The sun was rising on a Friday morning when Jordyn realized something was off. "My boyfriend woke me up—probably around five in the morning," she says. The look on his face was stoned panic. "He was like, 'Jordyn, I'm so sorry to do this, but I need you to know how high I am.' I had never seen him so nervous before."
Jordyn managed to calm him down and fall back asleep, but when they woke up for work a few hours later, Jordyn realized that she, too, was still incredibly high from the medical-grade edibles they had eaten the night before. The moment she started to make breakfast, "I completely lost myself in this universe of oatmeal. I have no idea how long I was stirring it for," she remembers. "That's when I knew it was going to be a very different kind of day at work."
While Jordyn never intended to bring her extended edibles trip to the office (a branding agency in Manhattan), for many others a wake-and-bake is as much a part of a pre-work ritual as downing a latte—softening the drudgery of menial labor; offering an energetic boost of new ideas to creative workers; or helping someone with chronic pain get through the day painkiller-free. "The way I use weed to do work is similar to the way some people use Adderall," says David, an assistant at a gallery in Manhattan. "It's a useful tool in specific circumstances"—i.e., mundane tasks like "updating e-mail lists" or "finding and replacing em dashes."
"The fact is, I'm at the top of my game when I'm stoned," David explains.
But when it comes to revealing the secret to his productivity with his co-workers, David remains in the weed closet. "I don't want to fuck with any potential stigma," David says. "Reliability is super important."
His reticence is understandable. Stories of thriving at work while stoned are "mostly hidden anecdotes because people aren't necessarily coming out and saying that I'm able to do my job better because of medical marijuana," says Kris Hermes of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which represents medical-marijuana patients. (What's more, no official record-keeper appears to be measuring this statistic.) "People don't want to go on the record given how hostile some employers are about it."
At the very least, an arrest for possession can be a major embarrassment, while career-killing felonies for repeat offenders are one of the War on Drugs' most punitive weapons. Corporations like Walmart and Target drug test potential employees to prevent any potheads from manning cash registers. Other companies prefer a don't-ask-don't-tell policy—though they still have no problem firing medical-marijuana patients after finding out they smoke (not necessarily on the job).
So stoners have little choice but to keep their weed use secret from their professional identities, which explains why most of the people quoted here refused to use their full names. That said, these days, it feels like an increasingly irrelevant distinction to have to adopt. Colorado and Washington now allow for recreational marijuana, and pot smoking is ubiquitous in the technically-just-medical-use state of California. "It's shocking, from my perspective, the number of people that we all know who are recreational marijuana users," California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom told the New York Times in 2012. "These are incredibly upstanding citizens: Leaders in our community, and exceptional people."
But at work, "I would be less embarrassed about taking Adderall than smoking weed," says Nicole, a journalist in Los Angeles. Pill-popping might be a welcomed productivity life-hack—and Mad Men-revivalist, mid-afternoon boozing sessions are intended to foster "team-bonding"—but weed is generally written off as a slacker vice.
Fears of its effect on the American work ethic and character still propel anti-weed positions among the powerful—including Newsom's boss. "How many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?" wondered California Gov. Jerry Brown on NBC's Meet the Press earlier this month when explaining why he doesn't support full legalization. "The world's pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together."
Brown's condescending attitude ignores both the "alertness" of the thousands of pothead-entrepreneurs who have turned medical marijuana into one of California's most dynamic industries and the reality that smoking pot doesn't necessarily transform someone into a lazy degenerate. For many—including children with ADHD who are now prescribed marijuana by admittedly controversial doctors as a type of treatment—it's a performance enhancer. Even the least professional-seeming dispensary is able to recommend a sativa strain bred specifically for focus and energy, e.g., Blue Dream, a strain so common in the stashes of California's stoners that L.A. writer Ann Friedman calls it the "cheddar cheese of weed."
"It seems to inspire a more freewheeling type of creativity in me," Friedman says. While she would never get high to write or edit, "coming up with story ideas or playing with hybrid word-visual concepts" (like her weekly pie-chart feature for lady-blog The Hairpin) "is much easier—and more fun—when I'm stoned."
Somewhat surprisingly, Friedman's predilections aren't protected under her state's medical-marijuana law. Or at least that was the legal opinion that came out of Ross v. RagingWire, a 2008 decision by in the California Supreme Court which "held that employers have the right to discriminate against medical-marijuana patients based on their status" not just a positive drug test, explains Hermes, whose employer ASA was a co-counsel on the suit. "They can either be fired or refused to be hired." While courts in other medical-marijuana states (e.g., Oregon and Montana) also have reaffirmed the right of companies to maintain a drug-free workplace, Hermes points to a small but growing number of states (e.g., Alaska, Arizona and Rhode Island) as places where local medical-marijuana bills explicitly ban such discrimination.
In Rhode Island, at least, it's possible that those worker protections are helping some professionals feel safer talking about their pot use.Mark, a 24-year-old teacher at a charter school outside of Providence, remembers an unexpected drunken reveal by one of his charter network's principals toward the end of a holiday party last year. "Are we gonna go out for drinks? Are we gonna go to a bar?" Mark asked the principal.
"'Maybe I'll just go home, smoke some green and chill,'" the principal casually replied.
"I was taken aback because this guy overlooks hundreds of kids," Mark told me recently. "We weren't even tight enough for him to be so nonchalant about it. And for him to be a young guy in a leadership position—it showed a kind of cultural shift."
For Mark (who smokes everyday after school's over), this shift has as much to do with the coming of age of Millennials—a particularly weed-friendly cohort—as it does with liberalized drug laws. "As our generation grows up, we're changing the dynamics of how weed is viewed in the professional world because we are the professionals in this world now."
Friedman, who edited magazines before going freelance (and was my former boss), would agree. "While I didn't explicitly endorse it, I was fine with my creative employees being stoned while working sometimes," Friedman says. "Some creative people, especially visual types, do their best stuff while stoned. Letting them do so didn't seem much different than, say, letting them have a beer on a Friday afternoon in the summer.
But most employees don't assume such acceptance from their managers. On Jordyn's stoned day at work, she neglected to fill in her CEO about her state. A one-on-one brainstorming session with him about "The Future of Retail" loomed ominously on her schedule. Stressed at first, she "started to feel cool about it" after realizing that she could handle herself stoned. "My questions were more abstract and big picture than usual. I felt like I was making better connections between retail and branding issues of other industries." What's more: "I was enjoying it more than I usually did."
Ultimately, the day ended up being "transformative" for Jordyn for a different reason. She already had been considering quitting her job for a while, and "it was made pretty clear to me on that day that if I could go through an entire day of work super high—higher than I had been since I first smoked a bong on the first day of middle school—maybe this wasn't a place I should be spending 45 hours a week."
A few months later, Jordyn put in notice. These days, she's her own boss, working as a freelance consultant from home, where she's free to smoke weed whenever she chooses. Of course, getting stoned and deciding to quit your job is exactly the kind of thing that the Jerry Browns of the world would say is "lazy" or "unmotivated" stoner behavior. Stoners, on the other hand, would probably call it enlightened.
The High Road is a bi-weekly exploration of America's rapidly changing relationship with weed.
Zak Stone is a Playboy contributing editor based in Los Angeles. His work has appeared on Next City, Fast Company and NY Mag's The Cut. Follow him on Twitter @_zs.
Photo illustration by Maya Harris (D.C. Atty/Flickr Creative Commons & Victor1558/Flickr Creative Commons)