If this is how one competitor looked after the Denver County Fair's no-hands pie eating contest, how will the contestants in a Doritos-eating contest look after the fair's 2014 installment? (Photo By Karl Gehring/The Denver Post)

Denver County Fair’s changing tastes (interview)

By now you’ve likely heard the news of the Denver County Fair’s expansion in 2014 to include a “Pot Pavilion.” They talked about it on “The View” and Jimmy Kimmel. And yes, they will judge the county’s best cloned plants, pot brownies, homemade bongs, hemp garments and more.

But surely you were left with more questions — i.e. will there be any actual marijuana on-site? Exactly how will they judge the Doritos-eating contest? And how fast can Denver County Fair director Dana Cain roll a joint?

We have those answers and more in this expansive interview with Cain and her colleague Tracy Weil, who is the fair’s co-founder and co-owner.

When did you realize that pot had to become a part of the annual Denver County Fair?

Dana Cain: I think it was around January 1st. Since our debut in 2011, we’ve had a Holistic Pavilion with an Herbal Remedies competition category, but we’ve never had any marijuana entries into the category. We didn’t have our first medical marijuana booth in that pavilion until last year. We never received a single negative comment regarding that booth. And, once we saw the overwhelming global interest in Denver’s new recreational marijuana laws, and the community enthusiasm, the lines for the shops … we knew that we had to go there, or we just weren’t who we professed to be. Denver County Fair was founded to celebrate and reflect Denver’s unique and creative culture.

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What was that first conversation like with the city of Denver?

Dana Cain: Well, there wasn’t one! We are privately owned and not connected with the City and County of Denver, actually. They have always been very supportive of us, and we have a great relationship with them, but we don’t get funding from them, and we aren’t officially linked. We have never discussed Fair policies or ideas with them. We did seek approval from the National Western Complex, though. They do have some conservative people on their staff – as well as some liberals and moderates. They are great folks, over there. They asked us what we wanted to do, and once we explained that the new Pot and Beer Pavilions would be on a separate upper floor, with 21+ ID required for entry and plenty of security, and no actual marijuana or smoking on the grounds, they were fine with it. The National Western staff has been more than a venue for us. They have helped us so much over the years, as we’ve worked to get established and grow.

Tracy Weil: I do think we also based this decision on timing. The legalization has been a very interesting process, and I know several people were wondering and worried about how it all played out. The world has been watching. We’ve taken the lead from how the state of Colorado, city of Denver and city council has handled the legalization. They’ve created a solid structure that I think has made the general public more comfortable with this new territory. It was time for us to include this into our fair as one of our main goals is to be a true reflection of our city.

Colorado has always been a pioneer, and we are leading the way for a “sea change” in our nation. We recently received an email from the California Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of 78 county fairs in California. They are very interested in what we are doing and mentioned it is something they are considering for the near future. That’s amazing to me that the Denver County Fair can play such a leadership role in redefining county fairs nationally … We’ve been getting calls from other county fairs since we started. Attendance numbers are down nationwide at county fairs, and they are interested in how we are bringing the fair system into the 21st Century.

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Was there ever a point where you thought the inclusion of pot might not happen?

Dana Cain: Definitely. In 2011, when we launched Denver County Fair, the National Western — and some folks on the Denver County Fair committee — were not keen at all on incorporating medical marijuana into the fair. It was basically vetoed. I wasn’t sure that it would fly this year. But that was then, and this is now.

So what weed-related activities will visitors be able to see and touch and taste (?) in the pavilion?

Dana Cain: We aren’t allowed to have any actual marijuana on site, so they can’t touch it or taste it. The idea just came up that we may get the nearby retail marijuana shop to sponsor some shuttle buses so that folks can have that experience, if they want. That hasn’t been decided for sure, though. But there will be plenty of marijuana-related activities, attractions, booths, etc. We’ll have a great display of blue ribbon competition entries, which will include homemade bongs, roach clips, tie-dyes, hemp fabric, hemp garments … all homemade and entered by Colorado residents. The entries for best marijuana plants, best pot brownies, best savory marijuana dishes — those will all be judged offsite and will be represented by photos, and maybe the written recipes, at the fair.

On our Rocky Mountain High Stage, shared by the Pot and Beer Pavilions, we’ll have educational presentations, panel discussions and some fun stuff, too. Live bands, comedians, a laser light show, Grateful Dead karaoke, and some of our live competitions that we are so famous for … like the speed–rolling contest and the Doritos-eating contest.

Tracy Weil: I look forward to the panel discussions as part of the Pot Pavilion. I think so many people have questions on how this all works still, and fairs are usually places where people can learn about new innovations and creative ideas in any spectrum. I recently went to a meeting where (the city of Denver’s Department of) Excise and Licenses did a listening session with questions and answers about current laws, and I found it informative — as people learn more, I think they become less fearful of this new legislation. We already have people interested in presenting on growing techniques including organic methods as this is fast becoming a big agricultural crop in Colorado.

Is it weird that you’ll only have photos of the products instead of the actual products?

Tracy Weil: Presenting photos and project boards is pretty standard at most county fairs. For example we have “backyard transformation” and “aquaponics” categories, and it’s difficult to bring these items down to the fair so we accept images for judging purposes. From a judging standpoint, we always tap into experts in any field or category to judge items at the fair, and we will do the same with our pot categories. I have a feeling there will be a waiting list for this one though.

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And about that joint-rolling contest, how fast do you imagine some of these people might be able to roll a competent, smokable joint?

Dana Cain: I don’t know … but I can tell you that we have actually been contacted by Ripley’s Believe It Or Not … and we may report the results to the Guinness Book of World Records, too. We’ll have the timers there, and I’m sure it’ll be a fun event.

Ever tested yourself on how long it takes you to roll a joint?

Dana Cain: These days, it would probably take me about an hour .. hour and a half, maybe. I haven’t actually rolled one since the early ’90s.

Also is a “Doritos eating contest” really a thing? Are there actual rules involved here?

Dana Cain: It is really a thing. Denver County Fair has lots of competitive eating events every year … pie eating (no hands!) is so popular we do several rounds every day. We also have competitive eating events for cheeseburgers (invented in Denver!), hot peppers (on Viva Denver Day) and the classic hot dog eating competition. So, we have the standard rules in place that apply to all of them. It’s usually about speed, but we may switch it up for this one.

You’ve seen plenty of media love in the few days since the Pot Pavilion’s been announced, including Kimmel and “The View.” What media are you most excited about?

Dana Cain: The most exciting thing is when I got to do a Q&A with Ricardo Baca of The Denver Post! But second place might be the clip they aired on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” When he did a little impression of me saying our tag line: “We’re mixing up a big batch of tradition with a side of NOW” … and he did my jazz-hands gesture. The audience loved it! And I’m also psyched about doing a radio interview with a station in Dublin, Ireland on Monday! I hear the news made it all the way to Australia.

What I’m actually most excited about, though, is the fact that we’re getting this much attention in January. The fair is in August, so I’m really looking forward to the media attention we’ll get the week leading up to the fair, and on opening day!

Really, that’s a thing? Cannabis-infused coffee. Machine-rolled marijuana cigarettes. Joint-peddling vending machines. A THC-infused, ladies-only lube. A food truck selling only infused edibles. The massage of your life, via a marijuana-infused lotion. Yes, really, these are all real things.

Why do you think so much of the city — the Denver County Fair included — is embracing the arrival of legal recreational pot sales while the official tourism agencies for the city of Denver and the state of Colorado are still not commenting on the subject?

Dana Cain: We’ve lived our entire lives under the threat of jail time for being affiliated with pot. We were raised in a culture where marijuana was demonized publicly, but enjoyed behind the scenes. It’s going to take some time for folks to realize that — yes — it really is legal … It’s okay. You can talk about it, look at it, smoke it, eat it … just like you would have a beer. It’s okay now.

Maybe the Visit Denver folks — who are great, by the way — are torn between the conservative notion that Denver will become known only as a pot capital and the fact that they have to see the incredible opportunity for a huge jump in tourism because of our law. They know that right now, we are the only place in the nation that allows this stuff, and they probably need to see how it shakes out in terms of tourism dollars versus tourism reputation. This is me speculating, of course.

It’s still so early. Give them time. I think the first thing that needs to happen is that Denver hotels need to open up a lot more smoking rooms! Marijuana tourism isn’t going to be just a bunch of college stoners. There are people with good jobs and money who want to come here to buy a bag of legal weed — to be part of this historical thing … and they need a place to smoke it. There are just a handful of hotels in Denver that even have smoking rooms, and they’re all out in the boonies, or just not that great. We need lots more smoking rooms in this town to accommodate pot tourism.

Let’s talk geography: Visitors will need a 21-plus ID to gain admittance to the Beer and Pot Pavilions, right? How do they access that area? What else is up there?

Dana Cain: The third floor of the Denver County Fair’s National Western venue is about 26,000 square feet. It will house the new Pot Pavilion and the new Beer Pavilion. There will be two access points on either side — both manned by security and ID checkers. The floor is accessible by stairs or by elevator, and the entrance points are easy to find — near the fair entrance. The two pavilions will share the Rocky Mountain High event stage, and both will feature competition display areas and themed vendors, exhibitors and interactive attractions. The Beer Pavilion will host samples of many of Colorado’s craft brews — and a Colorado beer garden.

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And what else is new at this year’s fair that you’re excited about?

Dana Cain: We have four new pavilions this year! In addition to the 21-plus Beer and Pot Pavilions upstairs, we also have a new Sports Pavilion (go, Broncos!) and we’ve expanded and re-worked our I <3 Denver Store into a new I <3 Denver Pavilion that will be front and center, incorporating the old Welcome Pavilion and Buy Local pavilions. It’s being managed by the I <3 Denver store founder, Samuel Schimek. He’s connected with all the local artists and crafters in town, and he is overseeing our upgraded Craft Pavilion, which will now be front and center right next to the I <3 Denver Pavilion. We’re also upgrading our unicorn rides! This year, they will be offered during all fair hours, with a beautiful white unicorn, led by a princess! So kids can ride the unicorn and pose for a photo with a beautiful fantasy backdrop and the princess holding the unicorn’s reins. And in the Kids Pavilion, we are expanding the activities with a giant new “Inflatable Land” occupying about 25,000 sq ft of bounce houses, inflatable constructions and more. It will be connected to a new Carnival Game Midway area. We’re also really excited about the expansion of our Food Truck Roundup patio. We’ve had limited hours for that in years past, but now it will be open during all fair hours. We’re adding a bungee trampoline and a rock climbing wall out there, too. And we may expand the stage activities outdoors, too. It’s really going to be a great year. And this is only January! I know we’ll have tons of amazing new things to report before we open August 1. People can like us on Facebook or check our website to keep posted.

Tracy Weil: We’ve got a new Sport Pavilion, too! Denver is a big sports town, especially lately with our beloved Broncos on their way to the Super Bowl. Again we want to reflect what’s happening in Denver now! We’ll have lots of sports activities and are hoping to get a few sports celebrities for appearances. We’ll also have sports-themed exhibitors and vendors as part of the pavilion.