A sign of the times
demonized and criticized
illegal no more
According to U.S. Census and Uniform Crime Reporting data police in Colorado made 55,900 marijuana possession arrests between 2006-2010. On November 8th, 2012 future arrest numbers went up in smoke as 54% of Colorado voters favored the legalization of marijuana. On January 1st, 2014 the first retail marijuana shops opened for business. In the first two months Colorado made over 6 million dollars in tax revenue from the sale of recreational cannabis. All of that revenue is already earmarked for school construction in Colorado. In fact, the first 40 million in tax revenue the state makes goes to the schools. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
I’ll try not to bore you anymore with stats that I’m sure you’ve seen hundreds of times. The fact is, a lot of people all over the world use marijuana. The fact that it was ever criminalized in the first place is one of the greatest muck-ups in American history. American law enforcement has spent billions trying to stem the tide of marijuana users, clogging up our court system with low level drug offenders for decades. It should be legalized across the board in all 50 states. It should be taxed and regulated and the money should be used to clear up our national debt. Who knows? It might even serve to mellow out our increasingly hostile society.
Observing the scene
recognizing the layers
seeing the color
Before I picked up photography I would avoid events such as these like the plague, now I can’t stay away. The energy of the crowd, the diversity, that subtle feeling of tension hanging over the park like a storm cloud. Looking at Denver’s “Official 420 Rally” from an entirely A-Political perspective, it was a crowd like any other, except on this day, the area of Civic Center Park was cordoned off, and inside its boundaries cannabis was being consumed in all variety of ways by an eclectic variety of people.
Just like the “Taste of Colorado” the park is filled with a throng of humans gnawing on giant turkey legs and churros, only today most of them are washing it down with some sort of cannabis soda instead of the customary craft beer or domestic swill (Coors Light, Bud Light, Milwaukee’s Best, PBR) There was alcohol, but it was relegated to a small “bar” in a distant corner. The majority of people today were only interested in smoking weed.
There was a a heavy and very visible police presence, bolstered by a private security company and park rangers. Scaffolding was erected in the center of the park manned with armed guardsthat constantly scanned the crowd with binoculars. Park rangers on bicycles could also be seen buzzing in and out of the crowd. At least one drone was being flown over the festivities, and the entire outer perimeter of the park was surrounded by a layer of black fences. Helicopters periodically flew overhead and I saw one land on the roof of a nearby building. Just beyond the perimeter of the fence along Broadway officers from the Denver Police Department congregated in a display of authority. They don’t usually smile when I take their picture, but I do it anyway.
This event is no place for children, although a small percentage of people with questionable judgement brought their children along. I ran across a mother pushing a child through the hazy smoked filled park, the kid literally looked green to me. There is a brashness to this event that one can’t ignore. The crowd swelled as the clock drew nearer to 4:20 on Easter Sunday. The cloud of smoke hovering over the crowd thickened as they counted down the minutes to the collective exhale. Marijuana is a part of the mainstream culture in Denver now more than ever. There is almost literally a pot shop on every corner, and it is not uncommon to catch a strong hint of the ganja as you are driving around town in your car.
The rally went off without a hitch in my opinion, except for the overwhelming sense of unease I felt with the extremely heightened security presence which is more of a personal thing. If I wasn’t taking pictures, I wouldn’t be here. These are the people that I observed.
burning the sweet leaf
passing it among themselves
A green cloud descended on the park.
The crowd shuffled and smoked and meandered
and smoked and shuffled and smoked
Old heads and young blood
tough guys and hippies
girls of all shapes and sizes
and every once in a while you might see a baby in a stroller
guys and dogs and babies of all shapes and sizes
a constant scent of weed in the air
every one here has cotton mouth
unmanned drones scan the crowd from above
security guards on tall scaffolding
armed to the teeth
helicopters frequently circle the park
fences circle the park
cops circle the park
deviance and good Samaritan-ism
face to face
the hall monitors vs the kids from detention
the free spirits vs the straight and narrows
Over the Public address system a man says: “You are standing on some of the freest soil in America right now”
He said it from behind a riot fence and a wall of bullet proof glass
with a fence holding all the freedom lovers in one area
subject to searches on the way in AND out
it feels like they are laughing at us
the hula-hoopers and the hare krishnas
the skaters and the punks
the gangsters and the just plain crazy
aren’t we all?
Colorado’s weed industry is open for business. I spent the morning scoping out the Denver Metro Area for a good place to purchase marijuana. It turns out it wasn’t exactly as crazy as I thought it would be. The first place I went was Denver’s Discreet Dispensary, and it was a media circus. I wasn’t sure if I parked legally or not, and it was freezing, plus I wasn’t going to get anything here that Channel 7 wasn’t already getting, so I snapped off a few photos and took off in search of greener pastures.
I gave the Denver Post’s Cannabist section a look and obtained some addresses that looked promising. I decided to give Kindman a shot, because I read some interviews and the place sounded pretty cool. When I pulled up there were about 20 people in line, after about an hour that number grew to around 100 lined up all the way around the corner of the building. I talked to Mike from New York, who was standing first in line. Mike told me he worked for the state of New York for over thirty years and just recently retired. The couple behind Mike was second in line, but insisted that they were technically the first to arrive, but just happened to be warming up in their vehicle when Mike took the first spot at about 7 a.m. In true pothead fashion Mike was chill about the situation, and even after waiting about an hour and a half to get in the door, he gave up the historic “first customer” spot to the couple from Missouri. For that Mike, I salute you.
The store had some issues with their computer system and couldn’t open the doors until sometime around 8:30. The crowd was getting a little restless, but for the most part everyone was happy to wait for the chance to purchase their marijuana for the first time. I hung around long enough to get a picture of the first guy out the door with his sack of weed. I started to notice a certain look that everyone was giving me throughout the day. It was that “Oh shit, I didn’t realize there was going to be a guy with a camera taking my picture while I stand in line for weed” look. I get it. I still feel awkward talking openly about Marijuana and how it pertains to my life.
It is a whole new world. There is nothing discreet at all about standing in line by the hundreds to buy Mary Jane. Today was like a coming out party for closeted pot heads everywhere. There was a really diverse mix of people standing in line publically admitting to their previously illegal recreational activities. I don’t blame anyone for being concerned about having their picture taken while in the act of purchasing marijuana, but if you don’t want your picture taken, you shouldn’t come out on such a historic occasion.
I would feel worse about it if I wasn’t myself standing out there admitting to the world that “yes, I do smoke pot.” I’m taking the same risk you are, except I don’t really have a job right now to worry about losing. Getting one might be a little tougher in the future, but from what I hear it isn’t all that easy right now in the first place.
The third place I looked into to was Citi-Med on Evans. It was the longest line of all the dispensaries I visited by far. I imagine that being right next to the University of Denver might have something to do with that. Surprisingly the folks in this line were the ones who seemed the most appalled that I would dare to snap their picture. While photographing the people in line, one girl mentioned she didn’t want to be on camera, but then the guy right next to her shouted out, “I DO!” I told them all they should be proud and just let their freak flag fly for the morning.
I think one of the biggest things I learned today was that there really are a lot of people who smoke marijuana these days. I saw people that I would have never expected to be pot users standing in line eagerly waiting for their chance to get their hands on some great weed. Which brings us to my final destination: Altitude: The Dispensary. This place was very discreet, tucked away in a little corner behind an abandoned K-Mart. The line was short, but the wait was long. I stood in line and talked with my line-mates about all things marijuana, and even a little bit about our personal lives and how we’ve survived this long as closeted weed smokers.
The staff at Altitude is top notch. They were super-friendly and knowledgeable. I had to give up my ID at the door, and it took an hour in line, but that was to be expected because of the circumstances. Once you give up your ID, they register you in a system in their computer. Then you are let into a waiting room, and you watch Comedy Central until they call your name. Once in the main room, you tell them what you want and they take care of you. I just went in with $20 bucks, which was good enough to get me a gram of Sour OG. The taxes are no joke, that’s double what you can get a gram for on the medicinal side of things. While waiting, I listened to one of their Budtenders speak eloquently about the multitude of benefits that Marijuana can provide. He was sort of a guru of pot gracing us with the sacred word of ganja. He was just one of those types. Outgoing, exuberant, easy to like, he was the kind of guy that could talk you into joining a cult without you even knowing it. It was awesome to be present in his aura of wisdom. I instantly felt at ease around this guy. I would say I would go back to Altitude specifically because I had the pleasure of meeting this man.
All in all, it was exactly what NORML‘s Mason Tvert said it should be, just a normal day, except responsible adults can now purchase marijuana at their sole discretion and for whatever reason they see fit. The prohibition of Marijuana has come to an end in Colorado. Legalization is here. It’s time for the rest of the country to follow suit.
Tomorrow is the first day of legalized, over the counter, marijuana sales. No prescription needed. I’ll be there to witness this historic day in our nation’s history. We are all deviants and I’m curious to see the characters in this crowd. I’ll be there to capture it, I have no idea what to expect. I’m imagining a large turnout though. We’ll see!
Writing about weed is weird for me. It has always been something that I preferred to keep to myself, and even now it doesn’t seem right to admit to it.
I still fear the Federal government. I worry about being passed over for employment for being an admitted pot user. It still carries a negative stigma with the conservative crowd who looks down on those of us who use mind altering substances.
It is my goal to be able to do the journalism thing freelance, so I should be able to talk about smoking marijuana with a guilt free conscience, but I came up during Reagan’s DARE campaign and actually participated in a joint operation with the DEA in California during my time in the Marines. So I’ve experienced it from both sides. I’ve followed intricate PVC pipe irrigation systems in search if illegal grow operations in a forest in California. I’ve also sat in a complete strangers living room purchasing the same illegal weed that I had once tried to track down and burn to the ground.
Tomorrow marijuana takes it’s first steps into mainstream acceptance.
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