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Addiction Among Us

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I’m learning a lot about addiction now that I’m working on a project for the Betty Ford Center Children’s Program.  I’m learning about the impact alcohol and drug abuse have on kids when there is addiction in the home.  I’m also learning that there is hope that a family can escape the clutches of addiction.  Healing is possible with the right kind of help.  According to the Surgeon General one in seven people in the U.S. will develop a substance disorder at some point but only one in ten will get help.  That’s a lot of people suffering and a lot of children affected by the chaos.

“It’s time to change how we view addiction,” said Dr. Vivek H. Murthy in his report. “Not as a moral failing but as a chronic illness that must be treated with skill, urgency and compassion. The way we address this crisis is a test for America.”  The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation has viewed addiction through this lens since it’s inception.  The Betty Ford Center Children’s Program helps kids ages 7 to 12 separate the disease from those that they love and understand it is not their fault when their grown ups are trapped by addiction.  Children who are the first hurt do not have to be the last helped.  Kate Snow with NBC Nightly News did a story recently to show the good the program does.


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Listening to Victims: Closing thoughts on four months covering the Aurora Theatre shooting trial

When Kathleen Larimer, who lost her son, John, in the Aurora Theatre shooting, made her victim impact statement in the final days of the trial, she began by telling the judge “I am so tired of crying.” She and her husband, Scott, had been in the courtroom every day for four months, looking for answers that might help make sense of the murder of their youngest child. Over 100 people like Mrs. Larimer stood before Judge Carlos Samour in an Arapahoe County Courthouse and poured out their hearts in victim impact statements about the loss and devastation they experienced because of James Holmes.

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On July 20, 2012, I also took my teenage son to see “The Dark Knight Rises” at the midnight showing in Aurora, Colorado. Our theatre, however, was a few miles away from the Century 16. When the show was over I realized I had missed calls. Many calls. I rushed to the Century 16 Theatre to join my colleagues at NBC News in covering one of the most horrific mass shootings ever. It was so staggering in its carnage and complexity that it was difficult to get my head around it, even after covering the massacre at Columbine High School. The day of the attack was the first time victims began to tell their stories. The sentencing was the end of the three-year odyssey for those touched by the crime.

Over the months, sitting in the courtroom every day, we finally got some answers about the crime and why it happened. But even with light shed on the attack, it could not fill the dark hole in the hearts of the families who lost loved ones. Their anguish was palpable over the months.  The large family of victims held each other up, especially during the last days of the trial, when they finally told the judge, in their own powerful voices, what they experienced, and asked for a maximum sentence for the defendant who dodged the bullet of a death penalty.

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When District Attorney George Brauchler made his final argument in the case, asking the judge to show no mercy to “this guy” and give the “maximum sentence for the maximum evil,” I heard Mrs. Larimer sobbing quietly behind me. For months she and the other family members would sit across the aisle on the other side of the courtroom. I could swivel my head and observe them at key moments, document when they cried, when they glared at the defendant, when they couldn’t take it any more and left the courtroom. Listening to Mrs. Larimer cry right behind me captured my complete attention. I did not turn around to see her, but her sorrow could not be ignored and I listened.

On Wednesday, August 26, Judge Samour made his pre-sentencing comments to the court. He addressed the concerns of victims who said the trial had been a waste of time and money, as the defendant had been willing to plead guilty two years earlier to avoid the death penalty. Samour suggested they should focus on what came out of the trial rather than on regretting the decisions that were made. Then, for each of the twelve who were slain, he referred back to victim impact testimonies and specific points made about those loved and lost. Was it a waste of time when Chantal Blunk spoke about her husband, Jonathan? Was it a waste of time when Sierra Cowden talked about her dad, Gordon? Was it a waste of time when Teresa Hoover spoke about her son, AJ? What struck me as he recalled their names and remarkable lives was that the judge heard the victims. He really heard them.

Judge Samour gave the defendant one of the harshest sentences ever imposed. Twelve life sentences without the possibility of parole and an additional 3,318 years for the people he injured plus an explosives charge. Then dripping with contempt he said “Sheriff, get the defendant out of my courtroom, please.” Breaking with four months of decorum the victims cheered and applauded as James Holmes was taken from the court one last time. 1,132 days after the attack these families can now contemplate moving forward. Some have been galvanized into activism. They are fighting for common sense gun controls and working hard so that the faces of killers are not remembered long after the faces of their victims.  Many, like Kathleen Larimer, are not certain what the future holds but through her tears, she found her voice. “Now that this is over, I have to go home and live with all that emptiness, and yet somehow be happy with life going on,” she said. And when she came up to the microphone that last time, everybody listened.


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The Pot Plank and Presidential Politics

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The Marijuana Policy Project came out with its report card for 22 presidential candidates and hopefuls this week and the headline is that no one is sticking their neck out very far when it comes to the legalization of marijuana or the loosening of federal pot laws. Admittedly, this is not the biggest issue on anyone’s presidential platform but as more states jump on the bandwagon, voters will be demanding a pot plank as the 2016 race gets underway.

Republican Rand Paul stands out in the crowd for supporting the rights of states to establish marijuana policy and also for being a voice for decriminalization, legalized medical marijuana and access to banks for marijuana businesses. The MPP voter guide sends him to the head of the presidential class with an A-. On the other hand, the MPP gives Republicans Chris Christie and Rick Santorum an F for saying they will enforce federal laws to crack down on states that have charted their own course in legalizing pot.

Democrats Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb are taking a wait and see approach to the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in Colorado and other states. They get B grades from the MPP. Republican Rick Perry also gets a B for supporting state rights to establish their own policies and working to reduce pot penalties in his home state of Texas.

Republicans Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina get C+ grades for accepting the right of states to create their own policies despite opposing the legalization of the drug for any kind of use. New York Republican George Pataki, who also opposes legalizing marijuana for all purposes, still gets a C for saying he’ll keep the federal government from interfering with states that vote to legalize pot, as long as it stays away from kids and doesn’t upset neighboring states. Republicans Donald Trump and Lindsay Graham get C’s for supporting only medical marijuana. Republican Bobby Jindal gets a C- for only supporting limited medical marijuana and would be candidate John Kasich gets a C- for not even supporting that.

Continuing the “gateway drug” narrative has earned Democrats Martin O’Malley and Joe Biden a C- and D respectively. Republicans Scott Walker and Ben Carson also get D grades for not giving up on the theory. Florida Republicans Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and Arkansas Republican Mike Huckabee, who oppose the legalization of marijuana for any purpose, get D’s as well.

According to Marijuana Policy Poject Communications Director Mason Tvert “voters should know which candidates support rolling back prohibition and which ones are fighting to maintain it. People are becoming increasingly wary of the federal government’s role in our nation’s marijuana policy.” Indeed, the disconnect between state and federal laws has been one of the biggest challenges dogging the young industry. “If states are to be our nation’s laboratories of democracy, our next president needs to respect their right to experiment,” Tvert said. “They should be committed to basing marijuana laws on science and evidence instead of ideology and politics.”


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The Pot Baron of Reality Television

The newest in the crop of marijuana shows launches on Sunday, April 19 when CNN introduces “High Profits” just in time for 4/20. The eight episode series features Brian Rogers and Caitlin McGuire, owners of the Breckenridge Cannabis Club, as they work to become marijuana moguls and eventually franchise their stores. It follows on the heels of MSNBC’s well received docu-reality series “Pot Barons of Colorado.” After wrapping up that marijuana infused marathon, executive producer Gary Cohen says he’s hooked.

“Pot Barons was a crazy sprint” says Cohen, who is the Emmy award winning founder of Triple Threat Television based in Stamford, Connecticut. “Those six months were as demanding as any I could remember.” Cohen deployed an eight-person team who worked around the clock out of a house in Denver. The program focused on the most successful ganjapreneurs in Colorado including the founders of Medicine Man, Euflora and Dixie Elixirs. Now he is developing and pitching new programs. “I expect to do lots of pot shows,” says Cohen.

Cohen got his start in television producing sports and documentaries. Triple Threat TV produced nine films for ESPN’s highly acclaimed 30 For 30 series. His team also produced ten episodes of MTV’s True Life and eight episodes for Biography. His foray into marijuana shows is a natural evolution for the producer of non-fiction programming who is a self-described marijuana lover and advocate. “I’m comfortable saying I am a marijuana person. Thanks to efforts of a lot of people who have been working at it for a long time I lived to see a day I never thought I would live to see. Prohibition is over.”

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Cohen is exploring how to do the marijuana version of various television genres such as talk shows, documentaries, cooking shows and music shows. One of those is a talk show with the Denver Post’s Cannabist pot critic Jake Browne who gets high and hangs out with celebrity guests. Cohen is shopping a pilot where Jake parties with former Denver Bronco Nate Jackson who wrote a book about getting high in the NFL. Cohen thinks a program like this will attract celebrities. “Marijuana is part of a brand. They’re eager to be identified with it in the right way.”

Cohen admits not every network is open to the idea of pot shows because there could be ad sales issues.   Even so, there are more channels willing to listen to a marijuana pitch now than there were a year ago and the reaction is “oooh that’s sexy, maybe we’ll get some viewers we don’t normally get.” While he was in Washington D.C. at the non-fiction television summit, Realscreen, he went up to a women’s network and asked if they were interested in talking and they said “yes, definitely. Let’s set up a call for next week.”

“There are an awful lot of people who get high. My interest is in leading the charge. I don’t want to follow the crowd. I want to do more. I feel like there are huge opportunities and we are getting out in front of some of them.” Cohen is looking at cable television and over the top networks and channels that are delivering programs through phone apps and streaming video on demand. “At the same time there is a marijuana revolution there is a television implosion,” he says. “There are more and more media outlets and millennials are not paying for cable.   You and I grew up in a world of half hour and hour television slots. Uh uh. Game over. Four minutes or eleven minutes or 71 minutes, it’s whatever it is. People will find it if they want it and it speaks to them. The doors have blown off old media and everything is different going forward.”

Cohen looks forward to returning to Colorado and cultivating his relationships with the Pot Barons. He describes his time in Denver as a “dreamy busman’s holiday.” In the meantime, he is casting for talent for new shows and producing a public service announcement for medical marijuana with a cast of 25 people with different conditions. He is also considering doing a documentary following the upcoming vote to legalize marijuana in California. “This is exciting work for me. The kind of people who are drawn to the industry are positive, energetic, they’re hard working like nobody’s business, they’re free thinking, they’re open minded, they’re creative. Six months ago I couldn’t have done it and now I can and now I really want to.”


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The Other Marijuana Boom

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When recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado in January of 2014 it promised to be a boom for those who were ready with their brick and mortar stores and new licenses. Growing as rapidly as weed are ancillary businesses that cater to these new marijuana pioneers. You only need to walk inside the massive grow operation at establishments like Medicine Man to realize that marijuana demands sophisticated lighting and cooling systems as well as excellent soil and fertilizers to keep the plants happily budding. To protect the plants, growers and retailers need elaborate security systems. Once harvested, marijuana needs to be sold in specialized packaging. Ancillary products are flourishing as the marijuana economy takes off.

It was only a matter of time then before ancillary services like law firms and advertising agencies started popping up to meet the needs of ganjapreneurs. Vicente Sederberg bills itself as The Marijuana Law Firm. On its homepage it describes its role in this brave new world:

Our clients are trailblazers, building a new and vibrant industry from scratch. Each and every one of them has made a conscious decision to assume a certain level of risk in order to change the course of history. As trailblazers ourselves, we take pride in being with them every step along the way, helping them navigate and overcome unique legal and regulatory challenges.

Brian Vicente was the co-director of the Amendment 64 ballot measure that led to the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado. He is considered a leader in marijuana policy reform and even assisted Uruguay when it became the first country in the world to fully regulate its adult marijuana market. Another attorney is Sean McCallister with McCallister Law Office.  He also helped draft Amendment 64 and works with dispensaries and marijuana companies to stay on top of laws in the highly regulated industry. He is also developing strategies to take his clients national as marijuana becomes legal across the country.

To help marijuana businesses with the complexity of marketing and advertising Cannabrand has stepped up. Olivia Mannix and Jennifer DeFalco both brought ad agency pedigrees to their full service marketing company. They launched their business at the same time recreational marijuana was legalized in January of 2014, and specialize in knowing all the facts, laws and regulations associated with the marketing of cannabis. Olivia, who had a red card for medical marijuana following a ski injury, and Jennifer decided to dive in and start a cannabis specific agency to help give marijuana a better reputation. They hit the ground running, work 80 hours a week and now serve 15 plus clients. They are adding a senior account manager and a third partner who will be their director of analytics.

“Our mission is to educate the public and have positive connotations of cannabis for the consumer and really take away labels,” says Olivia. “If you like to consume cannabis you shouldn’t have to feel pigeonholed or stigmatized for that.” To do this, Cannabrand helps clients with their websites, image, storefronts, packaging and designs. The company has clients in Florida, Washington, D.C., Oregon, California and Montana but mostly in Colorado. “It’s very exciting bringing marijuana to the public on a national scale,” says Olivia.

Another ancillary service is a startup website, Denverweed.com which aggregates all the marijuana companies in Denver into one complete online directory. “We wanted to create a one stop shop for people seeking out marijuana businesses in the Denver area,” says DenverWeed.com founder Jason Keeley. “We post descriptions and reviews of dispensaries, weed friendly lodging, grow stores, tour companies, lawyers, spas, classes and real estate. The marijuana industry is growing so rapidly that we saw a need for updated information to be handy and under one roof.”

According to the Marijuana Business Factbook, 90% of cannabis companies are expecting to grow this year. Experts say branding will be key for a competitive edge as companies expand nationally and even internationally. With people comparing the marijuana economy to a new Gold Rush or the Internet boom, being recognized first as experts with ancillary products and services is a key to success. Law firms, ad agencies and business websites are realizing the value in riding the coattails of the marijuana industry as it flourishes in Colorado and beyond.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Journalism.


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Guns In My Backyard

The other night while having dinner on our deck on a warm summer evening we heard automatic weapons fire.  We live in the suburbs of Denver, about a mile as the crow flies from the Family Shooting Center in Cherry Creek State Park.  We often hear the peppering of gunfire as people shoot and train with handguns and rifles.  It is background noise for us, just like the planes flying over our house as they line up to land at nearby Centennial Airport.  But this night was different.  It sounded like we were on the front lines in Syria or Afghanistan.  The shooting went on forever.  Non-stop uninterrupted automatic weapons fire.  I called the Sheriff’s office and they said they were getting numerous complaints.  Then I called and left a message at the range, saying they were being insensitive and not being good neighbors, especially in light of the recent Aurora shooting which left so many people dead, injured and on edge.

Much to my surprise, the next evening, the proprietor of Family Shooting Center, Doug Hamilton, called me.  He was very earnest and apologetic that we were disturbed.  He was certain it was an unusual confluence of atmospheric conditions that carried the sound all the way to us.  He told me they were having a special demonstration event for the staff that they do once a year.  He said he was calling back everyone who left a number and wanted to assure me that they were good neighbors.  He even told me about sound buffers they were installing.  We had a good dialogue, but when I suggested to him that perhaps they do not need to fire off automatic weapons at the range, or if it was essential to have this event annually, perhaps his staff could take a field trip to the country, he went silent.  He listened politely to my feelings but when we hung up I wasn’t sure he really heard them.

And therein lies the disconnect.  I will be candid.  I am not a gun person but in recent years my stance has softened dramatically.  My car dealer has his concealed carry permit.  My son’s best friend hunts.  I visited the Tanner Gun Show and understood why some women felt they needed to have a handgun.  I get that people want guns for recreation and protection.  I have learned to respect their rights.  I believe I am being very reasonable.  But I cannot understand why we need to have automatic weapons in my neighborhood or in any neighborhood for that matter.  When I posted my story on Facebook the jaws of my friends in Canada and Australia dropped.  They couldn’t get their heads around an evening in the suburbs listening to automatic weapons fire or even the irony of a place called Family Shooting Center.  They have such a different world view from ours.

Not long ago in another direction a mile away from my house a new business opened.  It is a gun store, with a built in range, and the owners intend to turn the empty lot across the way into a gun club.  Right across the street from my Starbucks and Einstein’s in an upscale suburb of Denver there is now a gun store.  I must confess when I first saw it I had a visceral reaction.  Not in my back yard.  But I’ve accepted it.  The only thing I wish is that since we are sharing common ground, perhaps we can reach some common ground.  Can’t we all at least agree that there is no reason to have automatic weapons around here?  What good comes from them except to kill people?  Can’t we just leave them to those who fight wars?  It seems like such an easy compromise to make and one that many reasonable people are calling for.  It seems like our country and our communities would be so much safer.  It would certainly keep me from losing my appetite during warm summer evening barbeques on my deck in Colorado.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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How Hunter S. Thompson Looked for a Job

There was never a dull moment with Hunter S. Thompson.  He wrote this cover letter in 1958.  Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times shared it today with his Facebook fans and remarked that it was the best job application letter he ever read.  It also appeared in the Fear and Loathing Letters Vol. 1.  We miss Hunter S. Thompson in Colorado.  When he died it kind of took the high out of our high country.  Don’t think his chutzpah led to a job with The Sun though.

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TO JACK SCOTT, VANCOUVER SUN

October 1, 1958 57 Perry Street New York City

Sir,

I got a hell of a kick reading the piece Time magazine did this week on The Sun. In addition to wishing you the best of luck, I’d also like to offer my services.

Since I haven’t seen a copy of the “new” Sun yet, I’ll have to make this a tentative offer. I stepped into a dung-hole the last time I took a job with a paper I didn’t know anything about (see enclosed clippings) and I’m not quite ready to go charging up another blind alley.

By the time you get this letter, I’ll have gotten hold of some of the recent issues of The Sun. Unless it looks totally worthless, I’ll let my offer stand. And don’t think that my arrogance is unintentional: it’s just that I’d rather offend you now than after I started working for you.

I didn’t make myself clear to the last man I worked for until after I took the job. It was as if the Marquis de Sade had suddenly found himself working for Billy Graham. The man despised me, of course, and I had nothing but contempt for him and everything he stood for. If you asked him, he’d tell you that I’m “not very likable, (that I) hate people, (that I) just want to be left alone, and (that I) feel too superior to mingle with the average person.” (That’s a direct quote from a memo he sent to the publisher.)

Nothing beats having good references.

Of course if you asked some of the other people I’ve worked for, you’d get a different set of answers.If you’re interested enough to answer this letter, I’ll be glad to furnish you with a list of references — including the lad I work for now.

The enclosed clippings should give you a rough idea of who I am. It’s a year old, however, and I’ve changed a bit since it was written. I’ve taken some writing courses from Columbia in my spare time, learned a hell of a lot about the newspaper business, and developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity. If this is what you’re trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I’d like to work for you.

Most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews.

I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don’t give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations.

I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of.

It’s a long way from here to British Columbia, but I think I’d enjoy the trip.

If you think you can use me, drop me a line.

If not, good luck anyway.

Sincerely, Hunter S. Thompson

 
For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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The New Normal: Moose in Newfoundland

When I’ve produced stories in the past I’ve always been on location with my crew.  But times in television, well sometimes, they are a changing.  This story about the serious problem being caused by an overpopulation of Moose in Newfoundland was a collaboration between cameraman Greg Locke of Straylight Media in Newfoundland and me in Colorado.  We met via Google. I set up the story and found the characters, he was the field producer, cameraman and sound man, and I wrote the story, did the rough cut and even recorded my first voice over ever.  It’s the new normal. I’m proud we managed to tell an important story about how moose in Newfoundland are so abundant that they are causing deadly collisions on the highways prompting a class action lawsuit against the provincial government.  I wish I had been able to go to Newfoundland to produce this story for HDNet’s World Report but I guess we showed it can be done.  A Canada/USA co-proproduction, with two people who never met and still managed to make a difference.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

 


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Gone to the Dogs

My friend, Niza Knoll, has an art gallery in the Santa Fe Arts District in Denver.  Knoll Gallery is a fantastic array of creativity and is emerging as one of the best galleries in Denver (in my humble opinion.)  Each year Niza does a juried exhibit featuring art on dogs.  Gone to the Dogs 3 opens this Friday, August 19, and runs through September 17.  I asked Niza why she does this particular exhibit each year.

“I grew up with dogs and always loved their company when I came home.  They give us unconditional love.  They fill an empty spot in my life.  I like being needed.  It always fascinated me that a creature so different than us can connect with our feelings and moods and be able to live with us.  I have always connected more with people that like dogs or cats so I thought it would be fun to share my love for this amazing creature with others.  It really has been lots of fun and I have met some great dog lovers.”

A couple of springs ago I was fortunate to have an exhibit at Niza’s gallery and I had a couple of dog photos that I took on display.  The chihuahua on the sidewalk was taken at Union Square in San Francisco, California. I loved how this pampered pooch was in complete lockstep with her owner. She was a little diva of a dog.

The other photograph was taken in Talkeetna, Alaska.  Talk about a dog and master looking alike. What characters!

Hope you can make it to see Niza’s show.  Her gallery is at 915 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, Colorado, 80204.  The Denver Dumb Friends League will be there with adoptable dogs so maybe you’ll come away with art and a pup to love.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

To see more photographs visit Vicky Collins Photography.

 


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Happy Birthday, JonBenet Ramsey

JonBenet Ramsey would have been 21 years old today. I covered this story for years for NBC News. For a time the world could not get enough of this murder mystery.  Was riding a train in Italy one day and mentioned to my seat mates that I was from Colorado. All they wanted to know is “Who killed JonBenet?” Fifteen years later we still don’t know how the little girl died during Christmas 1996 in Boulder. Hopefully someday this case will be solved. Since then, JonBenet’s mother, Patsy Ramsey died and father, John Ramsey remarried. But still no justice for JonBenet.

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