Surveying the state of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in 1967, the king of the Gonzos himself, Doctor Hunter S. Thompson, observed that “marijuana is everywhere.” Not long beforehand, hippies had flooded into the neighborhood en masse, and countless more were allegedly on the way. Suddenly, as Thompson wrote, hordes of people were smoking “on the sidewalks, in doughnut shops, sitting in parked cars or lounging on the grass in Golden Gate Park.”
The scene that he went on to describe made the mere presence of pot seem innocuous by comparison. LSD was easily available, and “heads” had overrun Haight Street, turning it into what Thompson saw as a veritable carnival of human experience. “Who needs jazz, or even beer,” he asked, “when you can sit down on a public curbstone, drop a pill in your mouth and hear fantastic music for hours at a time in your own head?” The population explosion was astronomical: hippies in the “Hashbury” were allegedly living up to 200 people in a house — many of whom were being fed by a civic group known as the Diggers, who had largely taken the place of city government.
Surveying the Haight on a blustery March afternoon more than fifty years later, however, marijuana was certainly still present, but it wasn’t necessarily to be found where you may expect. Regulations, technology and legalization have brought change to the cannabis landscape of San Francisco, but perhaps nowhere is the shift more stark than in the Haight neighborhood, and in the Lower Haight in particular.
Currently, there is only one cannabis dispensary on Haight Street, a tiny outpost of the local chain Sparc (473 Haight Street), that has obtained a recreational license and is open to anyone over 21. Unlike its sister stores, however, which feature elegant decor, an abundant selection and a welcoming ambiance, the Haight Street location is about as charming as a prefab dentist’s office, and filled me with a similar degree of anxiety upon entering its whitewashed antechamber.
Inside, the fruits of technology are on display in abundance. Long gone are the days of guessing whether you’re buying something that will leave you unaffected or drooling in a ball on the floor. A smattering of iPads displayed the dispensary menu and lots of handy information on legalization policies, various strains and more, all arranged in a non-threatening, easy-to-digest fashion for the uninitiated. Thanks to recent regulations, however, many of the products behind the glass counter were in very un-sexy childproof bags, giving the whole operation the feel of a CVS pharmacy that also happened to sell premium bud.
In the early 1960s, as historian and author Michael Castleman points out, “Haight-Ashbury was a dirty, run-down inner-city neighborhood where apartments were really cheap.” Nowadays, it’s prime real estate, chock-full of high-end food, drink and fashion (including cannabis mogul Berner’s high-end Cookies clothing store, at 1429 Haight). The street’s beautiful Victorian row homes still loom radiant and grand in shades of purple, blue and cream; albeit, bumping up occasionally into new condos that look like they were dropped out of the sky by aliens on their way home from vacation in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
As the sun peeked out from behind the fortress of gray clouds, I strolled east on Haight, eventually stumbling across the Black Sands Brewery (701 Haight), where the staff were as sunny as the decor. Settling down at the bar with a matcha latte and a savory pastry, it felt like the right time to order some CBD gummies.
Some technical difficulties aside, Eaze, Northern California’s most successful and prominent weed delivery service, offers a simple and stress-free process for ordering cannabis. The menu is limited, at least compared to many brick-and-mortar dispensaries, but each item comes with a detailed description. I ordered some Tropical Twist CBD gummies by Valhalla Confections (10 pieces, each containing 10 mg CBD and 5 mg THC) and hunkered down to wait for salvation, which took about 20 minutes. It’s hard to take your eyes off your phone as the built-in clock counts down, the imminent arrival of your tasty treats becoming more thrilling with each passing second (although that could have been the matcha kicking in, too). Of note: It can also be hard to take your eyes off the Black Sands bathroom, full of dazzling, mesmerizing patterns of lights and mirrors.
Nine minutes… three minutes (for a long time)… suddenly, a van pulled up outside, and a cheery Eaze driver strolled on in, a disconcertingly cute bag in her arms. For me! It was mine! I paid in cash. The bartender didn’t bat an eye, although she politely declined a big ol’ CBD gummy of her own.
Easy freakin’ peazy.
None of this is to say that the Haight Street hippies of lore have gone completely extinct. Keep strolling east on Haight, towards Golden Gate Park, and they become more numerous, especially around the dreamy green wash of Buena Vista Park. Going by the numbers, however, it would be difficult to argue that they represent anything more than a faint echo of the ecstatic past. But they are still there.
“Pot is currency here,” remarked one anonymous Haight Street busker, decked out in a dusty blazer and floppy hat. “Street kids never have money, but they always have pot.”
Yet, with the advent of legalization, the culture is shifting drastically away from the grime and chaos of San Francisco’s fabled past, a time when — as Thompson pointed out — refusing a joint meant you were immediately suspected of being a narcotics officer. Call it a step in the right direction, an economic boon or a cultural tragedy, the change is hard to miss.
If you want proof, look no further than Haight Street.
Originally published in Issue 31 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE
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