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DENVER -- Wait. Does that glittering stadium really look like a just-landed spaceship under a blueberry sky? Or is that just because, well, y’know. ...
I’m standing in a parking lot overlooking the stadium known prosaically as Sports Authority and poetically as Mile High. That handle is metaphorically apt, too, as I’m engaged in the all-American sport of tailgating, with Corey and the Wookie and four friends.
They’ve got the requisite awning next to their pickup truck, a grill and sweet microbrews. And they have stuffed righteous-smelling marijuana — the sativa variety — in a pipe that is detailed with a neat little Denver Broncos insignia.
The tall, red-bearded professional chef with excellent shades who insists his friends know him as the Wookie fires up the pipe and, amid clouds, talks legalized weed and the world that has followed on its heels. “Why do you think Peyton Manning invested in pizza places after legalization? Boom! Stoners love pizza.”
We hear the trill of an ice cream truck.
“Oh, man. I really need strawberry shortcake.” The Wookie jumps to his feet and with three bounds reaches the truck. “Catch you later, man.”
O.K., then. To toasted we can add baked.
Herbaceous tailgating, truth be told, is in its infancy. The Mile High Cannabis dispensary stands across the street from the stadium, and watching its game-day traffic of orange-clad customers calls to mind the week leading up to Christmas. “We’re glad to do our part in getting people amped for the game,” says budtender Erin Catalano.
The hipper sections of Denver are chockablock with allow-us-to-alter-you shops.
But the Broncos, following in the prim footsteps of the N.F.L., have taken a position of sniffy disapproval. Go to the team’s website under the heading of marijuana. “Any form of marijuana consumption,” it says, “is prohibited on Sports Authority Field at Mile High property during public events, including in stadium parking lots.” That goes for edibles; you must leave the gummy bears at home.
The N.F.L. insists it is enforcing Colorado law. Whatever. The Colorado Symphony has taken a laid-back path of no resistance whatsoever. It has “Classically Cannabis: The High Note Series.”
(This is not to argue that all has gone well with legalization. Meth heads have embraced the herb and hash oil explosions have become a clear and present danger in Colorado, proving that stupidity grows apace with social change.)
Less comprehensible is why the N.F.L., that most gladiatorial of our major sports, continues to embrace reefer madness. It tests for pot in infinitesimal quantities and suspends repeat offenders for entire seasons.
And society marches in the opposite direction. The two teams that competed in last year’s Super Bowl hailed from the two states where recreational marijuana is legal. The president of the United States has acknowledged inhaling (“That was the point,” he noted sensibly).
In the inevitable confessional aside, I attest that in the distant past my Mets sometimes looked better under herbaceous influence. That outfield, it just radiated green. ...
Where was I?
A linebacker in Colorado can limp into the locker room with dislocated fingers, twisted ligaments and bruises like leprosy splotches. He will get legally shot up and prescribed various and many opiates.
Or he can grab a 12-pack of the N.F.L.’s official beer and drink himself into sweet oblivion.
But if he goes home and dips into his legal stash of cannabis indica and dozes off in front of his television? He is a threat to American sport, not to mention that one-armed bandit of an industry known as the N.F.L.
The players union is trying to force the league to negotiate a more sane policy on marijuana as part of a new drug testing program.
Colorado fans, let it be said, do not put herb in your face. No one gets gnarly.
“A joint?” Nick, a 20-something who prefers not to give his last name, looks at me. He’s standing under a small aspen, in a mellow partying fashion. “I had a joint earlier. It went away.”
I wander over to a Ford pickup truck. Tony Beltrano, long, lean and chill, is sitting on the back with his friend Russell Glass. Does he smoke a joint? Well, it’s not so legal. And ... he stops and looks at me. “If I had one, I’d fire it up right here, man.”
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“Yeah, and I’d hit it too,” says Glass. “Smoke and chillax.”
The fans insist that pot leaves them mellower. They get their orange jerseys and scream fiercely and all that. But this isn’t New York or Philadelphia. Fighting is extremely unchill.
My colleague Ken Belson was in Seattle on Thursday for the Seahawks’ opener. Parking spots there go for $80 a pop, which is a buzz kill itself. And cops enforce the same sanctions against public consumption of weed.
That said, he reported that stoners tended to persevere. The sweet smell of herb mixed with the tang of organic, grass-fed, much-loved cows as they became burgers on the grill. After the game, he shared a Trickster IPA or three, and he reported having to first sweep a few grams of loose buds off his table.
A few days before the game, I dropped by Mile High Cannabis. The manager, Brian Waltman, a gregarious sort, was careful on the subject of the stadium, its parking lots and his customers.
“Now, you can’t use it in the stadium or the parking lot,” he said. “Are they at home on their couch or in the pickup truck in the parking lot? I’m left to believe, well, I’m not sure what I’m left to believe.”
Which brand, I asked, would you recommend? Sativa, he replied. “It’s always good to get people out and walking around and being active, right?”
That’s a fine goal, I agreed.
He let me smell two varieties: Sour Diesel and Golden Goat. Both were lovely. He said he also had the indica strain of cannabis available, but this is what’s known in the business as a “couch diver.” As in, you inhale or imbibe and dive to the couch.
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“Then,” he said, “you fall asleep and miss kickoff.”
That would be a bummer, I replied.
“Yes, a bummer, exactly,” he agreed.