Think you’ve smoked a lot of weed? Author Catherine Hiller has smoked marijuana “almost every day” for the past 50 years, a smoking regimen she describes in her funny and poignant new autobiography Just Say Yes: A Marijuana Memoir.
First, a disclaimer: Ms. Hiller hasn’t smoked marijuana every day for 50 years. She has three sons and took short breaks from smoking when she was pregnant or breastfeeding. Otherwise, she claims to have refueled every day for half a century. Her memoir speaks of that habit as well as the tumultuous cultural journey of America’s changing attitudes toward cannabis.
SF Evergreen spoke to Hiller during one of the stops in San Francisco on her book tour to learn about a career in smoking marijuana that dates all the way back to the JFK administration.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
SF Evergreen: When was the first time you smoked marijuana?
Catherine Hiller: I was a freshman in college in 1963. I knew this was the drug for me before I smoked it, just from what people said. At that time, the most culturally interesting people smoked weed. It was the artists, the intellectuals, the philosophers, and I wanted to be a part of that scene. When I had my first joint, it turned out to be just as good as I imagined.
eg: What did the other parents think of you as a mother raising children?
CH: I was never publicly like a weed-smoking mom. There was a DARE program where the police would come into the schools and tell the kids how wrong and bad it is. So I did my best to hide my weed smoke from my kids – not too successfully, they always knew. They knew it was something they couldn’t bring up in school.
eg: Do you feel that 50 years of smoking weed has affected your cognitive functioning?
CH: I don’t think it affected it that much. I have to be honest that at my age my friends and I start to forget things from time to time. But most of my friends don’t smoke weed.
eg: Have you ever been arrested or detained for marijuana possession?
CH: I’ve never been to jail. Nothing bad ever happened. That’s why I wanted to publish this book. I wanted to show that you don’t have to have the usual story of “You go to jail and then you feel terrible and then you start a spiritualized life and then you don’t need it.” No, I need it. And I still smoke it. I don’t think it really made me any less.
eg: Are you currently on medication?
CH: People always ask, “Are you high right now?” No, I’m not high right now.
I don’t like that term ‘medication’. As if we are all so sick and need medication to function. Why not consider it a joyful enhancer instead of medicalizing it?
I think in America we medicalize everything. If you’re shy, you now have social affective disorder, that’s ridiculous. I don’t feel like I’m medicating myself at all. Do you think you’re drugging yourself drinking a glass of wine in a bar? New. You do something that makes you feel more relaxed.
eg: Do you ever speak in public while stoned?
CH: Accidentally, just once. It was on this tour and I was doing a radio interview, and they said, “Five hours,” and I said, “Perfect.” So at two o’clock they called me because it was Easter time. So suddenly I had to do the interview stoned. I didn’t like it, but I don’t think I was particularly less coherent. I felt that my mind was not so sharp. I didn’t think that was the best part of my interviews, but I don’t think the public necessarily knew.
eg: What advice would you give cannabis users?
CH: Start talking about it with your friends. Start admitting it. You name it. You might find that you have a new commonality with them. But you may also be changing their perception of what a marijuana smoker is.
The reason I wrote this book is to change that perception. Since most people don’t think of someone who would write a book like this, a Ph.D. I wanted them to associate those things with smoking – not Cheech & Chong, but the average person.
Photo by Carsten Fleck