Higher Ground: Coming Out of the Cannabis Closet

How can we remove the stigma of pot use? Maybe give it a spiritual spin?

I was recently asked to participate on a panel that was part of a charity auction for a local nonprofit. The organizer was excited to have me involved, but wanted to make sure I didn’t mention my work in the cannabis community as “it wouldn’t go over well with our patrons.” While I agreed to avoid any wild diatribes about legalization, I did think the request was a bit ironic, given that there was an open bar and they were auctioning a wine trip to Walla Walla as a grand prize.

I’ve been “out of the cannabis closet” for decades, and have always taken a great deal of pride in being the obvious stoner—the guy everyone knew would show up to the party with a joint or three on hand. In the “old days” of prohibition (circa 2011), we had to hide our ditch weed in the closet and smoke in side alleys and basements. Today I can proudly display my elegant glass-etched water pipe and cedar stash box on the coffee table, just as the Mad Men generation showed off the Art Deco tumblers and wood-engrained bars of their era.

With legality, then, should come public acceptance and innovation. Brainiac Jason Silva (host of National Geographic’s Brain Games) talks about cannabis in relation to Timothy Leary’s concept of “set and setting”: “You start eliminating the association with criminality and the paranoia and the fear of getting caught, and instead you create a canvas where people can smoke a joint before going to a boutique movie theater to have a very increased cinematic immersion. Or you can create spaces where people can maybe vaporize some cannabis before going and listening to a symphony orchestra. Or maybe they can go on these beautiful, sort of guided marijuana hikes, where the set and setting would be curated for a particular marijuana flavor.”

While I’ve been advocating for stoned symphony nights, vaporizer bars and marijuana dinners for cannabis connoisseurs, each and every legal state is making it damn near impossible to use the stuff in a social setting. Public consumption—in bars, parks, public spaces, hotels, or restaurants—is currently not allowed in any of the states that have legalized it. (Oregon just passed a law banning the few cannabis cafes that were in existence, while the Alaskans, God bless ’em, are fighting to allow consumption at recreational stores.) Community events involving cannabis are also forbidden: Ya can’t smoke weed at music festivals, marijuana conferences (even at the High Times Cannabis Cup), cannabis “tastings,” or Bud and Breadfasts. If it’s legal, we should be able to use it in safe and social settings.

While four states have now legalized cannabis and 23 more have medical-marijuana laws, the War on Drugs is not over by a long shot. In addition to the 700,000 citizens arrested every year for marijuana-related offenses, employees are still being fired for having THC in their systems (even in legal states); parents of kids with severe epilepsy can’t get access to non-psychoactive cannabidoids (aka CBD) to help with life-threatening seizures; and soldiers and vets aren’t allowed to use pot for PTSD, anxiety, or trauma. Even here in Washington, it’s still illegal to grow at home and use it in public, and still a federal felony to pass a joint. Hell, both Instagram and Facebook continue to delete accounts related to cannabis brands and refuse to allow them to promote posts.

Maybe the way to eliminate the second-class stigma attached to cannabis is to put a spiritual spin on the notion of getting high. Throughout history, cultures have used natural psychoactive substances to elicit transformative, mind-altering experiences: Ethiopians chew khat, which they consider a divine food; Amazonians (from South America, not South Lake Union) eat yaga (ayahuasca) which translates to “vine of the souls”; Bohemians suck down wormwood (absinthe) to get lifted; and Native Americans have used Hell’s Bells (jimsonweed) and peyote as a mystical sacrament. The Aztecs even used a type of morning glory to soar with their shamans. (Then again, they also used human heads as soccer balls in certain ceremonial situations.) It was the ancient Greeks who came up with wine as a way to celebrate life, pouring it down one another’s gullets during drunken dance festivals that encouraged community bonding. It’s high time to bring cannabis into the communal tent. Praise Sativas!

There are lots of reasons to be loud and proud about cannabis; in fact, you don’t even have to like weed! Perhaps you’re a parent who wants to kill off the cartels and raise tax revenue for drug education and awareness. Perhaps Dr. Sanjay Gupta convinced you this healing herb should be available to the sick and the needy; perhaps you want to screw over the Saudis by using hemp for fuel and fiber; perhaps you want cops focused on more serious crimes; perhaps you’re a libertarian who wants the government off our backs and personal freedoms to reign. Or perhaps, like me, you want to be able to expand your consciousness and get high as a kite. Whatever your reason, please raise your voice in support of legalization. We’re at a tipping point—and the rest of the nation is watching.

For more Higher Ground, visit highergroundtv.com.

 
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