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A Brief Visit to Colorado's Brave New Cannabis World

Is The Farm, with its earnest salespeople and eager shoppers, a vision of pot's future here?

By Andrew Nikiforuk 25 Apr 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew Nikiforuk is a contributing editor for the Tyee. He has written about the energy industry for over two decades. Find his previous stories for The Tyee here.

This coverage of Canadian national issues is made possible because of generous financial support from our Tyee Builders.

Just 10 minutes before its 9 a.m. opening time, a dozen mellow shoppers have already lined up outside The Farm Saturday in Boulder, Colorado.

Curious, I join the line and ask about the commercial commotion.

A middle-class dude replied that The Farm was offering a 20-per-cent discount on cannabis products in honour of the late Prince that morning.

It was a "Purple Haze" sale, he said.

Others in line volunteered that the state's new marijuana stores were "awesome" and the marijuana trade thriving.

Why, even conservative entrepreneurs in Colorado Springs were offering courses on how to prosper with pot.

One eager shopper asked if Canada would legalize cannabis by July because he planned a summer vacation there.

"Doubt it," I replied. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to legalize marijuana, but legislation will not be ready until next spring.

Four years ago, Colorado's citizens passed Constitutional Amendment 64. It legalized cannabis for recreational purposes, invented a new source of revenue for the state government and started a social experiment.

Most of the state's 321 towns, counties and cities choose not to allow the trade, but Boulder joined a group of 67 jurisdictions -- about 21 per cent -- that welcomed retail cannabis, along with assorted growers and edible manufacturers.

On The Farm's big windows a sign alerted assorted customers that buying cannabis is "cash only," but not to worry -- there was an ATM inside. (Banks have shunned the trade and pot entrepreneurs often travel with suitcases of cash and bodyguards.)

Another poster reassured the mellow crowd that no guns, knives or weapons were permitted in the store. There was an express pickup service for those who ordered online.

The doors opened promptly at nine and the crowd disappeared into a light and airy waiting room where happy-looking vendors demanded identification cards.

I first produced a B.C. driver's licence, but that didn't pass inspection in Boulder. Security is tight, if not Orwellian, in the marijuana business, and foreigners must provide a passport. It is duly inspected.

Before I wandered around to look at T-shirts, glass pipes and other paraphernalia available in the waiting room, a crowd controller named Aaron entered my first name on a clipboard.

Wait for a call to the inner sanctum, he instructed.

A daily menu boasted the day's unfamiliar products (Dubbya Diesel and other stuff), but I'm distracted by several glass display cases with an assortment of glass pipes shaped like snakes and dog bones. To the uninitiated, many of the pipes look like colorful glass penises.

Something called a Toker Poker caught my reportorial eye. "Poke it. Pack it. Puff it. Pass It." A sign added that the product was soulfully designed by a "Toker like you."

After answering to my name, I was whisked into what looked like a New Age pharmacy.

A pleasant woman behind a counter asked me what I wanted.

I had no idea.

"What do you have," I inquired naively.

Well, there was a "classic" flower menu of various homegrown products (like Golden Strawberry and Island Sweet Skunk) that could be smoked in pipes or bongs. A variety of edibles including Sour Gummies were also available.

"You can put cannabis in mostly everything," she cheerfully added. She gave some examples: coffee extracts, drinks, cookies and the proverbial brownie.

"The Sour Gummies are very popular, especially if you are going on a hike," she explained. "They fit in your pocket."

Awakening Mints and Mountain High Suckers also beckoned from the shelf.

But any sale came with a hefty collection of taxes and fees that poured $135 million into the state treasury in 2015, a 77-per-cent increase over the previous year.

According to The Farm's menu, White Out appeared to be the strain of the week while Holy Goat occupied the top seed spot. Other salespeople delivered joints with names like Moon Wreck and Ghost Trainwreck to respectable shoppers around me.

I learned that a foreigner can buy up to seven grams, but must keep the product in a bag with the receipt. That way the cops won't bother you, explained The Farmer.

When Aaron, the crowd manager, realized that my curiosity was holding up commerce, he whisked me away, saying he'd be happy to answer any questions.

In between managing shoppers, Aaron told me that The Farm started out as a medical operation in 2009 and then switched to the recreational trade. Advertisements for the pot shop declare "Life is better at The Farm."

"Cannabelle," a cow emblazoned with a familiar marijuana leaf, serves as the shop's mascot, said Aaron, and appears on its T-shirts.

Brownies and cookies for tourists

Other pot shops boasted names like The Station, The Green Room, The Bud Depot and Terrapin Care Station. But according to the Boulder Weekly (now seemingly sustained by cannabis advertisements), tokers voted The Farm as Boulder's Best Recreational Dispensary this year.

During the summer, tourists armed with cannabis maps often waited in lines of 100 people for brownies and cookies, Aaron said. He called another name and escorted a new shopper into the dispensary.

Many fresh-faced folk arrived directly from the Denver airport just an hour away, he said, though sales are also legal in the state's biggest city.

All products are locally grown "in the great city of Boulder" because, Aaron said, "the regulations are just insane."

582px version of Colorado sign
Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

The Farm is different from other shops, he maintained. "We push education and cleanliness and don't sit around and smoke weed all day."

Meanwhile more people packed the waiting room, and prospective consumers lounged in chairs and a couch under a peace sign.

In 2014, Colorado's 505 medical marijuana centers and 322 retail stores like The Farm (there are only 405 Starbucks coffee shops in the state) sold more than five million units of edible products and 66,000 kilograms of marijuana flower.

The Colorado Department of Public Safety reported that cannabis use increased from 21 to 31 per cent among young adults between 2006 and 2014, while use among older adults rose from five to 12 per cent.

Hospitalization linked to "possible marijuana exposures" increased from 803 per 100,000 people hospitalized before legalization to 2,413 in the years since the stores opened. Both property and violent crime decreased.

But the report added that "the lack of pre-commercialization data, the decreasing social stigma, and challenges to law enforcement combine to make it difficult to translate these early findings into definitive statements of outcomes."

As I left The Farm, I spied a suggestion box calling for "higher thoughts."

I left none.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Federal Politics,

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