DENVER — People here waited for hours in a line that by 9 a.m. stretched out along the rim of the large asphalt parking lot in front of Green Solutions, one of the lucky Colorado medical marijuana pot shops licensed to begin selling product for recreational use today to anyone in the state over 21 years old.
Many of the shop’s customers entered with a series of questions for the staff. They all exited carrying signature Green Solutions mylar-reflector bags filled with herbs, joints, pills, edibles and/or oils. Broad smiles or sheepish grins stretched across their faces.
“I’ve been smoking pot for years and years and years,” said 51-year-old Eric Sundvall, from Lafayette, 45 minutes north of the city. “Now I don’t have to hide it anymore.”
Like many others in line, Sundvell said he thought the change making marijuana legal in Colorado had been too long coming, that the violent associations commonly tied to criminal drug abuse don’t match with pot use.
Greg Morton, 30, a roofer and tiler from Keenesberg, an hour northeast, suffers from painful knee injuries and attention deficit disorder. He said pot helps keep his energy level steady and that he wanted to buy pot today because he “wanted to be a part of history.”
Green Solutions is one of the growing network of pot-industry businesses that have sprung up in the Rino neighborhood in Denver, sited just south of I-70. It’s an easy stop on the way west from Denver International Airport to Colorado’s world-famous ski resorts. Enormous grow operations fill recently vacant warehouses. Grow supply stores and retail shops dot the streets. The smell of marijuana fills the air.
At nearby Grow Big Supply, Chris Martinez, a 25-year-old mechanic, dropped $2,800 for gear to grow eight plants. He carried off meters and organic material to enrich his plant soil. All of the 300-plus licenses to supply pot have been issued by the state for this year already, so Martinez is taking the next year to learn to grow a “marketable product,” he said.
“I just want what everyone wants to do in America,” he said. “I want to work for myself and not the man.”
Martinez was dressed in a hoodie and baggy pants but he sounded like a suburban dad when he talked about pot. He said pot makes mundane tasks more interesting.
“I smoke just to relax, when I’m cleaning the house,” said Martinez.
Police cruised by, two in a car. In 10 minutes, three different patrol cars cruised Green Solutions. People thought they could spot undercover police in the line. Someone said that a Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt was a dead giveaway. Half of the people in line wanted to talk to reporters. The other half was wary to have their name tied to a pot story. Most of the pot shops in the city hire private security, too.
Laws vary city to city in the state, but you can’t smoke pot in public in Denver, and people were careful to say they were going home to sample their products. The police seemed to be watching to see if people were smoking up before climbing behind the wheels of their cars.
David Henriquez, 21, works in IT. He traveled to Denver from Iowa with four friends to buy pot. He said he’s been smoking for seven years but he wanted to be here today to “show respect to Colorado and to the new law.” He spent $300 on THC oil and on two smokable strains called “Grape Stomper” and “President Kush.” Mostly, pot business is being conducted in cash. But some shops take credit cards, although the fees for the businesses are steep because, according to federal law, pot is still an illegal drug and financial companies rate retail shops as high risk businesses.
“To me, this is kind of a dream to see this come to fruition,” Henriquez said of the state movement to legalize pot.
He said he was going back to the hotel to smoke just as an unmarked police car came around the corner.
Lines started forming at shops around the city on New Year’s Eve. Customers began queuing around 2:00 a.m. at Evergreen Apothecary in downtown Denver. The crowd in line at Medicine Man in Northeast Denver — “the closest Denver dispensary to the airport,” as one staffer put it — seemed particularly friendly.
At one point, a Medicine Man customer came out and hoisted his shopping bag in the air.
“America, yeah!” he shouted, eliciting claps and hollers of approval from the crowd.
With reporting on the ground from Susan Greene and Shelby Kinney-Lang.
[ Images top to bottom: Green Solutions in Denver, New Years Day; Eric Sundvall; Greg Morton; David Henriquez. All photos by James Brennan. ]