In light of the city's unexpected crackdown on the Cannabition smokeout, organizers of yesterday's cancelled event, along with vaporizer company O.pen VAPE, funneled their resources into the launch of My 420 Tours, which basically consisted of loading reporters and smokers onto a party bus, handing out free, loaded vaporizers and riding around town to see a dispensary and a growhouse -- replete with tour guides offering education on marijuana history, laws and, naturally, all you could ever want to know about O.pen VAPE.
"In 2012 . . . the city of Denver had 1.18 million pot-smoking tourists, before we even legalized pot," co-owner of My 420 Tours Matt Brown informs us as we drive toward Bud Med Health Center in Edgewater. "That's why we set out to do pot tours. Our goal is to provide people with a safe experience, and explain that there are still laws. This isn't some magical Oz where all laws regarding marijuana have been vaporized."
There were as many puns like this tossed around throughout the afternoon as there were complimentary vaporizers. Earlier this year Brown had informed the Huffington Post of his intention to offer DIA travelers curbside pickup from the airport with his party-bus/limousine tours. The experience the tour offers would work well with out-of-towners looking for a first-hand course into the commerce of Colorado cannabis. But for anyone who has lived in the state for more than a year, the average ride on the My 420 Tours would be mostly a rehash (puns!) of common information -- along with a whole encyclopedia of facts about O.pen VAPE. This wasn't the average day with My 420 Tours, though. This was January 1, 2014, the day Colorado implemented the world's first government-regulated laws on legalized marijuana. The event dovetailed awkwardly with New Year's Eve, with many dispensaries opening their doors at 8 a.m. the following morning, greeted by long-lines and an insatiable media circus. When we pulled up to Bud Med at 1:30 p.m. on January 1, lines were stretched clear around the block (we're told Bud Med will be the first marijuana shop to be open until midnight). Would-be patrons complained that they'd been waiting for ninety minutes, and they weren't happy about a party-bus full of reporters and tourists being granted privileged access into the coveted retail shop.
We waited on the bus for My 420 Tours organizers to figure out how to get us inside without inciting a mob. (Readers note: By this time I'd helped myself to a sampler platter of what O.pen VAPE had to offer, and was having mild paranoia that our situation was comparable to the embassy workers in Argo when they were trapped in that van.) The tour ended up being ushered inside in groups of five, though there was so much confusion surrounding the operation my group was never called. Instead my photographer and I remained on the bus talking with O.pen VAPE executive Todd Mitchem.
"I think that we, and our competitors, are part of the solution to the issue of using marijuana in public," Mitchem says, adding that the use of vaporizers on party busses keeps smoke out of the bus and eliminates fears of contact-highs. "If this guy doesn't want to smell pot, and I want to enjoy it, this doesn't intrude on him."
When I ask about his vaporizers being manufactured in China, in contrast to the large portions of the Colorado marijuana industry being a regional economy, Mitchem replies: "In order to do that, we need to make the manufacturing dollars to make sense. We're investigating how we build a better vaporizer pen in Colorado over the next two years. But the problem is, we're a cannabis-related company. So if I were to go to an investor looking for $100 million to build a manufacturing facility in Colorado, like any other manufacturing enterprise, the minute they see that we're associated with cannabis, it makes it harder to get the investment." After a few more rounds of THC samplers and conversation about nicotine vaporizers (Mitchem says he has "no desire to be associated with that industry"), the two buses were loaded up and we drove away from Bud Med, headed to the source of O.pen VAPE's oil products, Steele Street Grow.
Boasting an operation of 3800 plants, 25 employees and 130 pounds of marijuana produced each month, Steele Street Grow exists within a converted storage facility and is equipped with a tight set of security regulations. After signing in, Mitchem explained that we would not be allowed to use our vaporizers within the building, adding that the employees of the growhouse would be fired for so much as having a pipe in their pocket.
Being in the presence of that large a volume of cannabis plants was nothing new for any of us who has been covering marijuana cultivation in Colorado -- though I could imagine that anyone from outside of the state would be tickled by the opportunity to instagram a selfie while standing before endless rows of humid marijuana plants sparkling under the grow-lights. As for the Denver residents, many of us had been up all night with New Year's parties, followed by a long day of weed-related events that began at 7:30 a.m. By this point, I really just wanted a beer.
Follow me on Twitter at @JosiahMHesse.