The Weed Issue
Since the early ’80s, aspiring potheads around the world have considered Amsterdam the Mecca of stonerdom. It’s an imperative pilgrimage for anyone who wants to experience the societal bliss of legal recreational drugs.
So when I got the chance to travel there regularly as a touring musician in the early ’00s, all my High Times centerfold fantasies came true. No one I’ve ever traveled with to the Netherlands—including staunch “non-smokers”—has ever been able to resist tasting the sweet freedom of imbibing, without fear of public repudiation, the softcore trappings of this impeccably beautiful city. And for someone like me who’s committed a lifelong blood oath with the unfairly demonized Mary Jane, this liberation intoxicated me as much as the THC did.
Between bites of space cake, I’d ponder aloud to my Dutch companions about how great our lives could be if cannabis, a gentle and fragrant flower, was decriminalized in the United States. And eventually I would accept my unavoidable plight, exhale clouds of purple haze over tiny bottles of Orangina, and promise my hosts to return to this beloved haven whenever possible.
Fast forward to last year: Those same European friends are flying halfway around the world to visit MY city for only two things: Pok Pok chicken wings, and as many trips to Portland’s mythologized dispensaries as possible. The legends of the Rose City’s streets paved with indica fueled their excitement about this pleasure trip for more than a year.
“Every vice known to man is treated with positivity around here,” they groaned. “Back home, the establishment considers its libations an albatross of tourism that attracts and nurtures degenerates,” they added with typical Dutch eloquence.
In fact, both of them actually went as far as to say that, among their circle of stoner friends, Portland had now taken the crown as THE Dionysian destination over Amsterdam.
It was at this moment that I realized I’ve been the luckiest pothead in the world for two years, and was too buzzed to notice. Legalization has quickly turned Portland into a Cannabis Cup daydream—a foggy sanctuary city where weed is almost as accessible as alcohol, and where there is a fervent, citywide, artisanal ethos tied to its manufacture and education. If you told 17-year-old me that he’d someday be living in a place where ice cream was a science and endless strains of weed were available at every street corner, he would tell you to not wake him up until we got here. Add a progressive sex industry, a hypercolor music scene, and a centralized river—and we’re basically a state-of-the-art version of Amsterdam, only without the history or the timeless collection of art.
It would be nice to have those cafés, though. Once in a while I miss scuttling downstairs into some old Dutch speakeasy, awkwardly purchasing a sketchy-looking spliff from a disinterested Middle Eastern man, and retiring to a rainbow-painted prison teeming with overly giddy backpackers lost in terribly saccharine club music. But then I’ll take a thick bong rip of lovingly cultivated Blue Dream shatter and be thankful I’ll never have to do that again.