and Carl Sagan Did, Too
By Ellen Komp, 4/16/07
Internet search engines turned up hundreds, if not thousands of "hits" last week after Kirsten Dunst, the actress who plays Spiderman's girlfriend Mary Jane, told Britain's Live magazine that she smokes pot. "I have a different outlook on marijuana than America does," she said. "I've never been a major smoker, but I think America's view on weed is ridiculous. I mean - are you kidding me? If everyone smoked weed, the world would be a better place."
It seems unlikely that the admission was a mere slip of the tongue by an actress as accomplished and popular as Dunst. She couldn't have played the media-conscious tennis star Lizzie Bradbury in 2004's "Wimbledon" so convincingly otherwise. The news served to publicize "Spiderman 3" without harming Dunst's reputation as an arrest or other incident would have.
The statement also informed the public that it isn't only Hollywood stars and musicians who dig the weed. Dunst, it turns out, counts among her friends not Paris Hilton or Britney Spears, but Sasha Sagan, the daughter of Carl Sagan. Dunst reportedly told Live, "My best friend Sasha's dad was Carl Sagan, the astronomer. He was the biggest pot smoker in the world and he was a genius."
An exaggeration on the first count, perhaps, but not on the second. Carl Sagan, who died in 1996, is perhaps the most beloved and well-known scientist of the 20th century. His book Cosmos was the best selling science book ever published in the English language. During his lifetime, Sagan received the Pulitzer Prize and eighteen honorary degrees from American colleges and universities for his contributions to science, literature, education and the preservation of the environment.
Sagan played a leading role in the Mariner, Viking and Voyager spacecraft expeditions, for which he received NASA Medals for Exceptional Scientific Achievement and Distinguished Public Service. He was widely recognized not only for his scientific achievements, but also for sharing his love and enthusiasm for science with millions.
He also smoked pot.
A 1999 biography of Sagan revealed that, using the pseudonym "Mr. X," he wrote about his marijuana smoking in an essay published in the 1971 book Reconsidering Marijuana. In the essay, Sagan said marijuana inspired some of his intellectual work. "I can remember one occasion, taking a shower with my wife while high, in which I had an idea on the origins and invalidities of racism in terms of gaussian distribution curves," Sagan wrote. "I drew the curves in soap on the shower wall, and went to write the idea down. One idea led to another, and at the end of about an hour of extremely hard work I found I had written eleven short essays on a wide range of social, political, philosophical, and human biological topics . . . from all external signs, such as public reactions and expert commentary, they seem to contain valid insights. I have used them in university commencement addresses, public lectures, and in my books."
Sagan also wrote that pot enhanced his experience of food, particularly potatoes, music and sex. His widow, Ann Druyan, serves on the board of directors of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
Dunst, 25, seems to understand responsible cannabis consumption, and her successful career proves it. She told Live that while smoking marijuana can be inspirational, "I'm not talking about being stoned all day, though. I think if it's not used properly, it can hamper your creativity and close you up inside." The comments echoed those VIP Jennifer Aniston of TV's Friends, America's favorite girl-next-door of the last decade, made to Rolling Stone in 2001. "I enjoy it once in a while. There's nothing wrong with that. Everything in moderation," Aniston said, making it clear she was talking about pot and not cocaine or heroin."
An earlier pop queen, jazz singer and VIP Anita O'Day, started smoking pot when it was still legal in 1933, and later spent 12 years addicted to heroin. She wrote in her 1981 autobiography High Times, Hard Times, "I've always felt that exaggerating the destructive effect of marijuana was a big mistake. The fact that people had used it for years without developing severe problems made it easier for them to discount the physical and economic problems created by use of hard drugs." But our drug education programs aren't much different today than the 1936 "educational" film "Reefer Madness."
Other famous scientists who used marijuana include Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman; anthropologist Margaret Mead, who argued for its legalization before Congress in 1969; neurologist Oliver Sacks, the author of Awakenings, who harkens to his cannabinoid experiences as a means of understanding the workings of the human brain; and botanist Michael Pollan, who theorizes that the brain's cannabinoid network may have been selected for by our hunting ancestors.
In 1985 novel Cosmos, Sagan imagined a Parisian afternoon in the near future, writing, "Outside a tobacconist's there was a long, orderly, and polyglot line of people attracted by the first week of legalized sale of cured cannabis cigarettes from the United States. By French law they could not be sold to or consumed by those under eighteen years of age. . . . Especially potent varieties of cannabis were grown, mainly in California and Oregon, for the export trade." As California's Franchise Tax Board has informed the estimated 200 medical marijuana outlets in the state they are responsible for paying sales tax, this visionary scene may not be as far away as "Spiderman 4."
Ellen Komp has been a drug policy reform activist and author since 1991. She manages the website www.veryimportantpotheads.com
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