When the organizer of the 420 Games asked me to attend his golf event in San Jose last month I immediately tried my best to politely turn him down. On the surface playing golf represented a surrender of my ideals, a public declaration that I was willing to join the moneyed elite of society, and a betrayal of my commitment to sustainable living and progressive land use policies. However in truth my main concern about golf was the fact that I’d steadfastly avoided learning anything about the sport beyond what I needed to know to understand references in Caddyshack. My assistant Art (aka the paralegal who lives on the couch) agreed, stating “um dude you are setting yourself up for a terrible time”. Nevertheless I agreed to go, because even in the wacky world of weed law, turning down invitations involving the sacred networking sport of golf is still professional suicide.
Like many people who talk too much for a living, my preferred form of physical activity is one that requires enough physical intensity to make my brain effectively shut off for the duration of the exercise. As an outsider, golf existed as an extension of the corporate boardroom or steakhouse in the office park. In other words a golf course was a place of pervasive class awareness that celebrated a nominal sport specifically designed to exclude society’s riff-raff from participating. And while elements of this rather obnoxious opinion certainly have some truth to them, in truth my persistent refusal to even learn the basics of how to swing a club were more grounded in arrogance and fear than any sincere facet of my politics.
If things had gone according to plan after law school I would have probably successfully avoided ever having to step out onto the green in the first place. I was supposed to be a boring government employee, safely tucked away in an impenetrable jungle of bureaucratic morass that would shield me from ever having to participate in the something as foreign to me as golf. However, being a baby lawyer, I forgot to include Murphy’s Law into my career projection analysis, so the dream of 40 hour work weeks and union health insurance quickly evaporated once it became clear that having opinions on policy is entirely antithetical to remaining a government employee.
So at the beginning of this year I opened my own firm and decided to pursue a practice in the developing world of cannabis law. Given the rather anti-establishment nature of weed, I was confident that I’d still never have to do the traditional lawyering activity of scrounging for clients at a golf course. And, to be fair, I wasn’t entirely naive to maintain this assumption. The statutes and legal conflicts regarding cannabis in California are unique, and the culture that governs lawyers who practice in this area has encouraged being slightly rebellious and unconventional- at least until this year.
In the world of weed, California is defined by three truisms, two of which are good. We were the first state to legalize medical cannabis, and we grow what is without question the best marijuana in the entire world. But these two attributes are offset against California’s well-deserved reputation for anarchy, as we managed to produce a multi-billion dollar weed industry that was managed with little to no effective form of regulation for close to twenty years. The problem of the regulatory vacuum has become so apparent and pervasive that insiders are growing concerned that it could ruin the chances for California to finally legalize “adult use” (i.e. recreational) weed in 2016, a loss that would cripple a movement that has seen so much progress in the last year.
Enter Jim McAlpine, the organizer of the 420 Games. He understands the cultural deficit that promoters of the cannabis face, even in the supposedly weed friendly confines of Northern California. In founding the 420 Games, McAlpine is attempting to co-opt amateur athletics and responsible weed use, which seems like a quirky idea until you remember that virtually every major social movement in this country has had a facet that involved either sports or the military.
The specter of the “lazy stoner” stereotype remains particularly pervasive and damaging for both an industry that is looking towards the future and wants to be taken seriously, and for athletically inclined individuals. The 420 Games were designed to address this concern by offering a diverse array of challenging sporting events, all of which happen to include a closeted subculture of cannabis enthusiasts. I was introduced to the games via the 5k in San Francisco, where I managed to fulfill the dual purpose envisioned by McAlpine by running a strenuous and difficult race while being a suitable public representative of the type of responsible use that helps convince a hesitant public that legal weed will not destroy society. My attempt to play golf in this environment would not follow this same pattern of success.
Unlike most sports, golf is something you can’t just jump into if you happen to have above average levels of cardiovascular ability or strength. This message came through loud and clear when I previewed my intentions to participate in the tournament on Facebook. Well-to-do family members, fellow lobbyists, and (of course) my corporate lawyer friends all chimed in with both helpful suggestions and dire warnings about this endeavor. But despite the seriousness that accompanied these recommendations, I decided in my infinite wisdom to just show up at the course and see what would happen. I’ve ran the 5000 meters in less than 18 minutes, surely smacking a ball around for 18 holes of best shot golf couldn’t be that hard.
Unlike the 5k at Golden Gate Park, the golfing version of the 420 Games was not hampered by onerous rules regarding on-sight consumption. In fact this event was downright gluttonous. The morning started out with offerings of weed-infused coffee from the same sponsor that supplied the first hole with marijuana iced-tea, which was only a prelude to the almost gauntlet-like presence of sponsors ranging from low-dose edibles for professionals on the go to the Terry Gilliam-esque dabbing machines throughout the course.
But despite this buffet of kind bud, most of the participants were indistinguishable from the normal Saturday morning crowd at the golf course. In fact the nature of the tournament was so subtle that a course attendant didn’t even know it was a weed event until she ran out of sandwiches and chips to sell in the first hour (her beer sales were reportedly significantly down for the day). However there was one metaphorical fly in this CBD-ointment in the form of a participant whose lack of skill and respect for the game was brutally apparent; and unfortunately that rude idiot was undoubtedly me.
I showed up to the course without having so much as swung a club in over a decade, and wearing only once piece of clothing (my flat brim cap) that was in anyway conducive to playing this game for 18 holes. The other three members of my foursome were incredibly gracious and cool; especially once they recognized that they were going to contend with babysitting me alongside the water hazards and sand traps.
What makes golf incredibly difficult for both professionals and beginners alike is the crazy level of concentration and focus that is required to even have a fighting chance of success at the game. Once someone has achieved the monk-like serenity necessary to consistently make contact with the ball, the player must then perfect the precise mechanics and technique required to direct your shot into the hole. Finally a successful golfer must have also the endurance (and yes this is a game that requires athletic stamina) to last 18 holes, which is a deceptively long distance to travel in itself even without all the pressure of re-focusing and clearing your mind after each stroke.
These are all lessons that a player takes years of consistent mindful practice to perfect. So when Mr. Kushed-out Lionel Hutz took to the green after a few glasses of weed tea, it probably wasn’t a huge surprise that this was the result:
This might look like a humiliating act of gotcha journalism by the San Jose Mercury, but if anything the reporter taking this video was merciful. There were many, many whiffs just like this one, alongside drives that went straight into ponds, a slice that almost killed a nearby wild turkey, and a series of other golfing faux pas that were humanely spared the YouTube treatment. After six holes my weed-induced anxiety was almost debilitating, as each subsequent stroke that failed to even connect with the ball reminded me not just of how idiotic I looked, but that I was wholly responsible for this brutal ego check. The whole thing seemed to be devolving into a nightmarish hallucination complete with a slew of foxes that showed up to witness the disaster.
After 9 holes, and despite protestations from my foursome to keep playing (if just for the practice), I gave up and observed my teammates play the game they loved. All three were local teachers, which explained their zen-like tolerance in hand holding and teaching a juvenile idiot who took too much drugs and didn’t do his homework. I felt selfish for ruining their chances at wining this tournament, especially as one teammate (who had only been playing for a year) hit his first hole under par.
By the time I returned to the clubhouse I was immediately recognized that I was the only person who “had a bad day”, something I assumed would be a more universal experience given the acknowledged randomness of the game. However in surveying the crowd it became obvious that even those people whose scorecards were only slightly better than mine had had a great time, mainly because they approached the experience with the level of care and responsibility adults are expected to bring to any low-stakes competition like this.
This learning experience of golfing was definitely necessary and inevitable given my choice of pursuing a career as a lawyer/lobbyist. And despite the multitude of warnings that I received from a plethora of people that I was not entering this endeavor with anything resembling the level of reverence required for the game, I bumbled in and made a fool of myself. Fortunately stoners are by and large a forgiving and empathetic group, so I’m confident that this experience will serve as a “teachable moment” akin to being chewed out by a judge or screwing up a filing for a case. And as I proceed closer to the one-year anniversary of opening my firm, as well as the critical year of 2016 when the issue I’ve staked my entire professional career is on the statewide ballot, being reminded about the importance of exhibiting focus, practicing/perfecting my technique, and remaining calm in the face of problems are all great lessons to have gleaned from this experience bogey-ing all over the back nine.
That said I’m sticking to running and will offer to caddy the next golf I’m invited to golf.