"REEFER TEST" FAILS TO TELL THE STORY
LIFE AFTER 30
By Anna Quindlen
I remember the first time I smoked marijuana. It was a summer night, and I was
19 years old. I was a passenger in a Volkswagen (I beleive that most first drug
experiences during the 1970's took place in a Volkswagen), and we were driving
down a back road redolent of honeysuckle and manure. The effects of the drug
were that I lost all feeling in my tounge and developed a craving for French
I would fail the reefer test. This is not as devastating as it might have
been: I have given no serious thought to taking on the Supreme Court, and I
don't plan to run for political office, at least not while I am in full
possession of my faculties.
But I suppose, given my age, people suspect that I once used drugs.
Certainly last month, when smoking marijuana was the topic of the week, I was
asked my opinion on the matter so often that I began to understand how Henry
Kissinger must feel when there is trouble in the Persian Gulf.
Now, however, the dust has settled; Judge Anthony Kennedy has passed the
reefer test and can be questioned next week about important matters. And it
occurs to me that I have never heard as much self-serving, silly nonsense in
my life as I have heard about recreational drug use since Judge Douglas
Ginsberg was booted out of contention for the Supreme Court and Judge Kennedy
was booted in.
I'm not talking about Edwin Meese's turning his ideological pockets inside
out, complaining, "You tell me that no one appointed to the Supreme Court has
ever broken a law?"
I'm not even talking about the investigation of whether thet reefer
madness that took place while Judge Ginsberg was in his impressionable 20's or
his should-have-known-better 30's. (Meanwhile, the substative question-whether
he should have handled a cable-television case for the government while he had
investment holdings in a cable company-faded into the background. )
The sorriest thing was that no one, liberal or conservative, spoke out on
the reality of this matter. That reality, simply stated, is that there is a
huge difference between occasional use of soft drugs and drug abuse.
Since we like to make everyone either a saint or a sinner, we prefer to
take a monolihtic line: Drug use of any kind is wrong. In the past, this led to
the well-known parental theory that the joint was the first step to the
needle, which has proved to be nonsense in most cases, including my own.
Smoking marijuana tends to make you fuzzy, and I think most adolescents
are fuzzy enough as it is. But in practice, we have to deal with a generation
that has already used drugs.
For people of Judge Ginsburg's generation- and my own - there was a fairly
common set of circumstances : some parties, perhaps the occasional evening in
front of the stereo with the Stones or Vivaldi, friends and a joint. Then you
have children, long working hours, a life that is, sadly, too busy and
certainly too busy to keep track of where you put the rolling papers. you
start to work out, watch the cholesterol. At 19, you think you're going to
live forever. At 35 you know you won't. Maybe it's better if you don't smoke
anything at all.
Certain drugs are still part of our lives, but since they are legal, we
don't have to think of them that way. Beaujolais nouveau, beer, Wild Turkey.
No one asked Judge Ginsburg if he had ever drunk so much that he could not
remember what he had done the night before. It would be nice to think that
someone realized that the martini standard is as dumb as the reefer test . But
the real reason I believe it didn't come up is that America often conveniently
forgets about alcohol in it's zealotry over drugs. Between a quarter and a
third of all Americans in recent polls said that alcohol had seriously
affected their lives and their families. Only 9 percent said that was true of
We accept that a stiff drink in the evening doesn't in inevitably lead to
alcoholism, and we need to accept that the occasional use of marijuana
doesn't inevitably lead to drug abuse. Perhaps what we also need to accept is
that if we're that concerned, we should be raising our children as
I'm not a teetotaler. And I've smoked marijuana. Nowadays it seems, I'm
supposed to stand behind the lectern and say I didn't like it, and I regret
it. If smoking marijuana lost me a job I'd dreamed of all my life, as it did
for Judge Ginsburg, maybe I would regret it. But right, now I don't. I do
regret some of the things I've done during my life- lies I've told, people
I've hurt- but not an occasional social drug use. At the time, I enjoyed it.
In the years to come, there are going to be a lot of people in high
places who grew up during a time when people were arrested for participating
in demonstrations, left the country to evade the draft, had abortions and
used drugs. Some will be good people, and some will be bad people. Some of
the good people will have used drugs. And some of the bad people, the ones
who would drive a steamroller over an elderly person to get where they are
going, will be "clean as a whistle". We'll need a standard by which to judge
all these people. The reefer test isn't it.