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I am standing in line in a tent waiting for a van that will take us to the fifth pot shop to open on the east coast of the United States. It is the first day of winter, four days before Christmas. The woman in front of me turns around and introduces herself. She wants to interview me for a story on her website. She is tall and thin and very pretty. She’s got long wavy red hair almost to her knees. When I decline it takes air out of her balloon but still we bond like kids waiting for the bus on the first day of kindergarten. I notice she does her interviews selfie-style, making sure she’s always in the picture. This is a magical day. Outside it is raining but inside the atmosphere is electric, alive with anticipation. People are in awe as if they can’t believe this is really happening. They are relatively quiet, though, lest the spell be broken. One guy in line tells me he went to the very first store, in a small town in central Mass. a few weeks ago and waited in line for hours. That’s in addition to the three-hour round trip. Traffic was gridlocked. Residents complained. Our weed shop is located beside the local hospital. One might think that would be a good match since cannabis products promote health and healing too, but you can’t have cars blocking access to an emergency room. So the police chief came up with this plan for customers to park three miles away at the water park. In the lot I spotted cars from Rhode Island and New Hampshire. Dozens of orange traffic cones line the road outside. They will need to come up with a new plan before the water park opens around Memorial Day. Earlier today the lines were real long but I must have come at a good time. I make it to the check-in table in less than an hour. Three employees sit there with laptop computers while space heaters whoosh out noise. My check-in guy apologizes for the wait. We’ve been waiting eighty years for this, I laugh, so fifty minutes is nothing! Everyone laughs. It’s crazy but true. Federal prohibition of weed started with the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 and in 1970 Richard Nixon outlawed all usage – even medical – when he signed the Controlled Substances Act. I suppose the government could ban chocolate or coffee or anything they want, whether it makes sense or not. The worker takes my license and enters something into the computer. Beside me, my redheaded friend is reluctant to show her license. You’re not entering license numbers, are you? she asks, because that’s illegal. In reality most of us don’t really care now that we are so close. After a shorter wait in another line we are given tickets that allow entry to the store and we climb aboard a white van for the trip to the Magic Kingdom. You have nice skin! gushes a girl sitting on the other side of my friend. And your hair is beautiful! I thought I heard the redheaded girl mention she has a holistic health company but when I ask her about it she proudly exclaims, I’m a grower! When we arrive at our destination there is a bunch of people waiting in the rain for the return trip. They are holding little black shopping bags that say Verilife. Police and security guards are everywhere. Between paying for police details, a security company, a transportation company and their own workers and expenses, this must be costing the Verilife people a fortune. We all make a beeline for the house, which sits on a small hill across the street. It is a small two-story white building with pillars and looks like a funeral home. More lines, more showing of licenses. While we wait outside, a car pulls into the tiny lot. A woman gets out, holds up a medical cannabis card and is ushered in like royalty. Finally five of us are allowed into the reception room where another worker takes our licenses and does who knows what on his tablet. It is neat and tidy here: white walls and nice wood floors. Bob Marley plays on the stereo. For our convenience there is a small ATM. This is a cash-only operation since weed is still a federal crime – a Schedule 1 drug right up there with heroin, LSD and ecstasy. On the little paper menus they pass out vape cartridges outnumber everything else. I know nothing about vaping. I settle on an eighth of an ounce of Diesel Fire for forty bucks. On the menu it’s got an S beside it for sativa to lift you up. Some of the choices have an I for indica, which has calming effects, and then there’s H for hybrid. At last the French door opens and our little group enters the selling area. It looks like a pharmacy with its shiny steel counter and neat white shelves. While chatting with a guy who seems to have extensive knowledge of the industry my friend tilts her head and swings that curtain of red hair slowly back and forth. One license check while we wait and suddenly I am at the counter. With my luck the FBI will bust down the doors just as I’m taking my money out. The clerk is very cheery and apologizes that he must check my license one last time. He puts a green and white foil pack into a little black Verilife shopping bag with handles and staples it shut with finality. It’s official: after years of buying herb on the street and constantly looking over my shoulder, I have made my first legal purchase. Reefer madness be damned! Waiting for the van in the rain, I share my umbrella with the redheaded girl. What did she buy? A pre-roll! she chirps. We get word that one of the vans has been involved in an accident, so there will be a delay. She meanders back to the white porch to schmooze with the cops hiding from the rain. A girl who lives in a neighboring town tells me she bought a vape cartridge for herself and some flower for her mom who complains that street weed is too harsh. She takes out her pen and explains how it works: the cartridge screws onto the pen and the pen’s battery creates heat that vaporizes oil in the cartridge. According to the menu, the oil is highly concentrated – at least seventy percent THC – three or four times as much as flower. She clicks a button and takes a puff. I hope you’re not driving, I say, thinking out loud. I am, she admits with a guilty grin.
The pothead pickup location has changed. This time I wait in line in a tent at the old nail factory on a cold winter’s day. A short brown Hispanic man walks in and stands behind me. I direct him to the table up front where you have to check in and show your driver’s license. He thanks me with a happy smile. He’s got paint on his jacket and his jeans. A working man here for a little relief that he will pay for with money he earned. Is he legal? Is he illegal? Does it matter? We are given tickets that allow entry to the store. Do not lose that ticket! This new location is only a mile from the shop. The female van driver admits she gets bored sometimes just going back and forth, back and forth. Her teeth are movie star white. Jimi Hendrix’s bluesy Red House reverberates through the stereo system and it feels like we are in a concert hall. I buy a Dog Walker Big Dog Purple Urkle pre-roll for ten dollars. It is packaged in a plastic tube inside a professional-looking box with an embossed logo. The weed part of it weighs three-quarters of a gram. It is rolled in very thin paper with a twist at one end and a cardboard mouthpiece at the other. The label says it has 23.4 percent THC, which is a healthy amount. I no longer smoke so I will slit it open and use the weed to make brownies. This is ridiculous, laughs an old lady in a ski parka as we wait for the van that will bring us back. I thought we’d be able to just walk in like a package store, buy the stuff and leave. That’s how it was in Boulder, Colorado when I was there, offers a guy who looks like the actor in Verizon’s Can You Hear Me Now? commercials. Little shops everywhere. There was a half dozen of them near my B&B and it’s a quick in and out with no hassle. A young black man talks excitedly about weed investment opportunities and predicts this market will be through the roof. He bought pre-rolls for his dad, a cancer patient. A good-looking blonde lady says weed helped her get through her bout with cancer. I’m surprised she doesn’t have a medical cannabis card. Gummies are her favorite. She laughs and says she tells the children, these are not for kids! But what do kids know? I urge her to lock them up in a safe. The gummies, not the kids! Not sure if she is the mother or the grandmother. Depending on how the light hits her face, lines and wrinkles appear and disappear. She could be any age. Are you doing better now? I ask. Yes, thank you, she says, looking pleased that someone would care. In my mind I picture a small black safe with a combination lock. Another woman bought some edibles too and a five pack of pre-rolls. A friendly, down-to-earth woman comfortable in her own skin. She shows me the foil pack containing a chocolate bar. She loves chocolate (who doesn’t?) and since edibles don’t kick in right away she tries to resist the urge to eat all the pieces at once and get too high. So she alternates them with regular chocolate. She shows me the Brownie Scout Dog Walker five pack of pre-rolls. They’ve got a high THC content of 30.5 percent. Five potent joints for twenty-five bucks! Thirty including the tax of twenty percent. That tax is way too high but so far I have heard no one complain. Everyone is just happy to get some relief. The Hispanic man with paint on his clothing sits beside me in the van and gazes out the window. We pass a rusting old RV surrounded by weeds in an empty lot and he gets excited. That’s a nice bus! he says. She needs some love but that bus has good bones! You know he is a good man, a hopeful, resourceful man who can probably fix almost anything. You know he has love for all and you wonder, should we build the wall?