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A Streetlevel View of Legal Pot - Elf M. Sternberg
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A Streetlevel View of Legal Pot
I'm not David Brooks, but allow me for a moment to extrapolate from two encounters with marijuana users I've had in the past twenty-four hours.

I stopped at a convenience store to pick up a soda pop; I was thirsty, and had been more or less "good" all day about my diet, and it was promising to be a long night ahead. While I was browsing the aisles, two women, one black and one latino, stood aside while a third woman, who was white, negotiated with the store manager for the purchase of what I thought she called "a hunter's scale." I had no idea what that was. The two other women, interested onlookers of some sort, were discussing the merits of slapping their child, especially the different effects it has on boys rather than girls. All three had the rough look, but the racial mix was fascinating; it was the kind of thing you see on a poster for "These are the women your charity helps" sort of thing.

I found the soda I wanted and walked back to the counter. She was still negotiating, but as she stood there, she said, "I can't tell, I think it's just a tenths scale, but I wanted a hundreths scale." Ah, I had mis-heard. "Can you tell?" she asked me.

On the counter was a tiny box about the size of a cell phone. She was weighing her earrings on it. "It's all about where the dot is. Everything left goes up, everything right goes down. Left: Ones, tens, hundreds of grams. Right, tenths. And then hundredths, if there was room for another number, but there's not. That scale only measures tenths."

"Well, that's not what we want," said one of the other women. "That won't tell us if the dispensary is ripping us off or not."

"Oh, I'm sure they are," said the woman at the counter. "You go ahead," she told me. "I'm gonna see if I can find a hundreths scale over there."

The second was a bit of voyeurism. She was one of those people whose overall affect announces, with some curious pride, that she was overfed and undereducated. She spent the entire bus ride on her phone, talking to her beau. "I'm so glad you're out, baby. I'll see you after work. Eight months is way too long to wait, I don't want to see you end up back there again. I don't know why we keep getting into so much trouble. I spent time in there, too, I know how bad it can get. But after work today, I got the rolling papers. I got my dispensary card. Hell, yes. I told some doctor I was all stressed out and had this pain in my neck and shoulder and shit, and he just gave me the note, and the place across the street hooked me up that same day."

I have, I hope, a bit of empathy for people who live on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. I have no illusions that my comfortable upper-middle class existence is anything but contingent on several happy accidents, the first of which involves being born white, male, and to parents who could afford to have me comprehensively educated. (A moral education took a lot longer, frankly.) I understand, to some extent, the way my privileges give me the free time and extra bandwidth necessary to plan my day and look further forward than my next meal or my next bed. Or my next drink, for that matter.

Yet between the conversation about the efficacy of smacking children, the socioeconomic costs of marijuana consumption, and the deception implied by that "... and shit" in the latter's conversation, and it feels to me as if both our culture and marijuana have a long way to go before the needs of real human beings are being met with something other than involuntary ignorance, bread, wine, and circuses from the cradle to the grave.

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