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October 1, 2009

Stiletto Stoners

They've got killer careers and enviable social lives. They're also major potheads. Why are so many smart, successful women lighting up in their off-hours?

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Photo Credit: Andrew McLeod

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Jennifer Pelham* kicks off her black Marc Jacobs pumps, slips out of her trim Theory blazer, and collapses on the couch. The 29-year-old corporate attorney for one of Manhattan's top law firms has just clocked another 12-hour day, and though it's over, she's having a hard time shaking off her frustrations. (A partner had eviscerated the contract she'd drafted, then left before Pelham had a chance to explain herself.) Still distracted, Pelham orders dinner—sushi, as usual—then reaches for a plastic orange prescription bottle standing on the corner of her coffee table alongside a glass pipe and blue Bic lighter, just as the cleaning lady left them. She twists off the cap, pinches off a piece of the fragrant green bud inside, gingerly places it in the bowl of the pipe, and lights up. Over the next 30 minutes, she takes three deep drags, enough to drown out the noise whirring in her head. Then she eats.

"I hate the term pothead—it connotes that I'm high 24/7, which I'm not," Pelham says, wincing. "I don't need it to get through my day. I just enjoy it when my day is over." Her nightly ritual costs only $50 a month, a pittance compared with the cost of her monthly gym membership or a Saturday night out with her fiancé, an investment banker, who occasionally smokes with her. At 5'4", slim and athletic—she ran three miles a day while in law school—Pelham insists that pot is the ideal antidote to a hairy workday: It never induces a post-happy-hour hangover and, unlike the Xanax a doctor once prescribed for her anxiety, never leaves her groggy or numb. "Look, every female attorney I know has some vice or another," Pelham shrugs, tucking her long brown hair behind her ears, her 3-carat cushion-cut engagement ring catching the light. "It's really not a big deal."

Most of us know someone like Jennifer Pelham, a balls-to-the-wall career animal whose idea of decompressing after a grueling day isn't a glass of Chardonnay but a toke (or three) of marijuana—not just every now and again, but on a regular basis—the type who stashes a pack of E-Z Wider rolling paper in the silverware drawer or keeps a pipe at the ready next to a pile of bills. According to a recent study by The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an estimated 8 million American women smoked up in the past year—a lowball figure that reflects only those willing to cop to it. Among them is the upper-middle-class Pottery Barn set: One in five women who admitted to indulging in the previous month lives in a household earning more than $75,000 a year. They cut a wide swath across the professional spectrum, including lawyers, editors, insurance agents, TV producers, and financial biggies, looking nothing like the blotto hippie teens of Dazed and Confused or the unemployed, out-of-shape schlubsters who are a staple of the Judd Apatow canon. By all outward appearances, they are card-carrying, type A workaholics who just happen to prefer kicking back with a blunt instead of a bottle.

"I love to have a glass of wine now and again, but going out and downing sugary cocktails isn't fun for me. And drinking is so much more expensive," says Debbie Schwartz, a 28-year-old reality-show production manager who recently moved to New York from Los Angeles. Her job is relentless—15-hour days spent coordinating a million moving pieces, managing expenses, setting production schedules, and mollifying gimme-gimme talent. Her company just slashed her budget in half, which has left Schwartz scrambling to cut costs so that she won't have to lay off employees. After work, she can't think of anything she'd rather not do than throw on a pair of heels and some makeup to hit the local bars. "I'll go to the gym for an hour, then come back home and smoke a joint while I listen to jazz and read a book—I just finished The Fountainhead. It's my moment for myself before I have to get up and do it all over again tomorrow. It's my bubble bath," Schwartz explains. She doesn't keep her illicit habit under wraps, either. There's no need, since several people in her office use the same "dealer"—a colleague who takes orders for their department.

If Schwartz's example proves anything, it's how ridiculously easy it is to procure pot these days. In some cities, it's as simple as ordering a pizza, delivered right to the door.

NEXT PAGE: WHAT ARE FEMALE POT SMOKERS PUTTING ON THE LINE?

*Names have been changed


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