Over 50 is a series that highlights the lives and stories of veterans of cannabis culture. As we work to achieve a new, normalized era of cannabis culture, it is important to remember where the culture has come from and how we can progress from here. Using the insight of our culture's pioneers, we revisit times that they experienced first-hand, when flower was far from legalization and acceptance. Through Over 50, we experience their stories through their unique perspectives and tales.
For this edition of Over 50, we have Catherine Hiller as our guest. Catherine is a novelist and the author of the widely appreciated "Just Say Yes: A Marijuana Memoir." For the first installment of Over 50 with Catherine Hiller, she invites us into her unique experience of 'coming out green,' not only to her family, but the entire world.
Last March, I came out green to two million people: the circulation of the Sunday New York Times.
I hadn’t expected to come out in such a spectacular fashion and in the most public way imaginable. I was about to publish Just Say Yes: A Marijuana Memoir, in which I am frank and enthusiastic about my longtime cannabis use. Candor was the point of the book: it had never occurred to me to use a pseudonym, mostly because most memoirs published by small, independent presses like mine sell just a few hundred copies are are reviewed only on blogs or on Amazon.
My expectations were not as high as I was when I wrote the memoir.
I enjoyed writing the book because of the two challenges it posed: first, how to use cannabis as a spine for the important events in my life, and, second, how to infuse the book with momentum while going backward. Each chapter starts at an earlier point than the one before, so the book begins in the present and ends when I’m a little girl. These narrative strategies distracted me from worrying about how much I was exposing myself to my readers. My basic assumption was that a couple of hundred strangers would read my little paean to pot – as well as my close friends and relations, who already know about my predilection.
What I did not expect was that over the course of three days in March, editing clients, distant acquaintances, extended family, and next door neighbors would all learn that I was a pothead. I had sent Chapter 1 of my book to the opinion pages of the New York Times, but because of the volume of submissions, I didn’t think it would be chosen. When it was then accepted, I didn’t believe it would be published. Even as I read through the copy-edited manuscript, I expected some world event to take priority. But at 7 am, Thursday March 19th, “How I Buy Weed” went live in the Opinionator, and on March 22 it appeared in print in the Sunday Review.
From now on, marijuana may be the first thing anyone thinks about me – and I don’t mind. I’m proud to be an advocate. My habit won’t cost me my job, because I won’t fire myself, and I live in a state where the penalty for possessing an ounce or less is a $100 citation. I mention these things to the people who tell me I’m brave.
I did lose my biggest writing client, a pharmaceutical company, but that was to be expected. Not only are they a conservative group, but cannabis is an affront to their business model.
And as for what the neighbors thought?
One ran over, exclaiming, “I never knew you smoked! Why didn’t you ever offer me any?” Another came to me to say that smoking pot is the one thing that helps her seventeen-year-old bipolar son. A third asked if I would address her book club.
I think there are a lot of secret smokers out there: happy and successful individuals who happen to smoke weed. I hope that my story will encourage them to leave the closet, if they can. After all, we learn by example. When gays came out, laws changed.
This is the first installment of Catherine Hiller's 'Over 50' series, to be continued next week.