The two things I most looked forward to when I returned from a long trip abroad—besides family and friends—were hops and weed. There was a time when America had the shittiest beer in the world, but now, it is quite difficult to find places abroad that have beer that can even come close to our craft brews. There are a few in Greece, but we have far more craft beers in our small city here than there are in the whole country there.
But at least I could get beer, even if it was an unspectacular lager like Alfa. Weed was a different story. The two weeks I spent in Athens was the longest I had gone without smoking since I had to take a piss test—back in the Times-Shamrock days—to work for City Paper. Yes, even in the old days, the paper drug-tested. The policy has grown worse under the ownership of the BSMG, which insists that even interns (because they are now paid!) take drug tests. I haven't had to take one under the new regime and would, frankly, refuse. Because I am the weed reviewer. If I passed a drug test it would mean that I was a fabricator, which is infinitely worse than being a pothead, and BSMG would have to fire me. So better for all of us that we just leave this stupid-ass policy at the door.
It's just another sign of the insanity of drug laws. If we are going to start thinking of it as medicine then people need to be able to do their jobs and to travel with their medicine. It definitely keeps me right in my head. And Athens has a long history of smoking hash—and repressing it.
At the Baltimore Bookfest, CP's Brandon Soderberg and I met with Amanda Petrusich and Ian Nagoski, after their talk on collecting 78 rpm records, and as we drank a couple of beers Nagoski started talking about the birth of rebetiko music out of the Smyrna catastrophe of 1922, which flooded the city of Athens with Greek refugees from Smyrna. It doubled the population of the city. And because these people had been living in the Ottoman Empire they had been able to openly smoke hashish, and their music and "manges" (hipster) culture developed around hash bars. And because they had few employment options, they created their own underworld and were constantly raided and fucked with by the cops—in the same way that Baltimore musicians such as Young Moose are constantly fucked with by police here.
Then, as Johann Hari's "Chasing the Scream" shows, America forced its anti-drug policies on the rest of the world—especially places with U.S.-supported dictators such as Greece. But the neighborhood I was staying in, Exarchia, has become something of an autonomous zone. It is the coolest neighborhood I've ever seen, with dozens of bookstores and record stores and street art everywhere. And at night groups of young people gather on the square and they smoke hash and are generally not fucked with. I wasn't going to go up and hassle them and freak them out by asking for their drugs, because there are still some strict punishments, but it was nice to smell on the streets and to think that perhaps the age of our American-enforced drug-policy tyranny is coming to an end.
The good news is that when I got home and smoked—damn, was I high. It was almost worth holding off for so long. I smoked a strain cleverly called Berry White with a friend out of a giant glass "steamroller" in the back room of an unnamed location. It was more risque than I normally preferred—I still had nightmares in Greece about being raided by the police and trying to get rid of my plastic baggies; a recurrent nightmare since I was first arrested at 17—but in doing it I felt a kinship with those old-school rebetiko dudes and their narghiles.
The strain itself, an indica hybrid of Blueberry and White Widow, was a spectacular way to reintegrate with a nice uplifting but not paranoia-inducing high and a flavor that paired perfectly with a long-craved IPA. Still, I look forward to a time when I can just travel with a small packet of pot in the same way I would bring tobacco overseas.