Dear Stoner: The pot is the same whether it's medical or recreational, right? So why aren't any of the stores open to the public yet?
Dear Iggy: Keep your organic-hemp shorts on. There's a roughly six-month process here, with deadlines dictated by Amendment 64 itself. While you're right that the herb isn't going to be any different, the state still views this as an entirely new industry and has to set rules accordingly. And right now, we're only about a third of the way there.
According to the amendment passed in November, the state had to have rules guiding the industry in place by July 1. The Colorado Department of Revenue managed to do that, but the rules are only temporary; the DOR didn't have enough time to collect public input between the legislature's passage of industry-setting bills in May and the July 1 deadline. What the DOR released is a very bare-bones set of rules spanning some 65 pages, but that is likely to grow once people have had their say at meetings planned for August and September.
The next step in the implementation plan is for local municipalities to come up with their own rules for recreational cannabis shops. Those local rules have to be in place by October 1, when the DOR's new Marijuana Enforcement Division begins accepting applications from would-be recreational marijuana shops. Most municipalities haven't begun that process officially, but expect to see the city councils and county commissioners that haven't already banned pot shops outright to start talking about their rules soon.
Once they've been licensed at both the city and local levels, shops will be able to open their doors to the 21-and-up public. The MED has until January 1 to start approving applications, and if for some reason the MED hasn't gotten to an application by that time, a store can open with just the approval of its local municipality.
And that's just some of the work ahead. Voters still have to approve a 25 percent tax (10 percent sales and 15 percent excise) on marijuana this November. Those taxes will be piled on top of local sales taxes, pushing the total tax above 30 percent. It's unclear what would happen if that ballot measure fails, but officials we've spoken with say it would probably prevent any neon-green "open" signs from clicking on.
Dear Stoner: What is the difference going to be between pot shops and medical pot shops?
Dear Connie: For the customer, the biggest difference is going to be a noticeable lack of the now-ubiquitous green crosses around town. That, and the 30 percent-plus tax you'll be paying if voters approve the tax measure this fall that affects recreational marijuana but doesn't apply to medical cannabis.
Unlike medical marijuana dispensaries, the recreational shops won't have to keep the personal information found on your driver's license; they'll just be checking ID to make sure you're over 21. Though the paranoid among us would tell you differently, there's no central stoner database in Colorado...nor are there plans for one.
For owners, the major difference is that the $500 application fees for existing medical dispensaries to open as recreational stores are one-tenth the amount that people looking to open a brand-new recreational shop will have to pay. The idea there is that the existing MMJ shops have already had to go through most of the background checks and other costly steps, and there's no need to make them pay through the nose twice. Once a business is licensed, though, it will have to pay an annual fee of $2,500 per facility, whether it's a grow house, dispensary or testing facility.
The stupidest differences are rules that prohibit selling or giving away anything that isn't related to marijuana — including tobacco (no more blunts), alcohol, food and even non-alcoholic drinks. Yes, according to the state, it is apparently against the law to offer your customers a Coke or even a sip of water. We would hope that MED enforcement officers use common sense with that one.
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Dear Stoner: I see buds advertised with 20 percent THC and things like that. Is that a scale on how strong the THC from 0 to 100 percent is, or is that the total amount per plant?
Eddie in Erie
Dear Eddie: The percentage you see is by weight, so an OG Kush with a 23 percent THC rating would theoretically have 23 grams of THC for every 100 grams of cannabis. But that really isn't the case. Tests are usually done on buds only — no stems — and most shops are only going to send out the top, best buds to be rated. Another issue is that each lab is testing strains against a different set of chemical standards for THC and CBD, and many use different methods, each capable of producing different results. What most lab geeks do agree on is that the ratio of cannabinoids remains the same, no matter who's doing the testing or where the material came from on a plant. So plants with equal parts CBD and THC in one test will generally be equal if tested by another lab. Basically, what you're bringing home won't necessarily be the exact same as what the tests displayed — but it's a good estimate, and it's better than no information at all.