Buzzfeed published an article last week about Barack Obama’s marijuana smoking habits in high school and college. None of it is very surprising. It was pretty well documented in the 2008 election that Obama was a fan of drugs and even rumored that he had some entrepreneurial ambitions as a youth. An article that 20 years ago would have made a president go on TV and lie about his youthful foibles, caused barely a stir. If Mitt Romney released an ad attacking Obama on his chooming it would probably gain Obama even larger support from the coveted college voting bloc that won him the 2008 election. It almost seems like a PR move to save face for an administration that has been less than friendly towards the marijuana movement. College students tend to be stoners and stoners tend to be single issue voters. It may be a coincidence that the “choom articles” surfaced in the same week that a new national poll showing 56% of Americans favor marijuana legalization and regulation was released. Polls never tell the whole story and their accuracy can be argued, but an end to the almost 70 year marijuana prohibition is in sight. I can’t claim to be an expert on marijuana laws, but since I needed to buy some pot anyway; I decided to talk to my drug dealer, good friend, and highly respected marijuana lawyer, Razor. Razor isn’t his real name but his ability to get stoned and still keep his mind razor sharp has earned him the nickname. He claims to have been stoned out of his mind for the LSATs, and still scored in the top three percent; getting into a prestigious east coast law school and graduating near the top of his class. I can vouch for the amount of pot he inhaled while studying for the New York bar exam.
Razor lived in an apartment building a few blocks from Journal Square in Jersey City. He buzzed me in and I walked up the four flights to his apartment. I knocked on his door.
“Yo, come in. It’s open.” Razor has that New Jersey accent that people who aren’t from Jersey always seem to notice.
I opened the door and walked in. He was sitting on the couch in basketball shorts and a tie-dyed Phish tour t-shirt. A joint burned in his mouth. His pride and joy, a huge Roor bong he called Water Buffalo, sat on the table in front of him. His living room reminded me of my college dorm. Posters of Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, and other counterculture icons; hung on the walls. A record spun in his record player against the wall. Neil Young’s “On The Beach,” played through the speakers.
“What up, my man. How the fuck you been.” He stood up, exhaling a cloud of smoke into my face and reached to slap my hand. He bobbed his head to the music.
“So you be good to me and I’ll be good to you, and in this land of conditions; I’m not above suspicion; I won’t attack you, but I won’t back you,” Neil crooned.
“Pretty good dude. Working. I’ve been writing a lot recently. I need an eighth and then maybe we can talk about this story I’m working on.” He handed me the joint and I took a puff. It tasted sweet and fruity. The smoke wasn’t harsh and I recognized the taste as I exhaled. “Purple Kush?” I asked, coughing.
“You know it brother.” Razor sat back down on the couch and motioned for me to do the same. “Alright, so I got an eighth of that Kush you just smoked and an eighth of some fire Chemdog, fuckin club Sour straight from Cali. One for you, one for me. I sold the rest of my shit today and have to wait for my boy to mail me some more.”
“Half and half?” I asked, knowing that’s what he wanted anyway.
He laughed and pulled out his scale. I watched the numbers go up to 3.5 and took the bag he handed me. Razor took a nug from his half and started grinding it up into Water Buffalo’s bowl.
“Half and half.” he said grinning. “I need some bong rips if I’m going to talk about weed law.”
I laughed and handed him a choice nug out of my bag. The rest disappeared into my pant’s pocket.
“Ok let’s get started. So I know you read the article about Obama smoking weed in high school. How do you feel about it and the implications for the legalization movement?”
Razor nodded his head, the water in the bong bubbling furiously. He put Water Buffalo down and took short breaths of air, drawing the smoke deeper into his lungs. He exhaled a thin cloud and started coughing furiously.
“Fuuuuck,” he said reaching for an open Arizona Sweet Tea can. “That’s what I call a total absorption hit, ghosted.” He passed me the bong.
“I don’t think it really matters much for what’s trying to be accomplished. Obama’s proven himself to be no friend to marijuana legalization. I’m not sure if he just grew up or he’s pandering to the dwindling block of voters that are still against it. When he got elected in 2008 he said that there would be no more harassing of medical dispensaries. That seems not to have reached the ears of the judiciary. I understand that medical marijuana laws are used as thin screens for people like us to get stoned, but the government has yet to prove why that even matters. There are plenty of patients who aren’t recreational users and just want relief from their pain. I’ve been prescribed every anti-depression and anxiety medication on the market. If I didn’t smoke pot I’d be addicted to another far worse drug.” Razor stopped talking for a second, staring off into space before continuing.
“I just feel that the way things are released about Obama’s past… it’s very calculated. You know, as if they’re trying to make him appear cooler then he actually is. I really don’t need that shit. I’ll vote for the guy anyway. I couldn’t bring myself to vote for any socially conservative candidate, regardless of their position on marijuana.”
I picked the bong up and lit a bowl for myself. Exhaling smoke with words, “You briefly mentioned his stance towards medical marijuana. Can you elaborate a little more on that?”
“Yeah, sure. I mean there’s a huge difference between that movement and the legalization movement. A lot of the people who have medical cards in California have legitimate physical, medical concerns. You watch these videos of the DEA coming in and shutting down dispensaries and see guys in wheelchairs outside talking about how they won’t be able to get their medication. That’s fucked up. These are people who wake up every day and experience immense pain. What alternative do the pharmaceutical companies offer them? Oxys, Percs, Vicodin? It’s ridiculous that a drug that is proven…Yes…proven not to have the same addictive and detrimental effects of opiates is still illegal. It just makes no sense and its fuckin retarded that we have to keep repeating this point. I mean we live in a state [New Jersey], that has had a medical marijuana bill sitting on the table for almost 4 years and our conservative, Republican governor is doing everything he can to stall it. Part of the reason is the federal government has threatened to cut funding for states with medical laws. Medical marijuana patients are treated like second class citizens under federal law. I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t have a card because they’re scared of ending up on a list in DEA headquarters.”
Razor picked up the bong and looked in the bowl; tamping it down with his lighter. He took a big hit, sucking the rest of the ash through to the water. “Look, the people who want it legalized for recreational reasons are a different story. Sometimes I find it hard to justify that. The only real argument is prohibition doesn’t work and punishing people for their drug habits is wrong, very wrong. It creates criminals out of peaceful, reasonable people who would never normally commit a crime. That’s why the Temperance movement ultimately failed and you can walk into any bar as a 21 year old and get a shot of liquor. Hell, if I wanted, I could drink a bottle of Everclear and bleed out my eyes tonight. That’s perfectly legal, but us sitting here ‘choomin’ isn’t? Fuckin bullshit.” Razor took another sip of his Arizona.
“Vampire Blues” faded out and he got up to change the side. He carefully flipped the record over. The needle hit and you could hear the audible click as it found the grooves. As soon as the music started, he walked back over to the couch and sat down. “Neil Young is the best dude. It’s kind of sad that the hopelessness he captures on this record hasn’t faded with time. Same society, new faces.”
I kind of nodded in agreement, but more with Neil than Razor. I was pretty blazed and it was getting hard to concentrate on anything with the music playing. I just listened, closed my eyes; followed the guitar. I shifted in my seat a little bit and moved the conversation onward, “One of the arguments that many anti-marijuana advocates use is that it supports terrorism. That even some of the marijuana distributed in dispensaries supports gang violence in Mexico.”
“That isn’t true either. This weed we’re smoking right now is grown on a farm in Northern California. I’ve been there. I know the guy. An American plants the seeds. An American waters the plants. An American picks the crop. An American cures the bud. And fucking Americans roll that shit and smoke it. Not a penny of the money I spend on weed goes to terrorism; unless you’re calling American farmers terrorists.” Razor started laughing. “Where do opiates come from? Any third-world country we’re at war with. Most of the heroin in Europe is coming out of Afghanistan. The US Army themselves have stated it’s impossible to stop the flow of opium out of Afghanistan. The New York Times runs articles with poppy farmers saying their families will starve because they had a bad heroin harvest. In the 70s all that brown was coming from Vietnam. If you use heroin you’re supporting terrorism. If you take Oxys you might be supporting terrorism. I’d hope the pharmaceutical companies get their shit domestically, but I’m cynical enough to doubt it.”
“Alright, let’s get back to Obama smoking weed. Is he the coolest president since Kennedy? Some political commentators have brought up how if he’d been brought to justice on the same laws he now supports, he would never have made it to the presidency. Talk slow dude. This is some good shit.”
Razor tilted his head; thinking about his answer. He rocked side to side with the music. “Smoking weed doesn’t make you cool. It’s just something fun to do when life is boring or painful. I’ll admit I laughed at that Interception bit. I can totally picture Obama elbowing his way into a cyph going, ‘Intercepted!’ and taking a hit out of turn. You can hear him doing it in that same way he says jokes in his speeches. It does make him kind of endearing. I just think it’s kind of fucked up that there’s this bragging tone to the passages. Part of me doesn’t think he approved of this being published, but you know that it’s all hagiographical and part of his carefully constructed image. It fits perfectly into the Obama brand. I agree with the people who talk about how he got away with it. The laws are stupid. He didn’t deserve to go to jail, but what about the kids who couldn’t vote for him in the last election because they got caught with two ounces of pot? Some states they’ll never be able to vote again because of a felony drug conviction. There are kids that been locked up with rapists and murders because they were involved with selling weed. It’s kind of a known fact that Obama sold weed. Everyone who smokes weed sells it at one point. Your friend needs something so you help him out. If that friend was just trying to get out of a charge, you’re busted, and might need to flip on someone else. Obama is lucky he never got caught; good for him, but you can’t tell me that this whole shit isn’t a little bit offensive to the ones who did. Don’t you think with his past he should be a better advocate for Change…more help for getting what are still genuinely racist laws overturned…”
Neil kept singing, “He had a different story, for every set of eyes, how can he remember, who he’s talking to? Cause I know it ain’t me, and hope it isn’t you.”
The album finished and the arm withdrew. Clicking off. We sat in silence. I was about to ask my next question when we were interrupted by an obnoxiously loud knocking on the door. Razor sat up straight and looked at me. He motioned for silence. Whoever was outside started pounding on the door again.
“POLICE, WE KNOW YOU’RE IN THERE. OPEN THE DOOR.”
Razor looked at me a wry smile on his face, “Looks like you’re going out the fire escape.” A wave of paranoia swept through my body, but I wasn’t about to be arrested.
He tossed me his scale and his half of the weed. “If you save Water Buffalo that quarter is yours for free.”
I picked up the bong. “Alright dude. I hope they don’t have anyone by the escape route.”
“Don’t worry these cops are dumb as shit. If they have a warrant they probably already fucked it up. Oh yeah, and remember, you were never fucking here.”
The banging got louder. “YOU’VE GOT ONE MINUTE FUCKER OR WE’RE KNOCKING THIS DOOR DOWN.”
“HOLD ON I’M GETTIN SOME PANTS ON,” Razor yelled towards the door.
I was already climbing out his kitchen window. I looked down. Home free. I dashed down the metal steps, being careful not to drop the bong. From the open window I could hear the commands of a police officer.
“HEIL HITLER” I heard Razor shout.
I reached the ladder to the courtyard and kicked it. It crashed down. I winced at the sound, looked back up; still in the clear. I slid down the ladder trying to awkwardly keep Water Buffalo safe. I landed in the courtyard and ran to the front of the building, staying close to the wall. I looked around the corner. Two police cars sat out front, but there was no one in them. I casually walked out, shifting the bong so you couldn’t see it from behind. I walked past the Hudson County courthouse. Good thing it was a Sunday. I got to the bus stop and an immy bus pulled up. The driver laughed at me and said something in Spanish. I told him where I was going and sat down in the back.
Hell of a fucking day. It sucked that Razor was probably getting arrested. I’m sure he’d weasel out of whatever charges they threw at him. He’d given me a lot to think about and a lot to write up. Obama’s weed smoking days were way in the past and he clearly regretted them. He isn’t a hypocrite, people change. I just wish he’d be a little more upfront and honest. A little more like the cool Barry Obama who breathed in the last bit of smoke from the roof of his buddy’s VW van and punished people for not inhaling every last bit of their hit on the joint. He should commiserate with the kids that just need a little escape from life and the adults who just want to be able to enjoy an existence free from a painful disease. It’s not easy to change generations of political policy, but no one says that being the president is an easy job. He didn’t earn his votes for being a tough, hardened political warrior. He earned them for being the compassionate, moral man who could relate to everyone and gave you the confidence he would do what was right.
I hated sitting on a slow moving bus. I just wanted to get home, smoke some weed, and relax.