You don’t have to winkingly tell a “doctor” that you get terrible backaches nothing else will cure. You don’t have to know a guy. You can just buy it, as banally as you buy toilet paper or a Diet Coke.
It’s so easy it’s boring.
But is it boring enough? As in, are you still worried you’re doing something wrong?
The vibe of marijuana—the smoke! the rebelliousness! the lingo!—can be exciting. But when it gets too exciting, the dreadful dark side sets in: the paranoia.
One minute you’re sitting there, enjoying the Discovery channel or simply the awesome shape of your own hand. The next, you ardently believe your eyeballs might liquefy and drain out of your face. Or, more realistically, that the police will find you, using their patented stoner-radar, and bust you. No matter if a person can’t be jailed just for being high. When the paranoia strikes, you find yourself pleading with the intoxication gods to free you from your baked prison.
But what if there are no cops? Because what if there is no law saying you can’t possess or smoke or sell or buy marijuana?
Recreational marijuana isn’t legal for most Americans. But it soon might be, thanks to initiatives on the ballot in several states this year. I was curious whether a laxer legal environment afforded pot-smoking citizens a freedom from pot-induced paranoia, as well. I took to the mean streets of Aspen to find out.
My first problem was making sure my sources understood what I meant by “paranoia.”
At a store called Roots Rx, budtender Alex Reyes told me that whether tourists feel nervous depends on the social norms of their homelands. “A lot of Texans, they're like, can I come in?” he said, imitating a tentative southerner. “You know, their weed laws are so strict I can't even imagine.” (Actually, even Texas has legalized medical marijuana for epileptic people, but perhaps the state’s reputation for not being messed-with precedes it.)
At the Green Dragon, on one of Aspen’s busiest streets, a man named Emery Long strolled in for a pack of Zig Zag rolling papers. He’s lived here for about a year, but he visited periodically before marijuana was legalized. Medical marijuana was approved in the state more than a decade ago, and recreational sales began in 2014.
Long said paranoia is worse under the new regime, since now people have to worry about their credit-card statements revealing a pot purchase, or having their pictures taken near one of the stores and posted on social media for the scornful eye of their employers. “Now everyone sees you because you come into a public place instead of going to your caregiver's house,” he explained.
But, that’s not the kind of generalized angst—Oh man, my boss knows I smoke weed—that I’m curious about. I was wondering about the all-consuming, irrational dread that seems to strike marijuana novices, in particular, when they’re high. After all, the people who would probably suffer the worst paranoia are the first timers and the tourists, especially those who listened raptly in their 5th grade D.A.R.E. classes and forgot to update their worldview with age. Or at least that’s my theory.