Los Angeles stinks. Not just of the usual things: sex, money, suntan oil, hipster food, surfer wax — odours that I like. There’s a new whiff in town, and it’s a bad one. Weed.
The smell of marijuana hangs over LA like an invisible menace. It’s an omnipresent fug. To walk from one end of a street to the other, whether it’s along the chaotic Hollywood Boulevard or the half-gentrified, half-terrifying Broadway in downtown LA, is to risk developing a skunk habit. I swear I almost got high popping out for a bottle of Dr Pepper.
It’s such an awful smell. It’s the smell of a Nietzsche-reading teenager’s bedroom, the smell of an old hippy’s laundry, the smell of teenage delinquency sprinkled with some foul thing from nature that should have been left in the earth.
It’s so bad that a savvy 62-year-old dope-user in Venice Beach has had the brainwave of selling odour-controlling purses. Jeanine Moss has invented pouches that keep the rank stench of your resin locked inside, for those who want to ‘smell like Chanel, not cannabis’. Funnily enough, it was a combo of Chanel and cannabis that invaded my nostrils as I strolled along the plusher part of Melrose Avenue.
The colonisation of LA with the musk of hash is down to the legalisation of the drug for recreational use last year. California, long the home of hippies and hedonism, made it legal to smoke dope for medical reasons in 1996. Perhaps realising ‘medical reasons’ was largely a ruse used by refugees from the 1960s who wanted easier access to ganja, California last year went ahead and legalised smoking dope for the craic. And now everyone’s at it, everywhere.
You’re not meant to smoke it in public, but people do. I’ve seen hipster shopkeepers puffing on the street by their stores; a rotund man in his forties smoking outside a cinema as his wife/girlfriend gave him that ‘-movie’s about to start’ glare; two delivery men sharing a toke on their lunch break. I’d go to the barricades for the right of the working classes to spend their lunch breaks as they see fit. But dope? While driving? And dropping off fridges? Seems wrong. A taxi driver — a really nice guy despite his ponytail — gaily told me that he splits
his time between driving and burying his face into his bong at home. Then, strangely, he said that driving while on marijuana is far safer than driving while drunk. He wound down his window and hollered ‘Ridiculous!’ at an extraordinarily attractive woman on the street and it dawned on me: he was high.
I don’t want to come over all Nancy Reagan but LA feels like a city under siege. A siege of the overly chilled-out. An army stalks the streets of this sprawling city. It’s an army of the kind of people you dodged in sixth form — people who preferred consuming cannabis and Wotsits at home to getting merry and friendly in pubs.
It all reminds me why marijuana is my least favourite recreational substance. Not only because it smells and is loved by the kind of irritating people who refuse to believe you when you tell them you can’t name a single Grateful Dead song. (It’s true, I really can’t.) But also because dope is such a lonely drug, such a stupefying drug. The point of it is to dull the socialising instinct rather than to liberate it, as booze and fags do.
This is why dope fans are often such tut-tutters over alcohol. Show me a university–educated, Bob Marley-T-shirt-wearing cheerer of cannabis and I’ll show you someone who’ll bore you rigid with stats on how booze is so much worse for you than grass.
Indeed, in its push for legalised dope-smoking in California, the Marijuana Policy Project crowed that dope doesn’t come with the ‘calories or serious health problems’ associated with beer, and is ‘less toxic, so it doesn’t cause hangovers’. Amazingly, cannabis is now pushed almost entirely on the basis that it’s healthy. It’s the quinoa of drugs. At least the 1960s cats used hash to get wrecked; today’s dopeheads are the kind of people who shop only at Whole Foods and probably frown over those photos of drunk girls in miniskirts.
Cannabis won’t kill you; they’re right about that. It does something worse: it makes you boring. I’m convinced this is why so many officials, from California to Colorado to Washington to Blighty itself, where we will undoubtedly soon legalise cannabis, are into decriminalisation. It isn’t because they care for liberty, far less for hedonism, but because they see hash as a social sedative.
They fear booze because it’s the great social lubricant, making us want to meet people and fight people and have sex with people, and they like cannabis because it’s a safe, healthy way to get wasted, preferably at home with a friend or two, where the greatest risk is that you’ll eat rather more Doritos than a doctor would approve of.
LA’s descent from a buzzing city of sun, sex and swagger into a smelly den of perma–dope holds lessons for those who want to legalise cannabis in Britain. It should be legalised, on the enlightenment basis that the state should not have the right to tell individuals what they may and may not ingest. But its use should be discouraged for the good of the social life of the nation. This should be our cry: ‘Legalise dope now! But don’t smoke it, for heaven’s sake!’