“Make the most of the Indian hemp seed, and sow it everywhere!” ― George Washington
That’s right. The guy on the One Dollar Bill, the first president of the United States supported and encouraged the cultivation of this magic seed. Ever since William Randolph Hearst used his corporate powers to influence the criminalizing of the drug because hemp was proven to make better paper than trees in 1937, weed has been illegal in this country. Even then, the American Medical Association stated that marijuana did not seem to be a dangerous drug, and in fact further research was needed that could very well prove that weed has medicinal value. In a shocking development, the United States Congress completely ignored logic, and followed the money.
75 years later, Colorado voters became the first in the nation to come to their senses and legalize marijuana, voters in Washington followed suit just hours later. What changed? What made the public finally come to the realization that the ridiculous prohibition of a harmless drug that grows naturally from the soil of the earth was not dangerous and should in fact be legal? It almost seems too good to be true. I think the real question should be, “How in the world did we let this go on for 75 years?” That question haunts me, and fuels my pessimistic view of society as a whole.
Love it or hate it, Mary Jane is legal (at the state level) and plentiful in Denver, Colorado. I want to talk about what it is like to live in a city that has been centered around the medical marijuana industry since the year 2000. What does legalization look like? That is something that is still fluid here. We are witnessing the shaping of the industry happen right before our eyes. Recently a task force opened the door for pot tourism in the state, but it seems like every step we take forward in the legalization, there are those who just can’t stand the fact that people are allowed to smoke weed now.
I don’t know why they are so pissed off, there have always been potheads, and there always will be potheads, whether marijuana is legal or not. Everything since we approved legalization has been a huge fight. Now one of the hot topics is whether or not pot smoking citizens should be allowed to smoke their ganja on their balcony or front porch. Even though it’s legal, there is still that remaining stigma that potheads are losers. To those people who dislike marijuana, they don’t care about its medicinal value they would have you believe that the bad outweighs the good. They hate everything it stands for and will fight tooth and nail against its legalization. They aren’t going anywhere. There will always be a debate over weed no matter what we do.
“Herb is the healing of a nation, alcohol is the destruction.” ― Bob Marley
That’s what the premise of Amendment 64 is. The goal was to regulate marijuana the same way we regulate alcohol now. The main talking points behind the initiative were often focused on the dangers of alcohol and how safe marijuana actually was in comparison. In Colorado, the legalization of marijuana was backed by some unlikely conservative sources including Republican Tom Tancredo and Temple Emanuel’s Rabbi Steven Foster who said “You do not have to use marijuana—or even approve of marijuana—to see that our current laws are not working.”
They both shared sentiments that the current state of drug policy in America is flawed. In 2011, the FBI reported 750,000 arrests nationwide related to marijuana. That number represents almost half of the 1.5 million total drug arrests made. That is costing the government between 1 and 3 Billion dollars per year just to make the arrests, this number doesn’t even include the cost of prosecuting and sentencing them. (Ferner, 2012)
People still smoke pot; they smoke it so much they voted to make it legal. The drug war is failing. Conservatives, cops, and high government officials are coming out in support of ending prohibition so our police force can concentrate on violent crimes, and stop stocking our jails and prisons chock full of pot heads. Supporters voted yes on Amendment 64 because they believed that our current laws prohibiting the use of pot don’t work. They were hoping that it would bring in revenue for the state, and they made sure that reality would come true by voting yes on Proposition AA, which imposed a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale prices, as well as a 10 percent tax on retail sales. This is supposed to bring in $67 million a year in revenue and 27.5 million of that is earmarked for the construction of new schools. (Ingold, 2013) These are all projections of course; the proof will be in the pudding. The remaining 39.5 million will go to the regulation of the retail pot stores and whatever else they need it for. Perhaps some of those nasal telescopes I’ve seen the cops carrying around at the end of their noses these days.
Opponents of the bill cited that marijuana impairs brain development in children, and based their argument on that and the fact that once it’s legal more children would get their hands on it. The problem with these arguments is that there is overwhelming evidence to indicate the good things that marijuana can do that outweighs these negative factors.
The fact is it hasn’t been proven definitively that marijuana affects us negatively. Studies have shown that marijuana is a cancer killer and can actually lead to brain cell growth in contrast to the “This Is Your Brain on Drugs” egg in the skillet public service announcement/scare tactic they pushed on me in my adolescence (Mozes, 2013). It has even been found that suicide rates are lower in areas where marijuana is approved for medical use (Anderson, Rees, & Sabla, 2012). You would think that smoking weed would cause lung cancer, but there hasn’t been any evidence found to suggest this is true, in fact a large study performed by the University of California at Los Angeles found no evidence at all to link marijuana and lung cancer (Kaufman, 2006). In almost every state where marijuana has been legalized, teen usage has actually gone down (O’Keefe, Esq., Earleywine, Ph.D., Riffle, Zawidzki, & Mirken, 2011).
“Why is marijuana against the law? It grows naturally upon our planet. Doesn’t the idea of making nature against the law seem to you a bit . . . unnatural” – Bill Hicks
So what is it like to actually live here in the land of legal weed? I’m still observing the culture. People generally seem a little more brazen about their public smoking. I’ve seen old men toking up at the light rail stop; right in front of an RTD Security guard no less. I have watched groups of people passing a joint amongst them walk right by a pair of police officers on the street, hazy weed cloud in tow. I’ve seen teenagers smoking in circles at bus stops. Weed is everywhere in Colorado.
When traveling on I-25 I often am overwhelmed by the smell of marijuana wafting through the air from who knows where. Today, when I was walking the alleys photographing Graffiti, I could smell weed permeating from several backyards. I would be inclined to say that if you didn’t smell weed when you were walking through Denver, then something isn’t right. We voted it in, and we are smoking it in mass quantities.
The Westword, Denver’s local free paper, is packed with advertisements and articles on where you can get the best weed in Colorado. Drug Enforcement Administration raids have been happening periodically since the year 2000, when Colorado voted to legalize pot for medical purposes. There are almost 400 medical marijuana dispensaries in Denver that is twice as many pot shops as there are Starbucks, who have 208 stores in the city (The Huffington Post, 2011).
The hype is gaining momentum as opening day for purchasing legal weed is quickly approaching. Rolling Stone’s Jonathan Ringen went so far as to declare Denver the undisputed stoner capital of the world. He even cites interesting similarities that make Denver the perfect place for weed lovers. We are the home of the Denver Nuggets, and if you’re a pothead you get why that is significant. I always get a little chuckle when I see an NBA matchup featuring the Nuggs and the Blazers. Sancho’s Broken Arrow and Quixote’s True Blue are both bars that are centered on a Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia theme, and Denver of course will forever be known as “The Mile High City.”
Local hearings are happening across Colorado right now and dispensaries are gearing up for the January kick-off for retail pot sales. In just a few months, anybody in Colorado 21 or older can walk into a pot shop spend some cash and walk out with a sack of weed. No more shady hook-ups in weird living rooms buying product that you aren’t exactly sure about. No more awkward moments with strangers on stinky couches staring at you while the dealer gets your bag ready. The black market that was created by prohibition is ridiculous. Otherwise law abiding American citizens just looking to relax have been sneaking around for decades buying weed from the local neighborhood dealer.
I can’t imagine exactly what it is going to look like. The media attention should be significant; this is a historic moment in our country’s history. Some feel that this isn’t the type of attention Colorado should be seeking. They fear the coming pot tourism industry is going to drive away the more conservative tourists. I don’t see it that way. I’m proud to be from a state where the voters did their research and voted to make a change for the better.
Legalization seems like a smart choice all the way around. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping beyond all hope that this works. That is the whole reason I voted yes. To change something that so obviously was broken. Now we get to sit back and watch what happens.
I hope that weed lovers everywhere come to Colorado and celebrate freedom and intelligence; I hope they spend crazy amounts of money, and that the city uses the revenue gained from taxes to build the greatest public school system in the nation. I hope we see less DUI’s and lowered alcoholism rates. I hope our jails become less crowded and our court system less bogged down. I hope that Denver becomes a shining example of how changing our drug policy can work and be beneficial to us all.
We have the chance to prove ourselves right by making responsible decisions in the consumption of marijuana. If we choose to walk the streets, gallivanting around acting like idiots with joints hanging out of our mouths that is how the rest of the public will categorize all of us. If everyone just continues to be smart and considerate about their smoking habit we should be able to achieve this. We banned smoking in restaurants and public places because of the harmful effects of cigarette smoke, as well the nasty smell. We cited public health as our reason for this. I treat marijuana the same way.
We don’t need to be blowing weed smoke in little kid’s faces. Marijuana users in Colorado can promote legalization across the country by showing that this is a model that can work. I think we need to think of it on that scale if it is truly something that we are passionate about. For this to work, we all need to participate and do our part. Think about that before you toke up in the street. Let’s not give the conservatives who oppose legalized weed any fuel for the fire. Let’s prove them wrong and show them that marijuana is a miracle drug with many benefits that should be legal for all human beings of legal age to consume.
Let’s show them that common sense really can prevail and that criminalizing a plant that grows from the earth really is a bad idea. I’m all for personal freedoms, I don’t want to be regulated any more than the next guy, but there has to be some respect and consideration for everyone, not just the people you agree with. The public space is for everyone’s use. Respect them. Be considerate of everyone around you. These are things we should have all been taught growing up, but the things people do in public tell me that isn’t true for everyone.
Denver is a city in flux right now. No one is exactly sure of what is coming. There seems to be this nervous tension present in the more densely populated areas. Walking down 16th Street Mall you can smell someone smoking weed and witness the negative reaction from the elderly couple as they pass through the stinky cloud of smoke. Everyone seems sort of unsure about how all this is going to work. Is it legal to do that? Not according to the Amendment it isn’t, but I don’t see any cops giving tickets for it either. That is not to say that no one has been cited: Smoking marijuana in public is still illegal and doing so will get you a $100 fine. The first half of 2013 Denver police wrote 20 tickets for public consumption of marijuana. (Ingold, 2013) I see more than 20 people smoking weed in public on my way to take the trash out. That is a slight exaggeration, but you get the point.
People in Denver are witnessing change at a rapid pace. Our city councils are working hard to lay down the groundwork for a positive experience with the legalization of marijuana. As a citizen of Denver, I welcome anyone who is interested in visiting our beautiful city to partake in smoking some of the finest marijuana on the planet. While you’re here check out the Rocky Mountains, go skiing, go camping, and hit a four wheel drive trail. Colorado is an awesome place to visit, and now you don’t even have to try and hide your weed stash. Just buy it when you get here and support Colorado’s education system.