I just got back from a visit to Portland, Ore., and I’m reminded that every time I travel, it’s a mind-altering experience. In this case, truer words were never written.
I knew before I got to Portland that recreational marijuana is legal in Oregon — it has been since 2014 — and I knew the city had become home to large numbers of retail dispensaries. But even though recreational marijuana is also legal in Vermont, I wasn’t really prepared for the reality of walking openly into a pot shop right along a main drag to peruse the goods. There were cases filled with samples of more than enough marijuana strains to keep me high for a lifetime.
Portland has embraced legal marijuana the way Boston embraces its sports teams. There are more dispensaries in the city than we have Dunkin’ Donuts — and that’s counting both Cheshire and Windham counties, and maybe all of New England. I found it all hysterically funny and I wasn’t even high.
And, oh, the names! “Big Sur Holy Weed,” “Pineapple Express,” “Dragon Snacks,” “Key Lime Pie.” You didn’t have to be under the influence to get the munchies just looking at the goods on display. (They also had “Gorilla Glue” and “Sour Diesel” but I have a sweet tooth, so I didn’t pay them much heed. For all I know, they were the most potent of the bunch.)
This would be my dream job: thinking up names for different strains of marijuana, although one of the salespeople told me he hoped people would stop coming up with new names because he was having trouble remembering the ones already on the shelves. Occupational hazard, I guess.
I confess, I ended up visiting three different dispensaries. I just couldn’t get enough of the glass display cases filled with small dishes, each one serving as an illuminated perch for a glittering bud, with a label telling you its name. You could spend a solid month in Portland and still not have enough time to visit every pot shop in the city.
Each one had its own vibe. The first was a “neighborhood” shop, small but well stocked. I told one of the guys who worked there that this was my first visit to a dispensary. Turns out he spent his childhood in Greenfield, Mass., knew the town I lived in and asked if Curtis’ Barbecue in Putney, Vt., was still up and running. (I told him it was.) He asked me why I hadn’t visited the dispensary in Northampton, Mass., and I told him I had driven by it one cold winter day and found people lined up for two blocks in each direction just to get in the front door. I didn’t want it that badly.
The second shop I went to carried only CBD products. (Marijuana is composed of two main substances: THC, which gets you high, and CBD, which doesn’t but is supposed to be good for pain and stress relief. CBD can be made from both marijuana and hemp although I have no idea what the difference is. I’m sure that’s a highly simplistic and probably incorrect explanation but I need to finish my master’s degree in chemistry to delve further into the subject.) They had a lot of products for pets. Yes, pets. If Portlandians partake, so should their pets. I did not get anything for my cats — who could use whatever calming influence is available — but my host and guide did buy something for the family dog, who’s getting old and arthritic.
Dispensary No. 3 was in an upscale neighborhood and looked a lot like the cosmetics counter in a high-end department store. You know, lots of bright but flattering lights, gleaming white countertops, lots of little artful packages on display. The sales staff asked what I wanted their marijuana for. Help sleeping? Pain relief? Euphoric? Light and breezy? Coma-inducing? I wasn’t used to this at all.
In the end, I bought a gram of “Wedding Cake.” Believe it or not, I paid with a credit card. I felt so cool, so cutting edge, until I looked closely at the label. My souvenir had been grown by the Boring Weed Co. I swear this is true. The staff assured me that there is a town in Oregon called Boring, from which the name (and weed) derives. I still felt a bit let down. But the Wedding Cake was delicious.