This summer, a production crew from VICE was in the Mile High City filming an episode for the series Weediquette about the relationship between the growth of the cannabis industry and Denver’s affordable-housing and homelessness crises.
“Dank New World" will air Tuesday, October 24, at 8:30 p.m. on the VICELAND channel. You can also catch the episode on the VICELAND website.
Westword was provided with an advance screening of the episode; we also spoke with Weediquette host Krishna Andavolu. Here's our take.
First of all, this is not a Ken Burns-length documentary. At only 22 minutes, VICE’s piece tries to cover a lot of ground with fast-paced editing. Contrary to what some social-media posts and homeless advocates in Denver this past week have suggested, this is also not an in-depth documentary about Denver’s homeless sweeps. That has to do, in part, with Weediquette’s focus on marijuana and the cannabis industry.
The sweeps — and the viral videos of blankets being confiscated by cops last winter — are mentioned for about five minutes. There is also a notable appearance by attorney Jason Flores-Williams, who is leading the class action lawsuit against the city over the sweeps in federal court (the last pre-trial hearing for that is coming up on November 8, by the way), and Flores-Williams has some typically provocative things to say about Denver violating the constitutional rights of the homeless and allowing gentrification by rubber-stamping development across the city.
But just because the episode doesn’t center around the homeless sweeps doesn’t mean it isn’t revealing or worth your time.
The main narrative follows a young couple from Iowa, Trey and Brianna, who move with their daughter to Denver with little to no money. Trey tries to find a job in the cannabis industry. Without giving away any spoilers, let’s just say that the couple struggles to make a new life in Denver, where rents are on the rise.
“What we were taken with was how [Trey and Brianna’s] dreams were dreams that I think we all have, and as newcomers to a city of young people who are all trying to stake out their own individual lives, the barriers to getting there were really high," explained Andavolu after I watched the episode.
"The reason we wanted to do this episode was because the ideas of inequity and of inequality…seem to playing out in Denver,” he continued. “There's also new American identities coming from Denver’s [growth] — and after rebuilding from 2008, it seems like a lot of people are being left out of that pie. So our thesis going in was, 'Hey, how does the cannabis industry relate to that phenomenon?'"
Another goal of the episode: to explore the myth of homelessness being caused by the growth of the cannabis industry.
[Below is a trailer for all of season 3 of Weediquette, including some footage from the Denver episode.]
During our conversation, Andavolu cited the hack-job piece that Bill O’Reilly did in 2014 called “Stoned Homeless in Colorado” — a sensational Fox segment that we’ve written about before, too.
"I don't think there's that direct connection — that because cannabis is doing well now there's homelessness in Denver,” said Andavolu. “But it's hard to ignore when one kind of prosperity is fostered from a governmental level and another kind of degradation is being ignored or not necessarily given the kind of attention that maybe I think it should."
VICE does get the city’s perspective through an interview with Denver’s director of housing, Erik Soliván, but the episode generally suggests that Denver could be doing a lot more to protect its low-income folks and homeless population as it reaps the benefits from development and growth of industries like tech and cannabis.
As someone who covers these topics frequently for Westword, I still learned a few things from the episode. My assessment: It’s worth your time.