Most of the places I've been to have a certain aura of “Business As Usual” that can be disenchanting after a while. Once the pure novelty of walking into a store and handing a cashier money; and getting pot and a receipt handed to you in a white paper bag; and walking back to your car, grinning like a lunatic and muttering to yourself between clenched teeth, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god;” and allowing your pores to open up and just soak in the life swirling around you … suddenly, it's just another chore, shoved between milk and toilet paper. You walk in, place your order, look at your watch, say, “Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up,” and silently complain about the weather to yourself.
But the ambient warmth and relaxation in Minerva is new. I fill out my first-time patient forms, and then wait blinking on a couch in the waiting room. While one employee starts checking me in, another comes over to explain the process. He tells me the baked goods are buy-
“I was a patient here for years before I started working here,” he says. “It's a great place. You'll love it.” It feels like a dream—waves of déjà vu. My mouth opens slightly, but before I have to think of anything to say, my bud-tender is next to me, asking if my name is Joshua.
I let her lead me into the showroom, where the glowing feelings intensify. Everyone is smiling so hard I'm sure they'll be feeling it in the morning. The 'tender is telling me that I get a free joint for being a first time patient. She says they roll them with the shake from every strain currently on hand. That nabs my attention for a few seconds, but I'm only listening with a part of my brain. The rest is looking around at all the pretty edibles. Cookies, brownies, rice crispy treats, soda, syrup, lollipops and … chocolate truffles? Holy hell.
I've missed something. “Pardon?” I ask. The 'tender is holding up a card in front of me. “You get a free joint every three trips,” she says again. “Um,” I say.
There was a sense of reverence being shared by everyone there, the kind reserved for seeker churches and ecstatic mystery cults.
“Those truffles are made by our in-house chocolatier. We also have homemade yadda yadda yadda.” I'm tuning out again, reading the signs: “Peanut butter” something-or-other, “caramel chai.”
“That's really cool, I want one.” I might be interrupting. “Sorry. May I have a chocolate, please?”
The rest of the time is a blur. I'm highly aware of the beautiful, hand-made chai truffle (10 mg THC, $3.50) sitting snugly in a paper bag next to the cash register as my credit card runs. I worry about it melting. It seems so fragile and innocent. My receipt barely spits out before I'm taking heroic strides toward the lobby and out to the car. It's hot. This masterpiece needs a refrigerator. Two blocks down, the smell of the flower reaches my nose through sealed plastic and the paper bag. My car smells like a rocketship by the time I get home.
Navigating the clogged afternoon streets of northwest Albuquerque, the glow I've been experiencing slowly diminishes. Its magic drained, the city returns to normal—inconsiderate drivers push around me, reminding me that no one here knows how to chill the fuck out; someone runs a red light without even glancing at the traffic on either side of them.
Something very different was happening behind me—back at Minerva. Stepping across the threshold had transported me to a completely different world. I honk my horn at an indifferent cyclist who has chosen to cross the street between the bumpers of idling cars while I try to figure out the big difference between the place I was and the place I am. The cyclist flips me off.
There was a sense of reverence being shared by everyone there, the kind reserved for seeker churches and ecstatic mystery cults. Everyone was charged with a palpable awareness that we were all in the presence of a light emanating from this powerful, holy plant, and somehow the rest of the world was still in the dark. Religion.
Not so odd, when you look back at history (minus the last 80 years or so) and the way humans have felt about cannabis for pretty much all of it. As you can imagine, a plant that relieves pain, soothes anxiety and produces visions when consumed had drastic effects on pre-Google cultures.
Case in point: Golden vessels discovered near the Caucasus Mountains of southern Russia in 2013 held a residue that tested positive for cannabis and opium. The artifacts were discovered at the site of Scythian burial mound. The Scythians were an ancient nomadic culture that lived in the central Eurasian steppes between the ninth and first century BCE. The find gave credence to the ancient historian Herodotus' claim that the Scythians would set up tents where smoke from hemp censers was inhaled as a purification ritual during the funerary rites of a fallen leader.
According to the Ming'i Pieh'lu, a fifth century book of medicine by a famous Taoist physician T'ao Hung Ching, cannabis was mixed with ginseng by necromancers, who would then use the concoction to see into the future (by making time pass around them). In 2003, in China, what is believed to be the mummy of a Wu shaman, buried with dried cannabis leaves was discovered amongst a number of unearthed tombs that archaeologists believe date back to somewhere between 600 and 900 BCE.
India has had a rich history of cannabis use. The term “indica” is actually just classical Greek and Latin for “of India”. During Holi—the Hindu “festival of colors” that celebrates the rites of spring—everybody gets higher than an elephant's eye on bhang (a marijuana infused drink associated with Lord Shiva), the use of which goes back to at least before the Vedic age (1500-500 BCE). Cannabis plays a major role in the famous Churning Ocean of Milk cosmological myth and is considered one of the five sacred plants given to humans by the gods. Another notable use of marijuana (along with alcohol, excessive sex, self-mutilation, coprophagia and cannibalism, supposedly) as an ecstatic vehicle in India is among the Aghori, a sect of sadhus who attempt realization through exploration of the … darker aspects of the universe.
In 1090, Hassan-i Sabbah took control of the fortress of Alamut, atop a mountain in what is now northern Iran. There, he established the Hashashin, a heretical Islamic sect that would become legendary. Hashashin is literally translated as “those who eat hashish,” a name they received in reference to their use of the drug to induce visions. Stories of the vicious exploits and political intrigue of the cult abound (their name is where the modern “assassin” has its etymological roots), and they were even canonized as anarchist saints by Peter Lamborn Wilson (who details Hassan II's proclamation of the “Qiyamat,” the breaking of the fast of Ramadan, and declaration of the apocalypse).
In Africa, cannabis has been used as a religious sacrament as far back as the 14th century. Archaeologists believe the plant (which isn't indigenous to the continent) was introduced by Arab traders, and was originally chewed by African tribesman before they started smoking it. The Bashilenge, a tribe living on the northern borders of Lundu, cultivated their own fields of cannabis and began calling themselves Bena Riamba—“the sons of hemp.” As part of their daily rites, a member of the hemp cult was expected to smoke as much of the plant as possible to constantly remind themselves of its divine qualities.
The common thread here is that marijuana has been used as a spiritual lubricant for centuries. These people (and this isn't even close to a comprehensive list) weren't “stoners.” But they did believe there were advantages to tuning in to the marijuana frequency over subscribing fully to baseline consciousness. It seems weird as hell to me, but that resistance is probably just remnants of my lifetime under the thumb of an alcohol, opiate and speed-fueled culture.
Actually, it's weirder that most of the civilized world has somehow completely flipped on its opinion of pot—splitting from what has been accepted human wisdom for maybe all of history—and done it in less than a century. But that's what's so exciting about a place like Minerva. Whether they know it or not, they are organically returning us to a point in time somewhere before we screwed up and demonized cannabis—taking us back to when we were still amazed by the amazing. In that very small space, on the north side of Albuquerque, they've set up a place where marijuana can be magical again. And things like empathy, peace and kindness are allowed to bud and flower.
My revelation is interrupted by an old pickup, spitting black smoke from its muffler as it cuts me off. The driver's eyes are sparking with violence in its rearview mirror.
When I get home, I take the steps two at a time, holding the bag lightly and thrusting it before me. Inside, I gingerly place it in the fridge for later. I don't touch it. Not even a nibble. Well. Maybe a nibble.
In the meantime, I head back to the mystery buds still waiting in the bag. The sativa-dominant hybrid, named Dark Shadow Haze (THC: 23.03%, CBG: 0.39%—$12/gram), smells like hibiscus and tastes like fruit punch. A cross between Grape Ape and Nevil’s Wreck, this pretty flower has me up and doing the dishes while the final bud still burns in the bowl. It's late in the afternoon when I smoke it, after a full day of work and running errands in a hot car, but any weariness I've felt is gone.
A few hours later—following an impromptu top-to-bottom house cleaning, dinner and chocolatey snack—I relax on the couch with the indica-dominant Venom OG (THC: 22.79%, CBD 0.24%—$11/gram) and watch Kumaré on Netflix.
Venom is a cross between Poison OG and Rare Dankness #1. Its smooth quality and sweet, lemony taste makes it go down easily with hardly a cough. But this beast is sneaky. Nearly twenty minutes into the film, my muscles go slack, my body becomes light and airy. While not quite what I'd call, “heady,” the vibe from this strain is very relaxed, and will serve those looking for a nice bedtime bud, but don't want to wake up at two in the morning, a DVD menu looping and a pool of drool on their shoulder.
But the real cherry on top of my visit to Minerva wasn't the great weed (and boy was it great) or the gorgeous candy, it was the feeling I got that they really love and believe in cannabis. And their awe is contagious.