Jane’s Domain: The Consuming o’ the Green on St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal in my town. Denver hosts the biggest Irish pride parade west of the Mississippi, with horses, stagecoaches, and 10,000 marchers entertaining 200,000 spectators along Blake Street. This year the Riverdance World Tour is playing sold-out shows at the Buell Theatre. Forget about finding a table at Scruffy Murphy’s, the Irish pub on Larimer; you’ll be lucky to make it through the front door.

Alcohol is part of that tradition. A big part. In my younger days, friends and I would grab a spot at a rooftop bar on the parade route. We’d drink all day and into the night: pitchers of green beer, shots of Irish whiskey, nonstop pints of Guinness and Harp. Guinness usually sells 5.5 million pints of beer around the world every day. On St. Paddy’s, they sell 13 million.

By the end of the day, the scene is not pretty. Thousands of people are overserved. Fights break out. Ugly things happen. On average, 276 people will die nationwide in drunk driving accidents on St. Patrick’s Day, more than twice the normal casualty rate. And 75 percent of those fatal crashes will involve a driver with an alcohol intoxication level at least twice the legal limit.

This year let’s try something different.

Let’s go greener.

I’m choosing cannabis this year instead of alcohol. And I’m encouraging others to do the same. We’ll be tweeting about the experience on March 17 under the hashtag #saferstpats. Join us and let us know what you’re consuming and how it’s affecting your celebration.

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Of course, even here in Colorado, the most 420-free state in America, it’ll be challenging to find a place to consume. In Denver there are hundreds of places to legally enjoy a pint of Guinness. On St. Patrick’s Day, empty plastic beer cups will litter the streets of the LoDo district. But good luck finding a legal and appropriate place to enjoy a half-gram of Durban Poison. As the folks at the Colorado Department of Public Health’s “Good To Know” campaign tweeted last weekend: “Shamrock your Irish heart out at the St. Patrick’s Day parade…just remember public space is not the place.” 

More than two years into full legalization in Colorado, it’s still illegal for adults to responsibly enjoy cannabis in a public, adults-only environment. That’s a wrong that needs to be righted. 

The facts are clear: Cannabis is far safer than alcohol. And yet we continue to celebrate alcohol in nearly all of our public social spaces. It’s welcomed at weddings, birthdays, and baseball games. You can buy beer and wine at Chuck E. Cheese’s, for goodness sake. Two years ago the Denver International Airport put up an art exhibit extolling the proud history of craft brewing in Colorado. 

Cannabis, by contrast, remains legally relegated to the role of social outcast. We’re perfectly fine with children watching adults drain a case of Coors Light, but we cling to a strange fear of them glimpsing an adult sipping on a Pax lightly packed with a few leaves of homegrown Harlequin. Or, worse, we won’t even allow the social enjoyment of legal cannabis in a setting where the eyes of children are absent by law. 

Lets be clear, I’m not against alcohol. I just want to be treated fairly when I choose to consume a safer alternative.

We simply need more common sense when it comes to cannabis and how we incorporate the inevitable social use of it into our communities as the end of prohibition occurs nationwide. In the next few weeks, Denver NORML is expected to file a city initiative that, if passed, would allow businesses in Denver to handle cannabis use more like alcohol and tobacco. Taverns and clubs wouldn’t sell it, but they would be able to allow their patrons to enjoy it in appropriate areas on site, much as they handle cigarettes. I dream of special events hosting cannabis gardens just as they have beer gardens. 

Personally, I don’t think a permit should be necessary at all. I think adults should be able to enjoy cannabis exactly as they enjoy tobacco cigarettes. But I’ll be supporting the public-use initiative campaign, because it’s a step in the right direction. 

In the meantime, I’ll be documenting my own private effort to have a #saferstpats. Let’s celebrate the green and make progress while doing it.

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