The lines to get into the recreational dispensaries have shortened, but still not completely disappeared, and all of the Mile High City jokes have been made. Even Stephen Colbert has addressed the topic at length on The Colbert Report. But the question remains: What does Colorado's recent legalization of recreational marijuana mean for tourists? Here are eight tips for out-of-towners to keep in mind:
1. The Crop Keeps on Growing
The expansion of pot shops around Colorado seems to be increasing by the day. When the new law allowing recreational sales took effect on Jan. 1, 2014, eager customers waited for hours in prolonged lines for entrance into 18 licensed storefronts. The number of recreational dispensaries in the Denver-metro area has now tripled since that time, with more than 30 new stores springing up around the city. In total, 160 licenses have been issued statewide as of this writing.
2. Sifting through the Smokescreen
Locating these retailers, however, is easier said than done. There is no mention of them on the official websites of the Colorado Tourism Office and Denver Visitor Bureau in their lists of attractions. Instead, visitors should use either Weedmaps.com or Leafly.com to find the nearest location; pick up a copy of Denver's alt-weekly newspaper Westword for the latest pot-related news; or simply ask a local, as word of mouth tends to be the prevailing form of spreading the news on a recently opened location.
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3. Different Tokes for Different Folks
There are myriad environments from store to store—from high-end boutiques to mom-and-pot shops—that cater to different customers. Before your trip to Colorado, it's worth doing some online research to find a preferred destination that suits your comfort level and shopping desires.
4. Pipe Dreams
Once you've arrived at your desired retailer, which is usually accompanied by green signage that makes allusions to “care” and “wellness,” it's time to select your product of choice. You'll find a wide array of with varying objectives and effects: smokeable indicas, sativas, and hybrid strains; hash oil; edibles; topical creams, and more.
5. Budding Rules for Purchase
The availability of recreational marijuana does come with several constraints and restrictions, of course. First and foremost, purchasers must be at least 21 years of age and are asked to provide identification before entrance. Next, based on ID alone, anyone with an out-of-state license is treated as a non-Coloradan, which limits the amount of marijuana that may be purchased. While Colorado residents may buy up to 1 ounce (a little more than 28 grams) at a time, visitors can take away only 7 grams, or the equivalent of a quarter-ounce.
Visitors can still purchase a wide range of products with this small amount. The dosage in each edible, for instance, is about 10–25 milligrams, so travelers can depart with an abundance of chocolates or mints. Lastly, all marijuana must leave the premises in an opaque, childproof container or bag, which is thrown in upon purchase or, in some cases, provided at minimal cost.
6. Cash for Grass
As for what you'll pay to take advantage of the Colorado's recreational law, a gram of marijuana on average runs between $10–$20, depending on what you buy. Topicals also vary in price, but $20 is the standard charge. While cash is always an accepted form of payment, most dispensaries around the state also accept credit cards.
7. Smokeless in Public
Now that you've bought your weed legally, it's time to light up, right? Not so fast. Whether in edible or smokeable form, marijuana use is prohibited in any public space, including on streets, at parks, and spots like hotel balconies that are visible from public spaces. In addition, the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, banning smoking in restaurants, venues, and most bars, was amended to include marijuana. It comes with fines of up to $500 for violation. Consumption in motor vehicles or public transportation is also illegal.
The law, however, allows for use in private residences, and a recent public smoking statute provides that decks, garages, and patios are also permitted. Although a slew of concerts and comedy shows now advertise as being “4/20 friendly” and the security at the venue might turn a blind eye, it's still not technically legal by the letter of the law.
Private membership–based smoke clubs such as iBake Denver and luxury cannabis tours that offer smoking areas, like Colorado Green Tours, are alternatives, but remain in something of a legal gray area as legislation continues to be hashed out. Cannabis-friendly hotels are also popping up, but are few and far between at the moment. On the whole, such options are on the rise as the state continues to wrestle with the application of the law.
8. Smoke 'em if You Got 'em … Before You Leave Colorado
Per federal law, marijuana remains illegal recreationally in nearly every other state at this time, so you cannot take your legal Colorado purchase with you across state lines. The drug is also listed on the airport Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) list of prohibited items; as of January, Denver International Airport formalized its policy banning possession of pot on its premises, coming with it a $150 fine for a first offense, $500 for a second, and $999 for any thereafter. Unfortunately, what you buy in Colorado must stay in Colorado.
Kevin Fixler is a Denver-based writer who holds a master's from UC Berkeley. His work has appeared with Sports Illustrated, The Atlantic, and The Daily Beast.