A little more than a year ago, Colorado made history by becoming one of the first states to legalize the recreational use and possession of cannabis products under particular circumstances and in certain quantities. Like my fellow Americans who live in tropical climates year round, my family and I love to travel to Colorado to ski, snowboard, and engage in a variety of other winter activities (hot chocolate drinking included and encouraged).
In my recent travels to research content for my cannabis and politics book, I journeyed to San Francisco, Denver, and Amsterdam. Despite the prevalence of cannabis, few people understand the laws. For instance, in Denver I asked the hotel concierge, valet, bartenders, police officers, and even the FedEx guy if I – a non-Colorado resident – could purchase marijuana. In response, each person docilely averred, “Yes you can buy it, I think.” If you are like me, when you get to Colorado you want to hit the slopes and not spend time wandering around looking to buy a bag of weed. For you, I offer these essential tips on smoking pot in the Centennial State. (Part 2 of this blog will focus on the differences between the various dispensaries and how to find what is best for you.)
What does it mean to be able to buy recreational pot in Colorado?
Prior to 2014, Colorado legalized medical marijuana, which permitted residents to obtain a medical marijuana card under the recommendation and supervision of a physician. In January 2014, the new recreational cannabis rules went into effect, allowing people to purchase small quantities of cannabis product. I use the term “product” deliberately as this refers to traditional plant material as well as cannabis in concentrated forms (think hash and edible presentations of the product, but more on that later).
In Colorado, products are sold in two different categories of dispensaries, i.e., those that sell medical cannabis only and those that sell medical cannabis and recreational products. If you are an out-of-state resident, you need to find “21 plus” shops, which mean they will sell to you if you are 21-years-old and over. Conversely, “red dot” stores are where medical marijuana products only are sold. There are a lot of online directories, like Leafly.com, and StickyGuide.com, both of which have smartphone apps to use to locate shops in any area within Colorado.
There isn’t any type of registration system, and as long as you are 21 and over and have a valid driver’s license or passport, you have a right under Colorado law to possess and consume marijuana. If you are not in the proper shop, you will be asked to leave. Security at these places is strict due to the fact you cannot use credit cards and must pay with either cash or debit cards to make purchases.
How much pot can an out-of-stater purchase?
Colorado law makes a distinction about residents versus tourists in terms of the possession, purchase, and consumption of marijuana. If you are a resident, you can buy up to an ounce per visit for recreational use — the limit is two ounces for holders of a medical marijuana card. If you aren’t a resident, then you are limited to a quarter of an ounce per visit. Both residents and non-residents can purchase marijuana and related products at licensed retailers.
A quarter ounce of “flowers” (herbal material) is weighed in grams, that being seven grams bought at one transaction. As to what constitutes “one transaction” is fluid. One dispensary told me they interpret “one transaction” to mean “one receipt.” Thus, you can make a purchase, walk through the exit and put the product in your trunk before turning around and repeating the same purchasing sequence. Another dispensary told me transaction to them meant “one day,” but that appears to be a minority position. Regardless, if you are caught with more than one ounce in your possession, you will likely face criminal charges.
Colorado is unique because it prides itself on a wide variety of edibles, not just the traditional song-and-dance brownies. You can buy lollipops, sodas, cookies, crackers, popcorn, gummy bears, mouth sprays, olive oil, and just about anything you can introduce sugar or oil to. For purposes of measuring how much you can buy, Colorado does not calculate the weight of the edible itself but the weight of the active ingredient. Your infused sports drink may have 16 ounces in it, but you only count the 100mg of active THC.
To demonstrate how odd this is, a pack of 10 lollipops with 10mg per lollipop would represent 10 servings (and maybe more, depending on your personal tolerance). They do not weigh the lollipop but count the 10mg in each candy. If you buy a quarter ounce, you would be able to buy seven grams of active ingredient. This equals 700 lollipops (no, that’s not a typo) in one transaction. Thus, you can walk into a dispensary and purchase a store’s entire lollipop inventory and eat lollipops until the next Winter Olympics.
You are also free to mix and match, as long as the total quantity of active ingredient does not exceed seven grams. You could buy three grams of flowers, three grams of hash, and one gram of edibles (which could be quite a lot, e.g. 100 lollipops) before heading to the ski resort.
After you make your purchase, they dispensary will sell you (for $3.00) a white pouch with a childproof zipper. This satisfies a legal requirement that you should keep your product in the pouch when transported.
Where can I smoke my newly purchased legal cannabis?
When visiting the car rental counter, I overheard what was later described to me as the most common questions posed to rental car reps these days: (1) where is the closest dispensary; and (2) can I smoke cannabis in my rental car? They will tell you the closest dispensary is about two miles from the airport, and no, you can’t smoke anything in the rental car, be it tobacco or cannabis.
Amendment 64 does NOT permit the consumption of marijuana in open and public spaces. You can’t light up with impunity while walking down the street in the same way you can’t drink in public. Both actions will get you a ticket.
Hotel policies are also ambiguous. The universal truth is that while it is illegal to smoke pot in a hotel room, you may step outside the building and light up. Some hotels allow tobacco smoking but this does not mean that they will similarly allow marijuana use. It has been my experience that restaurant and hotel staff appreciates discretion. Out-of-state residents traveling to Colorado to smoke marijuana must understand that public consumption remains illegal, therefore, it is best to consume it in private. You cannot ingest it in National Parks or while skiing a slope with a black diamond rating.
Quick Recap of Things to Remember:
- You can buy and consume cannabis if you are at least 21-years-old. Take either your driver’s license or passport to prove you are legal.
- Dispensaries will either sell to medical patients only, or to both medical patients and those seeking recreational product. Find one that will sell to recreational consumers, commonly referred to as “21-plus” shops.
- Make sure to take cash or debit cards to make purchases, as dispensaries to not take credit cards due to Federal Banking regulations.
- Keep your product in the sealed, opaque container provided, and do not remove it from the package until you have reached your destination.
- Smoke your cannabis in private places, not in public.
- Do not ever attempt to transport cannabis back to your home state.
Part 2 of this blog will introduce you to some specific Colorado dispensaries, each providing a unique experience designed to meet individual needs. You will be amazed at the quality of the products and the dedication of the people in the industry who strive to provide a safe and enjoyable experience.