The alt-weekly Denver Westword was looking for someone to cover the recent boom in medical marijuana dispensaries around town, and Breathes was basically perfect for the job. He had a newspaper background and a degree in journalism, and he’d recently been laid off. He had a medical marijuana card to help deal with a stomach condition, and he had even grown his own cannabis before. Still, at first he dismissed the “Marijuana Critic Wanted” ad he found on Craigslist.
“No disrespect, I love my paper, but sometimes they can be kind of snarky about things, and I was concerned that they wouldn’t necessarily be taking the medical marijuana field as seriously as I hoped,” he says. “So I didn’t apply right away.”
It took “every single one” of his friends three weeks’ worth of dumbfounded nagging—“Dude, you have to do this”—for him to cave in and apply. Breathes beat out 350 other applicants, got the job, and became America’s first professional pot critic. And the rest is history—a really awesome, stoned history.
Breathes, now 32, writes the paper’s “Ask a Stoner” column, where he answers reader inquiries like this musing from March 21: “I’m a daily puffer, and I’ve got a drug test coming up that I probably would fail just by breathing on the test cup. Any advice on how to pass a pee test?” He also runs the blog Toke of the Town, covers local and national marijuana news, and writes once-a-week medical dispensary reviews—hence the Phish album-themed pseudonym, which allows him to continue using his medical marijuana card without giving himself away—that thoughtfully describe everything from the quality of the pot to how “scuzzy” the building looks.
As the countdown to 4/20 begins, The Daily Beast caught up with Breathes on his drive home last week and talked to him about Colorado’s newly legal pot scene, which strains he digs (and which he does not), and his advice for this writer, who ends up crying almost every time she gets high.
“It’s no different now to see a dispensary on the corner than it is to see a restaurant, a liquor store, or a music venue in this town.”
So I hear you wear a disguise when you review dispensaries.
No, not so much. I wear a disguise when I [appear as William Breathes] in public. The way it works for a restaurant critic, they can go and make reservations under a fake name and pay in cash and disguise themselves in that way. But for me to go into a medical marijuana dispensary, I have to show them my actual Colorado ID and my medical marijuana card that have my real names on it. So we do this in reverse. I write under the pen name because I have to show them my real name in person, and then any time I’ve ever gone and done anything publicly—like when I spoke at a High Times Cup and on a few TV spots on CNN and stuff like that—I either have them blur out my face or I wear a bandana disguise. I just know that if these places knew, if I went in there being like, “Hey! I’m Will, I’m the marijuana critic from Westword!” I’d be getting the tops of the buds. I’ve seen it with other people who review, who do work this way, so I just try to avoid that.
How many strains from a single dispensary do you review?
I try to bring home at least two strains of marijuana, at the very least. I also try to bring home a hash or some other kind of concentrated marijuana as well, but it’s mostly hash. I’m not a big fan of edibles. I’m trying to be better about it, I’ve found a few that I like. But mostly it’s hash and marijuana for me. I review those through the week, as well as the shop itself.
How many would you say you’ve tried in total now?
I just did a video on westword.com where I put every photo together of every review that I’ve done [Ed. note: Breathes photographs every strain he tries], and I ran them all in under three minutes. And I could tell you that I have three minutes’ worth of pictures at roughly a second apiece. I’d say it’s roughly in the 400s since I started this job.
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