The Evolution Of Cannabis Culture In Washington D.C.

My experience at a D.C. cannabis rally exposed me to an ideological shift in real time.

Somewhere along the H Street corridor, a group, who shall remain nameless, put on a good cannabis event. It was the first one I’d ever been too, and it was definitely the first of its kind in the District.

But to a graduate of the 1990s D.A.R.E program, and being from the Midwest, this event marked how things have changed in this country. Even with my pro-legalization, progressive attitude towards cannabis, the event highlighted a time and place I never expected to find myself. Of course, I’d gone to parties where cannabis was being consumed, but those parties where different. They existed solely behind closed doors, hidden from the long arm of law.

This event was also behind closed doors too, but it wasn’t necessarily illegal. It took place in a private residence and IDs were checked at the door, so it was just private. There were even police officers just hanging out, watching people go into the event but taking no further interest.

For those of you who are in the know, you’re aware of the cannabis rules in D.C, Whatever you do, money cannot change hands, which puts the distribution of cannabis in a legal gray area. No THC-infused products were being bought and sold at the event, but there were tables full of edibles liberally being handed out inside.

And, yes, large piles of flower were smoked, free of charge. Well, the event wasn’t completely free. We did have to bring a minimum of three perishable items for a food drive. It was the weekend before Thanksgiving, so most people brought far more than the required amount.

While queuing out on the street before the venue, I chatted with people from various parts of the District (where it’s legal to have and consume cannabis while off of federally designated land) and Maryland and Virginia (both still criminalize recreational consumption). Some had traveled a few hours to attend and were more than willing to share stories. Everyone was of the mind that legalization was a good thing.

Whatever my expectations, I was not mentally prepared for the separate world I entered when I finally stepped off the sidewalk, through the door, and into an alternate reality. Walking in, I was handed several edibles, which I deftly secured in my bag for later use. There was a familiar smell wafting through the room, but with the volume of people inside, it was impossible to see from where it was coming. Since curiosity was the case, I made like water and slipped through partygoers to the back room. Yes, the smell was definitely emanating from here.

Unsure of what to do at first, I observed other partygoers holding up joints that seemed to appear out of thin air. Slipping further through the crowd, I noticed a table in the back, where one of the organizers was dumping piles of flower out on a table and handing it out.

A shorter gentleman in a suit to my right turned to me and asked what was going on, and then it dawned on me, “They’re doling pot to anyone who has a pipe or can roll a joint,” I said to him. “Holy shit,” he breathed, shaking his head in disbelief, “I can roll a joint!”

Holy shit, indeed.

That’s right about where my reality slipped from one place and transitioned to another. Here, in the tiny back room of this building, American society was shifting.

People from various socio-economic stratums had come together, despite their differences, to share in a mutual love: pot. Regardless of how our disparate philosophies, politics, or life experiences separated and divided us, no one cared at that moment. None of that was on the discussion table as all available space was taken up with a newly legalized substance (and many of its tasty derivatives). Standing in that packed backroom, it was impossible not to politely bump into someone while either passing a joint or a bowl, or receiving one. It was probably the euphoric effects of the THC, but still, I knew what this place was: a real melting pot (pun intended). Something important was going on.

All around me, there was nothing but excited conversation and smiling faces. Within the first 25 minutes, everyone was enveloped in dense, vast cloud that had, by the very magic that people claim it has, transformed all of us strangers into one cohesive, connected thought: this event was fucking crazy. No, that’s not it. Maybe it was something more profound? Whatever that cohesive thought was, we were all enjoying the legal grey area in which we were standing, consuming cannabis without fear of legal repercussions. There was palpable relief in the air, a collective sigh of relaxation.

The gathering went off without a hitch and without any arrests. Everyone I ran into left the event euphoric and slightly more slap happy than when they went in. However, after an hour inside, I had to make an exit. Other people were waiting outside and I didn’t want to be selfish, just consuming without giving others a chance to experience the event. Besides, I needed to clear my head.

Walking back the way I’d come, I contemplated the event and what it meant. No doubt, the thoughts I had walking down the street seemed more profound than they actually were, but there they were.

Giving myself time to decompress, I headed over to the National Mall where they were having a protest against the War on Drugs, called “Catharsis on the Mall.” In my heightened state of consciousness, I figured it would be a fitting way to close out the night and reflect on the injustices that prohibition still causes throughout the world.

Originally published