Colin Hogg: I am not a stoner

Colin Hogg, marijuana tourist.
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Colin Hogg, marijuana tourist.

"So tell me Bruce, 50 minutes into the incredible edible, are you feeling anything?"

"A little slippage," he says. On closer examination, he does look a little slipped perhaps. Meanwhile the train is pulling in to Centralia, Pennsylvania.

"I think we should wait till after lunch before we drop another one," I tell him. "It's maybe best to be a little conservative. This is new territory, after all."

Some of the edibles Colin Hogg and his friend Bruce sampled.
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Some of the edibles Colin Hogg and his friend Bruce sampled.

He nods.

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"Those things look just like throat lozenges," I babble on. "I could just drop them loose in my toilet bag and, if I'm asked by an officer when we get home, I'll just say someone in San Francisco gave them to me for my sore throat."

One of Colin Hogg's earliest memories of smoking marijuana was at a Bob Marley and the Wailers concert
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One of Colin Hogg's earliest memories of smoking marijuana was at a Bob Marley and the Wailers concert

"Unless," says wise old Bruce, "the staff have just had a training lesson on them."

"Well, that's a point, I suppose."

Only 55 minutes in, and that lozenge is increasingly soothing.

Photos from the high road
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Photos from the high road

Bruce had a terrible struggle with the seal wrapping, and now that it's out of that and inside him, he's not so sure he wants it there. I'm writing really slowly and my letters are taking on a different shape.

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"What's that opening line in Hunter S Thompson's Fear and Loathing?" asks Bruce.

"We'd just made it to the dining car when the drugs kicked in," I say.

Hogg and his friend Bruce drove from San Francisco to Seattle on a marijuana roadtrop
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Hogg and his friend Bruce drove from San Francisco to Seattle on a marijuana roadtrop

I've always had a low regard for edible pot in the past. I've eaten plenty of hash cookies over the years, but none ever impressed me. This time, though, feels a little different.

"So let's see," I say to Bruce woozily, "we've got eight of those lollies left, several sorts of weed and the vape, which that bud-tender said was good for 150 hits."

"We might have to binge," he says.

"I think that's probably a necessity now," I tell him. "It's essential field research. And don't forget you signed up for this. Don't get soft on me now."

We go back upstairs to the dining car, slightly off our heads, and are seated at our table opposite a friendly young couple from "the East Coast". They're getting off in Portland, they say, and driving back to Seattle.

The nice young couple notice me scribbling away in my notebook and wonder, out loud, what I'm up to. I'm so zonked by my legal lolly I just come right out and tell them.

"We're marijuana tourists," I say.

Before we go any further, I'd like to get one thing straight. I am not a stoner. I don't like the word and I don't like the way it slips out of some people's mouths when they reach for something to describe a particular person to someone else. So, I am not a stoner, though I am sometimes stoned, and have been, in fact, during much of the research and the writing of this book. But that was inevitable really and not exactly out of my comfort zone.

I can't remember the first time I smoked marijuana, but maybe that's part of the deal you make with marijuana: not remembering. There are other prices to pay. Being a criminal, for instance.

But I'm not a stoner any more than I'm an alcoholic just because I enjoy a few beers while I cook dinner. And, as I say, I don't recall that first inhalation, though I do remember an early inhalation, mainly because it was an unforgettable inhalation. It probably constituted an assault, but I didn't lay a complaint at the time.

It was 1979, quite a heavy time in New Zealand, with skinheads, Rastas and the gangs, who were young, fit and dangerous back then. I saw quite a bit of them all. I was the rock music reviewer for The Auckland Star and in April 1979 I was out on assignment attending what turned out to be a momentous and far-reaching musical event, though those of us who were there didn't entirely know it at the time. It was a concert by Bob Marley and the Wailers at Auckland's Western Springs Stadium. The mark that single show made on New Zealand's modern culture remains indelible to this day, and not just for the music.

Bob Marley, his music, his message, his brownness, his spirituality and, also significantly, his weedworshipping ways, attached to us here at the bottom of the Pacific seemingly forever.

I was 28 at the time and up for anything. Well, that's what the big gang guy next to me in the audience that day must have thought.

Marley's music was lifting us all off the ground. The Wailers were overwhelming, a wall of sound with the bass so big and low and loud it was vibrating our inner organs. And Marley was mesmerising, like no one any of us had seen or heard. I still remember. I remember, too, the big bugger in the patched jacket next to me. He'd been sucking on a fat joint, blowing perfumed smoke out his flaring nostrils; then suddenly he turned to me, grabbed me by both ears, pulled me right into his face, flipped his joint in his mouth and firmly kissed me, blasting my pale lungs full of powerful smoke, before throwing me aside.

In that moment, something snapped in my synapses and I felt suddenly part of a big and marvellous thing, perhaps life itself. I've never been the same since, still own every record Bob Marley and the Wailers ever made and still love them and play them on a fairly regular basis. And I still smoke cannabis on what I can only describe as a fairly regular basis. Which, as mentioned, makes me a criminal in my country.

Extracted from The High Road by Colin Hogg (published by Harper Collins), which is out now.

 - Stuff

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