As the first state to roll out legalized weed, Colorado has a thriving dispensary culture – and the new trend is sustainable products
People in Colorado pride themselves on their tolerance – for high altitudes and marathon ski sessions, sure, but also for high-ABV craft beer and super-potent cannabis.
As the first state to roll out legal recreational weed, Colorado’s had nearly five years to explore the culture and industry of adult-use marijuana, which business-minded cultivators and retailers are happy to point out. But the statewide industry is quickly growing – sales were $1.5 billion in 2017, up 15 percent over 2016 – so even with Colorado’s stereotypically heady, laidback culture (think John Denver, jam bands and snowboards) there are plenty of new developments for both locals and tourists.
Colorado’s overall weed culture still exists somewhere between the flashy, trashy reminders of its black-market past (“Dabbing Granny” billboards, anyone?) and a more evolved, less psychedelic take on the drug. That’s led to a steady growth of boutique and private weed events, such as chef-driven dinners, yoga classes and guided sessions on everything from painting to meditation.
From downtown Denver tourist traps to high-country head shops, Red Rocks concerts to Aspen brunches, there’s a right and wrong way to do weed in this epicenter of recreational-weed cultures. Here’s our statewide guide.
Finding cannabis in Colorado is easy to do, provided you’re near a population center.
The Front Range of the Rocky Mountains essentially bisects Colorado into sparse, windy eastern plains and its western high country and Utah-kissing slope. The roughly five million people who live along the Front Range, from the northern Wyoming border to the southern New Mexico line, have the most ready access to the state’s green bounty.
Amendment 64, which legalized recreational cannabis beginning in 2014, allows for municipalities to individually regulate the number and location of dispensaries, so not all pot-boom towns are created equal. The state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division approved 509 retail dispensary licenses for 2018, and they’re in the expected places: cities such as Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs, and well-known mountain towns from Eagle to Vail. Driving into the burgeoning artist colony of Trinidad, on the New Mexico border, reveals a bevy of dispensaries aimed specifically at border-hopping tourists.
However, Kansas and Utah-based seekers of Colorado weed will have to drive a bit further into the state, as there’s nothing along their respective eastern and western borders. (Note: It is still illegal to transport marijuana across state lines, so what you buy in Colorado needs to stay in Colorado.)
Watching the green pins drop into place on a store-finder app, such as Weedmaps, Leafly or Where’s Weed – all App Store-approved and free – is the simplest way to plot your route. But Colorado-based weed-media, such as The Denver Post‘s Cannabist website (which, full disclosure, I have written for) offer original strain reviews and relevant news in addition to the address, phone number and user ratings.
Unless you have a doctor’s note, make sure the shop you’re visiting is for recreational weed.
While pot shops take pains to make it obvious, be sure to check that the one you’ve selected is retail and not medical, the latter of which requires a prescription and won’t let you through the door without it. Just as important is your proof of age – all pot shops only allow 21-and-up adults inside. No kids, no pets, no exceptions.
Once you’ve established which shops are available to you, decide how far you’re willing to travel. Along I-70 east of Denver, for example, dispensaries tempt commuter and airport traffic with glowing green crosses and names like Lightshade, the Green Solution and Fox Street Wellness. Most are happy to welcome prospective customers who want to survey their mix of products, which typically include several different types of flower (smokable buds of various strains), edibles, concentrates and weed-related merchandise heavily emblazoned with the Colorado state logo (a red “C” with a yellow sun inside it, set against a blue-and-white background).
If you’re pressed for time, dopedirectory.com offers a comprehensive list of shops along both I-70, the state’s main east-west corridor, and I-25, Colorado’s north-south interstate where the majority of the shops reside.
Even after you pick a spot, don’t be afraid to let another draw you away.
Shopping for weed in Colorado should be a fun, low-pressure experience. There are enough different types of retailers that if you’re not digging the vibe or selection at one, walk out; their competitors would be happy to take your business. I’ve been in dispensaries where the staff doesn’t seem to know if they’re selling cannabis or tourist trinkets – their fondness for cheap incense and weed-culture cliches (Up in Smoke posters, 1990s gangsta-rap soundtracks) a clear sign that they’re doing the bare minimum to cash in on a trend.
Some stores feel sleek and impersonal, like the Apple Store-styled lucite tables and iPad menus at the tourist-angled Euflora, in downtown Denver. Some are intimate and tastefully sparse, such as East Colfax Avenue’s GroundSwell. Most have an upbeat, sincere yet serious customer-service aesthetic, so if you visit a store that doesn’t seem eager to educate you, or meet you at your level of knowledge, ditch it.
Allow some time for your trip to the dispensary.
If you’ve never visited a pot shop before, you’ll be tempted to ask lots of questions of your budtender, who can tell you about the differences between indica and sativa, the history of different strains and products, and what might be the best fit for your personality and experience level. You may annoy the eager shoppers in line behind you, but don’t feel pressured to rush through it and buy something hilariously strong, or more product than you think you need.
Like a liquor store, it’ll be there for you to return to tomorrow – or later the same day, as an increasing number of shops are now open until 10 p.m. in the Denver metro area. The extremely weed-friendly cities of Edgewater and Glendale, each just outside Denver, have shops that stay open until midnight.
Deciding what to leave the store with can be intimidating.
Even a modest, one-off dispensary in Colorado usually offers several different types of flower strains, pre-rolled smokables, candy, baked-good edibles and beverages, disposable and reusable vape pens and concentrates (a.k.a. shatter or wax), in addition to gear (pipes, bongs, dab rigs, grinders) and stoney merchandise like T-shirts and hats. Retail chains such as the stylish Native Roots, Starbuds or Green Dragon tend to have a larger selection.
The varying quality of the exact same strain – say, the sativa-dominant Blue Dream hybrid, which is popular and widely available – can vary from shop to shop, given that their selection often includes a mix of in-house grown and manufactured products, and outsourced or jointly produced ones.
Most pot shops will allow you see and – just as important – smell samples of a strain before buying it, usually in a jar or other open-topped container. Let your nose be your guide, as that’s often a solid indication of flavor. And no, they don’t give out free samples.