Marijuana and storytelling with Author and bartender, Johnny Welsh

Johnny Welsh
Johnny Welsh is a writer and bartender. Welsh wrote a book based off of stories he'd heard at the bar after the legalization of recreational marijuana.
Mark Fox / Special to the Daily |

It’s a typical night behind the bar. I ask the usual questions.

“What would you like to drink today? Martini? Would you like that up or on the rocks?”

As I shake martinis, there’s time to chat, and the focus now turns to the guest. Where are you from? What would you like to see while you are here? How can I help? What brings you here?

Herein lies the beginning of the age-old tradition of storytelling.

PEOPLE LOVE TO TALK ABOUT WEED.“All I have to do is ignite the conversation with the word “weed” while bartending and customers enter the rotation; even those who don’t consume are just as fascinated.”

I like to think of bartenders as storytellers. Meeting and interacting with travelers from around the world at a bar in a tourist town is the perfect platform for sharing and gathering stories. That’s where a lot of magic happens.

As I write this, I am listening to an audio book, “Big Magic,” by Elizabeth Gilbert. I just heard the part of her describing her bartending career where she carried two notebooks with her. One was for the customers’ orders; the other for customers’ stories. She says that, as a bartender, people tend to be a little more forthcoming when they have a couple of drinks. Everyone has a story that can melt and warm the heart. I cannot even begin to say how much this resonates with me. I, too, carry two notebooks with me and I have felt the stories of many travelers and tourists. It is warm, entertaining, fascinating and moving all at the same time.


Never before has there been as hot a topic as the legalization of marijuana in Colorado discussed at any bar I have worked. All I have to do is ignite the conversation with the word “weed” while bartending and customers enter the rotation; even those who don’t consume are just as fascinated.

These tourists, visitors and out-of-state guests inspired me to write a book. I set out to tell the world what life is like in the first post-legalized state. I wanted to chronicle the events that unfolded the first couple of years and still keep the stories timeless. Jobs and businesses popped up left and right in the new industry and they were so unique and fascinating. The emotions were all over the board those first two years, from excitement to apprehension to euphoria; it was a sight that might not ever be repeated. I imagined painting the picture of this new world for all to understand without having to enter that world if they didn’t want to.

I Googled relentlessly to see if there was somebody out there already writing about Colorado and its crazy cannabis experiment. There was no one. Everyone was too busy entering the industry that I guess books were overlooked. Not by me — not with my degree in Italian literature, language and culture. I had a nice base knowledge and had been writing for over 20 years. Add 23 years of bartending to that and I believed in my heart that the ingredients were in place for a book recipe called “Weedgalized in Colorado: True Tales From the High Country.” See, Mom? I told you I would put that degree to use someday!


Cannabis is showing up more in news, media and entertainment, spilling over into the written word. My passion is telling stories, especially to travelers and I’m fortunate that I get to practice this art. And as a bartender, I get to tell my stories with a twist, no pun intended. I am blessed with the opportunity to jump into this industry from a behind-the-scenes vantage point.

There’s a common trust extended to bartenders that I have personally experienced, especially in bigger cities. We can assist travelers with escorts, party supplies, free event tickets, hook ups, etc. We’re not afraid to bend the rules and cut corners so our guests have the best experiences. The same is true for providing the inside scoop to current event stories that we see a different side to. This is the case with marijuana, even in a post-legalized world.

One thing I have found — people love to talk about weed. When one has a memory or past story with cannabis, it usually tends to stick in the mind. You remember who you were with, what happened and how it felt — since you were probably breaking the law when it happened. Telling the story is like sharing a secret. And people love to tell secrets to bartenders. In the words of John Bender from “The Breakfast Club” — “Being bad feels kind of good, eh?”


I hope that the oral storytelling tradition doesn’t fade in the face of smartphones and the growing technology revolution. Ever talk to someone while they are texting? I think Socrates would be beside himself with his stern support of the oral traditions and the art of listening. Remember, the next time you happen upon a storyteller, make sure you listen just in case we become an endangered species.

Johnny Welsh is the author of “Weedgalized in Colorado: True Tales From the High Country.” Welsh has been a bartender for 23 years and lived in Colorado for 19. Read more of his musings on weed and storytelling online at

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