Meet Colorado’s Pot Smokers

3 minute read

For this week’s magazine cover story about marijuana’s effect on the developing brain, TIME sent New York-based photographer Danielle Levitt to Denver, Co., to photograph cannabis smokers in their early 20s.

Over the course of a weekend, Levitt met with more than 25 smokers, with whom she and her team had connected through a number of weed clubs, bars, as well as advocacy organizations in the Rocky Mountain state, after it became the first in the country to legalize recreational marijuana use of up to an ounce for adults.

But why would someone want to be the face of a national issue that not only draws heated debates but is federally criminalized?

“[Marijuana] is something that has improved their perspective. It is a life-changer for them,” Levitt tells TIME. “Any opportunity to share that with the greater public is a fantastic opportunity.”

In addition to pot activists’ enthusiasm, it is Levitt’s ability to connect with her subjects that enabled her to capture their unique experiences.

“I’m very bad at geography, but I’m good at people,” says Levitt, now in her early 40s, as she manages to bridge the age gap between her and her subjects. “Luckily, the kids think I’m cool.”

Originally from Los Angeles, Levitt has shot for major publications as a celebrity and fashion photographer and recently opened a bar in Manhattan frequented by the city’s fashion clan. Her continuous interest and distinctive style in documenting America’s youth has taken her across the country to focus on promgoers, football stars and urban outcasts.

Giving dignity to her subjects is the key to her photographic approach. “I want them to always feel human, present, respected,” Levitt says.

When photographing marijuana smokers, she asked them “to go at their [own] pace, and to smoke what they feel comfortable smoking, however much that is,” which meant the photographer and her team often had to be in enclosed environments with poor air circulation for long periods of time. “I don’t judge and I don’t manipulate,” Levitt says. “I let them be their true selves, and I think that when people can be celebrated for [being themselves], they can feel a certain ease.”

Danielle Levitt is a New York-based photographer and filmmaker. Her vibrant work on American youth as well as her fashion and celebrity portraits have appeared in various publications including The New York Times, Vanity Fair and GQ.

Myles Little, who edited this photo essay, is an associate photo editor at TIME.

Ye Ming is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Gustin Tubbs, 24, Savannah Kay, 23. "It is our growing knowledge and acceptance of this plant that has lead to much more responsible usage by informed patients or consumers." Danielle Levitt for TIME
Chelsey Joseph, 25. “I have personally been a user for most of my adult life and I feel that I am still an intelligent individual and a positive contribution to society." Danielle Levitt for TIME
William “Nic” Potere, 25. “The ending of [weed] prohibition in Colorado has had a huge impact on my life. I've been able to safely and effectively find cannabis treatments that improve my quality of life. I moved here from Nashville to insert myself into this blooming industry. It has become my profession and my career.” Danielle Levitt for TIME
Jordan Lenhard, 23. “The only negative aspect I perceive exists because of its federal illegality, the misconception and propaganda it often receives from those more, close minded institutions.” Danielle Levitt for TIME
Michael Metoyer, 21.“I work for a 420 tour company so I have a very good relationship [to marijuana], as I work with it every single day.” Danielle Levitt for TIME
Chelsey Joseph, 25. “Cannabis has been a safe alternative to alcohol for my recreational enjoyment. As I've grown, I've tended to stay away from alcohol in social settings and choose to use cannabis instead. This has resulted in more memories, less vomiting and no hangovers.” Danielle Levitt for TIME
Kim Lefebure, 21. “[Before marijuana was legalized], there would be some sketchy drug dealers you would get a bag of pot from, and you wouldn’t know what it was, and they might not have even known either. It was just a very quick process of money transfer. Now when you go to a dispensary, you can say - these are my symptoms and this is what I’m looking for. What should I get? What is your advice?” Danielle Levitt for TIME
Presley Mullinax, 23. “Working in the [marijuana] industry has allowed me to make a positive impact on those with debilitating diseases and shed light on all the amazing health benefits of this plant.” Danielle Levitt for TIME
Brittany Yetter, 22. “In December 2012, I got into a car accident. It messed up my neck and my back. I thought smoking [marijuana] really helped with the pressure and pain.” Danielle Levitt for TIME
From left to right, Kathryn Schechter (aka 710 Witch), 21, Alexis Gavin (aka Lexileggo), 23, Katelyn Chapman (aka Katie Kush), 23. Chapman: “If I could dispel one myth about cannabis, it would probably have to be that the use leads to addiction and dependence.”Danielle Levitt for TIME
Evan Johnson, 25. “When marijuana is abused it can definitely affect one’s motivation, but I’ve never really had that issue.” Danielle Levitt for TIME
Michael McDonnell, 25. “It helps me relax. It’s a way to unwind after work without having to drink or having to go out.” Danielle Levitt for TIME
Samantha Gonzales, 23. “I’m from Michigan originally and [used] medical marijuana there. I got a job in a dispensary when I turned 18. I really learned about how the plant could help you in so many ways. When I heard that Colorado was opening up recreational marijuana, I moved to Colorado so I could start my career path here.”Danielle Levitt for TIME
From left to right, Sean Chan, 23, Jordan Lenhard, 23, Kim Lefebure, 21, Ben Daily, 25, Charles Sanchez, 52. Lenhard: "The key benefits of marijuana for me are the pain relief after long days, as well as an alcohol substitute for stress relief which significantly helps me handle my busy lifestyle." Danielle Levitt for TIME
Meagan Lynn McCorkle, left, 25, Sydnee Hines, 24. “Marijuana has completely transformed my city, and brought people from all over the world to see what we are doing here. The legalization of cannabis in both Colorado and Washington set a new tone, and people are hearing it.” Danielle Levitt for TIME

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