In the fall of 2009, local officials looked around and suddenly discovered that the medical marijuana business was booming in Denver. In fact, it might have been the city's only growth industry at the time. The national media discovered the story, too -- and when Westword advertised for a medical marijuana reviewer two years ago this week, my phone started ringing off the hook.
Here's the original blog post advertising the job:
Do you have a medical condition that necessitates marijuana? Do you have a way with words? If so, Westword wants you to join the ranks as our freelance marijuana-dispensary reviewer.
To provide an objective resource on the state's burgeoning medical marijuana scene, Westword has launched "Mile Highs and Lows," a weekly review of Colorado marijuana dispensaries. Now we're looking for just the right person to take the reins.
The job is simple: Visit a different dispensary each week (without revealing you're working for Westword) and pen concise, impartial and snappy accounts of your experiences. Keep in mind this isn't about assessing the quality of the medicine on site; it's about evaluating the quality of the establishment. After all, we can't have our reviewer be stoned all the time.
The perfect candidate will be a talented writer who's not about to play favorites -- and, of course, someone who has a state medical marijuana ID (or the ability and need to obtain one). Compensation will be meager -- and no, we can't expense your purchases, although that would be pretty cool.
Think you've got what it takes? Send a resume (informal is okay; handwritten on rolling papers isn't) and a one-paragraph essay on "What Marijuana Means to Me." The more creative the better -- so get rolling.
(Fair warning: Because we think it might be really funny, we reserve the right to publish any samples we receive, though we won't use any full names without permission).
Hundreds of people applied for the gig -- from Denver, then from around the globe, as the stories about our hunt for a reviewer appeared on CNN, in the Wall Street Journal, on the BBC, and in newspapers from Israel to Australia. (A quick Google search of my name and "medical marijuana reviewer" turns up scores of hits.) While most of the media took a humorous approach to the story, we were serious about finding the right person -- because medical marijuana was a serious business in Denver, and its importance to this city continues to grow.
Want proof? Keep reading this blog today; there are certain to be several medical marijuana stories. Then get to the Wellington E. Webb building this afternoon, for the first meeting of a new MMJ industry group.
Here's what I wrote about the hunt, and the attention, at the time:
"Is this the most attention you've ever gotten?" asked the national reporter.
Westword got bomb threats when we broke the news about University of Colorado coach Bill McCartney's daughter being pregnant by dying quarterback Sal Aunese, a story that's gotten a second life on ESPN now that their son is a college quarterback. We won national awards for our investigation of the Rocky Flats grand jury. USA Today cited Westword's "The Rumor About Romer" when former governor Roy Romer, then the chair of the Democratic National Committee, got caught in a lengthy lip lock with an aide he'd denied having an affair with years before. Our coverage of the sex scandal at the Air Force Academy inspired several federal investigations.
And yet... all those journalistic scoops are just so much smoke compared to the attention attracted by an ad we posted on the web last week -- for a medical marijuana dispensary reviewer.
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After sifting through application after application (and yes, some were submitted on rolling papers), we found just the right person for the job: the man who calls himself William Breathes, a journalist with both a burning professional and personal interest in pot.
He hit the ground running -- and inhaling. You can read a fresh review every Thursday in Mile Highs and Lows. Happy anniversary, Will. But be careful when you blow out those candles.