ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH
A former Boston creative director gives you the skinny on smoking fatties in Colorado
Mark St. Amant | January 31, 2014- Weed. Acapulco Gold. Bammy. Chronic. Catnip. Dube. Ganja. GiggleStick. Mary Jane. Maui Wowie. Panama Red. Reefer. Wacky Tabacky. Hasselhoff’s Humidor. Okay, I made that last one up. But whatever your pet name for it, if you haven’t noticed, everyone’s been talking about marijuana lately.
Political pundits. Medical experts. Advertising blogs (like this one, usually sporting terrible, punny headlines like “Rocky Mountain High”). From mainstream news and talk shows to iTunes podcasts. Hell, even the “drugs-are-off-limits” sports media has jumped on board, touting the “Stoner Bowl” this weekend featuring two NFL teams, the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, who hail from the first two states in the country (and joining Uruguay, internationally) to make the sale and possession of recreational marijuana legal: Colorado -- my home since moving from Boston in 2009 to work at Crispin Porter + Bogusky -- and Washington. (Alaska is rumored to be next, a fine choice considering their many occupations requiring chainsaws.)
Now, some of you might be wondering, “Why is a dude 2,000 miles away writing about Colorado weed on the Boston Ad Club blog? Don’t those Unabomber-bearded, cave-dwelling, bear-wrestling savages have their own blog?” To which I’d answer, (A) It was Kathy Kiely’s idea, so blame her; (B) I’m far too much of a pussy to grow a beard let alone wrestle a bear; and C) Being tucked away on the east coast as you are, you may not be up on all the weed-related happenings out here in the western hinterlands and, therefore, might hold a few misconceptions about Colorado’s Amendment 64 (orArticle 18, Section 16 of the state constitution as it’s been known after going into effect January 1). So being a Boston advertising ex-patriot -- not to mention a lifelong Patriots fan embedded in ironically gorgeous Peyton Manning country -- and still having tons of love for all my industry friends back there, I’m offering myself up as your unofficial ganja guide. Your herb helper. Your personal Weedapedia.com. Just a former Bostonian clearing up any and all confusion you might have about just what in the name of the Donner Party is happening out here. (Disclaimer: I do not have horticulture or political science degrees, and am honestly not into “toking up the marijuana cigarette bones” or whatever the damn kids say these days. So my “inside information” is mostly due to simple geographic happenstance, meaning I could just be making all this shit up. You’ve been warned.)
Misconception 1: The voice of the people was finally heard! Democracy works! Kumbaya! Well, kinda. Sure, 55% of registered voters supported Amendment 64. But at the risk of “harshing your mellow”, the hoards of Willie Nelson doppelgangers sporting “Legalize It” and “Yes to 64!” T-shirts and chanting loose (at best) rhymes were not the driving force behind this historical sea change. Their exuberance didn’t hurt, mind you, aside from the noise pollution caused by their infernal drum circles. But the main motivator behind legalization, being blunt -- see what I did there? -- was another type of green: money. Recreational weed will have a 25% state tax plus the usual state sales tax of 2.9%, adding up to roughly $67 million a year in state revenue, $27.5 million of which is earmarked for schools, a major selling point to citizens like yours truly who voted yes despite, as I said, not being a smoker myself. (Haven’t gotten high in about twelve years. I know, I know – that’s really weird for an advertising guy, especially a Colorado one, because SMOKING MAKES YOU TOTALLY CREATIVE AND ONE WITH NATURE AND STUFF! But it’s true. Sorry.) Because if it means that my two kids can have better teachers/facilities/supplies/equipment/overall educational experience, I’d let a thousand Matthew McConaugheys spark up and play nude bongos on my lawn.
Misconception 2: You can back your minivan up to any shop and buy veritable hay bails of marijuana.Sorry, Snoop Lion, but purchases are limited to an ounce at a time, and you might even see some eventual price gouging if/when supply ever dwindles. $400 for an ounce of bitchweed that may or may not have been navel lint at one point? I’LL TAKE IT!
Misconception 3: Now that weed is legal, downtown Boulder probably looks like a Phish bomb went off. There are and always will be hippies playing Hacky and generally spazzing out with Devilsticks down near Boulder Creek. But recreational weed shops on every corner? Not yet. After the measure passed, Denver, roughly 35 minutes south, was instantly besieged with new applications for marijuana dispensary licenses that would allow the shops to open immediately after the law went into effect January 1; and of the 37 shops to officially open statewide on January 1 (from Telluride and Breckenridge to Pueblo and Silverthorne) seventeen were in Denver alone. Meanwhile, Boulder has received only one state license – ONE -- for the Canary’s Song dispensary in the nearby ski/former mining town of Nederland. Mostly because those hoping to open recreational shops in Boulder County need local as well as state approval and face a labyrinth of city and county-imposed regulations and jurisdictional red tape that their indo-slinging brethren in Denver and elsewhere simply don’t have to.(“Between State and Boulder city statutes,” reads the Helping Hands Herbal Dispensary on Boulder’s main drag, Pearl Street, “there are nearly 500 pages of rules and regulations that need to be followed. It’s enough to drive someone to smoke!”) Meaning, any Boulder shops probably won’t open until February at the earliest, more likely March or April. Which begs the very important question: WHO WILL SUPPLY BOULDER’S EXPLODING ADVERTISING COMMUNITY (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/23/business/media/a-silicon-valley-for-ad-agencies-only-in-the-mountains.html?_r=0)? Seriously, there are a ton of awesome agencies here now, and we have sober-as-judge copywriters, creative technologists, planners, and web designers who have to create stuff out of the ether and need “inspiration”, dammit! We can’t be expected to drive our hybrids all the way down to big, scary Denver can we? Boulder without legal weed shops is like Deadwood without saloons and brothels. Get on it.
Misconception 4: You can now spark up anywhere. Wrong. Only on private property with the owner’s permission. Meaning, no smoking in public or anywhere else covered by the Clean Indoor Air Act. This unfortunately includes churches, indoor firing ranges and the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese.
Misconception 5: Changes in Colorado and Washington will open the door for the Feds to ease up on weed enforcement nationwide. Nope. According to the DEA, marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug, its strictest classification (right up there with heroin, LSD, peyote, and Ecstasy), which is nutso if you ask me. And now the government likely fears the growth of Big Marijuana, an industry unto itself profiting from addiction a la Big Tobacco. So, if anything, states going rogue might piss off the feds enough to retaliate with petty actions like, say, withholding highway funds. Which is great. After all, if you’re going to potentially have more people driving around stoned, you want your treacherous Colorado mountain roads to be in the most abysmal condition possible. Which leads to a related…
… Misconception 6: If you love driving wasted – and who doesn’t?! -- Colorado is now the place to do it! Uh-uh. While the laws are still in their infancy (i.e. they’re making this shit up as they go along), you can be ticketed/arrested for impaired driving if your blood shows more than 5 nanograms of active THC. I’m not what you’d call a “doctor” but that’s not a lot; in fact, there has been no scientific evidence to suggest that this amount even constitutes “impaired”. But if you think you’re gonna blaze up and then take your ironic scooter with pet ferret sidecar for a spin, think again.
Misconception 7: The biggest beneficiaries of the new law are people who just want to get high and eat Funyuns. Okay, I’m sure there were those who voted YES just so they could get baked and play Mario Kart. But there’s one largely forgotten group who benefits here: veterans and others with PTSD. Before January 1, most PTSD sufferers in Colorado (along with those with depression and migraines) were denied medical marijuana cards. Which is why 8 a.m. on January 1 was such a defining moment: when the very first legal weed shop on the planet officially opened and served the very first legal weed customer on the planet, a 32-year-old Iraq War vet named Sean Azzariti, who’d fervently campaigned for marijuana legalization. Now, no one’s going to argue that those suffering from cancer, epilepsy, HIV, and other terrible illnesses shouldn’t ease the pain with medical weed. But if some sneaky dipshit claiming to have debilitating “glaucoma” (“I can barely watch Eagleheart anymore!”) or “anxiety” (“My boss is realllllly holding me accountable for stuff this week!”) can get a medical card, it’s only right that someone who was wounded -- physically, mentally, or both -- in the service of our country can get one, too. I mean, jee-zus...
Misconception 8: Getting high will make me forgive Wes Welker for defecting to the Broncos. Fuck that little hobbit.
Misconception 9: You’re more creative when you’re stoned. Um, have you seen any Jim Breuer movies? Sure, many of our most accomplished artists, musicians, writers, and inventors have been big herb fans. After all, marijuana releases the sweet, sweeeeeet dopamine credited with enhancing creativity and euphoria while reducing inhibitions (all of which comes in handy when concepting your latest ad prank). And there are no doubt many of you who get high before or during work; it’s advertising, after all, not air traffic control. But from my personal experience, this notion is kinda bullshit. Granted, the last time I got high was sometime around 2002 at a friend’s lake house (you know who you are), and I had all kinds of grand plans for amazing writing enhanced by the boundary-smashing THC and pastoral, Golden Pond-esque setting. And what did I end up doing? Eating a wheelbarrow of ice cream and falling asleep sitting up. SO weed never did it for me, creatively, and I don’t know how you freaks actually function at work. Still, more power to ya, I…guess? Oh, and enhanced dopamine is also linked to Schizophrenia. So there’s that. Enjoy.
Misconception 10: Legal dispensaries have immediately created a new advertising/branding niche.Not yet. Yes, there have been some weed-related or weed-themed campaigns for non-weed brands. Notably this one for Hapa Sushi from Boulder’s TDA who created a weed-sushi pairing menu and served up great lines like "Our dining room is ergonomically designed to reduce paranoia.” Or this T-shirt idea that we gave Winter Park -- full disclosure, a client of my agency, Grenadier -- to tout the Mary Jane side of the iconic ski resort. But there’s been nothing (that I’ve seen, anyway) branding one of these now-recreational dispensaries. First, it’s not like customers aren’t already rushing to shops, or at least slowly ambling when they get around to it; when shops opened in Denver, the long, snaking lines looked like it was an Apple Store opening. Second, can you ever honestly see a situation where supply outgrows demand – you stoners are nothing if not loyal consumers -- thus creating a buyer’s market/increased competition/increased “brand advertising”? I can’t. But if it does ever happen, you can bet we’ll see plenty of crappy (read: awesome) headlines like “Our prices are never too ‘high’!” and “We smoke the competition!”, not to mention in-house, camcorder-shot TV spots that’ll make that WE BUY GOLF CLUBS! spot look like it was directed by Ang Lee.
Misconception 11: Peyton Manning’s head looks less peanut-shaped when you’re high. Wrong. If anything, from all reports, it becomes even more peanutty. Almost disturbingly so.
Misconception 12: Because you and I may have once worked together at Arnold or somewhere else, I’m now your FedEx weed hook-up until it’s legal in Massachusetts. False. Shipping weed is illegal, and I’d be used as currency in prison, so that’s a no-go. Plus, you may have even fired me at one point in my career, so what, you now want favors? What I’m saying is, get your lazy ass down to Blue Hill Avenue or Southie and risk getting stabbed for your weed like everyone else. That said, Massachusetts did become the 18th state to approve a ballot for medical marijuana use for patients suffering from medical conditions like cancer or Parkinson's. So rest easy, my fellow Advertising Professionals -- it might also soon be easier than ever for you to get good and baked before a pre-pro meeting. Especially if your glaucoma acts up again.
Oh, and enjoy the Stoner Bowl this weekend, Boston friends. Miss you guys.
A longtime Boston advertising creative, Mark St. Amant is a founding partner of new Boulder, CO ad agency, Grenadier. His full bio can be found here.