Stoners Get Real in High Maintenance

Studio 360

In the war on drugs, the battle against marijuana seems to be coming to an end. Two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and a recent poll shows an historic number of Americans believe legalization is inevitable. Weed has gone from being vilified and criminalized to being normalized. And as we change the way we view the drug, the Cheech & Chong image is feeling as tired as a petrified pot brownie.

Enter High Maintenance. Created in 2012 by husband and wife team Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld, the web series follows an anonymous pot dealer (played by Sinclair) as he makes deliveries all over New York City. Each 5-15 minute episode focuses on a different customer. They vary in age and class and rarely fit the stoner profile we've come to associate with pot smokers: no one's wearing a beanie, no one's listening to Phish. In the latest episode "Rachel," we see several days in the life of a writer and stay-at-home dad with a penchant for cross-dressing and getting high while his son is at school. (And yes, that's totally Dan Stevens, a.k.a. Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey.)

(Warning: the clips below contain strong language, drug use, sexual content, and nudity.)

Although the purchase and use of marijuana ties the episodes together, it isn't their focus. The weed is kind of a conspicuous aside. A joint on a table may as well be dry-cleaning draped across a chair --- it's a mundane detail of someone's everyday life. In the episode "Quasim," the dealer's visit to a woman at home with a date is just a quick plot point before the evening takes a weird turn.

(The scene starts at 07:27.)

High Maintenance also challenges how we view people who sell drugs. Some customers assume the unnamed dealer is sketchy, and he's constantly trying to allay those suspicions. In "Rachel," he explains that he wears a wedding band, even though he's not married, so that people think he's trustworthy. He even has a family (because drug dealers don't sprout from the earth like cannabis), as we learn when his niece visits in "Matilda."

(The scene starts at 01:15.)

It's important to note that High Maintenance isn't a pro-marijuana PSA with jokes. But by giving viewers a glimpse into the lives of atypical pot smokers, it's capturing a cultural shift, and perhaps greater changes just around the bend.