It was July 4, 1990. I was a long-haired rock’n’roll musician, playing bass in a hard rock cover band that was performing for the Independence Day weekend in the resort town of McCall, Idaho.

Despite my vocation, however, I was strictly anti-drug.

My father was a professional musician before me. I grew up on the road as he toured with country acts like David Frizzell, Shelly West, Orville Couch and Faron Young. You probably haven’t heard of them, so I’ll throw in that he once jammed with Jerry Garcia in San Francisco and Willie Nelson in Texas.

Dad was an alcoholic and a speed freak at the time. Nevertheless, I had a happy childhood. From sleeping in dad’s bass drum case as a crib all the way to starting elementary school, I crossed the western United States.

By the time I was 12, Dad’s drug use was out of control. He checked himself into rehab. After getting clean, he enrolled at Boise State University. He became president of the Student Social Workers and got his degree with an emphasis in drug and alcohol counseling. He then spent the rest of my teenage years as a rehab counselor.

So I was inculcated in the whole 1980s “Just Say No” philosophy. Drugs are bad, mmmkay?

Not only had I never even smoked pot in high school, I had never seen pot or known anyone who smoked pot in high school. As smart as I was academically, I was naïve to the streets.

I had been drinking, though. Nancy Reagan never told me to say no to that. I had started with Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers at age 16. I went from honor student and likely valedictorian to coasting through senior year with Bs, set on attending Boise State, and then flunking out of it (studying was really affecting my drinking time).

By 1990, I’m in this rock band playing in McCall. We finished the gig and retired to our hotel room. This had been the first out-of-town gig with the band; we’d never hung out after a show before.

Once we changed out of our requisite ’80s haberdashery of torn jeans, tied bandannas, checkered shoes and sleeveless shirts, we all gathered around a table. One of the guitar players then whipped out a joint.

“Oh, my god,” I thought, “I’m in a band with guys who do drugs!”

The guitar player lit the joint, took his hits and passed to the left. I was freaking out because I had never seen marijuana before, and I had no idea what was about to happen. Don’t forget we were in Idaho, where the smell of marijuana from a hotel room can lead to a police encounter that ends in jail.

The joint reached me. “Um, no thank you,” I stammered, awaiting the inevitable peer pressure.

It never came. The drummer said, “Oh,” and then just passed the joint past me to the sound man.

That was my first clue that my perception of drugs might be askew. There was no, “Come on, you pussy, take a toke!” As far as they were concerned, it just meant more weed for them.

The joint went around three more times, passing me each time. I observed as my bandmates began to relax and giggle. None of them were getting unruly or messy, as me and my drinking buddies would get.

The fifth time around, I said, “Lemme try that.” I put the joint to my lips and inhaled. You know how some people say the first time they smoked pot they didn’t get high? Not me. It was an immediate, “Hello, where have you been all my life?” moment for me.

Then I was angry. “This is drugs?!?” I thought. “This is what President Reagan said would be like being on Bikini Island during an A-bomb blast? This is what I’m supposed to ‘Just Say No’ to, when I’ve been getting in fights, puking in alleys and flunking out of college on alcohol?”

I haven’t stopped smoking pot ever since.

The more pot I smoked, the less I drank. The only problem was that my first joint convinced me that I had been lied to about drugs. Not marijuana—drugs. I then set out to find what fun I could have with the other drugs they lied about.

I found out the hard way that they really weren’t lying much about the other drugs, especially the white powders. But that’s a tale that I’ll have to tell in another rant…

Previously in Radical Rant: Kids’ Perception of Marijuana Harm Isn’t Decreasing… It’s Becoming Accurate

Click here for all of Russ Belville’s columns.

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