This July will be my ninth anniversary with my partner, Ryan. I’ll spare you all of the waxing poetic about how wonderful he is and skip right to the good parts. Unsurprisingly, Ryan is also a long-time cannabis enjoyer, it even played a part in how we met, but our experiences with cannabis separately were profoundly different. From how cannabis was handled in our households to how we were involved as adults, cannabis was an influence in our lives in different ways and ultimately brought us together – in some ways quite literally.
Cannabis wasn’t always as easy to talk about as it is now. Fortunately, in 2022, it’s unlikely that you’ll be met with more than spirited debate or disagreement if you bring up cannabis in an unfamiliar circle. For the most part, I’ve found that most people who don’t care for cannabis are either pro-reform or generally indifferent, it’s just not for them. I will say that I’m a little more careful about how much I say to who where I live, as the legislation is comparatively strict, and I’d rather say too little than too much in those situations – but I imagine that isn’t dissimilar to how cannabis discussion was handled most places before cannabis reform started making progress.
It’s not fair for me to say that I was at all aware of a majority of the social discourse around cannabis while I was growing up, mostly because of the whole “being a child” thing, but I was only mildly oblivious thanks to good ol’ commercials. The vague but illustrative egg-in-a-frying-pan “this is your brain on drugs” and my favorite, the classic “girl is a deflated shell of her former self because she smokes pot now” are forever burned into my brain – and not for any of the reasons they were hoping. The value they have contributed to my life is purely comedic. Somewhere in these jumbled memories are the recollections of my participation in the D.A.R.E. program. Was I good at it? Sure, I’m pretty good at tests. I specifically remember scoring highest on a test and winning fancy baseball game tickets. Did I retain any information from the test and/or program? Not a single thing. I do remember eating a very good cheesesteak at that game, though.
High school was a little different, but not much. Most of the time I was too busy failing to retain anything from the anti-tobacco campaign that was also popular during my childhood and chain-smoking cigarettes with my older friend at the Starbucks to worry about much else. I deflated and became a shell of my former self – sorry, I mean I started smoking pot, on New Year’s weekend when I was 16. My mom and stepdad were away for the weekend and our aunt was babysitting. Because I can’t remember if I’ve told this story before, I’ll give you the abbreviated version. I had experienced drunkenness for the first time not long before and divulged this information to my aunt. We were super close and there was a lot of trust in our relationship. After telling her about my first experience getting drunk, she told me she smoked and we shared a joint wrapped in black cherry paper.
I look back on that night with a lot of fondness. That single joint that we shared made me giggly and forgetful and so, so hungry. We watched a movie, ate crazy sandwiches and I slept like a baby. Being safe at home with family during my first cannabis experience made me less hesitant to accept an offer from a friend out in the wild. To be entirely honest, I don’t remember thinking much about cannabis before or after that night, only that from about then on it became just another thing that I did. My nicotine addiction – and hiding it – seemed much more pressing at the time.
All of that to say that cannabis was never really a big deal in our household, one way or another, while we were growing up. My mom also deserves a lot of credit for creating an environment where I was comfortable talking to her when I was curious about cannabis. We smoked together for the first time on my 18th birthday, another night I look back on fondly. I may have been less than honest about my consumption before that night, the deal was that I would wait until I was 18, but I know now that she wasn’t as oblivious to me being stoned as I thought she was and she trusted me to make good choices.
Ryan and I are basically the same age, his birthday a mere 11 days before mine. The same commercials lurk in his memory and his D.A.R.E. certificate is still hanging on the wall at his great aunt’s house. Aside from a few core details, that’s kind of where our experiences diverge. Ryan grew up in Texas, and it’s probably safe to say that the cannabis regulations were not better here 30 years ago, but that doesn’t mean that he was unaware of its existence. It was quite the opposite, in fact, because where prohibition exists so do black markets.
From the time Ryan was in diapers until he was about eight or nine years old, a good amount of his family was involved in… we’ll call it providing people with cannabis less than legally. From what he remembers and was told in the years since different members of the family were involved in different capacities from growth to distribution, they often treated it much the same as my family did. No one talked about it much and when they did, it was no big deal. He remembers some of the trips they made like mini-vacation road trips to spend a day at the beach.
A divorce and a few years later, the family was no longer selling but important people in his life were still cannabis consumers. During this time they had moved, the family members they lived with changed and so did the people around Ryan who were smoking cannabis. He remembers there was a certain element of hiding it from older relatives at family gatherings, but that for the most part, people treated it casually.
When Ryan was 11, he rolled and smoked his first joint. “I remember thinking it was fat,” he told me, “but looking back I know it must have been terrible.” Between then and his freshman year of high school he had a similar experience as I did in high school; cannabis wasn’t a priority but he didn’t say no if someone had it. There’s also something to be said about the rural area he grew up in making it easy for him to disappear for a whole day and get high in the woods with his friends and I’m only a little jealous. It sounds much nicer than the back of that Jack-in-the-Box my friends and I frequented.
Things changed for him when he met his first steady connection during his freshman year of high school. An upperclassman with a customer base to pass down when he graduated who had taken a liking to Ryan as a customer. By then he had been a fairly consistent cannabis user for a few months when he realized he could pay for what he was smoking by selling and the upperclassman passed down his high school weed-slinging business to Ryan. He had been selling for a bit and had had some time to save before the family moved to Arizona and he started over at his new school. As soon as he graduated high school he moved back to Texas and finding cannabis was an even harder task after he had been gone so long. When he did find it, the dealing “toned down” to mostly his friend group and some of their friends for a few years.
And this is pretty much where our stories collide. One of my roommates had gone to high school with Ryan and had presented him with an enticing opportunity to make some money, so he moved back to Arizona. That all fell through for a variety of crazy nonsense reasons but most importantly, Ryan was now in my apartment a few times a week and the rest is history.
I spend a probably unreasonable amount of time thinking about how drastically different our cannabis experiences have been. When we first moved back to Texas, I had only ever bought cannabis illegally maybe twice. I had always been able to get it and I realize how privileged of an experience that was. Ryan and I struggled for a while to remake connections and get our hands on quality cannabis, and while that was nothing new for Ryan at that point, it was kind of a shock for me. I’m lucky that we were able to make the connections that we did so quickly, but I had been consciously using cannabis to manage my pain in a legal state for a while by then so regulating without it was a new struggle. It hadn’t occurred to me that Ryan had been doing the same thing for just as long, just with less legality and access. I was and still am grateful that he helped me navigate that not-so-fun time.
As different as our cannabis histories are, it is the literal thing that brought us together, and just one more thing I have to thank it for.
Kelly Mahoney worked at a medical cannabis Co-op with her mother, Laura Mastropietro, dealing mainly with helping new patients acquire their medical cards and helping them find the best strains and methods. Diagnosed at a young age with spinal muscular atrophy, she was also a medical cannabis patient and still advocates for the incredible benefits, and downright fun, of cannabis. She now lives in a prohibition state as a cat mom and gamer wife.