‘Vice’ HBO series spotlights plight of mom-and-pop Colorado pot growers

VICE correspondent Hamilton Morris, at the Mindful cannabis cultivation center. (Courtesy of HBO)

Published: Feb 25, 2016, 9:37 am

By Joanne Ostrow, The Denver Post

Colorado pot continues to waft across the airwaves. Here comes yet another TV documentary on marijuana, this time on “Vice” (airing Friday at midnight MST on HBO). But this one has a fresh angle: it’s not just gawking at pot culture in Colorado. It’s considering the plight of mom-and-pop growers who are being squeezed out by big, savvy, mainstream corporations as legalization progresses.

The pot segment, “White Collar Weed,” opens in Denver, with yet another reporter on a cannabis tour bus, visuals of bongs and smoke lighting up the screen. Reporter Hamilton Morris doesn’t ask probing questions but lets the camera do the work: a huge grow room, a local dispensary, a THC-infused massage

Andrew Freedman, director of marijuana coordination for the governor, explains the unexpected boom in Colorado’s pot economy. The early estimate was $700 million, but the state saw legal cannabis sales in 2015 almost break the $1 billion mark, Freedman says.

Proud capitalists are interested. Ten giant companies are trying to monopolize the business nationwide, the piece claims. Small-time farmers can’t compete. “Vice” visits New York, Ohio, California and more to make the point. At one outlet in Seattle, Privateer Holdings, some $2 million a year is required just to keep the electricity running in the 36 grow rooms. Guys with a simple garden in the backyard, who supported themselves for years by growing marijuana and looked forward to widespread legalization, are out of luck.

It’s a sidelight to the pot story, not a pervasive issue. But it raises interesting questions.

When alcohol prohibition was lifted, the same sort of giant corporate businesses took the field away from small home-grown distillers. Nobody wept for bathtub gin producers. Then again, small-batch craft brewing is currently all the rage. Perhaps everything comes full circle. A case of bad timing for these small pot growers, as authorities destroy their crops while the camera rolls.

This story was first published on the Ostrow Off the Record blog