Whiff Of Spliff Police In Smouldering Issue


i wanna be cool too!
Oct 22, 2005
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29 Sep 2006

by Rosie Dimanno,
Sitting on a bench in the common outside Trinity College, a lovely autumn afternoon, watching students drifting by, and envying them, wondering again why I denied myself this academic experience all those years ago.

Too impatient for the insulated un-reality of a classical education, rushing headlong into the embrace of the Toronto Star instead, at the tender age of 17. I feel both nostalgic for what I never had and regretful.

Then I open an email from a professor and am reminded, oh yeah, that's why.

"Greetings Rosie DiManno, yes, I did get your message and I considered it. I went home and read some of your work, especially the piece on the Domi family ... That is why I deleted your messages. Best wishes, Doug H.

"Ps. Please don't complicate my busy week by showing up unannounced, believing that this would make you my first priority." For a moment I was nonplussed. Then I chuckled. The fellow cracks me up. He may be condescending - a quality that seems bred-in-the-bone with academics and this one's a professor of ancient Greek philosophy, so he can hardly help it - but I like him more by the minute. Also by the subsequent emails, which will have to do, in lieu of a proper interview.

There had indeed been a brief face-to-face chat - before I checked my email on the tool-of-the-devil BlackBerry - outside the second-floor office of Professor Doug Hutchinson ( this particular nook of the lovely college is called Angel's Roost; doesn't that make you sigh with longing for the ivy-shadowed world of dusty manuscripts and don's gowns? ), me knocking on the heavy oak door ( framed with quotes from both Plato and Jerry Garcia ) and he popping out to say he didn't care to talk.

But he was nevertheless anxious to point out that there had been an error in a Star story published earlier this week about him. Headlined "Pot-smoking U of T prof lights up a room," the news article recounted how Hutchinson - who smokes marijuana for medicinal purposes and has a Health Canada don't-go-to-jail card allowing it - had arrived at an accommodation with university authorities. After protracted and often rancorous argument, the school has provided Hutchinson a separately ventilated room in the basement at Trinity College, so he need no longer scuttle about in search of clandestine places to toke. "Sometimes he'd hide behind garbage dumpsters or even climb trees to use the drug, which he says he needs to alleviate the pain from an undisclosed medical condition," the story said.

Hutchinson: "I didn't tell the reporter I hid behind garbage dumpsters. "I said I hid inside garbage dumpsters. I pointed out the error to my students."

Yanking my chain ever so gently. But I do appreciate wry humour. So let the record stand corrected: In the bin, not behind it.

Before being shooed away, ever so politely, I did manage to squeeze in one question, just because I was wondering. If Hutchinson in fact smokes up to 10 joints a day to relieve his pain, how can he teach with any cogency? I'm not an expert on pot - my drugs of choice are less organic - but allow me to relate here an incident from a few years back. While Canada was reviewing its drug legislation, I was dispatched to Amsterdam where soft drugs are completely legal and dope cafes more prevalent than bars. In the course of my "research," I was rendered so stoned-stupid that I was incapable of filing to the office for several days. Conversations went as follows. Editor: "You ready to file?" Me: "Tee-hee." Editor, 24 hours later: "How about now?" Me: "Ahhhhhmmm ..."

Hutchinson apparently has no such difficulties functioning. "I don't get high" - from maintaining a therapeutic dosage.

I do not question it. There's no evidence that any of his students have ever complained about Hutchinson's classroom demeanour or that he's anything other than an engaging teacher. The complaint, insofar as one existed, appears to have originated with an anonymous crank - my bet, a faculty colleague - someone who didn't care for the smell emanating from his office.

When Hutchinson opened the door to me, there was a distinct aroma in the room. I did wonder if he was smoking a spliff in there. In a further email dispatch ( after scolding me for the "disagreeable and gossipy" column about Tie Domi's alleged romantic entanglement with Belinda Stronach and his estranged wife's divorce application ): "I have never smoked in that office since I had the basement room. If you say or insinuate otherwise, that would be irresponsible ... what you smelled was my freshly ground medicine, of which you interrupted my preparation. I am not forbidden from preparing my medication here. Leaping to conclusions, as you were, can lead to unhappy landings."

The professor has leapt to conclusions about the columnist.

My point, if he had allowed me to make it, is the utter absurdity of forcing Hutchinson to run up and down stairs however many times a day he needs to seek pot relief, as a saw-off between his medical needs and draconian laws that circumscribe both drug use and smoking in public places. He's got a thick door and a tall window. Only a paucity of common sense, prevents authorities from acknowledging that's enough to constitute contamination-proof barriers.

We've made fools of ourselves, infantilizing and criminalizing consumers of substances completely lawful ( tobacco ) or quasi-lawful ( marijuana ), under the rubric of public health policy. It's not about public health It's about the sniff police and skulking whistle-blowers with too much time on their hands and little axes to grind. So we look wincingly provincial in excoriating actor Sean Penn for lighting up a dart at a Film Festival presser in Sutton Place Hotel - I'm suddenly a fan, though I think he's a ham - and embarrassingly sophomoric in the case of the nanny state and the professor. Rejection notwithstanding, I'm a Hutchinson fan, too. Strictly Platonic, of course.

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