Of the many implausible and radical encounters during my aviation career, smoking a little ganja (by default—residual smoke) with Bob Marley was one of the most memorable. The “bad guys” had just tried to kill him and his family, friends, and colleagues because they did not like his politics. I was summoned to smuggle him and his entourage out of Kingston, Jamaica, where his longevity was in severe jeopardy. Nine passengers were stuffed into the Learjet as we headed for Nassau, where a large and enthusiastic crowd of reggae devotees were awaiting his arrival.
Shortly after lift-off, the cabin—and the cockpit—were inundated with the sweet smell of burning marijuana leaves. Bob had been a little stressed from his intensity-filled free-concert along with the attempted assassination he experienced, so he used the very popular Rastafarian sacrament of “ganja” to enhance the relaxation factor. Most of his fellow passengers joined him for one of those Jamaican delicacies referred to as a “big spliff.” As the smell of the marijuana intensified, my co-pilot started singing “every little thing is going to be all right.” At that point the fog of residual smoke was so strong that we donned the oxygen masks.
The legalization of marijuana is working its way forward to become a front-and-center issue in the United States. Even Paul Ryan, the very conservative VP candidate recently issued a statement that he advocated legalizing medicinal marijuana. The statement was soon rebuffed by the RNC—they said Ryan was a little confused. Perhaps, in a private policy meeting they later asked “What was he smoking?” Most of the European countries have already seen the failure of putting people in jail for what they put in their body and have addressed the problem pragmatically.
If we decriminalize marijuana, will pilots be flying us in their jets a little “higher” than their actual altitude? The answer is no. Alcohol abuse is much more prevalent in the pilot community than is use of marijuana. While there may be a few pilots who occasionally toke on the controversial weed, they represent probably less than one percent of professional pilots. Those pilots that do occasionally indulge will keep their indulgence many hours or, preferably days, (the stoned state does have a lingering effect) from the cockpit. In the late 60s and early 70s the use of marijuana was much more prevalent with the young pilots than it is today.
The mandatory random drug tests administered to flight crews has had a very beneficial result in keeping impaired pilots out of the cockpit. It is now more important to focus on the tired pilots in the cockpit. My recent released book, Dead Tired: Pilot Fatigue-Aviation’s Insidious Killer addresses this issue (www.deadtiredpilots.com). For more details about the Bob Marley adventure, please refer to The Rogue Aviator: in the back alleys of aviation (www.therogueaviator.com).
This blog is prepared by Allen Morris/aka Ace Abbott, a retired commercial pilot/aviation author.