My Colorado Contact High

08 December 2014
Published in Blog

By Seema Iyer, Esq.

December 8, 2014

From the minute I stepped off the plane at Denver International I looked at every single person like they were stoned. I don’t know what I was expecting, for everyone to be high as kites? Duh…ya.

Even the old guy with the cowboy hat in the wheelchair got my sideways glance (please, you know that dude was).

As we near Colorado’s one-year anniversary of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana I decided to take a closer look at this new frontier. Denver has become the undisputed pot capital of the world. With more than 300 dispensaries in the city it is no wonder I smelled it EVERYWHERE.

Or perhaps that was the hypochondriac in me. Staying in downtown Denver there were no visible hints, not surprising since public smoking is forbidden. Downtown Denver is clean and beautiful with its modern skyscrapers, shops and restaurants amongst the historic landmarks and government buildings. There was hide nor hare of a single solitary bud.

That’s because all the dispensaries, green houses and production facilities are on the “other” side of the tracks. Just about two miles from my hotel downtown the scene started to shift from thriving to distressed. Run-down one story homes block after block, fast-food chains, dumpy strip malls were a quick and startling contrast. Every 50 feet a cannabis dispensary appeared, like a Starbucks on every corner in Manhattan. This time I really did smell it.

Since infused edibles make up 45% of the legal marijuana market, my first stop was an edible bakery. And because I just like food. I pictured the typical bakery with tables in the front, huge glass display cases filled with yumminess and sunshine streaming through the windows. At least one window would’ve been nice.

The bakery I visited, not unlike others of this kind, was housed in a decrepit warehouse on a filthy plot of land. Not very appetizing. I had to buzz an unmarked heavy steel door to gain entrance, then immediately sign in for security purposes. There was no café inside (on-site consumption is illegal for all vendors), but the facility contains a closed greenhouse with artificial lighting where the cannabis is grown, as well as an office, kitchen and a packaging area.

The darkness, both figuratively and literally, of the bakery bothered me. Although the entire staff, could not have been nicer (well I’d probably be a much nicer person if I was stoned all the time too) I felt the entire business was an underground operation. Despite the intense regulation of this absolutely legitimate business, it is more fringe than norm.

Take for instance that recreational pot vendors generally do not have bank accounts. That is because marijuana is illegal under federal law and the Federal Reserve supervises banking institutions therefore, all transactions have to be in cash. These are million dollar enterprises which presumably have THAT much cash lying around. The only people I know who have exorbitant amounts of cash are drug dealers, I am sorry to say. Perhaps that’s what adds to my ‘discomfort’ with the entire environment.

Think about this. Drug dealers are constantly concerned that they will be robbed simply because they have so much cash AND they have drugs. Isn’t that the same worry for these pot businesses? All of their payroll is in cash. Everyone in Colorado knows it’s an ALL CASH deal. So when an employee is walking to their car after work with a large amount of cash on payday, in a sketchy scary neighborhood, they are in danger. No question.

I visited a few dispensaries with some notable common characteristics:

  • ATM machines (obvie)
  • Separate counters for medical and recreational purchases
  • LOUD music (or maybe I’m just getting old)
  • Cannabis publications everywhere (who knew there were so many?)
  • Chairs & sofas conducive to socializing (there was a lot of lingering indeed)
  • Grungy customers

Let me explain that last one. Again, my THC fantasy included yuppie business types and desperate housewives popping into the pot shop for a fancy vape pen or some cherry chocolates. Wrong. Every customer looked shabby, somewhat stoned and – unhealthy. There was a sallowness to their skin accompanied by a lazy gait. Not sure what I was expecting when witnessing people buying drugs in the middle of the afternoon!

What was pervasive (besides the smell) was my questioning the cognitive state of everyone I encountered. True, most people aren’t as high-strung as I am, but I didn’t meet even one person with any urgency to do, well, anything.

The behavioral effects of marijuana seemed apparent. For example, an intern college student who was helping me get around seemed to forget things that occurred 20 minutes prior, where places that she just passed were located and spent way too much time socializing on the dispensary couch. I could also just chalk that up to being young.

Of course there were some folks who engage in recreational use during their ‘off’ hours. Similar to having a couple glasses of wine after a long day at work. Not everyone uses all the time. But many do. That is what surprised me the most. In mainstream society you would not be employed if you drank alcohol on the job. The three-martini lunch, once an open secret, no longer exists.

Maybe Colorado just isn’t for me. I don’t get the lifestyle, the allure or the people frankly. I felt depressed and sad being in that atmosphere. A gloomy haze clouded my perception the entire trip….uh oh – was I stoned?

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Seema Iyer is a criminal defense & civil rights attorney with her own lawfirm in NYC.  Seema appears frequently on MSNBC, HLN, FOX and CNN as a legal analyst. Follow her on Twitter @seemaiyeresq

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