The Feeling of Freedom in Colorado

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel June 1, 2015

    Having just spent the last few days attending the annual NORML Aspen Legal Seminar, I wanted to share some observations about the experience of spending time in a state that no longer cares if I smoke marijuana or not. And as you might expect, it feels wonderful.

    No longer must I deal with the fear of being arrested and jailed — treated like some dangerous or undesirable person who needs to be restrained to protect the good citizens who do not smoke. That, obviously, is the most important change.

    Second, I no longer have to deal with the uncertainties and dangers of engaging with those who risk serious prison time to sell marijuana on the totally unregulated black market. Over the years most of us identify those “in the business” whom we like and can trust, and we do our best to nourish those “connections” and to extend them as long as possible. But we always know that should the police raid our connection at the time we are conducting our business, we too will likely end up being hauled off to jail; or should our connection be robbed by some thug looking for an easy score, or some peeved competitor looking to settle a score, while we are buying our weed, we too are in harms way.

    And when those carefully nurtured relationships ultimately ended, because the connection decided to get out of the business, or moved away, or, God forbid, got busted, we would then have to start the process of identifying a good, reliable source of high quality marijuana all over again.

    In Colorado their are hundreds of licensed dispensaries — six in the rather small town of Aspen — and they compete for our business, leaving us free to compare costs and quality and to purchase our favorite intoxicant in a professional setting that is comfortable and safe.

    Third, I know when I buy recreational marijuana in Colorado (ironically medical pot in this state does not have to be tested), it has been tested for unhealthy molds and pesticides and labelled to let me know the strength of the product before I use it. No more buying a new ounce of pot only to find it causes me to sneeze every time I take a hit, or that is really only cheap “dirt weed” that hardly even gets me high, for which I paid a premium price. No more “let the buyer beware.” In Colorado, the consumer is now provided the information to make an informed decision.

    But there are also other less obvious benefits that legalized marijuana brings to those of us who smoke. Most importantly, we are no longer seen as deviants by our friends and neighbors and co-workers. This cultural change is almost tangible once a state removes the laws that define marijuana smokers as criminals. Just as criminal penalties reinforce the feeling that there must be something wrong with smoking and with those of us who smoke (otherwise, why would “they” make it a crime), ending marijuana prohibition reinforces the feeling that there is nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana and nothing wrong with those of us who smoke.

    That feeling of cultural acceptance and approval — I’m okay; you’re okay — was palpable at our recent seminar and related social events, whether at the private smoking area at the hotel, at the lovely home of Chris and Gerry Goldstein, or at the hallowed ground known as Owl Farm where the late Hunter S. Thompson lived and thrived. We proudly smoked marijuana with our professional colleagues and friends, and were empowered by the experience. We were both enjoying the marijuana high and exercising our hard-won personal freedom.

    I sometimes say “I smoke pot and I like it a lot”. But what I like even more is the feeling of acceptance and approval by, and inclusion in, the mainstream American culture for those of us who smoke, a change that seems to occur almost immediately following legalization. The tension between those who smoke and those who don’t is replaced by the recognition we all have much in common, and our choice of intoxicants is largely irrelevant.

    So yes, the feeling of freedom in Colorado is especially wonderful to those of us who smoke marijuana; but legalization also appears to be having a salutary effect on our friends and neighbors and co-workers who do not smoke, as well. Respecting personal freedom works for everyone.

    27 responses to “The Feeling of Freedom in Colorado”

    1. Miles says:

      Great Article Keith!!!

      Your words ring true on so many levels.

      I fully intend to move from Virginia within the next two years, if the laws aren’t changed to something that makes sense, to somewhere I can live my life in a place where I don’t need to be in constant fear of law enforcement enforcing their idiotic laws; probably Colorado…

      It really pisses me off that most Virginia legislators cling to the 1930’s reefer madness agenda. If I could, I would throw about 90% of them out onto the street (or maybe even in prison since that is what they do to us) for continuing to support their totally failed drug policies.

    2. Julian says:

      Thanks Keith for reminding us in states still struggling what we are fighting for. It sounds like heaven to me.

      Here in Texas today, the governor is due to sign a CBD only bill. A small victory for standards in Colorado but a great one on the Federal level as the Texas legislature admits marijuana, even with only %.5 of THC, is medicine. But also because this new federal amendment that provides access to marijuana for our veterans with PTSD coincides with the population of Texas weighing in on marijuana’s medical efficacy.
      Next stop, legalize California.

      [Paul Armentano responds: The bill in question mandates a doctor’s ‘prescription’ — not a recommendation, thus making the proposed law change moot. This drafting error was pointed out to lawmakers on many occasions but was ignored.]

    3. lockedoutofmyshed says:

      Thank you Keith for an awesome visual thru your writing. My god, I cannot imagine the peace that must be felt by those who can consume in total freedom. it especially touches me because I have not been (allowed) to consume for six years and three months and three days in order to keep a good job, ( and a retirement). I was 32 years a consumer up to that point and it was a way of life for me.i appreciate your words and normls collective efforts to further legalization for the remedy. good day to you all!

    4. Fireweed says:

      I was there last September and felt the same peace of mind and freedom to be myself. It felt like being gay and coming out of the closet. In fact there are social parallels to that. Like Keith pointed out also, you can go into a store-that you know is going to be there and not just disappear like some connects do-and choose your strain. no more just take what you get cause that’s all the dealer has and he doesn’t know what kind it is beyond “I think it’s ‘medical.'” I’ve had the good fortune of getting good stuff from my dude lately and I’m happy with that. I’d just be happier with having a choice and having this whole situation take place above ground.

    5. Becky Olkowski says:

      Thank you for writing this. I too am inspired and frustrated as well across so many levels so am turning to take action by becoming involved with my local Norml organization.

    6. Julian says:


      I know, it sucks that the language of the bill impedes access by making doctors, hospitals and clinics liable for federal prosecution, but the fact that the Texas legislature and governor just signed approval that marijuana is medicine has a quantitative effect at the Federal level, influencing Congressional negotiations over the pending amendment providing veterans with access to marijuana through the VA.
      More importantly Paul, You can now use this law as evidence in the appeal for any judicial case questioning the Constitutionality of the CSAct which still states that marijuana has no medical efficacy.

    7. Chris says:

      I live in Washington state and love going to the recreational stores and being able to choose any strain I’m in the mood for and knowing the exact THC levels down to the hundredth of a percent and not having to wait around for sketchy dealers. This law already saved me as I was smoking with some friends and the cops showed up where I was (they thought my friends were trying to break into a car when in reality they had just locked themselves out of their own car)and they clearly smelled it as there were 5 of us who had been taking bong rips for hours in a small apartment) and weed and bongs in clear view. No one was arrested for the car incident either in case anyone is wondering,

    8. Better to call cannabis an alterant than an intoxicant. It has zero toxicity.

    9. Bob Constantine says:

      With all due respect, what you have described Keith is the exercise of a government granted privilege, rather than the exercise of a right. There is a significant difference.

      If consuming pot were a right, a coercive third party (the state) would not be involved at all. Obviously the state IS involved and has set boundaries for the amount a person can grow and possess. As well, in order to exercise this granted privilege the state enforces a system of bribery, ie, you must give the bully your milk money or get punched in the stomach.

      If you step outside the lines they have painted, you can and will be arrested. The “weed” is not freed as long it is “permitted” by the state on a granted permission basis.

    10. Galileo Galilei says:


      You said it all, man. Thanks for all your efforts through the years