When Greg Morrison (Master of Criminal Justice ‘85) remembers his days at CU Denver’s School of Public Affairs, his favorite memories are of the people he met. “I made friends I would not have met in the course of my everyday job,” he said.
Perhaps that is not too surprising when you learn Morrison’s everyday job was being a police officer. During his tenure as a graduate student, Morrison served as a sergeant in the Lakewood Police Department.
“I had already worked my way through my undergraduate years at CU Boulder as a cop in Boulder,” he said. “I am pretty sure that I am the only full-time cop who was living in a fraternity house at the time.”
That full-time cop went on to a long and distinguished career in law enforcement. Today, in a busy retirement, he finds himself still using what he learned at CU Denver in his latest venture—an online gourmet brownies business.
Learning from teacher-practitioners
At CU Denver, it wasn’t just the academic program that informed Morrison’s graduate degree. He was in constant contact, through both faculty and fellow students, with people who practiced what they were teaching and learning.
“I had a slew of instructors from so many different city agencies, government agencies, city managers, HR directors,” he says. “I took a ‘Hard Choices’ class taught by former Governor Dick Lamm that was exceptional.”
Working on his master’s degree, Morrison got to know people in the city governments of Arvada, Westminster, Fort Collins and Aurora.
“We took a public sector technology class in Aurora,” Morrison says. “We went out and looked at the GPS systems on their street sweepers. We learned how they could tell at any time when the streets were swept—or not.”
As a police officer, Morrison was particularly pleased that his classwork gained him entry and firsthand experience in court systems, county jails, and even the State Department of Corrections. “We took field trips to all of them,” he said. For Morrison, “the urban environment of the school was just fantastic.”
A career of service
After finishing his degree in the mid-1980s, Morrison spent the next 21 years working in law enforcement, a career that would take him from Lakewood to positions as assistant police chief in Breckenridge and police chief in Silverthorne, Vail and Grand Junction.
During those years, he started work on a PhD in public administration at CU Denver, completing all his coursework for the degree. He also taught classes at CU Denver as an adjunct professor, an experience he still discusses with relish.
“Teaching was a marvelous experience because I engaged with working professionals,” he said. “I learned as much being a teacher as I did being a student.”
After 37 years in law enforcement, Morrison retired and went to work for E.F. Johnson Technologies, the last police radio manufacturer based in the U.S. As he traveled around the country consulting with public safety executives, he found that his audiences frequently wanted to change the subject from police radios to Colorado’s nascent medical and retail marijuana industry.
“Because I was a former cop and I was from Colorado, the standing joke at E.F. Johnson’s headquarters in Dallas whenever I went there was, ‘Did you bring any Colorado marijuana brownies with you?’” Morrison laughed.
But when a foreign company bought out E.F. Johnson and eliminated many of its U.S. jobs, including his Business Development position, the joke turned into a new business opportunity for Morrison.
Hazel’s Not So Old-Fashioned Gourmet Brownies
Visit any Colorado tourist attraction worth its salt and you will find a novelty item called “Moose Poop.” No moose was involved in the production of this candy, but the name sells the product. Morrison knew from his travels that there was a nationwide interest in the pot experiment in Colorado, so he came up his own idea for spoof novelty gift—brownies he called “Totally High Country Brownies,” or THC brownies.
“The idea was that people would come to visit Colorado and go home and say, ‘Hey, I brought you back some THC brownies,’” Morrison said. “In fact, the brownies had all the usual premium ingredients—cocoa, flour, butter—and absolutely no marijuana.”
The brownies were a hit, but Morrison knew his business plan didn’t have much of a shelf life. As more states legalized marijuana, the novelty wore off and so the joke didn’t seem as cute.
“What people told us was that they loved the brownies,” he said. “But they didn’t want the pot jokes.”
So Morrison transformed THC Brownies into Hazel’s Not So Old-Fashioned Gourmet Brownies, gourmet gift brownies, available for online purchase. Incorporated in Colorado, Hazel’s Brownies (which are named after Morrison’s mother) are baked and shipped in Pennsylvania, and Morrison now divides his time between the two states. He says he does more than half the baking, favoring a French pastry toque over the traditional hair net.
So how is this brownie baron using his CU Denver degree in this new venture? He is evoking distant memories of electives he took in the Business School, pointing out that the accounting, technology and leadership courses he took for a degree in public administration also help in business.
“I totally credit my time at CU Denver with helping me in this business,” he said. “The interactions I had with people there have taught me how to sell a product, and I’m still learning. I consider myself a lifelong learner.”