‘Colorado Springs should have been the Mecca of Marijuana’.
At the time of writing this article it is 5 years to the day that Colorado ushered in what was perceived by many as a new dawn for cannabis. Swayed by the sudden up rise in young voters, the campaign for change in legislation was a great success and without their affirmative action it is believed that it could have been a very different story. People took to the streets in celebration and lit up without fear of reprisal. Back then, the move to legalization for recreational and medicinal strains seemed like it would open the floodgates for the rest of the US and, hopefully, the world to move past the age of prohibition and finally start to make use of this miraculous plant once again. But some sources now suggest that once the sugar-coated icing had disappeared, what was left in some parts of Colorado didn’t taste as sweet as they were expecting.
In the words of one particular resident, ‘Colorado Springs should have been the Mecca of Marijuana’. It seemed like everything was in place to make the dream come to fruition, but he now feels that the whole process has been handled so poorly that it is in danger of undoing all the hard work. Many people, including him, moved to the state from areas where they had previously only been able to operate illegally, so that they could ‘go legit’ and use their knowledge to benefit a greater range of people. Medicinal providers began to come out of the shadows in the hope of treating more patients and many were keen to spread their experiences far and wide. Dispensaries began to pop-up all over Colorado and both the medicinal and recreational sides of the equation seemed to be gaining popularity with residents and visitors. The idea of a ‘Green Rush’ suddenly seemed like a reality instead of a stoner fantasy.
What should have been an opportunity to install systems reliant on quality and consumer satisfaction became a tirade of greed-driven decisions with little to no respect for the plant itself. Instead of listening to the people who truly understood the idea of growing standards, cross-breeding, healthy agriculture and proper curing methods, the infrastructure seems to have been built around the system of taxation which could be applied to both medicinal and recreational sales. Currently, reports indicate that the state initially placed a dual tax at state and local levels of 33% on recreational sales and 8% on medicinal (state level) combined with an additional 5-10% added by the local government. This year, the level of taxation by the state has increased to 38% and it seems to many people that the city followed suit. Unsurprisingly, this led to relatively high prices as retailers sought to protect their investments. Whilst it should be never suggested that legalization should mean cheaper weed for people to purchase, what this level of tax actually does is drive down standards. When volumes of product increase and the profits are reduced, it is highly likely that the rate of turn-around becomes more important than final quality for some producers. Why put in all the effort to produce the absolute best buds you can when you aren’t going to be rewarded for your troubles? Small-scale growers take immense pride in caring for their crops, mainly because they aren’t focused on the bottom line, but not all large-scale farms have the same mantra and a few people have begun to refer to this drop in standards as ‘Warehouse Weed’. Money has a way of changing people pretty fast.
Now, you may think that the Colorado state officials would be hoping to protect the industry so that the tax dollars keep on flowing in for years to come. You would assume that they would listen to consumer feedback and pay careful attention to researchers and specialists in the field to shape and mold the industry into a shining example for the rest of the US to aspire to. You may even hope that Colorado would show the outdated, prohibition-era officials that their time was up. You’d want to believe all these things, right? Well, apparently that’s not quite the way things are working out.
After speaking to a source in Colorado, it was suggested that the current Mayor of Colorado Springs, John Southers, has his own agenda and he is not the type to listen to critics. He went on to explain that, ‘Southers wants the recreational industry shut down’ and it is alleged that he has vowed to do anything in his power to destroy this blossoming industry. Because of the way that the legal system operates, it is possible for citizens to by-pass the Mayor if they have enough signatures on a petition, but many do not understand enough about the reality of the situation to cast their vote. Add to this the fact that a large proportion of the young voters who came out in their droves to push for legalization seem to be far less engaged with the follow-up political discussions and it’s clear why this is a tough battle to fight. Our source went on to explain that the system was essentially broken before it even got off the ground and they fear that the stance of the Mayor is likely to be the final nail in the coffin for many people’s dreams.
‘You have to look at what happened in Vancouver to understand why some people are still dead against the whole idea of changing legislation. After they decriminalized pot, there was a real shift in people who wanted to go there to enjoy the freedom. I don’t just mean weed smokers, I went up there and couldn’t believe that people were being incredibly open in their use of other drugs. If you’ve never checked it out, you should go on YouTube and search for East Hastings Street in Vancouver circa July 2007. BC Bud was the big thing and people were saying it was the next Amsterdam, but I saw people shooting heroin in the street, man! It’s no surprise that the people who had always lived there just looked at it and thought that it wasn’t right. I mean, how would you like it if your neighborhood was suddenly over-run with all these transients? It kinda proved a point for those who had their doubts.’
So, how does this tie in with Colorado? He went on to explain how things played out for him.
‘I’ve been working with weed since 1973 and I know the plant inside out. I’m old school, you know? When I heard about Colorado legalizing I was there in a heartbeat. I had people who were backing me and all these great ideas for setting up my own business. Once I got here, I realized that this is actually an ultra-conservative place and a lot of people weren’t really happy about the vote. There’s an aging population and two military bases and neither of these aspects really helped the situation. It also turned out that this was essentially a cash-only market, because the banks wouldn’t give loans to those who were working with marijuana, and we couldn’t even look at making sales through cards, bank transfers or even online transactions (I had a payment which was held by PayPal because they decided it was the proceeds of illegal activity – it was only about $160). I quickly figured out that it was almost impossible for people to come and start a business unless they had money on hand to invest in. Essentially, we are working on a cash-only basis and sending this money to the city in the hope it is all processed properly…but we don’t know for sure.
‘Weirdly, all of the available properties on the market were being bought up really fast. Any farm-stead with potential was snapped up and I couldn’t figure out where all the money was coming from. I started to hear on the grape vine that the cartels were buying up all the properties and then expanding their illegal grows to help to flood the market and ensure that they didn’t lose out on potential sales. This meant that they were focused on bulk sales and quick turnaround instead of quality and the whole systems was supposed to be reliant on a higher standard of regulated weed. I spoke to realtors and they said that they knew about it but couldn’t stop it, so I went to through the official channels. Without going into too much detail, they basically said they weren’t interested in what I had to say or that they were entirely aware but weren’t going to do anything about it. I came here to escape the illegal trade – turns out it’s all pretty corrupt, even when it’s supposed to be legit.
‘Once I realized that it wasn’t going to work out the way I expected it to, I thought I could at least get into working at a farm or dispensary to help pay the bills. Sadly, it turns out that a lot of the younger guys and girls don’t have a lot of time or respect for the people who have been doing it for longer than they have. For me it has always been about the quality of the strains and how effective they can be for different conditions – a lot of the people who are into weed these days only care about bag value and have literally no clue what’s actually important. Some kid was in a dispensary asking if they had any bud that sparkled when it burned…I mean, come on, seriously? I turned to him and I was like, do you even know what causes that? It’s the heavy metals that haven’t been flushed out of the system! He wanted to smoke Aluminum! People are so concerned with how their bud looks that they have no real regard for the true quality of what they are smoking. Plus, the market is so flooded that prices are getting stupid and small-scale growers are being priced out of the market. People only want to pay $65 an ounce on the medicinal market. Can you believe that? And consumers demand it – they set the price and if they don’t get what they want they will go elsewhere. All the hard work and years of careful strain development is just being disrespected. What makes it harder is that the medicinal dispensaries have to prove that they grow 70% of what they sell, but the retail end can buy 100% of what they sell on. Most people out there are only just scraping a living and I know a lot of people who have called it quits and decided to go back to their old 9 to 5.’
Like many others, he now feels that his only viable option is to move back home and start over again. Whilst this means that he will be working illegally if he chooses to cultivate cannabis, he believes that it is the only way he can be true to himself.
‘I just love helping people and the hardest part about leaving Colorado is that there are people who I have been helping who I won’t be able to help anymore. I used to get accused of ripping people off when I started selling CBD oil a long while back, but people didn’t respect the quality of what I make. For me, it is all about making full spectrum oil and getting patients to combine it with glycerides. Patients need to get the entourage effect and I have been developing what you might call ‘black market medicinals’ to help people get what they need. I’m hoping to perfect a 20% 1:1 (THC:CBD) strain pretty soon and that will bring all kinds of medicine to people. I can’t promise that I won’t carry on making medicine even after I leave Colorado, but when you have a chance to make people’s lives better it’s pretty hard to leave all that behind. The problem I see is that a lot of people fail to realize the key concept: all buds are not created equal.’
We can only hope that the news coming out of Colorado is not a sign of a downward spiral, but it should certainly serve as a wake-up call that achieving legalization is only the beginning. There is still a long journey ahead of us.
By PSY 23 Originally published in Weed World Magazine Issue 132