DENVER — I bought pot for the first time this week.
My friends all joke that I must never have gone to college — which I did — and then they grow even more skeptical when I mention I lived in Boulder for years. But it's the truth.
That changed this week when I walked into the Medicine Man retail marijuana store in East Denver and bought a gram of "Blue Dream" for $20. My purchase was historic: For the first time in American history, there's a legal, regulated process to buy recreational pot. Coloradans can buy and possess up to an ounce at a time, but no one keeps track of how much you're buying, just like no one tracks if you've bought lots of Scotch recently.
Walking up to the front of Medicine Man, I'm confronted by a barred and locked door, with a security camera overhead. An armed guard opens the door for me, and asks "medical or recreational?" The two systems today run under separate rules, and medicinal users pay far less in taxes but still need a recommendation from a doctor.
The guard idly twirls a marijuana leaf as I wait, and the smell of pot hangs heavy in the air. While the pot I'll be buying is all pre-weighed and packaged, behind the counter and unseen to most customers is a 20,000-square-foot growing operation. There, nearly 50 people work in a secure warehouse with thousands of marijuana plants basking beneath lights designed to trick them into growing far faster and larger than they would outdoors.
Within minutes, "bud tender" Nelson Figueirdo is asking me what kind of high I'm looking for. The store offers about 30 varieties of marijuana, which affect people in different ways. Some have pain-relieving properties, Figueirdo says, while others will relax your mind. I ask for the most popular strain, called Blue Dream, which Figueirdo tells me gives a euphoric high.
A gram costs me $20, plus more than $7 in state and local taxes. I hand over cash, and Figueirdo wraps up my pot like a grocer. Under state law, all store-bought marijuana must leave the stores in special tamper-resistant bags.
So now what? I'm now the proud owner of one gram of legally purchased marijuana. But my boss has made it clear that I can't keep it because she's paying for it. The solution comes in the form of my local sheriff, who agrees to accept and destroy it.
The process is tightly controlled, with audits and check-offs, which reflect the reality that the pot I bought in Colorado remains illegal pretty much everywhere else. The deputies I talk to during the turn-in process are full of questions about what was like to go pot shopping, but they say they're uninterested in testing the process out themselves.
So, after about 24 hours as a legal marijuana owner, I walk my still-sealed pot into the sheriff's office and hand it over for destruction. The deputy opens the sealed bag, removes the pot and weighs it before logging it for destruction.
Now to submit that expense report.
Hughes also reports for the Fort Collins (Colo.) Coloradoan