When I first met him, in 2006, the man they called Governor Pothead was wearing Vans skate shoes, jeans and a white T-shirt with a large marijuana leaf at its center – not exactly governor material. He strolled into the Village Inn at Alameda and Wadsworth with a nonchalant confidence and a mischievous grin, looking more like a teenager than a sixty-year-old man. I remember his attire because I was a teenager myself, only nineteen, though working as a part-time producer for Denver's CBS affiliate.
He had agreed to meet me under false pretenses.
Working undercover for Channel 4, I had answered a post on the Internet forum Yahooka! from someone calling himself "Governor." The poster had bragged that he could sell weed to anyone, anytime, and that it would be legal. As a college student at Colorado State University who was interested in the subject, I didn't even need a backstory before meeting with Governor, who introduced himself as Ken Gorman.
There was something impressive and bizarre about him. He knew the lingo, he knew the drug laws and, most interestingly, he didn't mind taking time out of his day to meet with a complete stranger, one much younger than he was, to talk about weed. In fact, he seemed thrilled to do so, as he had "hundreds" of times before.
Unbeknownst to him, Gorman told his story into a tiny camera hidden inside the "day planner" I'd laid on the table. He told me how Amendment 20 allowed him to sell weed to more than a hundred people with impunity. More important, he told me I could buy it. All I had to do was say I was sick, maybe asthmatic or just prone to headaches.
"Everyone has a qualifying illness," he said. "It's just a matter of finding it."
But I wanted to know about something else, the part of Amendment 20 that deals with caregivers. Under the law, caregivers can legally possess marijuana as long as they are selling it to patients who possess a state-issued medical marijuana card.
My research had taught me that this was the part of the law that could be the most easily exploited: Establishing complicated networks of patients and caregivers allowed people to buy and sell marijuana to one another and stay legal.
After more than a half-hour of prodding, Gorman grew agitated. He grabbed a patient/caregiver form required by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and scribbled something on it. "There, now you're legal," he said.
Gorman had just designated me, a nineteen-year-old, as his legal caregiver. But then he went on to say that he had dozens of caregivers and more than a hundred patients, many of whom weren't afflicted with anything. "We passed a great, great law," Gorman told me. "There are so many holes in it that for us, the patient, police can't do anything."
Gorman had just confirmed how the pot movement had been using the nebulous language of the voter initiative to pave the way for full legalization.
As Gorman left the restaurant, Channel 4's Rick Sallinger and a cameraman intercepted him for a classic TV confrontation interview. Gorman denied the conversation he'd just had with me, despite the recordings. He had screwed up, and my supervisors were impressed that I'd been able to get the sound bites out of him.
Never camera-shy, Gorman invited Sallinger that same day to tour his home, to shoot video and talk to his patients. Sallinger agreed. I chose not to tag along.
While I thought the story should focus on Amendment 20 and what it could mean for the future of Colorado, it was becoming more of an exposé of Gorman's crazy antics and marijuana exploits. In my view, this was detrimental to the final piece, "Some Coloradans Test Limits of Medical Pot Law," which aired February 11, 2007.
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But many say that the story had much graver consequences. Six days after it was broadcast, Gorman was shot and killed in his home. Gorman's family and many of his friends and associates believe the story is partly to blame.
And while Gorman lived his life among criminals, peddled a high-risk product and dared to flaunt his every move and keep his door unlocked, I can't blame them.
Every single article following his murder spoke of a "young Channel 4 employee who went undercover" and exposed Gorman just before his death. That was me, and I have regretted it ever since.
Gorman knew the risks of his trade. But that doesn't mean I don't feel guilt. And it doesn't mean I don't wonder if he'd still be alive if I hadn't participated in the story.