Notorious THC

I didn’t inhale on 4/20 this year.

However, I did ingest.

Specifically, I sucked on two pieces of watermelon-flavored hard candies infused with THC—the active ingredient in cannabis—until they completely dissolved on my tongue and entered into my bloodstream.

To be clear, I didn’t pop two pieces into my mouth in rapid succession.  I’ve read Maureen Dowd’s infamous 2014 column about her ill-fated run-in with a hopped-up chocolate bar in Colorado (“I barely made it from the desk to the bed, where I lay curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours”) and I know better than to over-indulge an edible with so little experience under my belt.

No, I did exactly what the packaging told me to do:  “Start with one piece.  Wait two hours.  Be mindful.  Enjoy.”

In retrospect, I should’ve been a little less mindful.

Precisely 120 minutes after my first dose, I felt no physical or psychological effects whatsoever.  At that point, I rather restively administered dose number two, from which proceeded another hour-plus of nothing, followed, at long last, by a slight tingle of…….something.  Not a high, per se, let alone a full-blown case of the giggles and/or the munchies.  Nope, just a passing wave of vague euphoria that ended almost as quickly as it began—five, ten minutes, tops.

And that, regrettably, was that.  An evening’s worth of buildup to a virtually non-existent payoff.  So much for the warning on the back of the box:  “The effects of this product may last for many hours.”

What made this 4/20 test run all the curiouser was how very different it was from the night before, Good Friday, when I introduced myself to the world of edibles for the very first time.  In that case, I consumed a single lozenge around 8 o’clock.  At 9:15, while sprawled on the couch watching TV, I found myself breaking into a spontaneous full-body sweat, my heart thumping 50 percent harder than it was a moment before, my mind unable to concentrate on anything beyond removing my socks so my feet wouldn’t suffocate.

While I wouldn’t describe this scene as Maureen Dowd-level paralysis—“hallucinatory” is too grand a word to apply here—I nonetheless kept more-or-less completely still as the weird and less-than-wonderful sensation swept over me, resigned to sit quietly until the perspiration subsided and my heart tucked itself back into my chest, where it belongs. 

When both of those things occurred—again, it didn’t take terribly long, although it sure felt like it—I had no particular urge to double my money with another hit of THC just then.  As a newbie, better to quit while I’m ahead, declare the experiment a success (of sorts) and spend the balance of my Friday night with a relaxing—and altogether predictable—bottle of merlot.

It’s a truism of the pot world that marijuana affects everyone differently.  As has now been proved to me, it is equally true that its effects on a given individual can vary from one day to the next.

Of course, none of the above would be of the slightest interest to anybody, except for one extraordinary fact:  It was all perfectly legal.

Through a voter referendum, the commonwealth of Massachusetts legalized the sale and consumption of marijuana for recreational purposes on November 8, 2016.  And last Thanksgiving—a mere 742 days after the fact—the state’s first two cannabis retail establishments officially opened for business.

Today, there are 15 pot shops (and counting) sprinkled across Massachusetts—including, as of last month, the first recreational dispensary in Greater Boston, New England Treatment Access (NETA) in Brookline, which is where I found myself last Friday morning.  When I arrived at 9:50, there were at least 30 people lined up outside the former Brookline Bank where NETA is housed, waiting to get in.  When the place opened 10 minutes later, at least as many cheery townsfolk were lined up behind me.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one who knew that April 20 was mere hours away.

Customers were escorted inside the ornate marble building five at a time—after getting their IDs checked and scanned, a Brookline police officer stationed casually nearby—and were promptly handed an eight-page menu of the shop’s litany of products, as they waited for the next available register.  (As with the bank that used to occupy the same space, all valuables were concealed safely behind the counter.) 

While tempted by the Belgian dark chocolate bar—Maureen Dowd’s experience notwithstanding—I finally opted for the 16-piece “D-Line Gems,” which the sales associate fetched and rung up for an even $30—$25 for the candy itself, plus a 20 percent sales tax that, per the law, is added to all cannabis-related purchases.  (Actually, it’s three different taxes in one—“local marijuana tax,” “sales tax (cannabis)” and “marijuana excise tax”—but who’s counting?)

Oddly, I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in purchasing an actual cannabis plant, nor the various accessories that go with it.  At my advanced age (31), I suppose I just don’t have the patience for the rituals that old-fashioned pot smoking entails.  As a working man who regularly interacts with the general public, I could certainly do without the smell.

In truth, I could probably do without marijuana altogether, whether smoked, sucked, swallowed or swilled.  Before last week, I hadn’t touched the stuff in nearly nine years, and only a handful of times before that.  Sometimes it’s been a blast; other times, a bust.  I expect I’ll be paying NETA another visit sooner or later, although I doubt it will become much of a habit.

In a country that still occasionally calls itself the land of the free, I’m just happy, at long last, to have the choice.

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All That Is Written

“All that is thought should not be said, all that is said should not be written, all that is written should not be published, and all that is published should not be read.”

Those words were coined by a Polish rabbi named Menachem Mendel of Kotz in the middle of the 19th century.  Surely they have never been more urgently needed than in the United States in 2019.

Just the other day, for instance, the venerable Boston Globe published an online op-ed by Luke O’Neil, a freelance columnist, expressing his rather pointed thoughts about the recently-sacked homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen.  Its throat-clearing opening line:  “One of the biggest regrets of my life is not pissing in Bill Kristol’s salmon.”  (Kristol, you’ll recall, was a leading cheerleader for the Iraq War.)

The rest of the column continued in the same vein, castigating Nielsen for her complicity in President Trump’s policy of separating children from their parents at the Mexican border, and advocating for a general shunning of Nielsen from polite society, up to and including doing unsavory things to her food whenever she turns up at a fancy restaurant.

Following a small uproar among its readers, the Globe subsequently re-wrote parts of O’Neil’s piece—cutting out the word “pissing,” among other things—before ultimately removing it from its webpages entirely.  (It never appeared in print in any form.)  All that currently remains of the thing is an editor’s note explaining that the column “did not receive sufficient editorial oversight and did not meet Globe standards,” adding, rather gratuitously, “O’Neil is not on staff.”

Locally, much has been said and written about the Globe’s (lack of) judgment in ever believing an op-ed about poisoning a public official’s dinner—however cheeky—was fit to publish in the first place.  For all of its obvious liberal biases, the Globe opinion page is a fundamentally grown-up, establishmentarian space, suggesting this episode was a bizarre, one-off aberration and nothing more.

The deeper question, however, is what brings an uncommonly thoughtful and clever writer to put such infantile thoughts to paper in the first place.

And I’m not just talking about Luke O’Neil.

Let’s not delude ourselves:  Ever since Secretary Nielsen was hounded from a Mexican restaurant last summer in response to her department’s repugnant immigration policies, every liberal in America has had a moment of silent contemplation about what he or she would do or say to Nielsen given the chance.  That’s to say nothing of her former boss, the president, and innumerable other members of this wretched administration.

Indeed, plumb the deepest, darkest thoughts of your average politically-aware American consumer, and you’re bound to emerge so covered in sludge that you may spend the rest of your life trying to wash it off.

This is why we differentiate thoughts from actions—morally and legally—and why the concept of “thought crime” is so inherently problematic.  Outside of the confessional, no one truly cares what goes on inside your own head so long as it remains there, and most of us have the good sense to understand which thoughts are worth expressing and which are not.

Except when we don’t, and in the age of Trump—with a major assist from social media platforms whose names I needn’t mention—an increasing number of us don’t.

Because it is now possible for any of us to instantaneously broadcast our basest and most uninformed impressions on any subject to the entire world, we have collectively decided—however implicitly—that there needn’t be any filter between one’s mind and one’s keyboard, and that no opinion is more or less valid than any other.  In the Twitterverse, “Let’s expand health insurance coverage” and “Let’s defecate in Kirstjen Nielsen’s salad” carry equal intellectual weight.

As a free speech near-absolutist, I can’t deny the perverse appeal in having no meaningful restrictions to what one can say in the public square.  With political correctness exploding like a cannonball from America’s ideological extremes, it’s heartening to know that reports of the death of the First Amendment have been greatly exaggerated, indeed.

Or it would be—until, say, a newly-elected congresswoman from Minnesota tells a group of supporters, “We’re gonna go in there and we’re gonna impeach the motherfucker,” and suddenly discretion seems very much the better part of valor.

Among the many truisms that life under the Trump regime has clarified is the fact that just because something can be done, it doesn’t mean it should be done.  And the same is true—or ought to be—about how each of us expresses ourselves to the wider world.

I don’t mean to sound like a total prude.  After all, I’m the guy who wrote a column in mid-November 2016 calling the newly-elected president a selfish, narcissistic, vindictive prick, and who tried to cheer my readers up the day after the election by noting that Trump could drop dead on a moment’s notice.

With two-and-a-half years of hindsight, I’m not sure I should’ve written either of those things, not to mention a few other snide clauses and ironic asides here and there ever since.  They weren’t necessary to make my larger points, and like the opening quip in Luke O’Neil’s Globe column, their rank immaturity and meanness only served to cheapen whatever it was I was trying to say.

As someone who claims to be a writer, I try to choose my words carefully and with at least a small degree of charity.  With great powerin this case, the power of wordscomes great responsibility.  And that includes leaving Kirstjen Nielsen’s salmon alone.

Biden His Time

Here’s a political question for us all:  Was the death of Beau Biden in May 2015 the most consequential event of the 2016 election?

Prior to being diagnosed with the brain cancer that would ultimately kill him, Beau Biden was a rising talent in the Democratic Party, serving as Delaware’s attorney general and generally assumed to be destined for higher office of one sort or another.

He was also the son of Joe Biden, then the sitting vice president and presumptive leading contender for the Oval Office in 2016.  By all accounts, the elder Biden was fully intent on a third run for president—following failed attempts in 1988 and 2008—and it was entirely due to the timing of his son’s illness and death that he decided to take a pass and effectively cede the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton.  And we know how well that went.

It’s the great political “What if?” of our time:  Would the 2016 election have ended differently had Joe Biden been in the mix?

With regards to the Democratic primaries, God only knows.  Maybe Hillary would’ve cleaned Biden’s clock—as both she and Barack Obama did in 2008.  Maybe he would’ve self-imploded through some embarrassing self-own, as he did in 1988 when it was found that he had plagiarized several of his campaign speeches.  Maybe he and Hillary would’ve fought to a protracted, bitter stalemate, allowing a third, outsider candidate (*cough* Bernie *cough*) to sneak past both of them.

But if Biden had somehow bested all his Democratic counterparts and emerged as the party’s nominee, could he have defeated Trump on November 8?

Answer:  Obviously yes.

Of course Biden could’ve defeated Trump in 2016.  Of course he could’ve flipped 80,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—i.e., the three states that wound up swinging the whole damn election.  Of course he could’ve appealed to a not-insignificant chunk of white, semi-deplorable working-class folk who otherwise find Democrats acutely irritating and Hillary positively intolerable.

Yes, in an alternate universe, Joe Biden could’ve been sworn in as the 45th president on January 20, 2017.

I say “could’ve,” not “would’ve,” since any counterfactual involves an infinite number of variables we can’t even begin to imagine.  What’s more, given the historically low occurrence of one political party winning three presidential elections in a row, it’s hardly inconceivable that Trump could’ve defeated any number of Democratic opponents in that strange moment of populist rage—not least the one most closely associated with the outgoing administration.

That said, hindsight strongly suggests Biden would’ve navigated the 2016 campaign more adroitly than Clinton did—if only from a lack of questionable e-mails or a sexual predator spouse—and may well have made the biggest mistake of his life in choosing not to take the plunge when he had the chance.

The relevant follow-up, then, is whether Biden’s apparently imminent entry into the 2020 primaries—for real this time!—will follow through on the untested promise of 2016 and serve as the de facto Obama restoration half the country has craved for the last two-plus years.  Or, instead, whether Biden’s moment really has come and gone, and the best he could do would be to sail off into retirement as a beloved (albeit slightly pervy) elder statesman.

In other words:  Having become as respected and endearing as almost any public figure in America today, why would Biden risk becoming a loser and a laughingstock yet again for the sake of one last roll in the hay?

The short answer is that Biden just really, really wants to be president.  Always has, apparently always will.  How badly, you ask?  Well, badly enough to address multiple recent allegations of unwanted physical contact by insisting that he regrets none of it and isn’t sorry about a damn thing.

And what about it?  On the subject of #MeToo-era sensitivity about men behaving predatorily, let’s not kid ourselves:  In a society where “Grab ‘em by the pussy” yielded support of 53 percent of white women, who’s to say “I enjoy smelling women’s hair but I’m also pro-choice” isn’t a winning route to 270 electoral votes?

The only certainty about the 2020 election is that no one has any idea how it will shake out—particularly those who claim they do.  Biden could defeat Trump in the sense that anyone could defeat Trump, although the converse is equally true.  Is he the most “electable” of all the Democrats in the field?  With 301 days until the first primary votes are cast, how much are you willing to wager that the word “electable” holds any meaning whatsoever?

I’ll leave you with this possibly-interesting piece of trivia:  The last non-incumbent former vice president to be elected commander-in-chief in his own right was Richard Nixon in 1968.  Care to guess how many times it happened before that?

Answer:  Zero.