ASPEN, Colo. — New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd in January checked into the Four Seasons Hotel in Denver and then legally purchased cannabis edibles. Back in the hotel, she took a bite — and so began her night of weirdness.
"I barely made it from the desk to the bed, where I lay curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours," she wrote about five months later. "As my paranoia deepened, I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me."
Dowd's experience as a cannabis tourist has become a cultural touchstone as Colorado and other states proceed in what Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has called "one of the great social experiments of the 21st century."
In Aspen, panellists at a recent conference called Cannabis Grand Cru seemed to agree that despite Dowd's strange night, cannabis legalization has been a good thing. Clearly articulating that viewpoint, according to an Aspen Daily News report, was Joe DiSalvo, the sheriff of Pitkin County.
"Since medical (marijuana), we haven't seen our state fall apart. We don't have holes punched in our moral fiber. Kids aren't running amuck, cars aren't crashing and dogs aren't playing with cats. All of this shit they're afraid of, I'm not sure it's happening," he said.
DiSalvo said that when he got to Aspen in 1980, marijuana was prevalent and pervasive and, in the eyes of himself and other cops, somewhat less of a concern than jaywalking.
"The way we thought about it was, you did it in your home, you didn't do it where you were jeopardizing anybody else's safety. It was a live-and-let-live attitude in this community," he said.
He was quick to note that he was not a proponent of marijuana. Rather, he argued that education is the most important aspect of keeping the industry legitimate and keeping people safe.
Pointedly, according to The Aspen Times, DiSalvo says his soft-stick does not include marijuana shared with children.
"I have no tolerance when there are children involved with marijuana," he said. We're working on a lot of programs with the schools. 'Just Say No' sucked and D.A.R.E. was a horrible failure. I want to help educate teachers and parents when it comes to marijuana and kids. I also have zero tolerance for driving stoned."
To embellish this legitimacy, a representative of a Denver-based business that makes gluten-free, strain-specific marijuana edibles said that her company never says "pot" or "weed," but instead uses the term "cannabis."
"Part of what we fight is the public perception, which is that everybody in Colorado just wants to become one giant frat house and get as stoned as you can," said Monique Nobil of Julie and Kate Baked Goods. "That's just not the reality."
So what about Maureen Dowd? Reports that came out shortly after her column held that she had been "educated" for 45 minutes before she made her purchase. But nobody disputes that some strains of cannabis can leave people huddled on their couches.
To DiSalvo, the onus is on dispensaries to educate tourists on how to properly dose and not disable themselves.
"You don't want to be 'couch-locked' when you have just spent $500 a night for a room in Aspen, Colorado," he said. "I do think we have to be real honest about the effects."
Agreed another panellist, it's best for people to "start low and go slow."
That also seems to be the philosophy of some other ski towns in Colorado. Vail, Crested Butte and many others have so far said no-thanks, both to medical and now recreational cannabis.
Jordan Lewis, owner of Silverpeak Apothecary in Aspen, attributed the tepidness to concerns about the impacts on family tourism. "I think they're scared of the impact it could have on that," he said. "My sense is that they are large corporations, and like most large corporations, they move at a glacial pace."
'Snowmastadon' yields insights into climates
SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. — Four yeas ago this past October, a bulldozer operator scraping away a meadow near the Snowmass ski area uncovered a bone that he almost immediately realized didn't belong to a cow. It was of a juvenile mammoth.
In time, the site yielded the bones of nearly 6,000 large mammals, including bear, big horn sheep and other animals native to the area now. But many were of species now extinct. There were mammoths and, even more, their elephantine cousins, mastodons, plus a bison antiquus, a species that would dwarf the animal colloquially known as the buffalo.
But, from the start, paleontologists wondered if the ultimate value of the exceptional discovery would be in the less glamorous items: leaves still green after 100,000 years when first removed from the peat as well as other proxies of the climate the last time the glaciers had receded. In other words, a time much like our own.
This week, as a special issue of Quaternary Research was issued, scientists explained that the take-home message was that climates at 2,700 metres don't change in lock-step with broader climates. Yes, if the Earth gets colder, places like Snowmass will usually get colder.
What surprised the scientists was how much more widely the climates swung. When the planet warmed, it got disproportionately warmer at Snowmass. Vegetation today found 900 metres lower was found amid the fossils of Snowmass.
Conversely, during a time when the earth cooled at 90,000 to 100,000 years ago, the lake where the fossil were found was frozen and timberline had descended to below 2,700 metres. It currently is at close to 3,600 metres.
The scientists had expected a cooler climate, but not that much.
The value of these insights? Possibly, they will help climate modellers refine their understandings of how climate during the next century will change as the effect of accumulated greenhouse gas emissions become more pronounced.
The thing to take home and ponder, says Jeff Pigati, a geoscientist, is that "what is happening in our backyard is not always perfectly predictable."
Sol unwelcome in the Sierras
TRUCKEE, Calif. — Forgive California skiers and riders if they seem anxious. Three mostly terrible snow years will do that to you, and the weather forecast for Lake Tahoe and Truckee this week shows lots of smiley sun faces.
Ski areas are open, however, thanks to snowmaking. Because they tend to get bountiful snowfall, resorts of the Sierra Nevada were relatively late to the snowmaking game.
In the last couple of years, though, ski areas have invested heavily in snow guns. Lake Tahoe News reports that Sugar Bowl, a resort along Interstate 80, put in $500,000 worth of snowmaking equipment over the summer. Squaw Valley reported $2.6 million in snowmaking upgrades.
Heavenly and Northstar, both owned by Vail Resorts, have two of the largest snowmaking operations on the West Coast. That allowed them to open last week.
The drought has certainly dinged the ski industry in California. Until three years ago, the state was humming along at about 7.4 million skier visits a year. Last season, there were 5.3 million, or roughly what Summit County and Vail Mountain did. One of the more marginal ski areas is Mt. Shasta, and it was able to open for only four days.
What explains this drought? It has been speculated that this is a clear reflection of a changing climate, with much of that due to accumulating heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, there's also evidence that this falls within the historic range of variability.
But even if this drought is entirely natural, climate models are clear that the rising temperatures caused by greenhouse gases will affect resorts on the West Coast resorts sooner and more adversely than those higher, colder resorts deeper in the continent.
Carbon rises despite best intentions
TELLURIDE, Colo. — Four years ago, the mayors of Telluride and Mountain Village vowed to push down greenhouse gas emissions from their mountain towns. Instead, they're going up.
A recent report by EcoAction Partners finds that, from 2010 and 2013, emissions for the towns and broader San Miguel County have grown from 338,000 metric tons to 354,000 tons.
A memo from Heather Rommel, the group's executive director, notes that emissions track directly with weather, both temperature and snowfall. Snowfall instigates the use of energy-intensive snowmelt systems. However, snowfall also draws visitors and creates a more dynamic economy that pads population growth. As well, the economy altogether recovered significantly from 2010 to 2013 as the nation came out of recession.
But she also noted that if not for carbon offsets, emissions would have totalled 368,000 tons. Offsets are a financial device intended to purchase carbon reduction strategies in one place and convey them to another place. In this case, the offsets are the non-carbon attributes of electricity produced by hydroelectric generation at nearby McPhee Reservoir.
Telluride's municipal government has tried to set an example by cleaning its own house first. It has done the usual stuff, such as improving insulation of its old town hall offices and swapping out light bulbs and turning down the thermostat a notch.
The town has invested in solar panels for affordable housing units at a solar farm about 129 kilometres west near the Utah border, while also harnessing the power of flowing water for small-scale hydrogeneration.
Even so, says Karen Guglielmone, the special projects director for the town, it's nip and tuck whether the town can achieve its carbon-reduction goals. While energy is saved in some places, more is needed for new purposes such as the town's ice rink.