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Culture | 12.07.2022

Coming Out In Colombia: A Latinx First Encounter With Cannabis

As a teenager in Colombia, I grew up hearing that cannabis was one of the most dangerous drugs in the world; coming in contact with it was a fail-proof way to ruin your life.

Commercials on TV showed good-looking actors trying marihuana once and very quickly succumbing to its supposedly harmful effects; the transition of the once preppy model who suddenly converted into a disheveled character after just one hit of pot was a harrowing possibility for anyone who dared try the plant. “La mata que mata”—the killer plant—was the slogan of another government ad that ran between telenovelas and the nightly news edition, which mostly featured gruesome stories about the ongoing War on Drugs. 

It was the height of the nineties, and my country was the epicenter of gangs fighting over trade routes. Daily, we would hear about a kidnapping, a murder, or a car bomb blowing up a shopping mall or government office. Everyone was constantly afraid. Most of these turf wars ended up affecting Colombians from all walks of life, and consuming cannabis was seen as a betrayal to your fellow compatriots; supporting dealers was supporting violence. At least, that’s what parents and teachers would tell you. Although there was this dark halo around ganja, I also started noticing a different side of the story.

Soon I began to hang out with the older boys in school and started going out to parties, noticing that most of the interesting and hip people in town were consuming cannabis, from artists and musicians to famous actors and models. It was still hush-hush for the most part, but none of them seemed to me like life drop-outs or people who needed help (like the government-paid ads showed us). In fact, most of them were quite successful and friendly people who had no connection whatsoever with mafias. 

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I’m not denying that cartels were in the weed business too, but there were other kinds of underground operations happening simultaneously. Knowledgeable stoners took advantage of the Ley 30 de 1986—a law that allows every Colombian citizen to legally cultivate up to 20 plants of cannabis—and provided any excess flower to fellow nationals. Some of the best cannabis (colloquially called cripi, a Spanish version of the word creepy, slang for high-end cultivars that arrived in the country from overseas) was being cultivated in a fancy farmhouse on the outskirts of Bogotá by one of society’s elite members. He was generally considered to be a member in good standing (in the eyes of many people who had no clue about his side-gig).

It took me a while before I gathered the courage to smoke my first joint. Not only was it my initial experience altering my consciousness (with a substance other than alcohol), but I also had to conquer the fears all the propaganda had planted in my head. What if I did end up losing my mind? Or if the police decided to raid the apartment where we gathered to puff-puff-pass a porrito?

These worries lingered as my friends started rolling—a sight I had never witnessed firsthand, a process that I found fascinating and would one day master—but it was too late to turn back. I thought of all the musicians I admired who smoked cannabis: from Bob Marley to Snoop Dogg. If this plant inspired them to write such amazing songs and keep such good vibes, surely it couldn’t be as bad as the cops wanted us to think. “To the rescue, here I am, Want you to know, y’all, where I stand” played in the background, a providential message that helped me loosen up a bit.

Just as I was easing into the idea of the experience, I was handed two joints. Sublime’s eponymous song came to mind, but also a sense of confusion: why did I need a double dose of baseball-bat-sized joints? According to my friends, known pranksters, one must smoke two whole reefers when it’s your first time. Otherwise, “the weed doesn’t kick in”. Let me tell you that after half of the first joint, I was already feeling the effects, which included a substantial amount of paranoia; years later, I would understand that it was part of my mindset at the time, concerned about having betrayed myself, my family and my country (all of which now seems ridiculous).

After tripping for a few hours, thinking I was living in eternity, and hearing every sound distortion in my head as if my ear canal were an echoing cave, I succumbed to my first munchies. Not only was I trying to nurse a thick cottonmouth attack, but I was also dealing with an empty fridge at my friend’s place. (Over time, I would also learn to plan and get snacks before a smoke session; at one point, I craved junk food but nowadays, fresh veggies and fruit feel like ambrosia, the food of gods). 

 

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Photo by Santiago Rodriguez Tarditi

For some reason, I ventured out to find an Italian restaurant to cope with my pasta craving, and I ended up by myself in a very touristy diner, ordering a huge bowl of spaghetti. Everyone was looking at me, stuffing my face (also, a 15-year-old eating by himself in a fancy spot wasn’t a usual site back then); even though I knew everyone was aware of my bloodshot eyes and knew something was up, I didn’t care. Long story short, I finished my dish, got some gelato to wash it all down, and headed home, worried my parents would catch me red-handed (or red-eyed). Luckily, they were on their way out to a dinner of their own, and they didn’t smell anything fishy going on. Alone with my brother at home, we watched TV as I felt the effect of my first porrito wear off, opening up a series of questions that allowed me to integrate my experience, resulting in one key takeaway: I want to do this again.

From that day on, I knew that cannabis would be part of my life. I was willing to push the limits of my consciousness (and legality) to develop this relationship with the plant (and the people around me who consumed it) even further. To me, cannabis has always been more interesting than alcohol but back then, it was only my weirdo friends who consumed it, mostly under the radar, so we had to hide or do it stealthily to avoid being caught—a constant fear no one should live with when interacting with nature.

Eventually, it got to the point where marijuana started crossing my path more often, and it became part of my lifestyle, debunking all the propaganda that had brainwashed me before and guiding me to become a responsible consumer. I never skipped school and was part of the basketball and volleyball teams. I was a good family member and visited my grandparents over the weekend. My girlfriends never had a problem with me being stoned around them (one said it made me more tender and loving). 

Using cannabis had become a normal part of my life—except for the fact I still hid it from my parents. So, one day, as I was watching TV with my mother, the opportunity arose to spill the beans. I used reverse psychology first. “¿Ma, tú has probado la marihuana?”. My question was answered with a very stern and almost offended “Cómo se te ocurre?” followed by a silence and then a “Por qué? Tú sí?”

This was my chance to come out of the cannabis closet—and I took it. Yes, mamá, yo sí. Her immediate reaction was of shock, and after verifying I wasn’t joking, she burst into tears. My mom, too, had been a victim of political scripts that made her think I would end up living on the street or locked up in jail. But I was prepared. Even if the Internet was only getting started back then, there was already enough information about the plant’s benefits to share with her, as well as answers to the most common taboo questions. That said, what comforted her was knowing that I had been smoking for a while and, during all that time, I had still met my responsibilities and appeared to be healthy and happy.

 

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Photo by Santiago Rodriguez Tarditi

A few months later, I convinced them to let me plant a cannabis seed I had stumbled upon. I cared for it like a baby, creating what I thought was a makeshift grow room (a.k.a. an old cookie tin box with some holes for drainage). Watching the growth process connected me even further to the plant; it was life unfolding itself, the divinity in action.

Why did we hate this plant so much? Why were there wars being waged around the world and in my own country to destroy it? What had the consumers done to be persecuted? As the plant grew taller, my interest in the socio-political aspects related to it went deeper, and I read all I could find about the topic. My ganja plant grew to about three feet, only to be eaten by my cats in one swift session of the feline assembly. I never got to see whether it was a male or female, but that didn’t matter—my bond with it was stronger than ever.

Upon graduating from high school, I decided to study Political Science, not because I wanted to become a politician but because I wanted to work in journalism and that particular degree offered a very eclectic course selection that combined topics from all social sciences. Each of the classes I picked had some connection to the War on Drugs (an inevitable situation in Colombia), and the more I read about it, the more I understood the connection between prohibition and oppression. Suddenly, social and environmental justice became my guiding principles. I wanted to pitch in my part to the legalization movement, considering how my country and our region have been hit the hardest—both within our territories and in new territories we migrate to. 

My book High on Design: The New Cannabis Culture is a declaration for legalization, a contribution from my corner as a lifestyle journalist with an appreciation for mysticism, psychedelics, and aesthetics. It became more than a coffee-table book in the sense that it’s a testimony of the movement’s zeitgeist. I’m glad to say it became a reference for creatives working in the industry.

I’m humbled that I got the chance to contribute something to the cause; I’m very grateful it opened new doors in a nascent industry and today I can proudly say I’m one of the few Latinxs cannabis journalists out there (we need more!). And thanks to my wife, the Bolivian eco-entrepreneur and co-founder of Intu—the first plastic-free CBD in the market—I can also consider myself a conscious cannabis entrepreneur. And ultimately, it’s that mindfulness in everything we do that allows us to be more present in life—and when we consume. Not just in cannabis but every single thing we forget to be grateful for daily. 

Repression is blatant in the way Latinxs are framed as the bad guys, while the Global North reaps the benefits of the Cannabis industry- failing to make peace with the fact that our human history has been closely linked to mind-altering substances, with a special appreciation for entheogens (including cannabis, a plant I consider to be sacred). Not just because of its heart-opening and spiritual elevation properties but purely because the plant is part of nature and anything coming from Mother Earth is worthy of admiration.

It’s foolish and egotistical to think that we, evolved primates, are greater than other species—including flora and fungi, kingdoms that are being directly persecuted by racist political agendas. We must remember our interconnection to the planet, honor nature, and act accordingly if we are to save ourselves from an increasingly more aggressive climate change.

 

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