Mile High City: Cannabis in Denver

Legalized marijuana has brought increased tourism to Colorado. While there have been some visitors who come specifically for the smoke, even more are adding it to their vacation plans while in the Centennial State. A visit to Denver offered a few clues as to what adult recreational legalization might look like in Nevada…

Denver dispensaries are rather different than the ones in Nevada: not so much on the uniformed security guards or buzz-in doors, no paperwork to fill out, no sitting and waiting for your name to be called to enter the sanctum sanctorum of sativa. Also, they all close by 10 p.m. (and many earlier), so do your shopping early. However, there is a division between medical and recreational—you need a prescription for medical cannabis, which carries lower taxes (hence, lower prices) and can be bought in higher amounts.

Reefer Madness

Reefer Madness is conveniently located between the airport and downtown Denver. Adorned with posters of the eponymous 30s film, it offers a wide selection of products at good prices, as well as a chill staff.

Downtown the dispensaries are a bit smaller and tend to be in basements. LoDo Wellness Center feels like wandering into some dealer’s place—show your I.D. to the hippie chick, then cross the Oriental carpets to hippie dude with the table full of goodies. (Also, should you find yourself feeling a little munchy, Backcountry Delicatessen upstairs makes a good sandwich.) Native Roots is a bit more polished and professional, with separate medical and rec shopping areas.

This is probably a contributing factor to the popularity of edibles, which seem to dominate the dispensary displays—as for flower, they pull it out from behind a raft of chocolate bars, gum drops, lollipops, elixirs and tinctures. However, that preference has led to some fine products. Canyon Cultivation’s Original Cannabis Coffee, a chilled brew with 10 mg of caffeine and 10mg of THC per serving. It’s actually a well-made beverage on its own merits (locally roasted Guatemalan beans) and is a nice kickoff for a day of museum-going or hiking. Coda truffles have won awards at the High Times Cannabis Cup and, again, one would happily eat them even if there were no uplifting effects—after all, their chocolatier trained in Paris and worked at Thomas Keller’s Per Se restaurant in New York City. Most boxes come with an assortment of flavors: the Coda has hazelnut, passion fruit and espresso, all with elegant modern-art designs that look more like something you’d buy at Neiman-Marcus.

Coda chocolates

While visitors are encouraged to purchase cannabis, they’re not exactly encouraged to consume it—public use is prohibited and hotel rooms have very specific signage about how many hundreds of dollars it’s going to cost if you leave your deluxe king smelling like Cheech & Chong’s place. You don’t smell it all over the streets like in California, so either folks are making good use of the edibles or of Denver’s many alleyways (more than one bar patron told me they were stepping out to light up and I assume they weren’t all puffing on Marlboros).

There are a few marijuana-friendly accommodations—or “bud and breakfasts,” as they’re called—and a few private clubs/galleries where one can partake for a membership fee. Loopr is a bus that cruises around Denver picking up and dropping off folks who smoke out on the way to their destination. But, for the most part, the idea seems to be that visitors should buy cannabis and then either step into an alternate dimension to consume it or throw it in the trash unopened. It’s an issue that many cities, in their eagerness to embrace tourist tax dollars, have overlooked. Nevada’s public use bill is dead for now, leaving no place for our many tourists to legally partake what they can legally buy and legally possess. We’ve learned a lot from other states, especially Colorado, but it looks like this is one lesson we’ve passed on, at least for now.