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Collecting the History of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado
January marked the fifth anniversary of the legal commercial sale of recreational marijuana in Colorado. Passed by ballot initiative on November 6, 2012, Amendment 64 legalized the private consumption of marijuana in Colorado and it was officially added to the state’s constitution on December 10, 2012. That same day Governor John Hickenlooper signed an executive order calling for a task force to resolve any legal and policy concerns. As a result of Hickenlooper’s order the first marijuana stores didn’t open until January 1, 2014, when the Colorado Retail Marijuana Code was enacted.
History Colorado has been actively acquiring objects and seeking donations related to the legalization of cannabis in the state as part of a contemporary collecting initiative to document and preserve this historic event for future Coloradans. Items collected so far range from water pipes to western wear to documentary films.
One of the oldest marijuana-related items in History Colorado’s collection is the very first drug stamp issued by the Colorado Department of Revenue in 1989. A number of states issued “drug tax stamps” such as this one in the 1980s to collect tax-related fines from individuals illegally selling marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Such taxes proved hard to enforce as courts cited them as being in violation of Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and because the requirement to purchase tax stamps for illegal products would most certainly alert drug enforcement officials to one’s nefarious activity. Woody Paige, writer for The Denver Post purchased this stamp that he later donated to History Colorado. In an article published on January 6, 1989, Paige explained: “I just bought the first marijuana stamp in the history of Colorado. . . . Under a new state law, the Revenue Department began selling drug stamps this week. A green stamp for an ounce of marijuana is a $100 tax, and each red cocaine stamp costs a whopping $1,000. There is no taxation on heroin.”
Several items in History Colorado’s collection came from the “World’s First Pot Pavilion” at the Denver County Fair in August 2014. In addition to cannabis vendors, smoking paraphernalia displays were on view and related events featured joint-rolling, marijuana plant-growing, and pot-brownie baking competitions. While the Pot Pavilion didn’t endure past its inaugural year, its mere existence marked an important milestone regarding cannabis legalization in the state. History Colorado collected promotional materials advertising the Pot Pavilion and one item currently on view in the exhibition Zoom In: The Centennial State in 100 Objects, the Dinky Oil Rig, a limited-edition 2014 Denver County Fair Pot Pavilion water pipe.
Even Rockmount Ranch Wear joined in the enthusiasm surrounding the passage of Amendment 64. Started in Denver in the 1940s, the label gained fame for its pearl snap shirts that became popular for celebrities and enthusiasts of western Americana. In celebration of the Colorado constitutional amendment to decriminalize recreational marijuana use, Rockmount produced a marijuana-themed clothing line between 2014 and 2015. The label generously donated a women’s-fit dress shirt from the “cannabis cowgirl” collection to History Colorado. The garment features bright green embroidered nine-point marijuana leaves set starkly against a field of black cotton fabric.
Growing Reason, added to History Colorado’s permanent collection in spring 2019, documents the advocacy movement for the legalization of cannabis for adult recreation through the lens of political advocates. Narrated by one of the film’s directors, Hunter Bradshaw, the documentary features personal stories of how cannabis impacts the lives of Coloradans and interviews with cannabis industry insiders such as dispensary owners and the Marijuana Industry Group as well as government officials including Colorado State Representatives Jonathan Singer and Frank McNulty. Bradshaw produced the feature-length documentary with a small budget after being approached by a group of recent film graduates from the University of Kansas interested in documenting the first several months of legal cannabis in Colorado. Filmed in over 90 locations from January to August 2014, Growing Reason was completed just in time to be entered into the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
This sampling of items relating the history of marijuana legalization in Colorado represents a minuscule amount of the story. History Colorado focuses on contemporary collecting that includes acquiring post-1935 materials that represent people, places, ideas, and subjects critical to shaping who we are and what we value today, and what will interest Coloradans in the future. With the help of Coloradans, History Colorado hopes to further the history of the state’s cannabis story. If interested in donating cannabis-related materials please fill out a donation form or call 303-866-2306.