Gray uniformed security guards armed with semi-automatic handguns greeted me at the door a few years ago at the Ocean Beach, California, cannabis dispensary.
Getting blitzed is a trip to cloud nine.
Getting shot is a trip to the morgue.
I expected a roomful of righteous legal reefer not a plethora of pistol-packing pot police. But because recreational marijuana has been legalized in 18 states, the District of Columbia and Guam, there’s always some kind of trigger-happy desperado ready, willing and able to rip off a supplier.
All I wanted was some kind of ointment to rub on my aching hip to see if THC would ease the pain. Ultimately the salve didn’t soothe. True to free market form, though, the nice budtender did her best to persuade me to take the ride.
I observed the weed. I smelled the weed. I rolled the weed around between my fingers. I planted my feet on fertile earth and became one with the atmosphere of the weed.
In the end I decided against buying any cannabis that would help me take off, cruise and land feeling fine on that aforementioned cloud nine.
That meant no flowers, concentrates, edibles, bundles, indica, sativa or hybrids. No gummies even though I would have only considered vegetarian gummies since I don’t eat meat or anything made with animal parts or squeezings, including gelatin from horse hoofs. No infused water, wine, juice or soda. No mist, tincture, or any other type of ingestible consumer brand designed to blow my mind. Since I’m off cigarettes for about 30 years and don’t inhale anything into my lungs for fun, that meant no pre-rolls, either.
I must admit my embarrassment walking into gnarly amped West Coast radness holding only a bag containing a topical designed for hip discomfort.
Talk about joint pain.
Why, after almost 40 years of pot abstinence did I decide against getting loaded? Good question, kids, and something for you Baby Boomer senior citizens to contemplate as well.
After all, doesn’t the great ganja god unite the country in one big hip intergenerational trip? Nah, but we can dream, can’t we?
In my unbridled past even after the first few tokes I found myself incapable of speaking rationally as pot magic shut down the motor mouth maelstrom that accompanied my drinking beer, wine or hard liquor. Instead I went stoned silent listening for that mystery musical chord on the record album I completely missed when straight. I stared at candle wax dripping down the sides of an empty Chianti bottle. Baked and tatered, I laid back and faded.
Dude, minus the heebie-jeebies that’s the whole point, you might say.
Seasoned potheads also unnerved me by describing the current strains of cannabis as far more potent than your grandfather’s reefer. I worried I might think I was in the Chianti bottle.
You can also target the mood you want as easy as getting on or off at a particular bus or subway stop, my personal pot professionals explained. Deep body whole mind relaxation? Yep, got a strain for that. Courage? Check. Joyful? Oh, yeah. Thoughtful? Ponder this. Any number of altered states of consciousness are right there for the taking.
In my day you were either stoned or you weren’t.
I first lit up in 1969 as a 17-year-old high school senior using one of my grandfather’s tobacco pipes my dad inherited when his father died. Smoking pot in Pa’s pipe struck me as holy and in no way sacrilegious because puffing helped me better commune with the spirit world. I smoked the dope residue in that family peace pipe for weeks and used the same pipe to inhale more grass the following year when I mistakenly put a match to a piece of paper I pulled from my wallet, burning my new draft card to get the flickering flame deep inside the bowl.
At Penn State I covered my tracks as best I could and once ate an unlit joint as fat as a goldfish when a cop pulled me over in my 1966 VW bus for doing 50 in a school zone at three in the morning.
“Thank you, officer,” I said chewing seeds and a dry Zig-Zag rolling paper.
My only real bad experience came when I saw what I absolutely believed to be dozens of gorilla paws lying on Route 322 on the way to Penn State campus that turned out to be thick black tar patches state workers used to repair the road.
Good dope can easily make a monkey out of anybody.
In 1974 I stopped all illegal drug use when President Richard Nixon resigned and I signed on to my first full-time job as a state prison drug and alcohol counselor after graduating with a B.S. in Community Development. My credibility mattered when I was walking the walk and talking the talk on government cell blocks. But reefer madness gripped me again in 1978 after establishment “corrections” bosses permanently furloughed me because I clashed with the penal system.
A couple of years later when at 29 I got evicted from my apartment, I moved into “Uncle Willy’s Home for Wayward Boys.” Seasoned Vietnam combat veterans who lived in the house had once used my rented room to cultivate a jungle of homegrown pot. A thousand multicolored thumb tacks the boys used to attach tin foil to the walls to reflect grow light rays illuminated my bedroom like the aurora borealis even when I was straight.
Then as now a criminal offense in Pennsylvania, pot use, possession and sales just seemed to grow.
In 1981 when I’d order food from The G-Man bar in downtown Harrisburg, my man Turtle in the kitchen would pack the goodies for pick up, gently placing in the bag deli sandwiches, crunchy fries, sour pickles, a plastic container of creamy coleslaw and a plastic container of killer pot right there in the bag without my even asking. The hospitality industry doesn’t make ‘em like Turtle anymore.
But back when I rolled into the Ocean Beach dispensary in 2019 I was older, wiser and free of media masters in the news industry where I worked for almost 40 years.
I could buy a truckload of legal pot if I wanted.
The freaky irony of this story is that journalism is the reason I decided all by myself to stop smoking pot in the first place. Words won out over weeds. Like working in prison, I practiced what I preached.
Around 1982 I encountered a smart woman many people knew and liked who was running for state political office. I heard she got high. How could you be a state lawmaker and a state lawbreaker at the same time? She refused to answer. I wrote the story. She lost.
From that point on I knew I couldn’t smoke dope and credibly call out others for behaving the same way. I never smoked another joint or used any other illegal drug during my approximate four decades of print and broadcast journalism. Even as an outlaw novelist and columnist I still practice what I preach.
Recreational pot was illegal when I worked in California from 2002 to 2006. Full legalization in the state went into effect in 2018. Marijuana can still put you behind bars in Pennsylvania where I live and was a serious crime when I ended my full-time daily news career here in 2017.
So I haven’t been ripped since the early 80s.
Therein pulses my dilemma.
When the pandemic fog lifts I plan to get back to the West Coast and even Colorado on a new book tour (a far out Wild West novel about America’s first coast-to-coast cannabis run called Hoocha Weed Xpress), two U.S. states where legal recreational pot users pucker up and kiss the sky.
What do I do when I get there? Restart the happy herb engine or stay off the silly sauce? Because I value the opinion of my dedicated doobie brothers and sisters, readers need to advise me whether or not to replant the flower power.
You will find a simple yes or no poll on this Gonzo Today February edition website. I’m also asking for your deep fried comments on the Gonzo Today Facebook page as to whether or not I should resume letting my freak flag fly and keep on trucking.
My head’s in your hands.