THE BLOG

It's Not That Complicated. People Like to Get High

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"First of all, don't take 'play' to mean anything idle, wasteful or frivolous. This is 'play' as the great philosophers understood it: the experience of being an active, creative and fully autonomous person." -- Pat Kane

Its not that complicated: some people like wine; others prefer the more subtle effects of marijuana. Both are intoxicants; both can produce euphoria, help catalyze ideas, lift the spirits, ease stress, and are known to have health benefits.

And yet when the MPAA gave the romantic comedy "It's Complicated" an R rating, they were making a very clear statement: showing successful, cosmopolitan adults enjoying a marijuana joint with no consequences is somehow worthy of restriction, according to them.

On the one hand, we should all be proud of director Nancy Meyers, and actors Meryl Streep and Steve Martin for helping solidify marijuana's entry into acceptable pop culture status.

A recent article in GQ, by Mark Healy, explained it well -- The baby boomers are basically succeeding in legitimizing their right to get high, to make the choice of which intoxicant they choose to use. "Maybe we are simply witnessing pot's inevitable free-market march towards maturity, as it assumes its proper place in the self-indulgence industry," says Healy. "...leave it to the baby boomers to create a lifestyle in which they could keep toking."

Our 10,000 year relationship with cannabis can now exist without shame or rebellion. There are now more marijuana dispensaries in L.A. than there are Starbucks.

And yet simultaneously, the MPAA's decision to give a lighthearted, funny, and innocent romantic comedy an R rating because two affluent and responsible adults smoke a joint together at a fancy party and have fun, is troubling. We see violent and disturbing images, and plenty of alcohol consumption and abuse in PG-13 films. What makes marijuana so inappropriate? I thought we were past that.

Why is it that a benign euphoria-inducer like marijuana, enjoyed and exalted by luminaries such as Carl Sagan and extraordinary intellects like Richard Feynman, still make some people uptight? Maybe because of a generally repressed instinct to get high.

Ronald K. Siegel wrote a book titled "Intoxication: Life in Pursuit of Artificial Paradise" in which he proposed a radical idea: the urge to alter our consciousness is a natural human drive, no different than the urge for sex or food. He says that man is a restless animal, always looking to stimulate his consciousness in the search for intimacy, insight, pleasure and adventure. Man longs to smash his sense of separateness. A good example is Charles Baudelaire, said to be one of the greatest poets of the nineteenth century, who founded the Hashish Club in Paris around 1835 to bring together artists and poets to experiment with marijuana: "All were united in a search for new forms of expression and enlightenment...the assembled writers speculating on how their imagination and the writer's art might be stimulated or betrayed [by marijuana/hashish]." (an Anthology of Drug Literature" edited by Peter Haining, publ. 1975 by Peter Owen Limited)

Perhaps we shouldn't fight it. Trying to legislate taste is absurd. Even Abraham Lincoln agreed when he said, "Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance...for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A Prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded."

One thing is certain. "It's Complicated" does a good job of showing something not so complicated: marijuana can make you giggly, hungry and maybe even hyper-philosophical...but it doesn't make you a couch-dwelling, pizza-eating sloth or criminal.