We were a little over six hours into our seven hour flight from Seattle to Keflavík when the captain’s voice came over the loudspeaker announcing that the northern lights could be seen in the distance. Leaning over a sleeping Jessica, I managed to catch a streak of color through one of the windows, a distant flash of light in the night sky over Iceland.
I rifled through my bag as we prepared to land, searching for two chocolate chip cookies that needed to be eaten before we went through customs. Possessing, cultivating or consuming marijuana is all still illegal in Iceland, but simple possession has been reduced to a fine and residents have been consuming more marijuana per capita than anywhere else in the world, according to several polls.
The customs agent gave us a friendly smile, stamping our passports without question. A quick stop by the rental car desk and we were on the highway towards Reykjavik, Iceland’s biggest city. It was 6:30am local time, and the 40 minute drive took us through a Martian landscape of broken and distressed volcanic land. The Vikings who colonized the area had completely cleared the island of trees, and the whole thing made for a surreal scene as the 250mg cookies began to take effect.
Related – DOPE on the Road: East to Boston Town
I had grown up in the bitter mountain cold of the Colorado Rockies and was familiar with what did and didn’t grow there. If there was cannabis in this climate, it was going to be in short supply—and that always means expensive. Iceland itself is one of the most expensive countries in the world, owing largely to its geographical isolation and high import tax. Products and services on the island are known to be triple the average cost stateside, but the population doesn’t seem to mind, as the country enjoys one of the greatest distributions of wealth in the world. With free education through college, a $30 USD minimum wage and universal healthcare for all, it’s easy to see why someone would want to live here.
The sun was still down and the lights of Reykjavik were now visible in the distance. Checking into our rented flat, we dropped our bags and got back on the Reykjanesbraut Hwy, bound for the Blue Lagoon, a natural geothermic hot springs set deep in the lava fields of Grindavík to soak out our jet lag. The lagoon had once been a celebrated secret amongst the locals who would gather to swim for free in the 100-plus degree ice blue water. Now it is a valued commodity, roped in by commercial interests and officially listed as one of the great wonders of the world.
We passed a vape pen back and forth in the fog rising up from the middle of the massive natural lagoon, careful not to get it wet. Rations were limited; we would be in trouble if we didn’t find some form of pot soon. Leaning back, I closed my eyes, letting the minerals in the water push me to the surface.
The remainder of the day was spent exploring the coves and caves of the lagoon, and stopping frequently at the swim-up bar before eventually heading back into the city. We were coming in blind and had decided the bars downtown were going to be our best approach to finding weed. Pulling up a quick list, we narrowed in on The Lebowski as our most probable chance.
Fifty dollars U.S. got us two drinks, and we took a seat in the corner to nurse our wounded pocket books while we surveyed the landscape. The crowd seemed to be a good mix of locals and tourists. Drink in hand, I headed for the bar, doing my best to make my DOPE Magazine credentials show over the high counter. Leveling with a young Icelandic bartender, I laid out my crisis in clear language. Whether it was the story we were here to cover or my own need to find cannabis on this frozen island that motivated me, even I wasn’t sure.
Chris, the bartender, examined me with a puzzled curiosity, as if somehow identifying with my plight, before offering directions to Dillon’s, a whisky bar within walking distance. “Go to Dillon’s, stand out back in the courtyard until you smell it,” he said, giving me a wink as if to affirm he, too, was a member of the fold.
We rose with the sun the next morning, spending the day eating strange foods and exploring the tiny streets of Reykjavik, before eventually making our way to Dillon’s as the light began to fade. Securing our drinks, we took to the back as instructed. A door in the rear of the bar opened up to a tiny courtyard encircled and concealed by a row of large buildings. I smiled as a familiar smell hit my nose. A tall, gray, bearded man who looked to be in his fifties sat on the rail of the banister idly puffing on an oversized joint.
I positioned myself to his left, taking a giant puff off my Dr. Dabber before extending it towards the stranger. “Cannabis oil,” I said, exhaling the smoke in his direction, hoping it translated properly. He took it without hesitation, handing me the smoldering, finger-thick joint in exchange. We inhaled deeply in unison, a kind of symbolic “cheers” between stoners. I coughed on mine, choking on the smoke. It was mixed with tobacco, a local custom, he explained, introducing himself as Paul Paulson of Iceland. “Off-islanders can’t handle Icelandic weed straight,” he told me. “You have to mix it for them!” We agreed to disagree, and I smeared a large portion of our oil reserves onto the remainder of his joint to seal the deal. “It’s a community of people helping each other out, and also people that are struggling helping themselves out by growing pot here and selling it,” he replied when asked about the cannabis scene in Iceland. “We have great weed in Iceland because of the water, cheap power and a good liberal education.” His accent was thick and I was glad to have a recorder for my notes later. We spent the rest of the night smoking Icelandic weed (mixed with tobacco for our safety) and drinking overpriced booze.
Even here, 4,000 miles across the pacific, cannabis was a common denominator. For two strangers separated by age, geography and ethnicity, we both recognized each other as members of an unspoken community, a community without borders or creeds, where all are welcome. As we said our goodbyes to Iceland and hit the skies bound once more for Seattle, I had the feeling that this trip had been a milestone. Cannabis had made the world a little bit smaller, and as we veered out over the Pacific, I couldn’t wait to see what adventure would be next.