Situated mostly at altitudes surpassing 7,000 feet – as the t-shirts in the window displays exclaim – this whole town is high. Of course, this is intended as a double-entendre; as it turns out, Park City has a long history with the recreational and largely illegal drug, marijuana.
In 1915, all forms of marijuana were formally banned in the state of Utah. Ninety-nine years later, the first exception to the ban allowed low-THC CBD use for a narrow scope of medical conditions. In early 2018, terminally ill patients were granted the right to cultivate and use cannabis; later that year, voters passed Proposition 2, the Medical Marijuana Initiative, and Utah’s marijuana laws have been evolving ever since.
Marijuana has been cultivated, smoked, and seized in the area for decades. The archives are rich with news and opinions on the matter. A curious tidbit on the subject appeared in the Park Record in August 1938; absent any additional context, one sentence states, “The leaves of the marijuana weed have seven or more narrow tapering petals. A drying process similar to that used in readying tobacco ‘cures’ the vicious weed for smoking purposes.”
In the late 1940s, the anonymous author(s) of an editorial-style column in the Park Record focused attention on the vulnerability of local youth, placing blame on Hollywood’s glamorization of recreational drug use and warning that our small town was not immune to the dangers of cannabis: “Let us not live in a shell and neither hide our head in the sand. The youth of our town are no different than in other towns. They are mighty fine and we love them and so we want to keep them fine.”
By the late 1960s, marijuana and other types of recreational drug use was rising among Park City’s youth, along with the rest of the nation. Dennis Smith, pharmacist and manager of Auerbach’s drug store in Salt Lake City, affiliated with Park City’s Poison Creek Drug, came to Park City to educate receptive citizens about the potential effects of drug use. He was lauded for providing factual information and not “moralizing” the issue.
Cultivation of cannabis, whether intentional or not, was documented throughout the 1970s. In 1977, Park City’s former dogcatcher was arrested and sentenced to 10 years for unlawful production of cultivated marijuana in what was cited as the largest drug operation to date in Summit County. In a more lighthearted case, a prominent resident and lover of flowers surely hoped that the beautiful plant growing in her yard, whatever it was, would produce blooms worthy of a ribbon at the upcoming flower show. Alas, her plant never produced blooms but was subsequently valued at $350 by law enforcement.
Cannabis kept local law enforcement and educators busy throughout the 1980s and beyond as a national focus on a “war against drugs” filtered down to communities throughout the United States. News of several local large busts, and scores of smaller ones, have peppered the archives to the present day.
Editor’s Note: Recreational use of cannabis remains illegal throughout Utah. However, no- or low-THC CBD oil is legal for all and medicinal use is regulated and legal for individuals with certain conditions.