Have you ever wanted something so badly that you say something ridiculous like “I’d do anything for tickets to Hamilton?” I am starting to feel that I am guilty of this when it comes to medical cannabis.
I have performed at the Freedom Rally, I’ve helped raise money, and I have used my voice as a radio personality and hip-hop artist to spotlight the need for weed as a medicine. Other than common sense and experience, my motivation for doing what I could to help the cause came years ago when my friend Kevin Stevenson of Boston band the Shods was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I watched helplessly as this wretched disease robbed him of his ability to play guitar on a level that rivaled literally anyone else’s mastery of the instrument. It made me angry and it made me sad and, ironically, the thing that made me angriest was how Kev’s medication, the very thing that is supposed to make him feel better, made him feel worse.
The one thing that made Kev feel better was, golly, who would have thought, marijuana. My activism for legalized medical cannabis was born from that experience recognizing the plant’s ability to help people. Like others, I’ve read that chemotherapy patients can regain their appetites with weed, but nothing makes more of an impact than seeing it with your own eyes.
More than a decade later, it finally happened: Massachusetts joined the 21st century and made this medication available to those who need it. When I started taking up this cause, the general public wasn’t aware of oils, tincture, edibles, or CBD. As research and the industry itself evolved, America finally got on board, and it was what I wanted, so I was happy. I should have read the fine print.
I tried pot once in high school, but that was a disaster. I had been raised in a heavily religious (read: literal bible cult) home and was told that smoking pot allows Satan to control your mind and body. I tried it anyway and the moment it hit me, I felt my eyes getting heavy and my bible cult brain couldn’t handle it. I thought Satan had taken control of me. I ended up calling a drug intervention hotline. When they asked me what drug I had taken and I said, “I smoked half a joint,” they laughed at me but also gave me expert advice: order a pizza and try to relax, it’ll pass. I did as I was told, but not before I made them promise not to trace the call or phone my mother. She never found out, and the pizza made Satan go away.
I started using marijuana, for real this time, in college when I was nearly 21 years old. I had left the cult and was ready to challenge all that I knew. I had made some new friends and didn’t want them to think I wasn’t cool, so I said the most uncool thing ever. When the joint made its way to me, my friend Eric said, “Oh, he doesn’t smoke,” but I interrupted with, “No, no, I take pot!”
All these years later, I am glad I took the pot. For the 20 years leading up to that day I had debilitating insomnia. I watched Johnny Carson and David Letterman every night starting at age 10, because I couldn’t sleep. I would show up to school in a daze. This lead to me skipping so I could sleep, which lead to Mrs. Keely kicking me out of Lowell High School when my unexcused absences had totaled 72 days. She thought I was a fuckup, but I was really just tired. After declaring that I “take pot,” I had an incredible night of sleep. So I started taking the pot every night. It was a godsend that the cult never delivered.
The only real problems I had with weed: A—Finding a way to buy it, and B—Not knowing that sativa wouldn’t put me to sleep like indica did. Needless to say, the shady dudes I was copping from couldn’t tell me what I was buying. Back then weed had two names: brown and kind bud.
Now that it’s been legalized, I can buy a specific strain to meet my specific medical needs. The black market has become smarter, so even the shady guys can tell me what I’m buying. Which caused me to ask: Hooray for legalization? Or hooray for education?
As soon as cannabis was legalized, I put the wheels in motion to get myself on “the program.” I hate that expression, as it reminds me of methadone, but whatever, I wanted to be able to sleep and use my medicine legally. Applying for my medical card was my first whiff of the scam that I have come to call the gentrification of marijuana.
I asked my primary care doctor, to whom I tell everything, if he could get me on the program, so to speak. He said, “No.” He said he wanted me to have access, but that his practice isn’t allowed to prescribe me pot. I had to see a specialist. He recommended a doctor to me. We’ll call him Dr. Bud. Dr. Bud is a nice guy, but he’s out of his fucking mind. The first thing that happened at my appointment, which lasted about two hours, was Dr. Bud showing me his dog and the tricks she can do. He said to the dog, “It’s the FBI,” and the dog played dead. He said, “Who wants a pot brownie?” and the dog woke up and begged. This went on for nearly half an hour.
During the actual consultation that determined if I qualify for medical weed, Dr. Bud didn’t ask many questions. He just talked a lot. He told me that if he were a good doctor, he’d have another specialty. Very reassuring. He told me that “it’s all bullshit,” and said he was concerned about my weight. Finally, a real medical thing to say. Then he told me that the best way to lose weight is to go on an all-potato diet. Don’t count calories, don’t eat low carb, just eat as many potatoes as you want. After a while, all I could hear when he opened his mouth was the sound of a duck quacking. But hey, I got my medical card. All it cost me was… five hundred motherfucking dollars! Plus twice a year I have to give Dr. Bud another $200 to renew. Then I had to pay the state fee. Keep in mind, none of this is covered by insurance. The card costs more than the weed!
Just as my experience with Kevin moved me to fight the good fight, the post-legalization world in which we live has awakened me to some realities that are harshing my mellow, man.
I recently ran into the wife of a friend of mine. I asked how he was, and she told me that he had only three years left to serve in prison for growing marijuana. But wait, I thought, not only is medical marijuana legal, but now recreational use is too. It’s even legal to grow weed in your home these days.
A few months later, I was speaking to a hip-hop artist I know in Boston. He had just served a five-year sentence for possession with intent to distribute marijuana. In this case, the cops used the old tactic where they didn’t bust him for the pound he had. They busted him for the most money he could have theoretically made from that pound. A pound is roughly $3,500. But if you break that into 25 grams, then the “street value” (a term that is almost always a lie) is nearly over $11,000!
These two friends of mine look an awful lot like everyone I bought weed from before it was legal. Why are they doing time when what they do isn’t even illegal now? Why are people still in prison for selling or possessing weed? Only a government could get away with that.
Now that it’s legal, the folks at the weed spot—er, the dispensary—don’t look anything like the guys I used to buy weed from. They’re nice enough, but most aren’t the people who have driven the industry for the last hundred years. These are not the people who took the risks of getting arrested, ripped off, and robbed. These are nice suburban folks whose parents must be very disappointed in them.
But that’s cool. People who look like them smoke weed too. I guess this should have all been obvious to me, but I was too busy celebrating. The real winners, of course, are increasingly corporations. The dispensary that I was going to is run by a dude whose money comes from Goldman Sachs. A guy who is proud to report that he has never smoked pot.
Even as activists and the state Cannabis Control Commission, in the fine-tuning of the Commonwealth’s recreational guidelines, appear to be making some inroads for those who were screwed by the War on Drugs, it’s still pretty clear to me that I am a fool for continuing to pay for this medical card. All I’m doing is overpaying for weed in order to line the pockets of investment bankers. I am also paying Dr. Bud to be a shitty doctor.
Full recreational legalization is coming in the new year. I know how to make my own oil, tincture, and edibles. I don’t need these fucking people. The black market is cheaper and smarter, and the black market puts the money in the hands of black and brown people. Real money, not some paltry paycheck.
I will no longer participate in the gentrification of weed after my card expires in February, and I apologize for wanting something so badly that it took me so long to see what was going on. I just wanted a good night’s sleep, man.