There were just 18 recreational marijuana dispensaries open for business in Denver on New Year's Day, the first day the drug has been legal to buy for anyone over the age of 21, anywhere in the US, since the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Little wonder, then, that the lines were long. Some waiting in the queue at The Shelter dispensary were long-time smokers, come to get their first taste of legal weed; others simply wanted to witness a historic moment. One young man had been dropped off by his dad.
Only when we reached the front of the queue, after more than two hours outside in freezing temperatures, did we see the price list taped to the door: an ounce of cannabis (the maximum single purchase allowed for Colorado citizens) would cost $400 (£240) – plus the whopping 25 per cent tax imposed on all recreational marijuana sales. One of my companions grumbled that he could buy the same amount on the street, tax-free, for no more than $250.
Finally, we were allowed inside, where our state IDs were checked – I used my California driver’s licence – to confirm that we were all over 21. We were offered a free commemorative T-shirt and told that the dispensary accepted cash only. In the waiting area was a display cabinet filled with bongs, vaporisers and other paraphernalia for sale, as well as baseball caps, bobble hats and hoodies all branded with the dispensary logo. A poster on the wall encouraged us to sign into the location on Foursquare, thus informing our social network friends that we were out buying drugs.
One of the friendly sales assistants – commonly known as “ bud-tenders” – reeled off a list of the dispensary’s specialist cannabis strains, and two of us at a time were invited into the small sales room to take our pick of the merchandise. Jars of fresh bud were lined up in glass cabinets alongside brightly packaged edibles. I have a sweet tooth, so I asked for a packet of cannabis-infused “Cookies and Cream” chocolate.
Rather than fork out $60 for a full eighth of an ounce of weed, I instead purchased a premium pre-rolled joint for a princely $15. This so-called “caviar stick” contained cannabis buds soaked in hash oil and wrapped in kief. I was advised not to smoke it all at once. In the past, most drug deals would have been rounded to the nearest 10 or 20 dollars. Mine, however, cost a more precise $30.54, including the taxes destined for Colorado’s schools and roads. And I didn’t have to watch furtively for the cops on my way out.