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State of the Union
Money Puff usually does a State Spotlight on Fridays. But since you may have noticed that I seemingly quit my job to become a blogger, I thought maybe I should talk about my mental state. I mean, weed is a psychoactive drug, after all — it’s fair of you to wonder. We can call it the State of the Union.1
And I did quit my job, by the way. Why? Big Thief.
Let me pause there, because you, dear finance reader, do not know what a ‘Big Thief’ is. They are, in this newsletter’s humble opinion, the greatest band on Earth. I saw them last night at Radio City, the last show of their tour. I hope someone else out there puts into words what I witnessed, felt, and understood in that theatre last night. It was, in a singular word, magic.
I knew it would be. This exact time last year, I was this close to just following them around on tour as my “what to do next” plan. I mean THIS CLOSE.2 When I say “do next” I’m referring to the fact that I had quit my investment banking job, and had no idea what I wanted to do.3 All I knew was that there were two things that got me through the height of the global pandemic: weed, and Big Thief.
Like, seriously, I’m not sure where I would be today if I didn’t have a dusty baggie of very mid herb and access to every Big Thief song when the world shut down. It’s possible I wouldn’t be anywhere, to be perfectly honest. I mean, for a while there I was pretty sick. Not with long-Covid, thank god — though my ailment was exacerbated by the constant threat of an invisible, deadly virus and a 24-hour doom cycle mainlined into my eyeballs.
A psychiatrist eventually diagnosed it as OCD; I now take a daily Lexapro and feel a lot better. And it’s probably no coincidence that I quickly felt ready to maybe take on a job again after I started the regimen. I had sworn off finance, or so I thought, but then a very interesting opportunity with a cannabis tech company popped up on my LinkedIn and I was intrigued. I applied there and a few others, but felt drawn to the weed gig. The plant had helped me so much; if I was going to go back to a finance job, it might as well be in an industry I believed in.
Though my Mom thought I was a drug dealer. And so but why is one drug that helps people illegal and other drugs that help people aren’t? Reader, I don’t have the answers.
For a time, I was just happy to be learning about the “legal” weed industry and making some scratch again. I worked there for a few months — and was laid off in September. OK, point taken. Maybe corporate life wasn’t for me after all.
Weed wasn’t done with me, though, and another opportunity and an NYU connection made me give it one last go at another firm. I compensated by getting a few tattoos — corporate, but not too corporate, you know?
And so but now I have to ask: reader, do you believe in God? I don’t think I do, at least not the Catholic god I was raised to worship. But there’s something; I mean, there’s gotta be something. Right? Like some interstitial thread that connects all the ‘coincidences’ in life. Like when your financial-blogging hero blasts your cannabis finance blog around the world, and you’re suddenly blessed with an audience of kindred spirits, searching for answers.4 What do you do when something like that happens to you?
Here’s a financial concept for you: it’s called portfolio theory.5 Portfolio theory is a "mathematical framework for assembling a portfolio of assets such that the expected return is maximized for a given level of risk.” We can think of our lives as a portfolio of assets: you have your corporeal form, hopefully healthy; you have other people, friends and family and lovers; you have your material comforts, whatever that means to you; and you have your own mental narrative, how you conceptualize “time.” Time is a benchmark, something your portfolio gets measured against; in portfolio theory, it would be the “risk-free” asset, or the asset that is always found in an efficient portfolio.
When you’re young, you naturally have more time in your portfolio. I am indeed young, and I hope to have a lot more time on this earth. But, remember, we’re trying to maximize our expected return for a given level of risk — in portfolio theory, that means if you want a higher return, you have to allocate away from the risk-free asset and toward riskier assets.
How can you do that? By pulling forward time. By making a big leap. By compressing your future plans into the here and now, to increase optionality later. By quitting your job.
Although, in a very real sense, I now have a lot more time. The only way to square the contradiction is with another financial concept: leverage. In a financial sense, leverage means borrowing the risk-free asset to juice your returns. You can get personal leverage, too: it means using borrowed time. To “borrow” from the Matrix, it’s not so much that you’re somehow getting more time; that’s impossible. Rather, it’s acknowledging that time doesn’t really exist. It’s actually all just the great big NOW. I’ve been learning to meditate, and the guiding voice in my ear would call it ‘coming into the present moment.’
I find when I write, I feel the most present. I also struggle to do anything at less than full throttle; I think it was David Foster Wallace who said writing is the one thing where he feels like he’s giving all of himself.
Or maybe I just romanticize difficult things.6 It’s like how I feel when comparing Big Thief’s performance with another performance I saw at Radio City recently, also an NYU alum by the name of Maggie Rogers. Adrianne Lenker (Big Thief's singer and songwriter) spoke of Radio City as the largest venue Big Thief's ever played, the culmination of an 8-year journey that began when she worked multiple side-gigs and burned CDs in the back of her van; Maggie Rogers talked about Radio City as the stage where she graduated from the astronomically expensive college she attended after boarding school.
Maggie Rogers’ opening act went to boarding school — and NYU — too; they dated in college and now tour together. Not that I have anything against boarding school; my girlfriend went to boarding school. Though she also went to NYU, and so here we go again. Maybe I’m just a self-loathing alum who would rather watch an artist busking in Washington Square Park than in the pay-to-play clubs surrounding it.7
Adrianne described Radio City as another thing, too: a representation of time. Because, when she looked around the theatre — ‘it looks like a library’ — she saw all the time she’d spent creating magnificent art compressed into one room.
She put it something like, “Isn’t it cool how we all don’t know each other. But also, we kind of do.”
So that’s time, and what I want to do with it. Bet you didn’t expect me to go waxing poetic about Adrianne Lenker and Maggie Rogers in this cannabis finance newsletter. Well, I didn’t expect it either. In fact, sometimes I wish none of this had ever happened. But to quote Middle-earth’s most famous stoner:
“So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
What do I want to do with my time? I want to write, think, and learn about cannabis policy, markets, and social justice. I’m levering up and going all in to do that — the only way I know how.
While I have you here…
Do not take this job! I repeat, do not take this job!
Reynolds American is the company behind this ad:
My grandpa smoked camels. The image of his gaunt, gray body — formerly portly and ruddy — dying of cancer will never leave me.
Some of the fears around cannabis are reasonable, if overprotective. Like the woman in front of me at the concert yesterday who told her husband her phone was registering ‘unsafe decibel levels.’8 But there are innumerable benefits. For example, I enjoyed a concert last night with only edibles, when there was a time in college I thought life was just kinda painful when you’re not drinking.9
I want to be able to answer people’s concerns with scientific studies and medical backing, which is why I welcome news like Yale establishing the Center for the Science of Cannabis and Cannabinoids. But the science on cigarettes is clear, and I don’t believe we should be empowering any company that has profited off their sale. We have a chance to make social equity a forefront of this nascent “legal” industry; you don’t do that by helping Reynolds pivot now.
Well, that was a lot. It helped me.
As I start down this journey as a cannabis writer/thinker/learner, let me know if I can help you.
To paraphrase Adrianne (again) last night, 'I’d be happy if this all ended tomorrow, and we went back to playing shows for five people.’ Have a nice weekend.
The nice thing about this format is that if you feel the need to stand and clap after every sentence, it won’t affect anyone else’s experience.
Liam, they can’t see the gesture you’re making. And now I’m talking to myself in the footnotes — this is not helping quell any fears about my state of mind.
Like, I wanted to be a roadie or something? Is that even a thing anymore?
Did you call a financial blogger your ‘hero’? I did, because the daily ‘Money Stuff’ newsletter was just about the only thing that got me through the gauntlet that is an investment banking analyst program. That’s the power of good writing.
The finance people cautiously pull their fingers away from the ‘unsubscribe’ button.
Wallace, for all his flaws, certainly understood the value of doing difficult things.
I’m Irish-Catholic, so I know self-loathing.
Her husband, deadpan, handing her earplugs: ‘It’s not that loud.’ She then proceeded to use her phone throughout the entire performance. I am not sure which of the ‘Naples’ around the world she needed to know the weather for. Maybe there’s something to the ‘our phones are making us miserable’ theory.
Maybe that’s a benign, melodramatic sentiment. Maybe not. I’m Irish; it could go either way. There’s a reason we call alcoholism ‘The Disease.’