Legal Weed Vindicates Pot Smokers Like Me — But It Also Puts A Lot Of Pressure On Us

On Election Day, amid my freaking out, there was a green lining: Massachusetts, Nevada, and California approved legalizing recreational marijuana. My timing is good. After a decade in New York City, I just moved home to California just last week.

Though I have been a regular user since I was 18, I've only smoked legally once — when I visited Denver, Colorado, for the Women Grow conference and stayed at a Bud & Breakfast, where an eighth of weed was provided right alongside my morning coffee. Though I was so busy reporting that I only found time to smoke once, it was still nice to know I could, and that my kind — the type of woman who would rather unwind with a joint than a bottle of wine any day — didn't need to justify her preferences.

In Denver, where recreational marijuana is legal, I noted how relaxed the vibe of the city felt. I smelled the weed in the air, never too far away, and it comforted me; it felt like Oakland, where I grew up. I was surprised to find that I felt much less of a desire to smoke than I expected — just knowing it was so available seemed to lessen any urgency. I also noticed the troubling prevalence of some very intense dabbing (highly concentrated doses of cannabis), and the way that the regular users I spoke to kept forgetting what they were saying mid-conversation. Normalization was my anti-drug.

A few months before that trip to Denver, I had written about what happened when I stopped smoking weed for a month, and the sometimes ambivalent feelings I have about my use of the substance, which I have always preferred to alcohol. I know I have become dependent on it at times for relaxation, and that it probably has more effects on my memory and ambitions than I would like to admit. I also suspect that I will be a lifelong user, and will continue to drink next-to-nothing as I age, as it becomes more and more normalized to light up at a dinner party instead.

Excited, I remembered the cookie in my bag I'd snuck a bite of on the way over, and went to give her the rest. Pulling it out, I was mortified to find that all that remained were crumbs. When your habit is buzz-blocking an old lady, you know you have a problem.

Apparently, my feelings about weed resonated — the story is the top result when you Google "stop smoking weed," and I get messages nearly every week from readers, usually men under 25, thanking me for articulating their conundrum of both loving weed and seeking to have a more mindful relationship with it. I thank them back — and myself, for leaving the conclusion of the piece ambiguous enough that I don't feel like a total hypocrite now that I've recently gone through a period of less-than-mindful use.

Over the past few months, as I was getting ready to make the ominous transition of moving from the East to West Coast with my partner, I found myself indulging more than usual. Instead of my normal once-a-week intake, I was getting high closer to two or three times a week. And while I fancy myself a proud canna-enthusiast — a woman who trumpets the many potential benefits of weed and who is proud to be an out user on the internet — I found myself behaving otherwise.

It started with a cookie a friend gave me, which I kept in the fridge and took little nibbles of occasionally when my partner wasn't looking. I was judging myself on his behalf; I was ashamed that I was feeling the compulsion to ingest in order to alleviate my anxiety during this transition, angry that I couldn't seem to enjoy a party without it. Had I come home and opened a bottle of beer, I doubt my self-judgement would have been so harsh — a large part of it lied in the sticky belief that I was doing something illicit, and should therefore be secretive about it. That belief had also always been part of the fun.

Recreational weed is now legal in my state, and it's time for all of us canna-enthusiasts to prove that's a good thing. That means no more shame — as well as no more over-glorifying marijuana's many benefits while ignoring its potential for dependency.

My intervention-of-a-moment came when we visited my partner's 92-year-old step-grandmother, who confessed she'd lost her weed source (yeah, she rocks). Excited, I remembered the cookie in my bag I'd snuck a bite of on the way over, and went to give her the rest. Pulling it out, I was mortified to find that all that remained were crumbs. When your habit is buzz-blocking an old lady, you know you have a problem.

I made a promise to myself then: No more hiding my marijuana use, not even if that's always been part of the thrill. Living in a state where it will be easier than ever to do just that — where my partner's mom has medicinal tea, a sativa dropper, and weed butter in the fridge for the odorless taking — I knew that it would be more important than ever to be deliberate about my intake, to resist the urge to continue thinking of marijuana the way I always have, like a bad-girl vice I prove some rebellious point by using.

It took me only a few weeks to break my promise — our first night out in Los Angeles, I quietly grabbed the dropper of sativa tincture from the fridge and put it in my pocket, just in case. Driving down the 5 with my partner that night, I kept seeing ads for a company called THC Design. I Googled them, and, lo and behold, they are one of the largest marijuana growers in California.

"This is going to be so crazy, witnessing the commercialization of weed," I said. "I don't know, there will be something kind of sad about it becoming legal, too. Something lost."

"No, it's good," my partner answered firmly. "Now it will be taxed and regulated. The state will take in plenty of revenue, and all these companies will help drive the quality up, while refining the strains for whatever people need — I know I'd prefer something without mind-blowing levels of THC. And I'm not worried about it being commercialized. It's not going to all turn into crap. There will be the Coors Light of weed, and the craft brewery of weed. Plus they'll actually have to teach kids in school about it in a more nuanced way, and people won't be put in jail."

I nodded, fingering the sativa dropper. I wondered, clutching that little bottle like a worry doll, how I might have turned out if I'd had any education around weed in school, if I hadn't felt a need to spend a decade justifying a plant that has given me some of the happiest, most creative, insightful nights of my life, if I had grown up going to clubs where a substance that didn't make me sick — and made me think instead — was also offered. If I hadn't spent my freshman year of college throwing up every weekend because I thought I had to fit in by drinking alcohol. If cannabis were sold in bars, and there was no reason to hide my own, no internalized stigma around my preferred way to unwind as an adult.

I'll never know, but what I do know is this: Recreational weed is now legal in my state, and it's time for all of us canna-enthusiasts to prove that's a good thing. That means no more shame — as well as no more over-glorifying marijuana's many benefits while ignoring its potential for dependency. I look forward to the debate shifting from whether marijuana should be legal to how best to ensure we're using it responsibly, because it's a complicated question. And most of all, I look forward to all the people who won't be arrested now, who will have an entire industry of salaried jobs with health insurance opened up to them instead; to all the kids who will have more funding for their public schools, where they will be taught about using marijuana responsibly.

I also look forward to giving that 92-year-old woman a whole California cookie I bought legally, and to trying to keep my promise to myself this time around. No more hiding, no more excuses.

Images: Rachel Krantz/Instagram