance than a close friend. If I’m being really honest, I have to admit that as I head into my dotage, a box of CBD gummy worms that I bought at the pot store is a lot less exciting than a dime bag buried in my sock drawer was, a half-century ago.

Maybe I could hide them under a wicker hat in my closet.