This was not Saeed's first foray into the world of marijuana. He has reported on cannabis policy and culture for Vice since 2012. In addition to his work as a producer on Viceland, he also hosts Bong Appetit, a series about cannabis edibles.
Westword asked Saeed and Cooper about tonight's episode and their thoughts on marijuana legalization.
Westword: What made Viceland decide to visit Denver and discuss the legalization of marijuana on the show?
Abdullah Saeed: I've reported on cannabis for Vice and other outlets since 2012, and I've been to Colorado many times for stories, but my co-hosts Wilbert and Martina had never been to a weed-legal state. I wanted to show them a little bit of my world, so we passed through Denver, stayed at a bud-and-breakfast, and got a tour of my friend Kayvan's grow and dispensary.
Wil Cooper: The prohibition of marijuana in the U.S. has done insurmountable damage to the lives of Americans. It's directly related to our country's issues with mass incarceration, which impacts all Americans, but especially those in the black community. What I was interested in seeing when we came to Denver was how this new industry could turn something that has been so disastrous for our country and its people into a resource for tax revenue, a space for innovation, and a catalyst for entrepreneurship.
What did you learn during your visit to the Denver Relief grow operation?
Saeed: The three of us spoke with Kayvan about the evolving cannabis regulation in Colorado, and why Colorado is a perfect environment for the robust cannabis economy that exists there. It has a strong and well-regulated medical marijuana program, and it seems that regardless of their varied political leanings, Coloradans approach the idea of legalization with a sense of pragmatism. It's still a young industry and will surely evolve more in the coming years, but so far, it's proving to be the best example of what a legal cannabis economy should look like.
Cooper: It was really inspiring to see a brown brother taking part in the legal business of weed. Although people of color have helped pave the way for the normalization of cannabis culture in America, we've also paid the price. And what troubles me about legalization is that most of the people making money off of this new industry do not come from the lower-income, black and brown communities that were hit hardest by prohibition. Kayvan Khalatbari's place in the industry is an important one, because hopefully he can inspire other people of color to take advantage of this new economic opportunity. And, because he is well versed in the troubling racial history of cannabis, he can use his business to bring more people into the fold who would otherwise be left out.
Were you surprised at all by the operation? If so, what surprised you?
Saeed: I've had the pleasure of visiting a lot of cannabis grows and dispensaries as a correspondent for Vice, many of them in Colorado. So there were no surprises for me, but I really took pleasure in Wilbert and Martina's wide-eyed enjoyment in Denver Relief's lovely finishing room.
Cooper: I was really surprised at how beautiful the flowers were and how fragrant they smelled. It's an incredible experience to be surrounded by such wonderful plants and to see such innovative scientific processes at work. The whole experience of visiting the grow had a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory vibe to it. I was in awe.
How is the legalization process in Colorado different from what you were expecting?
Saeed: Every time I return to Denver, the industry is running a bit tighter. Cannabis edibles have changed so much since recreational sales began. Products that used to have minimal and sometimes inaccurate dosage information on them have been replaced by extensively detailed packaging. And I'm pretty sure the weed is getting better. Not to say that Colorado didn't have great weed before, and perhaps it's my optimistic imagination, but I feel like it's better every time I go.
How do you hope this episode will impact the national conversation around legalization?
Saeed: I hope that people will see that there is a way to responsibly regulate, cultivate and consume cannabis, and that the admonishing mentality that persisted throughout the years of prohibition is completely obsolete. I also want people to see that people of minority backgrounds can and should participate in legal cannabis. Kayvan is a great example of that, and I hope he inspires more brown and black people to take advantage of an industry that is rising from the ashes of their persecution, a long and horrific wave of injustice that continues to this day, even in states that have enacted cannabis reform. Weed is for everyone in every way, and it should benefit everyone in every way.
You can watch Vice Does America on Viceland.com. This is the second episode of the series; new episodes premiere Wednesdays at 10 p.m.