By James Terminiello
What do Times Square at 5:30 p.m. on a weekday, Main Street in Beacon, New York, at lunchtime, and a Mount Laurel exit on I-295 at 8 p.m. on a Saturday have in common? In each place, I found it necessary to wade through an acrid haze of marijuana smoke in order to get to where I needed to go.
In the case of Times Square, the haze permeated an area set aside for performers garbed in movie and comic-book character costumes designed to attract tourists and their children. Bravo, Mayor de Blasio!
In Beacon, just south of Poughkeepsie, I was walking past shop after shop touting sustainability, green everything and healthy lifestyles —which I thought to be fabulously ironic considering the burn in my lungs. On 295, the hashy haze emanated from a car directly in front of me with an unlikely license plate indicating its point of origin as Hawaii. Perhaps the driver floated here. He certainly had the fuel to do it.
It’s clear that the liberalization of cannabis laws has resulted in a somewhat laissez-faire attitude in the general public. It is also clear, in a woozy, mind-trippy sort of way, that the predicted return to the Roaring ’20s appears to be on. Back in 1918, the nation was reeling from a far worse pandemic than the current one, but quite happy about the outcome of the Great War and poised for a Quixotic economic boom. Skirts got shorter, stocks went higher and booze was kept under the counter until you gave the old sign and mentioned your relationship with “Joe.”
Well, here we are again. The pandemic looks to be on the wane. The economy is reopening and stocks are looking fit and lusty. House prices are rising toward infinity. Help-wanted signs are everywhere. And in Washington, the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is manning a money cannon that he fires at every problem we are facing, and even a few of his own creation. In short, the roar is on!
And, as we roar into a catch-up summer where many seem to feel that they need to somehow make up for the lost fun of a COVID-19-infused 2020, it appears that we all must face the coming haze. If my early experiences in three very different locations is any indication, the rules have been fudged over, law enforcement is backing off and “weed” is the word.
Trouble is, I can’t stand the smell.
Consider that that cigarette smoking has, in a few short decades, gone from cool and sexy to practically anathema. It seems to be forbidden everywhere except in small sections of casinos and the lesser bordellos (so I’m told). There is an almost Victorian disdain towards anyone who indulges in tobacco products. Frankly, I’m fine with that, since I’ve seen the hideous and cancerous results of smoking and would be happy to see the practice disappear in a puff of nonexistence. Of course, it won’t. It’s too addictive.
But, at the same time, you can trace the plummeting trajectory of cigarette smoking and see that it intersects with the sharply rising trajectory of marijuana smoking. We are currently in the honeymoon period of the cannabis age. It seems that weed can do no wrong. Advocates believe that it has medical benefits in uncountable ways — from helping with glaucoma to reducing the impact of dementia. Many feel that it is not addictive, nor can it be a gateway drug. (Ahem!) Oh, and commercial sales are expected to add $92 billion to the U.S. economy in 2021. That is nothing to sneeze at. Unlike those clouds of smoke I’ve been passing through regularly.
There is the rub. It’s clear that too many people want full legalization for it to be reversed. (And it’s about the high, so please don’t hide behind the smokescreen of the medical applications). It’s also clear that there is real money to be made, and we are a capitalistic society. For me, and I think for many, marijuana is becoming a quality-of-life issue. I don’t care what kind of noxious fumes you choose to allow into your lungs, I just don’t want to share in them involuntarily.
States, towns and communities had better be prepared. The haze of marijuana is coming to your main streets, parks, malls and shopping districts. It might mean paradise for some. But for me, and more people than you might expect, we don’t like the smell of it.
James Terminiello, author of the Caligula’s Kitchen series of comic novels about ancient Rome, writes from Mount Laurel.
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