Get on the Cannabus

I did not smoke pot this past April 20.  Truth be told, I haven’t smoked pot at all since the summer of 2010—and only a handful of times before that.  I don’t say this to impress you.  Were a joint to spontaneously appear in front of me, I’d likely grab it faster than Donald Trump grabs a Filet-o-Fish (and to greater effect).

I first encountered (read: inhaled) marijuana during my freshman year of college—specifically, in my dorm’s communal bathroom on Good Friday—because some guy down the hall had a secret stash and I happened to be idling nearby.  While I wouldn’t call that evening life-changing—if memory serves, it consisted mainly of eating a family-sized bag of Doritos and avoiding eye contact with the RA—it set the template for every weed-smoking episode that followed:  I didn’t actively seek it out, but when the opportunity presented itself—invariably through some vague acquaintance whom I’d probably never see again—I didn’t put up much resistance.  Following years of curiosity—and all the hysterical anti-drug propaganda that went with it—I wanted to understand what the fuss was about, and I was seldom disappointed with the result.

That was then—a blessedly distant world of prohibition in which to get high was to put oneself at the mercy of the American legal system—a risk that, as with underage drinking, undoubtedly added to the allure and pleasure of the overall experience.  (White privilege probably helped, too.)

In the intervening years, however, something rather strange has happened:  Marijuana has become legal.  As of this writing, nine states and the District of Columbia have OK’d the personal recreational use of the cannabis plant in all its forms, while another 20 states have sanctioned it for medicinal purposes—a gateway maneuver if I ever saw one.

Among the nine-and-a-half states that have gone whole hog on the pot question is my home commonwealth of Massachusetts, whose voters approved a pro-pot ballot referendum on November 8, 2016—an admittedly ironic day for such a liberal, forward-thinking decision.

Strictly-speaking, marijuana became legal in Massachusetts less than six weeks after Election Day, with residents allowed to grow, possess and consume small amounts of the substance to their hearts’ desire in the privacy of their own homes.  However, government bureaucracy being what it is, it will not be until July 1—fully 20 months after the vote—that recreational pot shops will open their doors and, for the first time, their products will be commercially available to those, like me, who have been largely cut off from the cannabis black market up to now.

Of course, the $1 billion question is whether the normalization of weed will turn me—and, in time, the entire state—into a lazy-eyed smokestack who spends all day listening to Pink Floyd and giggling at the wallpaper.  Whether ease of access will translate into frequency of use, and all the productivity-depleting horrors that supposedly follow.

Having never tended my own private marijuana nursery, I cannot know that answer for sure until the magic hour arrives.  However, my hunch is that very little will change in my consumption habits overall, and I would wager the same about most of the fellow inhabitants of my state.

How so?  First, because, as a rule, the per-serving market rate for legal weed tends to exceed that of alcohol—already the far more entertaining of the two drugs—and I am nothing if not a cheap date.  Second—and speaking of booze—I can’t help but notice that, pound-for-pound, I imbibed a lot more liquor before turning 21 than after.  As enjoyable as moderate drinking can and will always be, once all the legal barriers fell—once I could walk into a package store without a fake ID and emerge with a six-pack of Sam Adams unmolested—the temptation to overindulge was just never the same.  Call me an old fogy, but I find that spending the majority of one’s Sunday hunched over a toilet bowl isn’t nearly as fun at age 30 as it is at 18, 19 or 20.

The dirty little secret about drugs—as with pretty much everything—is that nothing dulls the appetite like legalization, and the most surefire way to create a culture of addicts is to take their favorite product away from them.  History is littered with examples of this very phenomenon—not least in the United States between 1920 and 1933—although my personal favorite is the observation made in the 1990s to Salman Rushdie—then under fatwa for writing The Satanic Verses—that “in Egypt, your book is totally banned—totally banned!—but everyone has read it.”

To be honest, it’s unlikely I’ll be smoking cannabis ever again—even after July 1.  Having never learned to roll a joint properly and not wanting to set off smoke alarms in my own house, my pot consumption, such as it is, will almost surely come in edible form, be it candy, chocolate or whatever else the kids are cooking up these days.  While I understand the pitfalls of ingesting marijuana-laced baked goods for the first time—elucidated most memorably by Maureen Dowd in a 2014 New York Times column—the notion of sucking smoke deep into my lungs has struck me as an increasingly unappetizing means of getting high when biting into a slightly odd-tasting cookie will produce more-or-less the same result.

But that’s just me.

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