Having just spent the last few days attending the annual NORML Aspen Legal Seminar, I wanted to share some observations about the experience of spending time in a state that no longer cares if I smoke marijuana or not. And as you might expect, it feels wonderful.
No longer must I deal with the fear of being arrested and jailed — treated like some dangerous or undesirable person who needs to be restrained to protect the good citizens who do not smoke. That, obviously, is the most important change.
Second, I no longer have to deal with the uncertainties and dangers of engaging with those who risk serious prison time to sell marijuana on the totally unregulated black market. Over the years most of us identify those “in the business” whom we like and can trust, and we do our best to nourish those “connections” and to extend them as long as possible. But we always know that should the police raid our connection at the time we are conducting our business, we too will likely end up being hauled off to jail; or should our connection be robbed by some thug looking for an easy score, or some peeved competitor looking to settle a score, while we are buying our weed, we too are in harms way.
And when those carefully nurtured relationships ultimately ended, because the connection decided to get out of the business, or moved away, or, God forbid, got busted, we would then have to start the process of identifying a good, reliable source of high quality marijuana all over again.
In Colorado their are hundreds of licensed dispensaries — six in the rather small town of Aspen — and they compete for our business, leaving us free to compare costs and quality and to purchase our favorite intoxicant in a professional setting that is comfortable and safe.
Third, I know when I buy recreational marijuana in Colorado (ironically medical pot in this state does not have to be tested), it has been tested for unhealthy molds and pesticides and labelled to let me know the strength of the product before I use it. No more buying a new ounce of pot only to find it causes me to sneeze every time I take a hit, or that is really only cheap “dirt weed” that hardly even gets me high, for which I paid a premium price. No more “let the buyer beware.” In Colorado, the consumer is now provided the information to make an informed decision.
But there are also other less obvious benefits that legalized marijuana brings to those of us who smoke. Most importantly, we are no longer seen as deviants by our friends and neighbors and co-workers. This cultural change is almost tangible once a state removes the laws that define marijuana smokers as criminals. Just as criminal penalties reinforce the feeling that there must be something wrong with smoking and with those of us who smoke (otherwise, why would “they” make it a crime), ending marijuana prohibition reinforces the feeling that there is nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana and nothing wrong with those of us who smoke.
That feeling of cultural acceptance and approval — I’m okay; you’re okay — was palpable at our recent seminar and related social events, whether at the private smoking area at the hotel, at the lovely home of Chris and Gerry Goldstein, or at the hallowed ground known as Owl Farm where the late Hunter S. Thompson lived and thrived. We proudly smoked marijuana with our professional colleagues and friends, and were empowered by the experience. We were both enjoying the marijuana high and exercising our hard-won personal freedom.
I sometimes say “I smoke pot and I like it a lot”. But what I like even more is the feeling of acceptance and approval by, and inclusion in, the mainstream American culture for those of us who smoke, a change that seems to occur almost immediately following legalization. The tension between those who smoke and those who don’t is replaced by the recognition we all have much in common, and our choice of intoxicants is largely irrelevant.
So yes, the feeling of freedom in Colorado is especially wonderful to those of us who smoke marijuana; but legalization also appears to be having a salutary effect on our friends and neighbors and co-workers who do not smoke, as well. Respecting personal freedom works for everyone.