When Colorado voters passed Amendment 64 in 2012, allowing residents of the state to legally possess cannabis for recreational use, it was only a matter of time before investors came running to cash in on the legal weed market. In fact, the influx of cash into the state’s economy and the tax revenue it would bring to Colorado’s treasury were primary selling points for many voters.
With $36.4 million in sales in January of this year producing $2.3 million in excise taxes marked for public schools, Colorado’s plan seems to be working well. Contributions to the new cannabis economy are not limited to dispensary sales. Hotels, tour companies, souvenir vendors and more are all taking part in the state’s new cannabis culture and tourism. Now a stoner-themed FM radio station has taken to the airwaves in Denver.
Marc Paskin, known on-air as Gary Ganja, is owner and afternoon DJ at Smokin’ 94.1, which broadcasts from a studio in east Denver. Paskin is from San Diego and made his money in real estate. At 66, Paskin had thought of retiring but decided he would instead purchase his own radio station to stave off boredom. Paskin bought the station in May and made his debut June 1.
“This is my million-dollar toy,”
he says of the station, which displays such pot-theme bona fides as Cheech and Chong posters on its walls, and whose DJs go by weed-themed names including Mary Jane and Billy Blunt. Besides playing reggae music and songs by the Grateful Dead, the station fills airtime with pot comedy sketches such as “Dead People Who Smoke Pot,” the “Stoner Dating Game” and “Presidents on Weed.” To immerse himself in his Gary Ganja persona, Paskin dons a colorful Rastafarian-style hat complete with built in dreadlocks while broadcasting. A pot-leaf button-up, flip flops and a Rolex round out his attire.
Not surprisingly, Paskin and Smokin’ 94.1 have their critics. One of them is Scott Greene, former president of Mile High NORML, an advocacy group whose legalization efforts helped bring cannabis out of the shadows and as a by-product enabled the proliferation of marijuana-related businesses in Colorado. Greene sees the clichéd stoner image sold by Smokin’ 94.1 as out of step with authentic cannabis culture. Greene spoke on the station’s logo, a smiling cartoon Rastafarian with a doobie hanging from his lips,
“It’s ignorant stereotyping.”
He laments the behavior of the station’s hosts, calling them “so out of touch that they still think that image is O.K.”
Paskin, however, is having a good time with his new toy, and he seems determined to not let critics bother him. As for the law, his deep pockets protect him: his station is independent and does not air commercials, which he believes will keep him clear of legal problems related to its programming content.
As long as he finds it entertaining to host his show and operate the station, he is free to paint his own picture of cannabis users. Whether the stereotype he perpetuates with Smokin’ 94.1’s cartoon Rasta man logo and the DJs’ on-air high jinx will have ramifications for the mothers, fathers, business professionals and medical marijuana patients who, besides their cannabis use, are quite regular people is irrelevant to Paskin. He says,
“Some people want to be real sophisticated. But it’s like—big deal. You know what? This is comedy.”
Photo Credit: Matthew Staver for The New York Times