When was the last time that you were in a smokers’ circle?
I suspect it’s been a while. You almost certainly haven’t been in one during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the last time you were in a rotation was probably long before last March.
COVID-19 has upended the way that the world operates, replacing old mores with a “new normal.” This holds true within the cannabis community as well. One notable way that the pandemic has created new habits in our space is through the near extinction of smokers’ circles.
The Rationale Behind the Smokers’ CircleAlthough its true origins are murky, some have proposed theories about how and why smokers’ circles developed. While the story behind the first instance of a smokers’ circle may be lost to the dustbin of history, we can pinpoint some of the reasons why they became such an integral part of cannabis culture.
Until recently, possession of even small amounts of cannabis was illegal at both the state and federal levels in the U.S., a “crime” often met with punitive sentencing upon conviction. Despite the fact that cannabis remains federally illegal, eleven states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational cannabis, another sixteen states (without legal cannabis) have decriminalized possession, and thirty-three states have legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes.
This sea change in legal status has reduced cannabis enthusiasts’ fear of prosecution. Before these incremental leaps forward, aficionados often turned to each other for a sense of “outlaw” camaraderie and protection. However, with cannabis now moving into the mainstream and the threat of incarceration for possession sharply reduced in much of the U.S., the need for having a band of cannabis-loving brothers and sisters to associate with is not as pronounced as it was even a decade ago.
It’s also worth noting that smokers’ circles have been typically connected to twentysomething cannabis enthusiasts. This transitional period between youth and maturity is associated with both the pushing of boundaries and the formation of close and lifelong friendships. The smokers’ circle was a natural fit for this stage of life, offering a shared and protected experience. Indeed, the formation of smokers’ circles are perhaps best understood as a rite of passage for those drawn to cannabis in their relative youth.
Another factor worth noting is that the “droughts” that used to mark the cannabis scene when it was entirely driven by the black market are nowhere near as prevalent today. As such, when someone in a group of friends would be able to “score” some cannabis from a new seller or had managed to ration the last of their weed, etiquette would dictate that they share what they had with their buddies during such times of scarcity. Now, with a rapidly expanding number of dispensaries, vast legal grow operations, and increasingly reliable supply chains, the boom and bust cycles of yesteryear rarely apply.
What Happens If A Vaccine Is Developed for COVID-19?If smokers’ circles are primarily associated with youth or as a reaction to draconian laws against cannabis, then we’ll see them return once the pandemic is neutralized, right? Even if this may not be true all throughout the U.S., this should be the case for those in their twenties or in states without legal or decriminalized cannabis, correct?
Actually, maybe not—at least not to the same extent as we might imagine.
Long after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, a psychological toll will remain. It’s expected that people will continue to be rather careful about how they interact with others once things return to “normal.” The sharing of cannabis—just like the sharing of food, drinks, or cigarettes—will be slow to return, even after the threat posed by the virus has ebbed. When cannabis is shared with others, it will most likely be out of necessity. However, with the trend towards increasing freedom to use cannabis and a professionalization of the space, barriers to use will continue to erode. This current period of rapid advancements will likely further reduce the prevalence of smokers’ circles.
What about those cannabis enthusiasts who have a strong pull to the unique draw of the smokers’ circle, yet have a lingering hesitancy to put themselves and others at risk?
The Evolution of Smokers’ Circles
It’s possible that smokers’ circles may continue, but the way we perceive of them will evolve. In the recent past, controlling your experience meant passing on your turn in the rotation or taking two puffs instead of one. With the advent of a multitude of methods to consume cannabis, a new type of smokers’ circle may emerge, one which gives people far more freedom to set the parameters for their experience. This may mean that friends will bring their own cannabis products and you might see one person in the circle drinking an elixir, another smoking a pre-roll, and a third vaping some concentrates.
We also might start observing the formation of socially distant smokers’ circles, with everyone in the circle enjoying their cannabis more than six feet apart.
Another way that the smokers’ circle might continue to evolve could be through the use of shared cannabis, but without “swapping spit.” For example, people may share vape hardware, yet use their own mouthpieces.