Lizzie Post is the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post, the legendary etiquette expert responsible for sculpting the transactional courtesies of an entire generation of Americans. She’s also, in her words, a “classic stoner.” The 36-year-old co-president of the Emily Post Institute tells me she started smoking as a teenager and has been an on-and-off daily user since. In particular, Post enjoys the artistic touch it takes to roll joints, which fits right in line with her family’s tasteful legacy.
It’s one reason Post has long dreamed of publishing an etiquette guide to the subtle nuances of the cannabis community. But it wasn’t until the past decade or so that writing it made sense. Eleven states have officially legalized recreational cannabis, with Illinois joining last month in officially repudiating the longstanding federal prohibition on the plant. A recent poll published by BuzzFeed News showed that 84 percent of Americans favor legalizing cannabis for medical or recreational purposes.
Post’s recently published guidebook, Higher Etiquette, reflects this national turning point. For weed-curious amateurs, the book serves as a life raft for the next time you’re not sure what to do when a joint makes its way around a party. For aficionados like Post, it offers guidance on how to comfortably introduce the plant to their less seasoned friends.
Mannerisms aside, it’s impossible to read an etiquette book dedicated to cannabis culture as anything other than an argument for that culture’s dignity. Post is well aware of that, but Higher Etiquette does delve into some unexpected places. How does etiquette work with consumption that can still land you in jail? How will it evolve alongside the byzantine network of laws that are slowly bringing cannabis into retail channels? What should we even call cannabis, anyway? Post takes all those questions seriously. Read our conversation below.
You’re obviously fairly well-versed in the etiquette community. What made you want to take your knowledge to something like cannabis?
As a longtime cannabis consumer, and being an expert in etiquette, people would always joke about me writing a book about cannabis.
Eventually, I got an email from a woman who was an agent connected to a friend of mine, and she had a publisher who wanted to do a book on weed etiquette. She said, “I don’t think this is right for your brand,” but I raised my hand and said, “Right here!” I was off to Colorado to research and write the book.
The fun thing is that the etiquette in the cannabis community existed for years and years. This is nothing the Emily Post Institute is declaring or making prescriptions about. This is exploring and celebrating a culture that’s finally able to talk about their courtesies legally and openly and without shame.
That’s something I want to ask you about. You cover the cannabis community from all angles. There’s everything from drinkable cannabis to what you should expect from a cannabis cooking party. What was the process of chasing down the ins and outs of those norms?
Honestly, it was talking to people who had experience with them, whether it was Warren Bobrow, who wrote the book Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails & Tonics — which is cited in the [drinkables] section — or talking to the woman who runs White Rabbit High Tea [a business that hosts marijuana-infused high tea parties]. It was also talking to average people. The guy on the plane next to me, the guy at the bar who’s just been to his first cannabis dinner party. You do what you can in the time you have, and you try to get a variety of voices telling you what’s going on.
What are three basic rules of cannabis etiquette that everyone should know?
The most important thing is the act of sharing cannabis is at the forefront of the entire community. So if you happen to be in a group of people, and you do have weed, and you are about to light something up, offering to share it with someone is pretty huge. Beyond that, it’s very specific to the different methods, but making sure you’re not holding on to something that is burning, or that you’re wasting weed.
Third, not getting rid of something before asking everyone if they’d like the rest of it. I might think a joint is done at a quarter-inch of the filter, but I’ve got buddies who’d think chucking that was a cardinal sin. I would also say, right up there with finishing it is when you’re starting [a joint]. Being aware of fresh green is very important.
What are some of the differences in etiquette between smoking cannabis and edibles or vaping?
Inhaling and vaping has a much faster activation time than edibles, which is going to be completely dependent on your metabolism. I have a really slow metabolism. If I eat an edible, I’m often not high for three or four hours. Whereas if I smoke a joint, it’s really instant. Definitely one of the biggest differences in etiquette is just knowing what you’re going to experience. I’ve had edibles with people and have been like, “Just so you know, as soon as we’re done hanging out, that’s when the high is going to kick in.”
Was there a moment when you were writing this book where some of your own perspectives on cannabis etiquette were subverted in any way?
Oh, for sure. I learned a lot about the history of the word “marijuana.” Just the fact that people have differing views on whether that’s an okay word or not. I spoke to a lot of people who thought it wasn’t an okay word, and then other people who wanted to reclaim it and the culture it comes from. You’re getting these disparate perspectives on individual aspects. That’s one thing that changed for me. I bristle when I hear that word used in government or science. I feel like it’d be better to use the more scientific or Latin terminology. The big thing was how much people love this plant and want to be respected around using it.
Why do people take offense to the term marijuana? Are there any other terms we should be careful using?
The reasoning I’ve been given is that in the early 1900s, the term marijuana was purposely used to negatively associate it with the Latino community. That’s painful for a lot of people. Right now, I think we need to be aware of the controversy around it. I personally still call it weed or pot, but when I’m trying to speak publicly, I use the word cannabis.
We also say in the book that a lot of growers don’t like the term weed, because the definition of “weed” is an unwanted plant. That gives a negative connotation to a plant that benefits people so much, that they put so much tender care into growing.
One thing you get into is how cannabis etiquette has changed depending on its legal status. Etiquette around recreational pot use was a lot different when it was something that could put you in jail for a long time. I’m curious to hear more about what you learned there.
When you take something that’s scarce, that’s prohibited, there’s a lot of fear and a lot of worry if you get caught with it. That means all the etiquette is about making sure people feel safe and comfortable around its usage. Even if it’s, “Hey, I don’t feel comfortable because I know people who look like me are more likely to get arrested for this.” Or, “I don’t even want to talk about this over the phone. I don’t want to use code words. Just say you want to come hang out; I’ll know what you mean.” That’s the etiquette of old, and they find certain spaces in the etiquette of the new, but they are different when legalization is out there. I’ve been amazed at how people shush the conversation here in Vermont, where we’re legalized but we don’t have a retail market yet.
You do say, though, in this book, that cannabis users should practice a certain amount of discretion. I found that interesting because obviously, a book like this does a lot of work to normalize cannabis. Where does that line fall for you between discretion and normalization from an etiquette perspective?
Take the issue of smoke. Smoke is not a comfortable thing for everyone to sit in or be around. It certainly was something we were much more courteous about than we used to be with cigarette smoke, so I’d venture that you really want to pay attention to where your smoke is drifting. I personally think that, just like how many people drink around kids, and expose kids to what proper consumption is, I’d want people to do that with smoking as well. You don’t pop down with your joint on the beach three feet away from the family having a picnic.
Or let’s say you go to a dinner party, and how many people have been in that awkward position where there’s only two people left in the living room while everyone else has quietly vacated to the back porch? The two people in the living room haven’t been invited to do that, and aren’t aware enough to say, “Can I just come out and talk to you while you do this?” Or as a hostess, to say, “Hey, they’re going outside, but I’m going to stay inside with you.” Those are the comfort levels that etiquette looks out for. How does my behavior impact your behavior, and how can I try to limit the negativity of that impact?
This isn’t an outsider’s guide to marijuana, and instead, it focuses on things like how to be a good host, or how to welcome someone to cannabis. You talk about how important the idea of “sharing” is to the cannabis community, and I’m curious to know why that quality, in particular, stood out to you.
I think what’s really awesome about that is that I’ve yet to meet a cannabis consumer that didn’t want to welcome people to the community. When there’s something that benefits our lives and brings us joy, we tend to want to share it, because not only will we have more people to enjoy it with, it might also benefit them. Someone I’m really close to has started using CBD, and it’s changed his life. Now he’s dying to spread the word. To me, welcoming people in is so innate, and part of the fabric of this culture. I found that really beautiful.
We’re on the path to cannabis being legal across the country, but there are so many weird exceptions. In Las Vegas, you can buy marijuana but you can’t smoke it on the strip. I tend to think of etiquette as traditions that have been set in stone for a long while. But with the industry so in flux, do you expect us to have new cannabis norms 10 or 20 years from now?
I think it will be a combination. I think the classic courtesies will still be apparent, but I do think things will change. You might not feel the need to ask at your Airbnb if you’re allowed to consume it anymore. I had my Airbnb in Colorado, and it was listed as a smoking-friendly apartment, and I wasn’t sure if it was just for cigarettes. When I met the couple in person, they said, “Were you the girl who asked if it was okay to smoke pot? We don’t even think about that anymore.” I was coming from a state where it wasn’t like that, but that’s where things might head. I think a lot of things will get absorbed, but a lot of traditions will remain. There’s so much etiquette in cannabis that’s been around for so long.