As we make our way through the first year of legal marijuana in Washington State, it's important to remember the world we're leaving behind. There's the soon-to-be-lost language of pot-related euphemism, designed to foil eavesdropping authorities, which the passage of Initiative 502 rendered instantly unnecessary. (RIP, "fuzzy green sweaters," "puffy salad," and "arijuanamay.")
More poignantly, there's the loss of The Dealer and the entirety of pot-dealer culture. For decades, the acquisition of marijuana has required the help of an intermediary, who shouldered the risk of larger-scale marijuana possession for light profit and the right to spin endless soliloquies about Sasquatch sightings to his or her pot-seeking customers/hostages, who offered forced-smile forbearance and tried not to squirm on the dealer's weird sofa—a battle greatly aided by the dealer who welcomed you with a humongous bong hit upon arrival... And so the beautiful dance progressed, until now, or whenever the hell actual marijuana products will be available in stores (see the timeline for legal pot on page 15).
But there's at least one old-school stoner relic that'll probably hang around for a while, especially with Washington State being a relatively tiny island of legality in a nation that still considers marijuana a highly controlled substance: the stain of counterculture criminality. In theory, I-502 put recreational pot smokers in the same class as citizens who enjoy alcoholic beverages. But after decades of Cheech & Chong/Bill & Ted/Dazed and Confused "cannabis culture," can even the most responsible recreational pot smoker fully escape the stigma of stonerism?
For example, if a known pot smoker makes a mistake (a typo, a forgotten appointment), pot may be cited, even jokingly, as a contributing factor, in a way that, had a wine lover made the same mistake, few would be inspired to draw a direct line of causation (even jokingly) to their wine cellar. Of course, this is just a matter of accumulating enough real-life examples of regular old high-functioning pot appreciators to offset the decades of cartoon stereotypes, and upon posting a call for such citizens on Slog, The Stranger's blog, I found a good, sturdy, respectably wary test subject.
Ryan, 35, describes himself as a professional, educated, "after 5 p.m." smoker, who works in marketing and fundraising for a variety of social service and arts organizations. What pot he smokes comes from "the street"—"I have one solid source," Ryan tells me. "And lots of friends just give it to me. Everyone's got it. 'Here, have a nug!'" When I ask if his pot use has any effect on the execution of his job, he cites no hindrances, only bank-shot benefits, such as coming home from a day spent writing campaign copy and "framing messages"—"There are only so many ways you can say 'exclusive donor benefit'"—and finding an invaluable new angle after his evening puff.
In his introductory e-mail, Ryan described himself as an "out-and-proud pot smoker," and in a follow-up e-mail, he explained what that meant in regard to his day-to-day life: "It kind of feels like coming out as gay. When I grew up in rural Montana, I spent my youth trying not to admit that I was gay, because I was taught that it was a sin, an abomination, criminal even. Thanks to antidrug programs like D.A.R.E., I was also instilled with this idea that marijuana would ruin my life. It was a product produced by degenerates and used by degenerates. Now, as an adult, I'm not ashamed of my homosexuality, nor am I ashamed that I responsibly enjoy fine Pacific Northwest cannabis, much like (or often with) a nice Scotch or wine. I don't march in parades and shout it out at, say, a board meeting at work. But if someone asks me point-blank, I answer honestly. Yes, I smoke grass. It's legal here. No, it hasn't made me go crazy or grow boobs. I've never robbed a liquor store in a desperate attempt to get a 'fix.' It helps me unwind at the end of the day. It enhances my experiences as a writer and musician. It makes a plain Hershey's chocolate bar into a luxurious bit of bliss. And sometimes it makes me forget where I put my pen, or accidentally call my mother 'dude' when she says something ridiculous on the phone."
Pressed to name to the "stoner stereotype" he resents the most, he's unequivocal: "That it's criminal. My parents grew up in the '50s, and when they busted me with dirt weed in high school, my mom screamed that their house would be taken away... Now I don't have to feel like a criminal when I'm walking to a friend's dinner party with a bud in my pocket for the 'cigar course' of the evening." When I ask Ryan his favorite thing to do after an evening puff, he's ready with a list: "Music, always. I love going to the opera or the symphony completely thunderbaked. Movies, too. EATING. And I write a lot."