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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Has Pot Legalization Hurt Colorado’s Image?

Packaged recreational marijuana is pictured in Colorado. (Shanna Lewis/CPR)

Packaged recreational marijuana is pictured in Colorado. (Shanna Lewis/CPR)

It’s been nearly six months since recreational marijuana went on sale in Colorado. Since then, the state has endured its share of late night TV humor — even President Obama made note of it at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

Here & Now’s colleagues at Colorado Public Radio wondered if their state’s image has suffered in any way — so they surveyed their listeners.

Reporter Ben Markus has some of the results.

Reporter

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

Well, to Colorado now, where it's been nearly six months since recreational marijuana went on sale. Now the state has become synonymous with marijuana and endured its share of late-night humor. Even President Obama got into the act at this year's White House Correspondents Dinner.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Colorado legalized marijuana this year, an interesting social experiment. I do hope it doesn't lead to a whole lot of paranoid people who think that the federal government's out to get them and listening to their phone calls.

YOUNG: Well, the brunt of jokes is one thing, but our colleagues at Colorado Public Radio wondered if the state's image has really suffered. So they surveyed their listeners. Reporter Ben Markus has some of the results.

BEN MARKUS, BYLINE: Roger Sanders builds high-quality audio equipment in his garage in Conifer, in the mountains outside Denver. He says he doesn't smoke pot, but he still believes that marijuana legalization was the right thing to do.

ROGER SANDERS: The fact is people do use drugs, and if they're going to do it, then they need to do it in a controlled and responsible way. And I think that the quality of life in Colorado is far better than that in New Jersey. I'll live in Colorado before I live in New Jersey any day.

MARKUS: That last jab was aimed at New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who recently questioned Colorado's quality of life on a radio show in his home state.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: Go to Colorado and see if you want to live there. See if you want to live in a major city in Colorado, where there's, you know, head shops popping up on every corner and people flying into your airport just to come and get high.

MARKUS: The comments don't phase Sanders.

SANDERS: There are going to be people who disapprove, and they're going to make jokes about it. Let them make jokes about it. It doesn't bother me.

MARKUS: In fact, of the nearly 50 listeners that responded to a Colorado Public Radio questionnaire, the vast majority did not think that the state's image had suffered. And a recently released poll from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut found similar results. A majority of Colorado residents say that marijuana has been good for the state, residents like John Godzac, a retired contract manager who lives in Denver. He voted for legalization and continues to think it was the right thing to do.

But he got a taste for how the state's image has changed when he was in Ohio recently and saw a TV commercial for Kia dealership, where two stoners wanted to trade in a car.

JOHN GODZAC: The dealer told them that - not to worry, it was worth cash on a down payment on a new Kia, and they gave each other a high five and said cool, man, now we can go to Colorado. So perhaps the image has suffered. I'm not sure, then.

(LAUGHTER)

MARKUS: Others are sure. Michael Dinneen of Denver says people from outside the state used to talk with him about Colorado's natural beauty, its mountains and world-class skiing. But now it's all about marijuana.

MICHAEL DINNEEN: And it seems to be the only topic that people want to talk about, is how many dispensaries are open and pot shops, and what's going on with this and are there really more stores that are selling marijuana than there are Starbucks.

MARKUS: Dinneen admits that he's developed a strong point of view as an addiction counselor. But he used to be proud of Colorado's image as an extremely healthy state.

DINNEEN: That, I think, is going to be diminished as a result, that perception, the pot is going to overshadow that.

MARKUS: Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is sensitive to those concerns, but he's confident that marijuana will not define Colorado.

MAYOR MICHAEL HANCOCK: Colorado - Denver and Colorado is not Amsterdam. We never will be Amsterdam. We're going to do everything we can to continue to protect and to fine tune our brand and who we are.

MARKUS: Hancock just returned from a trip to Amsterdam, and he reiterated his support for banning the kind of smoking bars that define that city. If there is a negative image, businesses interested in relocating to Colorado don't seem to care.

KEN LUND: I know that's hard to believe, but it just - it's just not come up.

MARKUS: Ken Lund heads Colorado's Office of Economic Development and International Trade. He says he's getting more interest than ever from businesses looking to expand or relocate to Colorado, and he adds that marijuana is not a factor.

LUND: They might kid us a little bit about it here and there, but honestly, as a substantive matter, it doesn't show up in any RFPs that we've answered. It doesn't show up in any substantive meeting where they ask us a question of it.

MARKUS: Lund says it's Colorado's quality of life, its access to the mountains and educated workforce that are the real driving factors. Denver resident John Godzac agrees with all that, though he is seriously concerned about the state's image, but not because of pot. He worries about how people perceive Colorado after the Columbine and Aurora mass shootings.

GODZAC: That was a terrible blow to the Colorado image. My friends would ask me: What's going on in Colorado? Does everybody wear guns?

MARKUS: He has to convince them that Colorado really is a safe place to live, and he says that matters more to the state's image than pot shops. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Ben Markus, in Denver.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YOUNG: And we have one last note from Colorado. The Colorado Symphony Orchestra says it will go on with its Classically Cannabis Concert, in which attendees are invited to bring their own marijuana. The city, apparently, of Denver was against this.

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

Yeah. They had said that they wanted this not to happen, because it could be against the regulations that marijuana consumption not be open and in public, in a manner that, quote, "endangers others." But it sounds like the concerts will go on, although to a closed list of VIP guests.

YOUNG: OK.

HOBSON: We'll continue to follow this story.

YOUNG: Closely. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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