High, Colorado: Visiting Denver in the Age of Legal Weed

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I’ve been reading about it – and writing about it – for a while now: weed is legal in Colorado! But nothing could have truly prepared me for my first visit to Colorado since Adult Use stores have opened.

See, I’m a tourist in Denver  – a little business, a little lot of pleasure – and this is all so new to me, this all-access weed thing. It’s totally different from a weed festival or underground grow or medical dispensary. It’s a new level of freedom and I’m loving it.

It may sound new-age-freaky, but I swear I feel the energy change as soon as I drive across the Colorado border. It’s like, all of a sudden, there are mountains and blue skies and birds singing and rainbows and unicorns and shit like that even before I go to my first pot shop.

My first taxed and regulated cannabis purchase is at 3D in Denver, the store that did that first historical adult use sale on January 1, 2014. As soon as I get out of the car, I can smell delicious dankness in the parking lot air.

Most dispensaries, I learn, have a waiting area outside the space the actual inventory is stored and the sales take place. The waiting areas at various dispensaries range from tiny to spacious, from sparse to fancy.

3D’s is large, tasteful, comfortable. There is a table with flyers for upcoming local cannabis-related events and ancillary businesses. I’m greeted by a friendly doorman who checks ID, much like at other 21+ establishments. And then…I’m invited to enter THE WEED ROOM.

I’ll stop right here and say that I know this is may seem “normal” or mundane for patients in medical states who have been purchasing medicine from dispensaries for years. In that way, it’s not totally new or novel.

But for someone like me who has only seen photos and news videos and toured medical-only dispensaries as a visitor, the feeling of walking into a recreational dispensary and knowing “I can buy legal weed here” is pretty freaking exciting and empowering, a reassurance that the world is changing and more change is on its way. It’s totally, indescribably cool, for real.

There are flowers, prerolls, edibles, candies…It’s all beautiful and it’s all there for the buying. It doesn’t matter if I’m purchasing it to help my pain issues or just to have some fun – it’s all good here. I choose a bag of hard candies and a Presidential Kush pre-roll.

No, it’s not cheap by anyone’s standards, but I gladly fork over my cash and think to myself, “I have a bag of cannabis. And I can just walk out into the open and go somewhere and smoke this j and eat these candies and I’m not breaking any state laws…and neither are the kind people who grew it, processed it, or sold it to me.”

This Freedom is beautiful.

3D also features a super cool “cannabis viewing corridor,” where visitors can see plants growing under lights. I’ll admit I’ve known some ganja growers and may or may not have dated one or two, and as such I might have hung in a few gardens. I’ve also toured some licensed grow facilities in medical states. But that’s TOTALLY different from walking into a public 21+ establishment and checking out real live growing plants.

For me, that “cannabis viewing corridor” is a sign of progress to come. I think about it at my hotel as I look at a brochure stand with flyers advertising Ski Areas, Whitewater Rafting, and Shopping Outlets. Some day, I think, those tourist brochure holder-things will undoubtedly be filled with dispensary flyers and “cannabis viewing corridor” destinations. My bet is, it won’t be long from now.

Some pot shops are medical patients only, and others offer both recreational and medicinal sales. Many registered Colorado cannabis patients purchase their herb right alongside recreational users; those with medical cards pay a lower amount without the high recreational tax attached.  I’m not allowed to go into the medical-only shops, and that’s cool – although in some counties outside Denver, there aren’t any rec shops so locals (and tourists) have to drive a bit to buy some legal herb. Weedmaps is a good resource for figuring out what’s where throughout the state, but in Denver, just driving around, you’re going to see the shops that welcome everyone of legal age.

I decide a few days into my Colorado visit that I should have a bumper sticker that says “I BRAKE FOR REC DISPENSARIES.”  They’re all over the place. I pass one with a “REC” sign in the window next to the green medical cross, and quickly pull over into a parking spot. How nice to be able to do this spontaneously while driving from Point A to Point B!

A little tinkling bell chimes as I enter the shop, and the waiting area is small, clean, and bright. I’m greeted by a 20-something dude with good hair and a perma-grin, who tells me “Welcome, friend! Come on in!”

It’s not just the pot shops where people are friendly. As I drive through Denver’s residential areas, I look at the houses and wonder: who in those lovely neighborhoods patronized one of the Rec shops that week or even that day? Who in those homes is exercising their Colorado citizenly right of cultivating 6 plants for personal use?

Gauging by the demeanor of the people I run into on the streets, in the restaurants, in the non-cannabis-related shops throughout the city, Denver citizens are either naturally very happy and friendly people or a whole lot of them are totally stoned – or maybe both. Some people have “Gay-dar” and likewise I believe I have “Canna-dar” and it’s not just dreadlocked hippies that are giving me the vibe, it’s pretty much everyone.

“Are you having a good day?” asks the woman at the Starbuck’s drive-thru window. She smiles widely. “I hope you have a wonderful afternoon. It’s so beautiful here!” (actually, it’s cold, snowy, and gray, but my Canna-dar tells me she’s not talking about the weather.)

“Wow, great selections on those burger toppings,” a waiter tells me through a toothy grin. “That’s going to be so delicious!” Ding-ding goes the Canna-dar. Thanks, high waiter dude.

I’m staying with some activists who have been enjoying Colorado’s new freedom since it began, and they are concerned about legislation that’s brewing. There are issues with testing regulations that prevent individuals from getting laboratory analysis of flowers they’ve grown themselves or extractions they’ve made at home. My Colorado refugee host is committed to fighting for patient rights, but as he says, “In Colorado, these issues are kind of like first world problems…And other states in the US are like the cannabis third world.” He’s grateful and I share in his gratefulness.

My trip is over way too soon, and I’m sad about the fact that I can’t bring some of this green goodness back to my unenlightened home state with me…But I’ll be back, again, and again, and again…