Although weed can pump you up with beats that feel like pleasure galaxies are colliding inside your ears, it can be overwhelming to be stoned and packed into a sweaty and drunk bar. Pictured here, a scene from the 14th annual Underground Music Showcase on South Broadway in Denver on Thursday July 24, 2014. (Evan Semón,

My sober experience with marijuana at Denver’s biggest music festival

There’s something voyeuristic about overhearing stoned streams of consciousness.

The first thing I did this past weekend at the Underground Music Showcase in Denver was listen to a couple of girls talk in whispers about where they could roll a joint. This was a process and debate — tensions were high. The girls ended up taking their rolling papers and weed to an alley behind the Goodwill on Broadway. It was a secret, this weed smoking they were about to do, and even though the plant and act of touching marijuana to flame is now legal (albeit in the privacy of our own homes), people are still nervous.

Since Colorado’s legalization I have been asked by friends and strangers a lot of the same questions. One of them being: “Does everyone in Denver smoke and seem stoned all the time now?” And it’s funny how surprised they are when my response is no. Maybe you are just too stoned, my out-of-state friends will say, or maybe it’s too difficult for you to tell, or maybe … it’s being put on a slow drip into Denver’s drinking water. It’s hard for people outside the state to see that people in Denver are actually following the rules.

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At the UMS, I was THC-free and it seemed like most everyone else was too. Sure, some questionable plumes of smoke hung beneath street lamps, and I witnessed a few characters taking pulls from vape pens, but for the most part, marijuana and its users stayed out of the open.

This may surprise people who don’t venture into Denver’s concert scene very often, but when I say this I mean it: The public’s usage does not seem very different — even at the city’s largest music festival and almost seven full months after the state’s legal weed sales started.

My theory: Marijuana has never been a very social drug, so why would it be now?

A couple weeks ago I heard a Freakonomics radio show titled, “What’s More Dangerous: Marijuana or Alcohol?” There was a moment in the show when a pro-marijuana father was asked if he would rather have his kids only smoke weed or only drink beer. His response: beer. He said the reason is because in our society alcohol has different social implications. In the United States, we surround almost all of our social gatherings with alcohol. This is undeniable, whether you partied during college or not. When I told my mother about the radio program, at first she was startled, as her concern is always with the health issues of consuming too much alcohol, but when I told her the pro-marijuana father’s reason, she understood. Marijuana, until recently, has only been whispered about and experimented with socially in living rooms and garages, behind movie theaters, in the corners of music venues and college dorm bathrooms.

Usually when I am at concerts I love to be high. But sometimes at big festivals like UMS or South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, weed can very easily induce moments of anxiety and fear. And although weed can pump you up with beats that feel like pleasure galaxies are colliding inside your ears, it can be overwhelming to be stoned and packed into a sweaty and drunk bar.

The great vape debate: Public use of vaporizers, e-cigs a hot topic

On two separate occasions at UMS, I was asked if I had any weed. One of the instances happened around midnight on Saturday when a drunk couple inquired, “Do you have any weed…” they paused, “You know?” They put their fingers to their lips, holding an imaginary joint. No, I told them.

I had never met this couple before. “Oh, come on!” they said. “Just a little bit?” They did not believe me. They looked at the strangers around me and everyone shook their heads, no. I laughed because their redundant questions didn’t bother me, surprisingly. Instead, they reassured me of the openness and the future relationship this city may have with weed.

When I headed home on Saturday night I walked past a woman selling $5 spins on a wheel-of-fortune type contraption outside of a head shop on Broadway. Take a chance, win a glass pipe (devoid of weed).

My stoner buddy Aaron asked the saleswoman why he would want a glass pipe. He said, “So I can fall down on it and stab myself with shards?” — he was rambling — “And go to the E.R. and pay for all that? That sounds like a lot more than five dollars in the end.”

The woman looked at him like a blind person, as though no one was there. As we walked away, Aaron came up beside me and asked, “Why don’t they just sells spins for weed?” I wanted to tell him, “Because that’s not legal and that’s not where we are yet.” Instead, I laughed and thought: Maybe we will notice weed in public more when people aren’t still hiding with their marijuana in the dank darkness of alleyways.

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