by Bob Cesca
I just got back from Los Angeles where we memorialized the too-short life of my friend, my colleague at The Daily Banter and my podcast partner, Chez. The event was just the sort of thing he would’ve killed to have been a part. It was held at a cool bar on Melrose — his favorite hangout — from which he absolutely would’ve checked-in on Facebook, partly to brag and partly to make the rest of us jealous of his Hollywood lifestyle. There were drinks, there was laughing, crying, there were many stories about Chez involving the word “fuck.” It was nearly perfect.
And the irony of the event being held at a bar wasn’t lost on many of us.
At this point, we generally have a sense of how he died, but the official word is unclear. Ultimately, this is a private matter for his family and his fiancee, so it’s better to just sidestep that one for now. What we know, however, and what I learned from Chez through our nearly six years of working professionally together is that he had ongoing issues with substance abuse. If you followed The Banter, or listened to our podcasts, or if you read Chez’s memoir, Dead Star Twilight, you know the stories.
Chez’s favorite drug was heroin, but as far as I knew, he kicked it back before 9/11 during his final stint in rehab (see also aforementioned memoir). He tried nearly every drug there is, and he continued to use some of those drugs until recently. Yes, it occasionally included pills and a popular powdery item originating from certain South American nations. He also liked a good single malt. Wild Turkey was his weapon of choice, and, on the podcast, he made it perfectly clear that the results of the election triggered his addiction cortex, and so he was routinely getting blackout drunk. In fact, during one show, Chez talked about somehow getting into a fight during a blackout episode.
He made it a habit of always being honest and telling me either privately or publicly about nearly everything he was up to — drugs and other more casual non-drug activities. But he never mentioned heroin unless he was talking about distant memories. I simply didn’t have any knowledge of heroin use during the six years we did the show together. Nothing. That said, he was found dead after smoking heroin in his car. Again, there’s no official word that it was the thing that killed him. Chez had a well-known array of health issues, so, hell, it could’ve been a heart attack that was brewing for months or years. We don’t know. Nevertheless, heroin was a thing.
So, when Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, talked about heroin this week, I couldn’t help but notice.
“I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.”
Right off the bat, instead of amplifying the urgency surrounding the heroin crisis, Sessions might’ve inadvertently downplayed it by comparing it to pot. I have no idea whether pot legalization will help mitigate heroin addiction, but I do know that it won’t make it worse. Why? Because heroin and pot are two very different substances, each with their own forms of ossification, and each with their own downsides.
I’ve never tried heroin because, for obvious reasons, it terrifies me. Though, as someone who regularly smokes pot, I can tell you from experience a few things:
1) In my experience, it’s completely non-addictive, even though feeling good can become a habit. Sue me. But I’ve gone through periods when I’ve partaken, then stopped cold turkey for weeks without any detox side-effects or cravings.
2) Regarding that, I smoked cigarettes for 17 years, and I’ve gone through periods of time in my life when I drank way too much and way too often, so addiction isn’t a foreign concept to me. When I quit tobacco cold turkey in July of 2007, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done — but it was also one of the best things I’ve ever done. Needless to say, I understand chemical dependency, especially when it comes to nicotine, which happens to be similarly as addictive as heroin.
3) Chez once told me you only choose to do heroin once — then heroin chooses you. While heroin is insanely addictive and can literally kill you on the spot, there are only three unwanted side effects of smoking pot: insignificant bouts of silly-ish paranoia, a temporary memory glitch and, sometimes, a minor cough while partaking. Yes, I’ll occasionally forget what I’m talking about mid-sentence — but only while stoned. I wish that wasn’t a side effect, but oh well. It goes away. I’ll also have a paranoid thought or two, depending on the kind of pot’s in the bowl. And it’s also not good for my lungs, but given the limited amount I smoke, my system usually has enough time to recover. Plus, I’m quite athletic, so my cardio is more robust.
4) No one has ever died from a pot overdose that we’re aware of. Unlike booze or coke or fill-in-the-blank, few people get into fights on pot — blacked out or not. Speaking for myself, I just end up talking a lot (shocker) and it makes me really horny. There was one time when I alternated between feeling euphoric and feeling terrified, but that was only once.
5) Oh, and since I’m being completely honest — sex and orgasms are way, way, way better while stoned.
6) And finally, while I still enjoy a couple of glasses of wine now and then, I used to drink quite a bit and, looking back, it was lightyears worse than pot on my body, my mind and my emotional state. Compared to pot, booze feels like poison. And, yes, it’s addictive. Bigly.
For the attorney general to even begin to suggest pot is “slightly less awful than heroin” is like saying Super Mario Bros. is slightly less awful than nuclear war. It disrespects the personal struggles of millions of people fighting their way through heroin addiction. It disrespects Chez’s death and the personal demons that haunted him through most of his adult life. And it disrespects those of us who’ve lost friends and family to heroin. How fucking dare Sessions go there — as if he knows anything about anything. Oh, and by the way, it disrespects those of us who smoke pot, lumping all of us into a salacious category of ne’er-do-wells and scabby miscreants, while not taking into consideration hundreds of defining and mitigating factors. Sadly, our political leaders continue to mostly play the egregiously stupid “reefer madness” card instead of getting real about what’s harmful and what’s not.
Until they do, opioid addiction will never be adequately addressed or ameliorated. How could it be when America’s top cop, Sessions, is utterly clueless about the myriad differences between relatively harmless pot and the relentless brutality of heroin — or meth, or crack, or, yes, alcohol, which, for some reason, still gets special legal dispensation.
There’s one thing in this world that I know for certain: if Chez had been smoking pot in his car that Saturday night, he’d still be here today. I mean, he could’ve been good and stoned. Red-eyed and gabbing away in a stone rant to nobody in particular. And after a few minutes, he would’ve stepped out of his BMW and marched into his house where Taryn was waiting for him. We would’ve recorded seven podcasts together since that night if Chez had been smoking pot. So don’t tell me — now of all times — that pot is merely “heroin light.”
For this and so many other reasons, Jeff Sessions and his boss in the Oval Office can feel free to suck a bag of dicks.
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