(Photo illustration by Jeff Neumann, The Denver Post; photos: Jupiter Images by Getty)

Legalized life: 25 stories that define Colorado’s weed era since 2012

As three years of legal marijuana is marked in Colorado, a look back at 25 stories that defined legalization's earliest years

Dec. 10 is hardly the most important day in Colorado’s brief pot-legalization history — but it’s certainly one of them.

On Dec. 10, 2012, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper formalized Amendment 64 into the state’s constitution. As my colleague Kristen Wyatt with the Associated Press wrote last year, “It was a procedural but important step. The governor’s executive order was the first public declaration that Colorado wouldn’t try to block marijuana legalization or ask the federal government, which considers pot illegal, to intervene.”

And here we are three years later, a slightly changed society.

In many ways, we’re largely unchanged. Some of our cities smell a little bit different in the neighborhoods housing industrial real estate and the cannabis cultivations that often call those spaces home. We’re increasingly tired of the jokes and raised eyebrows that often accompany our admissions to people we’re meeting that, “I’m from Colorado.”

But in other ways, we’re deeply changed. Back in December 2012, there was so much we didn’t know about the look and feel and consequences of legal recreational weed. And while those story lines have yet to fully play out, we have a better grasp now on what legalization does to a community than we ever have in modern history.

Also celebrating its anniversary this month is this very site — and it’s no surprise The Cannabist shares a birthday month with legal Colorado ganja. My editors approached me two years ago with the mandate of covering marijuana from a journalistic point of view, from the breaking news to the cannabis criticism to the viral videos of wild deer snacking on legal marijuana in outdoor cultivations.

And so in no particular order — and for no other reason than to mark this historic date — here are 25 stories we’ve published over the last three years. These stories don’t tell the full story of the world’s first legal weed market, but they will give you a very real idea of what the legal marijuana climate looks and feels like on the ground in Colorado, and beyond, on Dec. 10, 2015.

Ana Watson holds a bottle of cannabidiol oil she will administer to her son Preston in an effort to try and control his seizures on April 13, 2014 in Colorado Springs. (Joe Amon, Denver Post file)
Ana Watson holds a bottle of cannabidiol oil she will administer to her son Preston in an effort to try and control his seizures on April 13, 2014 in Colorado Springs. (Joe Amon, Denver Post file)

1. A Pulitzer finalist, and a story full of heart: The Denver Post’s “Desperate Journey” series on families moving to Colorado to see if the high-CBD marijuana and hemp strains would help with their children’s debilitating seizures and sicknesses was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in explanatory reporting.

2. Denver pot tourism guide: Cannabist pot critic Jake Browne writes, “One of the most frequent questions I get at The Cannabist is, ‘I’m coming to Colorado. What should I do?’ and I wind up as their free vacation planner. After a decade of smoking dank in Denver, I feel like it’s my duty to help people find the best of the best while in town, and that doesn’t stop with pot.”

3. A legal state, putting its money where its mouth is: Colorado’s Board of Health approved up to $8 million in grants to pay for eight studies on medical marijuana, the largest-ever state-funded effort to study the medical efficacy of cannabis.

4. What about the kids? One year after retail marijuana joined medical pot as a legal product, the number of marijuana-related arrests in Denver public schools has grown by 6 percent. Opponents predicted that legalizing the drug would encourage more teens to use it. But statistical data showing what change, if any, there has been in the number of teenagers using pot are so far spotty, at best.

Blue Dream marijuana review (Strain Theory)
An example of Blue Dream, grown by a Colorado dispensary. (Ry Prichard, The Cannabist)

5. Marijuana criticism at its finest: These 25 strains propelled us to movement and soothed our most prominent aches. They’re old standbys, trendy new hybrids and old-school classics known by our parents. And they’re 25 of our favorites.

6. The most serious legal challenge to date against Colorado’s legalization of marijuana: Two neighboring states have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down Colorado’s history-making pot law. Nebraska and Oklahoma filed the lawsuit directly with the nation’s highest court in December 2014. The two states argue in the lawsuit that, “the State of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system.”

7. Why vaping is the dumbest thing ever: Vaping in public, much like omnipresent smartphone use, has evolved faster than the social etiquette to deal with it. It’s certainly healthier and more considerate to non-smokers than a cigarette or a joint. But it’s still a nervous habit. People who smoke cigarettes or joints tend to smoke them and be done with it, at least for substantial stretches of time. Vape pens are constant irritations that lend themselves to endless fiddling. It’s about as classy as meeting someone for lunch only to ignore him or her for your phone, or going to a concert and watching the entire thing through an iPad. You’d almost rather they take the call, send the e-mail, or snap the photo and get on with it.

8. One of legalization’s most significant opponents, speaking out: What have we learned so far about Colorado’s marijuana experiment, as the state’s legalization of adult cannabis use has often been called? Pot legalization opponent Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana talks on what he’s seen in Colorado.

9. Pot’s pesticide problems: Will 2015 be remembered as the year legal marijuana first encountered — and eventually figured out — its pesticide problem? The national conversation surrounding pesticide application on cannabis blew up this year. The hot topic has made headlines in Oregon, Washington, New Hampshire, California and elsewhere — but nowhere was the conversation more heated and involved than in Colorado, the first U.S. state to start selling legal cannabis.

Opinion: A personal story of pot addiction from a legalization advocate
(Lluis Gene, AFP/Getty Images file)

10. A personal story of pot addiction from a legalization advocate: On a warm Seattle summer evening in 1978, my wife wanted to talk about my increasingly frequent pot smoking: “I feel you’ve abandoned me, that the person I married — even when you’re sitting next to me on the couch — is not there.”

11. What it’s like — a ground-level view of socialization amid normalization: A year in the life of the world’s first marijuana editor — that was the working headline when I first started this essay a few weeks back. Every story needs a beginning, and this one started when The Post appointed me the paper’s marijuana editor.

12. Chronic marijuana use is not linked to later issues: With the widespread availability of marijuana in recent years thanks to its legalization in a growing number of states, there has been increasing concern about the long-term health consequences on teens who might be able to get easier access to it illegally. A study published by the American Psychological Association in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors should alleviate some of the worst fears.

13. Michelle Malkin, legalization advocate? The Fox News regular is one of the most revered conservative voices in America, and yet the author, columnist and commentator also actively supports medical and recreational marijuana.

14. On legality, and increasing use: A record number of Americans think marijuana use should be legal. And marijuana use among U.S. adults has doubled over the past decade, rising to more than 22 million mostly recreational users.

The Cannabist Show: (L-R) Guests Dan Skye, editor of High Times magazine; Bob Eschino, president of edibles company Incredibles; and Sam Cole, spokesman at CDOT, with show host Ricardo Baca.
The Cannabist Show: (L-R) Guests Dan Skye, editor of High Times magazine; Bob Eschino, president of edibles company Incredibles; and Sam Cole, spokesman at CDOT, with show host Ricardo Baca.

15. High Times editor calls 303 Kush “an economic miracle:” High Times magazine’s New York-rooted editor-in-chief Dan Skye has spent plenty of time in Colorado researching and photographing the state’s medical and recreational systems, but a recent trip to the state has been uncommonly eye-opening. “The Colorado cannabis industry is an economic miracle,” Skye said.

16. Traditional science’s cannabis dilemma: Despite medical marijuana’s unquestionable worldwide momentum, it hasn’t yet been proven scientifically to remedy most of the conditions governments have authorized it to treat, according to an influential new analysis of existing research.

17. Are marijuana tours in Colorado worth your time and money? “It was either Vegas or Colorado,” said “Wilma,” a D.C.-area woman, of her 40th birthday vacation plans. Wilma along with friend “Betty” were in Denver, sans husbands and children, to spend a Saturday on the “One-Day Dispensary and Grow Tour” offered by My 420 Tours. And I was on the tour with them — reviewing the outing for you and other Cannabist readers, writes The Cannabist’s Susan Squibb.

18. Huge drop in Colorado pot arrests, but racial disparities persist. The legalization of marijuana in Colorado hasn’t solved the racial disparities in enforcement that drug-policy reformers had hoped to end, with blacks still far more likely than whites to be charged with pot-related crimes, a report says.

19. When cannabis becomes common in the kitchen: The Cannabist’s most popular marijuana-infused recipes: As the legalization of marijuana continues to spread, our relationship with the plant flourishes and evolves. While we once kept it in air-tight, hidden-from-sight containers, now our weed might sit on the kitchen counter — next to other baking and cooking accouterments.

Dixie Brands launching CBD product lines for pets, humans
Dixie Brands, a Colorado manufacturer of marijuana-infused edibles such as these Dixie One drinks on display at LivWell Broadway in Denver, is expanding with non-psychoactive, CBD-infused products for people and pets that will be available throughout the U.S. (Denver Post file)

20. Colorado pot businesses expanding into other states — and internationally? One week after announcing a deal to put its products into Oregon and Arizona pot shops, the licensing arm of Denver-based Dixie Elixirs on Nov. 12, 2015 announced its first international foray — into Australia and New Zealand.

21. Take a peek inside a marijuana job fair: With 31 marijuana-related companies present for the recent job fair in Denver, CannaSearch looked to build on the success of its first job fair held in March 2014. Instead, what seemed like a steep drop in attendance at the September 2014 event meant job seekers had ample opportunities to talk one-on-one with prospective employers.

22. One in 11 industrial buildings in central Denver is full of marijuana: The state’s cannabis industry occupies at least 3.7 million square feet of industrial space in Denver, clustered in areas of older warehouse stock, including the Interstate 25-Interstate 70 junction, Montbello, central Denver and along the Santa Fe Drive corridor in southwest Denver, according to commercial real estate firm CBRE.

23. Why banks still want nothing to do with marijuana as legalization spreads: The U.S. government has opened a new line of business for America’s biggest banks, and for once they don’t want it. Little wonder: it’s cash from legalized marijuana.

24. I would rather my kids choose marijuana instead of alcohol, says pediatrician: “When someone asks me whether I’d rather my children use pot or alcohol, after sifting through all the studies and all the data, I still say ‘neither.’ Usually, I say it more than once. But if I’m forced to make a choice, the answer is ‘marijuana.’”

A line forms outside the Cannabis Club in downtown Breckenridge before the store opens at 8 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2014. (Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post)
A line forms outside the Cannabis Club in downtown Breckenridge before the store opens at 8 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2014. (Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post)

25. Cannabis tourism is real: Marijuana businesses have long proclaimed that cannabis is drawing visitors to Colorado. Now they have proof. A study commissioned by the Colorado Tourism Office and presented to the office’s board of directors shows legal weed as a growing motivator for trips to Colorado — conflicting with the mantra of tourism officials statewide that savvy marketing alone is responsible for record visitation and spending in the last two years.