Marijuana laws taking a hit in some quarters


“Kate” of DuPage County displays a bud of hydroponic marijuana that she smoked during an interview. | Sun-Times

Updated: November 7, 2011 9:16PM

Kate took the slim, white ceramic pipe from Tom, her husband.

The pipe — known as a “one-hitter” — was disguised to look like a cigarette.

Kate held a Bic lighter. She fired up the pungent green wad of pot packed into the far end of the pipe and pulled in a lungful of smoke.

She waited: One second. Two seconds. Three.

Finally, she exhaled a thin blue ribbon and smiled.

“I’m a lifer,” Kate said as she sat in her living room. “I’ve been smoking pot for 30 years.”

Kate and Tom live in an upscale neighborhood in DuPage County.

Like an estimated 17 million other Americans, they’re regular marijuana users.

They’re also among a growing number of Americans who support legalization of the drug. But they’re careful about who they let know about their habit. That’s why they asked that their full names not be used.

Kate, 48, smokes about five times a week after work and on the weekends. Tom, 52, smokes almost as frequently.

They both have high-paying jobs in the financial industry. And they see themselves as connoisseurs.

“It’s like a fine glass of wine where you twirl it, swish it in your mouth. You savor it,” Kate said. “Some kinds are evergreen-smelling. Some are orangey, sticky. We like to try different strains and compare.”

Taking a dare

Kate’s long relationship with marijuana began when she was in high school. Someone at a party dared her to smoke a joint. So she did.

“It was like the scene in the movie ‘Walk Hard,’” she laughed. “We were in a bathroom and someone said ‘You don’t want to do this!’ and I said, ‘Yes I do!’”

Kate continued smoking pot through college.

Tom, on the other hand, didn’t start smoking pot regularly until he was almost 30 and working in Chicago’s Financial District. The first two times he tried pot in college, he suffered from splitting headaches. He tried it again as an adult and enjoyed the relaxing feeling he got.

“Very mellow and mild,” he said. “Not like any other drug.”

Kate said she’s never bought marijuana from a drug dealer. There have always been friends of hers who had it and shared it with her.

“I never had to make that inner-city purchase. If I had to go somewhere scary to get it, I probably wouldn’t use it,” she said.

Kate briefly grew pot in her backyard vegetable garden. Her children were young and thought she was drying herbs in her basement. But the quality wasn’t stellar.

“I started to grow it because the one thing that bothered me about pot was that I understood the violence associated with it all,” she said.

Tom has always bought pot from people in the financial world who sell it on the side.

“I have used the same guy for the last four or five years,” he said. “I’ll send him a text message: ‘Can we get together tomorrow?’ He’ll say: ‘The usual?’ ‘Yes,’ I’ll say. ‘Meet you downstairs for a cigarette.’”

Hidden from kids

When Kate and Tom started smoking pot, it was much less potent than it is now.

“In the past, one ounce might be gone in a month,” Tom said. “Now one ounce might last four or five months. You only need to do one or two puffs these days.”

But the “good stuff” isn’t cheap, Tom said.

He and Kate smoke hydroponically grown sinsemilla — usually from Colorado or California where it’s legally sold for medical purposes. Tom usually spends more than $350 for an ounce.

Kate and Tom have teenage children and they don’t discuss their marijuana habit with them.

“They know I wish it was legal,” Kate said. “They know I’m not against it. But they’re minors and I don’t want to cross that line. It is illegal, after all.”

While Kate and Tom keep to themselves about smoking pot, Dan Linn is very open about it.

That’s because he’s the head of the Illinois chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws — NORML.

Linn, 29, said he started smoking pot in his early teens like Kate.

He was an aggressive kid who got into a lot of fights before he started using pot before school every day. He continued to play travel hockey and worked a night job during high school.

“Once I started using cannabis, I started to calm down and focus on activities, whether it was academics, sports or outside hobbies,” he said.

Linn, who now works at a grocery, lobbies the Illinois General Assembly on a variety of marijuana-related bills. He’s pushing for the taxation and legalization of marijuana in Illinois. He supports medical-marijuana legislation, which came eight votes short of passing in May.

Push for tickets

Linn said he also backs making petty possession of marijuana a violation that results in a ticket but no criminal charges. Police, prosecutors and Cook County officials have been studying the idea recently. Several area towns also have switched to the ticket policy. Some Chicago aldermen introduced an ordinance to allow cops to write $200 tickets for possession of up to 10 grams of pot.

“I think it would be a step in the right direction,” Linn said.

Linn said he doesn’t always pay for marijuana. Growers give him pot as a “tribute” for his lobbying work. He said he knows medical marijuana growers in Colorado and California who illegally sell some of their weed in Illinois. He also is friends with some indoor growers who live in Chicago and rural Illinois.

“Downstate, you can find counties where the sheriff tells people, ‘This is not on my radar. I am not looking to arrest people for this.’ And those growers are expanding their operations,” Linn said. “But I know of stockbrokers, lawyers, people who work on the Board of Trade who grow it, too.”

Kate, Tom and Linn all consider marijuana to be medicine.

They know cancer patients who have used marijuana to treat the side effects of their ailments.

And Tom said marijuana alleviates the pain in his knees from playing competitive sports all the way through college.

Experts warn that marijuana smoking has been linked to psychosis in a small but growing number of users. But Kate, Tom and Linn insist marijuana is less dangerous than other drugs or alcohol.

They strongly support the legalization of pot, which they equate with lifting the prohibition on alcohol in the 1933 with the 21st Amendment.

“As far as I know, nobody has ever died from an overdose of cannabis,” Linn said. “People die all the time from alcohol poisoning.”

Tom and Kate sometimes have a cocktail or glass of wine while they are smoking. But Tom said he tells his kids that between alcohol and pot, alcohol is the bigger evil.

“I don’t see how anybody who has sense can say alcohol should be legal but marijuana should be illegal,” Tom said.

And with that, Kate handed Tom the one-hitter — and he took a puff.