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.