Our Beyond Chronic interview with Laurel Dewey, author of the new novel Betty’s (Little Basement) Garden, continues as Laurel talks about suppressing emotions, cannabis and PTSD, and the stoner stereotype as portrayed by corporate Hollywood.
David Fiedler: When did we decide that children weren’t allowed to feel real emotions and feelings and needed drugs to keep them away? But then we scare them away from cannabis.
Laurel Dewey: Exactly. In fact, I write about this in Betty’s (Little Basement) Garden. There’s a point in the book where Betty realizes her husband couldn’t feel emotions, and her son felt too much, and her job was to help them both. Of course, there are people who are too sensitive, and they feel too much. I’m probably one of those people, but the option of not feeling versus feeling…I couldn’t even imagine it.
And not allowing a child to feel sad, after the death of a family member, not allowing a child to grieve? Or cry? Or feel angry? Of course you have to have some moderation, you can’t allow it to go on and on and on.
In my background in botanical medicine, I also studied homeopathy, and one of the tenets of homeopathy is “Whatever you try to suppress – whether it’s a cough or an infection, or an emotion – you allow to grow and come out”. So allowing people to feel is cathartic.
And that’s one of the things about cannabis that I’ve got to say. Alcohol makes you tune out. But cannabis allows you to tune in, if you’re willing to do so. And it doesn’t make you dwell on things, but it gives you a perspective that’s so necessary.
That’s why it’s so helpful for people with PTSD, because it allows them to forget, but it also allows them to accept, on a very interesting level. I’ve seen it. It just blows my mind, how people can gradually move away from the shock, the trauma.
And it doesn’t have to be war-induced. It could be a woman who was raped, it could be a trauma from childhood that you can’t get over. And it really does help to put a cushion between that…you’re still aware of it, it’s still there, you’re not suppressing it, but you’re looking at it for what it is, and not the hysteria around it. And that, I think, is one of the benefits that I’ve seen in others, that cannabis can do, and it really, really touched me and made an impression on me.
David Fiedler: You’re not turning into a zombie or a druggie, or anything like that, you’re just able to cope with it more, is that it?
Laurel Dewey: Obviously, people abuse it, and that has to be said. Just like people abuse alcohol. There are people I have met, through my research, who are basically, unfortunately, the stoner type who are unable to function. But – and I really, really question this one – would they be that way anyway, without the cannabis? Would they be drunks? Would they be pill-poppers?
I don’t think you can always blame cannabis for somebody being a stoner. Because when you do see that in people, people point to it and they go, “OK, OK? You see right there? That’s what I’m talking about!” That’s what I did.
But that’s just a portion of society. And no, you don’t have to be a stoner. And the people who use it medically – and remember, my book is about medical marijuana – the last thing they want to do, the last thing they want to do is be a stoned person.
Maybe the entertainment industry needs to grow some testicles, and say, “Look, we have to stop showing this in movies, in the same cavalier way like the Cheech and Chong movies, where they’re smoking these big joints and the whole thing’s a joke.”
If you’re going to make medical marijuana more acceptable to the mainstream population, you’ve got to get rid of that stoner perception. That’s the stigma that blocks a lot of people from taking anything having to do with cannabis seriously. Think about it: for the multitude of people who have zero real-life connection to cannabis and are told it’s a healing plant and then see the plant represented by scary dudes with skulls on their T-shirts and rocking a huge bong…well, obviously, that’s not exactly going to give them the confidence or the courage to get near the plant.
It doesn’t mean that stoner persona doesn’t exist, because it does exist. You’ve got plenty of alcohol out there and drunks certainly exist. But, again, the book focuses on the medical application of cannabis and you’ve got lots of responsible cannabis users out there who are nothing like what is portrayed in TV and films.
David Fiedler: The movies come out of Hollywood, and now I remember that when I was writing for [a medical marijuana magazine], I heard that the people who made the Harold and Kumar movies – even though they were clearly stoner genre movies – they were terribly embarrassed at the very idea that [this marijuana magazine] wanted to write an article about it! They didn’t want the “stigma” of having their movie thought of as a “stoner movie”…even though it’s a stoner movie!
So you have these large Hollywood studios willing to put millions of dollars into a movie because they want to get stoners to watch it, but they can’t admit to themselves and to their stockholders that they’re making a stoner movie. But they’re not doing it to help the movement towards legalization or for medical marijuana, they’re doing it basically to exploit the stoner stereotype and keep it alive. So in a way, even though they’re making these comical movies, they’re exploiting and hurting people who use cannabis responsibly just as much as the government is.
Laurel Dewey: That’s a really good point. I really had never thought about it that way. The bottom line is always about money, and profit, which I’ve got nothing against, but I’m against it when they just put out crap. If you use Hollywood as your litmus test for reality, you’ve got other problems. But let’s say Betty’s (Little Basement) Garden got picked up for a television show or a film. That would be fantastic, and I would hope that if that were to happen, they would show it like I wrote it, not…
David Fiedler: Not turning it into something like Weeds.
Laurel Dewey: …not turning it into a joke. I don’t know how you could turn my book into a joke, because it’s pretty clear what the book’s about. I would love that; I would love to have a film made, or a TV show made, that really showed the truth.
I made a point that I wanted the characters in this, the patients and the people against it, I wanted them all to be very realistic. And a lot of the things that were said in this book, some of those lines, I took them exactly from people that I heard, that I talked to…the good lines and the bad lines. The people who were totally against it…I took a lot of notes. Yeah, I would love it if the book became a movie, because it would educate a lot of people.
David Fiedler: I think that’s why it reads so true, because you took it from real life and you didn’t use a lot of stereotypes.
Laurel Dewey: You know, my publisher was great. He made a comment, and I’ll paraphrase, “You didn’t sink to stereotypes and you didn’t pander.” And I really didn’t understand what he meant by that, because I wrote what I experienced. Of course, I made it dramatic, and I threw in my own twists. If I wrote only exactly what I found, it wouldn’t have been that interesting. I showed the good and the bad — as you know, since you read it – I do show that it’s not all rosy in the cannabis business. There’s a lot of infighting, a lot of people who aren’t playing by the rules, and they’re getting other people in trouble who shouldn’t be in trouble. And a lot of people who are just dumb and aren’t doing things right.
So I’m aware of all that. It’s going through its growing pains now, but just give it a couple of years and hopefully we can change that. I don’t want government regulation, though. I think if government was in charge of the cannabis business, and we take it away from these people who have taken the time to create some pretty incredible product lines, and dispensaries…if we take it out of the private sector and make it all about government, then you’re going to get pretty bad products, I think.
In the final part of the interview, Laurel Dewey talks about family secrets and reality as it’s expressed in books.