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My Changing Perspectives: A 45-Year View From The Haight-Ashbury

Tuesday, 20 Apr 2010 | 12:02 AM ET

My initial involvement with marijuana began in 1965 when large numbers of youth began arriving in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, bringing with them the psychedelic philosophy, "Tune in, turn on and drop out."

Pot and acid were keys to the doors of perception necessary to embrace this philosophy.

I began living in the Haight-Ashbury in 1960 since it borders the University of California, San Francisco Medical School where I was receiving my training.

At the time I was doing drug research at UCSF and nearing the end of my dysfunctional drinking career so the psychedelic counter culture was a very appealing alternative to the straight world of alcohol abuse.

In 1967 I founded the Haight-Ashbury Free clinics on the philosophy that health care is a right not a privilege, and found that 98 percent of the thousand who came to the clinic had tried marijuana, with some developing a dependence.

These were some of the early studies of marijuana use in a middle-class population of youth and were presented at a 1968 conference, in various papers, a "Journal of Psychedelic Drugs" issue (now a Summer of Love Museum collector's item ) and a book, "The New Social Drug".

I was criticized by the pro-marijuana advocates because I presented evidence that the drug caused serious problems to a sub group of susceptible youth and by the anti-marijuana advocates because our work indicated that only a minority of smokers suffered significant health problems and they were mostly susceptible youth.

Although my last drink was January 1966 because of marijuana I was not clean and date my complete recovery from April 8, 1988 when I smoked my last joint and fully embraced a 12-step program of recovery.

As society has become more liberal about marijuana, I have become more conservative. So I always seem to be on the wrong side of the societal shift in attitudes, but my view will matter little in the eventual outcome to legalize marijuana.

As with the repeal of alcohol prohibition during the Great Depression, it will all come down to money and the marijuana advocates understand this much better than the marijuana conservatives.

The war on drugs has been an expensive failure when it comes to marijuana and both law enforcement and the district attorneys in San Francisco are tired of it.

For all intents and purposes marijuana is legal in San Francisco with relatively few Draconian consequences predicted by the anti marijuana zealots.

I don't particularly like the smoke and the smell of marijuana. It triggers craving in my brain which I find annoying but easily handled in my 12-step fellowship. In San Francisco, you just don't go to slippery places but you also don't past judgements on others unless they ask for your help.

Relative to broader policy, my 45 years in addiction medicine have taught me that keeping marijuana illegal has not decreased access to youth but in fact increased it.

It is easier for under-age youth to get marijuana that it is alcohol and cigarettes where at least you have to show an ID.

The biggest growing drug problem for youths is prescription narcotic abuse and it is more of a gateway drug then marijuana; none of the youths have prescriptions and their biggest source of drugs are their parents' medicine cabinet with pharma parties replacing pot parties.

Putting pot heads in jail in an over crowded criminal justice system has been both ineffective and a terrible waste of money with the only beneficiary being the prison industrial complex so why not legalize, tax and regulate putting the savings into under-funded drug rehab programs as an alternative to the criminal justice system.

In the long run, however, just like alcohol prohibition repeal, it will be the economic crisis that makes the decision whatever we feel pro or con.

Or, as President Bill Clinton said in the 1990s, "It's the economy stupid!"