Hotboxing My Dad: A Weed Trip and the Future Failure of Illinois
If it had been a counter at any other kind of store, you could wonder if maybe he didn’t belong back there. His hair looked like it cultivated a safe space from all hair-grooming products and tools; his clothes hung off his skin and bones like they hung off the racks at the firestorm sale at the resale shop where he likely found them; his mustache was a good effort but a poor performance; his skin had a blue hue — perma-pale — perhaps from an adult life spent sunk into the couch. He had all the earmarks of a stoner. A burnout. A pothead.
This is exactly why he was the perfect person to be behind this counter at the dispensary at RiverRock Cannabis, a farm and store in Denver, Colo., where the use of recreational weed has been legal since 2014. And this is exactly the reason we were in Denver to begin with. My brother wanted his bachelor party to be ripe with friends, golf and a whole crapload of weed — all legal, of course.
There’s nothing wrong with how the clerk looked, but he did look like a stereotype. And I imagine it’s hard to find work when you look like you sleep on a bong-water bed. Maybe not. Maybe this guy could straighten up and look more straightedge and acceptable for any other job. But why bother? In Denver, he could put his vast and exceptional knowledge of cannabis to great use without having to fart around with business casual. And he could do it without all the judgement and assholery that comes from a culture which thinks looking like a pothead is a bad thing. This guy, this stoner behind the counter, was more helpful than any putz at any store you could visit in the Clybourn Corridor. Because this guy believed in what he was selling. He was a part of this enterprise, an enterprise, for which he had great passion. How many of us can say that?
My father was amazed. Dad had no business being in a cannabis dispensary. The guy had never touched the stuff and had no interest in doing so. He was there because this stop was part of the weed farm tour my brother’s best friend had booked for us. And Dad is nothing if not a team player. And like most intelligent men, he’s curious. Though I’ve never been able to get him to try weed — or sushi, for that matter — he’s curious of how it all works. (There are different levels to curiosity. You don’t have to go to Jupiter to understand it better.)
The main table back at the Airbnb looked like Willie Nelson’s suitcase had exploded. There was a collection of flowers, edibles, oils, vape pens, bowls, rolling papers, pinners... about every kind of vehicle required to consume cannabis with just as many degrees of potency via strain and milligram. A few empty boxes of sugar cereal and gutted candy wrappers provided by a late-night run to 7-Eleven was the coup de grâce. As my brother and his friends sat around the table, talking shop, and trading or sharing goods, Dad would occasionally ask, “What’s that?” or “What does that do?” They were the same questions almost everyone has ever asked when they first came into real contact with real pot. It can be overwhelming, and impressive.
Dad isn’t big on substances as vices like his kids are, and it wasn’t that long ago when he was calling the cops on my brother while in high school for his pot use. And now, here they were: My brother and his pals at the counter of a weed shop picking out their pot like they were trading skee-ball tickets for prizes at Chuck E. Cheese, and Dad in the back watching it all take place, listening intently on the questions and orders:
“What’s the most potent?” “Do you have oil cartridges that’ll fit this pen?” “What’s that stuff you can take to bring you back from a really bad high? Our tour guide was just telling us about it. Shit, what is that stuff? I need some of that stuff sometimes.”
“It really is its own lifestyle,” Dad said to me, my own light high from the pull of the tour guide’s pen back on our private limo bus still giving my mind a gentle massage.
He’s right. It’s a lifestyle and it’s an economy. And it’s something the State of Illinois could use more of.
“Do you have espresso beans? I think that’s the only way I can get my fiancé to get high.”
Weed is already legal in Illinois, with a doctor’s note. In March, 68 percent of Cook County voters said yes to the referendum that would allow the legalization of recreational marijuana. Problem is, it’s an advisory referendum meaning that Gov. Bruce Rauner can, and plans on, telling voters to get bent. In a state that is in desperate need of new money and school funding, specifically, the Governor is a fool to turn down this opportunity. As a billionaire businessman, he's supposed to know a good financial opportunity when he sees it. And especially when his board of directors — the voters — tell him it's something we want him to do. Rauner is making the other billionaire — the k.d. lang lookalike (Oh! k.d. Pritzker!) — running against him appear as an actual better option.
The arguments aren’t new, and they’re obvious. There are job opportunities for small business owners, farmers, stoners, distributors, package designers, and so on and so on. There’s the regulation of it, which helps keep it safe, decriminalizes it so that people’s lives aren’t destroyed for wanting to mellow out after a day at work or a fight with the missus or mister or whatever, or for selling it to those Joes and Janes, when the exact thing they're doing could be a legit job with income tax coming through, et. al. Since 2014, marijuana sales in Colorado have accounted for almost $5 billion in revenue. In the first two months of 2018, $230 million worth of weed was sold. Legally. Of the money earned directly from the state slinging pot, $40 million is earmarked for education. That’s $40 million every year going straight toward the state’s future leaders. Not a bad investment. Illinois could use some better investment tactics.
Dad and I watched my brother, red eyed and having the time of his life in some euphoric haze alongside his best buddies, pick out his preferred pot. “Do you have espresso beans? I think that’s the only I can get my fiancé to get high.” The stoner behind the counter told him no, he did not have those beans. But he told him of a different dispensary — a competitor — that did. It’s where we would direct the limo driver to next.
On the way, our guide rolled two fat joints with the speed and skill of a seasoned professional. You can smoke on private property, and this limo bus was private property. The windows didn’t open, so we were hotboxed. I was worried about Dad. But he was cool. He watched as the rest of us took our hits and passed to the left. He listened intently as the guide and I talked about our kids. Hers was seven months, mine only one. And Dad watched my brother sink deeper into the limo bus’s cushions as his eyes grew a darker red and his grin grew wider and more deranged like the Cheshire Cat. All the guys were pretty baked. But that’s not what Denver is like. It’s not a city of zombie stoners giddy and hungry and dumb. Just the same as Las Vegas isn’t a city of drunken bachelorettes with busted stiletto heels wobbling through the bright lobby of the wrong hotel at breakfast time.
My brother and his friends were on a binge. Getting the most of some of the best a progressive state has to offer. Illinois is missing out.
“If Illinois legalizes weed, your brother will be dead,” Dad said to me. “Look at him.”
Maybe. But death by weed is unlikely. The one thing that’s sure to die without legalizing it is the State of Illinois.