420 in the City: Totally stoned and extraordinarily miserable

April 22, 2015 Originally published on SFGate

In clusters and clumps they came, loose, sloppy gaggles and assorted frayed knots of late teens and 20-somethings, all stumbling, lurching, plodding down the various SF streets leading away from Golden Gate Park on the fine, hazy pseudo-holiday known as 420 (AKA April 20, AKA the Day of Pot, AKA the day to get really extra stoned, because legal! Sort of! Or whatever!)

They were, as you might imagine, impossible to miss. I was making my way down a mile-long stretch of the Divisadero corridor in the late afternoon, having a fine, eye-rolling time navigating around the hopeless, tottering gangs of baked flesh as they streamed (and drove, and skateboarded, and biked) out of Golden Gate Park by the thousands after a day of, well, not much at all, really. Just apparently getting really, I mean totally pulverized by pot.

This is how it seemed, anyway. And it’s moments like this you realize 420 is really much more charming in concept, from afar, as a fun news item and cultural spectacle than actual enjoyable mass activity you ever want to join.

Have you read? Pot is, of course, exploding as both as anthropological artifact and exhilarating business frontier. There’s something like 60 new pot-based startups this year alone. There’s a massive surge of interest in medicinal cannabis oil. There’s grower collectives, authorization providers, dozens of cottage industries springing up hither and yon.

Sure, you're standing upright *now.* Just wait until you try to make it home.

Sure, you’re standing upright *now.* Just wait until you try to make it home.

There’s pot delivery services, pot ice cream, pot-infused beer. I have friends who swear by medicinal pot’s uncharted powers as a performance enhancer (certain strains only, of course) for running, training, even obstacle course races and endurance sports. Pot! It’s the new Adderal, bacon and muscle relaxant, all in one!

Well, sort of. The 420 reality can be a bit more, how do you say? Oh right: Gross. Ungainly. A little sad. My stroll down Divisadero was a bizarre, frequently jarring spectacle of faces and bodies totally disheveled, sloppy, dazed beyond recognition. Eyes so heavily glazed they couldn’t focus three feet ahead. Minimal body control, lots of lurching, zero sense of where they were in space, no idea that their clothes were drooping and falling off their bodies, half unzipped here, torn there, one shoe gone, words slurred and tracking slooooooww.

It was comical. It was also a little weird. And reeking. And I’ve been to Burning Man. Thirteen times.

There’s another word for how most 420 revelers looked. It’s wasn’t joyful, or celebratory, or happily aware that pot has become such a fascinating cultural trend.

It wasn’t defiant, or rebellious, America increasingly victorious (medical pot now legal in 23 states; federal legalization seems imminent) over some dumb anti-pot laws that kept what is essentially the mildest, least outwardly harmful drug we know from its proper place among America’s Most Favorite Happy Narcotics. Medicines. I mean medicines.

The word is miserable. That’s the look I saw most: totally, stupendously miserable. Also slightly ill. And lost.

It’s as baffling as it is understandable. After all, concepts like moderation and boundaries are totally foreign to that age demographic. Self-control is for losers, bro. Hardcore revelers don’t merely enjoy a reasonable amount of pot and have a fun day with friends. Pot, like booze or any other recreational narcotic, isn’t for enhancing one’s experience or personality. It’s a replacement for it.

Hence, they get blasted beyond words, forget their own name, forget to eat, throw up anyway, feel sick for three days, and think that’s what a good time entails. Fun!

Later, the cloud drifted through the city, making babies giggle, birds fly crooked and dogs hump any damn leg they could find

Later, the cloud drifted through the city, making babies giggle, birds fly crooked and dogs hump any damn leg they could find

Obviously, it’s not all like that. Millions enjoy cannabis without blotting out their own souls. A 420 day in Golden Gate Park draws a certain kind of crowd. And let’s be clear: As miserable, malodorous and messy as the 420 crowd appeared as they left the party, they’re still light years better than the drunken, vomitous throngs of sorority/frat/tech bro beasts that annihilate the city during, say, Bay to Breakers.

Right? Everyone knows pot-heads are, by and large, a far less obnoxious, destructive, violent bunch than the drunks. Hell, they can even be nice, all day long. Which is another way of saying, alcohol is 1,000 times more harmful, hurtful, mean and even deadly than pot will ever be.

Still, can’t help feeling a little… disappointed. So many miserable faces. So many sloppy, numbed-out bodies, clearly not full of cannabis-enhanced joy or pot-sharing camaraderie. Is this really how it’s going to be? Is 420 just another excuse to get really, really wasted? Just another substance to do it with, minus the fear of getting busted? How will legal pot really affect and integrate into the culture, if/when California legalizes recreational use next year? Shall we have a glass of wine and some MDMA, and ponder?

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Mark Morford

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