Richard reminisces on his year in San Francisco, where he embraced cannabis use as part of the cultural experience and realised what he had been missing out on for years. [All photos below were taken by the author]
In my teens, I bought into the ‘cannabis as a gateway drug‘ myth. I was hesitant when it came to drinking alcohol as well. When schoolmates began dabbling with booze, I wondered why suddenly they always felt the need to be seen with it, getting drunk at every other get together. I wasn’t really religious, but in my head I thought I’d probably keep the pledge I’d made on my Confirmation not to drink alcohol, as a discipline thing. That fell by the wayside at age seventeen, when I got sick of abstaining during a music festival. But my lack of personal interest in weed would continue through college. Certain school friends and acquaintances became very interested in it during those years and were harder for me to get a hold of socially, although this was partially due to differing life circumstances and social circles. When I was with them I had no issue with the smoking, but it often felt like we were on different wavelengths (which of course, we were!) This was partially because I was still a bit wary of weed, as I had been taught to be. I once had a foreign roommate on a work placement abroad who was fairly annoying a lot of the time, and he was more or less always stoned. On one of his first days there, he lay despairing on his bed for ages because he was out of ganja. It must’ve been a rare supply gap for him, but being around him for months didn’t necessarily sell me on smoking weed either! (If you were curious, he got hooked up with more through a workmate later that day).
Flash forward some time to a year where I was living in San Francisco, California. I worked at a few bars within a larger bar company. Seemingly everyone in the industry there enjoyed a regular smoke and those who partook often had such positive, upbeat auras that I was beginning to think that maybe I should try some! One night as we were cleaning and closing a bar I worked at, it came up in conversation that I’d never tried weed and my workmate promptly told me that I’d be smoking with him and the manager after work. After a while, we stood around chatting on Columbus Avenue and passed a joint around. I’ll always remember a faintly tingly, numb sensation I started feeling along my upper neck to where it connects with the head, as the high began kicking in. It was a pleasant little signal I’d anticipate every time I smoked. As it hit me, my enthusiasm for our conversation was amplified and I felt a general sense of calm. Gradually, I found it harder to make sense of all that was being said in conversation and I felt concerned that I’d start sticking out like a sore thumb. I probably made a few semi-relevant remarks and jokes as vain attempts to stay part of a conversation that suddenly felt alien to me. It got to a point where I decided I was too confused to keep track and that I’d order an Uber home. I must’ve toked too much, too soon… Regardless, I loved the relaxing, cerebral new buzz I gained from cannabis that evening and I looked forward to getting high again.
I discovered it was fairly commonplace at work for staff and managers to enjoy cheekies (half shots of tequila, mezcal, whiskey or other spirits, but seldom upper shelf stuff) to keep morale high, particularly during busier shifts. We’d do a toast, knock ’em back and get right back to work. A few nights each week after closing time, staff would hang out at a company bar after hours with the music up really loud, often with workmates from other company bars stopping by. We’d drink Millers High Life stubbies, smoke weed and perhaps indulge in more cheekies. When she heard I’d developed an interest in weed, one colleague who would become a close friend of mine gave me a number, saying to text it with my first name and to explain that it was she who gave me the number, before asking: ‘What’s on the menu today?’ Upon doing so, I was sent a menu du jour with the flower strains and concentrates on offer and how much they’d cost in different amounts. This menu changed each day and I’ll never forget placing my first order and asking where I could meet the dealer, only for him to say: ‘Where can I meet you?’ How considerate! These weren’t shady, dodgy-looking guys either – they were ordinary-looking fellas on bikes. It really says something about how widespread cannabis is there, when buying from the black market guys is that convenient!
Though not without its social issues, San Francisco is a beautiful place (as are the breathtaking natural parks and coastal drives of greater California, but that’s another story!) Whether you’re trekking around Ocean Beach and the Sunset district, eating out in North Beach or Chinatown, browsing the hippie-themed Haight-Ashbury district or exploring the beautiful, vast Golden Gate Park (20% bigger than New York’s Central Park), there’s a lot to it. Cannabis gifted me another level of appreciation for these places. There are scenic views from parks and hills there that I’ll always think back on fondly. But I didn’t just smoke up sociably – getting high at home to derive more wonder from my introvert pastimes had great benefits too. I’d really zone in on the ambience of music and all the intricacies of its production. Music such as Anderson Paak‘s soulful Malibu album, which I got to see live at The Fillmore theatre, or A Tribe Called Quest‘s long-awaited comeback album, We Got It From Here… I would become super-immersed in YouTube, films and handheld video games, and I’d feel so grateful for all of the marvellous, complex visual art humans have created. Food would taste more mouth-watering than ever before. Add to all of this the agreeable weather and the generally friendly people of the Bay Area and it’s an ideal place to develop an appreciation of cannabis.
Because I never liked cigarettes, I had no experience rolling papers and was therefore terrible at it, so I opted to buy a pipe. I never felt any urge to mix tobacco with my weed and to this day I still don’t use it; even if it does extend the life of a limited weed supply, or allow for a less potent smoke. Sadly, here in Ireland the weed is criminally expensive (forgive the pun!) and you never have any knowledge of what it is you’re buying. This is thanks to the Irish government and their insistence on upholding prohibition, where weed and many other drugs are left completely unregulated! I’ve heard horror stories about the weed here too. One example would be weed being sprayed with an unknown ‘hairspray-like’ chemical to make it extra sparkly, as a false indicator of quality…
I don’t want to smoke that!!
If there’s anything I took from my year in San Francisco, it’s the realisation that countless kind, intelligent, productive, ambitious, hard-working and athletic people live their lives successfully while benefitting from cannabis, often using it on a regular basis. While I was there, it began dawning on me how ridiculous and immoral it is for authorities to continue demonising this plant and making it out to be a dark, nefarious substance that will somehow lead you down a road of self-destruction. In my experience, this plant helps people to connect. It helps people to tolerate and get through difficulties. It can help mentally, physically, medicinally. In essence, it helps with our enjoyment and appreciation of life. Because of this, I’ll always be thankful of San Francisco for such an enlightening introduction.