Red State Reunion

Howdy, Blenders! It’s “Radical” Russ, your token married straight white male barista from the Pacific Northwest*, back behind the counter after an extended absence. Do you want whipped cream with your quadruple-shot venti iced cherry mocha?

I was back in Idaho (motto: Like Alabama, only whiter) for my family reunion. After three years in Portland, I’d grown accustomed to the humidity and lush green foliage. I was quickly reminded of the hot, dry, sagebrush-&-dirt landscape as soon as I left the Columbia Gorge.

But even in the Jeep with the AC on, it was easy to tell I’d left my friendly blue state environment. The Bush/Cheney stickers started appearing on the freeway, attached to progressively larger and higher 4×4 pickup trucks, as well as the multiple magnetic ribbons supporting the troops, each one featuring more creative designs to include the Jesus fish (?????), Old Glory, or a cross. As I crossed the Snake River into Idaho, the Ten Commandments** and “Abortion stops a beating heart” stickers started appearing. The one sticker you don’t see much in Idaho is “One Man One Woman“, because there are no gay people in Idaho (joking!) or because there’s no room for debate on the issue.

What made this family reunion particularly interesting is my “coming out” as a cannabis activist. I sense my family already knew I was a party-hearty musician-type, but now I’m much more in-your-face about my activism. It’s hard not to be when I’m a board member for Oregon NORML, I run the website, I’m on cable access TV twice a month, and I’ve just gotten brand new tattoos on my calves (the Mandarin symbols for “cannabis hemp”).

I brought with me a handful of Oregon NORML pens to hand out to my relatives. Of course they had to ask, “what’s NORML?” When I answered “the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws,” I got many puzzled looks. But after I explained that I lobby to change laws, that marijuana users should not be locked up, that I help medical marijuana patients, and that I work to restore industrial hemp farming, they seemed less concerned.

One of my Born-Againâ„? Christian aunts even told me, “I don’t have a problem with someone using marijuana medicinally. Where I have a problem is when people are just smoking to get high and then they get behind the wheel, especially since the pot nowadays is so much stronger than the ’60s…”

“Stop right there,” I told her, “because that’s a lie. The THC potency of police-seized marijuana has remained steady for decades. The government lies to you about potency. They compared ditchweed stored for a decade in locker from the 1960’s to premium bud seized today. That’s like comparing Coors Light from 1960 to Bacardi 151 today and claiming ‘alcoholic beverages have gotten so much stronger since the ’60s!’ Stronger marijuana only means someone smokes less of it to get high, and since smoke is the only harmful thing about marijuana***, stronger pot is a good thing.

“Also, nobody supports operating a vehicle under any impairment. That includes marijuana, as well as alcohol, cold medicine, or extreme fatigue. Driving stoned is a crime. Getting stoned is not.”

Another aunt wondered if I was taking any of the marijuana myself. “Of course,” I replied, “I consider myself a medical user… it’s just that my conditions aren’t part of Oregon’s medical marijuana law (yet). But must we have a doctor’s and the state’s permission to treat ourselves with natural remedies? Marijuana is a non-toxic naturally-growing plant; we need no more authority to use it than aloe vera or apples. Or did God make a mistake in creating this one plant?”

The best reaction came from my oldest female cousin, who is a cop in my hometown. “I’m on your side! We’re wasting our time busting potheads. It’s no worse than alcohol. We need to spend that time busting meth freaks. Now if they drive intoxicated, give ‘em a DUI, if they sell to kids, bust ‘em, but if they’re in their own home getting high, leave ‘em alone.” After I picked my jaw off the floor I gave her a huge hug and told her about Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Her husband is an undercover detective. This time he had a long biker-like goatee. I gave him a pen and said, “next time you sign a ticket, use this pen. I’d love the irony.” He says, “I’ll do you one better. Next time I have to fill out one of those DEA reports for the pounds of meth I’m trafficking, I’ll fill it out with this pen.” Beautiful! I’ve always said that if you let the people have their weed, the need for speed will decrease indeed.

The coup de grace was my Born-Againâ„? sister-in-law (let’s call her “Shaniqua”, because it’s a funny pseudonym for pasty-faced white girl). I had a long discussion about medical marijuana with her and explained how my wife uses cannabis to treat chronic migraines. Shaniqua said, “I get those, too.” I explained how my wife can’t take prescription remedies for the pain because she’s allergic. Shaniqua said, “I’m allergic to those, too.” Then I explained how I’ve had to take my wife to the emergency room six times for migraines. “Me, too,” said Shaniqua. I continued to tell her how the only thing that works is a shot of Demerol, but you can’t get a prescription for that, you have to go to the emergency room, it costs an arm and a leg, and you better not make any plans for the next two days because of the Demerol hangover. “Yeah, I know,” answered Shaniqua.

So I told Shaniqua about how I convinced my wife, at the time a strongly drug-free woman****, to try the marijuana if she felt a migraine coming on. Sure enough, next aura she felt she puffed a doobie and the headache never came on. From that moment she was convinced and the following month she had her Oregon medical marijuana card. I told Shaniqua that marijuana would probably alleviate her migraine symptoms, as well as her insomnia, anxiety, and stress levels. She replied, “maybe I’ll have to try that someday.”

I couldn’t let that “someday” become “never”. I took some of my wife’s medicine and rolled it up into a joint. I handed it to Shaniqua and said, “Here’s your emergency medical joint. If you feel a migraine coming, try it. But only one puff; this is top-grade Oregon bud.”

My brother joked, “don’t worry, I’ll finish what she doesn’t!” I replied, “uh, I kinda doubt it. Unless you plan on hugging the floor and eating Cheetos for the next six hours.”

To my surprise, she took the joint and put it in her purse. Shaniqua, my brother’s new wife, the Born-Againâ„? Christian, is now driving around Boise with the devil’s weed in her purse. This is a success far beyond what I had anticipated for my family marijuana evangelism. Turns out that my conservative Red State family isn’t as uptight about cannabis as I’d feared. With just a little education to dismantle the prohibitionists’ propaganda lodged in their brains, they might even come out in support of medical marijuana… in frickin’ Idaho!

What does this have to do with GLBT issues? Nothing, unless you can see the parallels in being “out and proud” and having to educate and present a positive influence on the issue to others. So that I don’t meander too far “off-blog”
, I’ll just mention that my lesbian great aunt and her partner of 40 years were at the reunion, too. My family doesn’t have much anti-gay virulence in them, but they don’t exactly celebrate Pride Week, either*****. Everyone knows and loves the two of them, everyone knows their relationship, but nobody talks about it, and both of them are very “straight appearing” women in their late 60s. None of our family genealogy books list my great aunt’s partner, which is probably the biggest affront, but to be fair, most genealogical software isn’t configured to accept same-sex partnerships in the database (especially the one I use, written by the LDS Church!)

* For who better to write for a blog written by a black female lesbian from the South?

** Next time you see one of these Ten Commandments freaks, ask them to name them. Tell ‘em you’ll even accept 8 out of ten. Most can’t get any more than five.

*** And recent studies have shown no link between marijuana smoking and lung cancer. Marijuana smokers have the same lung cancer rates as the non-smoking population. Furthermore, tobacco smokers who also smoke marijuana show lower lung cancer rates than smoking tobacco alone.

**** I know, hard to believe she married me, huh? Well, her brothers were those stereotypical lazy pothead couch potato slackers, and she didn’t want to become that. She’d accepted my marijuana use because I’m successful and gainfully employed. As are most cannabis consumers.

***** You know the type: “I don’t have a problem with the gays as long as they don’t flaunt it by behaving as if they are normal people who can be affectionate in public, and as long as they don’t try to shove their long, throbbing, thick, rock-hard agenda down our throats…”