The Case for Keeping Cannabis Weird

Photo by Evening Standard

I remember the night Prop 64 passed in California. I was at a party hosted by the Drug Policy Alliance in downtown LA with my family; our spirits were high with expectation and then with the victory of legalization (the presidential results, however, are another story). This was a huge night for my dad Bruce, in particular, a marijuana criminal defense lawyer who's championed the legalization cause since he opened practice in 1967. This was everything he'd been working for his entire career. It was a surreal ecstasy for him, and yet, I could tell he was also mourning something.

He likes to joke that now weed's legal, he'll finally try the stuff. But he also made a point that night, which stuck with me:
The California pot culture he's been familiar with, driven by prohibition, would soon vanish. Donning a pot leaf pin on your shirt was once a political statement — a "fuck you" to the government and the authorities for criminalizing our medicine and our happiness, he said. But what does it mean now that it's legal, at least in 11 states?

"It's not like I wear beer bottle pins on my shirt," my dad said that night. "That doesn't mean anything." So as we aim to treat pot like alcohol, at least in the legal sense, is that meaninglessness what we want for cannabis?

A few years prior to Prop 64's passage, I read a book called How to Smoke Pot (Properly) by fellow cannabis journalist David Bienenstock. The last chapter "Keep Pot Weird" was the perfect note to end on, and it's an idea I hope can stick with the cannabis industry as we define what this space is all about.

Sure, there's a movement away from stoner culture away from using the word "weed" or even "marijuana" in place of only “cannabis". (These other words connote stonerhood and prohibition and even offend some people.) There's a movement to normalize cannabis, rebrand it as a mainstream household product that belongs in everyone's medicine cabinet. There's a focus on microdosing and CBD, helping people adopt the plant without even getting high. And true, getting high has its time and place, and isn't for everyone — in fact, getting high can, at times, feel a bit weird.

But if we're going to be totally honest, the spirit and the consciousness of the cannabis plant are a bit weird — nurturing yet mysterious, unpredictable, even if therapeutic. We don't always know what thoughts will come up when we're high, and yea, it makes sense that the original, stereotypical pot culture of the counterculture was filled with so-called weirdos and hippies who were down for that kind of experience. They wore it on their sleeve, so to speak, with tie-dye, dreadlocks, grey ponytails, and so forth. But these are the things the nouveau canna-cool kids have rejected completely.

You could say there's a bit of a tension between the new cannabis industry and the old cannabis movement, very much characterized by old school activists. (And when I talk about the industry, I'm mainly talking about the adult use cannabis industry and not the medical industry which, for good reason, should feel medical.) The industry is going for mainstream, for wellness, for an all-inclusive image of the cannabis consumer, apart from just the stereotypical stoner who wants to get high. The industry wants and needs support from everyone, crunchy granola types to conservative Republicans.

But the industry wouldn't be where it is today without the movement.

The movement, on the other hand, have been people who've paraded cannabis cause before it was cool. They grew weed when it was illegal. They wore those pot leaf pins back in the day. And brought cannabis edibles to sick patients in need. Many risked their freedom, as well as their reputations, for the cause.

The movement needs the industry, too, however. The industry represents the success of the movement, and also helps push it forward. It brings people into the movement, such as more conservative politicians who might never have championed cannabis before there was a multi-million dollar industry to back it up.

It would be nice to pay homage to the roots of the cannabis space as a whole — looking at the now symbiotic relationship between the industry and the movement, while aiming to push the space forward in a way that's yes, a little weird, but more so, conscious. Here is an opportunity, with a new industry, to shed toxins like the patriarchy, greed, and environmental disregard in favor of the values that we may come to when we're high: cooperation, feminism (to celebrate what is, after all, a female plant), and sustainability.

We don't have to sterilize the industry while making it palatable to the masses, nor conform for the purpose of mainstream appeal. Rather, let's make the mainstream come to cannabis by simply making this space awesome and yes, different than the norm — a cultural and wellness revolution, if you will — in which everyone wants to get involved.

Madison Margolin is an LA/NY-based journalist on the cannabis beat. Her work has been featured in Rolling Stone, LA Weekly, Merry Jane, Herb, Playboy, and other places too.