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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.


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • RAOUL

    Will the person define responsible use of drugs? Once you begin your responsible habit after work or during work, your logic falls by the wayside. Colorado is creating some legacy: No. 1 in high school mass killings. No. 1 in theater killings. No. one in beer drinking and now No. one in drug use. Great place to raise children.

  • Here and Now is biased

    Ho hum, another day, another anti-marijuana legalization “report” about Colorado. At this point, Here and Now’s obsession with this issue and its determination to bash the decision of a majority of the state’s voters to legalize this product has become laughable. I suppose we can count on these stories continuing until Here and Now has covered every conceivable negative aspect to legalization–oh, joy.

  • colorblue

    Now that Colorado and Washington have turned the corner on marijuana legalization it is important that laws and practices also follow along. Especially significant is employment. Due to a variety of reasons it is not possible for citizens who use marijuana casually or medically to obtain new employment. Particularly,
    large employers continue to screen prospective employees for THC as a pre-employment condition.

    There are several problems with this practice. It poses a paradox of sorts. Use of marijuana is now legal but if you use it you can’t pass a drug screen for employment and will be denied a job. Strangely, the effect is to keep existing employees who use marijuana in their current jobs since employers rarely test employees for use during their employment tenure. But if you are to leave an employer and apply for another job it is standard practice to screen for THC
    as a condition of new employment. The legal and responsible use marijuana is effectively made illegal.

    The screening for THC is problematic because if you consume any amount you can test positive for weeks after that consumption. The irony is that stronger, harder and, arguably, much more problematic and non-legalized substances are not detectable within hours of consumption and alcohol is not even a factor in the screening process and are all very unlikely to be detected. Due to the peculiar properties of THC it is not flushed from the body quickly and the metabolites remain detectable for a long time after consumption. Even the agreed-upon five nanogram blood level threshold is contentious since frequent users can have this blood level and function without seeming or acting impaired and, presumably, be safe while driving.

    An odd aspect of this issue is that there are many thousands of responsible employees who now can use marijuana outside of work without any problems or issues. All employers maintain the option of testing an employee who may be impaired at work and can test them and/or fire them. Colorado, along with most states are, euphemistically called, “right to work” states where an employer can fire
    an employee for virtually any reason other than race, gender, religion or disability.

    I think that it is essential for fairness and just rational to adapt to the changing culture and workforce. Pre-employment drug screening is virtually pointless and discriminatory and should be eliminated. Workers should be employed based on their skills and value to employers and not excluded based on what they do during their personal time.

    It is also now time for congressional representatives from Colorado, Washington and the other prospective states to begin to start exerting any power they may have to change federal regulations that maintain an employment barrier for their
    constituents. It is particularly important to get marijuana removed from the DEA schedule 1 list since this seems to be at the crux of the rationale for pre- employment screening and also, incidentally but significantly, marijuana business banking.

    Employers should also begin to adapt by dropping their pre-employment drug screens and emphasize their personnel policies regarding substance abuse on the job. Employers already have the tools to deal with substance abuse. They should expect employees to be responsible and maintain good standards at work and not subject new employees to prohibitive standards that they or their current employees don’t have to meet. Law enforcement has had to adapt to marijuana legalization and employers should do so too.

    • FarmindaleRes

      its not difficult to clean your system for a drug test. takes a little will power to stay off it for a few weeks but if you know your looking for a job and will probably be tested then you can get by if you really want to.

    • colorblue

      True, but I think that misses the point. I don’t think that abstinence is an essential requirement for most jobs. Especially since once a job is obtained one is generally free to indulge. Talent, experience, specific skills and abilities are the valuable merits for employment. Driving, like employment, is a privilege and yet abstinence is not required.

  • FarmindaleRes

    hasnt ruind its image for me. a leader in the country so far as i’m concerned. cant wait till more states follow suit.

  • http://twitter.com/333maxwell Chas Holman

    Grass and Colorado.. The envy of the other 48 states.. Tourism is up, bookings are up, events are up.. Colorado is set go reap 98 million in taxes next fiscal year..

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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