A relatively young man hobbles, in good spirits, into a medical marijuana cooperative. He’s proud of having made it to the co-op today, his new aluminum cane giving him the style, confidence, and stability to find new places to interrogate, explore, and (yes) even to obtain his medicine. And mirrored windows notwithstanding, this place showed promise: a quiet waiting room, clear instructions for how to fill out the new patient form, and an elegant display of free stickers and fliers. Maybe at one point these publications were to be found only in head shops and sex toy emporiums, but (today at least) they were just another glossy mound of magazines in just another doctor’s office.
The rest is pretty typical of cooperative practice these days. The usual forms, the usual friendly-and-knowing eye contact with the man behind the desk, the usual minute of tense conversation while the patient is verified over the internet, the usual moment of unsurprised relief when the clearance is granted and the unmistakable scent of lovingly grown hydroponic cannabis oozes out the open door.
This, the young man told himself, is what a cooperative should look like: a clean glass counter, a well-stocked fridge in the corner, and row after row of tall glass jars containing well-pruned flowers of every shape and shade. And let’s not forget the genial capped fellow behind the counter. It’s a good situation.
“What can I get for you? You’re definitely one of my more legitimate patients–do you mind me asking what the problem is?” He smiled, a look of real compassion of the kind you’d expect in a place like this, and pointed with a single finger at the aluminum cane.
If the patient had had just one more moment to think, one more second to remember where he was and what he was doing in this place, his words would have come out very differently. But the question was honest, and the genuine look of care on the pharmacist’s face pulled him out of whatever cleverly constructed rhetorical response might have emerged instead. Instead, he responded thusly:
“Actually, it has nothing to do with this,” gesturing briskly with his free hand to the wavering prosthetic. “Actually, I’m looking for something good for anxiety and sometimes depression: a hybrid certainly, but indica-dominant.”
But as his eyes and nose surveyed the selection, the fellow’s words continued to echo in the young man’s brain: “You’re definitely one of my more legitimate patients.” Never before had a human being in this man’s position hailed him in this way. Not once had a pharmacist, a bartender, a drug store cashier, a hospital administrative assistant, or a drug dealer ever asked what it was that ailed him. That had always been, if not exactly beside the point, but certainly silent in transactions like this. The uses to which drugs–or, for that matter, the cane on which our protagonist now leaned–would be put were always a powerfully present absence in such places.
In the politics of psychopharmacology, some of the bad guys are good and some of the good guys are bad. All is up for grabs when personal technology changes hands in the high-stakes game of drug politics, a more heterogeneous field than we may think. Articulating the stakes of a politics of psychopharmacology is as much for the benefit of those who resist dominant regimes as for those who refuse to hear what other voices have to say.
Compassion, too, is a fluctuating field. Not all care is created equal. A revolution can be done wrong. These are the thoughts that the young man should have been thinking as he calculated the differences between Cotton Candy Headband, Green Crack, Hindu Kush, and Bubblegum Skunk. But he was too placed, to certain of his surroundings, too confident that in this liminal space all words spoken would be spoken from the side of Truth.
And that’s when the jolly fellow behind the counter nodded his head and smiled. “Anxiety, huh? I know just what you mean: that’s what I use it for.”