Longform

The life and tragic death of cannabis advocate Jenny Kush

Page 4 of 5

According to Amy Ford, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation, there have been three wrong-way crashes, including the one that killed Kush, in the I-25 HOV lane since that stretch was opened in 2008. Neither of the other accidents were alcohol-related or involved impaired drivers, she says, nor did they result in fatalities. Ford says CDOT was never able to determine exactly where the wrong-way drivers entered the freeway, but she notes that the other two accidents occurred about one mile from the 70th Avenue ramp.

That seems impossible, until you head west over the highway on 70th Avenue. Drivers first pass a dedicated on-ramp for when the HOV lane is open for southbound traffic. If the lane is dedicated to northbound traffic, cones are set out and a gate is lowered further down the ramp. Just past that ramp, about 100 feet or so on the left, is the dedicated off-ramp for northbound HOV traffic. The only things preventing drivers from turning that way are a traffic light and a head-high, two-foot-square sign with an arrow turning right with a red cross through it. There are no full-lane barrier arms that drop when the lane has switched from northbound to southbound traffic. There are no warning lights or even signs on the ramp that would tell drivers they've made a wrong turn. In the dark, even a sober driver could be confused. And a drunk one?

Despite the trio of accidents, "no consideration at this point in time has been given to changing those mechanisms," Ford says in an e-mail.

That's unacceptable to DePinto. While he's not about to excuse Maez for her role in the tragedy, CDOT has created a "fucking death trap," he says, adding that he's surprised more accidents haven't occurred there. He'd like to see not just drawbars and signs, but retractable steel gates timed with the lights.

"Because right now it has cost somebody's life," he says. "And not just a somebody, a huge source of light for a lot of people."

*********

The sad irony of a cannabis activist being killed by a drunk driver is not lost on her friends. While local law enforcement agencies made 1,342 arrests for driving under the influence over the Labor Day period, the statistics do not distinguish between drivers arrested for driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. But anecdotal evidence suggests that by far the majority involved alcohol.

Kush wasn't against alcohol as much as she was for making responsible choices, they say. "Right now what I think is happening is people are vilifying alcohol and drinkers, and that is not what she stands for," Georgia Edson says. "Jeremy and I had a conversation about it. It is about responsible use in whatever substance you choose to use; your personal choices should not get in the way of someone else's personal choices. And that is the crux of what Jenny fought for in all of her activism, particularly being a cannabis activist. It's a personal-freedoms issue. It's all about the fact that adults should be able to make decisions that are right for them. That ends when it becomes wrong for someone else. That is clearly what happened."

DePinto puts it more succinctly: "She always said that if everyone would care about everybody else, you wouldn't have to worry about yourself, because someone would automatically be caring for you."

And judging from the outpouring of grief for Kush and support for her children and DePinto, she was successful in delivering that message.

Since the accident, thousands of people have offered their condolences through e-mail, through Facebook and in person. A celebration of Jenny Kush's life at the HoodLab gallery a few days after her death was packed with people — many of whom said they had never met Kush in person, but that she'd touched their lives in very meaningful ways.

"I think that it is really obvious that she was loved and that she was a magnetic force," says Georgia Edson. "Wednesday night at HoodLab, hundreds of people came. People that Jenny had never met. Jeremy said that 50 percent of the people he hugged he didn't know personally. But it was that important to them to celebrate her."

Numerous other tributes over the past few weeks have remembered Kush. There was a moment of loudness for her at the High Times Seattle Cannabis Cup — because Kush would have liked it better than silence. And the main stage of the Boston Freedom Rally last weekend was named in Kush's honor. Even more appropriate is a soon-to-be-released line of Jenny Kush Kush seeds. Rare Dankness Seeds founder Scott Reach and his wife were good friends of Kush's; Reach says the cross of Amnesia Haze and Kush is his way of keeping her cannabis spirit alive while raising money for her children.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
William Breathes
Contact: William Breathes