Since the passage of Amendment 64, which legalizes adult possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, have you been getting questions about how it will work? So have we. To help clear the foggy air, we've asked medical marijuana dispensary critic William Breathes to follow in the footsteps of the OC Weekly's Gustavo Arellano, author of the syndicated column "Ask a Mexican!" and respond to anything readers might want to Ask a Stoner.
Dear Stoner: Why is this column running instead of your usual Thursday 4:20 p.m. medical marijuana dispensary reviews? -- Dazed and Confused
Dear Dazed: Did you know that not only can it take up to 35 days for your medical marijuana card renewal to appear, but it can also take that long for a denial letter? I did, but that didn't make it any easier to find out my application had been returned to me due to a bit of, let's say, confusion over some of my paperwork.
Everything turned out to be fine, but I learned something else new about the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's medical marijuana registry: If you have to resubmit even the smallest part of your application, the CDPHE puts you at the very end of the line of applicants -- which means another 35-45 days in line for processing and approval, plus up to two weeks for printing and mailing. That's a grand total of about seventy to ninety days.
My point? As prepared as I could be for a delay in getting my renewed medical marijuana card, I've run out of reviews. And since I can't visit any shops with my paperwork, it might be a few weeks until the reviews return.
Thankfully, I'm fine on medical cannabis. But delays like this are bullshit for patients dependent on MMJ dispensaries for their meds. Being put to the back of the line sucks and should probably be fixed, even though I understand the logic. What makes absolutely no sense is why new patients are allowed to shop at dispensaries with just their paperwork while existing patients have to wait until their cards are approved. It was a dumb "clarification" a few years back by the CDPHE that made absolutely no sense at the time and still doesn't.
Dear Stoner: I'm not a medical patient. Can I buy marijuana in Colorado right now? -- Waiting to Inhale
Dear Waiting: Sure, you can buy it: Find a college kid, neighbor or just about anyone in Civic Center Park. Only thing is, it's not legal for them to sell pot to you -- nor will it be under Amendment 64. (Cue the Grateful Dead record scratching to a halt.)
To quote Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction: "See, it's legal, but it ain't 100 percent legal." Only licensed marijuana shops will be allowed to sell recreational pot in Colorado, and they won't be opening until January 2014 -- at the very earliest.
Unlike the MMJ industry that sprang up around the state before there were regulations governing dispensaries, much less licenses required, all recreational shops will have to be licensed before they can open. In order for that to happen, the Colorado Legislature will have to create the licensing framework during the upcoming 2013 session. And even if lawmakers manage to do that, there will be other hurdles -- not the least of which is the fact that marijuana use, cultivation, sales and distribution are all still illegal under federal law.
Until all of this is sorted out, no matter how much you beg, the medical marijuana dispensary around the corner won't be selling to you unless you've got a valid medical marijuana card. But no doubt it would love your business if/when it makes the switch to a recreational pot shop in 2014.
Dear Hit: I'm not going to stop you. But the police might, and that's a bummer. Public use and consumption is still illegal under Amendment 64. You'll be able to light up at your house, your friend's house, or any other establishment being used for a private function. But even in the smoking section of your favorite bar patio or major-league baseball stadium, you won't be able to legally light a joint -- not that the law seems to stop anyone these days.
Also, all you stoney skiers and boarders should keep in mind that while puffing on the lifts might be a Colorado tradition, most of the time you're on leased federal land -- and no matter what Colorado lawmakers decide, the feds still consider pot illegal. It's your call if you want to indulge in civil disobedience, but if you do, be sure to sure to share with your chair-mates.
Dear Stoner: If Colorado is like Amsterdam now, can I start a pot coffee shop or bar with a private lounge and let people smoke marijuana inside? -- Diesel Espresso
Dear Diesel: Sorry, but Colorado isn't like Amsterdam. For one, we don't have anywhere near the same number of dour German tourists looking to unwind with hookers and mid-grade marijuana.
And second: No, there won't be any hash bars. At least, not legally.
We pitched the question to an attorney familiar with licensing regulations in Denver and state law, and his response was rather telling in regard to how likely such ventures would be to pass. After about a minute of laughing into the other end of the phone, he said the answer would be "No. No, no, no, no. Absolutely fucking not. No."
As he points out, any privately owned business open to the general public (even limited private-membership places like country clubs) are considered public entities when it comes to regulation. And according to Amendment 64, public consumption is illegal. That means both smoking outdoors, as well as smoking in public places (or both, like Red Rocks). As our attorney points out: "You can't just open up a private club and decide that indentured slavery is okay."
He also pointed out that the attorneys who have been saying that smoke lounges will be possible are the same ones who advise their dispensary clients to ignore cease-and-desist letters from the U.S. Attorney's Office. Take that as you will. All of this could change down the line if attitudes shift about public consumption and the legislature (or the people) decide to do something about it.
In the meantime, Colorado smokers will continue to light up stealth one-hits on the patios of coffee shops and bars across the state.
Dear Stoner: What is the beer equivalent of one ounce? A case? Two cases? Four cases? With one toke of pot, what do you think? -- Bud the Beginner
Dear Bud: Only one toke of pot? At least hit the herb three or four times if you're going to do it at all. No, I get what you're asking here, and really, there's not much of a comparison. But for the sake of trying (and without getting into esoteric stuff about the different experiences of marijuana and alcohol), here we go:
An ounce is roughly 28 grams of herb. You can roll upwards of sixty joints out of that if you're keeping it to a half-gram in each joint (you could also be packing that amount into a pipe or a vaporizer, for that matter). It's not a lot, but enough for an average person to get a buzz for an hour or two. People who like smoking a lot of cannabis go through anywhere from a couple grams a day on up.
Now, take your average American beer -- like, say, Coors original or Railyard Ale by Wynkoop Brewing (you know, the one our Guv used to own). Those are around 5 percent alcohol by volume, and most people wouldn't admit to feeling much of a buzz. But two or three in a row, and you're ready for a Broncos game.
Here's the big difference, though: If you were to go on to smoke all sixty of those joints, you'd either be asleep, really hungry, watching a movie, or a combination of all three (see any night at the Oriental Theater's Mile High Movies to see what I mean). At worst, your throat is going to hurt and you'll understand why getting a vaporizer is an investment worth making.
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Drink sixty beers and you're either a Kappa Sigma senior at CU Boulder and about to make some poor choices with that freshman from your English class, or (more likely) puking up the majority of those beers into a toilet and possibly going to the hospital with alcohol poisoning [cue comments from morons bragging about how "sixty beers is nothing, you lightweight stoner pansy"].
I know what you're saying now: "That makes perfect sense, Breathes. What doesn't make sense is why the Amendment would limit you to one ounce, and yet I can go out and buy all the booze I want." Yeah, the authors of the amendment chose to write their bill that way based on polling -- clearly not on common sense. But it's what we've got for now, so make that ounce count. Or just have a friend bring over some of his stash if you're really getting down for a night.
Have more questions about Amendment 64 -- or just wonder why marijuana and classic rock go so well together? Shoot an e-mail to Ask a Stoner at firstname.lastname@example.org