The author and leading legalisation proponent Mason Tvert smell victory in the air
On Wednesday at 7.30AM, Mason Tvert, co-director of the campaign to legalise marijuana in Colorado, was speaking at a press conference held just before the state's first ever legal recreational pot sale. "The media keeps describing what's starting today as an experiment," he explained, “when the real experiment was actually marijuana prohibition, an experiment that failed terribly, just like the so-called 'great experiment' known as alcohol prohibition.”
Mason's comparison served as the theme of Tuesday night's New Year's Eve cannabis industry fundraiser for the Rocky Mountain Hemp Association. It was a high-class affair that featured elaborately costumed flappers and bootleggers, plus oversized newspaper clippings from the day back in 1933 when Denver's taverns finally re-opened to the public. One anti-prohibition Denver Post editorial of that era called on status-quo lawmakers to “turn over a new leaf”.
Susan Squibb, the Denver Post's new marijuana advice columnist, celebrates the end of Prohibition in high style
Just before midnight struck, I caught up with Susan Squibb, newly hired as the Post's first-ever marijuana advice columnist. In pot terms, Squibb has paid her dues. Previously author of the “Ask Lady Cannabis” column in a local weed-culture newspaper, Squibb actually first started dispensing marijuana advice during a six-year run selling hemp ice-cream sandwiches from an officially licensed stand inside Red Rock's Amphitheater in Golden, Colorado.
From the very beginning, her humble little concession served as “a confession booth for those who wanted to talk discreetly with someone in the know about cannabis”, including growers, medical marijuana patients, long-time enthusiasts, total newbies and the wholly uninitiated. “Because we all felt so much fear while still living in the underground, they couldn't ask their family or friends about these issues,” Squibb explained. “But they could talk to a friendly stranger. And so I quickly realised just how great the need is to educate the public about this amazing plant. Hopefully my new column will provide a similar opportunity to talk about what appropriate use means in terms of marijuana.”
When I asked Susan for advice on how to approach my own impending first legal purchase of recreational cannabis, she recommended trying to savour the moment.
A light snowfall didn't deter these marijuana enthusiasts from lining up to make history
Hempy New Year!
Not long after belting out "Auld Lang Syne", I decided to head over to 3D Cannabis Center – one of the new retail pot stores I profiled Tuesday – to see if eager herbal enthusiasts had already started gathering in the parking lot, despite rapidly dropping temperatures and a chance of snow. Arriving just after midday, I found about a dozen cars scattered around the parking lot, but quickly learned they almost all belonged to the staff, who were inside pulling an all-nighter, which mostly consisted of packaging pre-weighed eighths and grams of cannabis in child-resistant bags.
The author adds his name to the waiting list
The sparse crowd did, however, mean no lines for the doughnuts and funnel cakes for sale from a local food vendor already on site. While I waited for those sweet treats, one of the kitchen crew (who I later ran into in line to buy pot) explained that two guys had actually shown up from Florida and pitched a tent, but then it got too cold for them so they decided to sleep in their car. My new best bud also pointed out the official sign up sheet, to which I added my name, securing the eighth spot in line.
A reassuringly low number, given the ongoing rumours of a possible statewide legal pot shortage.
By 6.45AM, dozens of media trucks had already moved into place.
Then, around sunrise, the general pot public started showing up in full force, to help make history. Keep in mind, I asked literally every single prospective cannabis consumer I met why they came, often from out-of-state, and absolutely nobody said “to buy pot”. “We actually get really good bud at home,” two dudes who drove 20 hours from rural Texas confided. “But it's not about that. We really travelled here for the freedom of not having to look over our shoulders.”
They came to be treated like customers instead of criminals – including at least one organised tour group operated by L Addison Morrison, who introduced herself to me as “your grandma's new pot connection”. Focused on upscale professionals seeking a discreet, 420-friendly experience, her Colorado Rocky Mountain High Tour company hopes to appeal to the high-end segment of what will surely be a booming cannabis tourism industry throughout the state. Already local hotels, restaurants and other ancillary businesses have benefited from the arrival of hundreds of journalists, all of whom were on hand for the big press conference.
In any other context, standing around with a bunch of lamestream media types while the cameras whirl and political flacks flap their gums ranks right up there with stubbing my toe real hard. But this was different. Other than the few openly hostile assholes I encountered among the media scrum, everyone seemed ready to actually learn a thing or two at this particular press event. Of course, since the media played such a huge role in making marijuana illegal, and keeping it illegal for so long, that seemed like the least they could do.
And Mason Tvert was certainly ready to drop some knowledge on them.
“Today, people all around the country will buy marijuana,” he said towards the conclusion of his prepared statement. “but only in Colorado will they do so in a legal, regulated retail store like this.”
At which point, I started to get a little choked up.
Sean Azzariti celebrates buying an eighth of Bubba Kush to treat his PTSD
From the Frontlines to Front of the Line
The honour of making America's first legal recreational marijuana purchase went to Sean Azzariti, a Marine Corp veteran who served two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sean told me nothing else helps his condition as effectively as cannabis, including the massive daily drug cocktail previously prescribed by his doctors, which included six milligrams of Xanax, six milligrams of Klonopin and 50-60 milligrams of Adderall (to balance the downers), followed by some Trazodone to help him sleep at night.
Unfortunately, Colorado's existing medical marijuana programme does not recognise PTSD as a qualifying condition, despite serious science showing clear benefits. Which basically means that serving in combat and swallowing shitloads of dangerous, addictive prescription drugs were considered safe enough activities for Sean to engage in by the government. Just don't try ingesting an all-natural herb with no lethal dose or serious side effects.
“Taking all those pharmaceuticals, I was going to either turn into a zombie or die,” Sean told me. “Cannabis saved my life.”
When the historic moment arrived, Sean chose to buy an eighth of Bubba Kush and a cannabis-infused truffle.
The author has friends in high places
I've visited Amsterdam many times, and frequented a few of California's medical cannabis dispensaries as well, so the whole retail reefer concept feels far from unprecedented.
But this really is different.
In Amsterdam, for example, the coffeeshops are officially only tolerated, not legal, and lately political pressure has been building to push them even further into the shadows. While back home in the Golden State, even the best-run medical marijuana dispensaries and collectives have no way to earn a license from the state, and therefore face a constant, real threat from law enforcement.
Of course, every cannabis sale in Colorado today – retail or medicinal – also remains technically federally illegal, but as today's festivities should make abundantly clear, the Feds have finally blinked in the face of a large and growing marijuana majority. When Amendment 64 officially legalised it in Colorado in November 2012, for example, the ballot initiative garnered far more votes than the President, who also carried the state handily.
Meanwhile, waiting in line with the first ten numbers on the waiting list, I start to feel butterflies. Thinking of all the people I wish were here to share this experience.
When it comes to selecting fine cannabis, the nose knows.
At the sales counter, the budtender opens jars of herb to let me take a sniff. She says the Grape God (Grape x God Bud), a powerful indica, has the best flavour – so pleasantly fruity, in fact, that some people end up smoking too much just for the taste. They also offer a full line of edibles and tinctures. There are even pre-rolled joints for the novice toker.
Wanting to try as many varieties as possible while I'm in town, I opt for a gram each of Sour Diesel, Bubba Kush, Grape God and Blue Dream. The budtender gathers up my merchandise and puts it into an opaque child-resistant bag, as required by law. Then I hand over $63 (tax included), and she hands me a receipt. I want to give her a hug, but it feels inappropriate.
So as I leave the dispensing area of the store, I hold up my newly acquired bag of legal weed in victory, for all to see. My friends in line cheer wholeheartedly, while waiting their turn.
As for the millions of herbalists, all over the world, still stuck living under this awful prohibition, all I can think is, “Your day will come too.” When I first got involved in marijuana legalisation efforts, people used to shame me for wasting my time on something that was never going to happen. Now they ask why worry over something that's all but inevitable.
Cheers to that!
Tune in tomorrow for the final instalment of VICE's Legal Weed Trilogy: "I Just Smoked Some Legal Weed"