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Just Say Yes: A Marijuana Memoir


Just Say Yes: A Marijuana Memoir

JUST SAY YES is one of the most unusual and refreshing memoirs ever written about the use of intoxicants. Many writers have written about the impact of drugs or alcohol on their lives. Generally, these cautionary tales chronicle how the author hits rock bottom.

Catherine Hiller, 67, has raised three children, and worked as a novelist, documentary filmmaker, and businesswoman enduring life on the road. She earned a PhD from Brown and has lived a normal, productive middle-class life. With a semi-secret. For almost 50 years, except when pregnant, nursing or after the start of her second marriage, she has smoked pot daily. She writes, “I wish drink did the trick, I really do. People in bars look like they are having a wonderful time, and people at parties laugh a lot more after drinking. But like several women in my family, I don’t tolerate alcohol well, so marijuana is my inebriant of choice.”

But as four states in the Union and the District of Columbia have now legalized the use of pot, JUST SAY YES is a valuable addition to the debate. “I wouldn’t want the reader to expect the usual narrative arc,” Hiller writes. “I do not end up in prison. My life is not ruined. I do not regret my years lighting up. On the contrary…I celebrate without constraint the sacred herb, the holly weed, the sacred hemp.”

Okay. But this means that, like many members of her baby-boom generation --- now beginning to shuffle off the stage of history --- Hiller has been breaking the laws of the United States of America for her entire adult life. She is a guerrilla on the other side of the War on Drugs.

"JUST SAY YES is one of the most unusual and refreshing memoirs ever written about the use of intoxicants.... The real story behind the story here is the failed American War on Drugs, which has destroyed far more lives than cannabis or alcohol ever could."

And indeed, her narrative starts as she makes her once-every-two-month run into a rundown neighborhood of New York to score from her dealer. “The door opens smartly,” she writes, “upon the dirtiest hallway I have ever seen. The white hexagonal tiles have not been washed in decades. Crumpled wrappers and unidentified filth have been ground into grime. As always, I breathe through my teeth.”

Once she scores, she puts her wallet into her coat pocket and bag into the trunk of the car, so that an inquisitive cop might not smell the pot. And it is always wise to make sure the taillights are working and not broken so as to not attract police attention. (I, a crime and mystery novelist by day, might be more afraid of attracting the bad guys looking to take out the stash house filled with cash at that very moment. They probably would be heavily armed and nervous.)

JUST SAY YES is a ruthlessly honest and, at times, funny memoir that is well written. We learn that the successful businesswoman might roll a joint for each night of a business trip and get through airport security by hiding them in her bra. (Problematic now, one would think, with those ubiquitous full-body image scanners in airports.)

And we learn how to smoke dope in one of these smoke-free high-rise corporate hotels with sealed windows. Easy, Hiller informs us. Just stand on the toilet and get close to the exhaust fan in the bathroom. Imagine explaining that accident to the paramedics. And she describes an incident in a Vancouver hotel where the windows opened and she was on a high floor. It was a windy May evening, and while leaning far out to smoke a cigar-sized joint, the thing was blown out of her hands. Lucky she did not lurch out to save it, or the book could have a different ending. Of course, she then races downstairs and searches unsuccessfully for the roach.

The book’s point is that marijuana is not addictive or unhealthy. But racing down a hotel in an elevator to find a joint in the shrubs does sound a wee bit like something an addict would do. And there are parts of the book that she admits will make readers cringe, such as when she describes smoking pot with her kids when they reached 18. You would offer an 18-year-old a drink, wouldn’t you? But she admits that, given what we know about childhood development now, she might have waited until they were slightly older.

The real story behind the story here is the failed American War on Drugs, which has destroyed far more lives than cannabis or alcohol ever could. She acknowledges the number of Americans, mostly black, jailed for nonviolent marijuana offenses. Those lives were ruined. And she admits that she spends about $100 a month on pot.

And therein is the problem: middle-class Americans looking for a little harmless recreation, dropping cash off to dilapidated buildings in American cities. That money then fuels criminal enterprises, goes south of the border, along with the always plentiful supply of American guns, and fuels mayhem and carnage in poor countries like Mexico. I highly recommend the brilliant journalism of the late Charles Bowden, who wrote the book MURDER CITY: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields.

But Hiller is not responsible for that. Ultimately, like Prohibition, it was a flawed U.S. government policy designed to limit the behavior and freedom of individual Americans for moral reasons --- a policy endorsed by every president from Nixon on and made famous in the slogan of a First Lady that this book plays off.

One chapter is entitled “Stoned Identity.” In it, Hiller writes about weed: “It is certainly prominent in how I define myself: I am mother, wife, writer, American, doper, Jew, dog-owner, kayaker, flirt --- perhaps in that order. I’m still challenging the boundaries, still open to joy.”

And maybe the ability to live a life searching for joy should still be part of the American Dream. JUST SAY YES is a valuable affirmation of that. It is ultimately a story of honesty and bravery.

Reviewed by Tom Callahan on April 24, 2015

Just Say Yes: A Marijuana Memoir
by Catherine Hiller

  • Publication Date: April 20, 2015
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 182 pages
  • Publisher: Heliotrope Books LLC
  • ISBN-10: 1942762011
  • ISBN-13: 9781942762010