Day 1 of Colorado’s recreational marijuana

As reported by the Denver Post


At the Medicine Man retail pot shop in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood, the line stretched around the building, past a food truck selling breakfast burritos and into the employee parking lot.

Reporters from French television, CNN, the High Times and local news stations crammed into the lobby. The store was ready at 8 a.m. with six cash registers and seven private armed security guards — not because anyone anticipated trouble, but just to be safe.

“Good morning,” said owner Andy Williams, wearing a blue suit and an earpiece wired to other staff members. “Happy Independence Day.”

One thing was higher before the doors even opened: prices.

Medicine Man surveyed competitors and raised prices for an eighth of marijuana from $25 for medical patients to $45 for recreational buyers, in part to ward off a shortage. After taxes, an eighth of pot ran $64.91.

The store reported about half the IDs were from from out-of-state.

Kevin Schotz, 27, of Omaha, Neb., said he was vacationing in Arizona and took a detour to Colorado to be a part of history.

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“I can’t even express how much I truly find joy in that people are truly being progressive about this and thinking of it with an open mind,” he said. “This is a special time.”

Michael Knoepfel, 44, of the U.S. Virgin Islands, had extremely limited options. He was about to get on a plane for Los Angeles, and it’s against the law to take pot across state lines “unless it’s in your stomach already,” as a clerk pointed out.

Knoepfel quickly dismissed a pot brownie as far too potent. He ended up buying a 70 mg “Cheeba Chew” for $14 and some change.

“Am I going to make my connecting fight?” he asked. “I’m a lightweight.”

Most stores run a tight ship

Tight organization reigned at some recreational marijuana stores. At others, not so much.

In-store traffic was smooth and outside lines moved along reasonably well at the Denver Kush Club in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood.

Doors opened precisely at 8 a.m. All 12 Kush Club employees were prepped and staffing their posts. Customer questions were cordially answered, but the prevailing attitude among clerks was, “Tell us what you want, pay for it, and let’s move on to the next customer.”

At The Health Center, 17th Avenue and Downing Street, pre-opening activities were chaotic. Staffers frantically stocked shelves in an effort to open by 10 a.m. They didn’t quite make it. About 30 customers waited outside in light snowfall until doors opened at 10:10 a.m. They were then let in three at a time by an armed security guard.

Tiffany Goldman, director of operations, said staffers had worked through the night till around 2 a.m. to prepare. She attributed the last-minute pandemonium to delays in permitting and glitches with the store’s product-tracking system.

Line just keeps growing

Linda Andrews, owner of LoDo Wellness at 16th and Wazee streets, arrived about 6 a.m. to just one person in line. By 7:30 a.m., there were about 15 people. And by 11 a.m. a line of more than 600 had formed around the block for a three-hour wait.

“I expected there to be a morning rush, and I thought we’d quiet down,” Andrews said. “I had no idea.”

The first customers could buy as much as they wanted, but the business started imposing limits within the first two hours, concerned about short supply. By noon, customers could buy an eighth.

“With an eighth (of an ounce) limit, I’m still worried,” said Andrews, whose daughter Haley manages the shop and whose husband, Don, owns the building. Prices held steady on Wednesday, but that could change if the demand persists.

On the street, Don Andrews handed out red fliers and kept the calm crowd awake. By midday he had counted people from 35 states and at least three or four countries.

“It’s a thing of beauty!” he shouted, gazing at the line. “The Berlin Wall is down, we have a black president and marijuana is legal!”

A new chapter in Telluride’s history

Lines a couple dozen deep stretched outside the doors of downtown Telluride’s Alpine Wellness and the Telluride Green Room all morning Wednesday.

San Miguel County Commissioner Art Goodtimes was first in line at Alpine Wellness. A marijuana enforcement division officer wandered between Telluride’s two stores, doing little more than watching.

Michael Grady woke up New Year’s Eve and read his full-page ad in the Telluride Watch.

“Prohibition Ends At Last,” it read.

“It kind of brought a little tear to my eye,” said the owner of Alpine Wellness and Alpine Edibles, which ships “Ganjala” taffy candies to 40 medical dispensaries around Colorado, marking one of the first exports for Telluride since the mining bust in the late 1800s.

“We are at the forefront. We are pushing to do it and do it right and set a good standard,” said Grady, who expected hundreds of visitors to his retail marijuana store, which was overflowing with an arsenal of cannabis-infused Ganjala candies, Rice Krispies bars, balsamic vinegars, “Peppermint Fatty” chocolates and cookies as well as several strains of indica and sativa weed.

For framing, not smoking

Don Andrews purchased LoDo Wellness’s first joint at 8 a.m., to frame on his wall, he said, but Curtis Durham, 24, of Chandler, Texas, was not far behind. He was looking forward to “the experience of buying a legal bag” after several arrests and years of relying on drug dealers. He had been saving his money since August.

“I’ve been to jail two or three times just for simple marijuana possession of less than a gram. I went to jail once for having a pipe,” Durham said. “It’s covert and it’s secret and that’s not the way I want to live my life. I’m going to go to as many stores as I can.”

He entered the store at 8 a.m., and when he left some time later, he said the experience was everything he had hoped for. “It was as easy as buying a cup of coffee, I guess.”

All orders are to go

Clutching brown paper bags, customers emerged from LoDo Wellness to applause, cheers and high-fives.

Justin Achenbach and Elizabeth Mendoza, both 39 and from Casper, Wyo., rushed outside, where Achenbach immediately unwrapped an edible. Others rushed to their cars or homes to light up, off the street and out of the watchful eye of a lone Denver police officer, who sat in his idling cruiser, which peeked out of an alleyway.

“It was a much better experience than buying weed off of somebody you don’t know,” Achenbach said, chewing the edible. “It was a much safer feeling.”

Mendoza described it as “a dream come true.”

“We bought every kind of weed they had down there,” Achenbach said.

Coffee, cookies as a bonus

Evergreen Apothecary in Denver offered customers coffee, cookies and a warm to place wait next door until they could buy pot. They also handed out 250 certificates and green shirts to early shoppers to mark the day.

“It far exceeded my expectations,” said Tim Cullen, the shop’s co-owner. “We were ready for this crowd, but I had no idea if the crowd would be here or not.”

Marijuana memories

Charles Bechtel, 57, who was No. 31 in line at LoDo Wellness, recalled the first time he smoked pot as a teenager in the ’60s.

“We were at a soccer game in high school and someone had a joint and we all got in a van. … Back then you could buy an ounce for $20, but it was Mexican and it was full of seeds and stems,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of money on weed over the years.”

A full once of the lowest-grade “silver strains’ at LoDo Wellness on Wednesday cost $270, but Bechtel said he thought the prices were reasonable and comparable to those of his regular dealer. It was too soon to say whether he would forsake the dealer for the retail shop, but Bechtel said “I kind of like this. It’s an experience.”

“I smoked pot for the first time when I was 16 years old,” said John Stiltz, 62, of Denver. “I looked forward to the day when a harmless, recreational drug would become legal. I wanted to be part of the history.”

“Sense of liberation”

Dave Adams, 42, and his friend Shaun Farrugia, 39, traveled from New York to buy marijuana that they probably won’t be able to finish by the time they have to return in two days. But the experience was worth the trip, they said.

“I was like, hey, this is going to be an epic moment in the history of the United States,” Adams said. “I said, we really need to go out there and be a part of it, to say we were there when.”

On the street, Farrugia revealed his purchases, which included packages of brownies.

“It was a lot more relaxed than I thought it was going to be,” he said, looking back at the quiet, orderly line.

“This is not a ruckus-making crowd,” Adams added. “It’s less of a party and more of a pride thing. There’s a sense of liberation.”