What better day to celebrate my return to the 'Cannabis Culture' than on National Weed Day or otherwise just known as 420; which can also designate the time of the day 'pot-smokers' toke up daily. Today I'll be using 420 as the term used to identify with the culture I once belonged to in my youth but left behind for a career as a diver in the United States Navy. Not that returning to the use is anything exciting or any earth-shattering news around here. Especially since I'm just an average middle-aged man that you'll find at any cannabis dispensary in California. There is nothing abnormal or deviant about what I'm doing now. That always hasn't been the case in my lifetime. What follows is my personal story of how my relationship with cannabis has changed over the years, as I aged and it's use has become quasi-legal and socially acceptable here in the United States.
After over two decades away from what used to be daily cannabis use when I was younger, I'm consuming cannabis again, all be it in less quantities and frequencies, and for different reasons, but I'M BACK!
Back in the 90s I was a frequent smoker. I lived by a wake-n-bake daily regiment and it was part of every get-together; to which I never turned down a toke or didn't share my own. Growing up in Southeastern Wisconsin it was a very prevalent social activity within my generation and my friends and I were no acceptation, but exceptional even in a prevalent culture we were.
I spent the better part of my first years of my 20s really enjoying not only the high from smoking weed, but also the culture and aura that surrounded it. In 1996 I outgrew the Wisconsin scene and picked up and move to Arizona. The cannabis culture and rituals continued none-the-less and became even better with the great Southwest as my new backdrop.
I spent another year in Arizona enjoying the lifestyle of work, party, sleep and repeat, which cannabis played a central and enjoyable role. The atmosphere cannabis set for me was one of deep critical thinking and meaning to life as well as giving me an open mind to accepting all that's different around me. I also found that the people I associated with had peaceful free-spirited vibes about them; which I attributed to cannabis. I spent my four years post high school attending cannabis classes and getting a degree in life. Cannabis made me curious and always yearning to explore and experience the world and life.
I always felt determined and ambitious while my mind raced around trying to figure out the world when I got high on cannabis. I definitely was the exception to turning into a couch-potato when stoned.
I worked for Safelite Auto Glass in Phoenix, Arizona and got stoned at lunch one day with the shop window-tinter. I came back and replaced a blazer windshield in about the 30 minutes. I must have done it was such diligence and professionalism that the guy tipped me fifty bucks afterwards. I just thought, if that guy knew I was stoned that would have probably changed is whole perception of me and the job I just did.
Although cannabis was illegal, we never had a problem getting ahold of it, and never found ourselves to ever be without. I always believed that it was a huge social injustice that weed was illegal. Practically my entire generation believed that it should be legal, long disbelieving the old scare tactics of generations before us that believed it was only used by Hispanics, blacks, and criminals. I remember watching the move, "Refer Madness" and just thinking it was all bullshit. Besides, we were white kids from middle-America and believed it was just our right of passage from youth to experiment with marijuana. We inactively demanded it be legalized because in reality we never got into too much trouble with marijuana.
The fact that cannabis was illegal meant I had to take great measures in hiding it from family, employers, and most of all the authorities. The freedom and excitement achieved by using marijuana always came at the expense of a somewhat paranoid existence, wondering what would happen if I got caught or someone of importance found out. Almost all my experiences for about four years revolved around cannabis use; however, I had to keep it literally and figuratively tucked away and out of sight. There was no open and free market to make purchases, much less mass social acceptance and there was always a bit of danger and suspense in picking up a bag or sack because you never knew what kind of characters you were going to meet or if this would be the time you get busted.
Looking back on those years I believe the culture was so memorable for me because of cannabis being illegal. It was on the outer fringes of society away from all the normalness. I really felt like a rebel and someone that followed his own beat in life, so belonging to a subculture like cannabis smoking, made me feel like I belonged and was doing exactly what I was meant to be doing. Living a carefree life with no problems or grudges. I didn't possess that personal awareness in the moment back then; I just wanted to have fun and being around other people that enjoyed pot is where I found the most fun.
Eventually the fun ran out and the longing for excitement and wanting to see the world led me to want to change my scenery again. One evening by chance sitting in our Flagstaff, Arizona cottage, I was intrigued by a Discovery Channel episode featuring Navy Divers. After I hit the bong and exhaled a huge plume of smoke I exclaimed, "Tomorrow I'm going down to the Navy Recruiter and I'm going to sign up to do that job" My roommates and friends that filled the room laughed in disbelief. No one thought my long-haired, hippy, pot-smoking ass was serious or suited to join the military.
Bright and early the next day however, that is exactly what I did. I walked into the Navy recruitment office, where I met Senior Chief Cleveland. I said, "I want to be a Navy Diver and leave as soon as possible", he replied with, "Can you pass a piss test"? to that I said, "Give me two weeks". That day I took my ASVAB entrance test and waited the two weeks so I would piss clean for my entrance drug test.
With two weeks of solid self control, I passed that test and every subsequent one for another twenty-four years as I fulfilled that promise I made of becoming a Navy Diver and retiring from the military with honorable service. No one thought that possible back in 1997, most of all me. I wondered how I would survive the stereotype of a strict military life especially one that meant giving up cannabis and drug use.
Here I am 24 years later and able to happily answer that question with, "just fine". With some minor detours...
I surprised to find out after I joined the Navy and got to my first unit that partying and using drugs was just as if not more prevalent than where I came from. The only thing that changed were the people. Now I was exposed to people from all over the country and all walks to party and do drugs with. The military also opened my world up to adding booze frequently to the mix. I rarely drank and smoked cannabis simultaneously before I joined the Navy.
The Navy of the 90s was still an untamed and wild group of sailors, although technically illegal and banned from use, cannabis and all drugs for that matter were widely used due to the fact very little random testing ever took place. I felt like I fit right in and made an excellent decision to join the military. I now could take my escapades world-wide.
I did just that in places like, Spain, Africa, Hawaii, and Asia. For the first two years it's almost as if, the United States government was paying me to live my old lifestyle and allowed me to travel the world to boot. That all came to an end with two major events: (1) the Navy cracked down and began mandatory monthly random testing, and (2) I partied a little too much and ended up having a son and subsequently getting married.
I put away the cannabis and all drug use from that day on and didn't use another substance besides alcohol for the remainder of my naval career. It was a serious turning point in my life, where I matured and turned down a different path from the one I was on. Hunter S. Thompson once wrote, “A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.” That is exactly how my life from that moment moved forward. I never really made a decision about my future so 'Circumstance' made it for me. I was a fortunate change too.
Those two events resulted in me having a respectable career and a financial safety net for the rest of my life. I enjoyed my military career, all of it, even the post drug-use era. Just as I enjoyed the culture cannabis brought me into during my pre-navy days, I too enjoyed the excitement I found away from drugs. Most of all in professional accomplishments.
I turned away from drugs for personal and professional reasons, but I never took to judging anyone who still used them socially or abused them. I still believed deep down that our drug policies in America were not right, even after I turned into a squared away sailor.
For the next twenty years I lived the American middle-class dream. I had a great paying job as a Navy Diver, I owned a house, had nice cars, and my son grew up to be a successful young man. Drug use and the culture I once adored and never thought I'd leave was long distant memory for me. I would recall fond memories of times I had but the desire to do drugs no longer burned inside me.
However, all good things come to an end. This year in March I retired from the US Navy after twenty-four years of service in what seems like the blink of an eye.
Now with my uniform put away and my dive helmet on the shelf, I'm feeling the effects of a highly physical and demanding job in the unforgiving environments of the battle-field and the deep sea. The normal 9-5 of deep sea work is a tough job but add in the military and physical fitness requirements; after 24 years my mind and body are feeling the post traumatic stresses place upon me. I have picked up and lifted a brother out of the water that nearly had his leg snapped off, removed dead bodies from plane crashes, and damn near died undoing a mooring line at 140 feet of sea water on a solo night dive in Guam. My participation in the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq have also put dings in my armor.
I'm leaving military service feeling accomplished but a lot more mentally and physically abused from my carefree younger days.
The constant ache from physical injuries paired with emotional scars have really reduced the happy-go lucky, carefree attitude I once possessed. I use to streak the streets of Spain and be the excitement of the party. I'm now a very subdued and stoic older man. I've gained a great deal of insecurity and loss of self-esteem from the highs of my youth. At the time of my retirement I was excited about a new beginning but afraid of being incapable of surviving without the Navy now that I've become institutionalized by it.
All These emotions left me feeling depleted. I wasn't dysfunctional but I had mid-grade level of depression setting in. That's when I decided to revisit what unlocked my emotions in my youth and helped me explore and see the world more clearly. This time around though I wouldn't be smoking it. I resided to edibles since I really wasn't keen on taking smoke or vapors into my lungs.
I set up an account online with a dispensary just 10 minutes from my house. I never had a problem getting weed when I was younger, but only 10 minutes away and now I could openly make the purchase. I couldn't believe that the stoned basement discussions of legalizing marijuana of my youth were finally coming to fruition; even though it took damn near thirty years. My first pack of edibles where chocolate flavored 10mg squares. I got my prize home and decided to take only half. In about an hour I felt really good and got playful with my wife. I figured if half felt that good the whole thing should just make it last longer. I was wrong. I went from talkative and playful to completely stoned and unable to talk. I had to quietly go outside and water my garden for about an hour then just lied on the sidewalk in my back yard looking up at the sky.
I realized in that moment that cannabis was what I needed and I didn't need that much of it to relax (because this new shit was way more potent than I remembered) and feel in touch with the world again. I now only get 2.5 mg size edibles and just take it on the occasional evening when I'm feeling more fatigued mentally and physically. I absolutely get high in the evening after I take the cannabis, but I really see the results the following morning. I wake up after an edible the previous night feeling refreshed and well rested. The normal body aches and mental fog are not present. I no longer want to feel the intense highs I reached in my youth so I keep the THC low and have increased my CBD intake. one to two milligrams of THC paired with twenty milligrams of CBD have become a great combo to help me relax.
I knew all these things about cannabis back in the old days I just didn't need it for those reasons yet.
In my youth I use to smoke pot to excite me to explore and see what the world had in store for me, now as an old-man I take cannabis edibles to deal with what it has shown and put me through.
Now that I'm back and celebrating 420 again, I realize it's not the same. There was something romantic about the illegal marijuana days of my youth that the legalization movement just doesn't capture and probably never will. The atmosphere surrounding me and my generation felt more forgiving, peaceful and quiet, now it feels commercialized, violent, and loud. Maybe it's that I'm older and I'm the one that has changed, and the youth these days still experience the type of cannabis culture like I did in my younger days. Those are answers I'll probably really never know and don't care to, now that I have exchanged social cannabis use for one that is more medicinal and secluded.
I'm happy to see that cannabis is finally becoming legal and socially acceptable; however, I believe something about the old cannabis culture of the past is lost. All the excitement and life experiences I enjoyed while using cannabis derived out of the fact that it was illegal and strictly a social experience. Now that it's commercialized with a medicinal purpose it just feels sanitized and less organic. I'm too old to go back to the way I experienced marijuana when I was young so the current system suites me just fine, but there is always those times when I reminisce about the good old days, and those days for me are when cannabis was still illegal.
The characters I met and the experiences I had dealing with cannabis outside of the law became some of the coolest and most interesting people and times of my life. Cannabis has allowed me to live a life where I have made memories and won't die with any dreams of wishing I would have or should have done something else. Now in the legal commercialization of cannabis the daring intrigue of using an illegal substance has been replaced with investments and economic markets. The system I was rebelling against while I smoked pot when I was young is now the system I buy it from.
My reintroduction with cannabis may not be as romantic and exciting as the days from my past but what it offers me now is exactly what I need at this stage in my life; a calming effect that simultaneously sparks my desire to be creative and think more objectively about all things in life.