Pubdate: Tue, 29 Dec 2015
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2015 The Denver Post Corp
Author: John Wenzel


The Novelty and Stigma of Marijuana Continue to Erode After Legalization

Like countless commuters in Denver's urban core, Marty Otanez can't 
help but smell the pot smoke as he rides to work along the Cherry 
Creek bike path downtown.

"A couple years ago it was only under the bridge at Colfax and 
Speer," Otanez said of the clouds emanating from public tokers. "Now 
it's pretty much every 100 meters."

Increased pot smoke swirling around city streets and parks is one of 
the most recognizable effects of Amendment 64 - which legalized the 
recreational use and sale of marijuana in Colorado - particularly 
since public consumption remains illegal.

At concerts, from Red Rocks Amphitheatre to the Pepsi Center, it's 
something of a foregone conclusion, no matter how aggressively the 
staff attempts to prevent it. (Promoter AEG Live Rocky Mountains, 
which frequently books shows at Red Rocks and the Pepsi Center, 
declined requests for comment.)

But there are smaller, less in-your-face ways that show how marijuana 
has become woven into the fabric of daily life in Colorado.

Otanez, a cultural anthropology professor at the University of 
Colorado at Denver, teaches a class titled Cannabis Cultures. His 13 
students examine different aspects of legal weed, from the social 
effect of decriminalization to using cannabis tea as a stress reliever.

"We're really well placed to see culture in the making here," Otanez 
said. "It's this pioneering moment between normalization and the 
residual effects of prohibition. All of Denver is a laboratory."

Pot-related books plentiful

The sheer omnipresence of cannabis culture - from the dozens of 
green-emblazoned pot-shop signs around town to flashy, colorful ads 
for vape pens and bongs - has worked to erode the novelty and stigma 
of smoking pot.

But so has watching the rise of marijuana-related titles at public 
libraries - the bastions of approved knowledge for the masses.

"We're seeing more interest in quality, vetted books about cooking, 
growing and social issues surrounding marijuana," said Chris Henning, 
marketing manager for Denver Public Library system, citing a 35 
percent circulation increase in pot-related titles over 2014.

The Denver Public Library bought double the number of marijuana books 
in 2015 over 2014, he said, which is why "The Cannabis Kitchen 
Cookbook" recently showed up on the featured shelf at the Woodbury 
branch in the Highland neighborhood.

"We've gotten no complaints about it," said an employee, who asked 
not to be identified. "Mostly (complaints) come from sex stuff, 
religious stuff. But marijuana? We were sort of expecting some and it 
never happened."

On the other end of the spectrum, the erosion of stereotypes has 
created opportunities in high-risk health care, said Adrienna Lujan, 
executive director of the Denver nonprofit Geronimo Enterprises.

"Now that cannabis is legal, people don't have to live in some kind 
of shame or stigma, which allows us to explore alternatives," said 
Lujan, a certified addictions counselor who trains community health 
workers in HIV and intravenous drug-addict treatments.

Those alternatives include using marijuana as a withdrawal buffer for 
heroin, Oxycontin and crack.

"From a public health standpoint, it's not just a replacement for 
another addiction but a way to reduce the harm of it," she said. 
"Legalization has made people feel safer talking about that even 
being an option, not only for the general public but service 
providers as well."

"Trying to pave a path"

The normalization of pot culture is a quest that goes back decades, 
seen most notably in the name of the country's oldest, largest 
pro-pot nonprofit, NORML (National Organization for the Reform of 
Marijuana Laws), which was founded in 1970.

But while "normal" means something different to everyone, Colorado 
has already made room for a pot-smoking Bible-study group in 
Centennial (profiled in a recent New York Magazine article), stoner 
poker nights, cooking classes, dinner parties and even Colorado 
Symphony Orchestra events.

"As public acceptance changes and federal laws change, this need to 
hide use is fading," said Brett Davis, CEO of Denver co-working space 
Green Labs.

Davis has organized a Sushi and Joint Rolling class, Munchie Crawl (a 
pot-pub crawl) and, most recently, a Tacky Light Tour that allows 
people to smoke on a tour bus while surveying Denver's kitschiest 
Christmas displays.

The current state of pot consumption - which stipulates it can be 
used only on private property with the owner's consent - complicates 
normalization, but also provides opportunities for businesses such as his.

"People will pay $60 or $70 to attend an event like the (Tacky Light) 
tour because there's nowhere else to smoke socially," Davis said. 
"We're trying to pave a path here. We're not seeing the increase of 
traffic accidents, fatalities, robberies or all these other fears 
people had about legalizing pot, and that's opening this door."

While industry groups and marketing firms work to sell cannabis to 
skeptics and newcomers, seeing Colorado's culture in action is a 
deciding factor for many visitors.

"I was shocked," said Nancy Bena, of Baltimore, who spent her 69th 
birthday in Denver last month after buying a package deal from 
Denver-based My420Tours. "I was expecting a party atmosphere, and 
people walking around town all out of it, but it was very professional."

My420Tours leads 120 to 200 visitors per week to grow operations and 
other cannabis businesses, allowing them to discretely sample product 
(on a private bus) and connecting them with hotel rooms.

Danny Schaefer, chief operating officer, has watched the business 
double quarterly and expects My420Tours' revenues to exceed $2 
million this year.

"It's still a novelty to people who aren't from here," Schaefer said.

However, visiting the Mile High City shows that cannabis is 
integrated into daily life here, he said.

Schaefer even cited a handful of people who, within days of their 
trip, decided to buy a home in Colorado to bask in the legal marijuana culture.

Baltimore resident Bena hasn't gone quite that far. But she already 
is planning to spend her 70th birthday in Denver.

"I'm taking a plane and flying out as fast as I can," she said. 
"Colorado has already done all the groundwork."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom