Why cannabis reformers are shy about the high 

We chase marijuana’s high, and are confronted with Michigan’s new lows.

click to enlarge COURTESY PHOTO.
  • Courtesy photo.

We wandered unknowingly into the fray of a volatile topic last week when we called a local dispensary to settle a nagging question. Now that recreational marijuana has been legalized in the states of Washington and Colorado, we wondered what the difference was between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. The guy who picked up the phone, Holice P. Wood, owner and manager at Eastern Market’s TransLove Energies in Detroit, straightaway gave his answer.

“It’s medical marijuana if they’re holding their medical marijuana card.”

We couldn’t help but think Wood was being a tad coy with us, so we probed further, asking if certain strains weren’t better for ailing patients and some different strains better for an animated bike ride or tossing around a Frisbee. 

Wood acknowledged that some strains did make better medicine, such as Catatonic, which has low amounts of active delta-9 THC (the high-inducing compound) but incredible amounts of CBDs for pain management. “You won’t get high,” he said, “At least I’m not. Or at least I’m going to wonder who made mine the light coffee,” he added with a laugh.

Speaking broadly, Wood explained the difference between indicas and sativas, how sativas “will give you energy like a Red Bull,” whereas indicas “are more intense. They’re going to get you stoned as opposed to getting you high, with more body buzz.”

While sativas can hold the same amount of CBDs as indicas, Wood said “some people want more of head buzz than body buzz.”

But then he quickly cautioned us about looking at that “high” too closely.

“The paradigm of prohibition has left us in a place where, when people look at marijuana, they think about getting high.” He pointed out the double standard under which pharmaceuticals list such “side effects” as dizziness and euphoria, and are respectable, but with medical marijuana, it’s always about “people who want to get high.”

That said, Wood admits he used to be something of a self-righteous badass in his day, a guy who just wanted to smoke weed, but that he was transformed into a medical marijuana advocate when he saw the quality of life it made possible for the seriously ill. 

“I met a man in a wheelchair who couldn’t even speak because he shook so violently. He smoked some Apollo 13 and, within two minutes, all the violent shaking stopped and he could talk to me. For the first time in my adult life, I had to flee a room due to strong emotions.”

Wood presented a strong argument against writing about the “high,” rightfully pointing out many arguably worthier subjects, such as the way the state has eviscerated the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, or how 100 clubs in the area are all at risk of arrest because of persecution by drug-war-addled state officials holding back change — all while, five states away, marijuana is legal.

It makes sense Wood would rather we wrote about that. If there’s a reason a guy whose mission is medical marijuana doesn’t want to talk about the high, it’s the Lansing throwbacks who want to drive back any and all of the marijuana reform they can. Speaking to us from NORML’s national headquarters in Washington, D.C., executive director Allen St. Pierre told us how the situation in Michigan was among the most regressive in the country. He agreed we’d stepped on a recent fault line in the march to legalization.

“What you’re touching upon is a very big and, I think, narrowing chasm in marijuana law reform. It was growing at a precipitous rate 2010 through 2013, when the medical marijuana industry was itself opposing legalization.”

More to the point, he elaborated, it was the big, established growers trying to avoid legislation that could threaten their profitable livelihood, a struggle that helped scuttle pot legalization in California in 2012, and threatened it in Washington state last year. But St. Pierre didn’t think it was a big factor in Michigan, or that folks like Wood are trying to cling to any unfair advantage. Indeed, medical marijuana advocates in Michigan are in the fight of their lives.

“To their credit,” St. Pierre said, “they are surviving in a political environment that’s about the harshest in the country. … Bill Schuette may be most single most anti-marijuana attorney general in the country. He has been ever since he was a very young legislator. His entire career has been undergirded by a crusade against marijuana. The Supreme Court there has gone so hard to the right in the last 15 years. And the elites of Michigan have been largely successful at retarding and disemboweling medical marijuana.”

So it only makes sense that Michigan “ganjapreneurs” should downplay getting high. St. Pierre says, “They are right to try to stay below that firing line until the macropolitics of the state change. Because if Michigan’s leaders could wipe it off the books, they would.”

So perhaps our search for recreational marijuana would have to take us to Colorado. We’d seen news reports that the Frisbee weed was flying off the shelves down there, selling for almost twice as much as medical varieties, with some shops having to shut down for restocking.

In fact, far from being bad for Coloradans, full legalization seems to have benefited all. Police get to chase actual crooks, the state gets tax revenue, the bad guys lose a lucrative black market, and everybody gets good bud at a good price, taxed and sold at registered stores to adults only. And the fact that buyers are going gaga for recreational weed means medical marijuana prices haven’t spiked, even though Colorado’s patients buy twice as much of it.

We learned this from Rachel Gillette, head of NORML out in Colorado, and got a head-clearing blast of fresh mountain air when she described a scene bubbling with economic activity. “There are a lot more medical stores than recreational stores, but every day there’s a new recreational store opening, and it might eclipse medical eventually, though it hasn’t happened yet.” Businesses opening every day, selling legal recreational marijuana with a hefty state tax? Sounds like a good recipe for an aging, economically sleepy state like Michigan. But there’s that chilling effect at the state level making it impossible.

“You don’t have any protections for the recreational use of marijuana there,” Gillette said, “so I’m sure there are some registered medical patients in the state of Michigan that might also use their medicine recreationally at some time, but they certainly aren’t going to say that. Unfortunately, we still live in a world where the failed drug war is ongoing. People who use something safer than alcohol or tobacco are still persecuted, arrested, jailed, fined, lose children in some cases or the right to education or the right to job. I completely understand why people in Michigan wouldn’t be screaming from the rooftops that they use marijuana recreationally.”

Gillette adds, and this is a conclusion that will likely rankle some people, medical marijuana, more or less, is recreational too. Throughout the whole “medical marijuana” revolution, people have been using cannabis that, as St. Pierre put it, “is more or less just as psychotropic as whatever is in a bong that’s being hit at the University of Michigan right now.” And that’s the Achilles heel our state’s prosecutors and sheriffs are stubbornly going after. 

But, the more we thought about it, the more we asked: Doesn’t it seem like a natural conclusion that things that are good for you make you feel good? Like a jog on a brisk morning or a glass of good wine with a meal? 

That was our frame of mind when we called Matt Abel, the head of Michigan’s chapter of NORML and a veteran in our state’s fight for marijuana reform. We caught him up on what we’d learned and he gave us the lowdown:

“We’re trying to rebrand it from recreational marijuana to adult-use marijuana, because it doesn’t have the connotation that recreational use does. Some people think ‘recreational’ has the tinge of ‘abuse’ to it, where they might think proper adult use of marijuana should not be prohibited. Adult use is something that goes on every day by a good percentage of people in our society that crosses all demographic groups, and, statistically, it’s shown not to cause much harm at all.”

That’s what we’d hoped to get at: adults enjoying legal adult-use marijuana that’s better for them than alcohol or tobacco, and feeling good, with no paranoid thoughts of police breaking down the door. Michigan’s backward officials be damned, that sounds terrific. Why on God’s green earth are our state officials opposed to this?

With a laugh, Abel quips, “Some people just can’t take ‘yes’ for an answer.” 

More by Michael Jackman

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