High Time to Tell The WHOLE Story....
Updated: Apr 19
Editors note: This week’s post is about MY journey. I am keeping some of the anecdotal stories vague in this one in order to be respectful of other people’s journey and stories, but at least one or two people are directly identifiable in the narrative, and my point wasn’t to put people on blast so much as to tell my story in as transparent a way as possible. Thanks in advance for reading!
Cannabis has been a part of my life since I was fifteen years old.
This sentence took an impossibly long time to build up the courage to write.
It has been functionally true this whole time.
If pressed to commit under oath I would admit to it at any point in my life.
But rarely voluntarily. Until my late twenties, not even to my doctor….
I would actually shun celebrations of weed.
I found the idea of 4/20 4:20 tacky, gaudy even, regardless of how fun it was in college (props to whoever’s idea it was to play a giant 5:00 a game of red rover in the quad). Stoners look on this holiday the same way drunks look at New Years Eve...
And while most ‘stoner’ themed movies from Cheech and Chong to Pineapple Express are well-written and funny, I particularly disliked attempts to normalize weed in reality shows like Cooking on High.
My stated reason was “This casual glorification of weed slaps in the face of all those currently incarcerated for weed crimes in the states producing those shows”. And that is true. Equity stakes in cannabis are starting to sound like similar lip service to companies that preach diversity/inclusion by hiring a black woman to lead the department and stopping there.
That wasn’t the full story though. Truth is, I was jealous.
The late 80's Reagan-era War on Drugs launched the now-infamous D.A.R.E. program at my grade school. A large intimidating uniformed man showed up to my 5th grade home room to talk about drugs. How much they destroyed your life and the life of everyone around you. The intent of D.A.R.E. was to educate us to resist drug use and abuse, and was a lot for 8 and 9-year-olds to take in.
To cap off his presentation, the officer would haul out a ‘sample’ case showing (what I assume were real) examples of drugs so we could keep an eye out and tell the appropriate authorities if we suspect our family members of using or selling said items. Crack, heroin, cocaine, uppers, downers, screamers, laughers…
...and there it was. Cannabis, marijuana, dope, pot, hash, reefer, ganja, green, chiba, smoke…
(In the same way the native Alaskans have dozens of word for snow and ice, cannabis goes by hundreds of different nicknames. Almost as if it was some enormous part of our culture and language…)
Anyway, drugs are bad. Point taken.
So here was my conundrum. I thought myself a good person, and I wanted to do the right thing. I knew for a fact that my dad smoked something that wasn’t cigarettes (remember at the time cigarettes were ubiquitous). I saw how he snuck around with it. I saw how my mom would quietly scold him when he’d come home reeking. I knew that the police officer said drugs were bad. But I didn’t want my dad to go to jail. He didn’t seem to be hurting anyone. I worried for him constantly.
I took this fear into adolescence. My dad continued flitting about, and I began to see the underlying cultural bedrock around weed. The hippies of the 60’s and 70’s, the rockers of the 80’s, the rappers in the early 90’s, all openly celebrating weed. It felt like a sign of open rebellion. And those subgroups were hunted mercilessly in their time by law enforcement. But it was exciting, and more importantly they were all having fun. I didn’t put together in that moment why these songs resonated with so broad an audience...
It wasn’t until my junior year in high school that I first tried marijuana.
I was anxious because apparently it could ruin my life, but the reality was fairly anticlimactic.
It was a breezy night, and the second we finished with the joint I instantly felt the breeze different.
We were watching Interview With the Vampire and I remember deeply relating to the transformation of Brad Pitt’s character. I had been turned… colors were brighter, more intense. I stared for far too long at the shadows dancing on the wall of my friend’s bedroom. The shadows, like, made sense, man… I felt euphoric. I was a vampire (This has literally nothing to do with Daywalkerz, although for those of you not well-versed in occult writings vampirism in certain texts is a ham-fisted allegory for addiction, particularly to opiates)
Well morning came and my machinations of vampirism faded, but that would not be the last time I intensely enjoyed cannabis.
The first time I smoked alone, I’d scored a nickel bag off a guy I knew. He handed me a chunk of condensed brown (affectionately referred to as schwag or brick) weed wrapped in seran wrap, and when I stared at it blankly a few seconds he kindly offered to (badly) roll a joint for me since I had no other feasible way of consuming my purchase. The whole transaction took place in the mens room of the high school (Just like the after school specials warned!!)
I ran home after school for the few hours I knew I’d be alone (ha, 90’s parenting!) and I smoked the whole thing in my backyard. This is when I first learned paranoia is a symptom, as I heard the front door swing open a few minutes after I finished. My sister came by the house, even though she didn’t live there at the time. I’d been caught. But I ‘played it off’ (aka I acted stoned and she totally knew something was up lol) and she left without incident.
From this day on I internalized that I needed to keep this thing I liked a secret. I knew by then I wasn’t going to jail if I got caught, but I was deeply averse to getting in trouble, and I had this indoctrination in the back of my head that weed was going to make me stupid, lazy, a drain on society, and a criminal.
But it didn’t feel bad. In fact every time I smoked I felt really good. I felt relaxed. The euphoria softened the stresses of fitting in, getting good grades, making friends, talking to girls. It was fun. I laughed and laughed. By the end of high school I was smoking fairly regularly.
I noticed that it had become a part of my life similar to how it was a part of my dad’s life.
I also noticed that I wasn’t failing. Like, not even a little.
I still worked very hard in school, and made the dean’s list and the honor roll. I still thrived (and/or hobbled through) AP classes and the vast majority of my course load was honors course work. I still had part time jobs where I worked hard. I still fully immersed myself in after-school activities like music and scholastic bowl. I still applied and got into my dream college.
Some childhood friends drifted away, and new friends drifted in, some of whom didn’t treat me as well as I deserved. I picked up smoking cigarettes, which I struggled many times to quit (and am still having weird dreams about regularly more than 14 years after my last puff). But weed was far from the destructive force ominously foretold by the D.A.R.E. officer and all of society up to that point.
In fact it felt like sort of the opposite.
College was quite a liberating time. I met confoundingly confident (aka privileged) kids that thought the best smoking spot was “behind” a dorm in a small space between the back of the building and the property fencing: a 'cut' fully exposed to a busy road. I had a roommate that occasionally lit and smoked a joint while walking to class. Paraphernalia arms-races and increasingly ridiculous smoking adventures became the norm. Starting my sophomore year my friend group owned a two-chambered water pipe that measured 5-feet when assembled.
Fun Fact: the longest recorded smoking device in my college was approximately 50 feet of hose segmented into two coils and half filled with water (functional smoking length ~25 feet). The device worked by filling half the hose with smoke using the water and gravity as suction, then bringing the water-filled side back up to hydraulically force smoke back into your lungs. It was widely debated as to whether, as noted by many of my math-inclined friends, the finite volume of the gravity-based hose rig beat the larger diameter 5-6 foot bongs whose smoke intake was limited only by lung capacity. This is what engineering nerds think and talk about when high.
I cherish the moments I shared with people in college. And I met a lot of people. The aforementioned 4/20 Red Rover game was over 50 people per side, out in the quad at 4:30 a.m. on a Wednesday. A game which was preceded by the largest smoking session I’ve been a part of to date (with exception maybe to that reggae concert in Barcelona…)
Sure, I saw people’s lives impacted.
I saw the stray friend (or family member) that only talked about or thought about weed.
I encountered the few (mostly but not all) guys after college with no path or life goals.
I have a few friends that were disciplined for possession or sale of weed.
I had a close-call or two myself interacting with law enforcement which easily could have ruined my life.
But I saw (and personally experienced) much worse effects from alcohol, and alcohol was everywhere. And I knew consciously that weed wasn’t ruining my life. Only that it could, if anyone found out. Funny enough, this created some tension as I began building my professional reputation and career.
This is going to seem like a bit of a tangent, but about five years ago I served on and eventually co-led a professional diversity committee for Black/African-American employees.
I promise to write a more in-depth post soon about my bi-racial upbringing and the resulting struggle I have with ideas of race and identity more broadly. For the purposes of this post, the salient facts are that I do not self identify as a JUST a black man, as this is insufficient to articulate my upbringing and love for all sides of my family. (Still tho BLACK LIVES MATTER). I do recognize I am perceived of and treated as if I am a black man by some, and by not black enough by some, and apparently I’m not allowed to be white, so the TL;DR is I feel paradoxically firmly entrenched and simultaneously out-of-the-loop on race.
I was embracing my role as a community builder and threw myself into building community in this new-to-me context. I quickly ran into administrative and interpersonal tensions with the committee.
The committee’s stated mission and the school’s charter were aligned in word but not always in deed. The black community, in the context of forming this committee, expressed a need for a place to be themselves while at work. Ironically the committee could not exclude non-black employees from attending meetings due to discrimination laws, so it was difficult to fulfill the primary community mission but also be a part of the school’s mission.
Despite these constraints, we were able to carve out 'membership only' events where the general public was not invited (and only the most oblivious or fervently allied non-black staff would attend).
One of the sessions was on covering and the idea of “bringing your whole self to work”.
I was initially confused by this concept. Because I didn’t often think critically of how I moved around in the world from a racial context, I rarely worried about how people perceived me through that lens.
Anyone who knows me knows I’m a pretty open guy. I (now) know that not everyone is going to like you whatever you do or however you behave, so you might as well be your most authentic self at all times. This has helped me professionally build deep and trusting relationships. I initially thought being this open was a weakness (a soft skill, in business world parlance) but I am now choosing to wield it as a strength.
The idea that people wore these masks at work that hid basic signals of their cultural identity… Refusing to talk about what they eat, or the way they raise their children, or how they were raised… it felt oppressive, and alienating, and deeply saddening.
And also somewhat familiar.
Though the anxiety of exposing signals of my racial identity was foreign to me, I still absolutely did not bring my whole self to work. There was still one thing I wasn’t fully comfortable sharing with people until just a few years ago.
I didn’t like sharing my art.
Because my art was very literally my whole self. All the anxieties, all the struggles with addictions, all the triumphs, criticisms, victories, defeats… all written in plain english, to a beat, and published on platforms that could be heard by anyone. I wrote a (thankfully not entirely prophetic) song about my tenuous relationship with alcohol back in my twenties. I vaguely reference “getting faded” or “sparking” throughout the entirety of my hip-hop catalog. It’s not subtle.
Notably, my first explicit song about cannabis was released most recently, in December 2020, though I wrote the song nearly four years ago.
I worried about how people’s opinions about me would change. I worried about losing professional contacts and opportunities, or even my job, if it came to light what I enjoyed doing after I clocked out every night. So I was very selective about sharing my music with people. And I was always vaguely anxious about exposing myself. I was covering.
So what changed?
Working on Daywalkerz.
The central force behind Daywalkerz is authenticity.
We put our hearts into that project. And we brought our whole selves to it.
And we got an astonishingly good result, one that took us all kind of by surprise. It led me to a somewhat more holistic revelation:
It is possible to be your whole self at all times.
This was a startlingly provocative idea. One that terrified me.
But I began experimenting. When people at my job asked me what I did for fun, I’d mention that I was an emcee and writer. When they asked for a sample, I would spit the verse I had just written from Fresh Faded.
An excerpt of my verse for reference:
I was born into a diverse predicament
Found my niche but spent so much energy fitting in
I spent a lot of time being alone
To find the strength to be alone and just keep singing my tone
And then just wait until them harmonies come singing along
Mute the sour notes, and keep the choir singing the song
And then you find the deeper meaning of love, the melody
Then you find the deeper meaning of love, it’s heavenly…
The central theses across the song is finding yourself… For Roseli it was finding herself through heartbreak, for Sage it was finding himself growing up too fast due to unstable family circumstances. For me it was finding myself through loneliness, and understanding myself so I could build healthy and meaningful relationships with others. The sonic analogy felt apt, and my mission to ‘build my choir’ became a priority. In retrospect writing that record was the beginning of me closing the chapter on my life in higher education.
*** Anyway, TL;DR I smoke weed. I’m a pot head. A stoner. A druggie. A dope fiend.
And I’m sick of not talking about it.
I'm not alone.
70% of the population approves of legalizing cannabis federally.
Medicinal or adult-use cannabis programs are available in a plurality of US States, and over 2/3 of the country has access to legal weed in some form.
In 2020, the state of Illinois began it’s Adult Use Cannabis program, the first statewide adult-use cannabis program to be enacted by legislation and not through public referenda (and wonderfully, not the last).
Even with demand dramatically outstripping supply (perhaps intentionally?), the industry claimed over $1 billion dollars in revenue, almost $600 million of that revenue in adult use sales (taxed at 25+%!).
Sales in Illinois alone are expecting to approach $1.5 billion in 2021, and growth is only limited by factors outside of demand (licensing approval, regulatory environments, etc.) At the same time, governor Pritzger expunged ~500,000 low level marijuana convictions from people’s records, allowing for innocent victims of the War on Drugs a path towards redemption in society (if not culturally then at least legally).
Industry analysts predict a growth from ~$21 billion in revenue globally in 2020 to >$56 billion in revenue by 2026. Cannabis sales are expected to outpace the opioid market and the craft beer market globally.
Weekly the finance section of the news blasts a deal headline about some eight or nine-figure acquisition or partnership between multi-state operators or well-established in-state brands.
Cannabis stocks are a good bet now and into the foreseeable future (just keep an eye out for new players).
The SAFE Banking Act, a bill that will relax financial rules and allow for organizations to handle money relating to cannabis sales (a current federal racketeering crime), will receive a vote on the floor of the US House of Representatives this week.
Both of these bills have nonzero chances of becoming US law (especially as the cannabis lobby increases in funding and intensity), despite crotchety-old Joe Biden’s antiquated views and draconian record on drug enforcement.
This is no longer some wispy stoner’s weed-soaked pipe dream. Snoop and the Koch brothers just formed a cannabis coalition for fucks sake.
I consume cannabis. It isn’t the only aspect of who I am, but it is a part of me.
And I wrote all of this to say that moving forward you’re going to hear more about it.
I am learning and will share all I can about the industry both domestically and globally.
I am learning and will share all I can about medicinal cannabis research and the renewed push to study medicinal benefits.
I am learning and will share all I can about the regulatory environment and laws that continue to evolve and shape the industry.
I am currently networking with and attempting to find a job in the rapidly growing cannabis industry. (For all potential employers, I plan to apply my expertise in relationship building, project management, event planning, communications/writing, community building, and more as the industry grows and evolves).
I will share all I can about my personal experiences with medicinal benefits (it helps me sleep, it eases symptoms of joint pain and anxiety), and well as recreational benefits (I think movies made by Melissa McCarthy are hilarious).
Hemp and cannabis has been deeply ingrained in American culture, and in my life.
It’s why there are hundreds of nicknames to describe it.
I am super excited to be a part of the effort of bringing this plant, and every aspect of my authentic self, back into the light where it belongs.
Thanks again for reading (And if you know anyone in the cannabis industry I should meet, HIT ME UP!!) All the best, Doc Wattson
Native Stranger Productions