The worst effect of the mainstreaming of weed is not massive marijuana overdoses — that's an unfunny hoax, dummies — but that weed is no longer cool. One more bit of proof of the death of weed's coolness came on Friday, when two anti-legalization scolds for The New York Times and The Washington Post admitted that they'd smoked weed in their teens. The signs are all around, most obviously, of the emergence of the middlebrow bong.
Following David Brooks' much-maligned anti-weed New York Times column ("Weed. Been There. Done That.") psychotherapist and author Gary Greenberg wrote a satirical blog post inspired by Brooks' reminiscences: "For a little while in my teenage years, my friends and I smoked marijuana. It was fun." While Greenberg's account of smoking pot with a high school Brooks is made up, he opens with a depressingly believable account of a middle-aged man using marijuana to ease joint pain while playing with his kids. It's just the latest sign of formerly cool people trying to look cool by referencing pot. Here's a cool tweet from New York's John Heilemann, frequent guest on middle-aged dork show Morning Joe, about an Obama press conference: "we used to call this kind of thing a joints-after-midnight conversation." Or here is The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum, who writes for a magazine so uncool it spells out numbers, "I don't even enjoy weed and that Brooks column made me want to smoke up."
This isn't to say that weed isn't great, a vast improvement over the disgusting, fattening, and stupefying caveman liquid that millions of Americans are forced to drink at office happy hours and holiday parties. (And, sorry, craft beer is not cool, either). Weed is no longer taboo. The squares have joined in.
In November, The New Republic introduced its readers to High Times, a 40-year-old magazine which you could call the Rolling Stone of weed. (See a pattern?) Closing with a sentence that should chill the bones of any teen, TNR urges, "Think about it the next time you smoke up — you lawyers, you doctors, you editors." (Emphasis added.) But the most visible evidence of weed's descent into suburban banality was in a November New York Post story about the Pax vaporizer, "a high-tech gadget that has stormed the market for upscale marijuana devices."
“I get a lot of upper-class guys in here,” says [head shop owner John] Smith. “They’ve got money, they’re captains of industry.” ...
“We are not regular smokers, but when we do, [a vaporizer offers] a much more pleasant experience,” says one 36-year-old nonprofit professional who lives with her fiancé in the Financial District.
That's right, America. We've entered the age of the iPhone bong — sleek, elegant, corporate. Oh sure, maybe that Grateful Dead-style blown-glass hippie shit was never cool. Indeed, those items are ugly. But they know what they are. Far worse is the middlebrow pipe that strives to be something more.
The situation has left actual young people confused.
"I don't want to buy my bongs from Sharper Image," said Alex, a 20-something who works in publishing and fears there's still enough of a weed stigma out there to be concerned that admitted to smoking publicly could harm his future earnings potential. "Say what you will about a glassblown bong you bought out of someone's trunk at a Widespread Panic concert, but it's a populist item." But of the sleek Pax vape, and others like it, Alex said, "The Sharper Image bong represents a striving for a highbrow bong, something that makes you feel like you're different than a 'run of the mill' stoner."
Jacob, a writer in his 20s, told The Wire, "I'm happy to see weed go 'middlebrow' because it speaks to larger, more serious issues of the drug war and how we perceive and treat drug users. I just hope that these changing demographics, and the introduction of fancy devices, doesn't create its own kind of class divide. We should form solidarity around our habit. Let the banker vaporize with the waiter."
Likewise, a Senate staffer who wishes to remain anonymous is happy with weed becoming uncool. "It shouldn't be different than white wine," Bob tells The Wire. "I'm not like a Brooklynite who's allergic to anyone else liking what I like. I welcome all converts." Naturally, a political person sees the political angle over the cool angle: "Weed becoming popular amongst the nerds is the only way it will become legal, actually."
A New York City media professional who declined to be identified for, as he said, 'obvious reasons,' is happy aging into uncool weed smoking. "Having the latest high-tech vaporizer or a nine-foot bong is much more a matter of style or flair than it is of actual functionality," he says. "This was certainly the case for me when I start smoking weed in high school, but as I grew older and my priorities change, I started to look at weed as something more like wine or coffee: will it achieve the desired affect?"
"Everyone and their mother gets high now. There's nothing 'cool' in the sense of being a 'standout' anymore."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.