January 1 will forever be a day of celebration in Colorado, where recreational cannabis sales began on January 1, 2014. When 2019 begins, Colorado will mark five years of such sales, with an expected $6 billion collected during that span.
If anyone qualifies to be on the guest list of an anniversary celebration, it's Sean Azzariti. The Marine Corps veteran, cannabis activist and medical marijuana patient consultant wasn't just present during the first legal cannabis sale in Colorado: He made the purchase. With plenty of cameras and onlookers present, Azzariti bought an eighth of Bubba Kush and some infused chocolate truffles for $59.74 from Toni Savage Fox, then-owner of 3D Cannabis Center at 4305 Brighton Boulevard. All that attention would make anyone nervous, but for Azzariti, who uses cannabis to treat post-traumatic stress disorder after his time in the military, it was much more than a photo opportunity. It was a first step into national acceptance for his medicine of choice.
A lot can happen in five years, though. Fox sold 3D Cannabis to the Euflora dispensary, which runs a store on the now very-changed Brighton Boulevard; the price of that Bubba Kush (and all cannabis flower) has dropped considerably; and nine more states have joined Colorado in ending recreational pot prohibition.
Westword recently reached out to Azzariti — now a veteran of both the Marines and making hash — to see what he's been up to since that famous day.
Westword: We hear you didn't consume any of the cannabis you bought that day. What became of it?
Sean Azzariti: I still have the entire first purchase. I tried to give it to a few local museums shortly after, and they promptly turned me down, citing federal prohibition. I'm hoping in the next few years that will change and I can give it to a museum to display.
What's it like to go from being in a media spectacle surrounding cannabis to working with the plant and being part of the industry?
I actually worked in the cannabis industry for almost three years prior to making the first purchase. The media attention was very intense at the time, but I felt I really needed to utilize that platform to inform as many people as I could about how cannabis can save not only the lives of those living with PTSD, but so many other afflictions as well. Since the media attention has died down, I have been focusing intensely on my career in the extraction side of the industry, as well as trying to see my favorite band, Kasvot Väx, as often as I can.
How has the experience of shopping for cannabis changed for you since that day in 2014?
It's so much smoother of a process now than it was in 2014. Those early days were pretty rough, but as the time has passed, most companies have their processes dialed in and make the shopping experience pleasurable as well as fast.
What does living in a state with relatively easy access to cannabis mean for you? What about other people you know?
Cannabis saved my life, so it means more to me than I can explain. If it wasn't for being in Colorado at the right time, I don't think my life would be the way it is currently. Cannabis is, without question, something that every person should have safe access to.
I know fellow veterans I served with who live in non-legal states, and it kills me to see the amount of prescription pills they have to take to treat their conditions. They won't try cannabis, because the fear of being prosecuted is very real in certain states. That's not right, so those are the people we need to continue fighting for.
What changes to Colorado's cannabis landscape since 2014 are you proud of? Any change you're disappointed in?
I couldn't be prouder that Colorado has taken the lead and been the model state for others that are legalizing cannabis. I'm not saying we haven't gone through our growing pains, but I believe Colorado and all of the people involved should be very proud of all the work they've done.