The mood was one of a fait accompli as the throng of cannabis enthusiasts filed excitedly into the swank rooftop bar overlooking the flickering lights of San Diego’s renowned Gaslamp District Tuesday night - a mingling of entrepreneurs, activists and folks looking to celebrate California’s Prop 64 and partake in a long-awaited legal toke.
The crowd at the Andaz Hotel swelled to a few dozen just in time for the fateful - if not foregone - announcement a mere five minutes after the polls closed: by a 54-to-46 margin, Prop 64 had been declared victorious.
A roar went up. Enthused embraces and mutual congratulations abound.
A half hour later, the main screen showed Florida’s medical cannabis referendum as a lock. Results from Massachusetts, Nevada, North Dakota and Arkansas showed solid leads. Just then, the evening’s first of many skunky clouds wafted through the air.
A few of the revelers paused to speak with Civilized on this historic night, waxing poetic and historic about what it all might mean for the future of cannabis in the Golden State and beyond.
Dion Markgraaf, co-coordinator of the local chapter of the Prop 64 campaign and part of General Hemp LLC, a San Diego-based cannabis investment firm, couldn’t help but get carried away by the commotion.
"This is the biggest moment of my life. I’ve been working every day for the past 25 years, every day waking up and figuring out, ‘How can I best change this horrible policy?’ ” he said in between hugs from longtime comrades-in-arms. “One of the greatest wars in the history of the world has been waged against this plant."
"They've spent a trillion dollars on this war, and it failed. Not only did it fail, but with California now going legal, the biggest agricultural spot on the planet is pro-cannabis. That’s huge. We’ve worshiped this plant throughout history, and now we’re going to go back to that."
Despite the excitement, he was determined to wait until midnight to break into his baggie of rolled joints, fresh organic bud brought in the day before from northern California.
Almost inexplicably, it took until past 9:30 for some Bob Marley to make its way onto the PA system - Jammin' to be precise.
With California having gone fully green, the national landscape will only tilt steeply toward legalization, said San Diego cannabis attorney Kimberly Simms - something even President Obama himself acknowledged only a few days ago.
“I do think we are the tipping point," she said. "We are the sixth largest economy in the world, and the amount of tax revenue that’s going to now go through our stream of commerce, and the billions of dollars that we’ll generate to get to that $1-billion in tax revenue; you just can’t ignore that.”
“I think that our elected officials here in California really - like it or not - have no choice now but to pick this up and take it to Washington D.C. and say, ‘We need access to banking. We need to create a system that does not have 50 different states with 50 different sets of laws.’ Do I think it’s going to happen in the next six months? No. Do I think it’s going to happen in the next year? Probably not.
"[Legalization at the federal level is] still a really heavy boulder to push uphill. But I think that with the force of California now behind that boulder, we’re going to move it a lot faster.”
The celebration being what it was, more than a few attendees couldn’t help but indulge occasionally throughout the three-hour wait - perhaps to celebrate their decades-long fight to liberate the forbidden plant, and perhaps also to commiserate the dread of what was becoming Donald Trump’s steady march toward victory.
From there the evening took a somewhat subdued turn. Florida - fresh off its medical marijuana landslide - turned red on the electoral maps. Then North Carolina. Then Ohio. The jubilation of the Prop 64 victory ebbed. At some point, the presidential returns disappeared from the main screen, replaced by videos from the party’s sponsor companies.
But as midnight neared, so did the party’s anticipation for finally taking their historic toke. The die-hards’ jubilance was untarnished by the presidential news. Rather, Trump’s stunning lead cast an eerie, almost macabre pall over the evening, advocates grinning perplexed and delirious at the ghastly spectacle.
"It's like the Twilight Zone: pot's legal and Trump is president!" howled one of the lead organizers, as the three dozen remaining die-hard revelers bellied up to the main bar, joints ablaze, to watch the final, fateful returns with a sort of amused, apocalyptic glee, marveling at the nearly inexplicable news of Clinton’s concession. "This is crazy. This is fucking crazy."
Sebastian Montes is a writer based in San Diego, and a contributor to Civilized.
Banner photo: Dion Markgraaf, co-coordinator of the local chapter of the Prop 64 campaign: "This is the biggest moment of my life. I’ve been working every day for the past 25 years, every day waking up and figuring out, ‘How can I best change this horrible policy?’ ” (Sebastian Montes photo).