NASHUA – On a recent evening at the Unitarian Universalist Church, about 20 people, mostly men, filed into a meeting room.
They were part of a 12-step fellowship, all there to discuss their recovery from drug addiction.
Many of the attendees puffed down a last cigarette before the meeting began.
This night was a little different, though. They were asked to break from their normal routine to consider a solitary question – Do they consider marijuana a gateway drug?
"Look," Ric, 52, began. "I shot heroin for 23 years. Pot didn't 'induce' me to do anything. I think for those of us who are predisposed to wanting to get outside ourselves, it doesn't matter what (drug) you start with. Labeling any drug as a 'gateway' doesn't make any sense to me. It's just not relevant."
The answers came as varied as the people at the meeting.
"I completely disagree," said Jon, 33, entering the room with two coffees in his hand. "Pot absolutely was a gateway drug for me. I was looking for something to test the waters with, that I knew I couldn't OD on, something safe, easy to get and pretty socially acceptable."
After about a year of using marijuana, Jon said, "it was creating more, new problems, not taking me away from the original ones. From there I moved on to other, harder drugs."
T.J., 31, took one of the coffees from Jon and waited for him to vent before talking about his own experience. "Personally, I did coke first. I just skipped pot altogether."
"What about alcohol?" Ric asked. "Did you drink alcohol before you tried coke?"
"So that was your gateway, if we're using that terminology."
The three men discussed other options to be labeled the gateway drug – alcohol, tobacco, the medicine cabinet.
Jon concurred, saying "Most kids these days are going straight to the oxy (oxycontin), pills, ecstasy or whatever."
A pretty, slightly built girl, 21, sat across the room with a toddler and a friend. She chimed in brightly, "I only tried smoking pot once. It made me sick; I threw up. So, I just went straight to smoking crack!" She laughed. Her delivery made it somehow OK for the others in the room to laugh, too.
"Basically," Ric stated, "all drugs lead to other drugs."
Jon agreed, adding that our brains are wired for the experience. "If you Google 'cannabinoid receptors,' you'll see that our own bodies have protein receptors built to receive stimulus from that chemical."
From this discussion, the conversation segued towards the issue of legalization.
"Drugs made my life hell," Jon stated, "but I'm still in favor of legalization. It's exactly like Prohibition. All that did was make certain people rich, create a violent criminal element, and it didn't stop anyone from drinking, anyway."
Ric said he was in favor of marijuana legalization. It bothers him that marijuana is categorized as a Schedule 1 drug, the same as heroin.
"If it was separated from the harder drugs, wasn't lumped in with them," he said, "maybe users wouldn't look at it as a natural transition" to continue to use other drugs after trying marijuana.
By KATHLEEN PALMER
February 9, 2009