What a time to be alive! Not only is the number of U.S. states with legal recreational weed on the rise—not to mention entire countries like Canada and Uruguay—it’s never been easier to travel to those places to partake in the consumption of cannabis. Checking off places and dream activities is almost a form of social currency nowadays with flights as fast and cheap as they are, and getting stoned in different places is high up there.
At the nexus of these bucket lists and country counts is The Big One: smoking weed in Antarctica.
Making it to Antarctica is the traveler’s version of a runner completing their first marathon. It’s one of the few places on the planet that’s still prohibitively expensive and challenging to reach, with trips to South America preceding costly ice-breaker voyages that only run for a few months out of the year. Having the time, funds, and durability to get to the South Pole isn’t something every wanderer can claim.
But if you are going to go through the effort to check off Antarctica on the ol’ bucket list, the obvious question is, “How do I get high while I’m there?” The best way to figure this out is by looking at the scientists who spend upwards of 6 months a year working on the ice.
Antarctica is a strong, independent continent that has no government, and even though it’s functionally a lawless land, there isn’t a straightforward yes or no answer to the question of legality. The Antarctic Treaty forbids anyone of any citizenship from doing things like setting off nuclear bombs, but it has nothing to say about the consumption of cannabis (or any other drug, for that matter). So growing, consuming, or selling pot is technically legal. There’s no law saying you can’t.
There’s no known information of what would happen if a tourist was caught smoking a bowl, but it’s extremely unlikely that a tour company would abandon their guest in Antarctica.
However, scientists in Antarctica are subject to the laws of their home country, and tourists are beholden to whichever travel company brought them there. Crimes committed by tourists in Antarctica would refer back to their home country. There isn’t a category of people arriving in Antarctica independently—at least not yet—but in theory they would be able to do whatever they want.
Whether you’re a scientist or a tourist, “You tend to be there as part of a group that expects certain standards, and you might have signed a code of conduct contract,” explains soil scientist and Oregon-based grower Otis Gardens’ Greg Selby in an email interview with High Times. Scientists may find themselves facing greater scrutiny, due to being sponsored to be there, Selby tells us: “Since you’re paid by a government and living in university camps, [cannabis] use is normally frowned upon. The only real risk is getting kicked out of camp for breaking government or campus policy.”
There’s no known information of what would happen if a tourist was caught smoking a bowl, but it’s extremely unlikely that a tour company would abandon their guest in Antarctica, or have them arrested over a little self-medication. And unless a penguin figures out how to snitch, you probably won’t get caught sucking on a vape pen.
The answer to the legality question may be a little murky, but the main thing is to be discreet. The answer to how to obtain marijuana in Antarctica is surprisingly a little more straightforward if you plan for it.
“Most of the cannabis used in these areas is for pain relief and sleeping,” Selby explains.
In 1981 the New York Times reported on a story wherein New Zealand got pissy about packages containing drugs being sent through their territory from the United States to McMurdo Station, the largest research community on the continent. The U.S. was surprisingly chill about the whole thing, cooperating unenthusiastically with customs searches.
Although Selby has not been to Antarctica, his research was focused on cannabis growth in the polar climate, and he has worked with scientists who got high in Antarctica. “In the days before vape pens it depended on the amount of flower people found safe to smuggle over,” Selby says. “Then it was normally pipes made out of apples, and hitting tobacco smokers up for papers. Nowadays you get an assortment of vape pens and live resin carts that are easy to zip into your luggage. They have made life much easier.”
Even though carving out an apple brings back the nostalgia of teenage years, long-term Antarctic residents aren’t just getting high for the fun of it: it can be essential to survival. “Most of the cannabis used in these areas is for pain relief and sleeping,” Selby explains. “Working 12-16 hour days can hurt! The sun never goes down during the working season. You can get blackout curtains and hide in tents, but your body never really adjusts to 24 hours of light, so you might need some help.” And how bad is it really for the people determining how quickly our planet is dying of climate change to get help from a little bud?
Selby has an idea for an alternative to packing enough resin to last the winter and risking an extra-thorough customs search: “Any cannabis grown successfully in polar regions would be in a greenhouse or indoor setup where lighting can be controlled. I would hope one day, as ideas change, that a small garden with a few medical use plants would be available to people in these areas. Most of these camps have a small area for ornamental and fruit-bearing plants. At -40 degrees in the winter, a live plant can really boost your mood.”
Perhaps eventually the Antarctic’s first dispensary will come into existence so that scientists and tourists alike can partake in the herb, avoiding the problems associated with border crossing by using greenhouse technology. You have to check off that bucket list somehow!