Visitors To Colorado Will Find Few Legal Places To Smoke Pot
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Recreational marijuana has been on sale in Colorado for a couple days now. And pot shops there have been surprised by the long lines of customers. Many people have been coming in from out of state hoping to be among the first to buy recreational pot legally.
But as Colorado Public Radio's Ben Markus reports, tourists are finding there are few legal places to smoke it.
BEN MARKUS, BYLINE: The lines were so long to get into pot shops on New Year's Day that Michael Jones wasn't able to make his purchase before closing time. But he didn't let that happen a second time, getting to the store in downtown Denver two hours before it opens.
MICHAEL JONES: I just want that feeling of glory, of walking out of there like I did it, you know. How many people get to say that? I think it's a monumental moment in American history, man. It's been a long time coming, there's no reason this stuff should be illegal.
MARKUS: But he can't smoke it in the shop, he can't smoke it on the street, or in a bar, or really anywhere in Denver. He drove in from Kansas City, so he doesn't have a private residence here, and he can't take it back home across state lines.
JONES: Yeah, we're probably just going to go to the hotel balcony, probably not smoke in the room though.
MARKUS: Most hotels don't permit smoking - and those that do ban marijuana smoking specifically. Jones admits that doesn't really change anything - he's just going to smoke on the down low, like he always did. But to others, this is a bigger problem.
ROB COREY: There is no safe, legal, appropriate place for a tourist to smoke marijuana.
MARKUS: That's attorney Rob Corey, a marijuana advocate, who was involved in the legalization campaign. He argues that cities like Denver are going backwards by not allowing the kind of smoke bars you can find in Amsterdam.
COREY: It's really prohibition under a different name, it's prohibition by over regulation and over restriction.
MARKUS: Corey says it's as if the city allowed liquor stores, but outlawed bars. And so he thinks people will turn to marijuana edibles, like brownies - but he says that's not the same.
COREY: People love the real deal, and the real deal is lighting up a joint.
MARKUS: Besides, it's easy to overdose on edibles - which won't kill you, but can be a very bad high. Entrepreneurs are already exploiting the lack of smoke bars.
Peter Johnson started ColoradoGreenTours.com - a kind of pot travel agency. He has to explain to clients there's no easy place to light up.
PETER JOHNSON: It's certainly a shock to people coming from out of state.
MARKUS: So Johnson says he connects people to private condos and rentals that he claims will allow pot smoking - though he wouldn't give specifics.
JOHNSON: It's a tricky question, but yes, we do have access to cannabis-friendly accommodations, generally four and five stars is what we go after, but we also do also do offer budget trips to people that are on a budget.
MARKUS: For tourists who think they can do it on their own by smoking outside, maybe find a park, think again. Denver city councilman Chris Nevitt sponsored an ordinance that banned smoking pot in parks and on sidewalks, with fines up to $1,000. So where does Nevitt think tourists should smoke their joints?
CHRIS NEVITT: That's a genuine question, and we're going to have to grapple with that.
MARKUS: He says Denver is just trying to balance permissiveness with public safety. There's concern about people getting high at smoke bars and then driving stoned. Concern for public safety wasn't enough to stop Pueblo County - two hours south of Denver. They're allowing businesses to start fenced in smoke gardens.
JONES: Hank Borunda, owner of the Greener Side dispensary, plans to build a deck where his customers can come to enjoy their marijuana.
HANK BORUNDA: Pueblo's doing a pretty cool thing, allowing that Amsterdam-type atmosphere down here.
GREENE: But Borunda says the smoke garden won't be ready until March. So until then, pot smokers from out of state will have a hard time finding a place to legally smoke the pot it's now legal to buy.
MARKUS: For NPR News, I'm Ben Markus in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.