DENVER, CO - JANUARY 01: Sean Azzariti, of Denver, an Iraq war veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder made the first purchase of recreational marijuana, under the new law, at 3D Cannabis Center in Denver , January, 01 2014. Colorado became the first U.S. state to allow the sell of recreational marijuana. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

The world media turns to Colorado

The world’s media descended on Colorado this week, putting the state’s newly legalized recreational marijuana law in the spotlight.

With the start of 2014, an initial burst of late-night comedy gags passed and the coverage turned more or less serious. Contrary to fears that the state would be treated as a stoner joke, the new law grabbed astute international headlines.

“Fears of joint-toking throngs in the street did not materialise by midday,” England’s The Guardian reported Jan. 1. “Police said crowds were orderly and respectful.”

All the major U.S. networks sent crews to cover the event.

“Scoring weed, now as easy as buying coffee,” correspondent Clayton Sandell told the ABC News audience.

Photos told the story as mobs of media outnumbered early customers at local retail pot shops.

China’s CCTV had a reporter on the scene to highlight the question of public consumption in Colorado’s pot legalization: “Cannabis cafes … are operating within a gray area of the law. It’s not entirely clear that what they are doing is legal. But there’s no sign of law enforcement stepping in to shut them down.”

The Times of India concluded “there are signs that recreational marijuana has not just entered Colorado’s constitution, but also joined the cultural mainstream.”

Canada’s CTV newscast offered global perspective: “Though pot has been sold for three decades at coffee shops in the Netherlands, (Colorado and Washington) are the first to regulate and allow a full industry.” The story listed potential risks, from youth use to crime and smuggling.

“Le Denver Post” mobilizes 15 reporters to cover cannabis-related subjects, said Le Journal de Montreal.

Only CNN kept up the giggles, turning to knee-jerk source and long-time pot legalization activist Tommy Chong during a segment on Colorado’s new law. The report devolved into silliness as Chong asked the anchor, “You guys wanted to score some weed?”

The International Business Times played it straight, noting “Colorado To Blaze Marijuana Tourism Trail In 2014 With Legal Pot Shops.”

The Associated Press reported the “pitfalls” of being among the first states to fully legalize the marijuana trade, and, in an article picked up across Europe, Reuters cited Colorado’s move to legaization as “a turning point in America’s drug culture.”

Depending which media you consume and how you interpret it, Colorado is either a legal stoner destination (per late-night comedy) or as the site of a well-regulated experiment. Most of the coverage has been temperate.

The Colorado Tourism Office continues to play it safe: “With Amendment 64 being fully implemented on January 1, 2014, it is impossible to forecast how the law may impact tourism. However, it is important to note that the law specifically bans public consumption of the drug and smoking marijuana in public remains illegal. The Colorado Tourism Office has positioned Colorado as a premier four-season destination and the organization has no plans to use the legalization of the drug to promote the state.”

The CTO website proudly offers beer and bike tours, vineyard trips and microbrew visits but has no plans to add pot tours to the menu.

Al White, the state’s tourism director, said he’s followed the coverage which is “shining a positive light on the process.”

White noted “there doesn’t seem to be a lot of coverage about people being busted for coming out of dispensaries and lighting up. I think only two people statewide. It’s a quiet rollout. We still have a long way to go.”

The CTO is aware pot tourism is evolving. “It’s still too eary to tell if it will be a net positive or negative,” White said. “We don’t know how long they’re staying or how much they’re spending. It has the potential to rub either way.”

Joanne Ostrow: 303-954-1830, or

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