Now to keep the record straight, I’m not a regular weed smoker. Legalized weed had nothing to do with my motivations for moving to Washington. That’s not because of some terrible moral objection I have to weed, though; it’s mainly because I’ve tried weed, and every time I’ve tried it, it never seemed to have the effect it was supposed to have on me. I’m not averse to social weed, but I don’t run around actively seeking it out – it doesn’t ever do anything that can’t be done with good old alcohol.
I do live in a weed-legal state, though, so it’s something I deal with on a regular basis. It doesn’t bother me, and in fact I have friends who smoke weed. As for this idea of some sort of open weed culture that the moralizers in the rest of this country worry about, though, I have yet to see that. Seattleites don’t sit giggling maniacally on park benches, they don’t lay down in the middle of the sidewalk on a pot brownie binge, and if potheads are frequenting the local fast food joints with munchies, I’ve been underwhelmed by the crowds. (Except for Dick’s, but that’s more because Dick’s makes damn good burgers.) The addition of legal weed doesn’t seem to make the culture of Seattle much different from the culture of Buffalo or Chicago. In fact, it feels like it hasn’t done anything at all. Basically, legalizing weed had placed weed a peg higher on the taboo scale. Instead of being illegal, its reached roughly the same level as porn: Everyone knows people are doing it, it’s legal, but for the love of god stay away!!!
Seriously, the state is pretty adamant about making sure it doesn’t fall into the wrong curious hands. Like porn, weed is often sold in shady-looking little shacks with boarded windows and signs everywhere saying “21 ONLY!!!” If you happen to walk into one, some of them even have a fee just to browse. But like porn, it finds ways of trickling into the surrounding world no matter how much you try to control it.
One of the first things that struck me about legal weed is something I first heard on my night shift. So I was standing in the back room of my warehouse, trying desperately not to nod off, and one of those popular lawyer ads came onto the radio. You know the law firm ads vowing to defend you hook, line, and sinker if you get caught driving drunk? Well, in weed-legal Washington, they’re now making those same ads with an emphasis on being caught driving while high. And the agency that made the ad made a point to acknowledge all the common jokes and stereotypes about the difference between driving drunk and driving high. Then it made sure to point out that a DUI doesn’t differentiate between being drunk and being high; intoxication is intoxication, and it still impairs your senses and alters your consciousness one way or the other. If the cops think you’re driving funny and pull you over and you fail the test, your ass is getting hauled in.
It’s pretty scary that someone had to think to make a radio ad pointing that out. You would think it would be something that people instinctively realize, but the stupid truth is that if someone hadn’t thought it was okay, no one would have felt the urge to point it out. Weed smokers aren’t necessarily stupid people, but overlooking things like this don’t help nix that old stereotype.
My visits to weed stores have awakened me to the fact that weed is an expensive habit. I don’t think I’ve ever entered a weed shop where they sold single blunts – the cheapest things I’ve been able to find – for any amount of money that didn’t have two digits on the left side of the decimal point. No matter where you go, every time you see a reference to a weed dealer, the word “weed” is ALWAYS preceded by the word “legal.” The prices are probably a major reason for the distinction. The state government requires that the term “legal” be there in order to differentiate the recreational stuff from the medical or black market stuff. Yes, there’s still a black market for weed, because no one wants to pay $40 a week for their weed stock. Remember, wherever weed is legal, it was never legalized as a mercy or a stroke of common sense. It was done for revenue and as an effort to have some sort of control over who is getting it and how much people are using it. And it’s not going to prevent underage potheads from getting their hands on it. The rule applies here same as everywhere: If someone underage wants it and can’t get any, they’re not trying hard enough.
I have never seen a TV ad for a pot shop, but advertising for various places is everywhere. Billboards are up, and they’re plastered all over the pages of The Stranger, Seattle’s most popular alt rag.
The most unusual thing about legal weed, though, is its relationship with a federal government that still outlaws the stuff. The feds are all-omnipotent, and they have a bad habit of overruling the locals where they can. I was surprised to find myself taking drug tests for three different jobs – there’s a wide abundance of employers around Washington that’s perfectly allowed to fire your ass if there’s any weed in your bloodstream. The state is basically powerless in those circumstances, so even though Washington has a weed industry boom, the general sentiment among the population is that you’re still not really allowed to use it.
It’s the kind of thing that can make you wonder what the whole point of legalizing pot is if the feds still get enough final say to make sure users fear for their usage of it. That’s not to say it’s actually discouraging people, but more than a few weed users are finding themselves in trouble for what’s supposed to be a legal habit.
So yeah, legal weed is a weird cross world which is likely going to stay weird until the government grows a brain.