I haven’t written for a while. Usually these silent periods come about for a terrible reason. Life tragedies, an unmanageable schedule, and crippling laziness all play a role in my various absences. This last time though was different. My friend and I were traveling a bit, seeing the sights, when our adventure landed us in a stoner’s paradise: Denver, Colorado.
Colorado was the first US state to offer legal recreational marijuana to adults 21+ when weed sales began on January 1, 2014. Since then the recreational and (longer established) medical cannabis industry have flourished and gradually evolved while bringing in $135 million tax dollars last year alone. Prices have stabilized, quality has heightened (if you know where to go), and weed stores seem to have no problem following the ever changing legal guidelines laid out for them.
Everything we saw made me jealous. Miami is full of stoners emptying their wallets into a black market of sketchy interactions providing them with unreliable, sometimes barely smokable weed. And there we were in a clean waiting room at Denver Relief, showing our ID’s before awaiting our turn with a budtender. My friend and I were not just impressed, we were poised to spend money. Everyone else in every other pot shop was too.
Now that the 2016 elections are on the horizon and medical marijuana is once more on the Florida ballot, I thought it was time to ask: could the third most populous state in the country prosper from not just medical, but full legalization?
I took a few of my experiences and observations from the Mile High vacation and tried to extract lessons or good examples for Florida if (and when) cannabis is totally legalized.
It’s Not In Your Face
There are no hippies running along the street in downtown Denver blowing out huge clouds of pot smoke. Laws prohibiting public consumption are strict and people are usually very good about it. A friend working at a dispensary informed us that most savvy locals carry CO2 hash oil in vaporizer pens, a relatively odorless and discreet way to toke.
That said, we attended a Torche and Kvelertak show at the Bluebird Theater where we saw no one – not a single person – take one solitary puff of a joint, pipe, or even vape pen. It was a stoner metal show and the audience was so respectful of the venue’s no-getting-high rules that to blaze, everyone actually braved the nighttime cold. Bands played and the aroma of weed was nowhere to be smelled. A willingness to adhere to legalization policies, even when they are overkill, was more proof that people didn’t want to fuck up a good thing.
Would Floridians make the same effort? Time will tell.
Cannabis is obviously somewhat visible in Denver. Like with liquor stores in Florida and anywhere else in the world, the city is also dotted with recreational cannabis dispensaries offering a non-lethal alternative to booze. Not a bad deal when an average of six Americans each day are poisoned to death from alcohol.
Past that, the only way marijuana affects life in Denver is – like anything anywhere else – through advertising (Totino’s Pizza has a delightful weed-centric billboard campaign going on there) and that brings me to my next observation.
It’s Big Money
My friend and I don’t even like Totino’s Pizza but their billboards made us want to buy one of those thin, cheap, frozen discs that can only be enjoyed under the influence. It’s clear that 420 = endless potential for marketing, employment, and commerce. Direct cannabis sales are making a ton of money. Offshoots however can exponentially increase that amount through stoner friendly merchandise.
Take for example Cheba Hut. This Arizona-based toasted sandwich eatery has opened several Denver locations already. Almost all our friends in or from Denver recommended it. We thought the subs were delicious, and menu items are called “Panama Red” chicken and marinara sandwich, or “Chronic” BBQ roast beef. We could see ourselves lunching there regularly.
Pot is also bolstering incomes through AirBnB bookings. Essentially the Uber of bed and breakfasts, AirBnB lets pot-
These are just a few examples of profiting off cannabis indirectly. What about all the growers with their processing locations and other various needs, or the hash makers and all the gear and technology necessary to extract THC and CBD? What about the transportation and the warehouses and the kitchens, and all the gadgets and resources required to keep the weed ball rolling? It’s all money.
Variety Is the Herb of Life
One thing that sucks about smoking weed in Miami or anywhere illegal is the lack of informed choice. Chances are you have one dealer, and that dealer probably has one type of weed at a given time. Two if you’re lucky. You don’t know exactly what’s in it, how strong it is, how it was grown, or whether it’s even the advertised strain. Sometimes your dealer just says it’s “good shit” and you hope for the best. In short, you get what you get.
In Denver and other semi-legal markets there is not only some degree of regulation but there are choices. For me that was probably the most appealing aspect. Walking into a legal weed shop and having a smorgasbord of various cannabis strains to inspect is my equivalent to a kid in a candy store.
There are medical and recreational conveniences to a large selection. Medically, strains with desirable properties are chosen for patients with specific ailments. On the recreational side, one could opt for energetic strains (parties, creativity, outdoor activities) or more relaxed ones (movies, music, a quiet night at home).
Of course it extends beyond simple strain choice. My friend was on her own mission looking for vape pen cartridges full of CO2 hash and weed-infused candies. I was looking for shatter hash and frosty buds. Every shop had something for everyone.
Finally we could legitimately experiment and learn more about cannabis without having to fly to Amsterdam or move to a medical state and hope to qualify for a license. We could smell, see, taste, and feel the difference between Durban Poison, Northern Lights, and Strawberry Cough.
Not all weed is created equal. Some growers give a fuck – some don’t. Likewise, some cannabis shops give a fuck about what they stock and others don’t. These aspects are linked in Denver because the business that owns a dispensary must supply the marijuana sold there.
Subpar weed is usually found in dimly lit, stuffy retail shops with gas station levels of cleanliness and sometimes an intimidating security officer up front. Occasionally there would be a diamond-in-the-rough strain but the selections were mostly middle-of-the-road.
At cleaner, well lit, more organized shops it was a different story. Instead of a bouncer they usually employed a friendly desk clerk (though sometimes behind bulletproof glass). Security was tight but they had a doctor’s office vibe. The weed in these shops was often prettier, funkier, and stronger than weed from the sketchier storefronts. Anyone who knows quality herb could quickly learn the good spots and shun everywhere else. Nothing like some healthy competition to drive up quality standards…
Unfortunately since recreational pot is a new thing in Colorado it has been a bumpy road getting all dispensaries and producers to test under uniformed standards. As laws develop and regulations are more easily enforced, businesses paying less attention to testing and quality will hopefully be weeded out.
Any cannabis producer can fall short of proper testing – meaning not just shops but also edibles companies, concentrates companies, etc. However certain dispensaries themselves like Denver Relief, Native Roots, and L’Eagle place emphasis on stocking healthful, well treated product.
Unfortunately for home growers, testing facilities are still not permitted to accept samples from private growers or users.
Florida being the swampland that it is, mold and mildew testing for all consumers of cannabis would be an especially important part of regulation in the Sunshine State.
The benefits would be extraordinary if Florida legalized cannabis. My latest trip to Denver explained to me in plain terms that cannabis legalization does NOT lead to a city full of caricature stoners and an overpowering hippie atmosphere. Denver was a great, well rounded city that cannabis only made greater. Why couldn’t the same happen for Miami?
We thank you for reading this installment of TropiCanna! I’m your stoney storyteller Emma Jane. ‘Til next time, happy toking… and please don’t forget to vote!