Journaling: Rolling on the River

Bruce Apar is Editorial Director + Associate Publisher of River Journal North

My brother Stephen drove his car flush into a tree one night, almost 50 years ago, ending his life. He had never been the same after our gentle mother was struck down by a lightning bolt out of the blue, otherwise known as a massive cerebral hemorrhage. Stephen’s incapacity, at age 18, to cope with such profound pain sucked him into a whirlpool spiraling towards oblivion.  

He fell in with a crowd that did him no good. He self-medicated constantly to escape the burden of his brutally cold, merciless, motherless reality. He nurtured a $50-a-day heroin habit ($440 a day In today’s dollars).  

Even if Stephen never smoked weed, or if the substance didn’t exist at all, would that have saved him? What do you think. Stephen and his circumstances proved his undoing, not marijuana or any other inanimate object that has no motivation or moral compass or any semblance of a sentient being.   


That’s why I am at a loss to comprehend what someone means when they call cannabis a “gateway” drug. I’m dubious that they know what they mean. I know my brother’s personal demons had nothing to do with anything he ingested. They ate at him – swallowed him whole – purely from within.  

Recreational use of “grass” in my younger days was not a gateway to drug addiction or self-destruction. At some point I stopped because I no longer found it enjoyable or useful.  

How is it, then, that, for some, cannabis acts as a so-called “gateway” drug leading to degradation, while others who indulged in it have become President of the United States? Does marijuana decide whom it will devastate and whom it will elevate? Or does the individual make that choice based on free will? 

*** Demonizing marijuana as the culprit instead of focusing on personal discipline and responsibility is not unlike positing that a gun pulls its own trigger, with the shooter a hapless victim of the gun’s autonomous action.

I appreciate the sentiment of those who have difficulty coming to grips with cannabis being legally sold or publicly consumed in their communal backyard. After all, change is hard. Those who never liked the stuff to begin with are understandably out of sorts with the new reality that a drug deemed illegal yesterday has done a 180 virtually overnight. Those who decry its use are experiencing whiplash. 

Nine decades ago, America’s 13-year prohibition of the sale and consumption of alcohol was ended by an act of Congress. Would today’s “gateway” advocates have objected to that legalization too?

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About the Author: Bruce Apar