10 things you probably didn’t know about buying pot legally in America
It’s the question on the minds of many Colorado residents — and on the minds of many visitors to the state. After all, Colorado was one of the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, opening the door to a $1 billion local industry(that’s factoring in the sales of medical marijuana, too). And while Colorado residents can legally cultivate cannabis at home, much of the pot trade — for locals and tourists alike — occurs at the retail level.
In other words, welcome to your neighborhood dispensary.
But what’s it like to visit any of the hundreds of dispensaries located throughout the state? To get an idea, I stopped by one such place — the newly opened Terrapin Care Station, a recreational (as opposed to medical) dispensary in Aurora — while in the Denver area to cover (what else?) a marijuana trade show. And, yes, it was quite a trip, but not necessarily in the expected sense. If anything, a visit to a dispensary is full of surprises that have little to do with getting high. Rather, it’s a study in how marijuana has become a mainstream commodity, but also an extremely regulated one.
With that in mind, here are 10 things I learned from my visit:
1) There’s a lot of security involved
Sure, you might occasionally get carded at a nightclub. But at a Colorado dispensary, you’ll definitely be asked to show photo ID, even if you’re old enough to be an AARP member (I should know — I am an AARP member). And don’t be surprised if the person checking your ID is an armed guard: Dispensaries are often run as cash businesses — many banks are hesitant to take their money since pot is not federally approved — so they usually put extra security measures in place. Oh, and if you don’t like being on camera, perhaps forego the visit altogether: State law requires that dispensaries record who’s doing all the buying and selling.
2) A dispensary is not a head shop
I figured a dispensary might resemble one of those hippy-dippy head shops from long ago — except with the key distinction that the shop could sell actual marijuana alongside the marijuana paraphernalia. But in fact, the dispensaries can be quite professional, even sleek, in their design. I’d describe Terrapin’s atmosphere as high-end pharmacy-meets-high-end cigar shop. Moreover, the dispensary wasn’t located in some sketchy part of town; instead, it was part of a strip mall on a busy suburban stretch. Heck, I even had supper at a Golden Corral across the street right after my visit. (And, no, I didn’t have a case of the munchies. I was just due for dinner.)
3) You’ll need to time your visit (or plan on traveling)
Sure, Colorado state law allows recreational dispensaries to stay open as late as midnight. But cities often take a harder line — Denver, for example, requires they close at 7 p.m. Which means if you have a nighttime craving for marijuana in the Mile High City, you’ll be traveling outside it. That’s why I ended up visiting a dispensary in Aurora — about 15 miles outside downtown Denver.
4) Be prepared to peruse the menu
You might think the selection process at a dispensary would be as simple as picking your weed in joint or loose form. But it’s more complicated than that. A lot more complicated. At Terrapin, I was presented a menu — and I mean a physical menu like you’d find at a restaurant — listing more than 20 types of marijuana available in loose form (with names ranging from “Permafrost” to “Oaktown Crippler”), along with more than 50 types of edible products (cookies, candies, you name it). And that’s on top of yet other products, including concentrates in wax or “shatter” form(shatter is the “purest and most potent” form, according to High Times). Frankly, it can be very confusing for the uninitiated – or those who simply know pot in its classic, pre-rolled joint form. But for old-school types, dispensaries fortunately sell joints, too.
5) Then again, you can always seek advice from the ‘budtender’
You read that right — a budtender. Like a bartender who serves buds (as in pot). And the professionals behind the counter at places like Terrapin are clearly trained to answer questions. Or more important, they’re trained to ask questions of customers to help in guiding the selection process. Key among them: Do you want a “head” high or a “body” high? Different types of marijuana — the major categories are sativa (head high), indica (body high) and hybrid (just as its name implies) and they’re listed as such on the Terrapin menu — will affect you in different ways.
Apparently, being a budtender requires so much in knowledge, skills and savvy thatcannabis-centric schools teach classes in how to become one. And good budtenders are clearly valued: At Terrapin, I met the “Budtender of the Month” — one David C., who “enjoys long walks on the beach” and “making art and jewelry” when he’s not behind the counter, according to the store’s menu.
6) Get ready to open your wallet
There’s really no such thing as a cheap high. At a recreational (as opposed to medical) dispensary like Terrapin, marijuana in loose form will run about $18 for one-sixteenth of an ounce — the smallest amount that the store sells — and that’s before about 20% in state and local taxes (the store gives locals a break, however). Still, cheapskates can find deals by shopping from dispensary to dispensary. And some dispensaries even offer coupon savings. Also, if you’re doing the math: That one-sixteenth of an ounce will yield about two or three average-size joints, meaning you’ll be paying upwards of $6 per joint before taxes.
7) Like liquor stores, dispensaries have their own version of brown bags
When you make your dispensary purchase, you may feel as if you’re buying a prescription drug rather than pot. That’s because dispensaries are required to put all pot in childproof packaging. But unlike those clear pill bottles at the pharmacist, the marijuana container must not be see-through. My pill bottle (er, pot bottle) was as white as the Colorado snow.
8) There’s no smoking on the premises (or almost anywhere else)
Don’t think you can take a toke in the dispensary. Dispensaries aren’t like bars — or cigar shops, for that matter. You’ll have to enjoy your marijuana outside. But not on the literal outside, because that’s problematic, too. (To quote the Denver Post: “Public consumption is banned, banned, banned and probably prompts more anxiety from public officials than just about any other topic.”) And you can’t smoke in public indoor spaces, either — pot smoking is subject to the same clean-air restrictions as cigarette smoking. Which leaves you the option of smoking in your home, but that still puts tourists in a bind. Still, some hotels have found ways to accommodate smokers, according to the Denver Post.
9) And there’s no taking your pot out-of-state
If you’re an out-of-towner, forget about bringing home any souvenirs. Dispensaries will be the first to tell you that’s strictly forbidden and could result in a trip to jail.
10 But you can always buy a T-shirt
Yes, dispensaries sell more than pot. And more than pot paraphernalia. At Terrapin, they carry T-shirts with the store’s name and logo. And at $15 a pop, they’re cheaper than the pot.