When it’s time to start working on a new article for the next Cannabis Cactus issue, I always start with research, as I probably should. I had planned on writing my next piece with a focus on historical and entheogenic, or spiritual, uses of cannabis and the evolution of cannabis culture. While researching cannabis culture in particular, I came across an article that, to be frank, made me a little angry. Frankness, I believe, is often necessary, but so is fairness, so to be fair, this was a commentary piece that I read and most of the articles I write are also commentary or opinion that I do my best to back up with facts. This article, however, got me so agitated that I abandoned my previous plan and decided to respond, in a way, to some of the points the author made in their piece. And don’t worry, I haven’t entirely abandoned my history piece, it’s just postponed while I get this off my chest.
What got me so worked up in the first place was the author’s pining after an era of drugs gone by, so to speak. The article opens by seeming to poke fun at the abandonment of the terms “weed” and “pothead” in favor of cannabis and “cannasseurs”, which is honestly a term I’ve never heard before. You could call me a liar if I told you that I always said cannabis when I’m talking about cannabis; oftentimes weed is just easier. It’s been a part of my vocabulary much longer than cannabis has, and I probably still know some people who wouldn’t have any idea what I was talking about. Now, I know we’ve talked about terminology changes being a good step towards destigmatizing cannabis so I won’t spend too much time on this point, but I’m also genuinely curious – have you ever referred to yourself or someone you know as a cannasseur? Is this a term that flew under my radar entirely? Or is it a term that only exists for those that think cannabis consumption has turned pretentious?
This was just the very beginning of the article, the very first handful of words, and maybe I’m just in a mood this month, but I was already a little hot under the collar. The author then wants us to take a moment to remember the “sticky old days of weed consumption” and directs us to a scene from 1978’s Animal House. Animal House is not a movie I’ve seen (I know, I know, I’ve missed a lot of classic movies in all genres) but he does a good job of setting the tone of the particular scene he’s referencing. Curtains drawn and doors locked in a room full of incense smoke, the professor turns to his students with a “maniacal, devilish grin”. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think maniacal or devilish grinning are things that I’d enjoy associated with my smoke session.
While I am critical of most of the points in this article, I’m also not trying to rain on anybody’s parade. Movies are made to be enjoyed, as far as I’m aware, and there’s nothing wrong enjoying a movie that exaggerates cannabis culture a little. Harold and Kumar was one of my favorite movies when I was a younger smoker, but I also knew that it was pretty unlikely that I would smoke and end up hallucinating my marriage to a pound of beautiful buds, as much as I may have wanted it. The problem for me is idealising the stereotypical stoner archetype as the end all, be all of cannabis consumers. Cheech and Chong will always be funny, in my opinion, but the shifting narrative in media is, also in my opinion, a good thing. It’s refreshing to see a joint in a TV show or movie being treated like a casual glass of wine or a necessary medical supplement and I think it’s important to balance the caricature with the reality.
The biggest problem I have with the author’s reminiscence is that they specifically mention that the scene evokes feeling of absurdity, illicitness and sleaze. That this scene they seem to remember so fondly as the “good ‘ole days of pot smoking” is unnerving and then goes on to say “and one day, you’ll miss it.”
This article was published in a state where recreational cannabis use was about to become law and I can only speak from experience. We’ve covered most of it in my previous articles, but long story short, I grew up during prohibition in Arizona, worked in the medical cannabis industry when it became legal and now I live under prohibition again in a different state. I have never lived in a place where cannabis is recreationally legal but I have been in unnerving, sleazy and illicit situations in an attempt to obtain cannabis, both under prohibition in Arizona and where I live now.
Recently, a QT opened up close to our house. Well lit, clean, well staffed and relatively safe, QT was my go to gas station when I lived in Phoenix, for those reasons. It’s why I go there now that one has opened here. While I have made some good friends and had some unrivaled experiences purchasing my cannabis illegally, if given the option to go to the QT equivalent of a dispensary, I’d take it in a heartbeat. The unnerving, sleazy element is not something I think I’ll ever miss.
Like I’ve said before, I can only speak from experience, and my experience with cannabis started in the early 2000’s. In my recollection, there were two kinds of cannabis I could find; really good and not very good. Vapes, concentrates, moon rocks and dabs were nonexistent, and if they did exist, I didn’t know about them. It was rare to be able to find someone who knew the difference between an indica and a sativa, especially if you were in the market for a specific strain. With that said, it’s easy for me to imagine that the drastic shift in the knowledge, range, availability, etc. could be a lot for someone who has been a cannabis consumer long before the push for decriminalization. The cannabis culture that they were used to is so starkly different in some cases that they might not even recognize it.
What I believe the cannabis industry is doing now is a direct response to that shift in the culture. Cannabis has gone from a criminalized “drug” to a widely accepted medicinal plant with a wide range of consumers. The stigma that started in the 1930s was perpetuated by stereotypes in the media until recently. There are plenty of casual consumers that aren’t activists or “cannasseurs” but most of the people I know that are casual consumers also don’t want to be seen as criminals, deadbeats, or stereotypical “potheads”. The cannabis industry is striving to be taken seriously.
Dispensaries are typically bright and well organized, and the author of the article and I share the opinion that they can look a little more like an Apple store than somewhere you would buy cannabis. Now imagine that you have to take a skeptic with you on a cannabis run. They don’t believe in the legitimacy of medical cannabis, or they disagree with it’s decriminalization because of stereotypes or stigmas that they still thoroughly believe. Would you rather take them to a friendly, clean space with a knowledgeable staff or somewhere that looks like your buddy’s psychedelic dorm room? Sure, there are those of us – including myself – who would have a blast at Buddy’s Psychedelic Dorm, but I’m not every cannabis consumer and some people prefer the streamlined functionality of an Apple store-like environment. It reinforces a sense of legitimacy and, in my opinion, helps erase the stigma of illicitness that some people really struggle with when coming to cannabis for the first time.
The author of this article finds this new cannabis culture “deeply annoying and insufferable”, and longs for the “shambling warmth of the Big Lebowski”. To be fair, again, they do acknowledge that their annoyance isn’t necessarily the most justified, that arguing for the “classic stoner” isn’t the most popular idea in a $10 billion industry, and I can absolutely acknowledge the truth in that. Cannabis is no longer an underground counterculture, and that is likely to leave some people to feel left out of a quickly exploding industry. I have had the privilege of experiencing being on the edges of both the counterculture, as a semi stereotypical “stoner girl” in my early 20s, and the newer, more mainstream culture as an administrator of a medical cooperative later on in my life. Who knows, if I hadn’t been so involved in the medical and business side of cannabis, I might have similar opinions to the author. What I do know is that I want cannabis laws reformed, and that stereotypical stoners in media can be detrimental to changing some people’s minds. While I think it may be appropriate to mourn the loss of the “refined archetype of the perpetually stoned and stumbling” (i.e. Jeff Spicoli) we should also welcome the representation of a new type of – alright, lets just go there – cannasseur.
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.