The year was 2017. Cannabis, freshly legalized, sprinted towards the open arms of Californians in unprecedented forms: Edibles that didn’t taste like they were made with old bong water. Pre-roll joints in beautiful candy boxes. Flower in jars dashing enough to be repurposed as Q-tip holders. A whole new class of sleek vape pens with their billowing clouds of vapor and fancy tricks.
In hindsight, I was extremely ripe for the picking in a marketplace that was swiftly transforming cannabis from an illicit substance to a self-care centerpiece. After an adolescence in which my cannabis experiences were largely overwhelming and facilitated by dudebros, an influx of women into the industry alongside the emergence of brands specifically positioning themselves with a new audience in mind seemed full of promise. And for me personally, the new generation of vape pens that were arriving on the scene at the time seemed like a godsend.
It was like they knew me: Would I buy pretty much any product whose packaging involves a gorgeous combination of embossing and metallic foil? You better believe it! Was I just paranoid enough that I’d forgo smoking a pre-roll joint before bed, out of fear that I’d somehow forget to put it out and burn my apartment down? Indeed. Did I still have lingering hang ups about being perceived as a “pothead,” despite knowing I was being a regressive square, and that I might as well go get myself a poster of Nancy Reagan to hang on my wall? I did.
"In hindsight, I was extremely ripe for the picking in a marketplace that was swiftly transforming cannabis from an illicit substance to a self-care centerpiece."
It seemed that these 2.0 vape pens were the answer to my concerns. They felt either sleekly medicinal or outright chic when you held them in your hands. They offered the comfort of control via micro-dosing. There was no risk of starting a fire with stray embers, and in fact, it was quite the luxury to be able to sleepily roll over in bed, take a lil’ puff, and know that you weren’t going to ignite the pile of books on your nightstand.
And because the cannabis oil contained in many cartridges were tinkered with to smell and taste like something more floral or fruity, one could quite easily convince oneself that you weren’t actually consuming weed. Because weed was for potheads. But this? This was just a sweet, mellow little pen.
Why I had to break up with my beloveds
You might be able to guess what happened next. In 2019, panic began to spread around the mysterious vaping-related illnesses that, as of February 2020, have resulted in 2,758 hospitalizations and 64 deaths in the United States, according to the latest information from the Center for Disease Control.
Much remains unknown about what causes the disease, though experts contend that the likely culprits are illicit-market products, and that licensed, reputable brands employ rigorous and comprehensive tests to ensure the safety of their products. Still, it’s no wonder that the sale of vape pens, which had surpassed the growth of flower and pre-roll joint sales prior to the outbreak of illnesses going public, have declined sharply.
"There was no way I could rationalize potentially pitting my vital organs against some sketchy additives or rogue metal particles."
That decline is because of people like me. Despite my intense and consuming love for the easy, effective, aesthetically pleasing experience that vapes offer up, I had to break up with my slim bois. With so much still unknown about vaping-related illnesses, there was no way I could rationalize potentially pitting my vital organs against some sketchy additives or rogue metal particles.
There’s a new (ancient) kid in town
What happened after that basically describes the plot of most Hallmark Channel rom coms: Our protagonist, stung by a city slicker, returns to the tried-and-true comforts of home. There, she reunites with an old, down-to-earth flame. Sparks literally fly. To put it another way: I went back to smoking pre-roll joints, you guys. Good ol’ fashioned, nothing-added cannabis. And let me tell you: It’s the greatest.
First, the smell. It’s difficult to pinpoint when or why my nostrils went from “meh” to “Maybe I can just walk around with two pre-roll joints stuck in my nostrils all the time, like a weed walrus,” because I’d always been ambivalent to the smell of pot. But after I bought my first pre-roll and took a curious sniff, that green-velvet scent suddenly struck me as heavenly, in the most earthly sense of the word.
"The tactile experience of a joint is an unmissable reminder of what it is I’m actually doing, which is smoking a plant that grows in the ground."
Which brings me to my next point: Whether it’s a pre-roll joint or I’m buying flower to roll into my own DIY joints, the tactile experience of a joint is an unmissable reminder of what it is I’m actually doing, which is smoking a plant that grows in the ground. I realized I’d previously spent all this time and money trying to consume cannabis while simultaneously distancing myself from cannabis. But why all the smoke and mirrors?
My theory is that despite my long-standing belief that cannabis should be federally legalized, and that culturally, it’s all of our responsibility to help destigmatize its use, I was being a hypocrite. I couldn’t fully divorce myself from the notion that deep down, cannabis is criminal—a narrative that has been foisted upon us by government and cultural institutions for more than a century at the expense of minority and Indigenous communities.
Burn one down, indeed
It occurred to me that if we are to truly stand by our efforts to make cannabis accessible and available to the adults who want it, and to allow the benefits of legalization to lift up communities in which criminalization has so thoroughly taken its toll, it was absurd of me to try and evade all the things that would indicate to other people what I think about cannabis. Namely, that it’s a gift and an earthly miracle. And that those are kind of hard to come by, so we should all be pretty excited.
Yes, joints smell like weed. And yes, if I’m smoking a joint, other people will see me as someone who is smoking a joint. Duh. If I really believe there’s no shame in consuming cannabis, then there is no shame in consuming cannabis.
"It occurred to me that if we are to truly stand by our efforts to make cannabis accessible and equitable ... it was absurd of me to try and evade all the things that would indicate to other people what I think about weed. Namely, that it’s a gift and an earthly miracle."
At this moment in time, it’s unclear when or if the vape-pen crisis will be resolved. I hope it’s soon, because while I don’t think my newfound love for good ol’ fashioned joints is going anywhere anytime soon, the ease, comfort, and design that vapes offer can be a very effective tool for welcoming even more cannabis users into the fold. And if I’m being honest, I really do miss the ability to burrito-roll myself over in bed to the sweet kiss of a vape pen. Alas, I’ll have to wait and see what happens.
But in the meantime, I’m glad to have found my way back to the analog, earthly comfort of a joint in our increasingly glossy, battery-powered world. Because, to quote an endless number of potheads who in turn quote Ben Harper: “What’s of the earth is of the greatest worth.” And it’s up to us to make that worth known.
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