For this extra-scary edition of Colorado Cannabis Time Capsule, we bring you a story that is strangely similar to one we're living right now: the fear that kids are sneaking pot edibles and getting intoxicated right under our noses!
Then, like now, the story was largely the product of a prohibitionist's imagination. Namely, Denver's Alva A. Swain, owner of the Eagle Valley Enterprise and author of this March 22, 1935 column.
Swain was a newspaperman (a title one could still actually hold back in the 1920s), and a prominent one at that. According to his biography in an old Colorado history book, Swain was a lunger who came out to Denver in an effort to save his own life. Once here, he became entrenched in society and eventually owned numerous papers around the state from which he could wield his influence. He was also apparently on a "secret advisory board" for every Colorado governor from 1900 until at least the 1920s, when the biography was penned.
He was also a raving teetotaler who hated booze and any other intoxicating substance, judging by his 1935 rant against the Colorado Liquor Control Board. It seems Swain was still sore from prohibition being recalled in 1932. Fun fact: Colorado was the first state to say to hell with prohibition. We were also the first to implement it, so it kind of balances out, I guess. (We were also among the first states to start the prohibition of cannabis and the first to end it by legalizing limited amounts in 2012, but you all know that by now.)
Back to our story: Swain was clearly very upset about what he saw as the moral breakdown of Denver by means of the bottle -- and he wasn't above a few tall tales to further his cause. Sadly, his gripes mimic a lot of the crap that cannabis prohibitionists claim today -- like that the booze they legalized in 1935 was much stronger than the "light wines and beers" of days gone by and that "wets" (drinkers) sneaked in whiskey, gin and spirits under everyone's noses. Sort of like how SMART Colorado loves to claim that people voted to legalize marijuana, not high-strength concentrates, edibles and bud in the 20 percent THC range.
In fact, Swain claims that our anti-saloon laws were meant to prevent the sale of hard liquors by banning saloons. Instead (as we all know today), bars started serving food to get around it and Colorado became a "wet" state again. It's why even the dive-iest of dive bars in Denver has a rack of chips behind the bar to sell to customers. (We're pretty sure everyone who voted knew that would happen except him.)
It also meant the downfall of the local druggists, who apparently gave into temptation and began selling booze as well. And bartenders with licenses to only serve beer were apparently taking liberties and serving "rotgut" whisky.
And not just serving, but serving it to kids.
And those kids weren't just drinking it. Oh no.
They were putting the marijuanas in it!
Yes, apparently the same mythical edibles makers that are marketing to children were already in business in Denver back in 1935 and had figured out a way to make a dissolving marijuana tablet for kids. Or, at least that happened in Swain's mind.
His answer to all of this was to revert back to prohibition, allowing only "light" wine and 3.2 percent beer to be sold so that the "sixty-five percent" of the state that he said didn't drink could go back to living their peaceful lives. In fact, he claimed that the state would be dry again by 1938.
Especially if he could help it with columns like his.
We'd say Swain's ideas and propaganda went to the grave with him in Fairmount circa 1953 -- though Colorado was left with some pretty strange blue laws because of people like him that still endure today. Yes, Swain's legacy can be found in each and every single 3.2 percent beer still being sold in Colorado grocery stores and the fear-mongering of the Denver Police and SMART Colorado.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.