We all hold our breath when we see him walk in. MAGA-hatted with a Duck Dynasty-style beard and an ill-fitting T-shirt emblazoned with a grimacing bald eagle, he lumbers into the dispensary, star-spangled face mask dangling uselessly over his chins. "Gimme the cheap ounce of your strongest in-dee-cah," he'll grumble before handing over his ID or making any effort to acknowledge the budtender standing before him.
Our business is conducted brusquely in silence as both of our frowns are covered, and then I'll send him on his merry way back to the neighboring red state where he lives, where he'll presumably be breaking the law by bringing weed across state lines. Everyone exhales a collective sigh of relief when the Trumpster (and the like-minded cohort he can bring along) leaves. Yet our rage lingers for hours.
How can someone who signals his allegiance to the ostensible party of law and order with his very headwear avail himself of freedoms that he didn't vote to earn and his chosen representatives have fought to take away? How do these men — who tacitly support the worst abuses of the War on Drugs and explicitly support a president who's exploited fear of drug traffickers as a smokescreen to separate migrant families and lock children in cages — not get it? How can they so nakedly flout federal law without the slightest fear of comeuppance or twinge of sympathy for victims of police brutality?
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My fellow budtenders and I receive daily instructions to avoid thorny conversations, but my heart sinks when I get stuck serving the dregs of Trump's constituency. The company-wide mandate was especially difficult during the height of protests erupting in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder; due to concerns of property destruction, my store installed protective plywood barriers over the glass-framed entrance.
People mistaking our boarded-up windows as some sort of statement against the protests was a common occurrence. "Are y'all locked up because of the idiots downtown?" customers would ask. I'd stifle my knee-jerk response of "Oh, do you mean the overwhelmingly peaceful protesters who were greeted by a militarized police force that tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed, and violently suppressed activists for the non-crimes of leading chants or playing violins?"
I'm not suggesting that dispensaries should categorically eschew potential customers for insufficient wokeness; I'm trying to get through to Republican stoners here. While I concede that it's highly unlikely that most with differing opinions will even read this article past the title, I still hold on to the hope that somehow a shared love of sticky green could inspire empathy for the disproportionately black and Latino people still suffering the consequences of the prohibition we voted into obsolescence — or, better yet, an acknowledgement that cannabis legalization represents just one small step in what must be a comprehensive reckoning with the abuses of the justice system.
At its best, cannabis fosters a shared sense of well-being, creating an unspoken unity between smokers from sometimes vastly different cultures. But should everyone really be welcome in the smoke circle? If you're actively engaged in oppressing the rights of people who look or love differently than you do, then I'm not passing you my joint, and I resent having to sell weed to you. It's easy to forget now that dispensaries have established themselves as essential businesses, but Colorado's cannabis industry was a hard-won victory for activists, protesters and civilly disobedient smokers who collectively triumphed over the opposition or apathy of most elected representatives.
Yet the history of the movement seems altogether lost upon the multitude of customers who've seemingly compartmentalized their smoking habits and right-wing politics. While fomenting drug war hysteria has historically been a bipartisan effort — Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, has a long record of support for onerous criminal justice legislation and continues to waffle on the issue of federal legalization — the Trump administration is gearing up to remove previous medical marijuana protections from its 2021 budget plan, undoing the progress that voters fought hard to make. Perhaps Trump's newfound zeal for the bad old days of cannabis prohibition can be chalked up to his long-held belief that smoking weed makes you dumb, or perhaps it's part of his uncritical embrace of law enforcement.
Furthermore, what about my trans co-workers or colleagues who've immigrated into this country? Are they supposed to serve a man who signals his complicity in the suppression of their rights with a smile? After all, red hats that say "Make America Great Again" represent far more than a fondness for unsightly campaign swag; the hats are nothing less than a wearable act of trolling, a hostile message to anyone who falls outside the blindingly white vision of traditional America that their rhetoric purports to reclaim.
Apolitical venture capitalists and retired Republicans like former Speaker of the House John Boehner may attempt to cash in early on the growing recreational weed industry, yet their hypocrisy is laid bare by a lack of tangible support for anyone with the misfortune of getting caught selling weed before selling weed evolved into a legally recognized career with hourly wages and health benefits.
Cannabis centers aren't immune from hypocrisy, either. Most of Colorado's major recreational cannabis companies have released delicately phrased social media statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, but they've done so in a hothouse political climate that has rendered such statements safer than silence from a public-relations standpoint.
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Yet the majority of recreational pot providers are leaving their monetary and political capital unspent. There's arguably no industry better poised to wholeheartedly dedicate itself to meaningful police reform. Adopting sections of highway in the name of cannabis companies may provide a vital service for motorists — along with prime advertising to a traffic-bound demographic — but dispensaries dedicating their dollars and publicity apparatuses toward the cause of criminal justice reform would signal a much more profound commitment to the spirit that made the industry possible.
While a new law permitting Governor Jared Polis to pardon the criminal records of non-violent offenders unlucky enough to be sentenced for possession or trafficking prior to 2013 heralds an encouraging, if long overdue, development, the sobering fact remains that errant police officers don't even require the pretext of cannabis possession as an excuse to snuff out a young black life. The tragic, yet so far legally sanctioned, murder of Elijah McClain is merely the most recent and locally relevant example of a systemic pattern of violence against people of color by the public servants assigned to serve and protect them — that's why it's so infuriating for budtenders to serve their bootlickers with a smile.
If you walk into my store adorned in wearable hate speech and reeking with the sort of hypocritical law-scoffing that only white privilege could make possible, I hope that every hit of green you inhale turns to ash in your mouth, and the edibles make you freak out enough to question your corrupted ideology. If you're reaping the rewards of recreational weed yet support police departments in their deadly war against walking in public while black, I hope at the very least you know that the budtenders who begrudgingly serve you join a collective chorus of shit-talk right as you walk out the door.
Before 2016, one might ascribe fundamental political differences to good-faith disagreements, but these days Republican affiliation signifies far more than a good-faith disagreement over policy. To identify as a Republican in 2020 is to pledge allegiance to atrocities perpetrated both on the border and in local municipalities, to align oneself with deniers of pandemic and climate science. No matter how entrenched you are in your right-wing media echo chamber, there's no strain of weed strong enough to unscramble the cognitive dissonance between your weed indulgence and the moral cowardice of your beliefs.