When you've known somebody your entire life, there isn't much they can say to stun you.
Or so I thought.
"I want to start growing marijuana," my father declared during one of our weekly Skype chats.
Wait, what? Hang on a minute. You want to grow pot? Why?
"It's legal," he replied, "and I want to grow the plant."
Dad is 78 years old and more square than a Saltine cracker. While attending college in the Bay Area during the '60s, he was as far removed from hippies and the counterculture movement as someone his age could possibly be. How far removed?
The other day he sent a group text to my sister and I. It read:
"Who was Pink Floyd and how come I don't know anything about it? Did Mom know?"
Needless to say, we both got a good laugh out of that one.
I will say my father's interest in horticulture didn't just suddenly germinate. His front and back yards are filled with plants and flowers. He even has a room devoted to indoor orchids where fluorescent grow lights hum all hours of the day.
So in that context, marijuana is just another plant. A plant whose stigma is withering on the vine.
Well, at least in most places.
I thought about this recently while following the Fresno City Council debate over whether to place a business license tax for marijuana dispensaries on the November ballot. Never mind that California voters legalized medicinal marijuana way back in 1996. Never mind that starting Jan. 1, California became one of nine states to legalize recreational sales and use.
Why is Fresno so far behind, so stuck in puritanical thinking?
Because there are people in this community who wish to propagate the marijuana stigma, who use their platforms to accuse and demonize.
People like Councilman Steve Brandau, who had the impudence to ask a cannabis dispensary owner who spoke during public comment if he smoked pot. As if that's any of Brandau's business.
If that same person was applying for an alcohol license, Brandau would have never dreamed of asking if he drank. You can bet a three-martini lunch on that.
People like Pastor Elias Loera from Christian Temple Fresno, who is so incensed the city approved seven medicinal dispensaries that he threatened to "make sure 100,000" people knew how each council member voted.
Loera is certainly welcome to his views, but all he's doing is perpetuating the stigma against members of his own parish. Because of those 100,000 people he's supposedly wagging his finger on behalf of, more than half (52 percent) have smoked marijuana at least once and 44 percent do so currently. Those were the results of a nationwide Marist poll from 2017.
The poll also found that 83 percent of Americans aged 18 and over support medical marijuana, 49 percent support recreational marijuana (47 percent were opposed) and 56 percent said using marijuana is "socially acceptable."
Just as revealing, 70 percent of those polled said marijuana is less risky than alcohol and 76 percent said it's less risky than tobacco.
That burning sound you hear are those old stereotypes going up in smoke.
Public opinion and societal acceptance have moved so quickly that even lawmakers have shifted their stance. None more so than former Speaker of the House John Boehner, who has gone from prohibitionist to profiteer by joining the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, which cultivates and sells marijuana in 11 states.
"Over the last 10 or 15 years, the American people's attitudes have changed dramatically," Boehner told Bloomberg News. "I find myself in that same position."
Even President Trump recently stated that he "probably" would support legislation protecting legal cannabis businesses in states where it has won voter approval. He has also declared the Justice Department would not enforce a previous threat to crack-down on recreational marijuana in those same states.
It feels like only a matter of time until Congress acts to remove marijuana from the federal list of Class 1 drugs.
As I've written previously, don't mistake this as a marijuana endorsement. I wouldn't recommend anyone smoke pot – just as I wouldn't recommend anyone drink whiskey, smoke cigarettes or consume deep-fried Twinkies. All are probably best avoided.
It's just that tobacco, alcohol and trans fats have not been demonized and stigmatized. But social mores aren't what they used to be. My dad is living proof.
Next time I visit, guess I shouldn't be surprised if there's a certain odor in the air and he's listening to "Dark Side of the Moon."