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Radical Rant: The Last Generation of Stoners

Russ Belville

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This election we have a record nine states and one territory voting for marijuana reform, either through adult legalization in California, Arizona, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine, or through medical marijuana in Florida, Arkansas, North Dakota, Montana[1] and the Northern Mariana Islands[2].

The more positive change we have away from marijuana prohibition, the more I begin to wonder—who will be the last generation of stoners?

A freshman at UCLA today perceives the world far differently than I did 30 years ago as a freshman at Boise State. For that UCLA freshman, a gay Mideast-war veteran and her wife running a legal pot shop is a normal part of life. That freshman can’t recall those peaceful halcyon days of the 20th Century when we didn’t ask, didn’t tell and scored our dime bags in a parking lot.

As time goes on, cannabis will become more legal in more places. Eventually, it will be just another adult consumable, like wine, cigars and edible underwear. And while that’s a good thing, I can’t help but wonder if we’ll be losing some of our culture.

For generations, we have evolved a culture in reaction to the pressures of living within an outlaw market. We came up with codes like “420” and “safety meeting” so we could identify each other without outing each other. We formed social norms like “puff, puff, pass to the left” and “don’t bogart that joint” to ensure that everyone got a fair hit on the rare flower. We carried little pocket scales to our parking lot deals and gathered every little crumb out of that bag with the tip of a pinkie finger.

Those days aren’t gone yet, especially in the Midwest and Deep South. But they will be, probably before I pass on. Someday marijuana will really be treated like alcohol. With that will come a permanent shift in how we view cannabis and its consumers.

Think about how we frame drinkers. First off, when you read the term “drinker,” it’s usually combined with the adjectives “problem” or “social.” That’s because “drinker” by itself doesn’t connote much, because it is presumed that most people drink alcohol at some level.

Second, you don’t think of a “drinker” as someone who is dedicated to the drinking lifestyle, who celebrates the drinking culture, and is into drinking activism. “Drinkers” come from all walks of life and enjoy alcohol at different levels.

No, the closest term in the alcohol world to match “stoner” would be “drunk.” Someone who is socially outcast for their extreme love of alcohol, whether or not it is dysfunctional to themselves. One who is defined by their use of alcohol, for whom drinking is a major facet of their personality. One who cannot be pictured without a drink in their hand.

In other words, over the next generations, “stoner” will evolve from being the catch-all definition of all pot smokers to being a derogatory definition of a problem pot smoker. For most people, smoking pot won’t define their lives any more than beer defines most drinkers’ lives. It’ll just be another thing that occasionally a few adults have problems with. I’ll seem as antiquated saying “stoner” and “marijuana” as the generation before me when they say “grass” and “three-finger lid.”

Some of the good aspects of “stoner” culture will die off as well. We won’t be as heterogeneous as prohibition forces us to be, where blue collar, white collar, black, white, straight, gay, religious and secular all join the same joint circle. Already, I see more individuals puffing away solo on vape pens. As cannabis becomes more accessible and less demonized, our toking circles are going to become more like our other social groups, where we mix with people of like minds and cultures.

I wouldn’t wish us to go backward, though. With legality will arise new generations that integrate cannabis into the lifestyles they already lead, rather than integrating their lifestyles to adjust to cannabis prohibition. And I’ll be there to tell them, “back in MY day, we had to roll joints because you could get jail time for a pot pipe, and you had to cup the joint inside your palm so the cops couldn’t see the cherry passing from dude to dude in a dark parking lot!”

[1] Montana is voting to restore their medical marijuana system from draconian limits established by the legislature in 2011.

[2] If passed, a majority of U.S. Territories (N. Marianas, Puerto Rico, and Guam) will have medical marijuana, with only American Samoa and U.S. Virgin Islands remaining.

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