Stale smoke hangs forever in the air at Jack's apartment. There's a giant Bob Marley poster and two bookcases filled with boy-movie DVDs. The furniture is obscenely comfortable, especially the huge, shapeless chair they call "the poof." The TV is always on. Jack—not his real name—and his roommate love old, terrible movies. They own every episode of "Mystery Science Theatre 3000," from Joel, to Mike, to when Pearl took over as villain and the show left Comedy Central.
I come here often, and always I tell myself, "This is the last time." Today I brought a friend from school with me, Brad (also not his real name). We're here to buy an eighth of pot for $50 to split. Marijuana has been legal to cultivate and possess in Missoula since 2009 with either a medical or a caregiver's card, but Jack and I have neither; everything about this transaction is still illegal.
I've been hanging out in living rooms just like this one since I was 16 years old—over 13 years now. I told Brad that this place had to be seen to be believed, and now I watch him soak in the room with child-like wonder.
Brad comes from a good home. He didn't spend his youth in these places and it's a welcome vacation from the stress of higher education. On the way home he talks about what a trip this has been in a dull, slow-motion voice courtesy of the gravity bong we just tore through. I'm happy to give him the experience but I can't help but be a little annoyed. "It's a nice place to visit, isn't it?" I want to tell him. "I live here."
It might surprise you to learn that I'm not a complete screw-up. I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, and I moved to Montana in the fall of 2009 to get my masters of fine arts in fiction at UM. They gave me a full teaching assistantship, which means they trusted me to teach your children, and now I edit the calendar here at the Indy. I've published stories in respectable journals, I've won awards and my students loved me. Everything looks fine on paper. But there are some notable gaps in my résumé, and only I know the whole story. I graduated from college with good grades, but it took me eight years to do it, and not because I took time off to explore Europe or work in my field. No. I spent most of my twenties delivering pizzas, withdrawing from classes and getting high.
- Illustration by Jonathan Marquis
- I meant to change once I got to grad school. But then I found a dealer, and like magic the stuff landed in my hands again and I’ve been smoking it alone in my bedroom for days...Deer frolic outside and I curse Missoula for looking and acting like a Disney film.
Tell just about anybody that you've struggled with marijuana addiction, and they'll say the same thing: "But I thought marijuana wasn't addicting..." Both occasional users and non-users claim this. (Daily users tend to say it with much more conviction.) Remember the scene in Half Baked when Dave Chapelle steps into an NA meeting claiming to be addicted to weed? "Have you ever sucked some dick for marijuana?" a haggard Bob Saget chides him. The scene ends with another dude screaming "Boo this man!"—and then all the real drug addicts throw trash at Chapelle. I'm not saying this has been my experience, exactly, but it's not far off.
Where do beliefs like this come from? I have some theories. Cannabis is a unique plant, unlike just about any other common drug. It's pretty much impossible to overdose. Also, the withdrawal symptoms are hard to pinpoint, not because they don't exist but because the drug stays in your system for around 30 days. (Any casual user subjected to drug testing at the workplace will tell you this is one of life's great injustices. The hard stuff is gone in 48 hours, but marijuana lingers.)
Around 20 years ago, scientists discovered what they came to call the cannabinoid receptors. THC floats into the brain and binds itself to these receptors in a kind of marriage, a yin and yang so perfect and cosmically beautiful I want to cry just thinking about it, and this sparks the feel-good, chemical reaction we call "getting high." That feeling got me through the banality of high school. It helped me to let go of the things that truly don't matter. It made food so, so delicious. I smoked, parts of my brain opened up, and the meanings of books ached inside of me for days. Seriously, have you ever listened to OK Computer on weed? God gave us this plant. I believe that. But like all things heaven sent, she ought to be feared and respected. I'm not just being cute: Marijuana is a girl. The male plants are useless and growers hate them. Maybe they can be made into rope or something. Women are powerful, and they can be harsh mistresses if you let them curl up inside you.