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One toke over the line


Ten tips for when pot-smoking family and friends visit Oregon for the first time since legalization

Oregon voters legalized marijuana on July 1, 2015. A year later, my cousin and a contingent of her pot-smoking extended family and friends visited from an east coast state where their habit is still carried out under threat of arrest and imprisonment.

The visit was an eye-opener. What I learned during their stay in Oregon may help Oregonians—or others living in state where pot is legal—prepare for similar visits. But first, some background.

I wholeheartedly supported the legalization of marijuana in Oregon, and was proud when the state voted to approve. I also expect this sensible outcome to eventually expand nationwide, after old men terrified of change finally get knocked off their authoritarian roosts.

When deciding how to vote on the state ballot initiative, I considered social justice issues, along with economic benefits and scientific evidence about health benefits or concerns. (In my younger days, I smoked pot for several years, so I have direct experience about its health effects on both the plus and negative side.)

But what I didn’t think through was the shift legalization would trigger in social and cultural contexts, both at the broad scale and more personally, inside families.

With just a year behind us, we are still in the heady days of pent-up release, like water gushing out from behind a newly broken dam. This is all a good thing, and eventually, forces will equilibrate, and a new social and cultural baseline for the flow will be established.

But the eddies associated with this adjustment period are unexpectedly strong. This fact became blatantly clear when my family visited for the first time since legalization. I’m still reflecting, and speed writing this, a scant 24 hours after their departure.

It’s worth noting my family is likely somewhat anomalous in their fervency for weed, with our OCD tendencies across the board manifesting in a variety of endeavors, and thus only parts of my experience may be applicable to others. Nevertheless, below I offer some lessons gleaned from a receding smoky haze as we transition to an entertainment culture at all levels in which weed is fully integrated.

  1. Pick a path. If you smoke weed, take time off from whatever normally occupies your attention and prepare to indulge in a whirlwind, days-long high. Pot-smoking relatives from the states where marijuana is illegal will want to get seriously high, because of the availability of product and the victorious thrill associated with letting go of a life-long psychological burden of being cast as a law-breaking outsider. If you don’t smoke pot but are curious, now is definitely the time to indulge that feeling—go ahead and get high with your relatives. If you don’t smoke pot, like me, and want to keep it that way, read on.
  2. Readjust your mindset. The oft-stated justification “don’t get high around me or my kids because it’s illegal” is history. The equally oft-offered retort “You drink wine, I smoke pot, what’s the difference?” is now true. The moral high ground is gone. Wrap your brain around that fact in a practical, non-theoretical way. Wine is equivalent to pot in Oregon. And craft beer, of course.
  3. Watch Weeds. A low-rent Breaking Bad sort of show in which a young widow sells pot to keep her upper middle-class McMansion lifestyle afloat after her husband’s sudden heart attack death, Weeds has a colorful secondary cast of characters who love, just love, getting high. Binge watch the first season to be reminded why people worship weed, while simultaneously getting steeped in the conversational style of stoned people.
  4. Conduct courtesy reconnaissance. After presenting my identification and signing in at the new pot shop around the corner, the sales people walked me through the varieties and prices, and explained how it all worked. I thought this reconnaissance might yield helpful information to pass on to my relatives. I was wrong. My family arrived late at night, after hours for pot shopping. But they were at the dispensary when it opened the next morning. My family did not need my help, at all, but yours might. Nevertheless, my reconnaissance gave us a common ground for discussing their shopping experience. 
  5. Buy more wine. Or gin. Or whatever. For you. Dealing with stoned people is much easier when mildly buzzed. It’s not an apples-to-apples thing, but it’s closer than sober. If alcohol is not an option, skip ahead to #10. Oh, and while at the store, stock up on munchies. They will go fast, but not as fast as you might think. Everyone counts calories these days, even stoners.
  6. Be amused by the kid-in-a-candy-shop glow. My clan returned from their first excursion to the pot shop with shopping bags overflowing with weed in a variety of forms—from actual weed to packaged edibles—and spread the newly bought treasures across the floor like a show and tell of trick-or-treat Halloween candy. After discussing the various shades of highs expected with each type, they settled into their experimentation phase.
  7. Bank on lots of time at the pot store. They underestimated their usage. Drastically. That’s because even the relatives who normally don’t get high decided to get in on the fun. And also because they discovered, through the experimentation noted in #6, which edibles and what strains gave them a high best suited to temperament, the surrounding company, and time of day. Then they went back to the pot store to stock up on the preferred products. The process of elimination was not immediate. My expectation of a single visit to the pot store was woefully naïve.
  8. Adjust expectations for conversation. It wasn’t just the fact of being high that colored conversation; it was the desire to discuss pot and the associated merchandise. That relates to #6—the kid in the candy store phenomenon. They were excited. Of course, they were not high all the time, but the evenings tended toward smoking on the deck, marveling at the sunset and the mellow taste and high of strain called Obama Kush (which each time it was said out loud led to giggles and then to a conversation about what would Obama think about a strain being named in his honor followed by postulating his response and then a few more hits and then on to Obama’s history of pot use and did he still get high…well, you get the rambling drift). Later, I Googled it. Apparently, Obama Kush is known for it cerebral stimulation and euphoric rush. Sounds about right.
  9. Go on, take a toke. How could I resist Obama Kush? I lightly pulled on the pipe of my adult niece, and it tasted delicious, like a fine smoked Gouda cheese laced with cherry port. One toke was plenty, and I felt no discernible effect but it did something of high (pun intended) social value; my gesture put others at ease.
  10. Break out the board games. After three days, we finally stumbled on a new social baseline. Board games. But not hard ones, nothing with word puzzles or counting. Pick games that involve drawing, acting things out, easy color patterns. Uno and Cranium were winners for us. And that’s when the visit moved away from being focused on pot and turned fun; granted, it was a different kind of fun, a weed-infused family activity, but memories were made nevertheless, and good ones at that.

Oh, and here’s a bonus #11. Don’t forget the last-minute reminder about keeping it in Oregon. The week ended with my admonitions not to try to sneak pot back inside athletic tube socks or golf club bags. Crossing state lines with controlled substances is still a crime of consequence, especially with the current newly aggressive federal stance. Not that they would ever try such an escapade, of course, that was likely a delayed reaction to my single toke, pot-induced paranoia kicking in.

Ed note: Some aspects of this story have been slightly exaggerated for dramatic effect and family relationship categories have been altered to protect the longevity of the real ones.