A visit to a legal recreational marijuana store

I had kind of expected to find that, following the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, Boulder's head shop business would merge with the newly created legal pot business, to create a sort of Super Head Shop — where one could purchase both Grateful Dead teddy bear T-shirts and the substances necessary to make those shirts seem cool.

I was wrong.

Other than a handful of smoking devices, the Terrapin Care Station did not carry any random pot culture accoutrements. No, not even souvenir post cards. (Which, seriously.) Instead, when my associates and I walked in the door, we found a lobby not unlike the one at my dentist's office — pleather couches, soothing green-painted walls, a long reception desk. It was almost distressingly boring. Except, then, there was the security guard, the long line at the ATM (a necessity for a cash-only business), and the round, red take-a-number dispenser. We got number 420. Yes, that really happened.

The security guard's name was Joseph Compton. He's been working the job for about two and half months and really enjoys it, far more than his usual security gigs. The people are nice and happy, he told me. And, when one provides security for a pot store, one is not expected to maintain a demeanor of absolute seriousness. "It's nice to not have to be such a jerk all the time," he said.

When our number was called (At 4:23 in the afternoon. Again, I am not making this up.) we were escorted through a plain white door and into the showroom. Here, groups of three or fewer customers are paired with a salesperson who shows off the store's wares, answers questions, and makes recommendations about particular products based on your personal needs. Say, for instance, that you are interested in consuming marijuana and then enjoying a pleasant evening chatting with friends. Your salesperson would show you the menu (because there's a menu) and recommend three or four strains that you should choose from, while also indicating which strains you should avoid. It's all very civilized. Like going to the wine store, or the bourbon distillery. (Only without the free samples.)

Then, you're given small containers of the recommended strains to smell and examine as you make your decision. This is all probably old hat to those of you who live in states with medical marijuana laws. For those of us who do not live in those states, it was a very surreal experience.

The marijuana comes in containers with child safety caps and warning labels on the side.

In fact, that was the part of the experience that felt oddest to me — the perfectly normalized commercialization of a product that I had not really previously thought of as a commercial product. Suddenly, there are brands and branding. There are locally grown and organic assurances. There is well-designed packaging, from companies that are clearly just waiting to enter a larger market. Check out the chai-flavored pot mints in the lower right of the next photo.

And, as a natural outgrowth of that, there are even consumer advocates and investigative reports on company practices. Our salesperson gave us a tour of some of the different edibles sold at Terrapin Care Station, including Dixie chocolates and Wana Rolls. The benefit to products like this, she said, is that you can more easily control the dosage. There are 100mg of THC in the Dixie black and white bar. So you can cut that into fourths and know about how much THC you're consuming.

Except, in March, The Denver Post and The Cannabinist ran independent testing of a wide variety of commercial edibles and found that the actual THC concentrations were usually very different from what was advertised on the packaging. Most of the time, the investigation found that folks in Colorado are getting far less THC then they paid for. Sometimes, though, they're getting considerably more, and both outcomes have their downsides.

All of which sort of left me wondering about how the commercialization of pot is going to change pot culture specifically, and how popular culture conceives of pot, in general. For the better part of a century, financial relationships surrounding marijuana have depended largely on personal relationships — and the trust that came with that. If marijuana is just one more product in foil packaging from a faceless corporation, how does that affect the way we think about it? If somebody's mom can run into the pot store on the way home from work, leaving her groceries, dog, and child in the car (which is something we saw) just as if she were running into the convenience store for a gallon of milk ... is pot still cool? I mean, people are still going to use it. Obviously. But while the way I think about pot is pretty similar to the attitudes and ideas my parents' generation has about it, the same is unlikely to be true 20 or 30 years from now, when my daughter is an adult. When weed is no longer illegal, does it cease to be part of the counterculture? When the counterculture becomes mainstream, what is it?

Dude. I don't even know. Welcome to a brave new world. A world where your pot comes with a receipt.

Notable Replies

  1. where one could purchase both Grateful Dead teddy bear T-shirts and the substances necessary to make those shirts seem cool.

    Do they even grow weed that strong?

  2. I hope one day that pot becomes legal in California, and uncool enough so that pot smokers at concerts can be made to go to the smoking area to partake. I have no problem with others smoking, but I don't find second-hand pot smoke any more acceptable than second-hand tobacco smoke.

  3. Yeah, pretty much. When I got my card in California about a year ago due to neuropathic pain from Morton's neuroma, walking into the dispensary felt like a 70s-era Russian refugee walking into an American grocery store. It was almost overwhelming.

    Thirty, forty different strains to choose from. A wide variety of concentrates and extracts. Edibles in wide variety, some looking almost bake-sale homemade, but others like straight-off-the-grocery-shelf commercial products.

    Plus really useful stuff like topicals that can relieve pain (useful for my neuropathic pain, and a godsend for my arthritis, since I can't take NSAIDs) without making you high. And CBD-rich or CBD-only meds that can act as a powerful anti-inflammatory, also without making you high.

    They've been Doing Science To It, with fascinating results.

    (Don't get me wrong - I like getting high sometimes - but I also love having pain relief that actually WORKS (a rare enough thing with neuropathic pain) even when I DON'T want to be high.)

  4. is pot still cool?

    I don't know, ask this beer.

    I like the marijuana place next to the Girl Scouts on Broadway in Denver. They are careful to warn you not to park in the Girl Scouts' parking lot after they ask if you're there for medical or recreational.

    The bright colors on the left is the Girl Scouts' entrance:

    They've got quite a few locations (9?), but I've only been to the LivWell on Broadway.

    Very professional, friendly and informative staff. Seemed like all female staff that I could see, mostly young (20's), but a few that were older as well, I think. Modern, but relaxed atmosphere that has the feel of an art gallery with a clean, minimalist décor. They've got macro photography of righteous buds showing their thick, white trichomes glistening in the light on the walls.

    The clientele was of all walks of life.

    A bearded, young, newcomer guy came in with a tie-dye shirt asking if he could park in the Girl Scouts' parking lot. "No, please do not. There's parking on the south side."

    A seasoned partaker that dressed and looked like a 30's-ish woman you'd see behind the jewelry counter of Macy's at Cherry Creek mall was walking out with a friend. They seemed pretty upbeat.

    A sheepish, attractive 20-something woman slinks out to her car with sunglasses on trying not to make eye contact with anyone outside of the building.

    A demure, stoned woman in her late 30's relaxes on the clean, stylish couch and sizes people up while a young, well-kempt, somewhat hipster-ish, skinny-jeaner guy floats around looking like he's got a purpose beyond just looking for something he's probably lost.

    Total opposite experience of going to many bars where they serve alcohol. No rowdy yelling or bravado. Everyone seemed quite alert for the most part. Polite and intelligent.

    Even if you don't partake in marijuana, I suggest you pay them a visit and ask for a little tour. Tell them you're curious about it, etc. and check it out. I think you may be pleasantly surprised how nice it is.

    When weed is no longer illegal, does it cease to be part of the counterculture? When the counterculture becomes mainstream, what is it?

    The counterculture isn't becoming mainstream, the mainstream is becoming counterculture.

    We've been working on this for decades. Unlike flash in the pan attempts to influence culture, our efforts have slowly and steadily kept pounding on what (at first) seemed like an almost impenetrable fortress of corporate attitudes and rampant conformity (see the 80's).

    This isn't an overnight sensation and the legalization of marijuana is only one small piece of the bigger, counterculture picture that's shaping the American experience from within.

    I think many people who are disappointed that things haven't changed more dramatically and quicker don't necessarily realize how wickedly and solidly ingrained corporate culture has indoctrinated many others. It's a herculean task to inject things that run counter to corporatism when the corporatists own the keys to the mass media and can throw pesky things like ethics to the side whenever it suits the suits.

    Counterculture started the internet.

    Counterculture is the only reason we don't have an outright ground war following airstrikes in Syria right now.

    Counterculture is why this moronic drug war is being slowly dismantled despite the incredibly powerful corporatists who would continue to keep it profitably in place indefinitely.

    Counterculture has little to do with whether pot is still "cool" after it's legalized. In my opinion, what makes counterculture "cool" is that despite enormous, crushing, corporatist power that manufactures consent and oppresses all of us... the counterculture still manages to subvert them by outsmarting them, outthinking them and out-loving a pretty hate machine.

    I know it's hip and pseudo-cool to focus on all the downsides of the Internet, the counterculture's apparent absorption by the mainstream, etc. - but I think many aren't looking at the bigger picture.

    Hipsters freak out and ask... what happens when a subculture becomes assimilated by the mainstream?

    What happens? More kids get exposed to alternative music with messages about thinking for themselves. Maybe get exposed to some punk bands that expose kids to political ideologies they'd never heard of before nor get from their parents, their friends, their church, their conservative community... their schools and sure as hell not from their news.

    Some hate punk fashion being "absorbed" by the mainstream...

    If the appeal of the punk fashion lifestyle somehow leads to one more American picking up a book on Banksy at Urban Outfitters in their midwest suburban mall, great. If that later leads to a book on Chomsky then more power to those that try to exploit punk. It's called blowback.

    If someone gets into punk through vapid marketers because it looks hip and "rebellious" but it leads them down a path of thinking more for themselves and looking into alternative news media, then more power to the "word" punk.

    If one beer company or some mall shops can kill "punk", then punk wasn't ever very strong in the first place. I'm secure in the underground influence that still reverberates today in various forms. When it infiltrates the mainstream, I've got no problem with it. The underground is strong enough to not only survive it, but also subvert the mainstream in the process.

    Maybe what's really happening when you see an Urban Outfitters or Hot Topic in a suburban mall is a process where a subculture is subverting the mainstream?

    Embrace it and work on your own subculture shit so when the kids reach deep into the rabbit hole you can offer them something worthwhile when they get to your "true" counterculture.

    If kids get inspired and reach into the counterculture only to be told they aren't worthy because their path was through the only things they were exposed to like Hot Topic, etc. - Then you're the elitist in the equation here. You're the problem. Not Hot Topic. Not Urban Outfitters. You are.

    I should note that this rant wasn't directed at Maggie! And, no, I'm not stoned while writing this.

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