Colorado legalized recreational marijuana on January 1, 2014. I have been visiting Denver regularly for more than 30 years. Last week was my first visit in 2014 to newly ‘recreational green’ Colorado. Denver, Colorado currently has around 120 recreational marijuana stores for a city of 650,000.
‘Help Wanted’ signs are a good sign to see around Denver after several rough years economically. Driving down roads in Denver these days is like riding a bicycle through the canal districts of Amsterdam. There are plenty of green signs visible. Colorado recreational pot shops are inviting those 21+ inside for some business transactions.
What does recreational marijuana actually mean for the pot tourist arriving at Denver International Airport?
In Colorado this past week, much of what I learned comes from Colorado’s Culture print magazine found in many recreational marijuana shops. Their website is iReadCulture.com.
Colorado Amendment 64
Amendment 64 is Colorado’s pot law from 2012.
In short, it allows:
- any person 21 and older may possess up to one ounce of marijuana.
- any Colorado resident may purchase up to one ounce of marijuana at a recreational marijuana retail shop.
- nonresident visitors in Colorado may purchase up to 1/4 ounce of marijuana at a recreational marijuana retail shop.
Employers can still maintain their own employee drug policies meaning that while you may be okay from police trouble for smoking weed in a private Colorado residence, you can still have job trouble if you violate your employer’s drug policy.
This is information from the Colorado government website.
While Retail Marijuana is now widely available, where you can use it is still highly restricted.
Denver is now the American Amsterdam and the marijuana policy is kind of screwed up like many things Americans do. In the real Amsterdam of the Netherlands, laws have changed over the past couple of decades, but the main business model is still in place that allows coffeeshops to operate as retail establishments where people can purchase marijuana products for take away or stay inside the coffeeshop and smoke cannabis products. Amsterdam coffeeshops are like a minimal service restaurant. A tourist can go into a coffeeshop in Amsterdam, buy weed or hash and buy a coffee or non-alcohol drink and smoke your purchase.
In Denver, a tourist can go inside one of 100+ recreational marijuana stores around the city and in neighboring suburbs and buy marijuana products.
While an out-of-state tourist with a government issued ID can walk into a store and buy 1/4 ounce of marijuana or up to seven packages of edibles (limited to 100 mg of THC per item), if you do not live in Colorado, then the ability to smoke that marijuana is severely restricted. Smoking marijuana is not legal in any public space. You can’t smoke marijuana in any space visible to the public. You can’t sit on a park bench and smoke.
Does Denver have additional prohibitions on use or display of marijuana?
- Answer – It is illegal to consume, use, display, transfer, distribute, sell or grow retail marijuana at or within any park, parkway, mountain park (including Red Rocks) or other recreational facility, on any city-owned property (including streets and sidewalks) within 1,000 feet of a public or private elementary, middle, junior high or high school and on the 16th Street Mall (including any city street or sidewalk one block in either direction from the mall). Additionally, DIA prohibits possession, use, display and transfer of all marijuana on its property.
Can I consume marijuana inside a smoke-friendly hotel room or on a hotel balcony?
- Answer – It is up to the discretion of the hotel if it allows marijuana smoke to be consumed in their smoking rooms (the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act limits all smoking to at most 25 percent of rooms). You should ask the hotel if they allow it. Denver city laws prohibit marijuana consumption on hotel balconies if visible from any public place.
Marijuana Friendly Lodging Boom Coming?
There is definitely a business opportunity for recreational marijuana use lodging in Colorado. A full-page ad in the November 2014 issue of Culture offered a B&B 7 bedroom, 10-bath Victorian with the headline : “The Next Step in Cannabis Tourism?”
A statistic from first six months of Colorado recreational marijuana.
- $202 million in sales Jan-June 2014.
Recreational marijuana sales recently surpassed medical marijuana sales in Colorado.
October 1, 2014 saw a new provision kick in for Amendment 64 allowing specialized stores to open. Wholesale growers without a storefront and recreational marijuana stores who do not grow their own supply were allowed to open. This means much of the retail marijuana trade in Colorado is only a little over one month old.
Inside a Recreational Marijuana store
I stopped by two shops, looked around and talked with the employees. I visited two places, one in Denver and one in Aurora Colorado, and both shops were one of multiple sites for two separate retail chains of recreational marijuana stores in Colorado.
The first thing I noticed was the absence of prices in both shops. That is annoying. Websites for these same shops had published price lists.
In both places there was an entry room where a person checked my California Drivers License then let me pass through the door to the retail side of the shop.
One store was a mixed medical and recreational marijuana store. Interestingly, the products were different for the two sides of the counter and recreational buyers were only allowed products displayed on the left side of the counter.
Last week, I read a CNN Money report: I bought pot legally and it was weird where the reporter mentioned paying $88 for 1/8 ounce in the state of Washington for recreational marijuana. That seemed rather high priced to me. In the first shop I visited, the price was $75 for 1/8 ounce after the 20% Colorado and Denver tax was added onto the $60 store price tag. I saw advertisements in Culture magazine with some places offering prices at $35 for 1/8 ounce.
A friend of mine offered me a temporary job to harvest plants at a medical marijuana farm in California back in 2005 when I was unemployed. Sounded like interesting work, but I turned him down. The wholesale price of marijuana then was around $2,800 per pound. At $60 per 1/8 ounce that is $7,680 per pound. No wonder big business is flowing into big marijuana retail when some shops are getting $600 per ounce from recreational users.
The State of Pot in 2014
Denver is currently the heart of the Colorado recreational marijuana industry. Colorado Springs has banned recreational marijuana shops. Denver has a 7pm mandated closing hour for recreational marijuana shops.
Aurora, Colorado, the city between Denver Airport and Denver, just approved 20 recreational marijuana business shops last month. The second place I visited was the second of the new shops to open in Aurora. Their claim is lower taxes and later opening hours than Denver. The Aurora shop was open seven days a week until 9:45pm.
The employees at the Aurora shop seemed to think the state of Colorado will eventually approve marijuana smoking establishments similar to the way Amsterdam operates and regulates coffeeshops. That remains to be seen. Until then, the B&B model or smoking hotel room looks to be a boon for room rates at establishments catering to pot tourism.
For the budget oriented pot tourist, pick up the Culture magazine at a recreational marijuana retail shop when you are in Denver and check out all the advertisements. There are many shops with happy hour discounts for early shopping that can save 50% on your purchase. Some places even offer retail loyalty programs.
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Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.
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