Kickin’ it Old School: An Interview with Chris Jetter
by DJ Reetz
With his long blond hair flowing over his shoulders, Chris Jetter doesn’t look like he belongs at a meeting in a government building. He looks like the guy you would have bought weed from in high school, a guy who’s proud of his sick van (he is, and it is a sick van) or the dude who would randomly pass you a joint at a Metallica concert even though you’ve never met him before. It’s early March, and Jetter is the last person to arrive at the first meeting of the advisory committee convened to help shape the social cannabis use regulations approved by voters in Denver. Sitting at a configuration of tables is a quorum of business owners, activist, neighborhood representatives and city officials called together to discuss what this groundbreaking program will look like. It’s standing room only by the time Jetter arrives, with a crowd of concerned citizens filling every seat in the meeting room, eager to give comments on the program. At glance, one thing is apparent, even in this room packed with those eager to consume cannabis in public, Jetter smokes more weed than any of them.
“Legalization is a complete fucking joke.”
But while some of these folks are nervous to give testimony at what is perhaps their first time stepping into the public arena to support sensible cannabis policies, for Jetter this is tritely familiar. He’s carrying a bundle of dog-eared papers containing copies of current adult-use cannabis regulations, medical cannabis regulations, current regulations surrounding the sale of alcohol for comparison against the two, a copy of Colorado’s constitutional Amendment 64 subsection 3, copies of the charging documents from the last time he tried to establish a cannabis club in Denver almost two years prior, and various other documents that he will eagerly spread in front of any bewildered law maker that hasn’t given the same amount of attention to the issue that he has.
When he speaks, he does so with an energetic twinge of scattered neurosis, like someone who’s seen the inside of some vast conspiracy and wants desperately for others to believe him. It’s a flood of information that pours out, veering between a lawyerly assessment of the state constitution and an accusatory diatribe about the will of the voters. His impassioned speech rambles on until the meetings organizers are forced to remind him of his time limit.
This isn’t Jetter’s first appearance at an event like this. In fact, you can frequently find him at policy hearings, both state and local, that concern cannabis use or cultivation. It’s part of his long-standing commitment to the plant he loves, and the liberties that he’s been denied because of his affections for it.
“I’m not an activist and I’m not a lawyer,” says Jetter, speaking later at his grow op in Aurora. “I play ‘em on Facebook and in real life because [the government is] all up in my space.”
Sitting alone in his facility, Jetter’s old-school aesthetic is on full display as he diligently trims buds for extraction, pushing waste through a hole cut in the middle of the table. The only noticeable differentiation between this process and that of an underground grow are the RFID tags he attaches to each bag of trimmed cannabis. His brand, Blue Mountains, produces only four strains — Sour Diesel, Flo, Durban Poison and Bruce Banner — all of which he has been growing more than 17 years; well before he ever made his first foray into the legal market. In the grow, classical music plays for the plants.
The company currently operates as a licensed adult-use wholesale provider, but it started life as a non-profit co-op in the decidedly unregulated space of the reimbursement model. In those days, one could find the Blue Mountains bus cruising around to various cannabis-related events in Colorado, offering dabs to anyone with proof of age. The collective sprang up in early 2013, shortly after the passage of Amendment 64, quickly drawing the attention of the public. In May of that year, Blue Mountains was featured in an exposé published by The Denver Post titled “Colorado Pot Collectives Test Limits of Amendment 64,” which was accompanied by an image of Jetter hitting a dab. The article also featured comments from Tom Gorman, the director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a multi-state law enforcement organization operating under federal jurisdiction, who questioned the validity and motivation of co-ops like Jetter’s. “Why would you do that if it’s not for money?” Gorman questioned in the Post’s article. “Are they so thrilled with marijuana and think it’s such a great thing that it’s their responsibility to offer it as cheap as possible? Why would you go through all the trouble for no profit at all?”
For Jetter, the answer to this question is rooted in a passion for cannabis that stretches back decades. Growing up in Colorado, he was sent to military school after getting caught smoking weed, where he would again run into trouble for cannabis use.
Thus began Jetter’s struggle: to use cannabis as though it were legal. It’s a struggle that has continued to define his life, even in the current era; an era in which, as he bluntly puts it, “Legalization is a complete fucking joke.”
In 1992, recently out of high school, Jetter began making bongs, a trade that would lead him to the underground cannabis celebration held in the hills of Colorado known as Bong-a-thon. In 1999, Jetter Glass provided the trophies for the competitive smoke-out that gives the event its name. After the party was raided by the Larimer County Sherriff’s office, a lengthy investigation led them to Jetter’s home studio, where a team of heavily armed SWAT officers would smash down the door and destroy all the glass they found inside. Jetter claims the police evidence log listed only $13,000 of the $15,000 in cash the police took from his home that day, as well as two fewer ounces of marijuana than what he claims was taken.
By the mid oughts, the Bush administration’s crackdown on paraphernalia sellers in the form of Operation Pipe Dreams brought the online glass directory he had been managing to a screeching halt, but Jetter continued to blow glass under the guise of custom gearshift knobs. He’s not shy of acknowledging hat even after his run in with the law he continued to ply the craft of growing cannabis.
In 2009, after Obama took office and Attorney General Eric Holder made his intentions known not to pursue state-legal cannabis activity, Jetter was among the first to open as dispensary in Colorado. He reflects fondly on those days, when home growers could drop off their own product to be sold, before the tight regulations that mark the modern industry. This time period wasn’t without it’s own hazards though, and in 2010 an errant burglar alarm brought the Adams County police to his grow, which, despite providing officers at the scene with all the relevant paper work, would lead to a felony drug charge.
Thus, Jetter found himself once again thrown into the criminal justice system, and although the charges would eventually be dropped, the experience left a sour taste in his mouth. Around this time, unbeknownst to Jetter, his mother and business partner had negotiated the sale of the dispensary to one of the larger chains that was moving to consolidate the burgeoning medical marijuana industry. Not long after the sale of the majority interest, Jetter was handed a pink slip, his time in the medical marijuana business brought to an unpleasant end. In the more than five years since, he hasn’t spoken to his mother; something he says he never would have expected when he entered the industry.
When Amendment 64 was introduced in 2012, Jetter’s love of cannabis goaded him forward once more. The promise of the government finally treating cannabis like alcohol spurred Jetter into the public arena, where he helped to collect signatures to get the measure on the ballot.
When the measure passed, he quickly moved to set up Blue Mountains, and by August of 2013, the co-op was up and running, delivering cannabis to members and providing free dabs at events. The battle seemed to have been won, but for Jetter, the war was still being fought.
“When we passed Amendment 64, a lot of the people and even myself, thought that the drug war was over, victory was at hand and we could go out and party,” he says.
Instead, what followed was a disheartening slog through regulation guided by people that didn’t necessarily have the best intentions of cannabis consumers at heart as Jetter saw it. While the intention of the amendment was to treat cannabis like alcohol, regulations around the plant quickly began to more closely resemble those of medical marijuana, and Jetter was baffled when the liquor board wasn’t consulted at all.
Once again, Jetter found himself as the outsider, testing the limits of the law and the tolerances of those tasked with enforcing it. As the rules began taking shape, there seemed to be little room for people like him, who just wanted to treat cannabis as if it weren’t a dangerous substance in need of the highest levels of control.
It wasn’t long before the glaring issue of public consumption reared its head. Voters had chosen to enact cannabis legalization, but local governments in Denver and the surrounding area were choosing to interpret the section of Amendment 64 stating explicitly that the measure had not legalized “open and public” consumption as explicitly forbidding it. Cannabis clubs that popped up around the city following legalization were quickly raided and closed, and once again Jetter was reminded that his desire to not be treated like a criminal for consuming a plant would remain unfulfilled.
With the battle lines drawn by the city, Jetter once again stepped up to prod at the unjust enforcement with a cannabis club of his own. Called POTUS, an acronym for People of the United States, the smoking lounge opened in a former swingers’ club in southwest Denver in February of 2015. To be sure that there would be no surprises, Jetter’s partner sent certified letters to several city officials announcing their plan to open a cannabis club that would provide cannabis to members for reimbursement. In order to gain entry, one would simply have to sign up for membership. Blue Mountain would provide cannabis, but patrons were welcome to bring their own as well.
At the same time that he was pushing the legal envelope with POTUS, Jetter had been tapped to head the legal grow in Aurora that he now occupies.
With hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment on the line — including the $400,000 of liquid assets that the city of Aurora requires before considering an application — for most this would have been an inopportune time to tempt fate with a smoking lounge, but for Jetter this wasn’t the case.
Sure enough, in early March police made their move. Undercover officers infiltrated the club after signing on as members and recorded a reimbursement. The sting ended with a misdemeanor distribution charge for Jetter and his partner charged with operating an unlicensed marijuana business.
For some, this would be a clear defeat, an indication that this pipe dream of social cannabis consumption would remain out of reach — Jetter had POTUS reopened by the next day.
The club operated without incident until the weekend of 4/20, when city officials made their intentions known by raiding the two most prominent smoking lounges operating in Denver, one of them being POTUS. The raid played out much as it had the first time, with undercover officers infiltrating the packed club for a reimbursement and police moving in for the bust less than an hour before 4:20. This time, the results were more final. Jetter and his partner faced the same round of charges as before, but the city issued a cease and desist order.
After a protracted legal battle, Jetter ended up taking a bargain that saw him plead guilty to a public consumption offense. This wasn’t, he says, because he didn’t want to keep fighting, but because of the potential harm that the fight would cause to his grow application in Aurora, where the incident was being discussed as possible indication of a lack of moral character.
These days Jetter operates entirely in the white, but it’s not hard to see the rabble-rouser that hides just under the surface. He may have settled down some out of sheer necessity, but the old Jeter, the one not afraid to face arrest for what he thinks is right, is always waiting for the right time to make himself known. His opinions haven’t softened after all these years and all the arrests that have punctuated them, and he stills sees a fight yet to be won in the world of cannabis.
“When it was illegal, before 2009 when I opened a dispensary, I made a shitload of money. I had absolutely no responsibilities and I really enjoyed my life,” he opines. “Since legalization has happened and I’ve tried to be completely compliant in all facets, my income has dropped by over 80 percent, my responsibilities have increased by 50 fold, and I’m not having fun anymore. This isn’t the light, regulated like alcohol industry I was promised.”
For the past decade, he’s taken up the mantle of hosting Bong-a-thon, but it wasn’t until last year that the party finally found a home sanctioned by local authorities. Those who attend the annual smoke-out will likely find Jetter making the rounds, orchestrating the goings on while using the platform to encourage attendees to get involved and vote.
He’s got no shortage of opinions about the direction the cannabis industry is headed and it’s not hard to coax them out. As he sees it, what Colorado has settled on isn’t legalization, rather another form of prohibition, just with legalized sales.
“If it was legalized, there’d be no criminal cases because it would be legal. But it’s not legalized; it’s taxed and regulated…”
“If it was legalized, there’d be no criminal cases because it would be legal. But it’s not legalized; it’s taxed and regulated, and it’s slanted in the favor of people that have, well let’s just say, assets totaling over $400,000 liquid,” says Jetter. As for consumer rights, in his assessment, there’s not really much advocacy aimed at the cause. “I think most people think that the industry groups are looking to support consumers’ rights and patients’ rights, and in my opinion the opposite is in fact the case,” he says.
While some have moved into the industry simply for the chance to make money in a developing market, that’s not an accusation that can be leveled at Jetter. It’s a cause that he’s fought for, and taken losses for. His involvement in cannabis was most recently used against him in a custody battle for his six-year-old daughter. As he sits, alone in his grow facility diligently moving his scissors, sermonizing on the points of personal liberty with regard to cannabis, he remarks that this is the first time in the past six years that he hasn’t had a court date awaiting him. Some activists may have adopted a more straight-laced approach to cannabis reform, but for Jetter, the need to stir the pot hasn’t passed. While other cannabis advocates have moved toward suits and ties, Jetter is still firmly in the scary stoner camp, and if the people making the laws are made uncomfortable by it, that’s just fine with him.
“I hope they’re uncomfortable. I hope they’re really goddamn uncomfortable,” says Jetter. “I was really fucking uncomfortable when those bastards kicked in my door in 1999; I wasn’t very comfortable standing there while they looked like the ISIS militants with their hoods on tearing the curtains off my house so everybody can stare in, that wasn’t very comfortable; it wasn’t comfortable having an AK47 stuck in my face that day; it wasn’t comfortable being charged for an illegal grow in 2010 that I had all my paperwork for, that none of the detectives wanted to review, that wasn’t very comfortable; I wasn’t comfortable getting my mouth swabbed, my picture taken and going to court for five trial dates only to be told that I was right, my paperwork was in order; I wasn’t comfortable in 2015 when they dragged me out on the street in front of POTUS and put me in handcuffs for ‘questioning;’ I wasn’t comfortable when they handed me the two distribution tickets I got in 2015. None of that shit makes me comfortable, so if they’re a little uncomfortable, I’m sorry, but fuck it.”
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