If your state has yet to legalize marijuana, you may have some questions about Colorado’s marijuana market. It’s a strange new world out there, so here are a few tips.

If you are 21 years or older, you can legally possess one ounce of marijuana or a lesser amount of concentrates. To buy, you need government-issued identification (a driver’s license is fine) to prove you are 21 years or older. You don’t have to be a Colorado resident and your name won’t be entered in any law enforcement database. You can buy an ounce at a time, but don’t take it across state lines, don’t carry it on the plane, don’t share it with a minor, and don’t mail it back home.
You have to be a Colorado resident to buy medical cannabis, which is taxed more lightly (and is therefore much less expensive) than retail marijuana. Buying medical marijuana requires a “red card,” which documents a doctor’s certification that you have a health condition that might be alleviated by cannabis.

Colorado law is clear: public use of marijuana is illegal. The law doesn’t distinguish between smoking, vaping, or consuming edibles; they’re all prohibited in public places. Since most hotels ban in-room smoking, and smoky, private cannabis clubs aren’t much fun for conservative middle-aged folks, where can visitors safely and legally use marijuana? Private property is the best place to consume cannabis, so if you’re visiting friends or relatives here in
Colorado, ask where you can use in their house or on their property. If you don’t know any locals, seek out marijuana-friendly accommodations; hotels should share their policies online or over the phone, and some Airbnb listings clarify that they allow cannabis use. Don’t assume that marijuana use is acceptable: when in doubt, ask beforehand.

The first retail/recreational cannabis establishments weren’t exactly high-rent. They were located in run-down commercial buildings in dreary industrial neighborhoods with the vibes of illegal gambling operations. That’s all changed. Today’s retail stores are more like high-end boutiques, with carefully displayed product selections, attentive staff, and
luxuriant accessories. Emerald Fields is one of two retail marijuana stores currently licensed in Manitou Springs. The two stores benefit from a regional monopoly; no other jurisdiction in El Paso County permits retail sales. Pueblo’s numerous retail outlets also benefit from the lack of regional competition. At the Spot, southern Colorado’s largest recreational marijuana dispensary, there’s even a glass-walled corridor where curtains are occasionally drawn back to allow visitors to view vast indoor grow rooms, each dedicated to specific strains.

For those of us who remember the days when Colombian gold was, well, the gold standard of marijuana, the new world of edibles, concentrates, and multiple “strains” can be confusing. Don’t worry: the polite, well-informed young folk who work at the dispensaries will make sure that you don’t inadvertently purchase some high-powered superweed that will put you on the couch for 24 hours.

Thanks to tangled federal law, no extensive controlled studies of marijuana’s medical efficacy or lack thereof have ever been conducted. Is it truly demon weed or is it an amazingly beneficial medicinal plant with numerous uses?  Many users believe the latter, but their often compelling testimonies have yet to pass the rigorous scientific standards set by the medical community. The states that have legalized marijuana have yet to experience the kind of negative public health consequences that opponents predicted. In the meantime, remember that statements from both pro- and anti-marijuana groups are without adequate evidence-based trials.

It might make more sense to ask why it’s so cheap, given the bizarrely complex, highly taxed regulatory environment that lawmakers created after legalization. Colorado law requires that marijuana grows of any size be in a secure, enclosed location. In practice, this means a warehouse under artificial light. Moreover, commercial grows must tag and track every individual plant and be able to account for every ounce that goes out the door. Purchasers of retail marijuana in Manitou pay a 12.9 percent state sales tax, a 15 percent state excise tax (paid by the producer and folded into the retail price, therefore invisible to the consumer), and a 9.03 percent city sales tax. Sellers and growers alike must guard and secure their product as if those bags of weed were equivalent to bags of
hundred-dollar bills. Of course, for illegal operators or street dealers, weed is money—hence the need for security.

The Trump administration hasn’t clarified whether or not federal agencies will be instructed to crack down on retail sales in the coming months.  Such action would trigger major confrontations between the administration and states that have legalized such sales, with unpredictable results. A recent CBS News poll found that the majority of Americans favor at least some version of legalized cannabis, so it seems likely that more states will legalize marijuana and that regulations will continue to support high consumer costs. Meanwhile, remember: if you choose to use, do it safely and legally as you enjoy our beautiful state!