People gather at Burnside Bridge to celebrate the legalization of recreational marijuana at midnight on July 1, 2015 in Portland, Ore. (Beth Nakamura, The Oregonian via AP)

Magical freedom in Oregon: Reveling in pot parties and endless possibility

Author Neal Pollack celebrates the changing times in Oregon, where weed is shared with abandon and not yet commercialized. It's a bittersweet summer to remember

We parked the car at a train tracks. It had been a 25-minute drive from Portland, maybe more. My friend and I got out and stretched our legs. The train was going by and we couldn’t see anything.

“Is this the place?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. He was local but hadn’t been out this way before. “I think there’s water down there. Maybe it’s on a houseboat.”

Several other people joined us at the train tracks, approaching warily and steadily, like deer at dusk.

“Are you here for the pot party?” one of them said, as though they couldn’t believe it was possible that such a thing existed.

I was, and so were they. When the train eventually cleared, we took a path that led down to the river. There sat a half-dozen or so pontoon houses, all in excellent condition. We looked for the address, hoping it was real. At the end of the pier was a house larger than all the others, or at least most of them. The door opened, and we went inside.

The pot party was in full swing. The host, Laurie Wolf, a boisterous New Yorker in her late 50s, bustled about in the late stages of preparing trays of delicious local meats and cheeses, as well as all kinds of sandwiches and snacks and pickles and a really tasty-looking rib roast. Also, there were many marijuana edibles of extremely high quality, including stuffed mushroom caps with the label “Contains Cannabis. Mushroom Caps. About 5 (milligrams) THC each,” red velvet cupcakes containing 5 THC, and most delicious and deadly of all, the 25 THC baklava.

I have a professional’s tolerance, but I decided to pace myself, popping only a mushroom cap upon entering. Just about anyone can handle 5 mg. It tasted earthy, like you’d expect from a mushroom stuffed with premium marijuana and what I assumed to be breadcrumbs with ham. Life had taken a turn for the delicious and stoned.

Wolf laid out most of the goods on a dining table in the warm and inviting kitchen. There were also lots of similar tastes, along with a full beverage service, in the house’s main room — a big-beamed wooden fantasy with full Willamette River dockside access, a sort of dream home for Boomers who are still hippies at heart. To accentuate that, Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” played on the sound system.

People milled about, dabbing with various vaporizers, loading a bowl occasionally. Everyone was very friendly and intelligent. I met a naturopathic doctor and people who ran extraction labs. There were painters and writers and entrepreneurs, political activists and people who just plain loved weed and were not afraid to say so. Wolf bustled among them like a stoner den mother.

Magical freedom in Oregon: Reveling in pot parties and endless possibility
Cannabis chef Laurie Wolf is a co-collaborator in the upcoming cookbook “Herb: Mastering the Art of Cooking With Cannabis.” (Via thestonerscookbook.com)

This marked the first of a series of monthly dinners that Wolf will be throwing as a victory lap for people in the marijuana industry who are doing good work. She’s a co-collaborator in a new cookbook about to be published, “Herb: Mastering the Art of Cooking With Cannabis,” and there’s a lot on the line for her. (Wolf also shares infused recipes on The Cannabist.)

“We were going to call them ‘Pot-Ups,’ but that would be cheesy,” she said.

Wolf later told me she selected the group with great care, to show me that the Oregon marijuana industry was in the hands of grownups. “There are some really sketchy elements in Portland, of course,” she said. “And there are plenty of people coming from California or Colorado or Texas just to make money. But there are also a lot of people here who are trying to do it right.”

On cue, her 28-year-old son walked up to me and handed me a vape full of delicious organic Durban Poison, from his personal stash. It was a tasty and uplifting treat for a Thursday night. He was happy to share, because that’s what happens in Oregon.

“I’m so proud of my children,” Wolf said, in a voice somewhere between proud and ironic. “They’re really getting the hang of the drug scene.”

*****

In Oregon, marijuana is completely legal, right now. You can grow it, you can smoke it, you can eat it, you can vape and dab it. You can rub its magical oil on your private bits and take your personal stash for a walk around the block in a Radio Flyer wagon without ever once breaking the law. If you walk around stoned in the grocery store, it’s not a crime.

Compared with laws under prohibition, it’s a dream, though there are limits. Every residence is only allowed eight ounces, an incredible amount for personal use, plus four plants. You’re technically not allowed to produce, process, keep or store homemade marijuana extracts. If you’re out in public, the limit is one ounce of flower.

These laws diverge from other states’, but only in specifics. However, Oregon has one big difference right now. You can’t sell marijuana, and you can’t buy it recreationally. It must be shared, like you would with friends. Marijuana, technically, is free.

This will all change October 1, when recreational marijuana becomes legal to sell in the state of Oregon at existing medical dispensaries. Then it will be back to business as usual, with brotastic shops selling THC pops like energy drinks, as they do just across the border in Washington state. A big cash business will erupt, with no access to banks. It almost certainly won’t be bad, but it will be different.

At this moment, and for the next few bittersweet weeks, Oregon occupies a rare cultural spot. Weed, once reviled as the tool of the devil, has become a much-shared, almost infinite commodity. And this simple fact appears to have completely transformed the culture, delivering a day that no one ever thought they’d live to see. The state has enjoyed a summer of true freedom. It will be hard to go backwards now.

Everyone at the party had big plans for marijuana. Depending on who I was talking to, it’s going to change medicine, industry, politics, gender relations and the entire world.

“I want Oregon to be a model for the rest of the country,” Leah Maurer told me. Maurer, a trim blonde straight out a yoga-mat ad, is the archetypal suburban soccer mom. She runs her children’s PTA. And she is the co-chair of the Portland chapter of the entrepreneurial group WomenGrow, which is turning into a very important organization.

Maurer didn’t know what to expect when weed became legal, she said. But she found out on July 1, when the alternative newspaper Willamette Week threw a legalization party in Portland. As we share a prerolled Black Betty joint, provided by Wolf’s son as a party favor, she recounts, “I was setting up the WomenGrow booth. It was just political information. I didn’t even plan to get high because I was working. But next to us was this marijuana blog, and they had tons and tons of weed. They asked us to hold onto it while they parked the van. We were sitting there with vats of pot. I wasn’t smoking, but it felt so nice just to sit there, free. It was like ‘Hey, there’s nothing to worry about here. ’”

While Maurer knows this isn’t sustainable– “It’s the pre-party,” she says–that doesn’t reduce the profundity of the moment. “I wear a vape pen around my neck to festivals,” she said. “I do it because I can. Just to be able to possess it. It’s that feeling.”

*****

colorado-florists-marijuana-flowers-weddings-bud-bouquets
Buds in bouquets: It’s an idea some Colorado florists are embracing in response to customer requests to incorporate cannabis into their special occasion. (Provided by Buds & Blossoms)

The state has been feeling free all summer long. Pot weddings are a trend. This Culture magazine article featured an interview with a groom, a “cannabis cultivator,” who featured a massive marijuana bar and smoking tent at his wedding. He said “People loved it. I’m still getting 15 to 20 texts a day from people, saying what a life-changing event that was and what a great experience it was to have the smoke tent there.”

Freedom isn’t just reserved for yuppie wedding guests. While in Portland, I stopped by the World Famous Cannabis Cafe, on a decidedly unfancy, non-touristy wide urban boulevard. I got there at happy hour on a Friday, and things were pretty chill, also pretty bare-bones. At the entrance, I paid my $10 admittance fee, and then I was in a large room, with only intermittent art, a stage with drums and guitars, and lots and lots of tables and chairs, places where people can consume whatever they’d brought.

The cafe doesn’t sell weed, but they can give away whatever they want. So there’s a “dab bar” in a far corner, with unlimited samples for whoever wants to try it. This will be free for the lifetime of the business, said the owner, cannabis activist Madeline Martinez, a tough, middle-aged Latina from East L.A. She had a lot to do with writing Oregon’s pot law, and she operates under the protocol that cannabis is a birthright, not a commodity, or at least not only a commodity. She makes whatever profit from admittance fees and food and beverage sales and merchandise, of which there is quite a bit.

But the World Famous Cannabis Cafe hardly feels like a capitalist enterprise. It’s more like a community weed kitchen. Martinez had been operating the cafe since 2009 for medical marijuana patients, and opened for business to everyone on August 1. It was a packed house with a live band, a coming-out party for free stoners everywhere. “I feel like I fulfilled my commitment to the community,” Martinez told The Oregonian.

The place was full of very stoned regulars, people of all ages and backgrounds and levels of disability, looking very happy under the universal care of cannabis, as well as Martinez herself, who sat at a table horking dabs underneath a hand-painted sign that bore her name. All her patients still use the cafe, and travelers as well. There was a table of dudes on their computers, happily dabbing and answering email. “It’s somewhere you can get stoned, eat some food, do a little work,” one of them told me. “That’s a place I want to be.”

*****

Weed is quickly normalizing in Portland. Maurer told me of a Fourth of July party she went to where all edibles were clearly labeled, the adults had a private smoking lounge, and kids had to be gone by 10 p.m. The host called her party Americannabis. Everyone was invited to celebrate the great new freedom.

“I’m so happy to see this while I’m alive,” Laurie Wolf told me in her fabulous Joni Mitchell living room. “I don’t want to feel morbid, but I know so many people who would be so happy with what’s going on. Billboards for weed! Wow!”

Wolf’s next dinner will be “Latin-themed,” but there are so many possibilities. “Start with a sativa, end with an indica, and see where it goes from there. Maybe infused caviar on the blini.”

“I think you have to get the sturgeons high,” said her husband Bruce, standing by.

“I’ll get Uber to sponsor the dinner,” Wolf said. “If they give me money, then maybe there’ll be caviar.”

I was good and baked. I’d only had one mushroom cap, plus lots of joints and vapes and whatnot. One loses track. And then I ate a baklava, which pushed me over the edge for a while. My conversation grew abstract, containing such phrases as “infinite heart-space” and “I am so high right now.” At marijuana-themed dinner parties, it’s best to modulate your dosing. But it was a special celebration, at least for me.

The evening wound up early. Even in this glorious Summer Of Free Weed, most of these grownups had to get back to their kids, or had to work in the morning. When my roll subsided, I started moving toward the door, slowly, like all the other stoners. As the party ended, we went back into the kitchen for our doggy bags.

“Do you want some baklava for the road?” Wolf said, indicating a full tray of delicious homemade 25 MG drug pastry.

“Of course!” I said.

One doesn’t refuse such an offer from a charming host.

Wolf wrapped some up in aluminum foil. She handed it to me. It was big as a meatloaf but way more potent.

“Oy!” she said. “So much baklava.”