A return to the reefer madness mentality of the '30s it is not.
To its founder, psychotherapist David Izenzon, Pot Smokers Anonymous is simply an inevitable outgrowth of the continued indulgence in marijuana by the flower children of the '60s who have grown up.
Izenson claims to detect cracks in the rosy frescos of those people who radiate conventional success along with clouds of pungent smoke. He works with people who come to hims with the tale of gradual but unmistakable psychological dependence on marijuana -- a tale that challenges conventional cocktail party wisdom about the outlawed drug.
Izenzon's instincts tell him that he is on the ground floor of something big -- a movement in this country away from the illegal "weed" which, its advocates say, is safe, socially attractive, and compatible with any lifestyle.
"I am working with a lot of successful young people who have recognized that pot just isn't working for them anymore," he explained.
The folks at the national Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) aren't exactly quaking in their boots. "I've heard something about it, but I'm not yet convinced that it's not a joke," a NORML spokesman said recently.
Running the only such organization in the country, Izenzon concedes that he is swimming against the tide at the moment. "I'm like an elbow in a world of armpits right now," he said.
Izenzon is not your average healer. Voted the Bass Player of the Year in a DOWNBEAT MAGAZINE JAZZ POLL IN 1967, HE SMOKED MARIJUANA FOR ABOUT 25 YEARS WITH OTHER MUSICIANS, LONG BEFORE IT CREPT INTO WHITE, MIDDLE-CLASS SUBURBAN HOMES. He counsels his small flock of potheads with little moralizing and a refreshing, if alarming, ignorance of the bureaucracy that can aid as well as engulf such self-help groups.
He has no idea, for example, of how to approach state or federal agencies to expand his tiny operation, which essentially is run out of his house on Manhattan's Lower East Side. "Right now, the organization depends on me," Izenzon concedes. "This is ridiculous."
Since June, Izenzon has put almost 100 persons, from tee-agers to grayhaired 50-year-olds, through his nine-week course for $200. He meets with small groups in a two-hour session each week mixing peer pressure with the motivation that drew the people to him in the first place: cold turkey -- the day when his clients drop marijuana for good.
He is on call 24 hours a day during the crucial days after cold turkey begins and asks graduates to stay in touch for 60 weeks after the course has ended. His rate of success, he claims, is extremely high. "If someone isn't going to make it, I'll know it during the first session and give them their money back," Izenzon said.
There's no particular magic in Izenzon's methods. "I teach emotional recognition skills," he explained.
"Smoking is only the Symptom," he continued. "I treat the causes -- fear, love, anger, hate. These are the emotions that we have to deal with."
None of Izenzon's clients are destitute. While some say they need a couple of joints to get out of bed or to go to sleep, most are professionals in their late 20s and 30s who generally maintain good personal relationships and possess the other credentials necessary for acceptance in successful middle-class life in America.
Like the classic alcoholic, these people make a distinction between essential work time and smoking time which by and large occupies the rest of their lives. This means that most of them smoke at least one joint every evening and perhaps a few during the day as well.
If there is a common characteristic among these people, it's their achievement-oriented personality. They generally are highly motivated people who have realized that they can't achieve one thing -- ending the use of marijuana as an integral part of their lives. This revelation infuriated them more than anything else.
"For me to be smoking pot is simply unreasonable," said Monica, a yoga teacher in her late 20s. "I love what I do. I'm good at it, but smoking dope runs counter to everything I'm teaching about physical health."
"I couldn't control it anymore," said Walter, a 32-year-old surgical resident who is married and has a young child. "It controlled me, and I don't like anything controlling me."
"Let's face it, pot is one of the residuals of the '60s," he continued. "My generation happens to be full of pot snobs who wouldn't dream of becoming alcoholics. But I think that many of us are addicted to pot."
Walter says he would still be smoking if he had the temperament ot limit himself to once or twice a week socially.
"I don't call that kind of smoking a problem," he said. "I see absolutely nothing wrong with the level. I just couldn't do it."
"It really comes down to the reason why you do it." sai Arthur, 31, who runs a small state agency in New York. "If it's to escape, iths wrong. If it's for fun, I think it's okay. I was doing it for the wrong reason."
Walter became dependent on pot when he was putting in as many as 120 hours a week as an intern in a New York City hospital six years ago. "At that tiem, I was stoned every night I had off," he said. "I was exhausted, and I had no trouble rationalizing that I smoked to relax the best way I could. I'd say that a quarter of my class at med school smoked regularly."
While serving as a flight surgeon in Vietnam, Walter continued to smoke heavily off-duty to fight anziety and depression. Until he quit, he had a joint waiting for him in his car ashtray when he finished his daily medical rounds.
Paula, who is in her 30s, a vice president of a manhattan advertising agency, and a mother of a 8-year-old boy, also smoked to fight anxiety. "I think I smoked to lessen the anxiety of not having a good time," she said. "Having a good time is very important to me. Everything seems to be hyperbolic in my life -- the greatest hamburger, the worst movie, etc."
It was after she realized that she and her husband had been stoned every day during a two-week vacation that Paula decided to act.
"That's when it hit me that dope had become a very big part of my life," she said. "Before that, I noticed that I was smoking every time I went to a museum.... I used to be an art student, and I had always enjoyed that experience naturally."
Izenzon acknowledges that Pot Smokers Anonymous could remain an elbow in a world of armpits for a long time to come. America does not appear ready to turn its back on one of its favorite drugs. Many people can and do limit themselves to the mild smoking habits as Izenzon's patients couldn't. Besides, it ktakes motivation and a fair amount of money to come to Izenzon in the first place.
Jane, an illustrator in her 50s, remembered what prevented her from quitting for so long.
"I kept wondering if the quality of my life would be the same without it," she said. "But then I kept having this absurd picture of myself growing old smoking dope in a bentwood rocker like Whistler's mother."