Learning to Inhale

“Breathing dreams like air
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby


I guess you could say that I had a complicated relationship with cannabis even before I considered applying for a medical marijuana license. Nothing in my upbringing allowed me to view drugs or alcohol in a positive light. Having been raised on a dairy farm in Mennonite country, my idyllic childhood was the very definition of sheltered. As a teen, I studiously avoided those situations where weed was visible. Even as a young adult, faced with more liberal social circles, the joint that made its way around the room at parties was passed right by me, no questions asked. Everyone understood I wouldn’t indulge, and no one cared, really. (Being the designated driver on every outing helped).

By the time I was a teacher, and then a vice principal, I was used to dealing with students who were caught bringing a “controlled substance” to the school. A student would be sent to me by a staff member, suspicious that he or she was “under the influence.” (On rare occasions, I found myself calling an ambulance after students collapsed in my office from smoking a joint laced with crystal meth). Usually the evidence was less glaringly obvious, like the unconstrained giggling or the repeated requests for something on which to snack. Sometimes the girls tittered shyly; boys guffawed happily as I collected drugs, paraphernalia and lighters at a rapid rate. But the smirks disappeared when the phone calls were made: parents, police, superintendents. 

Most often, these students were the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our building. Weed was a coping method for many, a way to avoid the hardships or dysfunction faced in their lives at school, or home, or both. The obligatory punishment was suspension, but as time passed, I became less enamoured with this solution. Because it wasn’t one. Students who medicated like this often had poor attendance records. They were failing their classes, and it seemed counterproductive to me to simply ban them from the building for a few days each and every time I caught repeat offenders. For the adolescent brain, it was clear that consuming cannabis was a bad idea, but looking at the circumstances facing many of these youth, I couldn’t blame them for it. Black and white began to fade into greys.

Now suddenly, I had to find a way to accept that I, too, was in need of cannabis. It was not an easy transition. I didn’t even smoke cigarettes. Hadn’t even tried it.  So the idea of rolling a joint was met with a great deal of internal resistance. I also feared the fall out if the community learned that a vice principal was using cannabis for pain control. Would I be supported by the superintendents? How would my colleagues react – not to mention the students I would continue to search and suspend? Could I even do my job if I was using medical marijuana? The image of the stoner VP, hanging out in the smoke pit, was unwelcome.

Yet my worries did not override the pain. I needed to get up off the couch, to move without wincing, to stay on my feet for long hours. That was not going to happen without medication. Cannabis was my last hope for reclaiming my life. 

Learning to vape was not easy for the formerly-Mennonite milk maid. The Cannabis Clinic helped me register with a licensed provider, and narrow down my product choices based upon my health history. But they could not help me learn how to use the vape, because there was no product on hand. I was advised to go to YouTube for instructions on the correct use of the vape.

It was an amusing process. When the bland brown cardboard box arrived in the mail, we pulled out the vape, the dried product, the grinder. Briefly, I considered all those students who would’ve been only to happy to help a VP figure out how to inhale….And then turned to YouTube.

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