Where’s the Weed? Mile-High City

Like the modern day gold rush of the 1800s, fortune seekers are fleeing to Colorado due to the legalization of recreational marijuana. Although many believe this is where its penned “Mile High City” nickname was derived, it actually comes from the State Capitol building steps measuring exactly 1 mile above sea level.  On a recent trip to Denver, many of my preconceived notions of the city were dispelled. I was most surprised by the landscape. Of all the pictures I’d seen of Colorado’s lush, green mountains and wild, flowing rivers, I was, instead, greeted by barren, dry, flat land as far as the eye could see. Off in the far distance, you could see white-capped mountains, but the city itself sits on very flat topography. I would later learn that, the sporadic patches of smoke I witnessed from the air were wildfires burning in nearby Boulder, likely due the drought plaguing this area for quite some time.

Instead of taking the $9 commuter train from the airport straight to downtown Denver, I grabbed a Lyft since I always get great insight into a city from the drivers.  My driver, Ryan, told me how the city was growing by nearly 2,000 people monthly, causing unprecedented development and skyrocketing property values.  He told me how his monthly rent went from $400 to almost $1,500 in less than 2 years, evidenced by the rising frames of new apartment buildings and cranes covering the skyline.  Although many had moved here because of weed, many were also drawn to its artistic vibe, proximity to the mountains, and booming economy.  He told me stories of how he was able to take his girlfriend on a day trip to Vegas, costing him only $60 round trip. He spoke of how he used to work at a weed dispensary, but, after a few years, quit when the owner, who had become a multi-millionaire overnight, purchased several homes, boats and took his girlfriend on a 1-month vacation to China, yet refused to offer health benefits to his employees citing “he couldn’t afford it.” He was now studying to acquire his real estate license and take advantage of the thriving real estate market.

As I explored the streets of Denver the next morning, I expected to be inundated with the scent of pot everywhere. Surprisingly, it was nowhere in sight or sniff.  Why wasn’t I seeing the children of the Bohemian 70s or the Rastafarian tokers or even the college kids smoking on every corner? So I did my research and present you with the following Denver marijuana laws as of this posting:

  1. You must be 21 to purchase and must provide ID.
  2. You can’t go toking on the streets. Although this law is evolving over time, the following is true, “Discretion is appreciated, usually required,” Amendment 64 does NOT permit the consumption of marijuana “openly and publicly.” There are some “private” cannabis clubs where you can buy a day membership to consume, but many are new and not at the caliber they should be. Although many will look the other way if you hide away for a quick smoke in an alleyway, you can still be cited by Denver Police for public consumption. To be discrete, edibles or a portable vaporizer can be your best friend.
  3. You can smoke at hotels, where up to a quarter of rooms are allowed to be designated as cannabis zones.
  4. As of October 1, 2016, the following rules took effect in regard to purchasing limits:

Since concentrates and edibles have a much higher level of THC than flowers, the Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) issued the following guidelines:

  1. 1oz Flower = 8g of Concentrate (Shatter, Wax, etc.)
  2. 1oz Flower = 800mg of Edibles

You can still mix and match, but it gets confusing. For example, you can purchase 2 grams of concentrate, but then you will be limited to buying an additional ¾ oz of flower (as 2 grams of concentrate is now equivalent to 1/4oz flower). One important thing to note is these restrictions only apply to retail sales, not possession. You can legally possess up to 28 grams of concentrates or THC as defined in the Colorado Constitution.

  1. You can’t pay by card. US banking laws prohibit the use of credit cards for buying drugs and so, for now, cannabis can only be purchased with cash.
  2. You can’t buy weed all hours. Shops cannot open before 8am and must shut before midnight. Having said that, cities are allowed to establish their own rules. For example, Denver stores must close by 7pm.
  3. You can’t take the marijuana you buy outside Colorado, bring it on the plane or post it home to yourself. Sorry guys…..
  4. Colorado law sets a legal limit for the amount of active THC in your system while driving as 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood.
  5. The “open container” law in Colorado makes it illegal to possess marijuana in the passenger area of a vehicle if it is in an open container, a container with broken seals, or if there is evidence of consumption.
  6. Your right to possess marijuana in CO does NOT apply when you are visiting national parks, national forests, monuments, or other federal properties such as courthouses. Also be aware that many ski areas are located on Federal land. Possession of marijuana on Federal land is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $1,000 on the first offense, along with a 15-day mandatory sentence that can be extended to two years in prison for a second offense.
  7. The law allows residents to cultivate up to 6 plants, 3 of which can be in flowering stage in an enclosed, locked space.

As I quickly learned, the city’s laws prevented people from getting high on every corner, so don’t expect a scene from Woodstock once you exit the plane….bummer.

As I worked my way down the 16th Mall Street, there were a plethora of cool shops, restaurants, department stores, a Jazz club and a movie theatre.  All were easily accessible by the FREE Mall Ride bus that runs up and down the street daily. In addition to the many pedestrians enjoying the sights and sounds of this bustling area, I also noticed many homeless people on every corner.

The next morning, I went jogging along a nearby river and noticed sleeping bags and a handful of tents strewn waterside where people had slept overnight. I wondered if many were transients who migrated from other states seeking a quick fortune, only to find they couldn’t afford the high licensing costs of nearly $25,000 to open a weed dispensary. A resident later told me that many of the homeless were being displaced by the ever increasing rent costs and that the industrial buildings, where they previously sought refuge, were being torn down and rebuilt with high-end apartments and lofts. They went on to say that the homeless shelters would not allow anyone in under the influence of alcohol or drugs, causing many to seek shelter on nearby city streets.

If it’s on your bucket list to have dinner in a bank vault, I have just the place – The Broker Restaurant at 821 17th Street. What was previously the basement of a former Bank, it has been serving up complimentary bowls of peel-and-eat shrimp and mouth-watering steaks to crowds for generations.  Their red leathered seats and mahogany wood booths transport you back to the bygone era of the 20s and 30s.

All in all, I enjoyed my trip to Denver and highly – get it? – recommend.  Should my next trip not be for business purposes, I will carve out some time to hit the nearby slopes or enjoy a hike in the mountains.

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