You cannot make this up. (Gregorio Borgia / AP)
You cannot make this up. (Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press)

“What he meant, I gathered, was that, owing to the fact that Gussie had just completed a five years’ stretch of blameless seclusion among the newts, all the goofiness which ought to have been spread out thin over those five years and had been bottled up during that period came to the surface on this occasion in a lump — or, if you prefer to put it that way, like a tidal wave.”
– “Jeeves and the Tie That Binds Right Ho, Jeeves,” by P.G. Wodehouse, describing an embarrassing incident in which the teetotaler Gussie Fink-Nottle accidentally consumes more alcohol than was perhaps wise

“I barely made it from the desk to the bed, where I lay curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours. I was thirsty but couldn’t move to get water. Or even turn off the lights. I was panting and paranoid, sure that when the room-service waiter knocked and I didn’t answer, he’d call the police and have me arrested for being unable to handle my candy. I strained to remember where I was or even what I was wearing, touching my green corduroy jeans and staring at the exposed-brick wall. As my paranoia deepened, I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me.”
Maureen Dowd, describing the experience of accidentally consuming more edible marijuana than was perhaps wise

Ah, suggested portion sizes.

Some things have them and don’t need to (popsicles, for instance. What are you going to do, re-freeze half a popsicle?). Some things have them, but they’re misleading (sodas that inform you there were 2.5 servings in a container right after you’ve finished the whole container). For other things (cigarettes among them), the recommended serving size is “zero servings and a creepy picture of a blackened lung.” Some things don’t include these guidelines at all, except in the vaguest sense, and — perhaps, ought to.

“Please drink responsibly,” the label said. Responsibly. I do everything responsibly. This is why I find myself running barefoot down the middle of the street shouting, “As the resident member of the Jedi order, I take FULL responsibility for EVERYTHING!” a little more often than I would like.

What merits a cautionary label? How cautionary is cautionary enough?

Talk about growing pains. We seldom add new socially acceptable drugs to the roster. I don’t know what the experience was when caffeine began making its rounds and working its way into the daily routines of our ancestors. I imagine there was a period of adjustment there as well. “Really the thing you need to worry about,” our ancestors told their friends, “is less the people who have just had their coffee than the people who haven’t gotten it yet.” What amount is unsafe? What amount is not unsafe, just a poor idea? (“How much of this vile brew can I consume?” “As much as you want, if you don’t mind shaking uncontrollably a lot of the time and experiencing rapid speech and time dilation.”)

But this presents another wrinkle with substances whose entire purpose is to produce sensations that, in another context, would be worrisome side effects. (“I’m horribly paranoid, dizzy and for the past three hours I’ve been convinced that my soul has left my body” — “Well, maybe you should get off that particular cough medicine.”) When do we start worrying? How paranoid is too paranoid?

Before, when it came to edible marijuana, the answer to “what amount are you going to be able to consume” was “how much was Evan able to obtain in a small plastic bag and then filter successfully through butter into brownie using a process he assured you was ‘quite involved’?” Now, with legalization, the question is more complicated.

Call it the Gussie Fink-Nottle problem, because few situations cannot be improved by a mention of P.G. Wodehouse. Gussie is a somewhat milquetoast-y character who spends his life engrossed in the study of newts. His drug of choice is orange juice and tiny details about newts and their lifestyles — minewtiae, if you will, although I hope you won’t. Consequently, Gussie cannot handle his liquor. Consequently, when he is presented with liquor, the effects can be — alarming, to say the least.

Perhaps it’s not an unreasonable idea to have some kind of serving guideline, for the Gussies of this world. If this can happen to a newspaper columnist, it can happen to anyone! Why give former lawbreakers the advantage? The Gussies did everything right! They waited for it to be legal! We can’t punish them for having refused the sketchy-looking paper plate of Evan’s brownies.

Then again, learning to consume a controlled substance responsibly is always a process, as any frat member will tell you. Do you tailor your policy to the Gussies, emerging from their blameless seclusion among the newts? And what do you use? Pictures? Labels? People still buy cigarettes in spite of those ominous warnings. You can’t possibly leave it to the word “responsibly.” That word is already stressed out trying to get people to use technology, drink and twerk in the manner it suggests.

In this generation, the novices who approach the counter to ask for “one marijuana, please” are the ones most likely to wind up curled in a fetal position somewhere for the next several hours. But if this continues to be legal, learning responsible consumption is going to be a rite of passage for everyone. How do you teach that?

(“Don’t ask me,” alcohol murmurs, trying to sneak out of this piece.)

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.