Jobs in the Weedconomy: The Tour Guide
As Colorado’s $1 billion marijuana market coins first-time millionaires and creates thousands of new jobs, we trailed five different workers to collate snapshots of this new world of legalized weed. You can also meet a grower, a trimmer, a baker and a budtender. This is the final job in the series.
As weed tourists, we are rolling down the road in what’s basically a mobile cloud. Aboard the “Cannabus,” a glorified school bus with blacked-out windows and bench seating, the air is overwhelmed with a smoky, white haze because of the endless chain of joints sparked and circulating at all times. (This is not the usual nice Cannabus, I’m told—it broke down last night. We’re in a loaner.)
Pin-dot strobe lights cascade around our group of 11: the day trader from Houston; the Vietnam veteran and soon-to-be-retired high school teacher from Indiana; the former Philly school district master of janitorial services; and a smattering of others bridging most generations and locales—Tennessee, Chicago, Boston, you name it. But don’t ask me all their names; I don’t remember.
At the helm, our fearless leaders, Ashley Scott and Jenny Harris, are directing the festivities. Harris is donning a purple “I (Bud Leaf) Colorado” T-shirt and a black skirt. She rocks purple hair and tattoos from her ankles to her arms. It’s her third day on the job as a My 420 Tours guide, and she’s already excelling by keeping the party rolling in our moments of dopey silence with a stack of Stoner Trivia cards.
“The federal government classifies marijuana as which: (A) most harmful, (B) harmful or (C) less harmful?” she yells.
It’s no surprise that the answer that floats back through a bank of smoke is neither correct, nor on topic. “We turned in our flip phones and got smartphones. Then we got a new car and it’s got this computer thing—navigation, stereo, everything on a button. Then you got another button that voice-activates everything.”
Harris rolls with it. “I met a blind lady that was, like, controlling everything with her iPhone. It was the coolest thing.”
Someone, maybe the guy from Tennessee, says, “I was watching something last night about the attack dolphins they used during Vietnam.”
The veteran nods grimly, “Umhmm.”
Harris apparently saw it, too. “Some of them would have a hypodermic needle filled with CO2 attached to their snouts, and they’d hit the diver they were targeting or whatever.”
“Then they started using whales.”
Sorry. This is the kind of thing weed tour guides have to navigate. Long rants. Incoherent ponderings. A question about law sparks a conversation about blind people with iPhones and attack mammals armed with CO2 darts. And the truth is, it’s all thanks to Scott and Harris. They keep lighting the joints and sending them down the line—one of the requirements of the job. The joint arrives, you hit it, pass it, and all of sudden there’s another, and then another, and by that time the first one has caught up.
Jim, a skinny bald dude with a voice like a garbage disposal, calls out: “You know how every state has a slogan?” We all mumble our yeahs. “Colorado’s should be “Puff, puff. Pass, pass.” We laugh for a solid minute over that one.
Sorry. There we go again. This is supposed to be about the tour guides.
Harris got the job because (A) she’s super sociable—“My job is basically just to be people’s friend for a day”—and (B) she knows her shit. She’s been working with marijuana for the past four years as a bud tender, a trimmer and a chef at places like Green Solution and Dixie Elixirs. You could say My 420 Tours poached her from the last dispensary where she worked. (That’s kind of what the company does; even though it’s a part-time, hourly wage kind of gig, My 420 Tours only wants the best candidates.) And the timing couldn’t have been better for her. She was planning to quit the industry entirely until this opportunity became a reality. “I love weed. I didn’t want to leave the industry, but I wasn’t finding what suits me,” she says. “But My 420 Tours is the best job I’ve had in the industry. They’re good people.”
On the stereo in the Cannabus, Elton John is singing “Rocket Man.” Some are singing along quietly, and Jim, to my right, is repeating over and over, between puffs on his vape pen, “Unbelievable. This is great. Unbelievable. This is great.”
The song ends, all goes silent, and we just gaze around. There are moments when we’re apparently too stoned to speak. Harris works her magic and pulls out the deck of Stoner Trivia cards: “On That ’70s Show, what’s the name of the character played by Tommy Chong?”
There’s a collective, “Uhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” which I take to mean, “I know that. Or knew it at some point, anyway.”
Pass. Next question: something about Alabama. Alabama and brothels. Hmmm. Shit. Not Alabama. Amsterdam? Yeah! What was the question? Harris repeats it. “What’s the name of the district in Amsterdam known for ganja cafés and prostitution?” Either people speak in unison or it just seems that way—it’s seemed that way ever since we entered the Cannabus, which was really only just a hour or so ago now, I think—because everyone seems to say “Red Light District!” at the exact time. Amsterdam, by the way, is where the mayor of Denver recently traveled to learn a few things about how they do weed tourism there.
“The girls are up there in a window,” says Jim.
Harris smiles, “Oh yeah? And then you just pick your girl?”
“Yeah. The government regulates it all.”
We’ve arrived somewhere. People are worried about their marijuana chocolate bars melting in the bus. “Whatever,” they end up deciding; they’ll just drink them like milkshakes if it comes to that. The Cannabus is our temporary home, but we have to exit its doors at some point, all for activities choreographed by our guides. We get out to restock at dispensaries and to marvel at some glass blowing, bong-crafting sorcery—we’re talking bongs shaped like deep-sea Anglerfish and pirate ships and bamboo stalks that are probably 4 feet tall.
We get out to have a quick bite to eat because somehow we’re ahead of schedule and everyone’s been talking about food since we piled into the bus. At one point someone even yells: “Bacon-wrapped donuts! That’s what Colorado is like.” Luckily, having managed multiple restaurants before joining My 420 Tours, Scott knows her cuisine. She stops at a place that serves bone marrow and other delicacies as perplexing as they are delicious.
We get out at another dispensary. We must stock up again, you see, and it’s time for our weed cooking class. There’s a lot of scientific detail about the cannabutter used in pastries and whatever else we’re supposed to bake, which is entirely ignored as the weed tourists stare at their cooking instructions like they’re written in an alien tongue. Though grateful for the stops, the tourists are clearly glad to return to the bus. It’s the place to be, the after-party that’s right now, a cozy womb that’s easy on the eyes and misty to the mind.
Harris was a certified nursing assistant before she got into the weed thing. “I was working with quadriplegics and paraplegics on ventilators. The lifers—what they call the people who can’t go to nursing homes—started talking about medical marijuana. I was telling my patients: If anyone qualifies, you guys definitely qualify.”
She got in trouble for saying that and was told: “Don’t be filling their heads with this stuff.” She couldn’t figure out why people in the health care industry would deprive their patients of something that might benefit them, so she switched careers. Now she can tell people about weed, and she feels her CNA experience helps her explain how marijuana is effective—both medicinally and recreationally.
Stoner Trivia. We’re back in the bus, thank Christ. All the walking around looking at stuff in the sunlight was exhausting. Harris reads the question: “A member of Van Halen was busted in New York Central Park for buying a dime bag of marijuana. True or false?” No one has any clue. Next: Something about formaldehyde-dipped joints and how they’ll turn you into a zombie. Careful.
On second thought, the Cannabus is less like a womb than it is a black hole. Or a time warp. You enter into darkness, disappear for a while and emerge into startling sunlight that makes you reel back like it’s attacking you. Scott likens it to “coming out of a strip club.”
Signing up for a “Weedcation” means committing to getting baked in the Cannabus and participating in 4:20 happy hours, workshops, marijuana baking classes and sometimes concerts. It also means committing to incomprehensible conversations about who-knows-what, or at least hearing them out. You stop to stare at jungles of marijuana, as well as glass blown into the shape of creatures both nightmarish and heavenly, when all you might really want to do is go back to the bus and hang out in a darkness peppered with strobe lights, John Lennon and guys like Jim saying things like, “Unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable.”
Signing on as a tour guide is like being the spirit animal of all these people from across the country and leading them through the clouds.
Bryan Schatz is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul. He’s written for Mother Jones, Pacific Standard, GOOD and others. Follow him on Twitter @BryanSchatz.