High and Happy 

By Dan Denton

Sometimes, like the other day, I find myself in a legal weed dispensary in southeastern Michigan, and I look around and say out loud, “what a time to be alive.” The other day I bought two ounces of weed that were named after Lil Debbie snack cakes, and as I walked out of the dispensary carrying my weed in a sack, just like I was walking out of an Apple Store, I remembered again the reggie dirt weed of my youth, and how I fell in love with weed at 13, which isn’t an uncommon story in the projects of the midwest. But as I got into my Jeep to drive home, I mostly thought about how I’ve had to stay in the closet, somewhat, for years, not being open about my marijuana use. 

Fuck it. I’m a full time writer now, and my kids are old enough to know about the things I’m going to tell you today. Freedom means being your most full, and true self, and I don’t want anyone to glorify the things I write, but marijuana absolutely saved my life, and has become the best medicine I’ve ever found. 

I got sober in 2006, and by sober, I mean stone cold sober. Rehab even took my Xanax prescription away. In all fairness, I’d abused that script for many years, mixing barbiturates and alcohol along with other drugs, most commonly cocaine and opiates, in combinations that proved near fatal a few times in my 20’s. But at 27 years old, I found myself sober, and left to face all of my trauma and mental illness without the aid of any bandaids. Friends, I got sober in 2006, and I didn’t sleep until 2014, when I smoked pot for the first time in 8 years. I lived for years white knuckling a lifetime of trauma in my midnight insomnia, and psych meds and talk therapy can only ever go so far, but they can’t erase the visions of dead friends, and I don’t want to trauma bomb y’all too much, but I’ve lived through things I’ll never forget, and those things are always most present on sleepless nights at 2am. 

I was afraid to smoke pot those first few times. I’d worked so hard to build a better life, one free of drugs and alcohol, and what if smoking weed made me want to drink again? What if it flipped me back into that bad decision making druggie? But I’m happy to report to you, loud and in the open, that I’ve been California sober since before I’d ever heard that phrase, and before it was legal, and I’ve never wanted to get drunk because I got high. 

I didn’t tell anyone for years, because my divorce papers mentioned my substance abuse history, and threats of losing visitation if I relapsed. I didn’t tell many, because I was active in recovery circles for a long while, and weed isn’t necessarily considered a medicine in those rooms. I didn’t tell anyone because it was illegal and I don’t like jail. 

But what a time to be alive. I’ve carried a medical prescription card for cannabis for a few years now. 

Over the years, my mental health professionals have given me back my Xanax script. I’m a tough guy and a badass, sometimes, but I’ve also had panic attacks. I’ve lived my whole life in skin that’s itchy, and with lungs that forget how to take deep breaths. I’ve lived through so many traumatic events, that my adrenaline and survival instincts have spent so much time on high alert, that I’m sometimes ready to fight instead of flight, at the drop of a hat. I don’t know how to relax. In those moments, Xanax is still the best, most effective thing I’ve ever found to calm my crazy ass down. But Xanax is not good for me, and I’m still a little bit scared of it. 

Then I found weed again. At the encouragement and support of my therapist and psychologist, and my family doctor and my AA sponsor, marijuana became the life saver I needed. Weed is the only safe thing I’ve found, to slow life down to normal speed for me. And the amounts of cannabis I consume on a daily basis is none of your business, but consider that close friends and colleagues that witness that consumption marvel at my productivity in life. I assure you, if I wasn’t in the factory, I was high every other minute for the last 9 years. I’m just now telling you. It’s no irony that in the last 9 years my life has taken off in ways that even Hollywood couldn’t write. I went from a one time homeless alcoholic to an elected Chief Union Steward at the largest unionized auto plant in America. I’ve had books translated into other languages, and I’m a community college dropout. I’ve had breakfast with senators and even shook hands with Bill Clinton once, all because of my union involvement, and I grew up in the projects with a Dad that couldn’t read and a mother that lived part time in state psych wards. I tell myself everyday that most people that survive lives like mine never find a chance to be happy, or chase their dreams. And I’m telling you all for the first time today, on this forum provided to me by our friends at A Thin Slice of Anxiety, home of today’s best and most transgressive writing, that much of my success is due to the medical benefits of cannabis. 

Weed is so effective at helping my brain slow down to just fast forward and not supersonic pinball thinking, that I was finally able to crank out the poems that always seemed to get lost in the pinball brain of mine. Weed keeps me from throwing ice scrapers at people in road rage moments, it keeps me from screaming on crowded buses when I start feeling claustrophobic from too many people crowding me into a confined space. It makes me more patient when others around me, like my beautiful children, can’t keep up with my frantic manic pace on daily walks, or road trip adventures. 

Two of my kids are adults now, and the last is old enough to know about legal weed, and none of them will ever remember their father as the raging alcoholic drug addict that I was in my early 20s. My twins were a year and half old when I quit drinking, and my youngest was born when I was three years sober. And because of that sobriety, and years of hard work and giving back to my community, and because of that medical card, I’m confident no judge would take my kids from me now. And now that I’ve left the factory to be a full-time writer, no boss with a grudge against me can get me fired now. And yeah, I was a pretty decent union steward a few years back. One year ago actually, and there’s still some enemies in the ranks of management. Fuck those guys anyway. I’m gonna smoke this next fatty for them. 

In 1996, in my one year of community college, I studied journalism and wrote for the school paper. I served one semester as the paid sports editor, I made $200 a month, but that first semester I worked as an opinion columnist. Sort of like I’m doing now. And I remember writing in support of gay rights, and writing a well researched article about the benefits of legalizing marijuana. Did you know you get more paper from an acre of hemp than four to ten acres of trees over 20 years? I knew it in 1996, and what a time to be alive. Many of my gay friends have found legal marriage far more successfully than I have, and at least in Michigan, we’re all getting high and happy on the cheapest and best weed I’ve ever found in my life. And we pay taxes on that shit. 

I think 18 year old me would be happy to see 44 year old me still grinding to be a writer and still advocating for what I believe is right in this world. 

Anyway, now everyone knows I’m a pothead. Let’s free all the weed convicted folks. That’s long overdue. Maybe some day I’ll tell y’all about the mushrooms. They’re getting decriminalized, but I ain’t got a card yet.

Dan Denton is a longtime autoworker turned full time writer, and now he’s a proud and open advocate for legal marijuana. Take that fascists. His next novel, The Dead and the Desperate is available for preorder from Roadside Press 


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