I must confess, as my adult children have always suspected, I got high in college. And a little bit after.

There is that one photo of me in a canoe on the Pocomoke River sometime around 1984, wearing blue hospital scrubs — preferred stoner loungewear of the era — with a small white stick in my hand. I told my kids when they discovered the picture that it was a Q-tip.

It was not.

I make this acknowledgment for professional reasons, the same motivation that prompted me to largely give up marijuana not long after that photo was taken. As a young reporter for a weekly newspaper in Ocean City, I was making a criminally poor living writing about, among other things, drug busts.

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A DEA agent, who later married my stepsister, offered to show me his latest seizure. There were bags and bags of pot, wads of cash and bricks of hashish.

“Can I touch it?” I asked.

“No. Are you kidding?” he said.

Yup. Sure. Just making a joke. Haha.

Wake-up call. I could not take a paycheck for reporting on people getting arrested for an illegal business that I was, occasionally, supporting. It was one of my first real-life lessons on what it means to be a journalist. You can’t do this job right if you’re a hypocrite.

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On July 1, Maryland crosses a threshold—legalization of adult use—that was unimaginable when my cousin asked my teenage self if I wanted to get high. I wasn’t sure, but after he inhaled from a pipe carved out of an apple and then threw up his lunch, I was initially sure that the answer was no.

Now pot prohibition is ending here, and I’ve got questions.

Will Annapolis disappear in a cloud of weed smoke — no one calls it pot anymore — on July 1? Will it reek of the devil’s cabbage? Can I grow it next to the rosemary?

And most importantly to me, should I get high?

I don’t think I’m the only one of a certain age asking this question. There are plenty of people who gave up their youthful puff as life and responsibilities made it inconvenient. People who never tried it because it was illegal, naturally, are going to be curious.

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There are lots of reasons not to pick up cannabis again, whether it’s smokable, edible or drinkable.

First, my father drank himself to death at age 46. There is a predilection in my family toward addiction. I drink beer, wine or the occasional cocktail — and I’m vigilant about keeping tabs on going overboard.

I enjoy the taste of wine and beer, but would I savor a blunt with crabs or pair a microdose, tropical punch-flavored gummy with roast chicken? Do I really need one more way to blur the edge of a hard day?

Afroman provides one answer. The rapper’s 2001 song “Because I Got High” has been rolling through my brain like a joint between my fingers:

“I was gonna go to work but then I got high (ohh, ohh)

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“I just got a new promotion but I got high (la da da da da)

“Now I’m selling dope and I know why (why man?)

“‘Cause I got high

“Because I got high

“Because I got high”

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It’s funny and tragic, profane and catchy. It’s an ode to marijuana as something that keeps you from doing what needs to be done.

I’m a serious guy, maybe a little bit driven. I work long hours because I like my work. With everything I do and consume now, how can I fit getting high into my schedule? Is there going to be a day when I tell my editor I was going to write my column, but then I got high?

Rick Hutzell: A Maryland prosecutor granted immunity to a predatory priest. Only the truth holds him accountable.

Clearly, my information on weed might be woefully out of date.

I asked some friends about their use. One has a vape in his hand almost every time I see him, and it’s not tobacco. It’s just always been part of his life. Another went with her son to a dispensary on the Eastern Shore and came back with medical marijuana products for morning, noon and night.

Both are functional, successful people. Memories of the wake-and-bake bunch from my college days and their younger iterations in my kids’ circles are probably wrong, then. Marijuana is touted as a remedy for stress, worry, pain, nausea and that general feeling everyone gets sometimes that life sucks. Users say it’s fun, and makes their lives better.

And, it’s everywhere. California started this by approving medical cannabis in 1996. Colorado and Washington followed six years later with recreational use. Forty states now have some form of legal weed.

No matter what a fuddy-duddy like me does, there’s been no real barrier to getting high for years. If you want to argue the world is worse for it, you’ll have a hard time convincing me that all the other things screwing it up aren’t far more to blame.

Here’s a little backdrop for what’s coming. Voters in November approved a state law making small amounts of cannabis legal for personal, recreational use. It’s been legal for medicinal purposes for almost a decade and decriminalized almost as long. The Maryland General Assembly just passed a package of bills that set the marketplace rules, establishing licenses, controls, taxes and oversight.

In 78 days, anyone 21 or older can have 1.5 ounces of cannabis, 12 grams of concentrate — a kind of liquid or semi-solid — or brownies, gummies or other edibles containing up to 750 milligrams of the active ingredient, delta-9-THC.

You can’t legally smoke it in public, so Main Street in Annapolis won’t be under a haze on July 1. Cannabis cafes aren’t specifically allowed under the new laws, but they aren’t prohibited, either. That will probably be a thing.

I can plant the Blue Dream varietal in my herb garden, but only if it’s out of public view and secure from neighborhood kids who might chase a ball into my backyard. If you rent, you have to have the property owner’s permission.

Police officers won’t be able to pull you over anymore if they smell your happiness on the road, but drugged driving is already covered under state law, even if the definition is vague. This has huge implications. The percentage of white and Black people who say they consume marijuana is the same, but people of color are arrested at far higher rates for it and face stiffer penalties. Saying goodbye to the sniff test is a good thing.

Social services won’t be able to take your kids away if you puff, but being so stoned you forget to feed them is still very, very wrong. Naval Academy midshipmen won’t be permitted to light up because using or possessing marijuana, CBD or hemp products is still grounds for a dishonorable discharge under Article 112a of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Your employer can still demand that you pee in a cup, according to the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, and fire you if the results are positive.

No one is 100% sure how all of this is going to turn out. Both Annapolis and Anne Arundel County are only now studying Maryland’s new marijuana rules to sort out changes for local government. There are elements of the new law aimed at redressing unfair enforcement on Black and brown communities, but it’s not clear they’ll be enough.

It’s a safe bet lawmakers will tweak the laws, possibly as soon as next year.

One reason to do this is historical. Annapolis was always a wet town during Prohibition. Maryland never enforced America’s 14-year experiment with teetotalism, and in Annapolis, most of the bars just pretended to be cigar shops to keep the feds at bay.

When Prohibition ended on Dec. 3, 1933, the bars all came out of hiding, and the undisguised drinking resumed. I imagine something like that will happen again this summer when pot prohibition ends in Maryland, and Annapolis and the rest of the state will indeed smell slightly skunky.

All this and I still haven’t answered the question.

The Baltimore Banner posted an offer Wednesday to answer questions about the legalization of recreational marijuana. So I posed a question.

“Should I get high?” I asked.

An editor replied: “Checking back in with a thing you thought you knew every decade or so can be enlightening.”

Rick Hutzell on a canoe in about 1984 with something in his hand that is not, as he told his kids, a Q-tip.
Rick Hutzell on a canoe in about 1984 with something in his hand that is not, as he told his kids, a Q-tip. (Courtesy of Rick Hutzell)


Rick Hutzell is the Annapolis columnist for The Baltimore Banner. He writes about what's happening today, how we got here and where we're going next. The former editor of Capital Gazette, he led the newspaper to a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the 2018 mass shooting in its newsroom.

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