Marijuana Legalization: How a Southerner Learned to Love Legalized Pot


Legalizing marijuana in the United States is slowly becoming less of a pipe dream (get it?), but that doesn’t mean that it’s a reality. Roughly 18 states have adopted some modicum of lenience, but in many other states getting caught with the smallest amount of the good plant can lead you to jail. The air surrounding the issue is made even smokier (see what I did there?) with so many shades of legality in play. Between conflicting state and federal laws and the differences between decriminalizing, legalizing for medical use, legalizing for recreational use, and so on, there’s pretty much only gray area surrounding the issue— a ganja gradient, if you will. As someone who’s from a state with very old-fashioned views on drug possession, and having just moved to one of the states that is very in-between legality and illegality, let’s just say even without a buzz it’s confusing.

Having been raised in the beautiful state of Tennessee I was aware from a young age that pot was very, very illegal. That’s because even though the fine citizens roll joints as beautiful as the rolling hills that the state is famous for, getting pulled over with just paraphernalia in your car can lead to an arrest. I have friends who have been put in jail for being in possession of a pipe with residue in it, and others who have just honestly admitted to having smoked earlier in the day after having been pulled over, and then received a DUI even though there is absolutely no way to chemically test one's level of immediate marijuana intoxication. Needless to say, I’m no pot activist, but ruining people’s lives over such a nonsensically outdated mindset concerning the drug isn’t what I would call justice.

So when I moved to Los Angeles I was in awe of a place where you could go to a store to buy weed the same way you go buy a box of tampons at Walgreens. Granted, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but still it’s a lot less complicated than buying a measly dime bag from some Tarantino-esque drug dealer. Multiple friends relayed just how easy it was to get yourself up and smoking. The worst anyone ever alleged happening was a doughboy cop making them stomp their pot into the ground because they got pulled over without their doctor’s recommendation in tow. So despite not ever having been a big enough pot smoker to justify the trouble, I decided to procure my own marijuana freedom card, just for the hell of it.

On that sanctimonious day, after a bit of Googling, I settled on a state-certified establishment called Doc 420. It was nestled innocuously around the corner from my neighborhood, and upon arrival I was greeted by a stern bouncer who carded me, asked me about my intentions, and then escorted me from the unrelenting Los Angeles sun and into an Arabian Nights-esque shrine. The red, patterned walls were covered in gold mirrors from floor to ceiling. White Chicks played on a flat screen to the room of “patients” waiting anxiously.

I was given a mountain of paperwork to fill out, mostly about my medical history because in California you still have to at least feign medical need to justify your usage. The receptionist also pointedly reminded me that Doc 420 would never under any circumstances contact any doctor that I listed, because Doc 420 exists in the most vague realm where fuzzy laws and mystical medicine meet. I went in with strong conviction that my early-onset arthritis and anxiety would be sufficient. Even though I haven’t seen a doctor for either ailment in four years I still listed my diagnosing doctor, with the dates of last visit and any medications that were prescribed, however brief. With the amount of time since medical attention, I was sure they would turn me away, but I thought I would at least try and bluff my way through. To my surprise they ate it up, and then I smugly watched as a bunch of nervous nellies tried to make excuses for not having a doctor to list. I considered passing them notes that said, “Lie, you dummy!” But they caught on eventually.

After the sleepover scene in White Chicks I was called back to see Doc 420 herself. She accessorized her physician’s coat with a face full of makeup, five-inch Lucite heels, and a practical low bun. She asked me why I wanted medical marijuana and I answered that I didn’t support chemical medicine and was seeking an alternative. She smiled and replied, “I can accept that.” She wrote my name and birth date on a certificate that looked like the ones they give you in elementary school for learning the alphabet or not pissing yourself anymore or something. She signed it and I was on my way to pay the mere $40 fee.

Now and for the next year, before I have to see Doc 420 again, I can go to California’s medical marijuana dispensaries, always demarcated by a subtle green cross, and purchase a plethora of weed and weed-infused everything. There’s always a bouncer at the door and large men hitting vaporizers and bongs inside, but there’s also a very juvenile Harry Potter feeling with all of the brightly colored packaging and glass cases lined with medical jars. The prices are usually about half of what you would pay on the street, and I can find out exactly who and where the product was farmed and how sustainable their practices are.

Ultimately California is still no Colorado, where even recreational use is legal, but with the laws that are in place now, the legal ramifications fall more on the dispensaries and doctors than the medical users. I am aware though that every time I sign into a new dispensary and they make a copy of my driver’s license and recommendation I am likely being put on government lists and possibly even having that information turned over to insurance companies. It’s an experiment that I might have to pay for later. But even though I’m not tirelessly fighting for marijuana rights, I am willing to flirt with danger in order to experience the first waves of American legality. It’s kind of an unintentional protest of state governments spending millions of dollars and man-hours needlessly pursuing marijuana infractions. Even Obama has said that he has “bigger fish to fry” than pot circles. Regardless of what your stance is on pot usage, you can’t deny that its legalization could be used to benefit the nation, and those medical pot brownies are a tasty reward for your bravery. Dose responsibly, y’all.