Questioning the wisdom of a billionaire is faulty logic in this town, where a successful entrepreneur's word is gold. But though he can start airlines and sell records, and he (or his money) might beat Elon Musk to space, Richard Branson has bad advice on drugs.
When Branson visited San Francisco in March to appear at a Drug Policy Alliance event, the Drug War's best-heeled opponent dispensed some parenting advice. “There's nothing wrong with an occasional spliff,” he said, but only to a certain point.
Let your teenagers smoke marijuana, he said. They'll age out of it.
You hear this line often, in regards to drinking, doing drugs, being otherwise fast and loose. Get it out of your system, go a little wild and “experiment” before the trappings of adulthood and responsibility take all the fun away forever.
This is rank nonsense. What regular, well-adjusted teen (or graduate student) can afford decent weed?
Adulthood is the best time of your life to dabble in drugs. Branson knows this full well. He once shared a joint with his own school-age son, prior to reportedly asking Obama for some choom at the White House.
For nearly all of us, getting high as a kid is a low-budget comedy of cliched errors. It's stuffing towels underneath doors, crawling in and out of windows, blowing hits into plastic bottles stuffed with dryer sheets, sneaking furtive hits from hollowed-out apples and hoping, praying that nobody has a clue what's afoot.
In adulthood, this need for “secrecy” ends. But so does the time for harmless “experimentation.” As you age, there is a realization and a caveat: For some of us, there never were any such things as “harmless” or “experimentation.”
The theme of this issue is “perpetual adolescence.” I submit that such a place is purgatory. If you were able to get high and keep your shit together as a teen, congratulations to you. More likely, you, like me, were a clinical dumbass. That is what you must outgrow, and woe unto ye who never learns a lesson on adequate dosage or drug etiquette; you will be banished forever to a world of cars reeking like burnt pot and sweaty-faced, teeth-grinding insistent individuals retelling the same tale for the 10th time.
That said, if you “missed out” on anything while younger, now's the time and place to make up for it.
It's true: San Francisco is one of the best places in the world to access drugs. Nearly everything — highest-quality cannabis, cocaine, ayahuasca, hallucinogens last seen in the 1960s, and brand-new chemical cocktails — is available in some quantity, provided you know the right people (or walk by them on Haight Street).
There is no denying that drugs can enhance experiences, be it a sunset, Thanksgiving with the family, or a geodesic dome plunked down in the middle of the playa. They can also turn out to be stupendously lucrative. Steve Jobs was so proud of his “10 to 15” world-opening acid trips that he bragged about using LSD to the Department of Defense (on an application for a security clearance, no less). Jobs's expanded mind also benefits the rest of us eternally, if for no other reason than suits in Silicon Valley must hear about how acid helped to create Apple. A few years back, I went to a New Year's party in the early evening, the timing picked because the partygoers all had kids running around the front room or strapped to their chests. As I stood in the kitchen with a dad in his 40s exchanging small talk, he whipped out a small black plastic device — a coke bullet. “It's New Year's,” the cool dad said with a shrug and a sniff.
Elsewhere at the party were a Stanford-educated couple who made it a point to trip on LSD once a year. When they had kids, the ritual shifted, but only slightly: They hid the acid eyedropper in a place where the toddlers couldn't reach.
Bills paid, kids cared for, everything straight. If that's when you do drugs, so be it. Very few in this city will judge you. This is still the Sucker Free, so if your shit is together you can do as you please. No less an authority than Willie Brown himself said that in this town, you can get bombed every night and as long as you show up in the morning “fresh as a daisy” and do your work, your indulgences are accepted.
And if you can't? If the demon named addiction got you, or if you learned the right lesson at the wrong time, or if you had the bad luck to be black or brown when cops found you holding the bag?
You are fucked. The above rules do not apply to you. You cannot, should not, must not use.
In college, our campus newspaper's best section was the police blotter. As well as entertainment, it offered a lesson. The overgrown adolescents who drank too much got a ride to the on-campus health clinic, where they got Gatorade and a bucket. The kids busted smoking weed by our on-campus police force lost their housing and often their loans. That meant their shot at a future where they could afford using drugs from time to time was also seriously jeopardized.
Maybe Branson is right about one thing. Drugs are great if you're rich and white and proved you can balance them with everything else. For everyone else, use with extreme caution. And please leave the “experimentation” where it belongs — in your teens and twenties.