Marijuana: Trying to beat the crowds at Annie's in Central City

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As lines began wrapping entire blocks in Denver, we headed up to Central City and Annie's -- a shop that has the distinction of receiving the first local licensing approval for recreational retail sales six weeks ago, well before the state got around to licensing anyone.

There wasn't a line out front -- just a few people hanging out on the corner of the narrow, snow-filled street outside of the shop, which has the distinction of being a liquor store, grocery store and dispensary all under one roof. Inside, though, the storefront was packed with people with snow-wet feet and winter jackets waiting for two hours or more for their chance to buy some greenery.

I threw my name on the wait list and headed for an empty corner near the grocery store checkout, between the children's costume jewelry and display cabinet full of $8 bottles of Yukon Jack and Bacardi Rum. The grocery store had a selection of cheap glass pipes on display at the checkout counter, and every now and then someone walking out of the dispensary with a bag of weed and an out-of-state ID in their hand would stop and purchase a pipe on their way out the door.

The demographic of the crowd was interesting:a lot of older, graying couples; tourists from Hawaii, New Jersey and Texas; as well as a few scraggly mountain-folk locals for good measure. This is Central City, after all. "This is the busiest I've seen town in years," one local said to nobody in particular while waiting in line for her half-ounce of herb (from a dispensary she already shops at as a medical patient, as far as we could tell).

To keep crowds down, the shop was sending people to a casino a few blocks away for a free breakfast. Most people opted for that or just walked around the few scraggly casinos left in the ghost-town bleary afternoon. Signs out front warned people against public consumption in Central City, and the few people I did hear talk about sneaking off for a toke walked out of sight.

Other people had nothing better to do than wait. Bill from Golden and his wife had huge grins, despite waiting in line for over an hour and a half. The couple, probably in their late forties, hadn't been medical patients, and this was their first legal purchase. Bill said he was stoked to not have to go through an always-late pot dealer who was likely pinching off the top. "I've been getting it from Dude, now I don't have to," he told me before buying a big bag of herb, hash and cookies. "Don't have to have him step on it, either."

Page down for the rest of our coverage of Annie's. Another couple from Golden said they had thought about waiting a few weeks before going for their first recreational pot run, but jumped in their car, anyway, because "it's history." It is historic, and Strainwise, which bought Annie's last spring, was giving away shirts to commemorate the occasion that read: "Marijuana - legal in Colorado since January 1, 2014." (Technically, it's been legal since December 2012, but we get their point.)

Finally it was my turn to step up the small flight of stairs to the dispensary portion of the building. It's tiny, set up almost like a display booth at some sort of pot convention with huge windows looking into a clean, Apple store-meets-Whole Foods walled-off room with an open ceiling. Next to me, a really young-looking dude from New Jersey with his girlfriend said it looked like a miniature car wash for weed.

After just over two hours of waiting, my number was called. I stepped up and handed over my ID to the woman behind the small security window, who looked it over and then handed it to another woman who began typing my information into the computer system. According to the receptionist, Annie's keeps track of who makes a purchase so that there are no repeat customers each day -- but the information is purged from the system each night.

I then had to wait another ten minutes for people ahead to finish before I made my way into the locked little shoebox of a bud room, where I was greeted by a staff of about seven people crammed in behind the glass display counter serving as the bud bar. There were sample jars of a few strains, but all of the bud for recreational sales was already pre-packaged in small containers. The guys ahead of me took their sweet time checking out every product for sale, including disposable e-pens full of hash oil and an assortment of cookies and candies. I just cared about the herb. Like a lot of shops around the area, Annie's was limited in its strains to a Chemdawg, Sour Diesel, Hong Kong Diesel, Purple and (I think) Sweet Tooth.

We'd just reviewed another Strainwise medical marijuana dispensary in our regular Mile Highs and Lows medical marijuana reviews, and I had walked away pleased with the pot quality and service. This visit was more about the recreational experience and seeing if the quality matched up (it did) and how big the selection would be (small).

What really, really blew my mind was walking out with my wallet $70 lighter for 3.5 grams of pot. Basically, the same Chemdawg that I bought last week at $20 an eighth was going for nearly triple the price. I'm surprised my jaw didn't drop far enough to shatter the glass counter. One of the employees behind that counter tried to explain the high pricing to the New Jersey couple by talking about how high the excise tax is on wholesale buds, as well as the lack of supply and the cost of licensing and switching over to a dual-use facility. She also said prices would "level out" down the line -- let's hope it's soon, because $70 for an eighth of pot is absurd. Like, tourist in New York City absurd. I'll certainly be keeping my medical marijuana card until the retail prices drop.

Prices aside, though, the buds of Sour Diesel I brought home were ripe and well-developed, with a coating of amber trichomes across them and a smell that is probably still putting a smile on the face of those customers used to scraggly scraps from a third-hand middleman like Bill.

For more of our recreational marijuana coverage, head over to The Latest Word.

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