When Pulitzer-winning New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd came to Denver in January 2014 to report on the newly legal recreational marijuana sales that had just begun throughout Colorado — the same trip where she overdosed on a cannabis-infused edible, as she talks about in her most recent column — she reached out to a number of local experts and industry types to get the lay of the land.
When Matt Brown, co-founder of tourism company My 420 Tours, landed the January phone call from Dowd’s assistant he jumped at the opportunity to show her around. He picked up Dowd and her friend at the Four Seasons Hotel and spent three-to-four hours with them, he said, “giving her the behind-the-scenes tour and explanations that I had time and time again.”
So given Dowd’s awful experience with her overdose — which was so potent that she wrote in her June 3 column, “As my paranoia deepened, I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me” — had Brown or anyone else warned the columnist about the unpredictable and potentially problematic nature of marijuana-infused edibles?
“She got the warning,” Brown said. “She did what all the reporters did. She listened. She bought some samples — I don’t remember what exactly. Me and the owner of the dispensary we were at and the assistant manager and the budtender talked with her for 45 minutes at the shop.
“It wasn’t all, ‘Be careful of edibles.’ We talked about the difference between shatter and bubble hash. We talked about edibles and how they affect everyone differently. In the context of covering all the bases with a customer, we really went into depth to tell this reporter, who would then tell the world, about marijuana in Colorado.
“She got some bud, some edibles and when we got back to the hotel she had to run off to a Mitt Romney documentary screening. She asked me, ‘Will you roll a joint for me? I don’t know how to do it.’ But she had to run really quickly to the screening, and I was going to catch a flight the next day, and we were going to connect a few nights later but it never worked out.”
Dowd did not respond to an email inquiry sent early Wednesday afternoon.
Brown’s name might sound familiar because he and his company received more airtime than most Colorado dispensaries, glassblowers and master growers in the rush of marijuana media coverage that was January 2014. Especially when TV crews and magazine photographers came to Colorado in search of those defining images of cannabis — somebody lighting up a joint or bong or puffing on a vaporizer — My 420 Tours could help them land that footage as the tourists paying for their services were often ready and willing participants.
But more than four months after Dowd’s Denver visit and a few hours before Dowd’s column appeared on The New York Times’ website on June 3, Brown missed a call on his mobile from a Washington DC area code. When he checked his voicemail and realized he’d missed a call from Dowd, he called her back — and they talked for another 45-60 minutes, Brown said.
“It was the first I’d heard that she had an extreme reaction while she was in town in January,” Brown said. “We talked about it. She asked how common it was. And she asked about the stories The New York Times had written about a day or two before.”
The Times story in question — After 5 Months of Sales, Colorado Sees the Downside of a Legal High — starts out, “Five months after Colorado became the first state to allow recreational marijuana sales, the battle over legalization is still raging.” The story addresses the two deaths Denver Police have partially attributed to infused edibles.
“It was a compressed couple days when she was here,” Brown said of Dowd’s January visit. “She tried too much and had a rough night.
“She asked what I thought needed to happen and how we avoid these sorts of things.”
THC levels aren’t what they say they are: That infused candy bar is supposed to have 100 milligrams of activated THC, but it actually has 1/500th of the advertised amount? Read The Denver Post’s study on edible potency and consistency
Brown gave Dowd his two cents, which boils down to two primary points.
One: “You can’t say 5 milligrams of this infused product will make me react the same way 5 milligrams of that infused product will … It’s not that the (pot) industry has dropped the ball on not labeling, but science has yet to come up with a way that has the same weight and consistency as proofing alcohol does.”
Two: “I don’t see a way for people like Maureen Dowd, who want to try (marijuana) and want to have a good experience, to be able to socialize around others and talk with others and get a better feel ahead of time of how much you should eat and what you should feel. All of the problems that happened in her hotel room as she’s breaking off pieces of the infused candy bar … there’s something missing. When she was learning how to drink alcohol she could have seen other adults using moderation and other adults in bars puking and making an ass out of themselves — because it’s enjoyed communally and legally in bars. How do we have events and hotel rooms that are more open to this?”
A few hours later Brown was reading Dowd’s column — along with the rest of Colorado’s cannabis industry, who largely viewed it as negative and short-sighted media attention.
“I like Maureen Dowd because she’s snarky. I expect snarky,” said Brown. “After reading the first column I had an understanding of how she approached pot. But since a lot of the things we’d talked about a couple hours earlier ended up not making the article, I wondered what questions that left unanswered or if it was open to interpretation. It’s one thing to see Nancy Grace say something boneheaded on TV.
“But the column wasn’t viewed as all that serious. I don’t see too many people making a serious point in the statehouse next session citing Maureen Dowd’s column. It’ll be a bubble. It’ll go away, and in the future we won’t look to Maureen Dowd for in-depth journalism on the Colorado marijuana industry.”