Some of the heavy hitters in the marijuana community celebrated its legalization in Colorado at an event near Woody Creek. The group NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, held a cookout over the weekend at Owl Farm, Hunter S. Thompson’s old homestead. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen was there and filed this report.
From the outset, the cookout looked fairly typical and benign. There was live music, burgers on the grill, and families around picnic tables. But, the celebrated guest of honor was marijuana and thanks to its legalization in Colorado, pot was out in the open.
"This is a sea change to have a chance to do this outdoors, nobody’s worried about getting arrested. Maybe Amendment 64 was our Gettysburg (laughs) and we’re the north. Maybe this is where the tide turns," said Denver attorney Phil Cherner.
He was one of about 150 guests. Anita Thompson, Hunter S. Thompson’s widow organized the party at Owl Farm, just outside Woody Creek. Thompson famously championed marijuana and others drugs and alcohol. Since his death nearly a decade ago, she’s been determined to keep parts of the house looking the same as they did when Thompson was alive. We sat down in the kitchen.
"Right here where you’re sitting is where Hunter sat. He typed here with these keys...the same remote control, the same TV. It’s his “cat-bird” seat, as he called it. It brings me comfort to have it as it was, as he left it," she says.
Thompson was a counterculture icon and author who invented Gonzo journalism. He lived at Owl Farm for nearly four decades. In the lower part of the house, called the “war room,” he wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and, in 1970, started his campaign for Pitkin County Sheriff. Years later, he took his own life at Owl Farm. Now, his ashes are buried on a mesa just above the house.
"Hunter had an interesting view of legalization of marijuana, he had an unorthodox view," says Anita Thompson.
She says her late husband would be happy with Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana. He advocated for decriminalization and didn’t want to see marijuana commercialized. Thompson says he also would have been surprised.
"I don’t think he expected it to be this potent. Any worries he had that pot might become less potent or the quality might go down, I don’t think he had to worry about."
Hunter Thompson was an early advisory board member for NORML. Keith Stroup founded the organization in the early 1970’s and he befriended Thompson around the same time.
"I met him in 1972 at the Democratic National Convention. We actually smoked a joint under the bleachers."
Back then, NORML worked on stopping the arrests of those caught with marijuana and connecting those arrested with lawyers. Now that pot is legal in Colorado, the group’s efforts have changed. They’re focused on corporate drug testing and DUID, or Driving Under the Influence of Drugs, issues.
As far as the rollout in the state, Stroup says heavy regulation of recreational marijuana shops is key to get the “bad actors” out of the industry. And, he’s surprised state politicians embraced it so well.
"I think they see it as an opportunity for a new, significant stream of revenue that’s not appreciably different from the revenue they get from alcohol or gambling or other things," he says.
Still, legalization opposition groups say the new industry is ushering in new problems. The New York Times reports some hospitals are treating more and more people sickened by edible marijuana. And, sheriffs in neighboring states are seeing more stoned drivers.
Back at the Farm, the party continues. Hunter Thompson’s fans line up at his front door to take tours of the house. Joe Rogoway is a criminal defense lawyer in California.
"I was a lifelong fan of Hunter S. Thompson and I read all of his books and he was my favorite, he got me through college. And, it’s special to be here right now and get to a place that’s storied. It’s a place I’ve read about for decades and now get to experience personally and I just wish he was here personally because that would be the icing on the cake, obviously."
Thompson’s wife Anita says the late icon was there in spirit, celebrating legalization along with many of those who worked on the issue for years.