Introduction By Chris Hofstader
In the more than 500 articles I've published on this site and BlindConfidential before it, I have never collaborated with a second writer on a piece so this one might sound a bit different from my usual fare.
This story is broken up into three major sections. In the first section, I describe my experience with marijuana as a youth back in the 1970s growing up near New York City in New Jersey. The second section was written by Mike Calvo and it describes his youthful marijuana experiences in Miami in the wild 1980s. The final section talks about legal marijuana and how weird it is for a couple of middle aged guys to be buying weed in nice stores staffed by nice people.
Another thing that is a bit weird for a couple of middle aged grey hairs is that the terminology of marijuana has changed over the years. One of the terrific people who help me edit these articles pointed out that few people under the age of 35 or so refer to marijuana as "weed" anymore but use the term "flowers" instead as marijuana is available in so many different forms these days. Back in the seventies, we'd hear the occasional old hippy call it "grass" but that term had lost favor by my early teens. Over the decades, though, I've heard to marijuana called weed, pot, hemp, ganja, reefer, shag, smoke, whacky tabacky, Mary Jane, dope (outside of New York where dope always meant heroin), stuff, shit, herb and probably a dozen more words I can't remember. So, if you didn't realize that by "weed" we meant marijuana, forgive us, we use the most common term with which we grew up.
Marijuana is now legal in some form in more than 38 states. Both Mike and I have legal Florida Medical Marijuana cards and do not participate in any criminal activities. Both of us met with medical doctors and were prescribed marijuana, Mike for his problems sleeping and me for my anxiety disorder. We are fortunate to live in a state with legal medical marijuana and we hope the US federal government will get on board with the majority of the states.
Chris' Story, New Jersey, New York, 1970s
I first smoked marijuana with my friend Mickey in 1973, when we were 13 years old and in eighth grade. I don't know where Mickey got the weed but I'll assume it was from some high school kid a couple of years older than us. Mickey said he paid $5 for the "nickel bag" and I gave him $2.50 for my share.
With our baggy, small metal pipe and Bic lighter in pocket, we walked to a wooded area near our childhood homes, packed the bowl and fired it up. We passed the pipe back and forth stopping occasionally to relight the weed. We then walked back to my house, put on an album and spent a lot of time laughing – who knew Rush could be so funny.
I enjoyed the experience and wanted to repeat it and Mickey, our friend Fred whose real name was Steve but everyone called him Fred for some reason and I would become regular smoking buddies for a couple of years. Mickey and Fred both went to the public high school but I left our public education system and went to an excellent Catholic high school. Mickey, Fred and I would remain friends but we drifted apart as we made new friends at our new schools.
In high school, a couple of friends of mine and I would get a regular pot dealer with whom we'd do business for a couple of years until we were old enough to get drivers licenses. We would go to the dealer's house, he'd tell us the price of weed that week (it could range from as low as $20 to $45 for an ounce), he'd tell us what kind of weed it was (the $20 bags were brown frown Mexican weed, more expensive strains had those old school names you might remember from Cheech & Chong records like Acapulco Gold, Panama Red, or Columbian Gold), he'd roll us a joint so we could sample the fare, we'd hang out and chat with him for a while, maybe listen to a Pink Floyd record and be on our way. Our pot dealer was a real nice guy who would later attend an Ivy League university, then to medical school and is now working in psychiatry in New Jersey.
Our part of New Jersey had a solid contradiction built into its culture. We lived in a relatively affluent community where most households were supported by corporate executives and Wall Street types but a lot of the town was run by what was the then still powerful Italian mob. A lot of our classmates in Catholic school were the sons of mobsters, some even with famous names that get mentioned in documentaries and such about organized crime in those years.
One of the mob sons gave us the phone number of a guy everyone called Big Pete who ran a gas station out on Staten Island. You could buy gasoline for your car from Big Pete, you could put air in your tires and get a quart of oil if you were low but we didn't drive across the Outerbridge to Staten Island to get gas, we were there for Big Pete's marijuana business. We would purchase a quarter pound of reasonably high quality weed for $90, bring it back to the Jersey side, break it up into four ounces and sell three of them to other friends for $40 each earning us enough profit to get some beer and have a little party.
In 1978, a couple of us would pool our money and take our first road trip to buy a large quantity of what was then being called Sinsemilla. This was a special sort of weed, it had no seeds, was far stronger than anything we'd tried before and sold for a lot more than the strains we were accustomed to buying. It was selling in New York and New Jersey at a big mark up when you could even find the stuff. Rumors on the street said it was coming in from Hawaii, others told us it was from Lebanon, still others would say it came from almost any part of the world one could imagine. I can't recall how but my buddy and I learned that it was actually coming from Kentucky and were able to make a connection there. We would borrow a nice looking late model car, nothing flashy, just a normal car. We would follow traffic laws as carefully as possible and we'd get from Jersey to Kentucky, load up a couple of spare tires in the trunk with large bags of weed, pay the farmers who sold it to us and make the ride back. These were some very profitable trips to America's heartland.
As the seventies were winding down, I was spending an increasingly large portion of my time hanging out at the legendary nightclub CBGB and, while I would always say, "yes" if someone offered me some weed, my tastes had moved on to alcohol and the wild sex more popular on the punk scene. I rarely had marijuana in any form again until California made it legal for medical use and I was able to purchase from a nurse who sold gourmet quality marijuana at great prices.
Mike's Story, Miami, 1980s
I first smoked marijuana when I was about 12 years old. My father, was trying to catch my brother smoking weed, so he bought some pot and left it in my Mom and his room. As fathers will do, he pointed out the fact that he had bought the marijuana "and he would be waiting to see if anyone touched it.“ Of course, my brother couldn’t wait to get his hands on it, and I plan to try some too. To this day, I do not think my father has ever smoked weed, which makes this all the more amusing.
I smoked, and liked it! And continue to smoke, and to like it. It is simply been a regular part of my life for many years, I used to get high after school, I used to get high before school, it kept me centered.
When I worked in the music industry, the buzz helped keep me creative. When I was at parties Spinnin Records and DJing, it kept me on beat and on track. For me, marijuana has always seemed as much a medication as a recreational substance.
This was Miami in the 80s. At that time we used to go buy nickel and dime bags of weed in various lower income parts of urban Miami. As I grew up though, I became more entrepreneurial regarding marijuana, but I digress. We would go out, buy a nickel bag, a dime bag, literally five dollars and $10 respectively. You could literally get five joints out of a nickel bag, and 10 joints out of a dime bag. Through the power of inflation, I watch that Shrink to two joints in the nickel bag and 4joints maybe 5 in a dime bag.
It was pretty shabby "square grouper" weed though. We used to have a racial slur for it that I won't say anymore.
I would continue smoking weed but would also move onto more entrepreneurial ventures until I was about 22 and got involved in the music industry and started selling weed again. I started selling an ounce at a time. Then I visited Amsterdam and I was introduced to the legal weed industry. I enjoyed the coffee shops and reading their hashish menus. This was the culture I wished I was part of as it was so different from home.
Upon my return, I started an underground coffee shop in Miami that sold a wide variety of strains and had a regular clientele. We only sold to customers from around the music industry. At that point I was working with artists like 2 Live Crew, Salt and Pepa and a variety of Miami based salsa and other sorts of acts. We then started working with nurses to sell marijuana to cancer patients and witness its medicinal properties as a palliative first hand.
I faded away from the marijuana scene as I got deeper into the access technology field. I continued to smoke it but I had left the business side of weed behind by then. In California in 2008, I got myself a medical card in San Diego while attending a CSUN and got my first look at a legal system. I hoped it would come to Florida and, a few years ago it did. Now, I get my weed delivered from a local dispensary and know precisely which strain I'm smoking and its properties – something that is impossible in the black or grey markets.
The Legal Weed Era
Many things have changed since Colorado led the nation by becoming the first to legalize marijuana. Both of us write about the adventures we had in their youths but there's also a very serious side to marijuana legalization. Since the 1930s when federal law made marijuana illegal primarily to give law enforcement an excuse to harass farm workers in the US from Mexico, these and various state laws have been used to persecute mostly marginalized people over the decades since. President Obama, on his way out of office, gave a blanket pardon to all federal prisoners incarcerated for non-violent federal marijuana charges; unfortunately, most people whose lives have been destroyed by incarceration and the criminal justice system for non-violent marijuana charges are in state systems which were not so forgiving. Thus, many marginalized people, racial minorities and low income individuals remain in prison for what is no longer a crime in the vast majority of the nation. We think this is a crime in and of itself. If you'd like to read more about the dark history of marijuana laws and the discrimination involved, there are many books, articles and academic papers on the subject and telling the entire story is just not possible for this article but we encourage you to look into this history.
Since marijuana has been legalized either for medical or recreational use all over the US, Chris has purchased it legally in California, Colorado, Massachusetts and most recently in Florida. As each state has different regulations and tax structures, the price of the weed varies from one locale to another. Massachusetts is the most expensive with an ounce selling for $390 or more; Florida has the cheapest and often one can pick up a half ounce of 22.5% THC indica for $70 with Chris' senior discount or $100 at full price. In Colorado, an ounce is usually around $275 and prices in California vary from one neighborhood to another. One of the weirdnesses of legal weed is that, excepting in some Florida dispensaries, it's far more expensive than it was in our youths.
Probably because marijuana is profoundly stronger today than it was when the authors were young, the standard unit has dropped from an ounce to an eighth of an ounce. Chris finds this weird as, in his day, they rarely bought less than an ounce at a time unless he and his crew were just buying a couple of joints or a little bag from a stranger in a park.
When middle aged guys like us first start shopping at a legal marijuana retailer, the menu can be a bit confusing. In the old days, you went to a dealer and bought whatever they were selling that day, sometimes the price was negotiable but they almost never had more than one strain and, depending on what they had in stock that day, you most often bought buds to smoke, sometimes you could get some nice hashish and, on extremely rare occasions, you might stumble onto some hash oil. Today, the legal menus include buds of course but they also have extracts, edibles, tinctures, cartridges, vape pens, loose kief, edibles and more. They also include descriptions of each strain that details the percentages of THC, CBD and the other cannabinoids they contain and these sometimes contain terms one would expect to see in an organic chemistry textbook that are not terribly familiar to many consumers. The variety can be a bit overwhelming but the authors have found that the people working in such stores all tend to be very helpful and one learns about all of these new ways of consuming marijuana and their different properties pretty quickly.
Because of the standard unit dropping to an eighth of an ounce, buying an ounce of weed now means that you get eight separate child proofed plastic containers, a quarter pound of plastic to hold an ounce of marijuana. We have a plastic pollution problem, we understand and support child proofing (especially on the edible products because they look and taste like treats little kids would enjoy) but when the packaging is 4X the weight of the product, cannot be recycled or reused, it's just wasteful.
It also feels weird having nothing clandestine going on with a weed purchase. Instead of a drive to a Staten Island gas station, consumers now go into well appointed and nicely cleaned stores. Instead of dealing with a seriously mobbed up guy like Big Pete, the store staff are nice people who are always helpful and friendly.
Both of us have a single complaint about most legal marijuana vendors. Specifically, almost all of them have accessibility problems on their web sites and the packaging. If a blind person is trying out a few different strains, it is impossible to tell one container from another. Walgreen's and CVS now have accessible packaging; the medical marijuana world needs to do some catching up.
While the weed scene is certainly very different from what it was when we were young, we prefer the legal era, weirdness and all.
Having legal weed is a good thing for society in many ways. Those of us who are patients get to enjoy a natural medicine that is not addictive and has nothing but pleasant side effects. Law enforcement isn't bogged down with cases regarding a substance that every cop Chris has ever met has used at some point in their lives. We're not spending our tax dollars to hold non-violent, peaceful, happy stoners in our prisons, they never hurt anyone, they just wanted to get high. And, the states with legal weed are bringing in a bazillion dollars in tax revenue at a time when many states are doing poorly financially.
If you use marijuana, we hope you live in a legal state as it's both more safe and much more convenient than it was in the illegal days. If you're still stuck in an illegal state, try to get a ballot petition together and put the vote to the people where such resolutions have passed overwhelmingly even in very conservative states like Oklahoma. Try to be part of the solution, humans have been enjoying marijuana for millennia with zero known deaths from an overdose and were doing so legally until the US criminalized it in the 1930s entirely for racist reasons.