Three years after his murder, memories of Ken Gorman -- Colorado's most vocal pot activist -- have gone up in smoke

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"When we went out to eat, he would leave a joint as a tip," she says. "I was like 'Uh, Dad?'.... He was just always kind of the prankster."

Kennedy, with whom Gorman remained close, says he had "a bigger cause than his family." As Gorman's libertarian-bent interest in politics grew stronger, he found family in other places. He would later tell his "disciples," as marijuana activists who knew him coined his followers, that Reagan sparked his activism.

"If paper cups were illegal, he would have fought for paper cups," Valency says. "Not a lot of people got that. They got all caught up in marijuana, but that didn't come until later."

He would eventually become something of a celebrity wherever he went. And, as his family puts it, "he loved the attention."

A 1984 black-and-white photo in the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier sums up Gorman. It accompanied a page-one story about area tribes hosting raucous demonstrations to protest the government's ambivalence after a string of violent attacks on the helpless lower class. In the picture, Gorman is seen leading the natives, wearing flip-flops and smoking something that resembles a cigarette.

After Reagan fired him, Gorman moved to Papua New Guinea to recruit citizens of the largely tribal country to attend Western schools. And in just a couple of years, he managed to become a voicebox for a rebellion of the indigenous people. But in 1985, he was arrested and kicked off the island.

The next seven years of Gorman's life are suspect, even to his family. According to a Boulder Weekly article, he spent that time living in the Philippines, East Asia and back in Papua New Guinea, where he found work negotiating trade agreements between that country and China. Even his family isn't sure what he was up to during that time.

Gorman finally returned to Colorado in 1992 to work as a door-to-door salesman for Video Professor and fell in with the resistance to the war on drugs.

He read The Emperor Wears No Clothes, by the late pot activist and author Jack Herer, which details the popular suspicion that big oil profiteers and racists pulled the strings on drug prohibition — required reading for any wisecracking pothead with a penchant for heretical disobedience. The book inspired and enraged Gorman and marked a turning point in his life.

Gorman began to organize "smoke-ins" at the state Capitol, where folks of all ages would gather on the last Saturday of every month to smoke pot. Some of these events grew to include more than a thousand people, in part because Gorman would pass out free joints, bongs and other swag, even if it got him arrested — something he expected, even wanted. And with a rap sheet that includes more than a dozen drug, trespassing and public-consumption charges, he got his wish. It gained him the adoration of his smoke-in devotees, many of whom were young men and drug-dealing gang members he befriended and brought into his inner circle.

But what was perhaps most impressive about the smoke-ins was the fact that they all took place in broad daylight, at "high noon," in front of police and state politicians — something that was absolutely unheard of at the time.

That sort of radical thinking often landed Gorman in the news, and the media covered his exploits with interest and apprehension. Take an early-'90s segment from KUSA Channel 9, which showcased Arvada's Beverly Kinard, the leader of Drug Watch Colorado. Kinard told the station that after she testified at the Capitol in opposition to a bill that would have loosened control of hemp — a non-narcotic byproduct of cannabis plants — Gorman called her. "He was, in my opinion, hostile," she told viewers. "He used so many four-letter words. He used a lot of innuendos about a lot of things."

And what did Gorman have to say for himself, Channel 9 asked? "I hope she did feel harassed by it," Gorman said, smiling goofily at the camera.

At the time, Gorman ran a phone-message hotline called "Asshole of the Week," in which he would rant about the latest opponent to the legalization of marijuana or whoever else got his goat (this was before the Internet became the primary means of getting the word out). In one installment, he gave out Kinard's home phone number.

"The industrial-hemp bill is dead," Gorman said into the tape with the broadcasting prowess of a former air traffic controller. "It was killed by the queen bitch asshole of the year: Beverly J. Kinard. This shithead told just about every lie there can be told about marijuana." The television package censored the profanities, of course.

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J. David McSwane
Contact: J. David McSwane