Lost in the Weeds

According to the polls, Massachusetts voters are going to overwhelmingly approve a ballot initiative next month that legalizes medical marijuana. That should be good news for someone like me, who’s spent half his life smoking pot. So why am I feeling so uneasy?

At the MassCann civil-disobedience meeting, the pipe reaches my hands. I’ve been waiting. I take it, push it to my lips, flick the lighter, and breathe in real deep.

As far as a quick psychic escape, smoking marijuana is like being whisked away on a hot-air balloon. In seconds, you can rise above the mental clutter and see things for what they actually are. And heavy ideas—like whether I’m some kind of pot addict—fade into an abstract lightness. I relax.

I look over to Downing and he’s looking at me. I’m among strangers who are freely smoking marijuana in a more-or-less open lot in a fancy town outside Boston. I hand him the pipe and he hits it and sends it on its way, flitting from mouth to mouth like a bee pollinating flowers. My senses begin to feel overwhelmed. I’m listening to all the conversations, but not comprehending any of them enough to participate. All the activity is chasing my brain back into its snail shell, where it’s safe. Grinspoon had told me about three types of marijuana use: medicinal, recreational, and enhancing. The last one, he explained, is the state of feeling your mind open to new thoughts. And while I’ve definitely smoked pot for recreation and for enhancement, my mind opens to a fourth use for marijuana, escape.

Escape seems more useful than ever as a way to get some space from a carnivorous world of obligations and not enough time and friends becoming strangers and whatever else. Escape, whether achieved by smoking, drinking, or regular old running away, is fine now and again, but if you do it all the time, it becomes its own sort of trap. For me, the trap is having things not seem as bad as they are. Like around the time of college graduation, when I was about to face a big and abrupt change, and I had no plan. Instead of making one or asking for help, I smoked up and ran away and waited for the world to set itself right. It took me almost a year to figure out that it never would.

I tune back into Downing and notice he’s been talking. “I used to be on a bong team in college,” he says. They called themselves Bongardiers, and he went by Wild Bill. He seems delighted by this. I get the feeling that he still sees himself that way.

On some fundamental level, smoking marijuana is a longing for something simpler, something teenage and effortless that happens on a summer night with the crickets buzzing and the frogs singing, and the road is empty except for a circle of you and your friends, and the world is straightforward and easy to move through and just crackling with possibility. And then you purse your lips to the end of the pipe and suck in and you know the possibilities are real. You know because you can feel them. That is the real reason I’ve smoked pot. I thought it would help me. Which, of course, it couldn’t.