The Feeling of Freedom in Colorado

Having just spent the last few days attending the annual NORML Aspen Legal Seminar, I wanted to share some observations about the experience of spending time in a state that no longer cares if I smoke marijuana or not. And as you might expect, it feels wonderful.

No longer must I deal with the fear of being arrested and jailed — treated like some dangerous or undesirable person who needs to be restrained to protect the good citizens who do not smoke. That, obviously, is the most important change.

Second, I no longer have to deal with the uncertainties and dangers of engaging with those who risk serious prison time to sell marijuana on the totally unregulated black market. Over the years most of us identify those “in the business” whom we like and can trust, and we do our best to nourish those “connections” and to extend them as long as possible. But we always know that should the police raid our connection at the time we are conducting our business, we too will likely end up being hauled off to jail; or should our connection be robbed by some thug looking for an easy score, or some peeved competitor looking to settle a score, while we are buying our weed, we too are in harms way.

And when those carefully nurtured relationships ultimately ended, because the connection decided to get out of the business, or moved away, or, God forbid, got busted, we would then have to start the process of identifying a good, reliable source of high quality marijuana all over again.

In Colorado their are hundreds of licensed dispensaries — six in the rather small town of Aspen — and they compete for our business, leaving us free to compare costs and quality and to purchase our favorite intoxicant in a professional setting that is comfortable and safe.

Third, I know when I buy recreational marijuana in Colorado (ironically medical pot in this state does not have to be tested), it has been tested for unhealthy molds and pesticides and labelled to let me know the strength of the product before I use it. No more buying a new ounce of pot only to find it causes me to sneeze every time I take a hit, or that is really only cheap “dirt weed” that hardly even gets me high, for which I paid a premium price. No more “let the buyer beware.” In Colorado, the consumer is now provided the information to make an informed decision.

But there are also other less obvious benefits that legalized marijuana brings to those of us who smoke. Most importantly, we are no longer seen as deviants by our friends and neighbors and co-workers. This cultural change is almost tangible once a state removes the laws that define marijuana smokers as criminals. Just as criminal penalties reinforce the feeling that there must be something wrong with smoking and with those of us who smoke (otherwise, why would “they” make it a crime), ending marijuana prohibition reinforces the feeling that there is nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana and nothing wrong with those of us who smoke.

That feeling of cultural acceptance and approval — I’m okay; you’re okay — was palpable at our recent seminar and related social events, whether at the private smoking area at the hotel, at the lovely home of Chris and Gerry Goldstein, or at the hallowed ground known as Owl Farm where the late Hunter S. Thompson lived and thrived. We proudly smoked marijuana with our professional colleagues and friends, and were empowered by the experience. We were both enjoying the marijuana high and exercising our hard-won personal freedom.

I sometimes say “I smoke pot and I like it a lot”. But what I like even more is the feeling of acceptance and approval by, and inclusion in, the mainstream American culture for those of us who smoke, a change that seems to occur almost immediately following legalization. The tension between those who smoke and those who don’t is replaced by the recognition we all have much in common, and our choice of intoxicants is largely irrelevant.

So yes, the feeling of freedom in Colorado is especially wonderful to those of us who smoke marijuana; but legalization also appears to be having a salutary effect on our friends and neighbors and co-workers who do not smoke, as well. Respecting personal freedom works for everyone.

27 thoughts

  1. Great Article Keith!!!

    Your words ring true on so many levels.

    I fully intend to move from Virginia within the next two years, if the laws aren’t changed to something that makes sense, to somewhere I can live my life in a place where I don’t need to be in constant fear of law enforcement enforcing their idiotic laws; probably Colorado…

    It really pisses me off that most Virginia legislators cling to the 1930’s reefer madness agenda. If I could, I would throw about 90% of them out onto the street (or maybe even in prison since that is what they do to us) for continuing to support their totally failed drug policies.

  2. Thanks Keith for reminding us in states still struggling what we are fighting for. It sounds like heaven to me.

    Here in Texas today, the governor is due to sign a CBD only bill. A small victory for standards in Colorado but a great one on the Federal level as the Texas legislature admits marijuana, even with only %.5 of THC, is medicine. But also because this new federal amendment that provides access to marijuana for our veterans with PTSD coincides with the population of Texas weighing in on marijuana’s medical efficacy.
    Next stop, legalize California.

    [Paul Armentano responds: The bill in question mandates a doctor’s ‘prescription’ — not a recommendation, thus making the proposed law change moot. This drafting error was pointed out to lawmakers on many occasions but was ignored.]

  3. Thank you Keith for an awesome visual thru your writing. My god, I cannot imagine the peace that must be felt by those who can consume in total freedom. it especially touches me because I have not been (allowed) to consume for six years and three months and three days in order to keep a good job, ( and a retirement). I was 32 years a consumer up to that point and it was a way of life for me.i appreciate your words and normls collective efforts to further legalization for the remedy. good day to you all!

  4. I was there last September and felt the same peace of mind and freedom to be myself. It felt like being gay and coming out of the closet. In fact there are social parallels to that. Like Keith pointed out also, you can go into a store-that you know is going to be there and not just disappear like some connects do-and choose your strain. no more just take what you get cause that’s all the dealer has and he doesn’t know what kind it is beyond “I think it’s ‘medical.'” I’ve had the good fortune of getting good stuff from my dude lately and I’m happy with that. I’d just be happier with having a choice and having this whole situation take place above ground.

  5. Thank you for writing this. I too am inspired and frustrated as well across so many levels so am turning to take action by becoming involved with my local Norml organization.

  6. @Paul,

    I know, it sucks that the language of the bill impedes access by making doctors, hospitals and clinics liable for federal prosecution, but the fact that the Texas legislature and governor just signed approval that marijuana is medicine has a quantitative effect at the Federal level, influencing Congressional negotiations over the pending amendment providing veterans with access to marijuana through the VA.
    More importantly Paul, You can now use this law as evidence in the appeal for any judicial case questioning the Constitutionality of the CSAct which still states that marijuana has no medical efficacy.

  7. I live in Washington state and love going to the recreational stores and being able to choose any strain I’m in the mood for and knowing the exact THC levels down to the hundredth of a percent and not having to wait around for sketchy dealers. This law already saved me as I was smoking with some friends and the cops showed up where I was (they thought my friends were trying to break into a car when in reality they had just locked themselves out of their own car)and they clearly smelled it as there were 5 of us who had been taking bong rips for hours in a small apartment) and weed and bongs in clear view. No one was arrested for the car incident either in case anyone is wondering,

  8. With all due respect, what you have described Keith is the exercise of a government granted privilege, rather than the exercise of a right. There is a significant difference.

    If consuming pot were a right, a coercive third party (the state) would not be involved at all. Obviously the state IS involved and has set boundaries for the amount a person can grow and possess. As well, in order to exercise this granted privilege the state enforces a system of bribery, ie, you must give the bully your milk money or get punched in the stomach.

    If you step outside the lines they have painted, you can and will be arrested. The “weed” is not freed as long it is “permitted” by the state on a granted permission basis.

  9. “Human rights are either recognized or denied” – Eric K. Johnson

    We are born free with the Human Right to Life ,Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness.

    Any laws that fail to recognize these self evident truths are not and can not be law.

  10. Great article Keith. I’ve often wondered what it would be like… Free at last!

    National Geographic’s last issue was titled “Weed” and has a MJ leaf on its cover. Most of their coverage is positive. It seems like its just a matter of time before its legalized everywhere.

    I don’t know what Obama is waiting for when he could sure get a boost by legalizing it with the stroke of a pen.

  11. @Julian

    Prescriptions need federal approval, which is another reason to distinguish cannabis from marijuana. Marijuana does not need to be prescribed, but cannabis should be allowed to be prescribed. The current definition of marijuana in the CSA creates enough confusion to deny such a distinction.

    The holistic interpretation of the current definition, which allowed the Supreme Court to quietly let the puzzling format of that definition remain in the Statute, implicitly grants that approval.

    This simple reform to that federal definition, in keeping with the holistic interpretation, as well as the Necessary and Proper clause, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments, will release the federal brake on cannabis
    prescriptions and force the States to step up their regulations of cannabis. Although I doubt they will, any State could enact this definition, and challenge the Feds to invalidate it:

    The term “marijuana” means all parts of the smoke produced by the combustion of the plant Cannabis sativa L.

    See the petition to urge the President to apply his efforts to get the DEA to adhere to the holistic interpretation.

  12. What a feeling that must be.Freedom! This is America and we,the people,should ALL be allowed to feel this way.I say to the Federal Gov’t that it MUST be Legalized NOW!!!

  13. Amen, I say to you America. Time to take the mindless out of the legislative arena. We need leaders capable of thinking for themselves and coordinating a realistic program of tolerance, acceptance, and deliverance. America needs cannabis, whether as an alterant or an intoxicant, makes no difference to me.

  14. Nice piece. I wonder how much activists should be engaging minorities on this very issue, the dismantling of a criminal regime that has wrecked so much havoc on stuggling communities. From the law enforcement thugs to their symbiotic frenemies on the streets, people controlling the trade and it’s [lack of] regulation have to be despised as a group by minorities. And I bet many are hard pressed to say which they hate more: the legal thugs or the street thugs.

    To what extent should activists try to engage these folks, who have seen so much destruction of lives and futures by all of it? It would seem to me to be a powerful, unifying and defining group that has little voice, and is often ignored. For a presidential cycle, African Americans and Hispanic Americans alike represent a formidable voting block. If nothing else, now is the time to seize these folk’s interest and input in the debate.

    Rock on…

  15. Thank you for the hope!
    I know that Marijuana has slowed down the progression of multiple sclerosis for me. I am in a battle among doctors at the VA due to drug testing. Some doctors don’t care but my neurologist is a hard headed 1930s minded doctor and is sooo against it.
    I stopped having major flare ups and no new lesions since I started smoking 8 years ago. She has proof in my mri but still denies it works.
    I pray I will be allowed the freedom they have in Colorado soon
    As I now have to stop smoking for this idiot.

  16. “Hispanic Americans” Well one problem with that is Hispanic Americans are still where Americans were at about thirty years on the legalization of Marijuana. It about as popular with “Hispanic Americans” as gay marriage is with “Christian Americans”.

    Abuse and Corruption are indeed far more important cultural values than is treating people right. Ever watch those videos of Mexican Pigs burning ton of Marijuana “For the better good”? But better for who? Criminals that can now charge more thanks to them making their product rarer??? I believe it is a dog and pony show, when there is too much weed, someone calls the cops and a “bust” is arranged, then the media gets invited in, fires lit, then kicked out. Five minutes for questions or not.

  17. @Dave, add in here importantly that making cannabis product more expensive shunts a certain category of youngster who “smokes for status” into the cheaper less arrest-risky nicotine addiction trap. Ever notice how the estimated 800,000 Americans per year in recent years getting hooked on $igarettes echoes/reflects the 800,000 per year cannabis arrests?

  18. @yearofaction

    I agree that the spelling and conflicting legal definitions of cannibis, marijuana and marihuana must be addressed… But isn’t it fascinating how the most powerful corporations, pharmaceutical companies and governments in the world have tried and failed to patent a plant so complex in its coevolution with the human race that patenting or prohibiting the Herb is a patent or prohibition on a symbiotic organism that defines the identity our entire species?

  19. I live in Ohio but frequently want to move where I too can “come out of the closet” It is just so wrong on so many levels, to openly allow alcohol to such the level we do yet smoking some marijuana is still taboo in some states, I agree with the medical aspect but really it is time to just legalize already so I CAN socialize too!

  20. As a colorado resident, I can confirm that the freedom here is amazing. You would be surprised to see who actually hits up the downtown rec stores……white middle class people from out of town. They love the edibles.

  21. “… Just legalize already so I CAN socialize too!” @Jennie here has hit it on the nose, society as we have known it is rigged in favor of alcohol-fueled gangsterism where those who are allowed to “socialize” are those who drug up/gang up with whatever conveys the power to threaten and bully others– and many are o.k. with that because it means “our” USA, or maybe their region of it, will ubermilitarize and scare concessions out of the rest of the world, we rich, them poor ha ha.

    @Keith, having seen a story that housing prices are way up in Colorado (and some are happy about that), my guess is that the increased demand to buy housing is fueled by rental tenants stuck with a recalcitrant landlord who has threatened them over cannabis, and they realize their personal freedom to toke as they wish in wonderful ‘Rado will be better guaranteed if they OWN the premises. Wish them luck getting a fair mortgage and all that jazzz…

  22. Eric, “Any laws that fail to recognize these self evident truths are not and can not be law.”

    another way to say the same thing: Non-Constitutional. Or Illegal. It is so weird how we have illegal immigrants and now even they are legally protected from being deported on bullshit marijuana laws. It is immoral to deport someone over their marijuana use and it is already law. Any reason the rest of the law hasn’t caught up yet?

  23. Like, how is it “moral” to waste money and someone’s future on made up marijuana charges? ‘Well, some day you might commit a crime so we had better lock you up now?’ You can’t even do that with people that are crazy, so how is it legal to do that to people that might go crazy from using marijuana??? It is just arbitrary bullshit and again, that isn’t Constitutional.

  24. Isn’t it nice that the police in Colorado are free to use more of their time and resources going after REAL criminals?

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