This post will chronicle the events which led me to legally purchase marijuana in the United States. Marijuana and I have had a remarkable relationship over the past few years. Whether it was making first period gym tolerable, giving me a better appreciation for Carl Sagan, or allowing me to introspectively comprehend turquoise as a color. I have always been fascinated by the complexities of this plant. Now before you read any further, know that this isn’t some 10th grade essay advocating the positive effects of marijuana and damning William Randolph Hearst. It is the tale of a confused young man sidewinding his way through every roadblock designed to debilitate his access to an altered state of consciousness. Whatever your stance on cannabis is, just know that I am not promoting its use. I’m just telling a simple story. And don’t worry Mom; you did a great job in raising me. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Especially me.
California always served as a liberal oasis of free love and questionable antics in my mind, but it wasn’t until stepping foot into the state when I realized just how much of an anomaly it really was. I rolled a joint on the sidewalk of a San Francisco street …in a dress. If I had don’t that in Utah a few weeks prior, not only would I have gotten the shit beat out of me, but I would have most certainly been made someone’s girlfriend in jail.
People in Los Angeles visit dispensaries as if it was a chore on their to-do list, resting right between ‘pick up Sally from soccer practice’ and ‘drop off dry cleaning’. The nonchalant attitude towards marijuana in this city is so foreign and jarring to me that I almost forgot I was in the United States. I had to see what the hubbub was all about. Foolishly, I waltzed right into the first shop I saw and was quickly grabbed by a large Hispanic man. “I just want to take the tour. You know, like a class field trip” I nervously muttered to the impatient giant. “Get a card and come back” he stated, as if it was one of the 4 phrases he was programmed to say.
Now, it was my impression that you had to be a resident of California for at least 6 months before one could receive a state issued I.D. card. Nope. All you have to do is go to your local DMV, show two forms of identification, sweet talk the desk clerk, give any California address you like, and pay $26. In a week you can expect a state I.D. card in the mail. I know, I was taken aback by its seemingly deceptive simplicity as well. But that’s only step one of the process. Next comes finding a medical doctor willing to write you a prescription. While it may seem next to impossible for a young, able bodied, healthy person to acquire said recommendation, this city is riddled with doctors competing to compose one for you. In fact, it’s advertised in the back of the free weekly newspapers. Choose on, make a call, set up an appointment, and take a deep breath friend, you’re nearly there.
I cycled to the ‘doctor’s’ office the same day I called. The building was encompassed by tinted windows concealing backdoor deals and clammy handshakes. I wore my least threatening flannel so as to make a good impression. I can now laugh at my nativity, but at the time I was sweating. Probably because deep down I knew what I was doing was wrong. Not smoking marijuana, but deceiving and taking advantage of a system designed to aide those who truly require this drug to quash their terminal pain. Regardless I entered, filled out the required paperwork, and waited for my name to be called. A rerun of Planet Earth was playing in the waiting room. I had just enough time to sit and wonder what the hell I was doing here. Was I really going to get away with this? Did I really want to get away with this? Before the moral dilemma had enough time to fully saturate my mind, a man who I can only describe as ‘Clark Kent-like’ approached me and escorted me to his office. We sat down and he stared at me for a few seconds. He was obviously stoned. The morality of the situation was rearing its ugly head again. He chose to break the silence. “So let’s just eliminate any awkwardness right off the bat”. He grabbed a pen and signed a document with my name printed on it. “This piece of paper allows you to walk into any dispensary in California and purchase marijuana.” My mind said “really?” My mouth said nothing. “Congratulations” he said, smugly. It was like I had won some award for attendance or something. The piece of paper even had a gold star on it, as if to solidify its legitimacy. I gulped and thanked him. I didn’t know what else to say. We stared at each other for a while. He stared at me confidently like he’d seen the look painted on my face on every kid who had walked in that week. “Any questions?” I gazed at the piece of paper on his desk once more. “Nope”. He smiled. He then went on to describe the different strains of marijuana and their effects like some archetypal dorm room stoner who bores you to death with rehearsed facts and figures, not once acknowledging eye roll after eye roll. I didn’t roll my eyes at this guy though. I was too fixated on the sounds of a lion dismantling a gazelle emanating from the waiting room’s television. And that was it. He handed me the document, I paid him $40 and walked out onto the street, another member of a taboo list deemed unholy by some and envied by others.
I felt like I had a golden ticket in my hand. Time to cash it in. I strutted into the first dispensary I saw. A man behind a glass wall asked me to hand over my script as well as my I.D. card. He then photocopied it without asking for my consent. I didn’t really know what was going on. Cypress Hill was playing from mysterious speakers at a particularly high volume, all the walls were painted green, and I knew that behind one more locked door awaited mountains of weed just waiting to be ingested. I was at system overload. Once cleared, I opened the door and was pummeled with an aroma found commonly at music festivals and art teacher break rooms. Dank nugs on dank nugs on dank nugs on dank nugs. There they were, staring me in the face. How did I get here? What was happening? Compose yourself, Tom. I composed myself. A rack of edibles caught my eye. How is everyone so causal right now? I nervously picked up a couple cookies and made my way to the register. It was the first time I was going to make a transaction like this and involve a register. I didn’t belong here. No one seemed to care about my inner quandaries, and neither did I for a brief moment. I was too busy scanning the environment, absorbing the absurdity of the scenario I created for myself. I bought my items and made small talk with the cahier. There were so many questions I had for her, but there was a line. So I instead chose to say something stroppy and made my way to the exit in a panicky fashion.
Outside it hit me. I just walked into a store and bought marijuana. It was a legal transaction, but to me it still felt corrupt and unnatural. That wasn’t going to hinder me from ingesting the edibles I just purchased, but it got me thinking about the logistics of the whole ordeal. I was worried the whole time that the particular store I chose would be the same particular store the DEA chose to raid that day. Fortunately that wasn’t the case, but I struggled to differentiate paranoia from guilt for quite a while on my bike ride.
Ultimately, I met a friend later that day. She and I ate a cookie, walked down Venice beach and watched all the weirdoes do what they do best. Yet, I still couldn’t shake the ethical implications of my decisions from the first half of the day. I sat on the beach, watched the sand sift through my fingers, and contemplated the effect of my choices on the grand spectrum of this cosmos. I took comfort in acknowledging its insignificance. I then looked around to see people staring at me. I was just another weirdo. A part of me took comfort in that. Another part giggled at the concept of a platypus. I watched the waves crash on the beach and I took a few deep breaths. I am Tom. I am a weirdo.
I told this story because I wanted to portray a real life example of this process in order to provide a better understanding about it to someone who was curious. It’s not some broad swooping comment about the legality of a stupid plant. It’s simply an account of my specific experience. However, it would be irresponsible not to address the negative implications that can arise from using this drug. One cannot appreciate the beauty and immense power of an altered state if they exhaust all their energy trying to constantly attain that altered state. A person will feel terrible about themselves if they eat nothing but cheeseburgers all day and every day. That’s not to say that cheeseburgers are bad, but consuming them in moderation will give you a better respect for the cheeseburger and yourself. It goes without saying that this idea can be applied to any aspect of our lives from alcohol to licking envelopes. If you’re doing something just to do it, with no desire in enhance your life, what’s the point? This plant is a tool, not a crutch. Don’t allow it to define you as a person, and it never will. Respect yourself and respect what you put in your body.