Is Maine Coming Out of the Marijuana Closet?
I was browsing my favorite online gardening forum the other day and stumbled into a fascinating thread about marijuana. It was enlightening — not in regard to the plant per se, but in the wider sense of opening a window onto our collective bipolar disorder around this subject.
Loosely speaking, the folks posting comments seemed to fall into two categories: clueless but opinionated, and knowledgeable but unwilling to speak openly. The latter were distinguished by a habit of beginning their posts with a disclaimer to the effect of, "Well I don't smoke pot personally, but..." Which I take to mean: "I am a closet pot smoker."
God knows, the attitude is understandable. A glance at the weekly police blotter in the local paper seldom fails to turn up another arrest for some minor marijuana-related offense. The example of the President notwithstanding, it's still rare for anyone in the public sphere to admit to having taken a puff of the evil weed. Ever. Even once. Which is kind of silly. I mean, here we are, four decades past Woodstock, yet an honest discussion of pot smoking — an extremely widespread and innocuous pastime — remains as rare as straight talk about sex at a Christian youth rally.
I wonder if the times are finally changing, though. The medical-marijuana initiative on the 2009 ballot does not seem to be arousing anything like the feverish passions that attended this issue a decade ago. On an official level the state, like the nation at large, still lumps marijuana in with truly dangerous drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. (You might enjoy perusing the official Maine Drug Threat Assessment on this issue.) But on a real-world, down-to-earth level, does anyone actually feel that way?
At least one journalist has gone so far as to call Maine "New England's Marijuana-Friendly State." It's a little hard to know what to think of that. But there are signs that, as the Los Angeles Times noted in a fascinating feature article last week, "Cannabis is moving into the mainstream," in Maine along with the rest of the country.
Case in point: Exchange Street in Portland, arguably the toniest shopping district in the state, now boasts a stylish boutique called Awear. This fascinating establishment has a front room devoted to hemp clothing and accessories along with sundry pot-culture wares, and a back room filled with an eye-popping array of marijuana pipes. This is a far cry from the old school head shop. But speaking of that, Cosmic Charlie's, a capital-city institution, has recently moved to expansive new digs on Augusta's beleaguered-but-beautiful Water Street, thus qualifying as a pillar of the old downtown shopping district. The variety of smoking gear on offer — paraphernalia, in the old-fashioned parlance — leaves Awear in the shade. (There's also an assortment of sex toys. Don't ask.) For a more thorough rundown of pot-culture vendors in the state, see here.
Andrew Sullivan, in one of the nation's most widely read blogs, calls this kind of thing ganjapreneurship. Sullivan has been railing for months now against what he terms prohibition and the cannabis closet. Which raises the interesting question of what sort of people might come out of that closet if the doors were truly open. I'd say the answer is probably the guy (or gal) next door. Just to give you an idea, here are some snapshots of a few pot smokers I know.
Smoker #1: The middle-aged professional. Hasn't bought pot for years but smokes in social situations when the opportunity arises.
Smoker #2: The harried mom. Keeps a small but potent stash safely out of reach of the kiddies to savor with hubbie during their rare moments of grownup alone time.
Smoker #3: The luckless but loveable young adult. Poses no danger to anyone but himself, yet has suffered frequent run-ins with a zealous and overstaffed local police force over a smidgen of pot in a plastic bag or a telltale pipe stashed in the glove compartment.
Smoker #4: The teenage horticulturist. Tired of pumping hard-earned money into the underground economy, has taken up growing his own for personal and social consumption. After a bumpy first year with unsatisfying results, has graduated to high-grade hybrid strains (try typing "marijuana seeds sources" into a search engine) and adopted a studious, best-practices approach to this endeavor.
Smoker #5: The colorful codger. This sixty-something citizen is a medium-scale commercial grower, doing his part to prop up the economy of a relatively depressed rural area and to keep marijuana safely positioned as the state's leading (according to DrugScience.org) or second-place (according to Down East magazine) cash crop.
You can add your own candidates to the list, I'm sure. Pot is inextricably a part of our culture now and has been for some time. Maybe it's time we admit it.