In September 2013, the Colorado Department of Revenue cleared away the last few obstacles to allowing the sale of recreational marijuana in that state. In January of 2014, the first retail cannabis stores tentatively opened their doors. By September of this year, dozens of shops in cities and towns all over the state were legally selling a product once deemed “the assassin of youth” in mid-20th century anti-drug films.
I’ve long been curious about legal recreational marijuana, how an open market would affect its sales and what kinds of people it attracts to storefronts, and so I knew I would have to check out the Colorado scene sooner or later. The closest retail dispensary to the New Mexico border is in the small resort town of Pagosa Springs, about three-and-a-half hours away from Albuquerque. On a recent weekend my wife and I ditched our kids with their grandmother and took the beautiful drive up.
Pagosa Springs is a cheerful place, replete with microbreweries and boutique hotels. Although pot has only been sold recreationally since September, at least one of the local inns has taken steps to appeal to the potential new clientele: At the Sky View Motel, every room comes with a Phish poster, and for $140 a night guests can crash in the “cannasuite,” a wood paneled room stocked with “samples” and a marijuana leaf bed spread.
My wife and I elected for a more prosaic setting, however, and headed upland to the High Country Lodge (a pun the Sky View Motel would kill for, I imagine). We checked into a log cabin with a small wood stove and a snow-covered porch, and then set out for our very first purchase of legal marijuana from Good Earth Meds.
Pagosa Springs is tiny, but we had to drive all the way across it to find our turn-off by Pagosa’s lilliputian airport. Then it was another turn by the dog pound and down a dirt road until we came to an industrial warehouse with security cameras around the perimeter. It may be legal to sell marijuana in Pagosa, but as we got out of our car, it felt like we were heading toward an illicit rendezvous straight out of “Breaking Bad.”
Inside the dispensary, however, the atmosphere was much more welcoming. A bright-eyed young woman with a Texas accent greeted us as we entered, and a soft-mouthed boxer dog nuzzled my hand. We signed in at the desk and took in our surroundings. It was a very clean space, tastefully decorated. A counter in one corner displayed glassware available for purchase, while a second room housed the various varieties of marijuana for sale. They were stocked in heavy glass jars like tea.
At the Sky View Motel, every room comes with a Phish poster, and for $140 a night guests can crash in the “cannasuite,” a wood paneled room stocked with “samples” and a marijuana leaf bed spread.
Not surprisingly, the entire building was pungent with the piney scent of marijuana resin.
The owner, Bill Delany, was on hand to show us around his operation. Delany is an older gentleman, a veteran and a recovering alcoholic. “We had to take the medical marijuana upstairs because we can’t have the general public around for that,” he said in measured tones. Good Earth Meds started as a medical dispensary in 2009, and the medicinal aspect of cannabis has remained close to Bill’s heart.
“I’m literally dying of Crohn’s disease,” he said when I asked him about his own experience with cannabis. “I lived up here for years in misery. I got a stage 2 melanoma from all the immune suppressant drugs I was taking.” Finally, he tried medical cannabis. “From the first puff, I knew I had a chance,” he said, describing how marijuana helped to not only reduce the inflammation and spasms in his bowels but also to change his overall outlook. “I feel great now. When your gut is in pain, it’s sending constant distress signals to your brain which causes anxiety ... [marijuana] breaks that and relaxes you.”
With the positive effects of cannabis so apparent in his own life, Delany took the step of founding Good Earth Meds and providing it to others who were in need. Now, five years later, he has expanded the business into retail sales. There are a wide variety of products there, from the aforementioned marijuana in jars (all grown onsite in another part of the warehouse) to vaporizers to edibles like chocolate bars and taffy. While we reviewed the various offerings, a young couple came into the store with a palpable air of excitement.
Their names were Scott and Alicia, and they had just driven up from Albuquerque.
“We feel like kids in a candy store,” Scott said, and Alicia agreed. “This is our first legal purchase. We are so excited about this! We didn’t know what to expect, but this is awesome.”
Among other items, they showed a lot of interest in a cannabis patch that delivers THC through skin contact. “My dad would really appreciate this,” Alicia said. “He has a lot of chronic pain, but he doesn’t really smoke.”
After touring through the facility, including the jungle-like growing area, Delany offered us a sample of his product, a variety of marijuana called “Bruce Banner.” We couldn’t resist, so we took him up on it and purchased a $4 pipe and a BIC lighter to try it out.
I took a few discreet puffs in the car as we drove back through Pagosa’s charming downtown—smoking in public is still illegal—and considered which of the promising looking restaurants to try out. We landed on a place called the Riff Raff Brewing Company, a beer and burgers kind of spot stuffed with skiers and hot spring goers. I tried a goat burger, and it was the best thing I ever ate in my life. We ordered a flight of beers, and they were the best beers I’d ever had in my life. I suddenly realized why marijuana and food reviewing don’t really work well together.
A while later, my wife and I returned to our cabin and brought the pipe back out. It was easily some of the most wholesome tasting marijuana I’ve experienced, and the effect was more electric and energizing than I was expecting. The next day we would have to drive back to a state where using this substance could easily land us in jail, but as we sat on the floor of our cabin, laughing at the pages of a Pagosa Springs tourist magazine, nothing could seem more ridiculous.