(Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post)

That time we legalized marijuana: 10 defining moments in the recreational era

Remember that time Colorado voters legalized recreational marijuana?

That vote came down November 2012. A little more than a year later, recreational pot shops opened throughout Colorado on Jan. 1, 2014 to the exuberant calls of prohibition’s (partial) end.

Now that February has landed, let’s look back at some of the biggest moments and defining stories of January 2014:

Marijuana bud for sale
Some of the wares on display Jan. 1 at High Country Healing recreational and medical dispensary in Silverthorne. (Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post)

1. GREEN WEDNESDAY. The opening day of recreational marijuana sales in Colorado was calm and collected. Politicians expected the worst. But regardless of the long lines and rumors of dwindling inventory, opening day, a.k.a. Green Wednesday, was chill — even though a fake story on the Internet went viral claiming that 37 died in Colorado. The international media represented in Colorado. And yet people still had questions about the newfangled pot laws, so we offered this immense 64-question FAQ and a new column called Ask The Cannabist. We also made a great map that shows you where you can buy recreational and medical marijuana throughout Colorado. And since Washington and Uruguay were both in the news, we wanted folks to make sure they understood the differences between their laws and Colorado’s.

2. BUT CAN WE SMOKE THERE? People called “ganjapreneurs” taking advantage of “The Green Rush” came fast and furious in January. Businesses popped up to serve the marijuana-loving masses — both locals and tourists — to varying degrees of legality and success. Some pot parties were cancelled, while tour operators flourished. One Denver-based artist started giving weed-enhanced art lessons in Puff, Pass & Paint while another took a burlesque approach with his Cronic Cabaret. Another woman started the Edible Events series to enjoy high-class food and atmosphere while getting high, while the folks at the Denver County Fair announced their creation of the Pot Pavilion at this summer’s event — which will judge on the best clone plants and the tastiest pot brownies. But can we smoke there? The answer, from Cheech & Chong’s recently announced show to the X Games that took over Aspen a few weeks ago, is most often, “No.” Does that stop people from lighting up or packing their vape pens, as they did when Justin Timberlake took on the Pepsi Center? Oh no.

Colorado Department of Transportation hopes a Mile 419.99 sign on Interstate 70 thwarts thefts
Colorado Department of Transportation hopes a Mile 419.99 sign on Interstate 70 thwarts thefts.

3. LOOKING AHEAD TO 4/20. With legitimate polls showing for the first time a majority of Americans for the legalization of marijuana, we can’t help but start planning for 4/20 a little early. Note: This year’s 4/20 falls on Easter Sunday — and it’s also the day many ski resorts plan on closing for the season. There will also be more than a few high-profile rock shows. And if you’re only now starting to think about stealing a 420 mile marker from a Colorado highway, you’re too late.

4. FLYING HIGH. Remember the one about the tourist who tried flying out of Aspen/Pitkin County Airport with 36 ounces of marijuana-infused edibles? It’s true. The tourist got caught by the TSA, who turned the sitch over to the county sheriff, who … let the tourist walk free. Yes, the rules are still a little blurry. But know this: Airports in Denver and Colorado Springs have banned marijuana — including medical, something The Denver Post’s editorial board disagreed with. If you get there and realize you forgot about that eighth in your bag, ask somebody about amnesty boxes.

5. DEATH BY CANNABIS. Yes, marijuana is becoming so common in Colorado and Washington that we’re talking about it eventually being handled by vending machines and being paid for via Bitcoin. That said, English doctors recently claimed that the Oct. 28, 2013 death of Boscombe resident Gemma Moss was the result of “cannabis poisoning.” Yes, they were saying she died of marijuana — the first time that had happened in England. Many American doctors refuted the diagnosis.

6. BUT THE PRESIDENT SAID POT IS SAFER THAN ALCOHOL. Mid-January 2014 will long be remembered for a sitting American president saying, “I don’t think (marijuana) is more dangerous than alcohol.” Those were President Barack Obama’s words, and they made international headlines. Attorney General Eric Holder was asked to respond to the president’s comments. And for what it was worth, Bill Murray chimed in with his own opinion on pot. Something worth a reminder: It’s still unsafe to drive high, as one Colorado man learned when he allegedly crashed into two Colorado State Patrol cars while stoned in January.

Broncos QB Peyton Manning at Super Bowl media day
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning takes a turn answering questions Tuesday during media day at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. (John Leyba, The Denver Post)

7. THE STUPOR BOWL. The Seattle Seahawks slayed the Denver Broncos in a Super Bowl that coincidentally brought together the only NFL teams from states where recreational weed has been legalized. But perhaps the bigger news came when the commissioner of the NFL said he might be open to allowing the use of medical marijuana in the league. “We will follow medicine,” commish Roger Goodell said. Back to the Super Bowl: Of course the city-specific NORML chapters made their obligatory bets, but we also talked about Super Bowl style and parties and billboards and food in our advance coverage of the big game. We even matched specific Broncos and Seahawks players to the strains of marijuana that might best fit their personalities and skills (Dead Head OG for Peyton Manning, and Sour Diesel for Richard Sherman).

8. TALKING OPENLY ABOUT POT. One of the joys of legal weed is our ability to talk about it openly, candidly and honestly. And that’s why The Cannabist hired two pot critics to write regular strain reviews. We also have a critic talking about all the gear and glass and vaporizers. If you’re more into the culture of hemp, you’ll hopefully find our hemp reviews illuminating. And for the more domestic types, don’t miss our pot-and-parenting column and our recipe collection, which includes the most important base recipes (for cannabutter and canna-oil).

9. THE INTERNATIONAL MEDIA LOOKS AT COLORADO. People all over the world are curious about the Colorado experiment, and as The Denver Post’s marijuana editor and the editor of The Cannabist, I’ve been asked to chat with some interesting folks recently. There was the New York Times and the Colbert Report, of course, but it was also thrilling to fly to New York to hang with Whoopi Goldberg and her colleagues at “The View” — and heading back to New York less than a week later to appear on ABC’s “This Week” with anchor George Stephanopoulos. If you missed our live chats on Poynter and Reddit and The Guardian, they’re worth checking out. And we’re not the only ones getting around. Did you see Colorado weed getting love (again) from “Saturday Night Live?” Did you catch Nancy Grace talking over the Marijuana Policy Project’s Mason Tvert? What about CNN reporter Randi Kaye getting (second-hand) high while on the air. Did you catch Denver Mayor Michael Hancock on Katie Couric’s daytime show. What about the Fort Collins newspaper reporter’s video where he buys (and then destroys?) a $27 gram?

Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic medical-marijuana patient, along with his attorney, Michael Evans, talks about Coats' case in April of 2013.
Brandon Coats, right, a quadriplegic medical-marijuana patient, along with his attorney, Michael Evans, talks about Coats’ case in April of 2013.

10. ARE THE LAWS STILL BEING WRITTEN? Some laws are still being written, and others are still being interpreted. January was a big month for marijuana banking, which saw some progress. It was also when we learned that Brandon Coats’ case — over being fired for a positive marijuana test — will be heard in Colorado Supreme Court. Denver Police were averaging one public smoking ticket per day, we learned — and we also reported that there was a 70-80 percent decrease in state pot charges from 2012 to 2013.

Of course it doesn’t end there. January 2014 was only the beginning of this marijuana story.

Keep an eye here on The Cannabist to learn more about the ever-changing nature of pot laws throughout Colorado (Aspen, Manitou Springs, Steamboat Springs and Boulder), the U.S. (Washington, New York, Wyoming and Alaska) and the world.

(Craig F. Walker, The Denver Post)
(Craig F. Walker, The Denver Post)