Richard Cowan is a former National Director of NORML, and co-founder of CBD Seniors.


The whole context of family communication around the topic of cannabis is one that is fraught with tension, one might say. I could help if everybody got stoned first, but that’s the whole topic, isn’t it? How do you talk to your children, or grandchildren? Not being the marrying kind, I don’t have any grandchildren. But, one of the great things about having been involved with the marijuana reform movements over the decades is that I actually occasionally get to meet these “young people” they’re called. Yes, that’s it.

Going to college campuses and debating narcs was one of the more enjoyable aspects of being involved with the issue. It was always great when one of the narcs got up and started talking about the party line about how marijuana will destroy your mind, and so on. Then at the end, the questions that kids are lining up to ask, and I remember one kid getting up and saying, “I’ve been smoking marijuana every day since I was 14, and I have a 4.0 GPA.” One after another… . Now, I don’t think we can tell every kid in America that if you smoke more marijuana, you’ll get a 4.0 GPA, but these young people made their point.

They, in fact, knew more about cannabis than the older generation. In fact, the only age group that is still opposed to marijuana legalization is in fact my age group (Richard is turning 80 this year). Again, not to make excuses for my generation, the fact is that this was part of an unquestioned orthodoxy for at least the first 20 some-odd years of my life. I was born in 1940. The film Reefer Madness was made in 1937; so, longer than I have been alive the federal government has been pumping this message out. There was very little challenge to it until the 1960s came along. The 60s, meaning The Beatles, and all of the other cultural changes. Then people started questioning things. When I started using marijuana back in the late 60s, I was not really surprised or shocked that a friend said, “Want to smoke some grass?” But there had been profound cultural changes between 1962 when I graduated, and 1967 when my enlightened friend enlightened me.

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By the way, when I graduated in 1962 around the Elk Campus, there were two or three barber shops that had 12 chairs, 20 chairs, no waiting. Five years later, there were 2 barber shops, 2 chairs, no waiting. Back in those days I had hair…  But you can see the cultural changes that happened in that 5 year period there. Split in American awareness and thought about cannabis, now we fast forward to where the overwhelming majority of the American people are in favor of medical marijuana, and a majority of the American people (two thirds) are in favor of complete legalization. The politicians are trying to get out and lead the people that they think they’re leading. They are in fact following the people. There’s a bumper sticker I saw in D.C. one time: “If the people will lead, the leaders will follow.”

This really is the thing with the marijuana issue. There is a generational divide on this. If you have grandkids and they’re talking to you about marijuana, they may know more about it than you do (practice, practice, practice). But on the other hand, if you’re using medical marijuana, as an older person for medical purposes, or you just like getting high, the fact is that if you’re older, it may or may not be medically useful (it probably will be), but this is very much different than being a teenager who just wants to get high. Now if you old folks just want to get high, that’s totally cool with me.

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