Wally Weed and the Early Days in Denver
Not everyone celebrated 2014’s prohibition of recreational marijuana in Colorado. Medical advocates like Greg Duran feared it would open the marketplace up to “Wally Weed.”
“I predicted a long time ago that we’d end up with Wally Weed,” Duran said from Denver on Wednesday. “Wally Weed is like if you were going to buy weed at Wal-Mart, what quality would it be?”
Twenty-year-old patient John Tirrill, who suffered seven concussions while playing football in high school and who now has trouble sleeping, agrees with Duran. He said that when he turns 21 in September, he plans to renew his medical card and stay on that side of the aisle.
In 2003, when Duran and his wife Teri Robnett moved to Denver from Colorado Springs, Duran began medicating with cannabis for vertigo. He said since he began smoking daily, he hasn’t had any recurring episodes.
But the greater realization of cannabis’ medicinal quality came in 2011, when Robnett, who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in her late 20s, began having serious complications from the pharmaceutical drugs she had been prescribed. The couple made the decision to eliminate all pharmaceuticals.
“We decided that everything that she was taking for her fibromyalgia was basically trash,” Duran said. “We made a conscious decision to get completely off pharmaceuticals using marijuana.”
Both Robnett and Duran had experience researching medical cannabis. A few years prior, the couple had occupied a 6,000-square-foot building at 2040 Arapahoe Street in Denver. Duran ran a pedicab business in the back of the building, while Robnett ran a marketing operation in the front. A series of financial hardships followed, however, and the couple was forced to lease half the space.
The person who came to rent the space was Josh Stanley, the controversial character behind Charlotte’s Web, a strand of marijuana that’s high on CBD content and low on THC content. The strand, which was breeded by Stanley and his four brothers, was named after Charlotte Figi, a 5-year-old who experienced a severe reduction in epileptic seizures after consuming the strand
(Josh Stanley and brother analyzing cannabis plants)
Moving into the couple’s space, Stanley opened one of downtown Denver’s first large dispensaries, which was named Budding Health. Robnett signed on to help with communications and organizing doctors’ appointments up front, while Duran maintained the pedicab operation in the back. What Duran witnessed in those days was a growing industry without much regulation.
“Those days, people would just carry gym bags full of weed, and they would just buy it California-style across the counter,” he said.
Around the same time, Duran held a side job building infrared spectrometers. He became involved at the dispensary and started understanding cannabinoid profiles and the relationship between THC and CBD. On a basic level, THC acid is what’s found in a raw cannabis plant. Once the plant is brought to a certain temperature — through burning, heating or cooking — the acid becomes THC delta-9. That ingredient is what stimulates a euphoric high when cannabis is consumed.
When Robnett began having complications with her prescriptions for fibromyalgia, the couple started traveling around the state in a motorhome. They spoke with other people who medicated using cannabis. Driving to places like Fort Collins and Greeley, the couple talked to dispensers and friends, and the result was a success.
“My wife had a lot of success on what her decision was, and she’s off all her pharmaceuticals at this point,” Duran said. “She uses all versions of weed: smoking, edibles, oil, just whatever.”
Before their research expanded, Duran and Robnett kept busy with the pedicab-marketing operation on Arapahoe Street. It wasn’t until the Great Recession hit that the pedicab business started to slow and the couple met Stanley. At that point, there were about 12 medical dispensers in downtown Denver and a few on the periphery. Most of the shops were hole-in-the-wall type places, Duran said, and Denver had never seen anything like Stanley’s operation.
The unsophisticated business of buying in bulk using duffle bags continued until 2011, when Colorado implemented House Bill 1284 Senate Bill 109. Those pieces of legislation regulated and legitimized medical cannabis, by tightening licensing requirements and cracking down on doctors signing illegitimate cannabis recommendations. While proponents claimed the medical industry became harder to abuse, critics argued that the new rules were too restrictive. For them, these measures were going to drive pot shops out of business and cause cannabis patients to seek underground supply.
A natural transition for the couple has been to move into politics. Their first taste of it came with the crafting of legislation for impaired-driving infractions associated with marijuana. Activists sought the couple out in influencing the legislation. Duran contends that there is no relationship between cannabinoids and the ability to drive. A recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration seems to support that claim, with the conclusion that cannabis consumption is not linked to probability of car accidents.
“That’s how we got into politics,” Duran said.
Duran said he started using cannabis while in high school in Colorado Springs, a town largely driven by military operations. Because of the military connection, Duran said he was able to get quality bud. The supply came from Asia, he said, which allowed access to Acapulco Gold and anything else from the Pacific Rim. He said he smoked “a shit-load of weed” back then and into college, and there were only two marijuana options: good and bad.
“I didn’t know anything about weed other than smoking good shit,” Duran said. “It was two grades: something and good shit.”
Robnett now leads the organization Cannabis Patients Alliance with the help of Duran. The group is made up of parents, businesses and caregivers, and they advocate for medical patients on various issues. Their focus is to enable patients in having safe, legal and affordable access to medical marijuana.