Meet a Woman Who Has Smoked Weed Every Day for 50 Years
You think you’ve smoked a lot of weed? Author Catherine Hiller has smoked marijuana “almost every day for the past 50 years,” a smoking regimen she details in her funny and poignant new autobiography Just Say Yes: A Marijuana Memoir.
First, a disclaimer: Ms. Hiller has not smoked marijuana every single day for 50 years. She has three sons, and she took brief breaks from smoking when she was pregnant or breastfeeding. Otherwise, she claims to have toked up every day for a half century. Her memoir speaks to that habit as well as the rollicking cultural journey of America’s shifting attitudes towards cannabis.
SF Evergreen caught up with Hiller on one of the San Francisco stops of her book tour to find out more about a marijuana-smoking career that goes all the way back to the JFK administration.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
SF Evergreen: When was the first time you smoked marijuana?
Catherine Hiller: I was a freshman in college in 1963. I knew that this was the drug for me before smoking it, just from what people were saying. At that point, the most culturally interesting people were smoking pot. It was the artists, the intellectuals, the philosophers, and I wanted to be part of that scene. When I did have my first joint, it proved just as good as I had thought it might.
EG: As a mother raising children, what did the other parents think about you?
CH: I wasn’t public ever as a pot-smoking mom. There was this DARE program where the police would come into the schools and tell the kids how wrong and bad it is. So I tried my best to hide my pot-smoking from my kids — not too successfully, they always knew. They knew it was something they couldn’t bring up in school.
EG: Do you feel that 50 years of smoking pot has affected your cognitive functioning?
CH: I don’t think it’s affected it that much. I have to be honest that at my age, my friends and I are starting to forget things from time to time. But most of my friends do not smoke pot.
EG: Have you ever been arrested or detained for marijuana possession?
CH: I haven’t ever been to jail. Nothing bad ever happened. That’s why I wanted to publish this book. I wanted to show that you don’t have to have the usual narrative of “You go to jail and then you feel terrible and then you start a spiritualized life and then you don’t need it.” No, I do need it. And I still smoke it. I don’t think it has really lessened me.
EG: Are you medicated right now?
CH: People always ask, “Are you high right now?” No, I’m not high right now.
I don’t like that term “medicating.” As if we’re all so sick and we need medicine to function. Why not put it as a joyful enhancer rather than medicalizing it?
I think in America we medicalize everything. If you’re shy you now have some social affective disorder, it’s ridiculous. I don’t feel I’m medicating myself at all. Do you think that you’re medicating yourself when you drink a glass of wine in a bar? No. You’re doing something that makes you feel more relaxed.
EG: Do you ever do any public speaking while stoned?
CH: Inadvertently, only once. It was on this tour and I was giving a radio interview, and they said, “Five o’clock,” and I said, “Perfect.” So at two o’clock they called me because they were on Eastern time. So suddenly I had to do the interview stoned. I didn’t like it, but I don’t think I was particularly less coherent. I felt that my mind wasn’t quite as acute. I didn’t think that was the best of my interviews, but I don’t think the audience necessarily knew.
EG: What advice would you give cannabis users?
CH: Start talking about it with your friends. Start admitting it. Just mention it. You might find that you have a new commonality with them. But you also might be changing their perception of what a marijuana smoker is.
The reason I’ve written this book is to change that perception. Because most people don’t think of someone who’d write a book like this would have a Ph.D. I wanted them to associate those things with smoking — not Cheech & Chong, but the average human being.
Photo by Carsten Fleck