So there we were, having lunch at a cafe in my suburban neighborhood, a cafe cozily nestled between a vape shop, which sells pens for imbibing nicotine, and a weed store which sells—well, weed. Meeting were two middle-aged women who have been friends for 30 years, ever since meeting in a new moms' group with our first-born babies.
"So are we gonna do it?" asked Pam, taking a last swig of her Diet Coke.
"Do what?" I asked innocently, brushing the croissant crumbs off my new fall jacket.
"Check out the weed store! Come on, Jules, we gotta do it!" Pam looked around the nearly empty bakery. "Don't we have to go across the street to check out Stone Age Pharmacy?" she asked our cashier who was idly leaning against the register, gazing blankly at us.
"Absolutely," the girl replied in a monotone voice. "I have. Several times, actually."
I sighed. Marijuana for recreational use has recently been legalized in our state, and the shops are open for business. In fact, I read that Portland already has more weed shops than nail salons (but not quite as many as coffee shops ... yet). And if my friend Pam wanted to check one out, then we were going to. Pam is a persuasive sort of person.
"OK, I'll go," I said. "But you can't be loud and obnoxious, ask a bunch of stupid questions, or embarrass me in any way." Pam has a history of creating small scenes for the general amusement of others.
"What? ME? Embarrass you?" she turned to the lone customer in the cafe, a 50something-year old guy (about our age, in fact) and asked, "Do I look like someone who would drag a friend to a marijuana shop and then embarrass her?" The guy smiled. "See! He agrees: I'm harmless! Let's go!" She took me by the arm and we headed across the street to Stone Age Pharmacy, identifiable as a place that sells marijuana mostly by the green cross flag flying in front of it.
I have to admit I had an idle curiosity about the concept of buying pot legally. My history with marijuana began and ended a long time ago, back in the '70s and very early '80s. I only remember actually buying it once, from a friend in Virginia who grew it himself. I didn't want to have it in the house for fear my parents or grandparents would find it, so I hid it out in the bushes. When I went to get it, the bag was torn open and the pot was gone. Some animal got lucky that day, I guess.
The rest of the time, I just mooched off friends, and I never really loved it. I tended towards paranoia. The last time I really smoked pot I went head to head against another girl taking bong hits–somehow I was trying to prove my coolness. I almost checked myself into a mental institution that night because I thought I was going crazy. No, pot was never really my idea of a good time.
Still, the thought of just walking into a store and buying it intrigued me. No hiding it, no fear of police—just a legal transaction like buying beer in a grocery store. Hard to fathom. Actually kind of historical. So I went along with my friend Pam.
"I bet half of my neighbors are driving down the road right now looking at us," I said nervously to Pam in the parking lot. "And here I am wearing the brightest yellow jacket. I look like a traffic light! Everyone will notice!"
Stone Age Pharmacy, like many of the storefront weed shops sprouting up across town, is centrally located on the busiest street in my neighborhood. Just then a passing car honked.
"Oh my god! See!" I shouted. "That's probably my next-door neighbor or something!" I couldn't shake the idea that I was doing something illicit.
"Who cares?" Pam blithely responded. "It's legal now!"
"Easy for you to say," I said. "You don't live in this neighborhood." In fact, the town council in Pam's suburb is busily trying to ban all marijuana dispensaries from doing business there.
We opened the door to the shop and stepped inside. I don't know what I expected to see, but what I did see was a great disappointment. It looked a lot like a doctor's office, just a plain white room with a couple of chairs and a plate of chocolate chip cookies on a table.
"Can I help you?" a young woman said from behind a sliding window in the wall.
"Yes," Pam replied. "We're here to check out your shop." I smiled politely.
"Of course," the young woman said. "Can I see your IDs please?"
"IDs?" Pam said. "We need IDs? Don't we look at least 21?" We were 58 and 57, respectively.
"Yes," she replied. "But we still need to see your IDs before we can let you in. Sorry, it's the law."
Denied. Wow. Here I'd braved the potential curiosity of my neighbors, possibly their criticism, definitely their gossip, and I didn't even get into the inner sanctum where you can actually view the wares. I was deeply disappointed. I had planned to ask all sorts of questions: Is there a difference between the types of pot? Can you request a type that doesn't make you paranoid? Can you ask for the kind that makes everything seem really funny but wears off quickly before your kids get home for the night? But instead, denied. We turned our backs and started to leave the shop. Just then, the door to the inner sanctum opened. I looked up, curious to see who had made it through to successful purchase.
"WHAT?" I stared at the tall young man exiting the door.
"WHAT?!" He stared back at me.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?" we both asked at the same time. It was my 24-year-old son's best friend, Tom, walking out the door of the inner sanctum with a small bag of marijuana in his hand. "I'm just here doing research," I stammered. "It's so strange, you know? Just the idea that you can walk into a place and buy pot. I wanted to see it for myself." I stumbled through my explanation, feeling my face grow hot and sweat begin to drip.
"Yeah, yeah," he replied. "You don't have to explain anything to me. I know EXACTLY what you're doing here, Mrs. Salmon!" His eyes glinted. I knew he couldn't wait to get on his phone and start texting people, beginning with my son.
I shrugged. My, how the world has changed, I thought. A few years ago, he'd be the one in trouble, or at the least, embarrassed, to be seen buying pot. But now I'm the one in the awkward situation—a middle-aged mother of three, and an elementary school teacher to boot, caught in a weed shop. And I couldn't even look at the weed, much less buy it. It's a strange new world out here in Portland, Oregon. Pam and I left the shop and immediately burst into laughter. It felt like we were high.