As the lowlands of Idaho gave way to the deserts of Utah, I began to get restless in the front passenger seat of our oversized Suburban. Neither state was particularly friendly towards cannabis—Utah least of all. I’d been arrested for carrying less than a gram here on a previous trip, and we were taking no chances as we made our way down through Ogden into Salt Lake City, eventually turning east through the canyons towards Colorado.
Colorado hasn’t always been the cannabis mecca it’s known as today. Medical marijuana came to the state in late 2000, eventually giving way to recreational sales in 2014. For the young stoner growing up in the 1990s, much of Colorado’s cannabis was still imported from south of the border. Compressed by the kilo in a trash compactors, then de-scented and shipped north from Mexico, the seeded brown weed bared little resemblance to the products on today’s dispensary shelves.
Jessica gave an excited shriek from behind the wheel as we crossed the border into the now-famously green state. It still looked like Utah, but the deserts of Colorado seemed a bit more friendly as we drove towards the distant lights of Grand Junction. Situated on the border, Grand Junction was a medium-sized college town. I had spent a rather notorious tenure here, eventually being run out of the local university for what I now look back on as forward-thinking business practices in regards to marijuana at the time.
The familiar green crosses were nowhere to be seen as we made our way into town. Pulling into the local gas station, some quick recon confirmed our suspicions. The progressive college town, fourteenth largest city in Colorado, was situated in a dry county. Working in the cannabis industry I often found myself in the mile high city, but it had been seven years since my return to the Western Slope, and as we headed further into Colorado my thoughts turned to my childhood.
I grew up in the small mountain town of Ouray, Colorado. Famous for its hot springs, Ouray is nestled in the base of the San Juan mountain range, some 7,700 feet above sea level. A free ski lift took skiers, sleders and snowboarders to the top of the local hill, while ice climbers came from the world over to scale the frozen falls that would form in the canyons at the edge of town. The life I had known there died with my mother, who was tragically taken one fall in a hunting accident outside of town. My father did the best he could, but the tough mountain winters meant no work for a single dad. Eventually he remarried, moving us from the liberal mountain paradise 70 miles west to Delta, Colorado, a small, conservative town situated on the edge of the desert.
Jessica’s excitement began to turn into anxiety. Both of us would likely fall under the classification of ‘heavy users’ by anyone interested in classifying such things. The long trip through unfriendly territory had taken its toll, and we were eager to find a friendly port in the storm that was brewing inside the rented SUV. Cannabis had been voted into legalization here in 2012, ending the 95-year prohibition on marijuana in the state, but many counties here still maintain their conservative leanings. I began to wonder if we would see any pot on this trip at all. I did a quick search, pulling up a map of legalized counties in the state of Colorado. I groaned out loud as the results began to load. More than half the state was blanketed in red—and in particular, the half we were currently in. True to its political leanings, the Western Slope had managed to subvert the will of the voters to its more conservative base.
This was not the first time the state had been at odds with itself. Tensions over water rights and the competing interests of agriculture versus the more liberal views of the citizens of the greater Denver metropolitan area often brought things to a boil. Attempts at secession had been lobbied in the past, and looking at the legalization map it was clear battle lines had divided the state once again.
It would be another hundred miles of driving before we would eventually spot the small green cross of Rocky Mountain Cannabis, situated on the edge of Ridgway, Colorado, a tiny town marking the entry into the San Juan mountain range. We asked RMC budtender Glenn Bailey why he thought there was so much division in the area regarding cannabis. “There’s not enough stores over here,” he answered. “We service 180 miles—some people come all the way from Utah. It’s because it’s much more of a liberal mindset on the Eastern slope, and a much more conservative one here on the West.”
As we said goodbye to friends and family and prepared for our trip home, I was reminded of what had prompted a small town boy of 15 to run away from a good home. Growing up I had always felt like an astronaut—able to survive, but wholly outside my element. Always wondering what greater possibilities waited just outside the boundaries of my small town life. Returning home to Colorado, it was clear that my vision of the playing field had been distorted by cannabis mixers and industry award ceremonies. There was still a fight to be fought. Even here, in the green state of Colorado, forces were divided; the battle to erase old misconceptions still raged on, in the streets and in the voting booths…
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