Traditionally, the marijuana experience has been one of hanging out with your friends and sharing a joint. When you wanted to get some weed you contacted your friend, went over, hung out, maybe tested the product, and completed the transaction. Mostly, getting marijuana involved personal contacts and personal assurances of coolness.
The legal marijuana scene has none of that. Patients go to mostly antiseptic places, show their medical marijuana card and ID to someone they don't know, make their purchase, and move on. That's the way it is when you come out from underground. If you are going to treat marijuana like alcohol, the model makes sense. You go to the liquor store, buy your stuff, and leave.
But the analogy isn't perfect.
"They got bars," says John Sinclair, the longtime avatar for Michigan's marijuana movement.
Marijuana smoking lounges aren't legal anywhere in the country, but Sinclair is trying to establish the next best thing at the Psychedelic Healing Shack in Detroit on Woodward Avenue across from Palmer Park. He's developing a place where people who like marijuana can come and hang out together. They won't be selling it there, and it's illegal to smoke it there. But if you happen to have a buzz and want to hang out — Psychedelic Shack, that's where it's at.
"We have to wean ourselves from all this idiotic mythology that they've built up around marijuana use and cut to the fact that it's just something that grown up people do," Sinclair says. "They've been doing it since time immemorial. It's only in these last 80 years that they've made it out to be some kind of aberration."
Despite all the psychedelic colors that decorate the building, there is a sense of normalcy about the place. Sinclair and partner Adam Brooke are working to normalize marijuana use around around here. Brooke was the main organizer of the Ann Arbor Hash Bash for years. In this new enterprise, on most days Sinclair's job will be to just hang out. In the afternoons, his two-hour radio webcast of vintage blues and jazz on his radio show, Radio Free Amsterdam, will be on the air. In the evenings they hope to have live performances.
"John and I sat for 15 years at coffeehouses in Amsterdam talking about how we should do this back home," says Brooke. "It's the ambience: Radio Free Amsterdam, there will be a book rack with his reading list, CDs that he likes. It's really a motif you don't see anymore. We're going for that John Sinclair vibe. If you know John Sinclair, you get the vibe."
The vibe will be added on to the services that chiropractor Dr. Bob Pizzimenti has been providing at the Psychedelic Healing Shack for 18 years, along with an on-site vegan-vegetarian cafe.
"It's a healing center ultimately," says Pizzimenti. "It's all about healing, and I think art is the No. 1 healer. Healing through our hands. That's where I come in, healing through our food, healing through communion. It's: Come here, and join the psychedelic party."
And this isn't a euphemism for the "gifting" phenomenon that has sprung up around marijuana while Michigan establishes actual recreational marijuana stores. According to the Proposal 1 law that passed in November, it is now perfectly legal for an adult to "gift" another adult marijuana. In the absence of actual marijuana stores, some entrepreneurs have created companies that will deliver marijuana as a "gift." The idea is that you buy something perfectly legal, like an overpriced T-shirt or chocolate, and get a "gift" of marijuana in return.
But Brooke says that won't happen at the Shack.
"I just read a nice thing from a lawyer," says Brooke. "It's illegal. You can give all you want, [but] you can't get anything for it in any way, shape, or form."
Brooke believes these entrepreneurs are in danger of going to jail for breaking the law. "That brother in Ann Arbor is about to go to prison for gifting chocolate," he says of one entrepreneur. "That's illegal. He's going to get busted. ... You can't say, 'You bought this, and therefore I give you this.' The media is eating this up because they like to instigate. What they're doing is they're getting the B-reel stuff for these guys when they get busted."
In the meantime, he says, "The saddest part of this whole thing, the only reason you know the name John Sinclair today is he gave away two joints. It's literally come 360, you can literally give weed away, but you know they're coming for you if they can figure out how."
So even as marijuana prohibition winds down, Sinclair is still on the scene, tossing some goofer dust into the air at the Shack. This is a chance for fans of old blues to chew the fat with someone who knows the territory. But again, this is not a smoking hangout. There are still strong prohibitions against social use. At the very least, no one at the Shack will give you a weird look if you happen to smell like cannabis. Actually, someone might just give you a smile if they smell it.
Sinclair's voice has been steadfast about the benevolence of marijuana over the years. Even as prohibition weakens, people still need people like him to guide the way that it gets implemented in communities. You shouldn't have to go hide in a hole while you're high.
"I don't know man," Sinclair says. "The whole mythology that there's something wrong with weed has got to be erased."
That's true, but it looks like that is going to be a slow process.