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The Fun I Had Buying Marijuana as a Tourist in the Legal Pot Paradise of Colorado

Colorado, where you can buy legal cannabis in America for the first time in 77 years.
 
 
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Confession: I am a Colorado cannabis tourist.

I was always on the fence about Colorado. All my friends told me what a cool trip it was, how much fun they had. But I had never gotten around to it, I guess.

Yeah, I knew Kerouac endorsed Denver in On The Road. I knew there was amazing skiing, incredible mountains and a big sky. It was relatively close to my home of San Francisco, and cheap. A college buddy had moved to Denver in the spring with his wife, bought a house, and renovated it. I could stay for free.

But that wasn’t enough. It took the first legal sale of weed in America in 77 years for me to visit. As we lay in the dark, drifting off to sleep before Christmas, I whispered to my wife, “I think I have to go to Colorado." 

A long pause. On the baby monitor, our infant did not stir.

“Let’s talk about it in the morning,” she said.

The plane ticket proved dirt-cheap, and the two-hour flight was nonstop.

Judging from three days on the ground in Denver interviewing experts and reviewing the latest tourism data, Colorado could make anywhere from $100 million to $500 million in extra tourism in the first year alone of newly legal weed.

Over 50 stores are selling pot to any adult over 21, and hundreds more will open. The first weeks saw an almost-religious pilgrimage of thousands of sick people, persecuted potheads and media members who came to make history. But in their wake will be legions more former smokers hitting retirement as well as curious newbies who were already thinking about a Colorado trip. Pot just tipped the scales.

“It’s going to be part of an aggregate effect that’s already drawing in millions of people to the state,” said Norton Arbelaez, a Colorado-based attorney and expert with the Medical Marijuana Industry Group.

“You have a lot of these individuals who are coming anyway—this is just one more reason,” said pot tour operator Chris Leonard with Colorado Green Adventures, the self-proclaimed “world’s first cannabis-friendly eco tourism company.”

Thousands upon thousands of people either drove or flew into the swing state for the first week of legal weed in America, not counting the hundreds of members of the press.

The temperature was 23 degrees when the line in front of 3D Cannabis Center in industrial north Denver started before dawn on Wednesday, Jan. 1. Even though it snowed that morning, the line kept growing, to several hundred throughout the day; a mix of half-locals and half out-of-towners.

Long lines on day one of weed sales in Denver. Photo by David Downs.

The weed shop had started a list the night before the opening, so folks had been walking up to the door adding their names, then going back to their tents or their cars to wait. Some women served fried mini-donuts and coffee in a tent next to the one-story, brick warehouse. Generators blared as news vans charged TV network equipment.

Two documentary filmmakers from Florida were the first names on 3D Cannabis Center’s list. They had flown in on the 31st and had spent all day filming at the pot shop, which was a medical dispensary up until legalization.

“We didn’t fly across the country to be ninth,” said Adam Hartle, 34, of Jacksonville. “I’m really excited. It’s awesome. This is a major moment in American history.”

Behind them was Bob, a single 46-year-old. Bob drove 16 hours from Michigan, and didn’t want to give his last name or his specific city. He said he could lose his job if his boss knew he was down here.