A Tale of Two Closets
By: Ben Mervis
As I thought about the mystical meaning of Passover and Easter converging on 4/20 weekend, I realized a far-greater magic a-foot, 2019 marked my 10th year celebrating THE high holiday… 4/20. (no intended disrespect to the actual religious high holidays that were taking place too)
The thing is, until 2017, 4/20 celebrations had always been a kind of secret club - just for me and a select group of chosen friends and family. And while there’s a part of me that would have loved to hold on to that *something special* the acceptance and excitement of a mainstream 4/20 won me over. It got me thinking about closets, and how so many people still feel forced to keep their cannabis use a secret.
But let’s take it back to year 1...
I started smoking weed during the second half of my Freshman year of college. It became “my thing” pretty quickly; yet I evangelized the plant quietly. I enjoyed talking with friends about how cannabis helped me stay calm, creative and somewhat focused when sitting down to focus on homework. It didn’t take long for me and my big mouth to learn which of my new friends would be my smoking friends, and which would NOT.
By April I’d bought my first bowl, but I only felt comfortable smoking it on the far side of the sports fields, far from the regular laps by campus police. Although that did little to relieve my anxieties, since I would still need to get back to my dorm room without raising suspicions along the way by a rule-enforcing, or worse, judgmental peer. I resigned myself to life as a secret-ish smoker, at least until I moved out of the dorms.
But when I found out that there was a holiday for my new tribe - I was excited and wanted to know how we were going to celebrate. I wanted to plan something, duh.
Given the illegality of the topic, and the early years of the internet, there weren’t many - if any - “how to’s” for making the most of the holidaze. That new-ish website YouTube had a fun video about students from the University of Colorado at Boulder getting “caught” in a 4/20 celebration, but that was about it, and frankly seemed hard to replicate.
Thus began the first of many of my excellent 4/20 celebrations planned by yours truly. It was the one day where I encouraged my friends to celebrate their love of weed as much as we all did in private. Over the next few years I would plan:
scavenger hunts; if you can find it, you can smoke it
progressive meals; smoke and a pancake, bong and a burrito, joint and a steak dinner
and of course there were the years of connecting with nature; hiking the great green mountains and taking breaks to smoke, journal, and draw
Aside from lowkey coming out as a stoner in 2009, another big thing happened in April of 2009.
Rewind to March 27th: I’d been invited to the birthday of a boy that I had met during his shift at the on-campus Ben and Jerrys. We’ll call him Nick because that’s his name and there’s no reason to use a fake one.
Nick and I had spoken on Facebook and even moved to texting. He knew I was curious about his homosexuality… and I was finally ready to admit it for the first time. That night as I prepared for the party, I decided I would tell all of my local best friends - the entire floor of my dorm - that I was going to a gay boy’s birthday and that I too, might be a gay boy.
Nick was having a “farmers and hoes” party in a dorm room, so I wore my flannel shirt as depicted below, and drank 2 Mikes Hard Lemonades as QUICKLY as possible while my friends showered me with love and support… and a few questions about whether being gay meant I had to wear things like this.
We smoked weed at the birthday party, I got anxious/paranoid about getting caught, the birthday boy noticed and took me away from the party to help calm my nerves… yeah, that helped.
Following that birthday party, and the physical confirmation that YUP, I like men - I felt the Jewish guilt from the blood that fills my veins, and I knew I had to come out to my parents. Fortunately for me, Easter was less than two weeks away, and I could inconspicuously hitch a ride home with my goyim friends from the same hometown.
I told my parents I was making the trip “just because I love you” which should have raised suspicions from the start. A full day after arriving, and lots of hemming and hawing later, my dad noticed a look on my face while he prepared dinner and said: “everything okay?” To which I responded, “what if I don’t like girls, romantically or sexually?” We laughed, we cried a little, my mom heard those sounds and joined us in the kitchen feeling left out of the fun, and then joined us in the emotions of a defining moment in our family history.
A tale of two closets
I moved to California during the last couple of years of the exploding “medical” regulatory system, where cannabis use was socially acceptable - but in work situations, things were still murky. When I officially left a career in public health to join leaders in the California cannabis industry - I took some time to reflect that even though I’d come out of the closet as gay many years before, I’d continued living in a cannabis closet even after leaving the confines of a risky dorm situation.
Now that we’re almost 2-years into California’s recreational market and with many States following suit, I’ll admit to a “back off” attitude at “the masses” celebrating 4/20. What were once-hushed and intimate celebrations are now Buzzfeed articles, topics of conference calls, and 5-o-clock news. “It’s 4/20, do you know how your kids are celebrating?” But excitement won over, and I just hope consumers look past blatant green-washing of brand marketing, and support real cannabis businesses that support their communities.
And 10-years after my first gay kiss… this year on March 27th I got “carb influencer” embroidered on my denim jacket at a chic weed party. I smoked an entire Kush Queen CBD joint before getting there because - yikes - people. My gay best friend and I left after an hour to go get pizza; quietly so as to avoid any “where are you going - don’t leave” comments.
From a closeted 19-year old to #gayblogger; from straight-laced “good kid” to cannabis industry expert (and still a “good kid”). Ten years later and pretty sure there’s no closet big enough to hold all this pride.
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