In Maryland, cannabis legalization is complicated—plus, a few weed reviews

What would have been the final meeting of 2019 by the The Maryland General Assembly’s Marijuana Legalization Workgroup was cancelled on Tuesday. In case you don’t remember, the workgroup announced last month they would not be making any recommendations for legalization in the next legislative session, though the workgroup is still supposed to report their overall findings by the end of the year. In other words, cannabis legalization can wait.

The workgroup’s argument last month was pretty much, “well, legalization is kind of complicated.” And because they intend to do it properly and equitably and not perpetuate the racial disparities that have marred the legal cannabis businesses in states that have already made it legal, they need more time. Namely, they want to locate a way to introduce what are ostensibly, cannabis reparations: using tax revenue generated by cannabis sales to work toward undoing some of the harm done to the Black community caused by decades of the drug war and to reverse some of the disparities already seen when it comes to who can make money off of legal weed.

While the state of Maryland figures out how to do cannabis legalization “right,” people continue to have their lives jammed up due to weed arrests (and those people are primarily, disproportionately, Black). Here’s the thing: There are models for legalization done the way Maryland says it wants to do it already. 

Last month, the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois made national headlines when it announced that reparations would be at the center of its use of cannabis sales-related tax money (in Evanston around 70% of the people arrested for cannabis were Black; in Baltimore, between the years of 2015-2017, 96% of the people arrested for cannabis were Black). At the end of May, Illinois passed the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, which made cannabis legal in the state, and included a “social equity provision” that would expunge the records of those with cannabis charges and prioritize Black business owners when it came to growing licenses. In other words, a lot of the things the Marijuana Legalization Workgroup said it hasn’t quite figured out how to do or fund have been figured out in Illinois.

While there wasn’t anybody in Annapolis on Tuesday digging deep on weed, cannabis was a small part of that day’s Joint Committee on Fair Practices and State Personnel Oversight’s hearing. Among the topics,  “Use of Medical Cannabis and Consideration for State Employment,” with commentary from those responsible for overseeing the drug-testing of state employees.

“Medical cannabis is treated just like any other prescription medication,” said Cindy Kollner, executive director of the Department of Budget and Management’s Office of Personnel Services and Benefits. In short, if you have a medicinal cannabis card, then it won’t be a problem for employment.

There are exceptions though, tied to employees subject to U.S. Department of Transportation regulations. Even if that kind of employee has a prescription, they can still be deemed unable to perform their job if they test positive for pot. Meanwhile, if “safety sensitive” employees—those responsible for the safety of others basically—test positive, they can produce their prescription and there would be a meeting between the employee and the medical review officer where that positive test would be changed to negative without consequence. Kollner explained that since 2018 there have been just, “15 instances of drug tests involving medical cannabis,” an incredibly small number.

Watching the hearing, I thought about how cannabis should be entirely removed from drug testing. And there is a “moral” component to drug testing that never made sense but really doesn’t make sense anymore. Unless someone is clearly under the influence at work, we should not worry about what they are doing in their spare time, medicinal use or not (also all drug use I would argue could be defined as, “medicinal”). As cannabis reporter Amanda Chicago Lewis explained years ago, “a functional marijuana breathalyzer,” is what is needed—if anything is needed at all—and there isn’t one. All testing positive for pot means is you smoked weed at some point in the past few months. Putting “drug exceptionalism” (the bogus idea that some drugs are more “respectable” to use than others) aside for the moment, what could an employer possibly glean from knowing an employee uses cannabis, which is legal in 10 states (plus Washington, D.C.), is prescribed medicinally in Maryland, and is decriminalized here?

This boring meeting seemed profound to me. Like Baltimore’s laws, where cannabis is decriminalized and medicinal exists, but you can still be arrested for possession but the State’s Attorney claimed they won’t charge you for possession, drug testing for cannabis creates a hot mess—a new grey expanded because the state cannot commit to legalization. The joint Committee on Fair Practices and State Personnel Oversight was not as moved. When it was time for questions, the committee had none.

Finally, it seems as though if the legislature is not going to figure out cannabis legalization on their own, then they have the legal weed business to help do it for them—and maybe wine and dine them while they think it through.

On Tuesday night, cannabis brand Select held an invite-only event at the Sagamore Pendry Hotel, “to meet with local elected officials, industry advocates, grassroots organizations and thought leaders currently spearheading the efforts to legalize recreational cannabis in Maryland.” Among those listed as attending were Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and Senator Jill Carter. 

There was no panel or speaker or anything like tht, just a happy hour and dinner afterwards, and in between, some time for “open dialogue.” Select, which is based on the West Coast but is now selling products in Washington, D.C. dispensaries, has established a nonprofit arm called The Possible Plan focused on “equitable access” and “reparatory justice” surrounding weed. Into next year, Select will even host some expungement clinics. The company clearly sees the racial reckoning the country must do with cannabis as part of the pitch on making it legal here.

Yours truly was invited to the Sagamore Pendry pot chat but I did not attend because at its core, this was essentially a lobbying event, even if it is lobbying for a cause I unabashedly support. I’m really not sure what to make of a pro-legalization, woke weed mixer at Kevin Plank’s fancy hotel not long after the legislature has pretty much preemptively announced it will be kicking the can on legalization. Well, onto the reviews. (Brandon Soderberg)

Purple Mindfuck

Photo by Brandon Soderberg

We must begin with this noxious, goofy-ass name. We’re in straight-up sleaze territory with this Alaska-originated Indica/Sativa hybrid combining Peyote Purple and Thunder Fuck Mountain (TFM) called Purple Mind Fuck — a combination of words and associations conveying the vibe of say, some flyover state morning shock jock wearing Affliction gear and giving away free Five Finger Death Punch tickets (which he would call “tix”): DRUGS! SOMETHING LOUD! THE WORD “FUCK”! EDGY! Oh boy. This strong and singular strain though has little to do with any of that and is instead a tad psychedelic, unmooring most of what’s around you, which is at first terrifying and exciting after that and lastly, curiously calming (THC’s at 28 percent here).

I guess all of that might constitute a “mind fuck” but dear G-d, let’s try and find another way of saying it. There’s an essay in writer and filmmaker Hito Steyerl’s 2012 book “The Wretched of the Screen” titled “In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective” that discusses (among other things) this idea that our present moment lacks (metaphorical) solid ground in most ways that matter and with that, a lack of linearity, which means we are all in a sort of figurative free fall.

Maybe the best way to think of this is the disassociative jumble of the internet (better yet, the endless, depressing scroll of Netflix) but it also has to do with “alternative facts” and generally, postmodernism getting a little too postmodern for most of us, leaving us with little to firmly wrap our minds around. “With the loss of horizon also comes the departure of a stable paradigm of orientation, which has situated concepts of subject and object, of time and space, throughout modernity,” Steyerl writes. “In falling, the lines of horizon shatter, twirl around, and superimpose.”

Well, Purple Mind Fuck does something like that to you. It eliminates the horizon, it extracts you from wherever you are and leaves you indefinitely hanging — “in free fall,” which can feel dramatic and scary or like nothing is happening at all. Purple Mind Fuck’s effects snuck up on me and I only got the latter. Frozen, hit with a Zen-ish joy celebrating our awful colonial holiday, I was in the moment, and then a series of associations hung in the air, never quite connecting, a cut-rate clarity that gave way to a chaotic mind spew brought on mostly by a decrease in anxiety I imagine.
I didn’t mind letting my mind fly and maybe even sounding a bit like a dumbass. Usually you understand a heavy high like this in terms of plateaus or phases, but this is more like a maze (Steyerl again: “The horizon quivers in a maze of collapsing lines and you may lose any sense of above and below, of before and after, of yourself and your boundaries”). A high you wander with, an incontinent, beatific buzz. (BS)

  • Strength: 9
  • Nose: Lemongrass
  • Euphoria: 9
  • Existential dread: 2
  • Freaking out when a crazy person approaches you: 2
  • Drink pairing: An IPA
  • Music pairing: Premiata Forneria Marconi’s “Per Un Amico”
  • Rating: 8

Hurkle

Photo by Baynard Woods

The prohibition of cannabis did unmistakable and almost unfathomable harm. And yet the outlaw nature of its consumption also created a confederation of consumers, an underground band of brothers and sisters who partook. When you discovered that an old friend or family member was a toker, a renewed clandestine bond formed between you. Because it was illegal, you had to have some small degree of trust in the people you toked with.

I learned that early on when I and three other guys who were burners, but not real buddies, got pulled over by the cops ditching school and burning bowls. We were driving by the school parking lot when we got stopped and everyone was out at lunch, so it was a very public affair. I was driving and the other three guys, who were pals with each other, blamed everything on me. I went to jail. They did not.

Now that jail is no longer such a worry, one would hope that the clandestine love that one used to feel could extend to the whole world and we could share in some communal merriment. Ha. As I recently reported in the The Baffler, even the boss right-wing propaganda outlet Sinclair has gotten into the bud business.

Still, a lot of people feel a certain sense of community with other consumers and, like gardeners or winemakers, like to share their wares. The problem is, some folks only like to accept a toke after they’ve been drinking or are in some social situation and they’re not used to it and it turns out bad.

Because so many strains are so much more potent than they used to be, a strong toke off a high-THC strain, or a nearly pure THC pen, might leave an unsuspecting friend wigging out, as it were. Hurkle is an ideal house-bud to keep around for such occasions. The roughly 1:1 CBD-to-THC ratio keeps things chill in this hybrid of Harlequin — a CBD-heavy, Sativa-y strain — and Querkle, a hard-hitting Indica variety. The CBD relaxes and uplifts while the Indica calms and soothes, and the overall effect is a pleasant, classic high. It won’t blow your mind or push you too far in any one direction, neither drooling on the couch nor scrubbing the grout between your tiles, but going about your business of leisure or medication in a smooth, eminently palatable way.

Likewise, this strain isn’t particularly beautiful to look at, though the nicely formed buds are fine and bright green, covered with white and red hairs, and its nose is not particularly pronounced, with subtle but overall pleasant hints of coffee and minty toothpaste. If Hurkle were a president, it would be Barack Obama — a winning moderate who still seems dangerous and communistic to certain factions who imagine radical leanings. But after seeing folks get as paranoid as Rudy Giuliani or Devin Nunes on some super strains, Hurkle is what you need in your weed cabinet, if not on your presidential ticket. If it were jazz, it would be Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” something even your non-jazzbo buds might get down with, but no less great for all that. (Baynard Woods)

  • Strength: 3
  • Nose: Coffee and mint toothpaste
  • Euphoria: 5
  • Existential Dread: 0
  • Freaking out when a crazy person approaches you: 1
  • Music pairing: Miles Davis, ‘Freddie Freeloader’
  • Drink Pairing: A Pilsner
  • Rating: 9

Sour Cheese

Photo by Brandon Soderberg

A mix of Cheese and Sour Diesel, Sour Cheese is a 60 percent Sativa, 40 percent Indica hybrid and, well, it feels like that and not much more. Which is to say, you’re in for a break-even sort of high: You’ll get sleepy but won’t be able to go to sleep, and its calming effects will leak through your body, like you’re being poisoned by Zen-like chill, making existing easier, though hardly enhanced.

It’s so much of a social weed that I lost track of what it was doing when I went out after smoking some to see a very intimate noise show involving Attorneys General at Fadensonnen. A show like that? Its context can be a bit anxiety-inducing, like, 20 dude-ers who look like me sitting or standing and allowing glacial guitars to build, build, build and never crescendo for 45 minutes all like, yesssssss — it is both nearly spiritual and completely ridiculous.

Smoking Sour Cheese reduced that anxiety and let me enjoy the show and ignore its trappings (and the trappings-within-trappings that get me thinking too much). At the same time, you want weed to enhance music a little — especially formless, cacophonous improvisation — and enable your ears to better peel back the six to 10 sounds screeching, squiggling and squonking, and Sour Cheese did not do that at all.

For such a sensory-averse high, Sour Cheese is visceral in all the ways that only matter when they’re bad. The color is nearly neon — like a light green highlighter — and in your grinder it looks like shredded Brussels sprouts (or “Brussel sprouts” as most of us have been calling them our whole lives), which is a useful way of understanding this strain’s ultimately limited appeal: Like Brussels sprouts, it is an acquired taste, contingent upon a lot of context and how it is prepared. I mean, the smell is bad — burnt, like when you were a kid and you vigorously erased something with one of those big pink erasers and you could inhale the friction.

The other smell here is a touch of Parmesan (the way good cheese smells bad) and then when you’re smoking, like you set an eraser on fire, just a gnarly whiff you don’t want near your nose. It’s all the more confusing because hidden inside Sour Cheese’s smell is Sour Diesel’s incredibly familiar one, so here you get a kind of twisted, contorted — soured! — version of something that veteran smokers know on a nearly Proustian level.

The smell lingers even as its high is long gone. When I got home from the show, Sour Cheese was still there in my apartment, its cacophony of gross holding on. And what was left of its stench about four hours after smoking was, sorry dear readers—diarrhea—like someone really going through it had used my bathroom hours earlier. Acidic, awful, and weirdly intimate. I was grossed out. I smoked more and then I didn’t mind. It’s hard to care much about —or for— this strain. (BS)

  • Strength: 6
  • Nose: Parmesan, turds (sorry)
  • Euphoria: 7
  • Existential dread: 2
  • Freaking out when a crazy person approaches you: 2
  • Drink pairing: Basque cider
  • Music pairing: Mirror’s “Die Spiegelmanufaktur”
  • Rating: 6

Lemon Meringue

Photo by Baynard Woods

Some strains seem to sit quietly, somewhere in your bones, radiating out a kind of warmth that ends up enveloping a lot of the world, creating a kind of halo or aura of highness. The similarities between stonedness and beatitude have often been discussed. Back as a high school stoner, I fell into “The Tao of Pooh, which used Winnie the Pooh to explain the tenets of Taoism. From there, “The Tao of Physics” and finally to the “Tao-Te-Ching” itself.

Being high can and does provide glimpses of that state of at-one-ment with the world, even if it manifests with the kind of caricaturish laid-back-ness of the Dude Lebowski. It’s an important glimmering in one’s life, the recognition that we are all in this together. On the darker side, anyone who tries to do anything personally to help in our environmental crisis realizes that individual action, unless addressed at policy, can’t make a dent in the problem.

But then there is the reverse that also comes along with forays into cannabis: the crushing sense of self-consciousness, where the aura of stonedness points back on yourself and makes you feel like everyone is watching you, like anything you say will be dumb, like you cannot even move.

Lemon Meringue toes the line between these two poles in an unpredictable way, but it never goes to too great an extreme in either direction. Still, one time, I was blissing out on the world, and the next, castigating myself in an orgy of recrimination that ended in an exhausted slop.

Which is the other thing about this strain. It’s got kind of a hard crash that is precipitated by a lack of awareness of your surroundings and yourself. I walked in from lunch, after smoking the Meringue and I allowed the apartment door to slam in my wife’s face and then didn’t even hear when she knocked. It wasn’t like being drunk — I didn’t lose motor skills or whatever — but I just wasn’t aware.

And as I write this, I am starting to doze off under the effect of the sharp, hollow citrus of Lemon Meringue. People used to put orange or apple peels in their weed to keep it damp. I thought it made it gross, but that’s what this is like — someone put a slightly rotted apple soaked in a lemon-scented cleaning product in the bag. I know that doesn’t sound great, but I don’t mean it entirely negatively. But smelling it can be almost overwhelming, like smelling salts or ether

I’ve never had the dessert that lent this strain its name, but I imagine it shares some of these qualities — either a sense of community with those you share it with, or a desire to have more of it yourself, followed by a sugary rush and then a nap. (BW)

  • Strength: 6
  • Nose: Apple peel soaked in lemon cleaner
  • Euphoria: 6
  • Existential dread: 8
  • Freaking out when a crazy person approaches you: 4
  • Drink pairing: Limoncello
  • Music pairing: Alejandro Escovedo’s “Outlaw for You”
  • Rating: 5

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