Siobhan Gill pulls on a glass pipe shaped like Absolem, the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland. A bowl loaded with AK-47 marijuana flares, and soon smoke billows back out, curling up, framed by the window and the bright sun. Inside the apartment, it’s dark. After a few breaths, Gill’s pace relaxes, and her voice evens out.
“You know the disarray you feel when you’ve got too many open tabs?” she asks, and I nod, picturing myself in a feedback loop as the tabs in my browser get up to 20. “With PTSD, it feels like thousands and thousands of tabs are open, and I can’t tell which ones are important and which aren’t. There are memories, and flashbacks, and shit I’ve gotta do right now, and shit I’m supposed to do later, and recipes for cake, all there, all the time.”
I point out how calm she is right now, and the elegance of her description. She shrugs.
“I’m stoned,” Gill says. “When I’m stoned, there are five tabs in front of me. Maybe one’s a midterm task and a couple are ideas, and one is an actionable step I can take right now.”
A little over a month ago, when the first legal weed shops opened in Vancouver, Wash., Gill agreed to let KGW’s cameras film her smoking. A camera followed her and fiance Ben Sturgis from their purchase of marijuana at Main Street Marijuana in Vancouver, where the opening-day ribbon had just been cut by the city’s mayor, back to their third-floor apartment in Hazel Dell. She inhaled one vast, dank cloud from a pink bong and said, “Mmmm, legal weed. That makes me feel so good to say that.” It seemed a moment of catharsis.
Instead, this 32-year-old adoptive mother of two, who’s studying part-time after serving in Iraq, was under fire again. This time, from social conservatives on the TV station’s site and Facebook page. “I was accused of being a welfare queen,” Gill says. “Of being a negligent mom. Of being a pedophile.”
Wild accusations of negligence and sexual impropriety are nothing new to the Internet, but they can sting, particularly when aimed at a veteran of the Oregon National Guard still processing her time in Iraq.
“Once you go out your door, your chances of dying rise exponentially,” she says. “I don’t trust people. I smoke, and that nervousness goes away enough that I can go out and take care of things. People say there hasn’t been enough research. Talk to other vets! Talk to parents who have their child down from 15 seizures a day to two a month. Talk to cancer survivors. Ask them if there’s evidence marijuana helps. Research has been going on for thousands of years.”
When she’s focused, you can sense the power of Gill’s tornado mind. There are other times when she seems lost, like when she interrupts Sturgis’ soliloquy on the freedom to grow. He talks about how smart Gill is, but also how irritable she can get, and how he’s thankful the smoke cools her down.
I ask Sturgis and Gill if weed is the answer—to his depression, to her post-traumatic stress disorder, to living a normal life together after being sent to Iraq to fight for reasons that grow less clear with each passing month.
“I think it’s there to show you there’s a way out,” she says. “So maybe I’m feeling low one day, and I get stoned and I feel lighter, and it gives me an extra beat to focus, to take a step. And then another, and eventually I’m moving out of whatever shit I’m in…. I think it helps you recognize your options.”
For a little over a year, PTSD has been included on Oregon’s list of cannabis-approved diagnoses, but veterans still face stigma. In the military, emotional stoicism is quietly encouraged and the list of approved intoxicants includes booze, uppers and burnt coffee.
On the surface, cannabis legalization seems to be gaining momentum. The economic success of legalization in Washington and Colorado has been a victory for supporters, and momentum could carry to Oregon and California in November. The reaction to Gill’s smoking shows that finding acceptance is another battle altogether. A number of pro-pot advocates I’ve talked to compare their revelations of cannabis use to friends and family to a coming-out moment. The comparison lacks tact, but the parallels to living a more open, honest life remain. Gill returns from war and consumes a widely used, nontoxic, nonaddictive and legal salve for the wounds she has suffered. She is met with scorn for doing so. Doesn’t this seem like a lesson we’ve learned before?
It’s been nearly a year since I learned I would be writing this column, and in that time I’ve discussed marijuana with hundreds of people. There has been one constant: Regardless of usage level, age, political leanings or economic status, the more a person understands cannabis, the less sense its 80-year legal ban makes, and the more these types of conflicts seem downright silly. Once again, Gill is on the front lines of a war, hazarding the attacks of adversaries too uncreative to learn a better option, and too tenacious to let it all go.