Reefer Mainstream

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Yet even with all the public policy reforms and all the jokes, the topic of recreational marijuana use is taboo among those who find the stakes the highest. Plenty of people are willing to talk anonymously about their personal marijuana use, but it's difficult to find anyone in any sort of position of pot-related authority -- from head shop owners (who pretend they cater to tobacco smokers) to Proposition 203 backers (who insist they only want to empty the jails) -- to talk openly about marijuana.

At the Goldwater Institute luncheon, before P.J. O'Rourke took the podium, Dr. Jeff Singer, a physician and longtime supporter of pro-marijuana initiatives, including Proposition 203, insisted that he and other supporters of the ballot measure don't know anyone who smokes marijuana recreationally. The initiative's not about that at all, he said. Sam Vagenas, who's running the campaign, didn't return a call seeking comment for this story.

Former Arizona attorney general Grant Woods surprised a lot of people this year by coming out in support of Prop 203.

"There's some irony here with me," he says. "I hate to admit this, but I'm one of the few people around who has never tried any drug, including marijuana. So it has nothing to do with me personally. But to me, it's just common sense."

He argues that most people who get arrested for marijuana possession eventually wind up with only a fine. So why waste money on jails, public defenders, prosecutors and judges? Just hand over the ticket on the front end.

"A lot of people use marijuana, and it really doesn't have any negative effects upon them," Woods says. "Ultimately, I don't think it's that big of a deal for society. I think we ought to be concentrating on drug traffickers and stopping them, and on addicts, and we should be helping them and not be running around trying to bust Willie Nelson every five minutes."

Nelson, a longtime pot smoker and advocate of legalization, was arrested in 1994 with a joint in his car ashtray. Rumor has it that he once smoked a joint in the White House.

"If everybody in the country was Willie Nelson, this country would be a much happier place," Woods says.

As for Arizona? "There's a lot of Willies out there, I guess."

As it turns out, the best way to find out about pot smokers is to talk to them -- one by one.


Sally has no scientific reason for keeping her pot in the freezer. It just seems as good a place as any.

"Don't say what a mess my freezer is," she says, as she opens the door, revealing light cream cheese, salmon steak, English muffins, edamame and several bags of Starbucks coffee beans. There, under a box of spinach, is Sally's stash.

Sally's in her late 50s, and she's practiced law her whole career. She knows firsthand that the legal profession is filled with stoners -- law students, prosecutors, judges.

But finding smoking buddies can be tricky. For Sally, marijuana is a purely social pleasure. She's single, but she never smokes alone. She's careful not to reveal her little secret to the wrong person. Not only could she be busted, she could be disbarred. Or worse, she jokes, the State Bar might try to cure her.

Sally tests new friends gingerly.

"You can talk about how stupid the drug war is, and everybody agrees," she says. "And about how many kids we've got locked up for smoking dope. And then you say something like, Boy, if I got locked up for every joint I've had, my ass would never get out.' And then the other person says, I know.' And it's this kind of a secret passing along.

"And at some point, you say, Would you like a glass of wine, or would you prefer a joint?' But you do this sort of feeling around first to make sure they're comfortable with it."

Sally hasn't tried to mix work and pot since she clerked in law school.

"With pot," she says, "you get hungry, horny and sleepy. And none of those are conducive to work."

Now Sally waits for friends to come in from out of town. She takes time off, and they binge.

"When they come in, then we just know we're going to get baked the first night they're here."

And the first morning. "As I'm cooking breakfast, he'll bring it in and say, It's probably time.'"

Sally and her friends don't go out. They stay inside her central Phoenix apartment. Sometimes she'll have a series of dinner parties for different friends who smoke-- she doesn't introduce her smoking pals to each other, fearing it would make them uncomfortable.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.