Greg Dennis: Why marijuana is the new zucchini
The old joke goes that the only time you need to lock your car doors in Vermont is during the summer, because if you leave your car unlocked someone will fill it with extra zucchini from their garden.
Now there’s a new plant that’s becoming just as common.
Of all the things I thought I’d never see in this life — gay marriage, the Red Sox and Cubs winning the World Series, Donald Trump as president — legal marijuana tops the list.
Yet here we are over a decade into medical marijuana legalization and nearly two years into Vermont’s one-of-a-kind experiment with legal reefer.
I grew up when pot/grass/dope was illegal and weak — and tons of fun if you smoked enough of it. When sinsemilla (sticky bud) became more widely available, it was hard to get used to how potent and expensive it was.
Now that weed is legal, it’s hard to break the habit of thinking there’s something illicit about this most entertaining of plants.
Years ago, while in the tea leaf trance, we used to shake our heads at the insanity of sending people to prison for simple possession. Now we shake our heads in bemusement at the fact that you literally can’t give it away.
Buying weed in Vermont today is for suckers. Ask around and you’ll find a friend, or a friend of a friend, who has grown so much pot that they’d be happy to give you a couple buds.
Marijuana is so common, in fact, that Ripton journalist Sue Halpern recently did a story for the “New Yorker Radio Hour” titled “In Vermont, Marijuana Is the New Zucchini.”
When growing your own grass became legal last year, she said only half jokingly, “You had to beat people away who wanted to just show up at your house and give it to you.”
As Blueberry Hill innkeeper Shari Brown put it to her, “I can see it just landing on my front door step, couldn’t you?”
A friend of mine dries the plants he grows by hanging them upside down in his basement. He trims and saves the buds. The shake falls to concrete floor, where he sweeps it up and puts it in the compost.
That’s the stuff we used to smoke. What was once gold is now garbage.
Vermont is unique largely because we can legally grow two mature marijuana plants, possess up to an ounce when out in public — and gift weed to others.
Halpern says it’s the gifting that helps make us different.
Her report featured Jeff Bugay, a Proctor resident who consults with Vermont residents on growing hemp and marijuana. (He claims that CBD and high THC cannabis got him off having to take 84 pills a week for epilepsy. Everybody’s got a story.)
A consultation from Bugay’s company includes an information packet and advice on how to grow marijuana. And, oh yeah, “free” potted plants, seeds or cuttings.
It’s essentially a way to drive a huge truck through the loophole in the law.
Vermont’s attorney general, T.J. Donovan, has made it clear that he regards gifting of this sort to be illegal.
But Donovan also wants to be either governor or U.S. senator. So it’s doubtful that he wants to run for higher office while being known as the guy who prosecutes people for using a legal loophole to grow legal marijuana.
Another key state official on this issue is Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. He and his wife run an organic farm in Hinesburg. They’ve also joined lots of other Vermonters in growing hemp.
Zuckerman has learned that he has to be sure he harvests his hemp before it becomes “too hot” — too high in THC, which would make it marijuana and the lieutenant governor a potential felon.
Zuckerman has been all-in for legalization since his days as a UVM student. “I have advocated for a well regulated dispensary system that would promote small-scale agricultural production with a craft product,” he told Halpern, “much like we have on our beer side of things, that would draw tourists who would then stay at our B-and-B’s, hike in our mountains and do all the other things people do in Vermont — and really expand our economy.”
It remains to be seen if Vermont will ever go that route, at least under Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican who has taken a libertarian approach to marijuana.
Scott pretends to worry that a tax-and-regulate approach would pose problems for driver safety and expose underage people to the drug. Yet he signed the current situation into law — which of course poses challenges regarding driver safety and under-age exposure.
Maybe it’s just a temporary condition, that Vermont is currently awash in marijuana. Perhaps the grow-your-own craze will fade.
It’s unlikely to happen, though, given that even before legalization, a Rand report found Vermonters really like weed.
Perhaps Vermont will maintain things the way they are. It would be hard under tax-and-regulate to keep out the big industrial growers of marijuana, and who wants to see a dispensary on every corner anyway. Maybe even with lax regulation and all that tax revenue just left on the table, we’ll stick with homegrown.
Most evenings I prefer a martini glass to a bong. But it’s clear to me that whatever route the state ultimately takes, marijuana is not going away. It’s just too much joyful fun.
Jia Tolentino, another New Yorker writer, put it nicely during an interview for the “Green Rush” series.
A self-described career stoner, she rhapsodized about the joys of listening to music while high — “it makes so much space within the song and you can hear the math of it” — and recalled being at an outdoor music festival where Tame Impala was performing.
“It’s sunset, everyone’s high, everyone’s having a really good time,” she said. “And there was this part halfway through ‘Let it Happen’ where the song just starts vamping and it sort of sticks. I remember listening to it, you know, the sky is pink and all my friends are around me and we are all just super-stoned. It felt like everything had frozen and we were just in this really really good loop — forever.”