APHoCiC #2 – “Romancing the Stone”

Welcome to our next stop, phase 2. These first three installments of the series all take place at a point in my life before I smoked pot – grade school and junior high. In APHoCiC #1, I looked back the first time I saw cannabis in a movie. As you might remember reading, I didn’t know what it actually was until I was told. I’m sure there were several movies where it just flew under my little-kid-radar completely. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. So in this entry, I look at “Romancing the Stone,” where now I know what I don’t know … I know what cannabis is [in a story], but I don’t know quite what it means … like a word perfectly placed in a Mad Lib, even though I don’t know the definition of that word … get it?

Before, I said ‘are those dots?’; but after a few years of watching “Romancing the Stone,” I was connecting the dots. Beginning, to connect the dots.

Also, I had been watching the two movies in this blog post for years, before I noticed their cannabis content. It wasn’t until I came back to them years later – having learned what getting stoned was – that I realized what was really going on with those characters, and the how that moves the story along.

So let’s jump right in – 43 minutes in, to be exact – to the swashbuckling rom-com “Romancing the Stone.” Our heroine (romance novelist Joan Wilder, played by Kathleen Turner) has eluded her captors for the time being, but now she’s stuck wading through a very rainy rain forest in equatorial Colombia, trailing behind the hopefully expert leadership of Jack T. Colton (played by Michael Douglas). Soaked to the bone, with no sign of any trail, they happen upon the fuselage of a downed airplane – a dry spot to set up camp for the night, and wait out this torrential rain.

Exploring the fuselage’s darkened interior, they make their cautious way up to the cockpit, to find the pilot’s corpse draped over the yoke (steering wheel). Across its back are the readably emblematic words ‘Grateful Dead.’ (The first time I’d heard that phrase, which left me scratching my head.) The next shot is of Jack making a fire, tossing bricks of – what ?! – export marijuana. Kilo upon kilo of Colombian Gold, beh-beh – the best! “Now that’s what I call a campfire,” he smugly jests, as he leans back, tranquilo and kicking off his boots after a long day.

What caught my attention here was an intellectual conundrum I had around Joan Wilder’s grammar. Because when she sees Jack – yes, making a fire – but also making a ton of smoke, in a relatively enclosed space, she grimaces. He notices. She tells him she knows what it is. “You smoke it?” Jack asks her. And this is where I got caught. She responds with a shrug and “I went to college.”

In my 10 year-old brain, I couldn’t figure out if that meant she learned about marijuana in some advanced health class in college … or that she smoked it while she was a student in college. Was smoking pot in college some sort of … rite of passage or development? Hearing her say it that way, did it mean that everybody smoked/smokes pot in college – or that you study what marijuana is, in the classes you take? Which was it? My ideas of what college was [remember those?] were quite young and under-informed. But I figured that Teenagers had sex in high school … sooooo, maybe when they get one stop closer to adulthood, they … do their drugs at college … ? … I didn’t know. And I would lay on the couch, a pleasantly puzzled 10 year-old, wondering if she meant one thing, or the other.

As a film sequence, it’s soft-spoken and unassuming. It’s also, in this podcaster’s humble opinion, one of the great [unheralded] pot-smoking scenes in cinema. First of all – it makes for a great scene to get stoned to. Campfire light, catching up on rock&roll in the latest Rolling Stone magazine. Take a load off, relax-recuperate-heal, reflect on where you’ve been and what lies ahead and where you want to go. That visionary state – of pensively considering one’s potential future[s] – is one that would eventually carry over to my own approach to smoking pot and getting stoned.

Contemplative vibez.

Honorable Mention – “Wargames” was another one of those movies that I watched 4 or 5 times in grade school, and then didn’t come back to it until my last year of college. By that time, I’d been smoking for several years. I thought I knew all the pot references in my parents’ home video library. But one Saturday morning I saw “Wargames” on the shelf and remembered Oh yeah, that’s a good one; I haven’t seen that in a little while. So I popped it in the VCR, rewound the tape, pressed play, and went to the bathroom. The opening credits were just a little bit of plot exposition, right … ? Since I already knew the movie, I didn’t mind missing a couple minutes of it.

A couple minutes later I’m exiting the bathroom and I hear the word “sinsemilla” come down the hall. I immediately perk up. I’d only heard that word used in one context. Sin – without, semilla – seed. The marijuana without seeds was prized as the prettiest, tastiest, and most potent. (This was gleaned from my pre-internet cannabis research). Did something get taped over “Wargames”? Something with pot in it? What new movie had pot in it? I darted back into the living room. Standing in between the couch and television, I recognized that this was indeed the opening to “Wargames” so I re-rewound it and watched as the familiar scene unravelled in front of my new eyes.

Out of the bluster of a windy snowstorm, two people enter a fully-furnished suburban home, toting large briefcases. They remove their heavy coats once inside what appears to be a well-kept – if slightly outdated – living room. As they hold their badges up to the hallway mirror, we see the other side of that [two-way] mirror, where our two characters are buzzed in, to a buzzing, peopled top-secret military post.

In a fortuitous case of human error/folly, it turns out our two entrants are late for a work shift (a clock the wall reads 5:10). Capt. Jerry Lawson* (played by a very pre-“West Wing” John Spencer) is getting ribbed for always being late – snowstorm or no snowstorm. Their small talk is peculiar in contrast to the immensity of all the blinking gadgets – all the wall-space is either a display screen or input switchboard of some sort – not to mention their revolvers whose chambers they spin-check in front of one another. And yet they converse lightly, alarmingly unseriously. Should people be so blase and chit-chatty under such consequential circumstances?

“See you in twenty four,” Lawson bids to a seated coworker, as he heads toward the elevator. “See you tomorrow.” Our two protagonists enter an elevator which takes them down, down, down. As the audience, we are slowly coming to realize that this is a missile silo – a secret, underground missile silo. This realization unfurls so satisfyingly (props to director John Badham and an Academy Award-nominated sound design team) that you would be forgiven for not realizing the subject of their workplace chit-chat, while riding the elevator down.

They’re talking about growing pot – specifically, Lawson is detailing how his dealer chants a Sanskrit mantra (om mani padme hum) for hours over the sprouting seeds of her upcoming crop. Does it work? Lawson boasts that she grows “the most beautiful wandoos you’ve ever seen.” (Ed. note – this is the first and only time I’ve ever heard the term ‘wandoo.’) Plus, he adds, to drive the point home, these plants wind up yielding “primo stuff. Resin city.” Primo? Resin? I know cannabis talk when I hear it.

After clearing a computerized security lock, a very, very thick door slowly opens and the previous team exits – again, ribbing our pot-loving missile commanders for their tardiness. Typical clocking-out crowd vs. clocking-in crowd interaction. Just as slowly but twice as loudly, the 4-ft. thick blast-door closes behind them. They are locking themselves inside a vault.

Their previous conversation continues, the thread picked up by Lt. Steve Phelps, the younger of the two – played by a baby-faced Michael Madsen in his second film role. “So, that was, like, sensemillia, right?” In response, Capt. Lawson re-mispronouces the term (it’s sensimilla – there’s no ‘l,’ no second ‘i’ and the double-l makes a ‘y’ sound). It was this articulation that had me poking my head in from the hallway. Leaving nothing to the imagination, Lawson opines “this grass makes Thai stick taste like oregano.” 20-year-old me’s mouth fell open. ho. lee. shit. That is what they’re talking about.

It’s difficult to stop talking about all the heady implications so artfully & enjoyably laid out over the next 90 minutes. So that’s it for the cannabis references. But if you’d like to entertain some discussion of the weightier topics, philosophies and artistic choices of the filmmakers, then please – read on.

Turns out they are Air Force missileers, ever-vigilant, ever-ready to launch the nuclear warheads under their command, should they receive the proper signal. It’s worth noting that this opening 6 minutes is entirely viable as a short film, all on its own. It bears little stylistic resemblance to the rest of the movie – although thematically, it lays out the core thematic premises beautifully. At this point in the blog, I should point out, it’s very difficult to mention “Wargames” without explicating & exploring these premises.

I’m gonna try to fight that temptation.


I mean, this is a series about cannabis references, not sci-fi implications for humanity …

{oh shit, it’s starting}

{explosive exhale} The smallness of their small talk is expertly juxtaposed with the immensity of not only the byzantine military apparatus (of which these two men are mere cogs), but also the inconscionable magnitude of MutuallyAssuredDestruction. The secrets-of-your-stoniest-weed vibe is killed by a blinking warning light. the younger of the two, leuitenant Phelps notices this blinking and reports it to Capt. Lawson, who advises Phelps to “give it a thump with your finger”. The light stops blinking, everything returns to normal. You don’t have to know rank in order to see that one of these men issues orders, and one complies. It also pinpoints a burning question later posed more graphically – where is man to be placed in relation to machine? What do they really mean when they later discuss keeping men “in the loop” or “pulling them outta the loop” of our increasingly computerized military response / world?

But for now, it’s just a blooping glitch that is alleviated by human touch. The computers are larger than people, more powerful, but the humans control the computers. Right? I mean, a computer only does what it’s told,; I think.

Or is it a harbinger of something more? Their silence is broken by a clear warning alarm. They begin dutifully executing a precise course of action[s] – their near-syncopation illustrating that they have clearly been trained for this exact protocol. The men receive a launch code (from a human voice) and then enter that code into their computers, who confirm their codes, and coldly report that their “target selection is complete.”

At this point, as a viewer, I assumed this was one of those high-falutin’ cinema moves where you open with the ‘final’ scene, and then we watch what slowly leads up to that ending over the course of the movie. I mean, it looked like the end of the world was goin’ down, so … {hunches shoulders}.

The next move for our missileers is to enable the nuclear warheads – 10 total – by individually flipping a switch for each one, which each man does. At this point, a peculiar reversal has occured. Phelps is cool, smooth, efficient and precise. It is Lawson now, who manages to keep up with Philps but is visibly sweating. He appears to be considering something outside the silo, something larger than the immediate environment. Then it hits him – he needs to hear from an outside voice; not a procedure or a computer-generated directive. So he gets on a telephone and places a call.

Phelps, confusedly, reminds (just this side of admonishes) Capt. Lawson that what he is doing (seeking human confirmation) is “not the correct procedure.” Lawson, fully embodying human-ness and humanity, retorts “Screw the correct procedure; I want somebody on the phone before I kill 20 million people.” Phelps, adhering to an implied oath to follow the order [/procedure], fully completes the rank reversal. In perfect Chekovian fashion, we find out why those revolvers were issued & examined on the way in. As the pressure grows unbearable, the scene abrupty ends, leaving the audience to equally ponder both sides of well did he, or didn’t he?

The next scene, the first scene of the ‘movie’ we’ve all come to know & love, is the national security higher-ups arguing about what the previous scenario (played out amongst several silos, we learn; one in five refusing to turn their keys) means for them. It’s presumed amongst them that this was a ‘failure.’ Upon reflection, I personally would classify it as more of a victory – but moving on … … So they all agree something went wrong. The two camps are basically Gen. Beringer, calling for a revision of their psychological screening procedure; versus Dr. McKittrick, who takes the position of removing the men entirely, aptly stating “You can’t screen out human response.” Ironically, it might be McKittrick’s [uniquely human] hubris which leads him to this computers-only position – he cocreated the computer system which stands to command all the nuclear missile silos, should they go fully-automated (i.e. remove humans from the loop). McKittrick is not military, he cowrote gaming software, which the military bought and repurposed for running its nuclear arsenal: troop movements, shifting weather patterns, Soviet missile tests (this is 1983, remember). Technically, he’s a coder, a computer geek – his sense of military strategy is all theory. He’s never served. In a telling exchange, he argues that – in the case of a nuclear attack – we can’t afford to have people who “refuse to turn their keys when the computer tells them to.” His assistant quickly corrects “You mean when the president orders them to.” This notion, of one human in the loop (perhaps at the ‘top’ or ‘beginning’), seems agreeable to McKittrick.

The next scene continues the theme of human-machine interaction from NORAD to the local arcade. We began with adults and their serious arguing – now we see kids interacting with computers on their own terms, for fun, congregation and maybe a mind tickle or two, deciphering code in the language of hand/eye coordination. We can juxtapose how Lawson and Phelps touched their machines (flipping switches, typing, turning keys) versus how the youth touch theirs via joysticks and buttons. These are still wargames, in a way. They’re laser guns on spaceships and bombs of varying explosivity – or at least computer representations of such things. Which is another theme – reality versus its representation. McKittrick’s system (War Operation Program Response – WOPR) crunches numbers all day, approximating something reasonably close to reality. Let’s call it high-probability reality. But it has no human heart at its core. Just floating glitches, allowing humans the opportunity to ‘thump it with their finger’. It was when Spencer trusted his gut feeling – a human instinct which computers don’t have. He was correct – there was no Soviet attack. However, correctness was wrong, according the military apparatus. Ascertaining the situation correctly, has now officially become a liability. Which is why youthful game-brain (fun) is destined to beat adult strategy-brain (M.A.D.)

Children use technological advancement for fun. That’s probably why they are so often at the forefront of it’s trajectory. The pursuit of joy beats war & domination. Humans must stay in the loop; which means ‘human error’ must stay in the loop, as well.

So we see David Lightman – my personal first view of a ‘hacker’ – playing a wargame of Galaga. Most of the rest of the world is still wearing analog wristwatches in 1983, but David wears a digital watch – a small computer – which unfortunately, tells him he is late for class. Another character running late. Of note, in this blogger’s opinion, is David’s next gesture. In a single bodily motion, he hands the game off to another kid, younger than himself. This is the spiritual heart of the movie for me. Sharing, in the spirit of joy, passing fun along with no attachment to where it goes from there. Post-evaluative maneuvering. This spirit of bonhomie is what sets the youth apart from the adults. Their endeavors start off in opposite directions.

The class David is late for is Biology. The instructor is covering seed germination. (No, he does not recommend chanting om mani padme hum over them, but good remembering). The next topic discussed is asexual reproduction – talk about being taken ‘out of the loop,’ amIright? After an expert zing on his teacher, David is dismissed from class to the principal’s office to discuss his attitude. Here at the front desk, we see another security apparatus at work. Granted, the dutch door David passes through is not quite the 4′-thick blast-door we saw earlier in the silo, but it similarly delineates gate-keeping and privilege – past the front desk, into the inner sanctum of administrative authority. And also, where the password to the school district’s computer system is hidden. (Usually, you need to learn the password in order to get in; this time around, David needs to get in, in order to learn the password. Weird.) We see the list of expired passwords, crossed off, with the newest iteration at the bottom. I love that list. Computers are astoundingly secure, and yet they are no match for human ingenuity.

Next, we see two missileers out of a job, chairs removed, replaced by circuit-boards plugged straight into the walls of the silo. David eventually makes a WOPR out of his own personal computer system, in pursuit of the latest gaming software. {exhales, catches breath} So, I won’t take the whole movie beat by beat, and dissect it in order to unpack how all the themes are presented and addressed. That sounds like a novella-sized beast. The themes are actually refreshingly modern: the distancing effect of technology on warfare, the linking of videogames to military technology, youth outwitting a corrupt adult caste, where AI and humanity diverge. I even found myself wondering if Joshua the computer program was a character. Was NORAD?

Actually, there is one more pot reference, about halfway in. David’s been arrested by the FBI and locked inside a spare room in NORAD. Alone & essentially imprisoned, David brainiacs a way out, giving the electronic door-lock a solid MacGuyvering that includes, among other things, a hand-held tape recorder. To make sure the tape recorder works, David presses Play. It’s a doctor’s diagnosis. “Patient’s eyes are dilated, consistent with use of marijuana. And possibly PCP.” He presses stop. Like the rest of us, in so many ways, he’s heard enough.

Since I can’t think of any other character in NORAD who would be diagnosed, I presume it’s a diagnosis of David, and that he knew the tape recorder was in that drawer because that’s where he saw the in-house shrink put it after their hasty diagnosis. It does say a lot about how the cultural fears of the time are weaponized institutionally in the process of othering an ‘enemy,’ in this case a drug diagnosis for a State-threatening savant. At this point in the story, they’re convinced that he’s “working for the Russians.” The irony being that this allegedly dusted teenager just out-maneuvered every single one of them – to get to the WOPR.

Last interesting tidbit – The film’s writers (Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes) claim that the dialogue in the silo scene was written by their uncredited friend, named … … … Wally Green.
Okay – c’mon, guys.

Jerry Lawson

excellent essay

Episode 7 – Kelly G.

Thank you for coming by. Are we still in quarantine? Sheltering in place? Well, masks up – we’re heading out. Out to a lovely afternoon with a lovely photographer – sunny and green like a May afternoon in Portland, Oregon should be.

Kelly & I met at the afterparty for the National Cannabis Diversity & Awareness Conference (NCDAC). In conversation during the ride home, I realized the Kelly was a brainiac (and I mean that in the most affectionate way), which meant I could rely on her for good conversation.

This episode starts with an extended (almost 19-minute) introduction, starting off in summer 2019 – my favorite songs, the musicians who played them, and my gushing review of Broccoli magazine’s In Bloom festival. Things didn’t slow down in October, as I basked in wonderful speakers and side-splitting comedy. (All the names, dates, and locations are in the episode.) I turn serious for a couple minutes as I address a blunder I made in the intro to the previous episode – #6 with Mss_Oregon. Next, I lay out my intention to include consumption-site reviews, and list all the municipalities I would be open to visiting, should any of you generous listeners offer an invitation. Lastly, I shout-out the culture I’ve been vibing with: the books, the music, the movies and the podcasts I’ve been getting stoned to.

Then we launch off into the conversation I had with Kelly last May (2019), plus a couple short chirps from her cellphone notifications and a quick question from photographer Jacoby. First thing, we hear how Kelly self-identifies (21:25). This is the first of many synchronicities between the ambient sounds – in this case the construction crew working next door – and our conversation; as Kelly begins detailing her constructing of a new life since moving here, a drill audibly fires up next door. The first story Kelly shares (25:33) is her contribution to the MyFirstTime narrative – the time her big brother introduced her to smoking pot. Another humorous synchronicity at 24:25 – the nail gun next door starts popping off as Kelly describes her brother’s talents at MacGuyver-ing a pipe together out of disparate household components. That bubbling sound at 29 minutes is the beginning of our smoking.

At 36 minutes, Kelly begins our dialogic foray into visibility and normalization, and how that relates to shifting taboos of both queerness and cannabis. Shortly after (41:30), we unpack our opinions about what constitutes abuse of cannabis, which leads into an exploration of what cannabis helps her with (spontaneous ambient accompaniment – a large vehicle in the street releasing its airbrakes).

By the time we get to Is cannabis queer? (52:26) you know we’re in deep . Two closets; how similar are they? Kelly had only recently (when we recorded this) come out of both closets, and was still “new to being out and open.” After Kelly [the brainiac] flexes some etymology, she deduces that cannabis is queer because “it’s both peculiar and magical.” The 59:30 collective swoon of birdsong around us indicates some agreement.

Around the one hour mark, we poke around issues such as whether it is possible to keep gender & sexuality separate, and how we unlearn gendered affectations. Then, at 1:12:30 – I blow it. I misgender Kelly. Actually, it’s the third misgendering, if you listen close enough; but this is the one where I wave my hands in a ‘wait a minute’ gesture to address the elephant in the room – how tolerant do I expect Kelly to be with my speech habits. If you’ve ever wondered how to handle a misgendering, may I present exhibit A. Please, feel free to dissect our exchange. This is what my podcast is here for. As embarrassed and frustrated as I was once I caught myself doing it (in this case, ending my sentences with “, man.” “, dude.” and “, bruh.”) Kelly meets me with compassion. Plus, she invents the term ‘bro-ettes.’ This exchange – which I believe is the heart of this episode – leads into some talk about unconscious bias, which I distill into the assumption of “I’m always gonna act in accordance with my morals, right?”

We wind down easy with Kelly’s shout-outs. First up is the Q Center, a culturally, emotionally, and physically safe space for LGBTQ2SIA+ community. I apologize for the awkwardness when I express interest in visiting – Kelly handles me well. Her next shout-out is PopMob, where she met a lot of new friends in her new city. Then we fade out to birdsong and our closing theme.

Thanks for spending time with us. I hope you enjoy.

Rise wise.

A Personal History of Cannabis in Film – part 1

I never heard people talk about smoking pot when I was growing up. Nobody ever spoke about it – at least, not in any self-referential way. ‘Smoking pot’ was ‘doing drugs’ was ‘breaking the law’ was ‘throwing your life away.’ No one (adult or child) could risk admitting to smoking pot, or even having smoked pot in their past. As my teen years ticked by, and I grew curious interested in it, myself – I had to search art, literature, music and cinema in order to get any first-person accounts. I kept my eyes peeled for any mentions or depictions of cannabis consumption.

In my northern Virginian suburb of Washington, D.C., we got the Washington Post delivered every morning. Each Friday, perhaps to help cultured denizens plan their weekends, there was a special extra section to the paper called “Weekend.” I loved it. Extended film reviews, concert / theater reportage, pieces on (and pictures of) the latest museum exhibits. Metropolitan life. I followed the Movies section closest. I loved movies and wanted to know all about what was playing and where.

My point being – cinema depictions of smoking pot have always caught my eye. Whether I wondered what they were doing, judged their skills, whet my own appetite to get high, watched what other cultures do, or rolled my eyes at harmful cliches and predictable tropes ; I noticed. And sometimes I took note. What follows are my memories around ‘when I took note.’

#1.) “Back to the Future”

This came out during the big 1950s craze of the mid-’80s. I was in 5th and 6th grade, with no interest in cannabis. The first several times I watched this movie, I didn’t even notice that cannabis was not only on the screen, but being addressed in the dialogue. It goes like this … During the film’s finale, at the Enchantment under the Sea dance, musician Marvin Berry and his band The Starlighters are on a set-break, smoking a joint in their car. A coterie of henchmen for antagonist Biff is dragging our hero (Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly) across the parking lot and throw him into the trunk of – whose car? – Marvin Berry’s. “What the hell are you doin’ in my car?” asks one of the Starlighters. One of the henchmen – a character named 3-D – taunts Marvin with a racist epithet – “Beat it, spook. This don’t concern you.”

So, there are a few ‘firsts’ for me, in this scene. For starters, I did not know what ‘spook’ meant. I had to ask – was it my older sister? was it my best friend? his mom or brother? I don’t know. Eventually, I was told “it’s a bad name for black people.” Fair enough. By 10 years-old, I regret to admit, I had learned a few of those already. It was a little confusing, to be honest – spook sounded like ghost, which made me think of a white sheet, which made me think of … white. I did a little research, and the origin has something to do with paranoid whites not being able to see dark skin in the nighttime – hence, ghosts. Go figure. But it was widely used, and very derogatory. A little harsh for a white filmmaker to throw into a PG-rated family film.

After 3-D slings the slur, the car doors open, and the rest of Marvin’s [black] bandmembers exit the car, with a ‘we heard that’ look on all their faces [see above photo]. A few clouds of smoke billow and clear while Marvin coolly sasses “Who you callin’ ‘spook,’ peckerwood?” This was my second ‘first’ – peckerwood. Having never heard it before, I just thought it was a generic insult. So I tried using it a couple times. (I hope none of my [white] friends’ parents overheard me). Eventually, I was told that ‘peckerwood’ is an anti-white slur. This blew my 10-year-old mind – there are anti-white slurs? I had never thought of that, but it made sense. The more I thought about it, actually, the more sense it made.

Having just been counter-threatened and counter-slurred, 3-D tries to save a little face and backs off, saying “We don’t wanna mess with no reefer addicts.” A skuffle ensues, and the film’s climax continues to build.

First of all, as far as I cared to notice, that was a cigarette Marvin was smoking. Not uncommon for a 1950s musician on a break – unremarkable, so it went past me. But that word … “reipherattick” … or, wait … what was that word? I liked the sound of it. I kind of wanted to start using it, but wasn’t quite sure what it meant.

Turns out there’s a “t” at the end, and it’s two words. After – again – asking around, I learned that reefer was marijuana. In my mind I connected marijuana to drug, drug to addict. Ah, of course! A reefer addict. It made perfect sense. That puzzle piece slipped right into place. But that’s as far as I thought about it – What is it? Oh, that’s what it is … Like I said, I had no interest in cannabis at the time and went about my 10-year-old life – riding dirt bikes and microwaving boxed food. I probably didn’t even think about cannabis again until I saw it in another movie, a swashbuckling romantic adventure called “Romancing the Stone.”

By the next scene, the Starlighters are back onstage singing & performing – mentally unimpaired by any reefer. Heck, they even do a great job backing up Marty McFly’s guitar shreddery with nothing more than his direction to follow his “blues riff in B, and try to keep up.” Some aspects of the scene have not aged well – a white guy telling black musicians to ‘keep up’ while he invents rock & roll – but that, too, went right over my head and I cheered our hero’s victory over formidable plot-structural odds.

Bonus “reefer” mention – I didn’t think twice about learning the word reefer until it came up in another ’50s (okay, 1962) send-up – John Waters’ “Hairspray,” a couple years later. Our heroes, who just want to racially integrate the dancefloor, are on the lam. They find refuge in a ‘beatnik pad,’ where Pia Zadora (as Beatnik Chick) plays bongos, sings a quick chorus of “The Banana Boat Song,” and gives them the third degree for how square they are; while a wigged-out Ric Ocasek (as Beatnik Cat) struggles with an abstract painting he’s working on. Beatnik Chick recommends they “get naked & smoke,” which excites Beatnik Cat to the extent that he punches his head through the canvas of his painting-in-progress, exclaiming “Reefer?!?” This time, I got the joke! As our protagonists proceed to make their hasty exit, Beatnik Chick begins reciting Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” to/at them.

The scene is farcical and over-the-top – imagine that, in a John Waters movie. The pot-smokers are one-dimensional caricatures, gushing painfully outdated slang. In “Hairspray”‘s case, though, it works completely within the satiric nature of the movie, and all the actors seems to be hamming it up with a good sense of humor – they’re clearly in on it. The silliness is worth a chuckle, instead of an eye-roll or groan. And John Waters is an American treasure. For years after this, my friends & I would imitate Beatnik Cat – “Reefer?!?” and then pantomime punching our head through a stretched canvas – anytime an outrageous idea was proposed.

Episode 6 – Ms. Oregon

It’s been a while – what, seven months?!? Sheesh. Well, I’m glad to be back and I’m happy you’re here. This episode’s guest is everywhere. She going to places and doing things before most of the rest of us even know what’s going on. Put simply, Ms. Oregon knows everybody; and if you don’t know her … well, you just don’t know.

After this epidsode’s introduction, she & I meet up on a May afternoon, here at the same table I shared with Isaac, David and Elena (as seen in the IG pictures). After ironing out some technical glitches, we kick right off (4:33) with a couple surprising observations on gender in the cannabis industry – who is leading what parts of the industry. This leads to me bringing up some of my racial assumptions (12:30) about how we comport our bodies and voices around one another. At 19:26, I tell a story about shopping at a local hip-hop dispensary and share my thoughts & feelings as a white person walking into a black space.

As luck would have it, Ms. Oregon is the CEO of Ambit, LLC – a consultation company that provides diversity training. We’re fortunate to hear – there is no hiding of secret techniques here – how to make sure everybody is everywhere, in your company.

One of the many feathers in her cap is the National Cannabis Diversity Awareness Conference [NCDAC) in The Redd. The first of its kind – though I foresee it being adopted by each new municipality that legalizes cannabis. There was a stage with performers all day – mostly local, but a few folks from out of town. A few organizations relating to cannabis and diversity had booths. There was food being cooked in The Redd’s kitchen. All in order to draw in the common, everyday consumer. And they came. And packed the place. (Some even came in through side doors). But the story she tells (starting at 30:00) is ultimately about who came through, who didn’t, and all the fortunate happenstance that an event of such scale requires.

We talk a little about the realities of public housing (42:39), as it relates to medical patients who use cannabis. You can hear me get shocked – time and time, again – with each PreviousJob Ms. Oregon tells me about, from leasing vehicles for Ford (53:58) to counseling for adventurous couples (1:01:18).

I’m glad you’ve hung out with us. You can hear the sound of folks getting together, getting along – even enjoying ourselves – as we share stories across our gender differences, racial differences, and more. We honestly had a good time hanging out, and you can hear it. Thanks for showing up.

Interview date – March or April, 2019
Recorded on – Tascam DR-05 [handheld] digital recorder
Edited with – Audacity software

Always appreciated are donations in the form of audio recording/editing know-how.

5th Episode – Isaac

On the last of this year’s sunny Sundays, Isaac Camacho came over for a talk at the table (photos on IG). I’m doubly grateful to him, because this is actually the second ‘session’ we did. We had a great talk the weekend prior, but my device stopped recording about fifteen minutes in and the rest of that talk didn’t get recorded. Isaac was generous enough to make time to come back over the next Sunday and do it again. I say ‘doubly’ because Isaac is also {trumpet announcement} the first guest of color on the show! Yay!
Isaac is a co-owner (along with two other folks of color) of Kushcart, a cannabis delivery service here in town. His story – from  to Corvalis to undergrad, Masters, and even doctoral (!) work here in Portland – is a great listen.

Our talk starts off with describing his business and how being the son of immigrants (8:00) informs their business model.

We learn about Isaac’s family history at 14:30 – moving from Guadalajara, where his dad was stationed while serving in the Mexican air force, to Corvalis, Oregon. As he delves into his undergraduate studies (19:50) in criminology and criminal justice. At 37:07. we take a cannabis break (his topical, my joint). At 43:00 Isaac talks about the education piece of Kushcart’s mission – get to know terpenes! At 56:58, we begin applying systems theory to the emergent cannabis industry and he tells us about persuing a doctorate in transformational leadership, informed by (59:00) learning the values of the businesses you support.

Lastly, I get some details on how Isaac incorporates cannabis into his mindfulness/meditation practice (1:04:47).

Isaac’s shout-outs:
The CBD Certified program at East Fork Cultivars.
Nelson & Co. Organics, who grow for Kushcart.
Sativa Science Club
CEO and cannaconfectioner Megon Dee-Cave
Freelance multimedia journalist Tiara Darnell, whose “High, Good People” focuses on stories of people of color as they relate to cannabis and the burgeoning industry.
You can listen to Isaac, Megon, and Tiara all talk it out on this podcast episode of Group Therapy, courtesy of local radio station XRAY FM.
Cannabis industry consultant Emma Chasen


Interview date – Sunday afternoon, November 18, 2018
Recorded on – Tascam DR-05 [handheld] digital recorder
Edited with – Audacity software

Always appreciated are donations in the form of: graphic design know-how, audio recording/editing know-how, website design know-how.

Episode 4 – Kelly

Greetings! Last month, I made a “Night Ride” playlist on Spotify, for listening to on my bike after dark. On a brisk Saturday evening, I put it to use after hanging out at Kelly’s house (photos on IG) to record this episode. I almost skipped listening to it because I was still so elated about how our conversation went. It started off good, with some family history, his cannabis history, and a few snippets of east coast cannabis culture. But I had a burning question about the title of this podcast, and what it means for a heterosexual (like me) to use the phrase ‘coming out of the closet.’ I didn’t know whether to ask for queer permission, or atone to a gay person (like Kelly) in person, or what. So when Kelly told me he was open to discussing my title, I was overjoyed. And oh boy, what a turn our conversation took! Hear my mind get blown by the transformation of my gratitude practice! I’ve never been so excited to get a conversation out to you all. It was so heavy for me, that I put it at the beginning of this episode, right after my introduction.

In between Kelly’s two coming-out stories – from 1990 (as gay, at 9:00) and 2018 (as a cannabis consumer, at 13:16) – I share a quick parenting event I had when my son realized his best friend’s two moms were … y’know … a couple … in love with one another (11:17).

Kelly espouses some of the lessons learned and benefits of coming out (19:10), like being a resource for others (30:42). It became quite moving when Kelly began talking about the reason I came into his life at 20:53.

We talk about how the two of us met at 34:09. While telling me about where he came from (Maryland > New York > Massachussets) he gives accounts, at 44:00, of being in Massachussetts for both medical cannabis implementation and adult-use legalization.

At 51:41, we begin Kelly’s personal cannabis [hi]story, including some harrowing circumstances (59:30) he had to endure in the underground market before regulation, which leads to a quick talk about the racial dimensions of cannabis legalization (1:03:00) and what we can all, easily, do to help establish equitable opportunity for marginalized communities.
Also, a quick shout-out to qwoc-owned Oso Verde farms, and Nat’l Expungment Week, carrying though the social justice promise of cannabis legalization.

In a candid moment (1:11:09), Kelly shares a fear he’s had of growing old and not being able to access cannabis.

Interview date – Saturday night, November 17, 2018
Recorded on – Tascam DR-05 [handheld] digital recorder
Edited with – Audacity software

Always appreciated are donations in the form of: graphic design know-how, audio recording/editing know-how, website design know-how.

3rd episode – David

Oh, good – you’re here!

This is the last of the three interviews I did the month after legalization, i.e. over two years ago. While I have since refined the trajectory of this podcast, they (the interviews) still do a good job of reflecting those first concerns that come up when yesterday’s crime becomes today’s … hmmm … today’s what? Today’s pioneering? Today’s toleration? There has been very little envisioning of what successful legalization is. The good news is that we (and by we I mean you) get to define what lawful, effective cannabis consumption looks like.

While David is a cis-het white male, he is also a single dad, of a 4-year-old son. While it might be a stretch to qualify him as a “marginalized” voice, it does qualify as a voice that isn’t often included in the Conversation around cannabis use and law reform. David is also a master at empathetic listening (paying attention to another person with emotional identification, compassion, insight) – which is gold in my line of work. Just talking with him helped me tighten up my game.

After 5:17 of introduction, our conversation begins with a check-in about what has[n’t] changed since the full implementation of Measure 91, where we end up sharing stories about interactions with our respective neighbors.  By 15 minutes in, we’ve taken a turn toward the philosophic – what is therapeutic, what is a vice? Because let’s face it, it’s time to move past ‘I know it when I see it.’ It’s time to name it. Once we’re into the narrative arc of David’s booze ⇒ cannabis transformation,  at 28:00 is my favorite quote of the interview – reflecting on the creeping suspicion that smoking early in the day (instead as the topping-off of a night out drinking), David reflects ” … maybe it’ll be great.” The perfect attitude! Our response to cannabis is so often dictated by how we approach it. David’s positive curiosity proves the cornerstone of his advantageous, thoroughly enjoyable relationship to pot nowadays.  At 37 minutes in, he paints a picture of his ‘dealer’ which flies in the face of the negative stereotypes we’ve been taught. After that topic, I wind up walking David through the conversations I’ve had with my own [10 year-old] son regarding marijuana [and my use of it] over the years – what we talked about, at what age, etc. ‘Normalization’ is a bit of a buzzword now, and at 44:00, David points out how an exchange I was describing exemplifies how to normalize cannabis through honest dialogue. Then he tells a story about what consumption looks like in his household. After some speculation on how Washington D.C.’s radically different strategy of legalization might be playing out, we touch on (at 58:00) what I feel to be the heart of this podcast – how the exchange of self-narratives  best prepares us for integrating [with] the status quo. This leads to a humorous tangent about how not to engage across difference. We go a little bit into how much we reveal on social media, until we end with speculations on what else legalization may bring.

Interview date – August 2015 (two months into marijuana legalization)
Recorded on – Tascam DR-05 [handheld] digital recorder
Edited with – Audacity software

Always appreciated are donations in the form of: graphic design know-how, audio recording/editing know-how, website design know-how.

This show is recorded in full compliance with the Cole Memorandum.


Episode 2 – Elena

Good to see you!

Elena was a podcaster’s dream – just wind her up [with a short prompt] and let her go [regale me with real events]. She brought not only her own experiences, but remembrances of the people around her: clients she cared for, family, local community. Barely a minute & a half into her interview, we meet Everett; and through him we begin our walk through the first social experiments figuring out how post-prohibition cannabis plays out, aka Denis Peron’s California. Around the 10-minute mark, Elena & I share a couple quick observations on the interaction of cannabis consumption and fitness regimens. In future episodes, I’d like to invite athletes on the show to talk more about how they integrate cannabis into their work-outs. In between a couple recollections of her days fronting Sacramento punk band Local Chaos, she spoke one of what were to be several short, basic phrases which struck me as heavy at the same time. “Honesty is at the core of coming out.” And then a couple minutes later – “Act like it’s normal and it’s perfectly acceptable.”  Simple sentiments, practically obvious, yet significant and often unapplied to our lives. And if you listen closely, at 25:49, you can hear me bite my tongue when she calls [the] east coat pot [I grew up on] “shwag.”  {ouch!}

We really kick into high gear when the conversation turns toward public consumption sites. Elena was right there when the law was getting “stretched” further with each of Peron’s successive locations. At 35:30, we touch on the topic of who cannabis is not for, while also noting “tell your children that something is forbidden, you might actually be tempting them to try something they didn’t care about at all.” From there on out she must have really had my number, because she was answering every question of mine by introducing me to somebody new – one of her own adult children, or a spunky senior like Hazel, Mary, Pat, Brandy or Pearl. Signing off, Elena walks us through her favorite cannabis recipe, the one that’s treated all the people/patients we’ve met thusfar.


Here is the study by Dr. Harvey Feldman (which Elena mentions at 27:15) on the social interaction piece of cannabis-based health regimens. Madeline Martinez has also spoken & written about this.

Interview date – August 30, 2015 (two months into marijuana legalization)
Recorded on – Tascam DR-05 [handheld] digital recorder
Edited with – Audacity software

Always appreciated are donations in the form of: graphic design know-how, audio recording/editing know-how, website design know-how.

This show is recorded in full compliance with the Cole Memorandum.

First episode – Lasse


I’m so glad you’ve made time for us.

I gotta warn you. This interview was edited with a heavy hand. There is nothing wrong with your listening devise or the mp3 file. What you’re hearing is the sound of my crash course in audio-editing software. But the content is strong – again, thank you Lasse – and there’s a good amount of it to chew on.

The interview begins at 4:48. First, we get into our relationships with (and strategies for dealing with) our parents. His and mine reacted quite differently to suburban conformity – and you can hear how it influences our own views. Once we start smoking at 29:00, there’s a story which illustrates what problematic pot use looks like, then a couple more stories about the decisions surrounding getting high with siblings (or not). Forty-seven minutes in, I describe how I saw the Drug War propaganda effect not only kids, but their parents, significantly. Things lighten up as Lasse details how he uses cannabis today, then I ask him how he approaches the topic of cannabis with his kids. Around the 58-minute mark, you can hear a wonderfully well-timed Doppler effect from a train as it approaches and then recedes. Feel free to skip the BoringGrowerTalk at four minutes past the hour. And it wouldn’t be a proper session without some spiritual philosophies – for us, it was around the nature of stress, and the practice of gratitude.

Interview date – August 9, 2015 (one month into marijuana legalization)
Recorded on – Tascam DR-05 [handheld] digital recorder
Edited with – Audacity software

Always appreciated are donations in the form of: graphic design know-how, audio recording/editing know-how, website design know-how.

This show is recorded in full compliance with the Cole Memorandum.

Why Storytelling?

Our stories – “how I came to where I am” – are our series of interpretations of & about the world. Stories are where we store what is meaningful and valid. They are our current renditions of reality; and as such, are the primary reference points for how we choose to behave. The oral tradition of recording observational data in the form of story has been with us since humans have had language. Even today, our cultures and traditions are constantly being written, rewritten, and revised.

This is where we jump in, folks. And by we, I mean you. This podcast is a wedge, splitting the edifice of prohibition’s master narrative. My stories, your stories, our stories, are the antidote for the well-intentioned, yet ultimately poisonous ideology of this master narrative. So far our public story [when we talk cannabis] has been an unrealistically dichotomous one – total abstinence vs. corrosive dependence, squandered potential, neutralized ambition, and negligent parenting; incompatible with academic, athletic, or professional success.  For those of use with a fair amount of exposure to cannabis use, we know that responsible adult use is not a unique outcome. Unfortunately, one-sided research has set the rules and chosen what it will support as true; in this case, the stories of addiction, over-indulgence and vice.

We empower ourselves when we become critically aware of the master narratives that we live … and that live us. My goal is to foster liberation and emancipation from the devaluing and disempowering master narratives. Story-sharing is the remedy I employ. Drug policy is in flux right now. During this process of reinvention, it is squishy and malleable. The conditions are ripe for transformation. A crucial piece of the system of cannabis policy has been the voices of consumers. The conversations which occur during these interviews are the sound of our voices being set free. You are hereby invited into the creative act of meaning-making.

“The creative act of meaning-making”? What does that look like?

Well, one could collect stories. Dialogue is dense with all sorts of information (emotional content, hidden assumptions, living data of tested hypotheses, etc.) which influence the component parts [of policy] while they reorganize themselves. As we engage with one another, with society at large, and with the communities we’re embedded in, we are able to further articulate the healthiest behaviors and approaches for this new post-prohibition era.  The conversations on this podcast are our bids to influence the change process, to coauthor a revision of the existing, outworn narrative. In the interviews I’ll be posting, we’ll be exploring stories beyond the one in which we were trained. As we share them, we find some stories don’t fit like they once did – which is good, since they may prevent optimal success.  In its truest good, dialogue takes us past our own stories, into a new, freshly revised realm which didn’t exist before. It is only called forth when two or more are gathered with the willingness to be changed by what they’ve heard.

If we really want to participate in changing public perceptions of cannabis (and its consumers), our best bet is to tell a believable story, that challenges people’s perceptions. This is what it means to take part in the creative act of meaning-making.