Pot tour of Portland, Oregon: A cycling trip with a difference – The Independent
Portland, Oregon isn’t supposed to be like this. It’s autumn with not a cloud in the sky and a temperature of 27C. Isn’t this the rainy north-west?
The residents of America’s hippest city are relaxing outside, enjoying cold-brew coffee from Heart on SW 12th Avenue, and tucking into Cointreau and crème brûlée doughnuts at Blue Star around the corner at Washington and 13th.
No doubt, too, a good number are enjoying a big old spliff, which, since last month, is perfectly legal. Anyone in Oregon, resident or tourist, with valid ID and who is 21 or over can go into a medical marijuana dispensary and buy recreational amounts for personal use – and until the end of the year, it’s tax free. It is estimated that around 12 per cent of Oregonians are regular pot smokers and a brand new bike tour of Portland is aimed at the weed-curious.
My guide, Sarah Gilbert, certainly looks the part of the cool Portlander, with cowboy boots and a shock of hair that cascades from under her bike helmet. “We’re very committed to everything here,” she says as we set off through Tom McCall Waterfront Park – a strong whiff of cannabis in the air, even though consumption in public is still illegal – and across the Willamette River. “We care if our coffee is Ethiopian or Guatemalan, we know where the hops have come from in our beer, and now it’s the same thing with our pot. We’ve been hippies since hippies were invented.”
There is no smoking actually on the tour itself – they don’t want anyone careening off into a truck – but you can buy. Our first stop is Cannabliss, a former, century-old fire station where, after we’ve flashed our ID, we’re shown through to the back.
Jason Pott – no, honestly – talks us through the choices. A couple of tattooed girls in their twenties check out the stock as we stick our noses into jars of Blue Dream, Maui Waui and Purple Gorilla, priced around $15 (£10) a gram. Jason asks if we’re looking for something to cure pain or anxiety, or help us get to sleep, and his descriptions are almost wine-like: “You’re getting mushrooms there, but it’s not so fruity and there’s a hint of lavender.”
As we cycle on, Sarah tells us about the intertwined history of Oregon and hemp, and the conspiracy theorists who say the latter was banned in the 1930s because “big business” wanted to promote timber and plastics instead. At the same time, right-leaning newspapers took exception to marijuana, which was perceived to be largely the preserve of Mexican incomers.
Another part of the tour shows visitors where to satisfy their munchies, so our next stop is the Salt & Straw ice-cream parlour on SE Division Street, for a cone laden with a scoop of Pear and Blue Cheese on top of Stumptown Coffee and Burnside Bourbon. I’m not adventurous enough to try the Creepy Crawly Critters, which contains ants, crickets and termites encased in candy amber.
It’s only a short pedal onwards to the Third Eye Shoppe on Hawthorne Boulevard, and further along the street, next to an accountant’s office, another boutique called Mellow Mood. Both have vast collections of bongs, or “functional glass art” to use the preferred term. It is estimated there are at least 9,000 artists producing them in the state.
In Mellow Mood there are pieces for sale at around $30,000; one is a glass heron perched delicately on eggs, and all of which can be used to puff merrily away. Another, a rearing dragon, is not currently for sale but its estimated value is $50,000.
On the way back to the Willamette River, we pass Colonel Summers Park, where it seems the ban on smoking weed in public is being openly flaunted on “Monday Funday”. A group of around 100 are playing guitar and drums, juggling, slack-lining and kicking a hacky sack around. “It’s just general awesome adult excitement,” Sarah remarks.
After another stop, this time for a wafer thin-crust pizza at Cartopia in the Buckman neighbourhood, we pedal towards Gräs, which feels the most medical of the dispensaries so far; it could be a suburban doctor or dentist’s waiting room. In fact it’s a “mom’n’pop” affair, with plants grown on the family farm west of Portland and son Joey behind the counter. A painting of the Mona Lisa smoking a joint hangs behind the counter. Beanie-wearing Joey gives the appearance of a man who can advise clients in great depth, based on much first-hand experience. “Harlequin tsunami gets you less high but it’s good for managing pain and anxiety,” he opines. He extols the benefits of Durban Poison too – “an awesome strain from South Africa, which will keep you going all night”.
I say goodbye to Sarah, who’s getting ready for her next tour: a group of local “pot moms”. I’m inclined to hang around, but maybe I’ve stuck my nose too deeply into the jar of Willy Wonder Pure Trainwreck. I wander off, in search of doughnuts.
The only year-round direct link between Europe and Portland is on Delta (0871 221 1222; delta.com) from Amsterdam, with connections from a range of UK airports on KLM. American and United serve Portland via a range of US hub cities.
Pedal Bike Tours (pedalbiketours.com) operates three-hour tours daily for $69 (£46), including guide, food and a joint to take away.