Adventures in Weed

Elliot was shedding weight at an alarming pace. He'd lost 40 pounds since flying to Italy nearly six months earlier. One day his doctors quietly advised him to try an unofficial route to an appetite.

Medical marijuana.

It was illegal in New Jersey, but Elliot liked the idea. He thought it might ease the anxieties that had begun to plague him. It's hard to relax when every week you're confronted with your mortality up close at the chemo clinic.

"I don't think I'll ever feel carefree again," he told me.

And so I added "get pot" to my growing to-do list.

That was definitely new territory. I grew up a complete goodie-goodie. Cigarettes never had any appeal. I'd tried a joint once in college but the smoke burned my throat and I had zero interest in ever trying again.

That's why I found it amusing that it became my job to procure the cannabis. Somehow Elliot's buddies, who came of age on college campuses rocking with sex, drugs and the anti-war protests of the early '70s, didn't come through. They'd cut their hippie ponytails long ago.

My women friends, masters at juggling jobs, carpools and book clubs, were much more efficient. As soon as I dropped a hint, three of them stepped right up.

The first was a tennis player who seemed quite well connected. A few nights after she learned what I needed we stood in her kitchen, she handed me a white legal envelope embossed with a Merrill Lynch logo.

"How much does it cost?" I asked in wonder.

"It's a gift," she said. "There's more where that came from if you need it."

I tucked it in my purse and drove the 10 blocks home slowly, peering cautiously over the steering wheel, afraid to attract the slightest attention lest I get pulled over with my cache. I felt like an undercover operator, a bad girl, a spy. It was actually a bit of a thrill. Amazing, what we do for love.

I thought of saving the package for Elliot's Christmas present but was too excited to wait. He was taking a shower when I got home. I burst into the bathroom and pulled open the curtain.

"You'll never guess what I have," I exclaimed.

"What?" he asked.

"Look!" I dangled the envelope.

He leaned over and sniffed it.

"Oy vey," he said, somewhat stunned. Then he grinned, dripping wet, and pulled me halfway into the shower for a big kiss that left me half-soaked. "That's my girl."

The second source came through a few days later. She had just confiscated some contraband from under her 16-year-old son's pillow.

The third source's husband was part of a monthly poker game of journalists. One knew somebody who knew somebody. That delivery smelled positively rank, but it was particularly potent.

The ban on medical marijuana infuriated me. I fantasized about daring New Jersey politicians to look my bony husband in the eye and tell him exactly why he couldn't relish a little reefer to alleviate his roiling stomach. If a child got hold of the Oxycontin and other prescription painkillers floating freely around his knapsack, the results would be far more dangerous. Even deadly. The only people to benefit from the stupid law were the smugglers, dealers and gangs who got rich trading it underground. Many would be defanged if patients could grow their own or obtain it legally.

As much as the prohibition enraged me, it didn't seem wise to teach my kids by example that it's okay to break laws you disdain. They used to come home from middle school health classes to regale me with nightmare accounts of teenagers who escalated from weed to hard-core narcotics. Little did they know of the plastic baggies full of pot upstairs in mommy's bedroom.

To keep the stuff out of harm's way I got a lockbox from Costco. It was grey, heavy and fireproof, about the size of a toaster. As long as I'd bothered to buy it, I figured I might as well use it to protect our important documents as well, our wills, birth certificates and passports.

"Great idea," Elliot said with a chuckle when I proudly presented him with the key. "But do you really want to get to customs at the airport with a passport that smells like pot?"

Damn. I race to rescue all the paperwork and flapped it wildly in the air to neutralize the scent.

In 2010 New Jersey became the 14th state to approve medical marijuana. I wish Elliot could have seen that day. My kids asked whether he ever used it. I thought for a moment about what to tell them, and then decided on the truth. They had grown up enough to understand that under certain rare, carefully examined circumstances, you have to break the rules to do the right thing.