Help! My life smells like weed, but my nose is opposed

Some thoughts on public pot smoking etiquette in San Francisco

Happy 4/20 San Francisco! Now put that thing out. My nose hurts.

Sorry, I’m a bit cranky. You see, my life smells like weed. And so does yours. Everywhere you go in our fair city these days, marijuana smoke envelopes us.

I never thought it would bother me. Philosophically, I’m 100% on board with legalized marijuana. Have been my whole life. I was thrilled to see the weed freed. I just never realized my nose was opposed.

I guess it started about a year ago when I returned to the office. Like most of us, I’d been homebound since the start of the pandemic. But when I started riding public transit again, walking the streets and even going to public events, the smell was everywhere. Getting on a morning train at 8:30 a.m. Or back again at 7 p.m. Walking down Market Street. Or out in the Mission. Sitting in an outdoor cafe. Or even an indoor restaurant. The fragrance followed me like a faithful pet. Except this pet was a skunk. And there’s a reason people don’t keep skunks.

It all came to a head for me at the theater, of all places. I went to see “My Fair Lady,” the Broadway classic based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.” My wife and I were looking forward to a night of Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins. Instead, we got Cheech and Chong. As soon as the house lights went down, a number of people around us lit up and filled the air with smoke. It was really kind of remarkable. Was that OK? We were still all wearing masks indoors at the time.

The night went fine and the production was divine. But the whole thing got me thinking. Is there any etiquette to smoking marijuana in San Francisco these days? What would people say if you lit up a cigarette or a cigar during an indoor theater experience? Is it OK to smoke dope around kids?

We all know the answers to these questions. No, no and hell no.

But that doesn’t stop people from lighting up, or vaping, anywhere and everywhere. And I get it. Marijuana is core to San Francisco’s cultural zeitgeist. This City fought long and hard to first decriminalize, then legalize, the beloved herb. Cannabis may have healing properties, and is being used to alleviate depression and anxiety. God knows, the pandemic didn’t help any of us on that front.

And let’s not forget. People love getting high.

But what can we do for the people who aren’t getting high? Who might not want to take the skunk train to work in the morning? Not a whole lot it seems. Perhaps 4/20, our annual holiday celebrating all things marijuana, is a good day to ponder the questions surrounding public space and purple haze.

One very positive development in this debate involves the emergence of edibles. You can injest THC and CBD in almost any format imaginable these days. From gummies to cookies to good old-fashioned brownies, absorbing the psychoactive and therapeutic components of cannabis through your stomach rather than lungs is better for everyone involved. Tinctures and oils fall in the same category, mitigating the impact on those around you. Moderating dosage can be difficult, but that’s more a question for the user than the general public.

Another interesting talking point: Most people think marijuana smoke is not that bad for you. At least compared to cigarettes. A recent study conducted at UC Berkeley begs to differ. Despite 27% of young adults surveyed believing second-hand cannabis smoke is safe, the research showed cannabis contains “several hundred toxic chemicals, carcinogens, and fine particulate matter.”

The scientists involved focused on bong smoking, which involves pulling the smoke through water before taking it into your lungs. Turns out it’s bad for anyone in the room, and much worse than second-hand tobacco smoke. The bad stuff from your bong rip can linger in the air up to 12 hours.

“This cohort study suggests that, contrary to popular beliefs, bong smoking is not safe,” the study’s authors concluded. “Decades ago, many people thought (second-hand tobacco smoke) presented no health risk to nonsmokers. Scientific research since then changed this perception and led to smoke-free environments. Incorrect beliefs about (second-hand cannabis smoke) safety promote indoor cannabis smoking. Nonsmokers are exposed to even higher concentrations of (second-hand cannabis smoke) materials during ‘hot-boxing,’ the popular practice in which cannabis smokers produce high volumes of smoke in an enclosed environment. This study’s findings suggest (second-hand cannabis smoke) in the home is not safe and that public perceptions of … safety must be addressed.”

Guess I need to call my college roommates to see if they’re alright. In the meantime, let’s take time this high holiday to consider our fellow citizens, potheads and squares alike, and think a little about our reefer habits. I humbly propose these three core principles for your consideration:

1. Puff, puff, pass to the left. This remains the golden rule, unimpeachable for time immemorial.

2. Don’t smoke indoors, where others may not want to smell your kush.

3. Think about the kids. They’re not looking for a contact high.

OK, that’s it. That’s my rant. I’ll see ya on Hippie Hill.

The Arena, a column from The Examiner’s Al Saracevic, explores San Francisco’s playing field, from politics and technology to sports and culture. Send your tips, quips and quotes to asaracevic@sfexaminer.com.

People exhale marijuana smoke during the 4/20 event at Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park in 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

People exhale marijuana smoke during the 4/20 event at Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park in 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

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