Buying pot in San Francisco’s hippie ‘hood hits you like a surrealistic pillow in the very Aquarius age of cannabis legalization.
BY ED MURRIETA
SAN FRANCISCO — “Dank.”
Cannabis come-hithers hang over the Haight-Ashbury like body funk on street waifs — beacons and warnings signifying pot peddlers holding black-market bags.
I palmed two twenties and slalomed the sidewalk demimonde of dreadlocks, dogs and dubious hygiene.
I made eye contact by mistake.
Ganja girl flashed a broken smile and a digital scale.
“Full weight,” she said. “No Haighths, man.”
Haighths. That’s local lingo for notoriously pinched bags, two or three nugs shy of what both stoners and connoisseurs would agree is the common unweighed standard for an eighth of an ounce of cannabis flowers.
In the era of cannabis prohibition, Haighths were a form of street tax and convenience fee. Overpaying cash for underweight weed was the street-buyer’s bargain if you were a tourist, if your regular dealer was out of town, if your medical card expired or if you needed a last-minute housewarming gift on your way to dinner at your friend’s pad.
Pot is to the Haight-Ashbury as patchouli is to hippies. It’s here in the Haight, the geographic heart of San Francisco where the Summer of Love weathers on and associations permeate perceptions, that a nation turned on to pot half a century ago. America’s first head shop opened on Haight Street in 1966. The Psychedelic Shop was the epicenter of emerging hippie culture and commerce, featuring extra-legal drug sales and on-premises pot smoking. Counterculture catalyst Ken Kesey and members of the Grateful Dead, the hippie-era house band, were busted for pot in the Haight, sparking social-justice and plant-politics controversies that defined cannabis conversations for 50 years.
THC is in the Haight-Ashbury’s DNA. Every year since as far back as most San Francisco potheads can remember, Haight Street has been the gateway to the massive 4/20 celebration on Hippie Hill, a couple hundred yards from where Haight Street dead-ends at Golden Gate Park.
Today, you can’t walk seven blocks on Haight Street between Golden Gate Park and Buena Vista Park without seeing or smelling pot in some form — perfumed puffs of passing pedestrians, high-tech dab rigs in old-school smoke shops, hundred-dollar hoodies in the pot-branded Cookies boutique or urchin dealers whispering cannabis come-hithers on the same sidewalks Jerry, Janis and the Diggers strolled in the Haight’s hippie heyday.
“Twenty bucks,” ganja girl cooed.
I breathed in the moment. It smelled like nostalgia. I kept hoofing, past Buena Vista Park, six blocks down the hill where San Francisco’s touristy hippie ‘hood turns scruffy. I entered SPARC and pondered my first legal recreational pot purchase on Haight Street.
Austere in a reclaimed farmhouse way that evokes Dwell magazine’s greatest hits, SPARC is a satellite of the Apple Genius Bar-sleek cannabis store and lounge of the same name a mile away on Mission Street in the South of Market neighborhood, which, like the Haight, is both gritty and gentrifying.
Located in a building that once housed the Lower Haight’s oldest head shop, SPARC is not the first place on Haight Street where I’ve purchased cannabis legally. The Vapor Room, a medicinal dispensary and lounge, resided a block away until 2011 when it was shuttered in a federal crackdown. In the very Aquarian age of legalization, SPARC is Haight Street’s first, and so far only, state-regulated store selling recreational cannabis in California’s highly-taxed market for adults over age 21.
I was only window-shopping yet it stoned me: SPARC’s $25 government-taxed, full-weight budgets eighths were priced only slightly higher than the street-taxed Haighths offered today.