Denver businesswoman Amy Dannemiller created her alter ego Jane West for her cannabis enterprises in October 2013. Her hope: Amy would work her 9-to-5 as an event planner for an unnamed national corporation, Jane would anonymously host her monthly bring-your-own-marijuana dinner parties, and never the twain should meet.
Except the camera-friendly, 37-year-old Jane became a popular face of legal marijuana — and it was a face Amy's East Coast bosses recognized as they saw her vaporize marijuana on NBC Nightly News and the CNBC documentary “Marijuana in America: Colorado Pot Rush” on Feb. 26.
On Feb. 28, the company asked Dannemiller, senior event manager of its western division with a staff of 80, to resign.
“It was curt but polite,” said Dannemiller, who has a master's in social work from the University of Denver and still asks that her new friends and colleagues call her Jane. “I violated the drug policy on national television, and that's completely reasonable.”
Colorado employers still have the right to fire employees if they test positive for marijuana — regardless of pot being legal to buy, grow and ingest.
“If trace amounts of marijuana in your test — something you consumed three weeks before on the weekend outside of work — show up, you can be fired for that,” said Mike Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group. “The next question is: 'Is that fair?' ”
Elliott mentioned Colorado's Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute, which says employers can't fire employees for doing legal things such as drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes off the clock. Because marijuana is still federally illegal, it's not covered by the statute — though the Colorado Supreme Court said in late January it will soon review a precedent-setting decision on Brandon Coats, who lost his Dish Network job in 2010 for using medical marijuana off the clock.
“It's an example of an unfortunate double standard that some businesses are continuing to follow,” said Taylor West, deputy director for the National Cannabis Industry Association. “What Jane was doing in the CNBC piece is legal in Colorado. It had no impact on her work performance. And the ability to take part in a perfectly legal activity on her own personal time is something we generally accept when it comes to any other situation.
“I know very few employers who would so much as ask about an employee having a few beers on the weekend or after work, and there's no reason cannabis should be treated differently.”
In the CNBC interview, Dannemiller was seen trying out a vaporizer at a work meeting as she told the network's Harry Smith: “I'm just trying to change the mind-set and definition of what cannabis consumption looks like. I'm actually shocked that so many people think the fact that I consume marijuana is so shocking. So I think it is important to say, 'I use marijuana, and that's OK.' ”
Looking back, it's easy to see that pot use isn't OK with everybody, even though four major polls the past year have documented America's first-ever shift toward favoring legal marijuana.
“I'm glad it took this long for (my former employer) to see it,” said Dannemiller, “because if they found out a couple of months ago when the first Denver Post piece ran, I wouldn't have been able to visualize the future I now see regarding what I can do with the incredible women in this industry.
“After eight years with the company, it'll take a while to transition out. I have a short contract to close out all outstanding projects. And then I'm done. I would hope to work with them in a logistics arena in the future, but I don't think that that's a possibility.”
What's a pot-smoking professional event planner like Dannemiller to do?
“I'm all in now,” said Dannemiller, who is looking forward to her $95-a-plate Edible Events dinner on March 28. “Three months ago, I didn't know a soul in the cannabis industry, but now I know people like Kayvan Khalatbari, who co-owns Denver Relief and is so passionate about what he does and has been so pivotal to my success.”
Dannemiller's monthly dinners are planned through the end of 2014. She's working with interested folks in incorporating marijuana into their Denver tourist itineraries — and their weddings, even. And she's also working with the National Cannabis Industry Association to help organize women in the marijuana business.
“I want to help people organize on the national level, especially women,” Dannemiller said. “I'm volunteering for the Women's Cannabis Business Network, a part of NCIA, and I'm focusing my endeavors on expanding its reach. We are talking about planning the first conference dedicated to women in the cannabis industry. And next week I'm going to D.C. to lobby with NCIA on Capitol Hill.”
Does Dannemiller regret her decision to vaporize on camera?
“It's just something I knew I had to do,” she said. “There are so many images in all of this media — people taking bong rips and pipe hits and passing joints — and if I'm trying to say that this should be normalized but didn't want myself on camera, I would be hypocritical.”