Legally Stoned

Getting a Mile High: Legally Stoned in Colorado After Initiative 64

Out-of-stater Winston Ross tests the difficulty of finding pot in Colorado since the drug was legalized.

It is 8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, and I make note of this auspicious time and date because I am stoned out of my knot right now. I got this way legally, and so I will forever look back on this day as the day I smoked marijuana in America without breaking any laws. This is epic, and historic, and man am I parched/hungry all of a sudden. I wonder if room service has kettle corn? BRB.

OK, back. So, if you don’t know anything about Colorado’s passage of Initiative 64, then the fact that I got high legally tonight may come as a great surprise. If you did realize, or at least had a hazy idea, that the Centennial State voted to legalize weed in November, know that it was at least a little harder than you might imagine for me to get this way tonight, especially as an Oregon resident with no medical condition that might qualify me for a doctor-issued “red card.”

I kind of understood this already. Washington “legalized” weed the same day Colorado did, the same day we all reelected Barack Obama, and I found out pretty quickly that my neighbor to the north was not about to be worth the two-hour drive for a pot fix anytime soon. Until the state designs a whole byzantine system for who gets to sell weed, Washingtonians must endure a strange kind of limbo where they’re allowed to possess it and smoke it, but not to buy it or grow it. How you possess or smoke something you’re not allowed to buy or grow is for you to figure out.

Colorado has pretty much the same deal, with one major difference. Should you get your grubby paws on some seeds or clones, it’s perfectly legit here to grow marijuana, just not to buy it or sell it.

But still, I figured, it’s gotta be a heck of lot easier to get high in Colorado than just about anywhere else, right now. So I came to find out, with the strict admonition from my editor that I “just don’t do anything illegal and go to jail.”

So I can do something that’s illegal, as long as I don’t go to jail, right?

I know people in Denver, and the easiest way to get weed anywhere is just to ask someone you know to hook you up. But that felt like cheating. It also felt like cheating just to bring my own weed, not to mention that smuggling it from one state to the next is probably some kind of federal crime. Plus, I wanted to just see what happens if someone from outside Colorado comes to Colorado to get high. How hard could it be?

I start, like any 21st-century tourist starts trying to find something in a big city, on Yelp. I type in “marijuana” and click “current location,” and voilà! Dozens of nearby options, from “Little Brown House” to “Healing Buds” to “The Giving Tree” to “Cheba Hut,” which is just a sandwich place that caters to stoners.

I settle on “Local Product,” which happens to be just down the street from the Denver Justice Center and the U.S. Mint, around the corner from a row of bail-bonds shops, and within spitting distance of two other medical-marijuana clinics. Jason K. said he was “blown away” by it, and he seems like a Yelp reviewer I could trust. Plus, it’s within walking distance.

On the elevator, on the way to the first floor of my hotel, the housekeeper rides with me, and I’m thinking, “He seems cool. Maybe I’ll just ask him for some weed.” Then I chicken out. Plus, that kind of feels like the old way to get high in a strange place: strike up a conversation, mention weed at some point, and if the stranger seems “cool,” hint around that you’re looking for some. It’s supposed to be different now. It’s legal here, isn’t it? I shouldn’t have to corner hotel housekeepers or sidle up to a hippie in a park and bum a hit off a joint.

“Local Product” has a flier posted to the wall outside advertising “Desert Diesel” for $99 an ounce, and “White Berry Keef” for $9 a gram. I ring the doorbell. “Bud tender” Allie Greenstone (her real name) answers the door. Once I reveal I have no red card, she has the same bad news for me that she has for the half-dozen people who call or come in every day looking to buy recreational marijuana here: no dice.

“It happens a lot,” Greenstone says.

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OK, but surely they can tell me where I might score, right?

No dice.

“It’s kind of a sketchy neighborhood,” Greenstone says. “You might be able to find some.”

Quips master grower Joe Tremolada, eating a Three Musketeers bar: “You’re a mile high already!”

Just then, the doorbell rings.

“Hi, we’re from out of town,” comes the familiar query from the sidewalk. “What do we need to know?”

Greenstone smiles and explains it all over again.

I figure I’m going to hear a similar song at any of the 385 dispensaries in Denver. It’s time to think outside that box. I do my best thinking while (stoned or) getting my hair cut, so I head back to the hotel and call a barbershop, make an appointment, and call the bell captain for a ride there.

On the way, the driver and I get to talking about marijuana. People ask him where they can score all the time too, so much so that he’s thought about just asking his girlfriend, who grows for a medical-marijuana dispensary, for a regular supply of “pre-rolls” (a.k.a. joints) that he can sell to hotel guests.

“I’ve been trying to figure out a number that would be worth the risk of losing my job,” he says.

So what do you tell people?

“I would ask the bellman at the hotel. Your taxi driver,” he says.

But you’re the bellman at my hotel, I’m thinking. Whatever. The ride ends, and I walk into the barbershop, and wouldn’t you know it, within the first five minutes of my haircut, I’m talking to my stylist about where to find dope. She doesn’t smoke—she says it makes her “weird”—but most of the people in the shop do, she says. Last week, one of her customers tried to tip her with a bud. She’ll ask around for me.

I’m in luck! Sort of. My stylist’s co-worker assures me that finding weed in Denver is as easy as “Call the homie, seven for $20,” which means seven joints. She writes her number on the back of the receipt for my haircut. Her guy gets off work at 8:30 p.m., she says, and then I could come back to the shop to pick it up.

Cool, so I’m set. But the thing is, I didn’t want to wait that long, and buying it still feels a little illegal. Here’s where doing a little homework in advance pays off, though: earlier this week, my crack-shot research (I googled “Colorado marijuana”) had turned up a place called “Club 64” that hosted a gathering of stoners on New Year’s who paid $30 at the door and could either bring their own marijuana or share it with others. You can’t buy weed there, but you probably wouldn’t have too difficult a time getting high there. So I email the contact person, figuring maybe I’ll never hear back. I check my phone outside the barbershop, and there to my delight is a message from Denver attorney and legalization advocate Robert Corry. The next Club 64 gathering isn’t until Feb. 3, he tells me, but there is a symposium tonight, and people will likely be getting high there. All adults welcome.

Perfect, I respond. See you at 6.

The symposium is at a Denver bar and music venue near the Five Points neighborhood called Casselman’s. Images of marijuana are everywhere: a copy of THC magazine on every table, along with fliers about gatherings, dispensaries, you name it. People are talking about weed too, in every conversation.

The one thing they’re not doing is smoking it. You can’t smoke indoors, and the two people on the outdoor patio are puffing tobacco. I wonder how I’m going to pull this off, if no one else lights up. I sit down and read about marijuana for a half-hour and try again. This time, a group of dudes in their 40s and 50s can be found passing a joint around a circle. I lunge.

“You guys got an extra toke?” I ask.

“Sure,” the one guy says, and passes over a roach (the end of a joint). “Always.”

It wasn’t 100 percent legal, because we got high in a public place, but after a lifetime of covert marijuana usage, it is pretty liberating to know that I could walk up to a cop right now, casually mention I smoked weed earlier and that I’m high, and there is nothing he could do about it. That is something I would never do, but just that I could do it is pretty cool, in a country where admitting you get high remains a social and employment risk. It is not the all-out revolution Peter Tosh may have envisioned, but it sure feels nice, right now. This buzz notwithstanding.

Me and Mary Jane go way back, understand. I caught my brother smoking weed in the laundry room with his weird friend Merlin when I was 7, and Merlin gave me $20 and a puff if I would keep my mouth shut. I ratted them out anyway. In college, I once cashed in an entire tuition check and sent it to Texas to buy 2 pounds of Mexican weed, which I sold, after umpteen hours picking out seeds and stems, to pay rent and eat for the rest of the semester. The best thing my mom has ever said in my presence was at a dinner table with a bunch of my friends. A joint goes around, and one of my pals was bogarting it—he took a hit that got him so tweaked he forgot to pass it. The rest of us were either letting it slide or had yet to notice, when all of a sudden my mom piped up, “Trevor, you’re parked on the grass.” I could not have been more proud.

I am proud today too, because I got legally high in America. Never thought I’d see it.