How Will Marijuana Legalization Impact My Sobriety?

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On November 4, Alaska and Oregon joined Hawaii and Colorado in legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. Objectively, I’m all for it. I will be glad when marijuana becomes legal in my home state of California, and no doubt it eventually will. I hope we tax the bejeezus out of it and use the funds to increase drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs and improve our public schools.

Though no drug is 100 percent “safe,” weed is significantly less problematic than alcohol. And decriminalization would alleviate a number of other drug-related issues.

Still, when I imagine a California where people can smoke joints on the street or go to bars full of marijuana smoke, I feel a tense, fluttering anxiety in my chest.

I have been sober for almost seven years and pot has been surprisingly easy to avoid. Though never my primary drug of choice, I’ve had my share, especially in high school and college. Some people joke “it may as well” be legal in California, because so many people use it, but I know that’s just not true. People don’t serve weed with meals and it’s not the first thing offered to me when I go to parties, the way alcohol is.

Right now, if people want to buy marijuana in California they either need a prescription or they need to be willing to break the law. And while I may not agree with these barriers from a philosophical standpoint, they benefit me. They reduce my exposure to the drug and I’m grateful for that. I understand this is selfish, but I don’t want my sobriety to be harder than it has to be.

Increased exposure to marijuana is only part of what worries me. Yes, I will have to maneuver myself out of new situations, but I have done that with alcohol, and I could adapt to doing the same thing with pot.
Joint(detail)But my biggest fear is this: If weed is legalized, I will have to start asking myself some difficult questions about my relationship with the drug that so far I’ve been able to avoid.

Logically, I know that the law shouldn’t determine what is a threat to my sobriety. But even sober, a person who has been addicted subconsciously tries to find sneaky excuses to use. I worry that if I look close enough at the line between what’s okay to put into my body and what’s not, some loophole will magically appear.

I’m scared that I will convince myself it’s okay to smoke pot.

Katie, you never had a problem with pot; if it’s not illegal, it’s just like caffeine or nicotine, and plenty of sober people use those…

“Katie, you never had a problem with pot; if it’s not illegal, it’s just like caffeine or nicotine, and plenty of sober people use those,” I’ll whisper to myself. I worry that these thoughts, combined with easier access, could lead me down a rabbit hole. That just one hit of pot could lead to just one sip of alcohol. And that before I know it, I’ll end up where I started: a shell of a person, unable to focus on anything except my next drink.

I want so badly for the legalization of marijuana to be a “get out of jail free card.” I want it to mean that marijuana isn’t really a “drug,” and that I can use it with immunity and still be sober.

Yet my awareness of these rationalizations of my potential pot use is precisely what tells me that I’m in dangerous territory. Would my brain expend the same amount of energy trying to convince me to eat kale? Nope. The little bastard inside my head is, nine times out of 10, going to focus on self-destructive habits. It is only through years of recovery, 12-step meetings, and talking to other alcoholics that I now recognize this.

I can’t allow the legal status of a substance to determine if it’s appropriate for me to use it.

For me, the rule must be: If it gets me high, (i.e., immediately produces feelings of euphoria), it has no place in my life. My sobriety, which is to say my life, depends on it.


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