Keefe: Budding business at Grand Cru |

Keefe: Budding business at Grand Cru

If there was ever a time Hunter S. Thompson would have haunted downtown Aspen, it was during this weekend. For three days, the inaugural Cannabis Grand Cru event rocked the trendy Sky Hotel, booking every room.

Our local counterculture icon could have cooked up a story that might have launched gonzo journalism to new heights. I could imagine him roaming the Sky’s hallways and conference rooms, but more likely he would have been holding court poolside. But the pool area, once the venue for apres-ski enthusiasts, had vanished along with any hint of alpine activities.

This weekend brought an entirely new dimension to the Sky Hotel as well as the cannabis industry. Certainly considered a high-end event, with the $250-per-ticket price, it is the first of its type to be delivered by Blue Sugar Productions. A new marijuana audience has evolved, one that seeks an alternative choice to counterculture-orientated shows. Here, at this Cannabis Grand Cru, the primary focus lies on the industry’s future, Wall Street investment, technology and science.

In preparation for the weekend, Event Scaffolding Resources, better known for its X Games superstructures, transformed the area into a mini village of event sponsors that was made complete with DJs spinning rock tunes.

The conversations here, though, would have been foreign to Thompson, and many of the staples of the ’60s and ’70s, along with tie-dyed T-shirts, would have been missing, too. Conversations are now scientific and focused on horticulture, hydrocarbonate extractions, strains, medical research and genetics.

Marijuana is growing up and is no longer only viewed as weed smoked recreationally by the counterculture. The wild child of the past is now being hotly courted by ultrasophisticated sciences that are perfecting chemical extractions and building pantries of cannabinoids. Meanwhile, horticulturists are perfecting strains and their cultivation methods in high-tech greenhouses. New markets are emerging that offer the potential to redefine profit margins.

Marijuana has been equally busy claiming her place back in agriculture. Tomatoes, corn and soy prepare to make room, as marijuana crops might redefine farmers’ profits here, as well. This is a crop in her own league, and her less notorious sister hemp is not far behind.

They report that Thomas Jefferson grew it on his plantation; George Washington smoked it to alleviate teeth pain. But this is not the same ditch weed; marijuana has evolved and is opening doors to a precise science with medical applications.

The food industry will not be left out of profiting from this, either. Adult cake mixes could give new meaning to “Happy birthday.”

Big businesses are building their Trojan horses, while laws and public perceptions are slowly shifting. Could we keep these power hitters at bay if the federal government did stay out? Are big business interests going to be the eventual “tipping point” for future federal legalization?

That brings up the facet of civil liberties and cannabis being free of federal control. Yet, while not legalized, taxation hauls in revenue and does not allow cannabis business owners to write off expenses. This and other “smoke screen” laws could break a legitimate small business.

Mary, the wild child, did have colorful years shared with young adults smoking pot while protesting against war, and Cheech and Chong rolled out their films. Rock stars belted out hit after hit, stoned off their rockers, that we still cherish.

Many of us remember this rich and colorful period because it is closest to us in time. Yet cannabis use goes back for centuries and has always been a part of our world.

In spite of controversies over museums, tortoise art and trophy stores, seeing the Cannabis Grand Cru event in Aspen assures me that a little bit of good old gonzo lives on.

Joni Keefe moved to the Roaring Fork Valley after a career in landscape design. She is passionate about local food and agriculture. For more information, her website is, or follow her on Twitter. Connect at joni@farms


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