"I don't know anything about marijuana," the young man announced to no one in particular as he approached the glass counter displaying baggies and little medicine jars of the cannabis we sold at the pot shop. The media had started referring to people with jobs like mine as "budtenders," a title I found appropriate given the personal struggles our customers confided in us like many did with those serving alcohol.
Based on age alone, I might have pegged the man as an undergrad at one of the local universities, either upperclassman or even early graduate studies, but his face lacked the animation possessed by those hopefully investing in their futures. Plus, he was alone. College students usually arrived in clumps. In the weeks since MJ's had opened in a small industrial pocket of a college town in eastern Washington, I'd grown adept at spotting veterans. They sported a specific brand of world weariness: one born of depth, not breadth. His were the haunted eyes of a former soldier who doesn't sleep well, a depletion that no camouflage can hide, one that had me pondering the association between the words "fatigues" and "fatigued."
My coworker Holly was nearest to him. She explained the differences between indicas and sativas, how one is relaxing and the other uplifting. In response, he confirmed what I suspected: tours in Afghanistan, seen and unseen wounds, a rainbow of meds that left him feeling worse than before. He said he'd read online how pot can ease pain and elevate the mood. Those were two things his doctors were trying to accomplish with their many prescriptions, but they hadn't succeeded.
"The happy one," he said in the unhappiest way imaginable. His expression did not brighten once in the face of Holly's most cheerful customer service.
We conferred and presented him with a single gram to try. The next day, he came back for more. He said he'd laughed for the first time in years. Super Lemon Haze did that for him.
So many of our customers were desperate to get off pharmaceutical drugs.
The shop was designated recreational, but clearly a majority of shoppers wanted cannabis to self-medicate in some way. They were hoping to alleviate discomfort from a spectrum of sources that started at the unmistakably physical (missing limbs, fused vertebrae) and journeyed to the amorphous (heartbreak, bad memories).
I had sought out this job as a break from my lonely life as a writer, a way to socialize and earn some cash before my first book was released. I may have had one foot planted in middle age, but when it came to the sea change of legal marijuana, I was all youthful exuberance despite having quit my habit for good a few years earlier. What I hadn't anticipated was the amount of other people's suffering (strangers, though many of them familiar from around town) to which I would be exposed.