Illustration by Sean Parsons

After serving in the Iraq War, Sean Azzariti came home to Denver in 2005 with PTSD. Although Colorado had medical marijuana at the time, he couldn’t purchase it to treat that illness because PTSD wasn’t recognized under the state statute. The omission inspired Azzariti to champion pot for everyone. He was such a passionate advocate, in fact, that the framers of Amendment 64 arranged for Azzariti to be the first person in U.S. history to buy state-sanctioned recreational weed when Colorado commenced sales in January 2014. Ten years later, we spoke with Azzariti, now a chemist for a cannabis company, about the trip legal marijuana has taken after his historic score.

5280: You’ve been enmeshed in the cannabis scene since the beginning. How has it changed?
Sean Azzariti: Colorado used to be the place to be. High Times hosted the Cannabis Cup here. There were lounges that you could go to, like the Grassroots Break Room. But all these places that were very friendly to the culture have gone away. It’s just a business machine at this point.

You sound a bit jaded.
I am a little bit. I’ve worked in this industry for a long time now, so I’ve seen what it had the potential to be. At one point, we were the hub for cannabis in the country. And then Colorado took it away.

I’m not sure what you mean. There’s a dispensary on every corner.
Yes, but there used to be more of a culture where we would have a lot more events. I think we’ve shot ourselves in the foot with regulations, so people don’t really come here from out of state or out of the country anymore for cannabis.

It seems like you think Colorado’s weed industry now favors large companies.
Absolutely. A lot of the companies are operating at a loss, which is hard to do when you’re a small business. It’s the reason you see these big chains buying up so many licenses from former mom-and-pop shops.

Let’s go back 10 years. What was it like being the first person in the country to buy recreational cannabis?
It was a mind-blowing experience. When I walked into the dispensary that day, I didn’t realize the scope of what was happening. It blew up. I was on the Arsenio Hall Show. It was insane. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend somebody with PTSD throw themselves in the limelight like that, but I’m just grateful I was able to have a platform to help other people.

Do you remember what you bought?
An eighth of Bubba Kush and a Dixie truffle. I actually still have the entire purchase sitting in the bag in my closet.

Really? You were never tempted to use it?
Nah. It’s a piece of history.