Burning Secrets

Black and white images of anonymous people with their heads covered by smoke.

The College Kid

Smoking weed

in college today is very different from what your readers probably remember. Nobody shows up to a party with a joint anymore. If I’m going out, I’ll usually bring my dab pen with a cartridge. Those are incredibly popular on campus. Basically, it’s concentrated THC oil in a thin glass container that you screw into a battery and heat up. The cartridges are shipped from California or Colorado, and they’re all branded and labeled so you know exactly what you’re getting, high-wise. They’re great because there’s no smell—dogs can’t sniff them out, and you can smoke them anywhere: dorm room, frat house, on the way to class, wherever.

Don’t get me wrong: There’s still a lot of dry product around. I’ve been smoking a really solid strain lately called Alaskan Thunder F–k. I usually sprinkle some kief—the pollen of the cannabis bud—on it, too. I love smoking a bowl, but it’s just way more of a hassle. I either have to hot box in a buddy’s parked car or walk to the nearby woods. That’s why the synthesized THC in wax and dab pens is so popular. It’s so much easier to hide. Sometimes, you’ll come across a huge bong at an off-campus apartment or something, but mostly people just take dab rips these days. All you have to do is heat up the nail, drop the wax on it, and inhale. Walking around with a joint is just asking to get arrested by campus police.

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The Prisoner

I was working

construction in Indy in the early 2000s when both of my employers went out of business within a month of each other. Things were falling apart. I had to pay my bills somehow, and I had dealt in small amounts of marijuana when I was younger. So I started selling pot again. I didn’t have anywhere else to turn.

In August 2010, I got arrested by the Indiana State Police on a charge of “financing the dealing of marijuana.” Basically, I helped somebody get weed by giving them some money. The deal was for 24 pounds. I ended up getting sentenced to four years, but they suspended two and said with good behavior, I would be out in one. I was 10 months into my one year—I was already getting home passes to see my three kids and was on work release—when the feds came in and indicted me. I had no clue what was going on. I had stopped by my house to let my dog out when I heard a commotion. I looked out and there were two vans full of federal agents jumping out and running toward my house. I opened the front door and was like, “Hey, here I am. I’m on work release. I haven’t done anything wrong.” They said they had an indictment out of Texas. I said, “Texas? I’ve never even been to Texas.”

That was the day after Father’s Day of 2011, the last time I’ve seen or talked to my two youngest kids. My case had gone from a state conviction to a federal indictment. I didn’t do one thing while I was on work release. I was totally out of the game. But the feds were onto the whole operation and had been following the leader, a guy with a connection in Mexico, who had recently moved to Texas. There were 17 of us who were indicted as part of the conspiracy to sell weed. They took us all down to the Fannin County Jail in Bonham, Texas.

I got assigned a public defender, and for the first year, I could barely get a hold of the guy. But what are you gonna do? The state of Indiana had already taken all my stuff, so I was pretty much bare-boned. When the leader got arrested, the government offered him a deal for cooperating. I had known him since he was a baby, but that didn’t matter—he took the deal and blamed everything on me. A lot of the guys cut deals. They’re all home now, by the way. Even the leader.

I was forced to go to trial with three other defendants, so anything that got said about them made me look guilty, too. Two of my co-defendants ended up representing themselves. We were sitting there in federal court and they were trying to give opening statements. It felt like we were guilty from the time we sat down.

I waited six months for sentencing. I knew I was facing 10 years-to-life, but with my lack of a criminal history, I never thought I’d get the maximum. The judge was a real hardliner on drugs. She said she didn’t agree with marijuana legalization and wasn’t going to look at the trends. My lawyer tried to argue that the only clients he had who received life sentences were murderers, but she didn’t care. I always knew I could do jail time for selling weed. I just never thought they’d give me the life sentence that they did.

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The Single Mom

I raised

four daughters on my own, and I’m not ashamed to say I smoked cannabis daily during that period. Alcohol was a huge part of my teenage years, and I got pregnant with my first child at 17. I married the father, but it was a bad relationship, and he became abusive. I took the kids and left. Suddenly, I was a single mom raising four girls in a small Indiana town. I was very irresponsible when I drank, and I wasn’t there emotionally for my kids like I wanted to be. Thankfully, I realized it and decided to stop drinking. That’s when I started smoking weed, hiding in the garage and hoping nobody would find out—the stigma can kill you, especially being a woman in a small town.

My kids know now that I smoked when they were growing up. Looking back, they can tell a difference between when I did and didn’t. They say I was a nicer person after I had snuck out to the garage. That’s what people don’t understand: I wasn’t getting stoned and loafing around on the couch. Smoking cannabis actually helped me deal with all the stress and anxiety in my life. It took the place of the medications I used for all my back problems, and it really calmed down my ADHD, too. It didn’t make anything disappear, but it helped me think clearly, and brought me to a level where I could work through my problems instead of getting overwhelmed and depressed. It sounds crazy, but marijuana gave me a chance to be a better mom.

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The Veteran

I joined

the military as soon as I turned 18, and later attended college on the GI Bill. They say PTSD comes from knowing you’re going to die and giving in to it—and then not dying. For me, it’s like walking through life having the shit scared out of you. I’m on hyper-alert at all times. About a year and half ago, a series of things happened financially and health-wise with my family that caused my PTSD to spiral out of control. I didn’t know what was going on, I just knew that I was collapsing. I had been prescribed benzodiazepines from my doctor, but I started looking at other options, and I learned that one good treatment for this is marijuana.

This was in the fall of 2017, and I had been clean and sober since 1984. I didn’t have any idea where to get pot. But I started researching the laws and found that Illinois was the closest option for me. So I went over there and established residency. I applied for the medical marijuana license, and quickly got it—if you have medical records from Veterans Affairs showing you have PTSD, it’s an automatic license there. So now I’m an Illinois medical marijuana patient. The whole process is really expedited for veterans. They gave me a military discount for the license and fees, and I even get a discount at the dispensary.

I don’t understand why it’s not legal here. I mean, we have veterans who are committing suicide because of PTSD. The marijuana calms me down and puts me in a nice, mellow place. It distracts me from dwelling on things that can increase my anxiety. My psychiatrist says the biggest thing I need to do is practice living calmly. OK, so I should practice living calmly while being scared of the cops all the time?

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The High School Teacher

I started smoking

weed in eighth grade, and I smoked pretty much all through high school. I was one of those girls who didn’t like to be told, “You shouldn’t do this.” You could pretty much guarantee that if someone said that, I would do it. By the time I got to college, though, just when everyone else got around to thinking weed was great, I was burned out on it. It wasn’t until I became a high school teacher here in Indy that I started smoking again. But instead of being like the younger version of myself who slacked off and smoked a lot of weed, I now use it more responsibly, as another outlet for stress. Like drinking a couple glasses of wine to relax.

I only smoke on the weekends, and even then, it goes in phases depending on my schedule. I have colleagues who smoke throughout the week, and I always thought that was a little sketchy. Especially in Indiana, the teaching profession is super conservative. But I’ve been lucky in that I work with people who are pretty open-minded about marijuana—you don’t have to be super covert. Truthfully, I think a lot of people in the teaching profession use it or have used it, regardless of how open they are to talking about the experience. It’s the same philosophy I share with students: What you do with your time is your business, just don’t put me in the middle of it. I’ve had students come to my class noticeably high, and I’m always kind of shocked at how nonchalant some of them are. A lot of times, I’ll walk over to the student and say, “Hmm, something sure smells suspicious over here.” You can let them know that you’re on to them, and you can do it without being like, “Call the principal! Call the police! We need the dogs!”

Read more from our March 2019
Marijuana feature here.