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The First Day of Denver's Weed Boom: An Eyewitness' Account

Surveying the surreal scene at a dispensary as legal weed comes to Colorado

Kristin Brinckerhoff ponders the selection of marijuana at 3D Cannabis Center in Denver, Colorado.
Craig F. Walker / The Denver Post
January 8, 2014 12:25 PM ET

I stood in line for four hours to see Barack Obama during Denver's Democratic National Convention in 2008. I've stood in lines nearly that long at airports and music festivals. But the line outside of the Dank Colorado dispensary in Northeast Denver on New Year's Day was giddy and downright familial – despite being just as long and uncomfortable.

See Our List of the 10 Best Stoner Movies of All Time

I wanted to witness the dawn of fully-legal weed in Colorado on January 1, and Dank – a corny acronym for Denver Area Nuggets of Kindness – was only a few blocks from my house. The nondescript brick building in a blighted industrial area near Interstate 70 wasn't quite what I was expecting. And without the list of state-approved retail pot shops in the local media, it would have been near-impossible for anyone to find.

But there we were, two dozen souls queued outside in the frosty air. I joined the line because it looked short, but it belied a cramped horde inside, which filled the halls and stretched around the building. Still, it felt more like a good-natured DMV crowd than a Depression-era bread line, the random assortment of people (mostly men) seemingly covering the full 21-and-up age, race, and income spectrum.

Despite the lack of movement for up to 20 minutes at a time, people chatted and snapped pics on their phones, trading stories of their experiences (or, interestingly enough, lack thereof) with cannabis. Whenever frustration began to creep in, as it did around the second and third hours of waiting, someone would remind us that what we were doing was unprecedented, and that at the end, we'd all be happily blazed out of our minds.

Is Weed Legal Where You Live? See Your State's Marijuana Laws

Those who predicted violence or mass smoke-ins were proven wrong as pot shops across the state saw calm, orderly sales all day. The world was watching to see if Colorado would blow it, and we didn't.

"The expectedly mellow consumers behaved themselves," wrote Ricardo Baca, The Denver Post's newly-minted marijuana editor. "The shops raked in the cash and tested the free market with prices that seemed to escalate throughout the day. Some even charged non-Coloradoans double." (Full disclosure: I also write for The Post).

Indeed, reports of price spikes and low supplies are the only negatives I've seen since January 1. The in-state limit of one ounce per customer was lowered to a quarter-ounce at Dank for fear of running out. Even then, some were not so lucky. Mario, a 21-year-old student from Brighton, was one of several people turned away for having a vertically-oriented driver's license, which for some arcane legislative reason isn't accepted as valid ID for weed purchase. He had waited nearly four hours.

Is Weed Really Bad for You? Six Myths About the Drug

I felt terrible, as did Bob and Wanda, the 60-something couple from Wisconsin who Mario and I had been talking to for most of the day. But not that terrible. We finally entered the tiny, green-walled sanctum where edibles, THC-infused soda, and jars of pungent bud were peddled by friendly "budtenders." I finally understood why people had been taking their sweet time.

I watched a flat-screen display tick off exotic strains and advertise "Free Joint Mondays." Death Star, an indica-dominant hybrid of Sour Diesel and Sensi Star, was advertised with an exploding image of its Star Wars namesake. Sold! I scanned the fast food-style menu behind the counter before picking up an eighth of Larry OG, a mixed-shake cone (European-style joint) and a packet of hash-infused caramels (Dr. J's Caramellowz) – all for under $100. It felt like a victory, for common sense, but also capitalism. Everyone seemed to be spending a couple hundred bucks.

That night, as I settled in to enjoy the spoils, I couldn't help but think that Colorado is the beginning of the end for federal marijuana prohibition, and how the last week here has felt both surreal and inevitable. After sampling my high-test strains, which had been grown for Dank's medical dispensary, I ate the most delicious pizza of my life. No doubt there are many more to come.

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