Cannabis Culture in the Age of the Selfie

Call him the Lone Ranger. That’s how he feels about himself these days. He’s not the only one in his crowd who smokes marijuana, but for the most part, he smokes marijuana alone and not in the company of others. Forty years old, with a two-year-old son, a fiancé and two jobs, he has cultivated his own crops in the hills ever since he was a teenager. He doesn’t have a lot of disposable time to lounge around, and he belongs to the growing tribe of solitary pot smokers in California’s Emerald Triangle, which still produces some of the best weed in the world that is shipped around the country in vast quantities.

As medical marijuana has come to the foreground in the past 20 years, as “cannabis” has replaced “pot” and as dabs and vaporizers have become more popular than old-fashioned, hand-rolled joints, recreational smoking with others has taken a nosedive.

“Yeah, I mostly smoke solo,” the Lone Ranger told me when I ask about his cannabis habit. “Sometimes I’ll share a joint with a friend, but it’s not like it was back in the day when a bunch of people sat around a room and passed a joint from hand to hand. Maybe the change reflects a new maturity. I’m not sure.”

Granted, some medical marijuana patients smoke or ingest at dispensaries, but many dispensaries in Northern California don’t allow the use of cannabis on the premises. Customers take their medicine off-site. Signs on highways that read, “Buzzed driving is drunk driving” act as a deterrent. Officers in the California Highway Patrol are eager to make arrests for possession, trafficking, and sale.

The Lone Ranger’s mother, Wonder Woman, now in her 60’s and retired after a long career in the field of nursing, still rolls joints and fires them up for her arthritis—and because she still likes to get high.

“I remember when I first smoked pot people would say ‘don’t Bogart that joint,’” she said. “You were supposed to take a hit, pass it around and not hog it. Now, people my age don’t live in dorms or in a commune as they did in their youth. Their kids are grown up and have their own lives. They’re at home by themselves, smoking by themselves in an apartment or in the woods.”

Oddly enough, as medical marijuana has spread from state to state, and as the marijuana industry has skyrocketed, old school marijuana has, to a large extent,  gone underground and lost much of the counterculture pizzazz it once had. Bogarting a joint might be the best way to survive in a perilous world.

Moreover, it seems likely that as long as workers can be legally fired if they test positive for cannabis, cannabis will remain in the closet. And as long as there are violent home invasions, cannabis growers, dealers and consumers will exercise discretion and not publicize their business and their pleasures.

Even on websites that claim to offer “realistic stock photos of people smoking marijuana,” most of the images show solitary individuals smoking at their computers, alone with their bongs or in their kitchens. Perhaps smoking makes them feel less lonely. At least they have a joint or vaporizer to keep them company.

A 21-year-old student—call him Mad Max—on a large campus in the California State University system explained, “I use weed for my attention deficit disorder. The doctor recommends it. I take it regularly, and it definite helps. I can focus more now than I did in the past. I get Bs and not Cs in classes, but I just don’t get that excited about smoking. I don’t say, ‘Oh wow, I’m gonna get stoned.’ I say, ‘time to medicate.’”

Mad Max’s 19-year-old housemate—call her Spice Girl—who also attends university, doesn’t smoke with him or by herself, and while she doesn’t complain about his use of cannabis, she doesn’t regard it as anything special.

“I don’t see that it’s cool to smoke weed,” she said. “Not anymore cool than not smoking it. There are a lot of people my age who make their own beer at home. I think that’s way fucking cool.”

The consumption of beer and wine among 20 and 30 year olds in the Emerald Triangle has increased dramatically in recent years, not surprisingly because grapes are cultivated in the valleys and on the hillsides and because Northern California wine is as good if not better than wine made anywhere, including the south of France. Good beer is plentiful, too, from breweries like Lagunitas, Mendocino Brewing Company, Anderson Valley Brewing Company and Marin Brewing Company.

The culture of wine and beer is connected to food and to boisterous social events. Tasting rooms are nearly everywhere. They’re so abundant that local residents complain about them. Police logs testify to the spike in drunk driving.

At a recent gathering outside the town of Sonoma, 200 or so people sat down to eat, drink wine and talk about food and wine with a fearless sense of abandon. That kind of social event isn’t yet possible in the world of cannabis. Indeed, there’s not a restaurant from San Francisco to Portland where a crowd gathers openly to smoke pot and eat and drink and talk. As long as cannabis is illegal by federal law those kinds of events probably won’t happen.

Wonder Woman rolls a joint, lights it, inhales and passes it to a friend.

“We’re living in the age of the selfie,” she said. “People take photos of themselves and post them. They smoke weed by themselves, too. I do most of the time, though I don’t take selfies with a joint on my lips. Somebody out there is watching and listening. I’m not looking to get arrested.”

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