Packaged recreational marijuana

(Photo: CPR/Shanna Lewis)

Colorado has become synonymous with pot since the legal sale of retail marijuana went into effect on January 1.

The state has endured its share of late-night TV jokes and even some comments from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  

So, has Colorado’s image taken a hit (no pun intended)? We turn to our Public Insight Network for answers.

Roger Sanders, who builds high-quality audio equipment in his garage in Conifer, says that he doesn’t smoke pot but still believes that marijuana legalization was the right thing to do.

“The fact is people do use drugs,” Sanders says. “If they’re going to do it, then they need to do it in a controlled and responsible way.”

He also took a jab at Christie, who recently questioned Colorado’s quality of life on a radio show in his home state.

 “I think that the quality of life in Colorado is far better than that in New Jersey,” Sanders says. “There are going to be people who disapprove, and they’re going to make jokes about it. Let them make jokes about it – doesn’t bother me.” 

Of the nearly 50 listeners that responded to CPR’s Public Insight Network questionnaire, the majority didn’t think Colorado’s image has suffered. Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University recently released a poll that found a majority of residents say "marijuana has been good for Colorado." 

Those residents include John Godzac, a retired contract manager who lives in Denver. Godzac voted for legalization and he still thinks it was the right thing to do.  

But Godzac got a taste of how the state’s image has changed when he was in Ohio recently and saw a Kia commercial, where two stoners wanted to trade in a car.

“The dealer told them not to worry, it was worth cash on a down payment for a new Kia, and they gave each other a high five and said, 'Cool, man, now we can go to Colorado,'” Godzac says. “So perhaps the image has suffered, I’m not sure then.”

What really worries Godzac, however, is how people perceive Colorado after mass shootings at Columbine High School and a movie theater in Aurora.

“That was a terrible blow to the Colorado image,” Godzac says. “My friends would ask me: ‘What’s going on in Colorado? Does everybody wear guns?’”

He has to convince them Colorado really is a safe place to live. And that, he says, matters more to the state’s image than pot shops.

Michael Dinneen of Denver says people from outside the state used to talk with him about Colorado’s natural beauty, its mountains and world-class skiing. Now, all of the talk is about marijuana.

“It seems to be the only topic that people want to talk about,” Dinneen says. “How many dispensaries are open, and pot shops? And are there really more stores that are selling marijuana than there are Starbucks?”

Dinneen admits he has developed a strong point of view as an addiction counselor. But still, he used to be proud of Colorado’s image as an extremely healthy state. “That I think is going to be diminished as a result, pot is going to overshadow that,” Dinneen notes.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is sensitive to those concerns, but he’s confident marijuana will not define Colorado.

“Denver and Colorado are not Amsterdam, we never will be Amsterdam,” Hancock says. “We’re going to do everything we can to continue to protect and to fine tune our brand and who we are.”

Hancock recently returned from Amsterdam and reiterates his support for banning the kind of smoking bars that define that city.  

If there is a negative image, businesses relocating to Colorado don’t seem to care. 

“I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s just not come up,” Ken Lund, executive director of Colorado’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade, says.

Lund reports getting more interest than ever from businesses looking to expand or relocate to Colorado and he says marijuana is not a factor.

“They might kid us a little bit about it here and there,” Lund says. “But it doesn’t show up in any RFPs that we’ve answered, it doesn’t show up in any substantive meeting where they ask us a question of it.”

Lund says it’s Colorado’s quality of life, access to the mountains and educated workforce that are the real driving factors.