A Texan’s Trip to Colorado: A Marijuana Experience
Colorado was the first state in the U.S. to re-legalize marijuana back in 2012. As Texas marks 100 years of cannabis prohibition this year, it’s an excellent time for this Texan to visit the land of legalization.
Ask people to draw something that they’ve never seen before and you’ll get wildly different interpretations based on imagination, life experiences, and what they’ve heard. The same holds true for perceptions of what Colorado would look like after marijuana legalization. The grand majority of Texans, and people in general, have never experienced a culture where marijuana is legal. Assumptions tend to run wild in such situations.
Arguably the biggest assumption is that there would be people everywhere consuming marijuana, puffing away in public with their new-found freedom. Consumption on public property is illegal in Colorado however, the same as alcohol. A person must be on private property with the consent of the property owner and be out of sight of the general public, which also rules out a lot of hotels and motels. Consumption in a vehicle is illegal as well.
There are a few places where people can toke up, a few 420 friendly hotels, however if you want to stay within the law, edibles tend to be the best form of consumption.
This has prompted an initiative in Denver to allow smoking at designated public businesses such as an outside patio at a bar, among many other places. Indoor smoking at any business has largely been banned statewide. The initiative is likely to be on the ballot this November.
None of this of course stopped 125,000 people this past April 20 from smoking out downtown Denver.
In Texas, people have absolutely no problem with drinking or smoking on public property, although the latter is more discreet given that marijuana is in no way legal. Many also don’t have a problem with popping open a beer in the vehicle, despite open container laws. During my five day visit to The Centennial State, this sort of behavior was nearly non-existent.
“People are respectful of the laws here” stated one dispensary worker when asked about public consumption. “You rarely see anyone lighting up in public, and if you do, it’s typically a tourist who doesn’t know that it’s illegal.”
Driving under the influence of marijuana has been a concern everywhere, and the state of Colorado actively works to educate people and encourage them not to do so. In one dispensary, Denver Relief, sits an arcade game in the corner of their lobby which looks to be a driving game. The worker there says “at first look you’d think you could play some sort of racing game on there, but it’s just a selection of arcade games. The machine is sponsored by the state and doesn’t have any driving games because you can’t drive while consuming marijuana.”
The state has stepped up enforcement against impaired driving, but has also embraced harm reduction by promoting both Lyft and Uber as services for people who believe they are impaired and cannot drive. They employ a strong education campaign as well. In 2014 the state spent $1 million on an ad campaign called “Drive High, Get a DUI.”
Since legalization, more drivers have been found to have traces of marijuana in their systems, which is natural given that consumption is now legal. Given the nature of how the body processes marijuana though, metabolites can stay in the body anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks, all without any impairment. However, since then the number of highway fatalities have dropped. This is not necessarily an indication that legalization has had a positive impact on driving safely, however it does indicate that fears of increased impaired driving have been unfounded. There are of course arguments which claim that marijuana consumption helps offset alcohol consumption, and studies have shown that drivers under the influence of marijuana tend to be less aggressive on the road. Alcohol accounts for one-third of all traffic related deaths in the U.S.
As I navigated through major highways of speeds up to 75 mph and through congested parts of Denver, drivers tended to be cautious and courteous, allowing room for others to make lane changes, and very few followed too closely to one another.
Four dispensaries were visited during the trip, all based on recommendations, and all were wildly different experiences.
If you weren’t actively searching for a dispensary, chances are you would drive or walk right past one without realizing it. There are no big signs, nothing is in your face, and the image of a pot leaf is rare outside of these buildings. As you enter each building, you’re greeted and must present proof of identification showing that you are over the age of 21. Entry to a dispensary is far stricter than entry to a liquor store.
At each location I presented my driver’s license, introduced myself, and confirmed that I could take pictures. As long as I did not take pictures of other customers, I was free to photograph anything else. However, one dispensary, LivWell, would not permit any pictures inside the building, likening their operation to a bar and not something they wanted kids to be able to see.
Many cities in Colorado still do not permit the sale of cannabis, while others are highly restrictive with zoning laws. During this particular visit, each dispensary was located in Denver. They tended to keep similar hours throughout the week, opening around 8 in the morning and closing at 7 in the evening.
The first stop was at 3D Cannabis Center, situated in what looked to be an old industrial part of town which seemed a little run down. The building was plain and the parking lot partially unpaved. Once inside I was guided back to a room which had two counters with an assortment of jars each containing a small amount of marijuana. Customers are permitted to open the jars and smell the contents, but are not allowed handle any of the buds. There was also an assortment of edibles, primarily candy.
Prices tend to vary wildly from one dispensary to the next, even for the same products. 3D Cannabis Center offered the same edibles at a far cheaper price than other dispensaries. They did however seem short on flower selection and total stock, though their prices were very reasonable. Not much information was readily available either.
The employee behind the counter made a little talk, and when asked about the prospects for employment in the industry, he stated “everyone is coming here to get into the industry, but there’s not enough jobs for everyone, and the number of applications drives down the wages.” He did divulge a number which could not be fact checked, saying he made $11 per hour.
At the back of the building is a hallway which has glass panels, allowing people to look into a grow room. During this particular time the short plants were near ready for harvest.
The next dispensary to be visited, Euflora, required a trip into the heart of downtown Denver.
Situated between a sports apparel store and a 7/11, Euflora is fairly low-key as well, sporting only a green medical cross. As you walk through the sliding door there is the option of a staircase or elevator, both leading down. After walking through a second door, you’re greeted by an armed security guard who inputs your driver’s license or identification card into the system.
Most dispensaries are strictly cash only businesses due to federal banking regulations and ban on marijuana, which could make them a lucrative target for thieves. Not all dispensaries have armed guards, nor are they required, however this particular dispensary contracts with a security firm. Each guard is licensed to be armed and work in the cannabis industry.
The guard spoke with me at length about his job, and said that they rarely have any trouble from anyone
A look around the room presents a well lit, clean area with several tables, display cases, and a merchandise section towards the back. In the middle of the store is a counter where employees can help with any questions or requests.
Each table has six glass jars with different strains of marijuana, and next to each jar is a tablet which gives information about the strain such as whether it is an indica, sativa, or hybrid, its potency, and what consumers may expect to feel after having consumed it. There are also suggestions for what each type of marijuana will be good for, whether it be anxiety, pain, nausea, sleep issues, etc.
Each jar has a lid which can be removed so that the marijuana can be smelled, though there is an extra lid which prevents anyone from actually handling the bud.
The display cases contain various tools for grinding and smoking the marijuana, along with numerous edibles whether they be candy bars, gummy bears, and an assortment of other candies. There are also cannabis infused drinks.
An employee explained Euflora as “the Apple store of weed,” saying that they presented themselves as a high end store for customers. She further explained that while other dispensaries may have various grades of marijuana, “mostly bottom of the barrel,” that all of their bud costs $20 per gram across the board due to its high quality.
When asked about price discrepancies between dispensaries for the same products, she stated that factors such as location and upkeep are included in the price, but also that they were selling an image. Euflora tended to be more expensive than other dispensaries, however they had a helpful staff and a good location.
Next up was LivWell, which was right up on the street in a fairly discreet building. It was easy to find though, and once inside there was a lobby with chairs and two receptionists who asked for ID. The dispensary presented itself as sort of a “hip scene” with the feeling of club music in the background. No pictures were permitted in the building.
There was a brief wait for the next budtender, much like a bartender. Each customer is assisted directly, and there wasn’t much time or room for browsing. At times it felt like I was being herded through.
An employee proudly proclaimed that I would be making history that day by making a purchase at the dispensary, and the budtender stated that they were the best and most famous dispensary in all of Colorado, and the largest of their chain.
LivWell had a diverse selection of bud however, and many edibles made in-house, all at varying degrees of price. There was also a selection of cannabis infused drinks, along with all of the supplies needed for any form of consumption. If you’re looking for edibles made by specialized bakers and chocolatiers generally sold at most dispensaries, you’ll likely be out of luck here.
Just down the street from LivWell was the fourth and final dispensary, Denver Relief, which can be tough to find without knowing exactly where it is. While the building is part of a shopping area, it’s set back off the street a little, located right next to an Urgent Care facility.
Walking through the door presents a cozy waiting room reminiscent of a small doctor’s office, complete with a receptionist window.
The receptionist eagerly greeted me and was excited that I had made the trek all the way from Texas. After processing my ID, another employee came around to the door and invited me further in. He proudly showed me a display case of awards the dispensary had won, and stated that they were in the business of helping other dispensaries around the country get started. We then moved on to a second display case full of glass pieces, which they partner with a local glassblower to make. He informed me that the dispensary sponsors a young boy’s college fund from the Boys and Girls Club as a means of giving back to the community and holds a raffle each month as part of it.
Moving on into the main area where purchases are made, it was set up similar to a pharmacy. A large counter with dividers to help provide one on one interactions.
Denver Relief featured a board with all of the latest products and deals, along with a menu to help with selections. They had a variety of well known strains, and a very diverse selection of edibles with various amounts of dosages, making it an ideal place for both beginners and veterans alike. There were also various tools for consuming the different forms of marijuana, including a disposable vaporizer pen. The staff was friendly and helpful.
At no time did I witness any consumption of marijuana in or near the dispensaries. In most cases dispensaries blended right in with other businesses.
Children are more likely to get a hold of alcohol than cannabis given the enforcement of age limits in Colorado and entry to dispensaries. The statistics after legalization are also now showing a decrease in teenage consumption as well.
The sky has not fallen in Colorado as some feared, and while many are out for profits in this newly emerging industry, the biggest takeaway I gathered was that people there were glad to be helping others.
By: Stephen Carter
Email Texas Cannabis Report at Contact@txcann.com