In 1998, doctors found five aneurysms ó weak-walled blood vessels that pose the risk of bursting ó in Marcie Dudaís brain. By some ugly twist of fate, some genetic bungle, such conditions seem to run in Dudaís family: she had already lost one sister to the affliction, and another had discovered an aneurysm early enough for treatment to be effective. In a sense, Duda had been waiting for the day when she would get the news. Doctors gave Duda, who was 38 at the time, little chance of survival.
Duda, a single mother of a seven- and a nine-year-old, did survive, albeit with 10 metal clips in her brain, an inability to taste or smell food, and daily bouts of nausea and searing, unbearable pain. " I get such severe migraines I have to go somewhere dark and quiet, " she says. " I lie on the couch and vomit and vomit because the pain is so bad. " For the migraines, Duda has a prescription for morphine; for the nausea and loss of appetite, she takes Marinol (a pill form of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC ó the active ingredient in marijuana).
But what she really needs, she insists, is a joint.
" I cannot cook for my kids on morphine, " she says. " I cannot think straight on morphine. Morphine gets you wicked high and it makes you want to puke. " Even the Marinol, which Duda credits with having helped her keep her weight up, has its drawbacks. " It takes three hours to kick in, " she says. " With pot, in 10 to 15 minutes, the painís gone. I can think straight. I can get up and take care of my kids. It gives me more of an interest in food. "
Duda knows all this because she smokes pot every day, four times a day ó which makes her, in effect, a criminal. " Iíve gone public and said I smoke pot. And thereís more chance I could get caught since I went public, " she says. " Most of the local cops know. Everyone looks at me now and expects me to be stoned. I could lose my kids over this. My two kids are the last thing in the world that I can afford to lose. Iím scared. "
But Dudaís fear has not kept her quiet. She has become an insistent voice in the argument to legalize medical marijuana. " I feel itís my duty, " she says. " I worked for 20 years as a home health aide, and I see people my age curled up with MS [multiple sclerosis] and cancer. I loved the people I worked for; they werenít only my patients but my friends. I go and see them once a week and we light up. My friend with MS, we smoke a joint and his body uncrinkles. Iím doing this for people like that, who canít get out of their beds and who have put their hope in me. "
Duda believes her most powerful argument is her own experience with pot. To date, she has testified twice before state legislators to argue that she should be able to grow her own marijuana ó or at the very least, buy it without threat of arrest. " If they let me grow four or five plants, thereís my supply for the year, " she says. " I begged them. " But the state continues to drag its feet. Many local activists anticipate that a medical-marijuana bill currently before the legislature will eventually fizzle and die.
" Iím past frustration, " Duda says. " The bottom line, and what I said to them, is: ĎWhen I have a really bad headache, itís so hard to describe the pain. When Iím like that, just give me a joint or give me a gun.í "
" Thereís only a handful of us who are willing to die, or willing to be arrested, for the cause, " says local marijuana activist Jim Pillsbury. " Iím not looking for trouble, but Iím not going to back down from it, either. "
Pillsbury, 48, is certainly no stranger to trouble. In 1985, he was arrested for growing marijuana. Five years after that, the town of Ashland tried to stop Pillsbury from organizing a rally for NORML. He sued the town for violating his freedom of speech ó and won. But then, Pillsbury is committed to free speech ó perhaps to a fault.
" There was this selectman, about the same age as me, who I happen to know is a dope smoker, " he says of the Ashland incident. " He went on TV and said, ĎWe need to keep Pillsbury out of town because I donít like what heís got to say.í Soon as he said that on the record, we bagged him big-time. Just the fact that I had the courage to do that proves that Iím not playing about. After you win a civil-rights case, you gain a certain amount of respect. "
Though he often speaks publicly about his pot use, Pillsbury insists he has no fear of being arrested. " There isnít a doubt in anyoneís mind, law enforcement included, that I smoke, " he says. " But they have no reason to come after me. Iím not a drug-crazed wacko. Iím a fairly upright citizen. And Iím a very good neighbor ó just the other day I did three of my neighborsí lawns. My neighbors support me. They may not be dope smokers, but they support my right to say what I believe. "
Pillsbury doesnít exactly fit the classic mold of the upright citizen: with his long stringy hair, wispy mustache, and penchant for tie-dyed T-shirts, he actually looks every bit the renegade pothead. But looks can be deceiving. Despite his long-standing prickly relationship with authority, Pillsbury is a canny political operator. Last November, he was part of a group of six NORML members who put Question 9 ó a non-binding bill that proposed decriminalizing marijuana ó on the ballot. If the bill becomes law (itís currently in committee), the penalty for possession would be a fine of not more than $100 ó making it the legal equivalent of a speeding ticket. " It was the first time weíve ever asked the general public how they feel about decriminalization, " Pillsbury says. " It was an incredible success. Overall, something like 63 percent voted yes on the question. "
If Question 9 fails, Pillsbury says he will run for state representative, with decriminalization forming the basis of his platform. " Why penalize the poor pothead? " he says. " Every year, 700,000 people are arrested for marijuana. These are, for the most part, respectable, law-abiding citizens who pay taxes and go to work every day. Itís doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs, all the way down to the workingman who digs ditches. Itís not like 1968 ó weíre not huddled around a puddle passing a joint. Weíre all grown up now. Things have changed. "
Jasper was 15 when he first started smoking pot. He had gone on a school trip to the Hague in Holland ó a country that has long tolerated marijuana use ó and he and some friends made their way to one of the cityís so-called coffee shops. " It was kind of like, ĎWhen in Rome,í " he says. And so, giggling and elbowing one another, Jasper and his schoolmates began to pass around a joint they had procured from some local kids.
Like many first-time pot smokers, Jasper (not his real name) was a little disappointed. " Some of the other people were getting really stoned, " he says. " I could tell that wasnít happening to me. I still had my bearings. " As it turned out, this was not such a bad thing. " There were definitely people who were bugging out, " Jasper says. " One kid in particular had to spend some alone time in the bathroom. "
Jasper, now 23, vividly remembers the first time he himself experienced an attack of weed-induced jitters. He was a freshman in college, rooming with a guy who was, as Jasper puts it, " further along in usage. " One afternoon, the roommate broke out his prized bong, a device in which pot smoke passes through a reservoir of water, thereby cooling it and allowing the user to inhale much more deeply. Jasper, who had never smoked from a bong before, was " completely flattened " by the experience. " I crumpled to my knees and said, ĎWater! Give me water!í "
Nonetheless, he stuck with it, smoking weed at parties after school, taking a quick toke before classes every now and then, and sometimes blowing off school altogether to gather with his friends and smoke. " I can definitely step back and say it was part of a whole partying thing that distracted me from my studies, " he says. " But I never experienced the sense of not being able to function. "
Today, Jasper, a Somerville resident, works in retail. Though he still smokes regularly, he has slowed down considerably since his college days. " Itís not a constant thing anymore, " he says. " A lot of the time itís something to look forward to at the end of work. The older Iíve gotten, the more I place a value on doing it as a reward: ĎAh, Iíve just finished a shift.í I look forward to it. "
And as Jasper gets older, heís also noticed that a lot of his friends are starting to kick the habit altogether, though he has no plans to do so just yet. " I enjoy the relaxation it induces, " he says. " Iím usually kind of argumentative; I voice my opinions strongly. When Iím stoned, it dulls the impulse to do that. I get less bent out of shape about things. I donít want to slip into hippie lingo, but pot definitely has a communal aspect to it. There is something to be said for passing a bowl or a joint to someone, that unspoken camaraderie. I have always totally enjoyed that. "
Jasper does, however, have one concern about his pot use. " I feel like I may have started a bit young, really, " he says. " The average adult can take on the responsibilities of getting stoned. But kids shouldnít be blazing to their heartsí content all through high school. "
Issue Date: September 13 - 20, 2001