This Ex-Cocaine User’s Opinion: Marijuana’s Only a Gateway Drug When It’s Illegal

I grew up in the Dallas area in the early 80’s.  For my friends and I, scoring a dime-bag was fairly easy.  Most of us knew a dealer, some of us were dealers. We all smoked on the weekends, never got caught, and eventually transitioned into cocaine, meth, acid, etc.

But we didn’t transition because marijuana was a gateway drug. We transitioned because of the excellent marketing skills of our dealers, who made a killing promoting their clientele to the harder stuff.

Profit was goal number one for these folk, who were none too shy about risking drug-related felonies.  Penalties for selling beyond-weed products weren’t much worse for trafficking marijuana, and hard drugs yielded more cash. Cocaine, Heroin, Meth, etc., are far more addictive, guaranteeing return clients, more than willing to trade all they have for one last hit.

Our dealers were hard-pressed to fast-track us beyond beginner drugs.

But you have to experience things like cocaine before you’ll take the risk and spend the money.  So the dealers would say things like, “You’ve been a great customer, and you’re cool, so here’s a little bonus sample. Let’s do a line together. Here’s a little for your friends – no charge.”  

Cocaine was riskier to possess, more prestigious, and far more sexy, so all the cool people, and the people who wanted to be cool, did it. We (the latter crowd) were already used to breaking laws against marijana – why not go a bit further? It wasn’t a difficult transition.

Marijuana was our “starter drug,” but it never spawned some insatiable desire to start snorting things.  We transitioned because of the dealers, who always had the harder stuff in their back pocket, and whose business model depended greatly on the sale of highly addictive substances.

Without the dealers, none of us would have transitioned.

Legalizing Marijuana Hurts the Dealer Most of All

You won’t find any introductions to harder drugs in a legal dispensary – there’s no cocaine at “Starbuds” a few blocks from our home in Denver. You’ll have to find a dealer. But that’s a hazardous proposition for most.  Some dealers are dangerous people, some are cops, some are both. If your drug use is limited to legal drugs, and if you don’t have any friends with connections, stepping into the world of illegal drugs will be risky at best.  

Some accept the risks, but that has more to do with things like desperation, despair, or a strong desire to “keep the party going,” than the effects of Tetrahydrocannabinol.

Whatever research that’s been done attempting to prove marijuana’s gateway qualities seem misguided to me. And when our politicians cry “Gateway drug!” I get nervous. A former Nixon aide confessed that his administration’s drug war was all about controlling “the blacks and the hippies.” Marijuana arrests spiked under Nixon, then skyrocketed under Clinton. In all of these campaigns, blacks were incarcerated at rates upward to 4x that of whites, a tradition that continues today, despite the evidence that far more whites are users.

Historically, our country’s anti-marijuana initiatives have been little more than a gateway into government-approved racial injustice. I have no doubt that our current administration’s anti-weed rhetoric is borne of the same spirit. At face value, these “drug wars” sound heroic, like our leaders care for our well-being, while remaining almost completely silent about alcohol’s longer, and much more distinguished history of ripping lives apart.  

I’m not writing to promote the legalization of marijuana, but I’m not against it – we’ve grown so fond of incarcerating non-whites for using it. And I can’t help but wonder – with all our road rage, mass shootings, political divisions, and compulsive unhappiness – what would happen if we replaced our evening martini with a few tokes?  Would we calm down a bit?

Bob Marley thought so.

I quit smoking a long time ago, but recently, on a guys’ trip to Portland, one of my friends pulled out a couple of joints that he’d purchased from a dispensary.  It’s legal there, and I’m a stay-at-home-dad under no immediate threat of drug testing, so I took a hit, held it, nearly coughed up a lung, and was quickly reminded of why I stopped smoking in the first place.  Five minutes later I sat completely baked on the living room couch, staring out the back window, over the sand, into the sparkly ocean, whispering, “wow… wow.”  

Today’s weed is not the herb of my youth, but it still doesn’t possess some secret ingredient that incited me to go out and find the hard stuff.

I did however transition into 18 straight episodes of Arrested Development, killed a “party size” bag of Peanut M&M’s, and laughed hysterically at my friend R.J., who takes on a striking resemblance to Will Ferrell when I’m high, apparently.  

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