I’ve never calculated the amount of money I spend on marijuana before because I’m afraid of what I’ll discover, but here are the facts: I go through roughly an eighth-an-ounce of marijuana per week. Good weed is typically around $50 per eighth, which works out to $200 per month, $2,400 per year, and $12,000 over the past five years, or the price of a slightly used Hyundai.
Would this money have been better spent on a Hyundai? I don’t think so. Marijuana makes me happy, or, if not actually happy, it makes me forget that I’m depressed. It also keeps me sober, or at least relatively so. Alcohol is my favorite drug, and I would happily day-drink my life away if the hangovers weren’t so bad. This is how I spent most of my twenties, difficult years with long periods of unemployment, poverty, anxiety, and, at one point, a misdiagnosis for bipolar disorder, brought on by a month-long bender and getting caught climbing an eleven-story crane.
Although my everyday drinking routine was more pedestrian than outlandish, more arguing about nothing in the same dark bar every day than Girls Gone Wild, I did take off my top in public and sleep with strangers on a regular basis. For several years, I performed with a band called Shit Horse, dancing onstage with pasties covering my nipples and a horse mask covering my head, waving a plastic machine gun around and riding the back of our 50-year-old frontman, a sometimes homeless drug addict in a conductor’s uniform named Danny Magic. This was not something I did sober, and a few years ago, when I put down the bottle and picked up the pipe, my willingness to take my shirt off and don a horse mask ended, as did my interest in one-night stands. (Actually, I didn’t lose interest in one-night stands as much as I lost the ability to have to them. It’s hard to get laid when you spend every night smoking weed and watching nature documentaries.)
Despite the lack of casual sex, my life is better as a smoker than it was as a drinker. Along with the positive effects on my body and my mood–a night of smoking never leads to a metaphysical crisis the way a truly bad hangover can–I love being a part of the brotherhood of the pot smoker. Making friends with potheads is easy. Strangers at parties and bars find each other and congregate in some dark corner, forming a circle and passing the weed. You smoke? I smoke!, we say. Let’s be friends. My stoner friends are also my most interesting friends. Just last night, I spent several hours taking bong hits in the company of an artist who makes his living screen-printing band posters, an ex-librarian with two daughters, and a carpenter who comes home from work everyday to put on women’s clothes and watch surfing videos. We brought the bong up to our host’s roof above the treetops and threw sticks to bats flittering overhead, continually surprised at their lack of interest in fetch. Potheads are adolescent grownups, huddled just out of the way in a cloud of smoke, members of a club open to anyone who wants to join, though most people don’t, which makes it more fun.
Marijuana is not without consequence. A year ago I went to my doctor complaining of lethargy. I barely had the energy to make nachos and load my pipe each night and wanted to get tested for anemia or maybe a thyroid problem. When the doctor asked me about my lifestyle, I was honest with her. Do I do drugs? Yes, I said. Usually. When my blood work came back normal, the doctor said that there was something in my body causing this malaise but it wasn’t a medical issue; it was THC. This made me pause for a minute and consider cutting back; then I decided to look for a more high-energy strain, something that might make me want to take up painting.
I don’t doubt that I’d be smarter if I didn’t spend so much time lulling my neurons to sleep with grass. It’s mostly my common sense that has taken a hit, as exhibited by a recent decision to light a joint in the smoking section at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport after returning a rental car. Marijuana was legalized in Washington state just last year, so I figured all the weird looks I got were just tourists unused to how things are. I finished my joint, tossed it in the ashtray, and took the train into the city. Pleased with myself for this bright idea, I bragged about it for two days until someone pointed out that it’s not actually legal to smoke in public in Washington state, and, besides, airports are federal property.
Further evidence that pot makes you dumb comes from a direct comparison with my twin sister. My twin was raised by the same people at the same time, attended the same schools, played with the same friends, and yet she is vastly more successful than me. She has a better house, a better job, and was married last month–a wedding I spent smoking pot on the back porch. It was a big day for my sister but it was a big day for me as well: She got married, I came out of the pot closet, or at least did a shitty job of hiding what I was doing, which I realized when my mom told me to quit getting her friends stoned because no one was going to be able to drive.
I am the bad twin, the twin who started drinking vanilla extract in middle school because someone’s older brother said it would fuck you up, the twin who will likely never have a wedding to plan because I’m stuck in a couch hole every night. Plus, not every girl wants to date a stoner. It’s sort of like signing up to date someone with mono–you know you’re going to spend a lot of time napping and watching TV.
From my experience, dating is much easier if both parties are potheads. A girl once told me on a first date that she was just the type of person who liked to get fucked up, and I agreed that I, too, liked to get fucked up and then imagined a future with lots of happy moments together, most of which we would forget. She was exaggerating, as it turned out, and was the type of person who liked to get fucked up only occasionally, but not before, say, I met her family for the first time. I knew it wasn’t going to work out when she asked if it was totally necessary to smoke a joint on the way to family dinner, but, too apathetic to break up with her, I spent a couple of weeks getting stoned and watching the same three episodes of Cheech and Chong over and over until she ended the relationship. This was neither the first nor the last time that my romantic life suffered because of my marijuana intake, but as long as I’m stoned, I don’t worry about it too much.
Weed also limits my potential hobbies. I tried trail running, but after getting high and lacing up my running shoes, I’d find myself wandering off into the woods to check out trees that looked like they’d be nice to scratch my back against. I’d finish an hour later and 300 yards from the trailhead and go home and binge on ice cream, having burned approximately zero calories. Music festivals are a common stoner hobby, but I don’t like crowds, so I take a lot of walks instead, and hang out on my porch, and listen to the radio, and sometimes write. I fuse my dual interests in writing and marijuana by smoking before I write, and I’m currently working on a series of reviews called Everything Stoned, with subtitles like “Going to Whole Foods Stoned,” “Watching Friends Stoned,” and “My Grandmother’s Funeral Stoned.” These essays are full of observations like the following, from my review of getting stoned and watching two rabbits from my front porch:
At first I think they are chubby rats hopping in place. The only “nature” near my house is a shallow creek filled with mattresses and garbage and so two brown bunnies in my yard seem less likely than sewer rats hopping up and down. They look like they are playing or, more likely, engaged in foreplay. It is spring, after all, and for weeks now I have been hearing the other amorous species in my neighborhood–feral cats and my upstairs neighbors–mating like it’s the only time of year you can do it. The rabbits chase each other in circles directly under a streetlamp that buzzes incessantly. I once got drunk and tried, unsuccessfully, to shoot it out with a BB gun, and now it beams light onto these animals like a it’s a stage light or God.
A stage light or God. That’s how a streetlamp looks when I’m stoned, and this makes up for the lethargy, the declining IQ, the bag of Cheetos instead of a girlfriend by my side. I may be sitting alone on my porch, but what’s happening inside my head is full of color. And, even better, it’s safe. I no longer get drunk and go for a drive because there’s a tape player in my car and I really want to listen to that one Heart cassette; I don’t get in bike accidents and then sneak out of the ER with a neck brace, a concussion, and a hospital bracelet with someone else’s name on it; I don’t light things on fire; I don’t sleep with other people’s girlfriends; I don’t skip work because the scent of alcohol is radiating from my body. I don’t hurt people.
When I miss booze, when I want to say fuck it, go back to bars and Shit Horse and sleeping around, I remind myself what it was like to wake up every morning hungover. I remember the nausea, the shakes, the headache and the shame, and I take off my shoes and head out to the porch. I sit in my rocking chair and stare up at the night, just me, a little bit of weed, and some bunnies in the street, wondering, is it a stage or is it heaven?