Friday, March 8, 2019

On International Women's Day: Why So Many Nonwhites Have a Harder Time with Marijuana

Mackenzie Williams (center) leads a veterans' therapy group. 
One Day at a Time, the Netflix series that remakes the 1970's sitcom about a single mom with a Latina cast, just tackled marijuana in its new third season (Episode 5: "Nip It in the Bud").

It did a pretty good job, addressing vaping, edibles, youth use, opiate addiction, and racism in the drug war.

In the episode, Penelope (Justina Machado), a military veteran and nurse who suffers from PTSD and anxiety, catches her 15-year-old son Alex vaping marijuana at a "Bud E. Fest." She takes the problem to her therapy group lead by Pam, played by Mackenzie Williams, who starred in the original series and famously had an addiction problem after her father turned her onto drugs while she was still a teen.

When Penelope brings up the subject, some of the women in the group reveal they smoke pot. A vet in a wheelchair notes that cannabis helps her with pain (and more), and that "a lot of veterans were prescribed opiates and couldn't get off of them." Penelope says it happened to her ex-husband (which might explain why he's her ex). A great new film, From Shock to Awe, follows veteran couples who journey with cannabis and ayahuasca to find healing.

Machado talking to her son. 
"I don't smoke since I'm sober, but boy did I like it," Pam tells the group. She correctly notes that at age 15, the brain is still developing, and Penelope makes this point to her son when he tries to tell her pot is no big deal because it's legal. "It's not legal for you," she counters, comparing it to alcohol, tobacco and gambling.

"Of course I tried it, but Alex can't know that. He needs to think I'm perfect," Penelope tells her group.  But she does admit to him that she used it, telling a story about being arrested for smoking a joint while her white friend was only given a warning. She tells him he needs to be especially careful because he is Latino. Sadly, it's true: in California where the sitcom is set, Hispanics were again the most-arrested demographic in 2016, accounting for 3,066 of the felony arrests, with 2,076 whites arrested and 1,592 blacks.

The black woman in Penelope's group says, "Weed makes me paranoid, like everyone's out to get me. Because when you're black, everyone is." She makes a good a point: the drug war has disproportionately arrested and incarcerated blacks as well as Latinos.

Moreno on edibles. 
Meanwhile, for comic relief, the episode has Penelope's mom Lydia (played by the still-fabulous Rita Moreno at age 87), inadvertently consuming cannabis lozenges at the opera and getting all the classic symptoms: awareness (pictured) followed by giggles, paranoia, and the munchies.

Interestingly, Lydia only resorts to the lozenges for her cough when she discovers she hasn't brought her faux opera glasses containing rum; Penelope swigs a hit of liquor from binoculars of Schneider's after talking with her son about his sobriety. So booze is still OK to use and joke about. Maybe if alcohol was still illegal it would make people—especially people of color— paranoid about using it, too.

UPDATE: The New York Times calls it "A Very Special Episode." 

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